CRASH OF A USAAF AIRCRAFT
AT ARCHERFIELD AIRFIELD
ON 31 MARCH 1942

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At 0750 hours on 31 March 1942, a USAAF P-39D Airacobra #40-3022, crashed after taking off into a tree during foggy conditions at Archerfield Airfield in Brisbane, Queensland. The aircraft burst into flames and continued for 150 yards before striking the ground. It rolled down a slope for another 100 yards and became a complete wreck.

Private Horace Summers (Q123835) of the 1st Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps and Warrant Officer Charles Surtees Mason (No 4636) of 23 Squadron RAAF rescued the American officer, 2nd Lieutenant Carpenter, from the burning aircraft. Warrant Officer Charles Mason was awarded the MBE and Private Horace Summers was awarded the British Empire Medal for their rescue of the American pilot. Warrant Officer Mason ordered a sergeant to arrange for an ambulance and fire tender.

The citation for the award for Private Horace Summers reads, in part :–

“Private H. Summers, 1st Bn V.D.C., together with W.O. C.S. Mason, R.A.A.F., acting with total disregard of their own personal safety were responsible for the saving of the life of 2 Lieut. Carpenter, U.S.A. Air Force."

"The ‘plane piloted by Lieut. Carpenter collided with a tree and came to ground a tangled burning mass. Pte Summers showing commendable initiative, courage and resourcefulness ran to the burning ‘plane and assisted W.O. C.S. Mason R.A.A.A.F. to free Lieutenant Carpenter from the wreckage. During this time the ‘plane was burning fiercely and ammunition exploding. Had it not been for the courage so displayed by Pte Summers the pilot would have been burned to death.”

The entry in the London Gazette dated 12 February 1943, for both men reads in full as follows:-

"On the 31st March, 1942, in fog conditions, an Airacobra aircraft struck the top of a tree in a dispersal area, burst into flames and continued for approximately 150 yards before hitting the ground, rolling down a slope for a further hundred yards as a complete wreck. Flying Officer Mason followed the direction of the aircraft after it had collided with the tree and instructed an airman to telephone immediately for the ambulance and fire tender and to despatch the dispersal point fire extinguishers to the scene of the accident. Private Summers joined Flying Officer Mason at the scene of the crash. On first viewing the wreckage Flying Officer Mason thought that the pilot had been killed outright but quickly detected movements in the cockpit and, despite the fact that portions of the wreckage were burning fiercely, and ammunition was discharging from six magazines, he and his companion dashed in to rescue the pilot who was unconscious and jammed in the compartment by bent sections of the cockpit. Cannon shell was also in the magazines and the possibility of its discharging as the flames and heat increased was ever present. Assisted by Private Summers, Flying Officer Mason unfastened the safety belt. The locking device for the belt was a type which neither had seen before. Wreckage had to be pulled away from the pilot's left leg and right arm before he could be extricated. Difficulty was experienced owing to the absence of any device with which to prise apart the obstructions holding the pilot in the cockpit. Flying Officer Mason worked with speed and precision and was successful in releasing both limbs. Nevertheless, during the process, it was necessary in the course of removing the crumpled rudder bar from the pilot's left foot, to move still closer to the flames and in doing so Flying Officer Mason was burnt on the left arm. Finally, before the pilot could be dragged clear, it was necessary to untangle or unlock the parachute harness. The latter process proved difficult and as the flames continued to spread, it was clear that speed was now essential if the pilot's life was to be saved. Flying Officer Mason therefore dragged the tangled harness clear of the burning aircraft while Private Summers held the pilot who was then carried clear and conveyed to the station hospital by ambulance."

 

The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), Tuesday 21 December 1943

Deeds That Will Live For Ever

F Officer Charles Surtees Mason, RAAF, and Pte Horace Summers, Volunteer Defence Corps, Queensland, were awarded the MBE and British Empire Medal respectively for saving the life of a pilot whose aircraft struck the top of a tree in a dispersal area, and burst into flames. Despite the fact that portions of the wreckage were burning fiercely and ammunition was discharging from six magazines, the two men dashed in to rescue the pilot, who was unconscious and jammed in the compartment by bent sections of the cockpit. In addition to removing wreckage, it was necessary to untangle or unlock the parachute harness as the flames continued to spread before the pilot could be dragged clear.

 

Private Horace Summers was the first member of the Volunteer Defence Corps to be awarded a decoration. Group A Commander of the V.D.C. Lieutenant Colonel L. R. Ferguson, paid tribute to Private Summers as follows:-

"He has been doing a great job with us for about 12 months. We are all proud of the honour paid to him as a V.D.C. man - the first to be so honoured."

The 35th and 36th and 80th Fighter Squadrons from the US Army Air Corps 8th Fighter Group were stationed at Archerfield at the time, so Lieutenant Carpenter probably would have belonged to one of those squadrons.

There was a Lt. Hervey B. Carpenter who was later the commander of "A" Flight in the 35th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group. He also later went on to serve with the 348th Fighter Group. Could he have been the pilot that was rescued from this crash at Archerfield? Lieutenant Colonel Hervey B. Carpenter eventually retired from the USAAF in 1957 and passed away on 17 July 2009 at Huntington Commons, Kennebunk.

 

Lieutenant Hervey B. Carpenter

 

The other possibility is 2nd Lt Charles Carpenter of the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group.

Squadron Leader Charles Surtees Mason, MBE (03589, previously 4636) was tragically killed on 9 April 1955, in the crash of a Lincloln bomber of 10 Squadron RAAF into Mount Superbus in southern Queensland.

 

Sqn/Ldr Charles Surtees Mason MBE

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Attack & Conquer - The 8th Fighter Group in World War II"
by John C. Stanaway & Lawrence J. Hickey

Obituary Herbey B. Carpenter

Find A Grave - Hervey B. Carpenter

Deeds That Will Live For Ever, The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), Tuesday 21 December 1943

First V.D.C. Medal Winner, Army News, (Darwin, NT), Sunday 14 Feb 1943

V.D.C. Member Wins Decoration, The Central Queensland Herald, (Rockhampton, QLD), Thursday 18 Feb 1943

Honours For Brave Rescue, The Telegraph (Brisbane, QLD), Saturday 13 Feb 1943

Latest Awards include V.D.C., The Canberra Times (ACT), Saturday 13 Feb 1943

Rescue of a Pilot, The West Australian (Perth, WA), Saturday 13 Feb 1943

First V.D.C. Award to Brisbane Private, The Courier Mail (Brisbane, QLD), Saturday 13 February 1943

Aviation Heritage - Mason, Charles Surtees, MBE

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Michael and Kay Long for their assistance with this web page. Kay Long is the granddaughter of Private Horace Summers.

I'd also like to thank Keith O'Connell the son-in-law of Sqn/Ldr Charles Mason. Keith O'Connell also served in 10 Squadron.

I'd also like to thank Daniel Leahy and Gordon Birkett for their assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 9 December 2017

This page last updated 04 March 2020