The Missing Photos: Photographic Images in Missing Aircrew Reports

We live in a visual world.

In terms of photographs pertaining to the WW II United States Army Air Force, sources of pictures include the U.S. Air Force Still Photography Collection (accessible at the National Archives by directly researching original photographic images, or digitally via Fold3.com), foreign archives (the National Archives of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as the archival holdings of most any nation which was involved in the war) regional and local newspapers (often only accessible as 35mm microfilm), and – perhaps the best source for “one-of-a-kind” images – the private collections of veterans, their families, and descendants. 

Images from these sources have long been featured in publications about the Army Air Force, or World War Two (in general), and the Internet as well, and will certainly continue to do so for the future.

However, there is one small but interesting source of images has long been (ironically!) missing: Photographs in Army Air Force Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of World War Two.

MACRs – referred to in previous blog posts – will doubtless need little introduction for many visitors of this website.  However, for those unfamiliar with these records, NARA publication M1380, Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, will give you a great start.

The overwhelming majority of the 16,605 MACRs are by nature comprised of documents, and, maps.  However, a very small but notable group of MACRs – 58 to be precise – include something else:  Photographs…of the aircraft (and in an unusual case, a solitary parachuting airman) covered by these documents.

Of these 58 MACRs, most – 43 – include one photograph, while the bulk of the remaining 15 include 2, 3, or 4 images.  Two contain 9 photographs, and one includes 15 photographs.  The total number of photographs among all these 58 MACRs is 101.

The MACR photographs appear to have been taken by either 1) automatic, down- or rear-facing cameras, on low-level bomb-runs, or, high altitude bombing missions, or, 2) hand-held cameras, in “air-to-air”, “air-to-ground”, and “ground to ground” situations.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of this set of 58 MACRs – 56, to be specific – pertain to bomber or transport aircraft.  One covers an F-5A reconnaissance Lightning, and another a P-40K Warhawk.

____________________

The quality of the MACR photographs is highly variable. 

The main aspect of these images is that many – especially the air-to-air and air-to-ground images – were captured by happenstance.  Some were taken fortuitously, by a crewman seeing, sensing, and and quickly “snapping” a photograph through the nearest available window – without much time for composition or centering! – in combat conditions.  As such, the relative sized of the subject (the aircraft in question) occupying the image is relatively small.

Images of shot-down aircraft “on the ground” unsurprisingly tend to be of much better quality, at least in terms of subject size and framing. 

Overall, what these images may lack in resolution and detail is outweighed by their importance as the last reminders – both historically and symbolically – of a conflict and era that is receding into the past.  As such, these pictures don’t manifest the photographic composition, lighting, and focus of the stereotypical “official” publicity photo of an aircrew patiently posing beneath the nose-art of their bomber. 

But by nature, they do show an aspect of the nature of WW II that cannot be depicted in posed photographs.

____________________

The table below, based on and extracted from a much larger spreadsheet covering WW II USAAF aircraft losses (based on data in MACRs, and, a variety of other sources) presents nominal information about the 58 “photographic” MACRs.  Information in the table comprises the number of the relevant MACR, the name and rank of the aircraft’s pilot, the date the aircraft was lost, the aircraft’s serial number, the type and sub-type of aircraft, the total number of photographs contained within “that” MACR, and the manner of photography of the photograph(s) therein.

The information shown “here” is limited in order to simplify and streamline the appearance of “this” blog post.  A presentation of this and other relevant information about the 58 MACRs is available in a PDF file here.

Once you open the above PDF, you’ll see the information therein arranged as listed below, with three lines of “data” per MACR:

Line 1
MACR Number

Pilot’s name and rank
Date of incident
Squadron
Group
Air Force

Fate of Crew: “Total number of crew and / or passengers (Total survivors, Total Fatalities)”
Line 2
Aircraft type and sub-type
Aircraft serial number
Squadron Designation (alphabetical, numerical, or alpha-numerical) (if any; if known; in italics)
Nickname (if any; if known; in italics)
General location where aircraft was lost or last seen (with German KU or ME Report number, if relevant)
Line 3
Total number of photographic images in MACR

____________________

A note, and more than a note…

An acknowledgement, and more than an acknowledgement…

It is my understanding that upon their declassification in the early 1980s, MACRs were made available to the public as the “original” documents, but, with the realization of the importance and heavy use of the documents, this policy was rescinded, with the records then being made available in microfiche format – at some time in the mid-1980s – by which they could be purchased from, or directly viewed at NARA.  Fiche format MACRs are presently available at NARA, digitally through Fold3.com, and in many and varied websites in PDF, word (transcribed or summarized), or JPG formats. 

