CRASH OF A B-17E FLYING FORTRESS
AT HORN ISLAND
ON 16 JULY 1942

 

b-17e.jpg (9016 bytes)

B-17E Flying Fortress

 

USAAF B-17E #41-2421, "Tojo's Jinx" (another source suggests the name of this aircraft is "G.I. Issue"), of the 435th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bombardment Group, crash landed at Horn Island on 16 July 1942. The pilot attempted a go-around at low level. Its wing tip dug into the ground and the B-17 cart wheeled into the nearby scrub. It was a windy and dark night. The pilot in command of this B-17 was Major McPherson with 1st Lt. Lucius G. Penick. It would appear that 17 servicemen died in this crash though one reference suggests there may have been 19 killed. This was the worst aircraft crash at Horn Island during WWII.

 


Photo: via Al Bell

Clarence McPherson in 1940


Photo: via Al Bell

Major Clarence E. McPherson


Photo: via Al Bell

Major Clarence E. McPherson (facing on left) and Lucius Penick (Co-Pilot). Person wearing Pith Helmet unknown.

Herb Early, a Fortress Engineer on Horn Island wrote in his diary:-

”Another Fortress crashed last night. Came in from the south about 2000 hours and took the wrong side of the landing flares, tried to pull up, dived instead and exploded. 16 killed (carrying passengers), one had been thrown clear, but died two hours later."

Jack Woodward, an RAAF wireless operator received a wireless message that night from an American crew on their approach to Horn Island:-

”Is that you Horn Island?’ Say you guys, I’m calling you! can you hear me? .. we’re coming in - 10 of us - we’ve had no chow all day - some son of a bitch forgot to put any rations in this here airplane - I’m telling you there’s 10 of us - have 10 steaks ready - God Damn! - I’m hungry Buddy! I could start on der tail and gnaw my way along der rump”

Once the dust and noise settled, everyone who was able, rushed to the wrecked aircraft to see what they could do to help. The fuselage was sticking vertically from the ground. The wreckage was burning fiercely. One crew member apparently managed to crawl out, of the wreckage or was thrown clear, but he was so seriously burnt that he died a few hours later in the Thursday Island hospital.

Flight Engineer, M/Sgt Louis T. "Soup" Silva, a Java campaign veteran, was originally not meant to be on this aircraft. At the last moment he replaced Lt Brown, who had already loaded his tool box on the B-17. After the engines had started, Lt. Brown removed the wheel cocks when requested by Pilot Major McPherson and was about to board the aircraft via the rear door when M/Sgt Silva took the wheel chocks from him and told him to stay behind to help M/Sgt Ashby light the airfield for some of their B-17's returning from a mission to Rabaul.

Major McPherson was transporting a salvage crew to Horn Island to repair B-17E, #41-2633 of the 93rd Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group. This B-17 was damaged when its undercarriage collapsed after a tire blowout led to a ground loop at Horn Island on 4 July 1942 while returning from a six plane bombing raid on Lae. This B-17 later went on to become "Sally", General George C. Kenney's personal B-17.

B-17E #41-2421 was carrying many heavy components to repair #41-2633. The aircraft was carrying a complete landing gear, a wheel and tyre and brake assembly as well as two propellers. M/Sgt. Brown thought that the heavy parts may have moved when the pilot brought the B-17 in low and then into a steep banking turn.

B-17E #41-2421, had earlier taken part in the Royce Mission. It was then a member of the 40th Bomb Squadron (14th RS). It was piloted by Rawls with Jones as co-pilot on the Royce Mission.

B-17E Flying Fortress # 41-2421 was originally delivered to Salt Lake City on 26 November 1941. It was assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group in Australia. It was written off on 31 October 1944.

Some of the remains of B-17 Flying Fortress #41-2421 can still be seen today on Horn Island.

 


Photo: via Al Bell

Clarence and Doris McPherson, 1940

 


Photo: Al Bell

90 year old Doris, wife of the late Clarence McPherson
in early 2006. Doris is currently writing her memoirs.

