30 DECEMBER 1942
CRASH OF AN A-20A-1 BOSTON BOMBER,
ON A BEACH NEAR THE TOWNSVILLE TOWN COMMON
A-20A-1 Boston, #40-3150 "Margie" of the 4th Air Depot Group, 5th Air Force, APO-922 crashed at about 1:35pm on 30 December 1942 during a test flight after a major overhaul. The aircraft took off and hit a power pole and 5 minutes later it attempted an emergency landing on a beach near Townsville. The aircraft cart wheeled and Major Walter R. Ford, (0-370271) of the Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron of the 4th Air Depot Group was killed.
Major Ford, a Protestant by religion, was buried in the US Cemetery in Townsville on 31 December 1942.
This aircraft had arrived at Depot No. 2 at Mount Louisa on 20 November 1942 from the 89th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group for a major overhaul by the 4th Air Depot Group. On 24 December 1942, Major Ford, who had extensive experience with this type of aircraft, and in his capacity as Engineering Officer and Test Pilot, flew the aircraft. Some minor defects were identified during the test flight on 24 December and Major Ford was being taken on another test flight on 30 December 1942, when the accident happened.
After a normal takeoff from the 3,700 feet long Stock Route Airfield at about 1:30pm, the A-20 failed to gain altitude and struck the top of a 25 foot telephone pole in line with and 600 feet from the end of the runway, tearing off the left inboard flap, left horizontal stabiliser and elevator. The A-20 then climbed to approximately 800 feet, with the landing gear still not retracted. A high speed landing was attempted on a nearby beach approximately 5 minutes after takeoff. The beach was about 200 feet wide with a slope of about 8 degrees . There were the occasional small sand dunes one to two feet high on the beach.
The landing was attempted towards the north, with the right main wheel making the initial contact. Eighty feet further on the nose wheel made contact and after rolling a total distance of about 225 feet, the left main wheel hit one of the small sand dunes which apparently caused the nose wheel to fail. This resulted in the aircraft somersaulting through the air, landing upside down at a point about 350 feet from the point of initial contact.
2nd Lt. Norman J. Gebert, Jr. witnessed the aircraft taking off from the Stock Route Airfield and striking the pole. Gebert and Sgt. Taubert lost sight of the aircraft and went to the end of the runway to inspect the parts that had fallen off the A-20. Gebert, realising that a crash landing was imminent, proceed along Duckworth Street to the Garbutt Airfield Control Tower where Lt. Obert was already in the tower. Lt. Obert told Gebert that the Tower had seen the A-20 go down in the bay. Gebert called Col. Elleworth who directed him to a Major who told him to use the 41 Squadron RAAF Crash Boat to find the crashed aircraft. Gebert head out into Cleveland Bay in the crash boat. In the meantime, the Australian lookout at Fort Kissing Pont advised that the aircraft had attempted to land on the beach. The crash boat proceed to the location where they found the crashed A-20.
Lt. Obert had the body removed and taken to the morgue. It was evident from the marks on the sand that Major Ford had landed fast and managed to cut the engines before the aircraft somersaulted. They could see the marks of his tyres in the sand approximately 50 to 75 feet before the point of the somersault. Gebert took the pyrotechnic flares, flare pistol, two parachutes, flotation cushion, A.C. forms, and maps from the wrecked aircraft.
Photo:- AHRA USAAF Reel 46154 via Gordon Birkett
Photo of the wreckage of A-20A-1 Boston, #40-3150 "Margie"
The Guild diary incorrectly shows this crash occurring on 28 December 1942 (not 30 December 1942). It also indicates that the aircraft was assigned to the 3rd Bomb Group on 22 August 1942.
The above crash is described in Rod Cardell's book "Wings around Us". It is about the Stock Route airstrip which was located where Dalrymple Road in Townsville now runs:-
"Wings Around Us" Page 133
On December 30th 1942, I ran across to our side fence to get a closer look at the Boston that was taxiing down Duckworth Street. I watched it approach, and when it came abeam, I stared hard at the pilot hoping for his acknowledgment, as in the good old days of the Marauders, but the Major didn't look at me, or if he did, he failed to greet me. I was disappointed, as it was so unlike the Americans not to be friendly. I ran back to our front verandah, where I hope the extra height would give me a better view of the take off.
He took a long time to get unstuck, and as he climbed away I remarked to someone standing beside me that I could see telegraph wires trailing from the tail of his aircraft. He must have run well past the end of the strip to have collected those wires. The aircraft continued to climb, making a very gentle turn to port. Within minutes I knew that he had crashed on the town common, apparently decapitating himself in the process. His devoted crew chief raced his jeep through all obstacles and obstructions in a desperate bid to reach the crash and help. I was told he just stood there and burst into tears at what he saw.
The pilot had been Major Walter R. Ford of Oakland, California, the Group's Engineering Officer. He had already been the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters for missions in the evacuation of the Philippines and Java.
This was the second such fatality of the 4th Air Depot Group.
I'd like to thank Dr. Rod Cardell, Terence Geary and Rick Hanning for their assistance with this home page.
I'd like to thank Gordon Birkett for his assistance with this home page. Gordon sent me the Guild diary which was provided to him by my mate Bill Swain. Gordon also later provided some excellent information from AHRA USAAF Reel 46154 which contained the official "Report of Aircraft Accident" which included a statement by Lt. Gebert.
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
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This page first produced 14 June 1998
This page last updated 08 July 2018