COLLISION OF TWO B-25 MITCHELL'S
NEAR CHARTERS TOWERS
ON 27 JUNE 1943

 

On Sunday 27 June 1943 two B-25 Mitchell bomber from 5 Bomber Command Replacement Centre (USAF) collided over Charters Towers and crashed to the ground killing 9 US personnel and one Australian soldier.

John Jewell did not witness the collision, but did see the smoke rising into the air as the two aircraft crashed on the other side of Charters Towers from where John's family lived in King Street, Charters Towers.

John Jewell had heard rumours about an Australian soldier being killed in one of the B-25s. John had also been told by someone that a WAAAF was also killed in this collision. John commented to me that quite a few Aussie soldiers were killed in road accidents and are buried in Charters Towers War Cemetery.

The aircraft with Crew #1 on board came down at a angle, clipping the tree tops and left pieces of wreckage scattered on the clump of iron bark trees. It crashed into Brenton’s paddock. John Jewell advised that survivor must have come from that crash.

The aircraft with Crew # 2 on board crashed straight down into Harold Chappel's 40 acre paddock (not far from Boyd’s boundary fence John Jewell believes) and exploded. The fire was so fierce the grass never grew on that patch for many years. All crew were killed on impact. John Jewell believes that this is the smoke that he saw from his house in King Street.

Edward Rogers, provided this following report (via John Jewell) which details information from the only survivor, Sgt. Gus A. Eritano, 39016431.

AG 201- Newman, Robert A. (Off) 6th Ind. FMM/mlf

90TH BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON (L), 3rd BOMBARDMENT GROUP (L), APO321, 3rd February 1945.

TO: COMMANDING OFFICER, 3rd Bombardment Group (L), APO 321.

1.In compliance with par.1, 4th Endorsement, the following information was received from Sgt. Gus A. Eritano, 39016431.

a. The crew members listed made up two crews as indicated below:

Crew #1.                                       Crew # 2

2nd Lt. George A. Davis (P)             2nd Lt. William A Mear, Jr.
2nd Lt. Harry N. Watkins (N)          2nd Lt. Robert Neuman (P)
Sgt. Harlow A. Aitkens                  S/Sgt Joseph N. Clary.
Sgt Gus A. Eritano                       Sgt. Garland E. Crotts.
Pfc. Charles M. Scott.

 

b. The details are as follows: The above two crews were a part of a flight of four planes practicing formation flying, each plane to to lead for one hour. Lt. Davis’ was the last plane to take off.

Sgt. Eritano said, “We were flying at about 3,000 feet, when I climbed into the turret. At that moment we made a deep left hand bank, and I felt a great shock as though we had hit a brick wall. Un-consciously, I looked to the right of me. (I was facing the tail) and I saw Lt. Newmann’s plane roll over on its back and dive straight down. All this time our plane was shaking terribly and bits of metal were flying back towards the turret. That is when I knew we were hit. I got out of the turret to see if I could bail out. But we went into our death dive and I couldn’t move after I reached my ‘chute. Our radio man managed to bail out, but I believe his head hit the plane, knocking himself unconscious.

Our ships crashed from within 3 to 4 miles apart.”

 

c. The crews were buried in the American Cemetery, Base Section 2, Townsville, Queensland.

For the Squadron Commander:

Frederic M. Mead

FREDERIC M. MEAD,

Adjutant.

 

NOTE:- In addition to the above report, written in faint lead pencil beside Crew #1. is "R338- A" and beside Crew #2 is "R338- B".

 

 

I checked the USAF Military Cemetery Ipswich records and found the following above crew members as follows:-

Rank First Names Surname Service No. Date of Death
2nd Lt George P Davis 0-793399 27 June 1943
Sgt Harlow A Akins 32290851 27 June 1943
Corp Charles M Scott 14050968 27 June 1943
 2nd Lt William A. Mears 0-735629 No entry
2nd Lt Robert A. Neumann 0-794571 No entry
S/Sgt Joe N Clary 15048721 27 June 1943
Sgt Garland E Crotts 34432307 27 June 1943

Note:- the spelling difference for Harlow A. Akins, the difference in rank for Charles M. Scott. I could not find 2nd Lt. Harry N. Watkins.

 

The above personnel buried at Ipswich would have initially been buried in the US Military Cemetery in Townsville.

A few people have contacted me about the collision of these two B-25's near Charters Towers during WW2. I initially thought they may have been confused with the collision of two A-24's at Charters Towers on 5 June 1942.

There is a Plaque at Red Knob in Charters Towers commemorating the collision of two B-25's. It reads as follows:-

LEST WE FORGET

It was near here on 27 June 1943 at 2:15pm that two B-25 D Bombers of 5 Bomber Command Replacement Centre (USAF) collided resulting in the deaths of ten (10) US personnel and one Australian soldier. It is believed that two other U.S. personnel were injured.

This memorial is dedicated to their memory and was unveiled by Cr. P. Black OAM (Dalrymple Shire Mayor) on 20 August 1995.

(A Buffalo Lodge Community Service Project for VP50)

 

Noel Tunny provided me with a copy of letter written by a crew member of one of the four B-25's involved in formation flying near Charters Towers. Mr. E.L. Pavel writes as follows:-

Your letter to Air Force Magazine relating to your interest in Charters Towers reminded me of my own brief and tragic stay at that training post.

