CRASH OF FOUR B-25 MITCHELLS
TWO AT GRAFTON
TWO AT CASINO AND
A LATER ACCIDENT AT EVANS HEAD IN NSW
ON 14 AUG 1942
Five B-25 Mitchells of the 38th Bomb Group, USAAF, were being ferried from California, USA to Amberley in August 1942. On the 14 August 1942 they became lost and thought Casino in northern NSW was Amberley. They were all running low on fuel. At a specified time, the navigator of the lead aircraft was scheduled to tune into a Brisbane commercial radio station whose transmitter was just west of Brisbane. They would home in on the transmitter and come across the city of Ipswich and set course for Amberley airfield.
At the appointed time, the lead Navigator tuned in and eventually found a strong signal. Unfortunately it was not a Brisbane radio station. They followed the signal and eventually crossed the coast. They followed a river which they initially thought may have been the Brisbane River, but instead of being full of ships it was almost deserted. They spotted some dispersed lights and changed course towards Amberley which was nowhere to be found. They eventually realised they were lost. They started to circle.
They spotted a small town below them. It was blacked out and there was no traffic on the streets. Meanwhile below, some of the residents of Grafton thought that the aircraft may have been Japanese bombers. The five B-25's continued to maintain radio silence as instructed and kept their navigation lights switched off. The RAAF airfield at Evans Head had posted an Air Raid "Red" warning alert.
As the B-25's circled around Grafton. John Onley, an operator from the Grafton telegraph office went to the Fire Station where he used the "night button" control switch for the street lights to flash a message to the aircraft. Another source suggested that he used the lights on the tennis courts near the pre-war drill hall where he was stationed in the Signal Section of his battalion of the 15th Brigade.
The aircraft signalled back with an Aldis Lamp, that they were American aircraft and now running low on fuel. It is was a bit difficult for Mr Onley to read their message through the branches of the Jacaranda trees. Radio contact was then established. Mr. Onley was later to receive a letter from the American Consul in Canberra thanking him for his efforts on that night.
After a request was put out over the local radio station, almost 100 motor cars were lined up at the South Grafton airfield to light up the airfield with their headlights.
Two of the B-25's crash landed at Grafton, and the other three left the area.
Two aircraft crashed near Casino after 10 men bailed out from the two aircraft. One of these two aircraft crashed north of Casino and the other one crashed north east of Casino.
The fifth aircraft landed safely at RAAF Station Evans Head. The aircraft were all to be assigned to 405 Bomb Squadron of the 38th Bomb Group.
AIRCRAFT CRASH LOCATION
B-25C #41-12897 "Bud and his Pogmasters" north east of Casino
B-25C #41-12896 (or was it 12893) "Satan's Sister" Grafton
B-25C #41-12900 "Woodchopper" north of Casino
The fifth aircraft may have been #41-12893 "Werewolf". Once it was clear that the bombers were not Japanese, a Fairey Battle took off from Evans Head airfield with its navigation lights on to escort the remaining B-25 back for a safe landing at Evans Head airfield.
The two aircraft that made a forced landing at Grafton, overshot the short runway and went through fences etc and were both damaged. There were no serious injuries. They were both repaired.
Halden Boyd <email@example.com>, chairman of the Evans Head Aerodrome Committee, has a photograph of the B-25 on the tarmac at Evans Head. The aircraft was due to fly on to Amberley the next day, and then Breddan near Charters Towers. However there was another accident!! During the next morning, the well camouflaged aircraft was hit in thick fog by a fire tender taking a short cut across the airfield.
Two squadrons of B-25 Mitchell's of 38 Bomb Group, the 71st and 405th squadrons, eventually arrived at Breddan, near Charters Towers on 22 August 1942.
One of the B-25's that came down near Casino crashed on Craig Polkinghorne's Grandfathers farm (his Uncle now lives and works the farm). The tree that it actually clipped still stands just at the back of the house. Craig's uncle was only a small boy of about eight at the time of the crash.
One of the crew actually walked back to the house after the accident and Craig's Uncle can recall Craig's Grandmother and Grandfather giving him some hot tea. He can also recall how quickly the authorities swooped on the area and closed it off. For many years after the incident Craig's Uncle would occasionally find ammunition etc that they had apparently thrown out in an attempt to lose weight. He even found a machine gun from the aircraft that he took into town and gave to the gun dealer (he now regrets that decision!).
One crew bailed out without a parachute. He jumped before the plane hit the ground and was killed. There was a suggestion that two airmen from one aircraft panicked and tried to descend using one parachute. Another source indicated that there was one parachute short in one aircraft. Craig's Uncle told him about the man who parachuted from the aircraft and died had landed across the road from the farm. The body had fallen through a pine tree in an avenue of trees leading to the house of Mr and Mrs Morgan. The property was later owned by Mr & Mrs Norton Baker.
Two other airman had landed safely on a ridge on a property owned by Mr & Mrs Joe Reynolds. The property was later owned by Mr & Mrs Jackson Hyde. Bill Dwyer of Reynolds Road saw these two men flashing torches at each other as they descended in their parachutes. Mr Dwyer looked after the two airman at his house until the authorities arrived.
Another airman landed safely across the road from Mr Dwyer's farm near the house of Mr & Mrs Frank Kelly. The property was later owned by Mrs Peter Kelly. Another airman landed on the railway line at Fairy Hill railway station and suffered a broken leg.
Does anyone know the name of the crew member who was killed?
I'd like to thank Craig Polkinghorne for his assistance with this home page.
"Bombers over Grafton"
by Clarence River Historical Society Inc.
RAAF D.S.D. File 153/1/1188 - "Report of U.S. Aircraft lost in Grafton-Casino Area"
38th Bomb Group Association
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 13 August 2000
This page last updated 31 August 2015