16 NOVEMBER 1942



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B-24 Liberator damaged during this accident at Gordon strip at Iron Range


Twelve B-24 Liberators of the 90th Bomb Group, including seven from the 320th Bomb Squadron, taxied into their takeoff position at Iron Range's "Gordon"  airfield just before midnight on 16 November 1942. Each B-24 was carrying 31,000 gallons of fuel and six 500-pound bombs for a bombing mission on Rabaul.

Takeoff arrangements were disorderly due to confused briefing instructions, some mechanical problems, and a lack of coordinated night time dispatch communications.

B-24 Liberator #41-23942 "Bombs to Nip On" piloted by Lt. Paul Larson of the 400th Squadron of the 90th Bombardment Group clipped B-24 "Big Emma" and crashed during take-off. The dust blown up by the first B-24's taking off had obscured the dim airfield lights. The eleventh B-24 in line veered off the runway into two parked B-24 Liberators and a B-17 Flying Fortress.

The B-24 caught fire and its bomb load exploded. Casualties were eleven US Service personnel killed and four aircraft written. The remaining four aircraft did not take off. One of these #41-23765 "Connell's Special" was materially damaged while #41-23751, "Big Emma", was only slightly damaged.


Photo:- via Bob Tupa

 Left side of "Big Emma" #41-23751, 90th BG. The words
"Big Emma" are on the right side of the plane. The
scratches are from the wartime censor removing the
machine gun from the picture so it could be sent home.


NOTE:- If you look closely under the open window of "Big Emma" of the above photo you will see the word "IVY". This refers to its pilot Lt. Leroy Iverson.


Photo:- via Bob Tupa

Possibly the Wiltse crew in front of "Big Emma"


Photo:- via Bob Tupa

#41-23765 - possibly "Connell's Special" 400th
Squadron, 90th Bomb Group which later received
the original tail markings as Col Rogers' plane


The following pictures from Bob Tupa are of aircraft that took part in the 16 November 1942 raid according to the list in Wiley Woods' book.


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#41-23763 - "Patches"

320th Squadron, 90th Bomb Group


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#41-11904 - "Pride of the Yanks"

400th Squadron, 90th Bomb Group

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#41-23719 - "Hallzapoppin"

319th Squadron, 90th Bomb Group

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#41-23714 - "Eight Ball"

321st Squadron, 90th Bomb Group


There were 7 aircraft from the 320th Squadron, 4 from the 319th Squadron and 4 from the 400th Squadron in this bombing mission. The first B-24, #41-11902 "Punjab", took off at 2300hrs as scheduled. The next B-24 did not take off until 2314hrs. There was a lot of confusion amongst the "green" pilots. Some of the pilots were not ready when it was their turn to take off. They had not determined a suitable method of communication and no method of control in dispatching the aircraft was in place. The first aircraft took off with landing lights on while the others that followed did not use their landing lights. The runway lights were placed too far apart.

That first B-24, #41-11902 "Punjab", vanished without a trace on this mission from Iron Range to Rabaul. It was piloted by the Commanding Officer of the 320th Squadron, Major Raymond S. Morse. Also on board was the Group Commander, Colonel Arthur W. Meehan, who was co-pilot. Another one of the crew members was Lt Wallace Sorensen. This loss in combination with the above crash caused some significant morale problems amongst the men of the 90th Bomb Group.

One of those killed was a linemen sitting on the wing of an aircraft. There had been some speculation that there may have been up to 15 killed in this accident. The following burial records from the US Cemetery in Townsville show the names of the 11 men killed in this tragic accident:-


Dee, William J. 16067297 USA 19 Nov 42 Protestant
Larson, Paul R. 023854 USA 19 Nov 42 Protestant
Dilotti, Lewis A. 35376226 USA 19 Nov 42 Protestant
Red, Claude D. 18063101 USA 19 Nov 42 Protestant
Halgreen, Axel J. 12033336 USA 19 Nov 42 Protestant
Meuthirg, David C. 0726929 USA 19 Nov 42 Catholic
Irving, Ernest I. 6116757 USA 19 Nov 42 Catholic
Sipple, William F. 0791004 USA 19 Nov 42 Catholic
Picker, Lester L. 35268447? USA 20 Nov 42 Catholic
Bassman, Herbert R. 0725576 USA 20 Nov 42 Protestant
Patty, Harry L. 3316669 USA 20 Nov 42 Protestant