It was through a review (albeit a lengthy and intermittent review; conducted over some years!) of MACRs in fiche and digital formats that I discovered the 58 particular Reports that are the subject of this post.  That review focused on the approximately 14,900 wartime MACRs, and a smaller number of the post-war, “fill-in” MACRs which were created for gaps in wartime coverage, and, pre-mid-1943 aircraft losses.   

After I identified this set of MACRs, the National Archives very kindly granted me access to the “original” documents in order to scan photographic images within them. 

As a result of their generosity – for which I’m deeply appreciative – I’m now able to bring you this post.

And, I hope to bring you a few of the better images in the future. 

– Michael G. Moskow

____________________

Here are a few examples…

MACR 1087.  (Refer to this account at Justin Taylan’s Pacific Wrecks Database.)

MACR 5032.  (Refer to this account at the 416th Bomb Group website (maintained by Wayne G. Sayles, Rick Prucha, Chris Adams and Carl Sgamboti).

 

MACR 8440.  (Refer to this account at the 303rd Bomb Group website.)

 

MACR Pilot Date Aircraft Serial   Type of Camera
64 Perkins, John H. 1 Lt. 7/14/43 B-17F 42-3049 1 Automatic
150 Flavelle, Brian F. 1 Lt. 8/1/43 B-24D 42-40563 1 Hand-Held
304 Miller, Ralph R. 1 Lt. 8/19/43 B-17F 42-29807 1 Automatic
394 Moore, Don W. 1 Lt. 8/27/43 B-17F 42-29530 1 Hand-Held
489 McDonald, Harry L. 1 Lt. 8/30/43 B-24D 42-40217 3 Hand-Held
614 Boren, William T. Major 9/21/43 B-26B 41-31721 1 Automatic
935 Stookey, Donald L. 1 Lt. 10/16/43 B-25D 41-30561 1 Automatic
1057 Manley, Daniel 1 Lt. 10/9/43 B-25D 41-30363 1 Hand-Held
1087 Smith, Richard F/O 11/3/43 B-25G 42-64850 1 Hand-Held
1146 Gullette, Frank E. 1 Lt. 11/20/43 B-25D 41-30572 1 Hand-Held
1170 Paschal, James M. 1 Lt. 10/19/43 B-25C 41-12631 4 Hand-Held
1416 Meister, Robert A. 1 Lt. 12/17/43 B-25D 41-30661 2 Hand-Held
1423 Smith, George W. 1 Lt. 12/21/43 B-24D 41-24214 2 Hand-Held
1544 Besley, Charles E. 1 Lt. 12/21/43 B-25D 41-30771 1 Automatic?
1620 Unruh, Marion D. Col. 12/30/43 B-24D 41-24186 3 Hand-Held
1629 Morse, Roger W. 1 Lt. 1/3/44 B-24D 42-41205 1 Hand-Held?
2450 Sutphen, Harry S. Capt. 2/22/44 B-25G 42-64779 1 Hand-Held
2578 Ecklund, Robert D. 1 Lt. 12/27/43 F-5A 42-13068 2 Recon & Hand-Held
2761 Fletcher, William H. 1 Lt. 2/21/44 B-17G 42-37796 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
3680 Rauh, Theodore A. 1 Lt. 4/2/44 B-24J 42-73150 1 Hand-Held
3971 Rogers, Robert J., Jr. 2 Lt. 4/2/44 B-24H 41-28698 1 Hand-Held
5032 Gullion, Allen W. 1 Lt. 5/27/44 A-20G 43-10206 1 Automatic
5033 Siracusa, Lucian J. 1 Lt. 5/27/44 A-20G 43-10203 1 Automatic
5303 Moran, Bart 2 Lt. 5/29/44 B-17G 42-107052 9 Hand-Held (Ground)
5536 Randolph, Benjamin D. 1 Lt. 6/3/44 A-20G 43-9959 1 Automatic
