CRASH OF A B-25 MITCHELL
AT CHARTERS TOWERS, QLD
ON 9 MAY 1942

 

12may42.jpg (41371 bytes)

USAAF B-25 Mitchell Bomber crashed after took off from
 
Charters Towers airstrip.  It drifted to the left before crashing.  

 

On 9 May 1942, B-25C Mitchell, #41-12447, of 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group crashed on take-off for a possible test flight at Charters Towers airfield killing 5 personnel including the pilot, 2nd Lt. John Albaugh.

The two rear gunners were able to escape relatively uninjured when the tail broke off the fuselage. PFC Arthur N. Gilman was also rescued from the burning wreckage. Co-pilot 2nd Lt. Townsend was badly burned and died a few days later on 12 May 1942. Apparently his screams of agony could be heard all over the area until he died.

The aircraft crashed at the end of the runway. The aircraft kept veering to the left during takeoff and persisted once it had taken off. The B-25 then started pitching and bucking so much on the port side that it plummeted into the ground. The aircraft wreck caught fire and numerous men on the ground from the 3rd Bomb Group attempted to rescue the crew members. Some had been thrown clear of the wreckage and others who were already deceased or badly injured were still inside the burning aircraft. The initial theory at the time was that the accident had occurred because the pilot had attempted takeoff with the B-25's autopilot engaged. A more thorough inspection of the wreckage showed that one of the trim cables for the left aileron had been strung incorrectly and was the most likely the cause of the tragic crash.

I now have access to a record of the burials of US Servicemen at the Townsville US Cemetery. The following US personnel who were killed in this tragic accident were all buried at the Townsville US Cemetery. From the dates above, it would seem that they were initially buried in Charters Towers and then relocated to Townsville.

 

Albaugh, John E. (0-387096) 2nd Lt Pilot Protestant
Townsend, Edwin C. (0-388196) 2nd Lt. Co-pilot Protestant
Winfrey, Sil (6970915) S/Sgt. Passenger Protestant
Komm, Bernard (7000470) Sgt. A.F.C.E. Maintenance Protestant
Myers, Wavard Joseph (7002733) Cpl. Passenger Roman Catholic

 

The following two were also buried in Townsville US Cemetery on the same day. It is not clear whether they were killed in this B-25 crash. Can anyone confirm?

 

Cochran, James F. Protestant
Davidson, Norman J. Protestant

 

American War Dead database of the American Battle Monuments Commission shows the following information for Bernard Komm:-

Bernard Komm

Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Forces

07000470

13th Bomber Squadron, 3rd Bomber Group, Large

Entered the Service from: Louisiana
Died: May 9, 1942

Honolulu Memorial
Honolulu, Hawaii

 

Keith Dudman witnessed this crash. Here are his recollections of the crash:-

I did in fact witness this crash as a young boy of 5 1/2 years.

My name is Keith Dudman and our family lived in Mosman Street Charters Towers. Our maternal grand parents live in Anne Street, opposite Lisner Park and in a direct centre line to runway 09.

My brother and I were seated in the cabin of our father's Dodge truck (he helped build this airfield) about 500 yards to the east of runway 09 and in sight of the old control tower which was in or under a tree. It was a Saturday, about mid morning and these two yanks (pilots) who didn't look too steady on their feet got into a jeep and drove a little further down the runway towards the town end of it and got into their Mitchell along with some other people.

After they started the engines, the run up period was very erratic, constant revving and idling. After a period of time they lined up on the runway and started their take off roll. From the moment they started rolling I sensed something was wrong, as I had up until that point witnessed hundreds of take offs and landings and had got used to the sound of engines.

As it lifted off, instead of a nice smooth take off angle, it went up vertically, stalled at about 300 - 500 feet and came back down on it's twin tail booms. It erupted in a big orange fireball. I am not sure of the exact crash site, but it was on the western side of runway 09, whether it was above or below the junction of runway 56 I am not sure. I was later told only two occupants got out before it exploded.

This period in my life is permanently etched in my memory as well as other events in the Townsville - Charters Towers Area during WWII.

Incidentally not long after this, a B25 Mitchell came out of it's dispersal without authorisation and crashed into dad' truck, one the propellers slicing through the cabin roof. The yanks gave him a brand new truck after admitting that it was their fault.

 

REFERENCES

"Harvest of the Grim Reapers - The Illustrated History of the 3rd and 27th Bombardment Groups during World War II - Volume 1: Prewar - December 1942" by Lawrence J. Hickey, Edward M. Rogers, with Osamu Tagaya & Madison D. Jonas

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I'd like to thank Gustave H. "Gus" Breymann for his assistance with this home page. Gus is the nephew of Capt. Gustave M. Heiss, Jr. who was killed in the crash of a B-25 Mitchell on 4 Sep 1942

I'd like to thank Keith Dudman for his assistance with this home page. His father, Keith Dudman, worked for the Americans during WW2 and was also involved in another accident when an American aircraft hit his truck.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 31 December 2001

This page last updated 07 March 2022