Doctor John T Klausner was based at Iron Range at the time of this horrific incident and made some entries in his diary of the carnage that he witnessed after the crash. The descriptions in his diary and very graphic so please do not click on the link below if his graphic descriptions may upset you:-


Graphic details of the human carnage after this crash in the diary of Dr. John T. Klausner
Warning:- graphic details at this link


"Queensland Airfields WW2 - 50 Years on"
By Roger R. Marks

Page 168
41-23765 was reported "materially" as distinct from "slightly" damaged at IRON RANGE on 16-17 November 1942, and while I can't be sure, it seems likely it was the plane Jack Atkinson "repaired" so it could be flown "some thousand miles south to the Depot".

NOTE:-   B-24D, #41-23765, is shown having the Nickname "Connell's Special" in the book "The Forgotten Fifth". This was named after Brigadier General Carl Connell, who was in charge of the local Air Depot in Brisbane where this aircraft was modified.  It was the first B-24 in the South West Pacific area modified to add a powered twin .50 calibre tail turret to the nose of the aircraft. It was back in Port Moresby by 3 March 1943 after the modification. It would appear this modification was carried out in early 1943 after the accident in November 1942.



Photo:- Michael Musumeci

Plaque at Lockhart River dedicated on Anzac Day 25 April 2007


Photo:- Michael Musumeci

Dedication Service on Anzac Day 25 April 2007



The following photo from Bob Tupa is of the original "Moby Dick" that the Squadron was later named after with Bob's grandfather sticking his head out of the cockpit window.


Photo:- via Bob Tupa

Capt Norman Lawler, 90th BG adjutant
in "Moby Dick" (possibly #41-24047)


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Kelly Ryun's father, Harry Ryun, was a member of Lt. Leroy Iverson's crew.  They were the primary crew for "Big Emma". Harry Ryun said this mission was disastrous. He recalled it like it was yesterday. He stated the crew was standing by "Big Emma" where they observed Lt. Larson taxi down the runway for takeoff. They all saw it coming. They saw Lt. Larson's plane head for "Big Emma" when they ran for the bushes. He stated that "Big Emma" was repaired the next day and put back into service. He said that one of his crew members ran so fast he ran right into a small tree and knocked it roots and all out of the ground.


Photo:- via Bob Tupa

Lt. Leroy Iverson with "Big Emma"


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The following is a log entry for "Big Emma" on the date of the crash from one of the crew members. It was given to Bob Tupa by Kelly Ryun whose father Harry was also a member of the crew.


Log book entry of crew member of "Big Emma"


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Bob Tupa told me that it is hard to say where the above photos were taken. The log entry that he has about the photos is, 4/7/43 (7 April 43) - Combat crews had their pictures taken by Group photo by 123751 to be put on file. (123751 was Big Emma #41-23751) G\Group HQ had moved to Port Moresby in February of 43 so it is impossible for me to say whether these photos were at Iron Range or Moresby.


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Photo:- via Bob Tupa

Jack Benny in #44-40340 "Buck Benny Rides Again"



"Queensland Airfields WW2 - 50 Years On"
By Roger R. Marks

The Forgotten Fifth
A Classic Photographic Chronology of the
Fifth Air Force in Action in the Pacific in WW2
By Michael Claringbould

The Jolly Rogers: History of the 90th Bomb Group During World War II
by John S. Alcorn (Historical Aviation Album, Temple City, CA, 1981)



I'd like to thank Sand Martin and Michael Musumeci for their assistance with this web page.


Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?


"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products

I need your help


 Peter Dunn 2015


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This page first produced 7 February 1999

This page last updated 11 June 2020