5628 Jackson, Loren E. 2 Lt. 6/12/44 B-17G 42-31762 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
5982 Burch, Richard W. Capt. 6/20/44 B-17G 42-97892 1 Automatic
6070 Casey, Thomas V. 2 Lt. 6/22/44 B-25J 43-27656 1 Hand-Held
6455 Dunn, Lamar J. 1 Lt. 6/26/44 B-24H 42-50401 1 Hand-Held
6456 Carter, Thomas J. Major 6/26/44 B-24H 42-95451 1 Automatic
6996 Jones, Ellsoworth D. 2 Lt. 7/28/44 B-24H 41-29275 1 Automatic
7419 DeMatio, Donald H. 2 Lt. 7/19/44 B-24H 42-94893 2 Hand-Held
7685 Hoschar, John P. 1 Lt. 8/15/44 B-25J 43-27783 1 Automatic?
8187 Carpenter, Floyd B. 2 Lt. 9/2/44 P-40K 42-9860 15 Automatic
8440 Litman, Arnold S. Capt. 8/15/44 B-17G 43-37838 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
9750 Barnsley, Daniel V. 2 Lt. 10/21/44 B-24J 44-40557 3 Hand-Held
9906 Yaeger, William C. 1 Lt. 9/17/44 C-47A 42-100648 1 Hand-Held
10154 Levitoff, Julius 2 Lt. 11/6/44 B-17G 42-97330 1 Hand-Held
10156 Campbell, Robert G. 1 Lt. 11/2/44 B-17G 43-38670 1 Automatic?
10303 Alleman, James E. 2 Lt. 11/5/44 B-17G 43-38363 1 Hand-Held
11392 McKanna, Ellis J. Capt. 1/18/45 B-25J 43-27649 2 ?
11555 Smith, Edmund G. 1 Lt. 1/27/45 B-29 42-24769 1 Automatic
11574 Eisenhart, Oliver T. 2 Lt. 1/13/45 B-17G 43-38689 1 Automatic
11576 Statton, Roy F. 1 Lt. 1/10/45 B-17G 42-97861 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
11577 McGinnis, Martin S. Capt. 1/13/45 B-17G 42-107099 1 Hand-Held
11713 Murchland, Robert K. 1 Lt. 1/18/45 B-25J 43-4069 2 Hand-Held
12050 Bierwirth, Herman L. 1 Lt. 2/8/45 B-24L 44-41470 1 ?
12092 Figler, Roman H. 1 Lt. 2/13/45 B-25J 43-27670 1 Hand-Held
12130 Ross, Charles D. 1 Lt. 2/5/45 B-25J 43-36098 1 Hand-Held
12680 Smith, Jay B. Lt. Col. 2/22/45 B-26C 42-107745 3 Hand-Held (Ground)
13419 Kreiser, Joseph R. Capt. 3/24/45 C-46D 44-77582 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
13421 Phillips, Moorhead 1 Lt. 3/24/45 C-46D 44-77595 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
13422 Hamilton, Gerard E. 2 Lt. 3/24/45 C-46D 44-77512 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
13431 Barton, Junior R. 1 Lt. 3/24/45 C-46D 44-77474 1 Hand-Held (Ground)
13515 Bauer, Christian C., Jr. 2 Lt. 3/6/45 B-25J 43-36150 2 Hand-Held
14351 Custer, Glenn R. 2 Lt. 5/4/45 B-24M 44-42058 1 Automatic
14408 Larsen, Leonard G. 1 Lt. 5/10/45 B-25J 43-36149 1 Hand-Held
15098 Norton, Charles E. Capt. 9/24/42 B-17E 41-2420 4 Hand-Held (Ground)

References

NARA Publication M 1380: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington. D.C., 2005

“B-25G-5 Mitchell Serial Number 42-64850″, at http://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/b-25/42-64850.html.

B-17G Fearless Fosdick, at http://www.303rdbg.com/pp-fearlessfosdick-crash.html. (Website copyright by Gary L. Moncur.)

“416th Bomb Group Mission # 58”, at http://www.416th.com/missions/mission58.html.  (Website copyright by Wayne G. Sayles.)