 


 

The following are the 17 servicemen killed in this crash:-

Name   Date of Death
(from Ipswich Records)
Date of Internment Townsville Date of Internment Ipswich Religion
S/Sgt Marvin C. Bond 6912315 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant
Cpl. Newell H. Hanson 11015176 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 24 Jul 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)
S/Sgt. Frank Addison Harvey 6580257 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)
Sgt. Adrian F. Kaup 17011549 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Catholic (as per Ipswich records)
Major Clarence E. "Sandy" McPherson 0-22396 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant
1st Lt. Lucius Gerald Penick 0-413487 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 14 Jul 45 Protestant
M/Sgt Louis Thomas "Soup" Silva R-45343 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant (Catholic on Ipswich Records)
Sgt. Walter Fred Schofield 6581360 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 14 Jul 45 Protestant
M/Sgt. Walter W. Weisner 6754182 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant
Cpl Frederick B. Welch 15059629 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)
Sgt. Vernon Dewey Wood 7031437 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 14 Jul 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)
Sgt. William C. Wood 6914948 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 14 July 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)
Chaplain 1st Lt. Albert McCabe Hart 0-346934 (0-346936 in Ipswich records) 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant
Pvt 1st Class Rufus B. Humphries 20467589 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 14 Jul 45 Catholic? (Protestant - as per Ipswich records)
Pvt. Phillip R. Mills 34102201 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 -
Pvt. Albert Washington Moore 34102085 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 25 Jul 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)
T/5 Atwell E. Moore 20487595 16 Jul 42 12 Apr 43 14 Jul 45 Protestant (as per Ipswich records)

Note:- The servicemen highlight in yellow were members of the 104th Anti-aircraft Artillery AW Battalion. An official History for "Headquarters 104th Anti-aircraft Artillery AW Battalion has the following entry for this crash:-

"On July 16 the Battalion suffered its first casualties. Chaplain Albert M. Hart, T/5 Atwell E. Moore, Privates Albert W. Moore, Rufus B. Humphries, and Philip R. Mills were flying from Coen to Horn Island when the B-17 in which they were riding crashed while landing at Horn Island, killing all nineteen of the occupants instantly."

 

The bodies of those killed were initially buried on Thursday Island and then exhumed and reburied in the US Cemetery in Townsville on 12 April 1943 and then exhumed again and reburied in the US Cemetery in Ipswich in July 1945. They were exhumed again after the war and moved back to the USA for final burial based on their family's wishes.

 

The Canberra Times (ACT) 26 August 1942

Article on the death of Chaplain 1st Lt. Albert McCabe Hart,
the first American Army Chaplain to meet his death in the war.

 

The Milwaukee Journal 31 July 1943

This above article states that Chaplain Hart was
killed on 10 February 1942 which is incorrect.

 

The Petersburg Times 25 July 1943

This above article states that Chaplain Hart was
killed on 29 July 1942 which is also incorrect!!

 

The NARA Photo is incorrectly titled:- "An American Cemetery at Townsville, Australia where twenty-six men
 of the 2nd Service Squadron are being buried. They were killed in an airplane take-off. April 1943."

 

Peter Murray in Townsville contacted me in November 2013 and commented that there is some doubt about the accuracy of the caption on this above photograph. After some collaborative research with Peter Murray, it is now confirmed that the above caption under the burial photograph is incorrect by stating that all men were members of the 2nd Service Squadron. There were also men from two other crashes and two men from the 91st Engineers also buried that same day. See below for details of the 26 men buried on 12 April 1943:-

 

Crash of B-17E Flying Fortress #41-2421, at Horn Island on 16 July 1942 (This crash)

Humphreys, Rufus B. 20467589 USA -
Wood, Vernon D. 7031437 USA -
Wood, William C. 6914948 USA -
Penick Lucius C. 0-413487 USA -
Schofield, Walter F. 6581360 USA -
Moore, Atwell E. 20487595 USA -
Silva Louis T. R45343? USA -
Kaup, Adrian F. 17011549 USA -
Harvey Frank A. 6580257 USA -
Bond, Marvin C. 6912315 USA -
McPherson Clarence E. 0-22396 -
Weisner, Walter W. 6754182 USA -
Moore, Albert W. 34102085 USA -
Hanson, Newell H. 11015176 USA -
Mills, Phillip R. 34102201 USA -
Welch, Frederick B. 15059629 USA -
Hart, Albert M. 0-346934 USA -

 

Crash of B-17E Flying Fortress, #41-2655, near Horn Island on 14 July 1942

Budz, Edward B. 0-426508 USA -
Houchins, James E. 6994369 USA -
Rice, Houston A. 6290594? USA -

 

91st Engineers accidents

Vertison, Willie 34046295 USA killed by tree falling on him on 15 Aug 42)
Lee, Gilbert E. 34061958 USA killed by stray bullet on Horn Island on 21 Oct 42

 

Crash of B-25C Mitchell #41-12904, 8 miles north east of Townsville on 8 April 1943

Carlow, D.T. 20957230 USA -
Atkinson, Courtney B. 0-662973 USA -
Neyley, Paul L. 0662973 USA -
Haggerty, John J. Jnr. 11020201 USA 2nd Service Squadron, 4th Air Depot Group

 


 

NOTE:- Squadron Leader Warren Bishop told me about an excellent magazine article about the crash of B-17 TOJO's JINX #41-2421 at Horn Island on 16 July 1942, in the Air Show Edition (vol 51 - No 1) of the RAAF Association magazine - 'WINGS'.  Page 17 provides a full recount of the crash and two photos of crew. Does anyone have a copy of this?