While en route to our assignment at 17-Mile Strip near Port Moresby, New Guinea, from the U.S., we were sent to Charters Towers to practice minimum altitude runs in B-25s (Billy Mitchell Medium Bombers) since all of our training in that craft had been as medium altitude bombers and were were being assigned to B-25 strafers.

We were practicing take-offs, aligning into diamond formation, and landings, changing lead planes and positioning of all other three planes on each run.

The prescribed method of getting into formation consisted of #2 plane coming up from behind #1 plane and taking a position off the right wing; #3 plane would come up from behind and take position off the left wing of #1; #4 plane was to come up from behind and below and assume the trailing point of the diamond behind and below #2 and #3.

On this particular pass, as navigator of the #2 plane, I was standing in the astrodome of my plane watching the assembly of the formation. Unfortunately, #4 came up from below and to our right, recognised his mistake, climbed a bit high, and attempted to slide over the top of our plane into his #4 position. He barely cleared the astrodome and our left wing tip and slid right on over #3 plane, with both propellors cutting through the cockpit of #3. Both planes crashed within a short distance of each other, killing both crews of six. (Note - There was actually only 9 crew killed, and 1 crew survivor plus 1 Australian soldier killed)

The most difficult thing we as survivors had to do was leave the site of the crash and return to base upon orders after buzzing the site to determine if there were any survivors.

Noel Tunny also gave me a note which indicated that an RAAF Cook was a passenger on one of these two B-25s and was killed. The note then states that he was David Rudkins with the 28th Battalion, a cook for Col. Murray? This information was provided to Noel by a Bill Henderson.

A bit of research reveals that a 25 year old Corporal David Patrick Rudkins, Q31498, of 26 Infantry Battalion, Australian Army was killed in an accident at Charters Towers on 27 June 1943. He was buried at Charters Towers Grave A.A.9 on 29 June 1943. At this stage I have assumed this is the person referred to in the note.

The note states the following:-

Warren and Neil Martin saw the incident from the ground near the Enterprise Hotel.

He thinks in the direction of the Railway goods Yards and towards the Broughton?

The first a/c hit the ground near the Cattle Yards at Chappels Paddock and was in one piece but burnt out.

The Martins were there before the Yanks and were hunted away.

Howard Alford owned the paddocks and lives there today (28/02/03) H & M Alford. (See Note below)

A bit of wing is still stick in the top of an Iron Bark tree at the site. The second plane crashed 4 or 5 miles further on.

The a/c door is at 60 Ann St., Charters Towers in an old Brick Air Raid ????

NOTE:- Howard Alford actually did not own the paddocks at the time of the crash. The Alfords purchased Chappels and Boyd’s Paddock later on. Howard Alford is a friend on John Jewell.

Dave Jackson from Hervey Bay told me in April 2006 that he and his brother had witnessed a terrible collision between two USAF B-25 Mitchell bombers on a Sunday morning in Charters Towers. Dave remembers three B-25 bombers from 5th Bomber Command flying in formation around Charters Towers towards the Broughton River area when one aircraft slid into one of the others. Dave and his brother were standing on the railway bridge at the junction of York Street and Day Dawn Ridge (Now Rainbow Rd.) where they lived, and watched in horror as one went down immediately. The second one went into a slow turn losing height and also crashed. The third went back towards their base at Corinda and they assumed it landed safely. Dave and his brother could see the huge pall of black smoke from both crashes and raced home, got on their bicycles and raced out to the site of the first and closest crash which was in the bushes just off the main road that joins York Street at the Methodist church at 35 York Street.

Dave told me that the American crash crew had arrived just before them but there was nothing they could do - the aircraft was totally destroyed and still very hot from a fierce fire that had engulfed everything. Some of the crash crew were scratching through the still burning remnants of the aircraft looking for bodies - they saw some bodies - very traumatic for Dave who was only 13 yrs of age and his brother Cecil about 11 1/2 yrs old. One crew member had bailed out and looked OK until they turned him over - his parachute had started to open but had caught fire and his back was badly burnt. Shortly after more American and Australian servicemen arrived and Dave and Cecil were quietly asked to leave the scene.

Dave said he could not remember the date but it was on a Sunday morning - as their Mother always cooked a roast for lunch on Sundays and it was the only time in their lives that they did not enjoy their Mother's cooking. Dave told me that they felt so terrible to see such wonderful people die in such tragic circumstances as at that time they were completely dependent on the American servicemen for protection from possible Japanese invasion.

Dave believes there is a memorial to the crew members of a B-25 bomber at the site of a crash just off Millchester Road. This would be the crash site Dave and his brother rode their bicycles to some 65 years ago.

Dave mentioned that Bill Hendersen in Charters Towers has done a lot of work concerning wartime activities around Charters Towers. Bill had told Dave that the crash had occurred on the 27 June 1943, which was a Sunday which lined up with his memory of the accident occurring on a Sunday.

Dave said that one aircraft crashed on Boyd's property and the other on Picnic Creek killing 11 or maybe 12 crew members. Dave mentioned that there is a memorial on Red-Knob Hill on the old Millchester Rifle Range just off Millchester Road towards the Broughton River crossing.

Dave thinks that all crew members perished on the B-25 he and his brother attended but that some survived from the second one which was too far away for them to travel to on our bicycles.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Noel Tunny, Dave Jackson and John Jewell for their assistance with this web page.

 

Does anyone know the Serial Nos of the two aircraft or the names of the crew?

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

I need your help

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This page first produced 13 February 2008

This page last updated 31 August 2015