Far Away, So Close: The Fall of a B-24 Liberator off the Coast of Italy – III (References)

References

Books

Birdsall, Steve, Log of the Liberators – An Illustrated History of the B-24, Doubleday, New York, N.Y., 1973
Blue, Allan G., The B-24 Liberator, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, N.Y., 1975
Davis, Larry, B-24 Liberator in Action, Squadron / Signal Publications, Carrollton, Tx., 1987
Rust, Kenn C., Fifteenth Air Force Story, Historical Aviation Album, Temple City, Ca., 1976

Web Sites

Aircraft

Marty the Rubble Maker, at http://www.450thbg.com/real/aircraft/martytherubblemaker.shtml
Marty the Rubble Maker, at http://www.450thbg.com/real/biographies/kostro/kostro.shtml
Marty the Rubble Maker, at http://www.450thbg.com/real/crews/bertling.shtml
Marty the Rubble Maker, at http://www.b24bestweb.com/martytherubblemaker.htm
Satan’s Gal, at http://www.americanairmuseum.com/aircraft/21270.
Satan’s Gal, at http://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/usa/aircrafts-2-3/b-24/b-24-leevus-bee-and-satans-gal-ii-450th-bg/.
Satan’s Gal, at http://www.b24bestweb.com/satansgal4.htm.

Crew

J.C. Word crew, at http://www.450thbg.com/real/crews/wordcrew.shtml
S/Sgt. Harry M. Beightol:  Chautauqua News and Sherman Advance 6/2/44, 6/9/44; Jamestown Post-Journal 10/21/43, 6/26/44, 10/27/44, 12/7/44, 2/5/49, 2/7/49, 10/28/54; Daly Sentinel (Rome) 3/5/45

S/Sgt. Paul D. Boaz, Biographical information by Jeff Barefoot, at FindAGrave.com
2 Lt. Edward F. Garrett: Albany Times Union 6/16/45; Troy Times Record 6/15/44, 6/19/44, 9/2/44, 6/13/45; Knickerbocker News 6/19/44, 6/12/45
S/Sgt. Gilbert W. Hatfield, Biographical information by Sally Wise (niece), at FindAGrave.com
2 Lt. J.C. Word: The News From Paris, Texas, June 14, 1945; Miami Daily News-Record (Miami, Oklahoma) June 19, 1944

Miscellaneous

Cold Water Survival, at http://www.shipwrite.bc.ca/Chilling_truth.htm
Cold Water Survival, at http://www.ussartf.org/cold_water_survival.htm
Mediterranean Sea Water Temperature, at http://seatemperature.info/may/santo-stefano-al-mare-water-temperature.html
Giannutri Island and Italian coastline, as photographed by Bernard Lafond, at https://www.flickr.com/photos/lafond/3769229709/in/photostream/.
List of Newspapers for Chautauqua, New York, at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nychauta//Newspapers.htm

 – Michael G. Moskow

Far Away, So Close: The Fall of a B-24 Liberator off the Coast of Italy – II

     This post presents the three images showing the loss of B-24H 42-5209: Marty the Rubble Maker.

     MACR 4836 includes eyewitness statements about the loss of the aircraft by two members of the 722nd Bomb Squadron: 1 Lt. Willoughby J. Hodge and S/Sgt. Glenn K. Platt, the navigator and aerial gunner of B-24H 42-99805, “Madame Shoo Shoo”, Squadron Number 47 (otherwise known as “Termite Chaser II”). (1)

     Platt’s account:

     On 12 May 1944, our group was on a mission to bomb the Harbor Installations at Port San Stefano, Italy.  I was flying as tail gunner in ship #805 in #4 position in the lead box in the lead attack unit.  Lieutenant Word was flying ship #096, leading the low left element of the lead attack unit.  Approximately two minutes after target time Lieutenant Word was hit by flak which knocked off his left rudder.  This caused the ship to go partially out of control.  The ship then went into a dive.  One man bailed out while it was in the dive.  As the ship approached the sea, Lieutenant Word pulled the ship out of the dive which gave sufficient time for the remainder of the crew to bail out.  I observed a total of nine chutes before the ship nosed into the sea.