 


 

Early History of B-17 Flying Fortress #41-2421

#41-2421 was one of twelve B-17s that left Hickham Field on 10 February 1942. These 12 aircraft left Hickam field under the overall command of Major Carmichael. Due to limited parking space on the small Pacific island airfields, part of the group flew to Christmas Island and the rest to Palmyra Atoll for an overnight stay. Their next landing place was Canton Island. John Wallace Fields, navigator for Harry Spieth remembered Canton island as a small coral atoll in the Pacific. Bob Barnard also remembers this long journey very well.

They then flew on to Fiji. Over the next week they flew 12 missions from Fiji.

The first stop for the twelve B-17Es was Plaines des Gaiacs, on New Caledonia where they checked with the only Operations Officer at the airfield. He advised that he had been out of radio contact with Australia for the previous three days and he had no idea what the weather was like over the Coral Sea.

Unbeknown to the crews of the 12 aircraft, a large tropical cyclone had just crossed the coast near Cardwell north of Townsville and had then moved back out to sea north of Mackay. Extensive damage and loss of life occurred from flooding in the Dawson and Callide Valleys.

Only two of the B-17Es made it through this large tropical storm to Garbutt airfield in Townsville on 19 February 1942. They were the B-17s piloted by Bill Lewis and Harry Spieth.

The other ten B-17Es of US Navy Task Force 11 diverted to Archerfield airfield in Brisbane. One B-17E, piloted by Harold N. Chaffin's B-17E, #41-2430, was damaged at Archerfield airfield in Brisbane, when it was hit by a DC3. Chaffin's B-17 suffered damage to its starboard wing, the tail and part of its fuselage.

The following day, the remaining nine B-17Es that landed at Archerfield flew on to Townsville. Most records show the arrivals of the B-17Es in Townsville as 18th and 19 February 1942.

 


 

Extracted from 19th BG Diary

Java to Broome Australia -- Japanese Attack Broome

March 1 1942

B-17E No. 41-2483 which had been shot up beyond repair was destroyed when the Dutch destroyed the field at Madioen. It had been salvaged.

At 0900 two B-17Es of the 9th Sqd. 7th Group took off from Madioen to attack enemy ships off the North Coast of Java. One plane, Lt Casper pilot, turned back because of engine trouble. Lt McPherson in No, 2417 attached from 30,000 ft with (8) 300 kg bombs in train. He scored a direct hit on one transport and a waterline hit on another. No EA or AA. Small boats were seen around the transports and after the bombs hit warships were seen steaming toward the transports. Landed Madioen at 1440.

 


 

Extracted from W. Fields Oral Interview

A.  Well, we had landed at Horn Island, and I was supposed to lead some P-40s from Horn Island back to Port Moresby, but they canceled that out for the next day, and I was back in Townsville on the 3rd. I didn't do anything then until June 8th, when I went to Horn Island. That was where Lucius G. Penick, a good friend of mine, had been killed in a B-17 crash with McPherson, with a load of Australians on board. They had spun-in in their B-17, and it killed all of them.

Q.  Had you flown with McPherson before?

A.  Yes, I had flown with him back in Salt Lake City. When I heard of that accident, I had a pretty good idea of what had happened, because McPherson was a person that just took everything out of an airplane that it had in it. Penick was a classmate of mine, and I know that McPherson didn't let him fly very much; he wasn't as fortunate as I had been with Harry Spieth. The word was out that Penick was flying the airplane and was going to land it, and they overshot the runway and made a very steep turn and dug a wing in the ground. That sounded to me like something that McPherson would pull because he was pretty caustic; he probably just took the airplane over and made a sharp turn and dug a wing in the ground on his go-around. Anyway, nobody will ever know, because they were all killed.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I'd like to thank Peter Murray, Michael Musumeci, Eric Evans, Paul McMillan, Justin Taylan, Warren Bishop and Vanessa Seekee for their assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCES

"Fortress Against the Sun
by Eric Salecker

"Horn Island - In their Steps 1939-45"
by Vanessa Seekee

"Forty of the Fifth"
by Michael Claringbould
Page 21

"Under it Down Under "
Jack Woodward).

Manson Park Burials Register - City of Ipswich

Find A Grave web site - B-17E #41-2421

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

I need your help

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©  Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 7 February 1999

This page last updated 15 June 2015