     Hodge’s account: 

     On May 12, 1944, our group was on a mission to bomb the Harbor Installations at Port San Stefano, Italy.  I was flying as navigator in ship #805 in #4 position in the lead box in the lead attack unit.  Lieutenant Word was flying ship #096, leading the low left element of the lead attack unit.  As we came off the bomb run, a burst of flak blew the left rudder completely off of Lieutenant Word’s ship.  Lieutenant Word’s ship maintained level flight for about four minutes.  It then started to climb, as it turned back towards the target.  The ship then rolled almost completely over on its back.  As the ship partially righted itself, it went into a steep turning dive.  I then saw nine chutes leave the ship.  It crashed into the sea at 0906 hours.  The Coordinates were 42 16 N, 11 08 E.

____________________

     Where was the plane lost?

     Using the coordinates and the map within MACR 4836, GoogleMaps was used to generate maps – at successively larger scales – of area of the plane’s loss.  These are presented below. 

map-1      Western Italian coast, Tyrrhenian Sea, and Corsica.  Porto Santo Stefano is directly east from Corsica. 

map-2      Zooming into the Tyrrhenian Sea, between Corsica and Porto Santo Stefano.

Map 4 42-16 N 11-08 E     Porto Santo Stefano, with Giglio Island to the West, and Giannutri Island (unlabeled) to the south.  Google Maps’ red position locator shows the loss location of Marty the Rubble Maker, based on coordinates of 42 16 N, 11 08 E reported by Lt. Hodge, and, shown in the map below, from MACR 4836.

04836-42-52096-4____________________

     The photographs?

     A review of photographs in the U.S. Air Force Pre-1954 Official Still Photography Collection at the United States National Archives reveals three images of the loss of Marty the Rubble Maker, which are also shown at the 450th BG WebsiteThe original photographic prints are contained in “Box 100” of the World War II series in this photo collection.

     The pictures are listed and described below.  The “original” USAAF photographic print number is given first, followed by the the corresponding NASM (National Air and Space Museum) Videodisc Frame Number (the “3A” prefix).

     62062AC / 3A-24479 – This image shows the B-24 in horizontal flight, seen from starboard rear, with the Italian coast in the distance.  This is the image published in Log of the Liberators.

     62063AC / 3A-24480 – This image shows the aircraft “standing” on its starboard wing and banking past vertical, before its recovery by Lieutenants Word and Bertling.  Visually, the plane is “framed” between the port tail of a nearby Liberator, while to the right is Satan’s Gal, B-24G 42-78231, squadron number 5, of the 720th Bomb Squadron.  A nice image of Satan’s Gal appears at the website of the American Air Museum, and another photograph – showing the aircraft in the 450th BG’s late-war “tiger-stripe” yellow and black tail markings – from the World War Photos gallery, appears below.

b-24s-leevus-bee-and-satans-gal     62064AC / 3A-24482 – This image shows the aircraft in a steep dive, flanked by the wing and tail of B-24s heading west, with the Italian coastline – southwest of Porto San Stefano – in the background.  This is the image that appears in Fifteenth Air Force Story.

      The three photographs were probably taken in the sequence listed above (62AC, then 63AC, then 64AC), which is consistent with the accounts given by Platt and Willoughby.

____________________

     The photographs, in sequence…

     The three photographs are presented below.  The first and last images include GoogleEarth 3-D virtual views best conforming to the location and perspective of the photograph, and, a Google Map matching the locality of that 3-D virtual view.  (The “second” image of the sequence – 62063AC / 3A-24480 – does not include Google Map or 3-D virtual views.)

b-24h-42-52096-24479-1-600

     62062AC / 3A-24479 – Precisely because of the clarity of this photograph, with the aircraft silhouetted against the sea, and the coast of Italy not far off in the distance – but alas, still too far – this is the most evocative and haunting of the three photographs. 

     It evokes two words, “If only…”

b-24h-42-52096-24479-2-2400     This is a 2400 dpi enlargement from the original NARA photographic print, enhanced to bring out details.  All four engines are undamaged, while the ball turret, with its guns pointed downward, has probably been vacated.  The almost completely missing port tail is strikingly evident, suggesting that the flak burst exploded very close to S/Sgt. Whitley’s tail turret.  Though probably not visible in your web browser, the aircraft has a two digit tail number, which appears to be 45 or 46

coast-photo-2-3d     Due to the subtlety of the coastline, atmospheric haze, and the angle of view, generating a 3-D view matching this image was challenging.  However, this 3-D view of the coast of Italy appears to be the “best fit” for the geographic features seen in the above photo.  This section of the Italian coastline encompasses a view of Tarquinia, Civitavecchia, and Santa Marinella. 

coast-photo-2     A vertical view of the same area.

coast-map-2     A map view of Tarquinia, Civitavecchia, and Santa Marinella. 

b-24h-42-52096-24480-1-600     62063AC / 3A-24480 – This image is testimony to the flying skill of Lieutenants Word and Bertling.  The plane has banked well past vertical, and yet they still made a recovery… 

b-24h-42-52096-24480-2-3200     This image is a 3200 dpi enlargement from 3A-24480.  No new details have emerged, but the picture does stand out more clearly.

b-24h-42-52096-24482-1-600      62064AC / 3A-24482 – The last of the three pictures, with the diving Liberator silhouetted against the western coast of Italy.  In Lt. Hodge’s words, “It then started to climb, as it turned back towards the target.  The ship then rolled almost completely over on its back.  As the ship partially righted itself, it went into a steep turning dive.”  This photograph was probably taken just at that moment. 

b-24h-42-52096-24482-2-3200     A 3200 dpi enlargement from the above image.  Obvious is just how closely to the tail position the anti-aircraft shell exploded; virtually nothing remains of the port empennage.  It appears – from the bright glint of sunlight off the starboard fin – that the plane’s de-icer boots have been removed, similar to the wing of the Liberator in the left side of the photograph.

coast-photo-1-3d     A 3-D view of the coast and nearby area in  62064AC / 3A-24482 The geographic features in the image (coastline, roads, farmland, forested areas, and a lake paralleling the coastline) are identical to those visible in the photograph.  In the original image, Marty the Rubble Maker is visually superimposed against forested area just to the left (northwest) of Sgrillozzo. The image shows the Italian coastline with Spacco della Regina to the northwest, Capabio Scalo in the center, and Lago di Burano just inland from shore.

     Assuming the accuracy of the location reported in the MACR, the crew parachuted over the Tyrrhenian Sea just over one mile northeast of the island of Giannutri.  However, going by this image – alone – it appears that the crew parachuted and the aircraft crashed closer to the Italian mainland.  This discrepancy may actually be due to the perspective from which the photograph was taken.

coast-photo-1     A vertical view of the area seen above.

coast-map-1     A map view of Spacco della Regina, Capabio Scalo in the center, and Lago di Burano.     

____________________

     What happened?

    Nine parachutes emerged from an aircraft carrying ten men.

    None returned.

     The tenth man?  He could have been the tail gunner, S/Sgt, Whitley, perhaps mortally wounded or killed by anti-aircraft fire.   

     He could have been Lieutenant Word, who remained behind to give his crew a chance to escape.

     The tenth man could – in actuality – have been any of the other eight men aboard the aircraft (except for Sgt. Beightol, whose body was eventually recovered and returned to the United States).  (2)

     Lt. Hodge’s account suggests that Lt. Word, realizing the predicament of his plane and crew, may have been attempting to reach the Italian mainland to allow a bail-out over land.  They bailed out when the plane when out of control.  They landed at sea, somewhere between the Italian mainland and Giannutri Island.  They were almost certainly within sight of both as they descended in their parachutes. 

     A distance of about ten miles separates the western coast of Italy from Giannutri. 

     Ten miles is not far – “as the crow flies”. 
     Ten miles is a short distance – on a map. 

     But, a clearer impression of the nature of their situation can be seen in this remarkable photograph showing Giannutri Island, with Porto Santo Stefano and the Italian coastline in the distance.  The image, from Bernard Lafond’s flickr Phostream was taken in 2009, and gives a striking impression of this section of the Tyrrhenian Sea and western Italian coast.

giannutri-island-and-italian-mainland-bernard-lafond     The crew parachuted close to land, but not close enough to land.  Without immediate rescue, in water at a temperature of around 60 degrees, burdened by heavy flying equipment, with only a Mae West for flotation, ten miles of water might as well have been one hundred.

____________________

     As Sergeant Beightol wrote five days before his final – and 50th – mission, “I haven’t done so much, but in a sense of the word I can say I have done a little something for my country.  I hope to be able to do more.  Perhaps I’ll get the chance.”   It is more than ironic – but then again, life in general is often ironic – that he did far more than he could ever have imagined.

     His name, and the name of his nine fellow crewmen, would become part of the total of over 407,300 American war dead of the Second World War, and would pass into history. 

     Perhaps the best we can do, in turn, is remember.    

____________________

(1) A photo of Hodge, Platt, and their crew standing before the 450th BG B-24 Termite Chaser I can be found here.  That aircraft was ditched in Naples Harbor by 2 Lt. Layman E. Shain (ironically, an original crewman of Marty the Rubble Maker) on May 19, Shain losing his life in that incident.  Superb in-flight photos of “Madame Shoo Shoo” – from which they witnessed the loss of Marty the Rubble Maker – can be found at this 450th Bomb Group web page.

(2) More information about this can probably be found in his IDPF, which might clarify similar questions about Lt. Bertling. 

 – Michael G. Moskow

Far Away, So Close: The Fall of a B-24 Liberator off the Coast of Italy – I

     On May 7, 1944, an aerial gunner in the 722nd Bomb Squadron of the 450th (“Cottontails”) Bomb Group – S/Sgt. Harry M. Beightol – composed the following letter to his mother, Nellie Mae Beightol, of Howard Hill, New York:

     “I am getting along fine, Mom, and am trying to be a good soldier and do my part.  I go to church whenever I can and I never fail to thank God for bringing us back after each mission.

     “I carry my Testament with me on every mission and before we get into enemy territory I read the 91st Psalm.  I believe that passage means to me that my fears vanish as dew in the morning sun.

     “Some of the boys in our group have finished their missions and are awaiting transportation to the States.  I have 45 missions to my credit.  Perhaps I’ll get to see you all one of these days soon.  I certainly won’t be sorry.

     “I haven’t done so much, but in a sense of the word I can say I have done a little something for my country.  I hope to be able to do more.  Perhaps I’ll get the chance.”

May 7, 1944

     Brief and direct; meaningful and sincere, Sgt. Beightol’s letter was shared with the upstate New York newspaper Chautauqua News and Sherman Advance, where it was published just over one month later, on June 9.  The impetus for its publication was his parents’ receipt – on June 8 – of a telegram from the War Department notifying them that Harry and his crew were listed as Missing in Action in the Mediterranean Theater of War, on May 12, 1944.

     Neither Harry nor his crewmen would return. 

     To those who knew them, they would become memories.  To their country, their loss would become part of both the cost and record of America’s victory in World War Two, an era that imparted and reflected monumental changes in American society, and, the place of the United States in the international arena.

     Almost seventy-three years have passed since then.  Times have changed; times continue to change.

     The impact of the Second World War – personal and cultural; historical and technological – while in many ways having formed and influenced the world we have lived in, is increasingly moving into the past, blending into and merging with the currents of time.  Such is the way of human nature; such is the way of history. 

     The memory and legacy of that era – which might once have seemed near-indelible to its participants, observers, and, their descendants – will, in the fullness of time, like all historical events, consist of memories of memories, words, and, images.  (Well, it does already…) 

     It is the latter – three images – that are the focus of this post:  Pictures of Harry’s aircraft, Marty the Rubble Maker, photographed it flew into history.

____________________

     An image of this aircraft appeared in publication as far back as 1973, in Steve Birdsall’s Log of the Liberators, where a photograph of the severely damaged B-24 is shown on page 225.  The picture is captioned, “Hit by flak over Porto Santo Stefano, this Cottontail stayed in formation for seven minutes with the entire left tail section shot off.  The aircraft stood on one wing a couple of times, but the pilot fought it and managed to get her level again long enough for the crew to bail out.”

b-24h-42-52096-log-of-the-liberators-steve-birdsall-225      From the caption’s optimistic tone, it would have seemed – well, then – that the crew survived.

      Another photograph of this B-24 was published three years later, in Ken Rust’s Fifteenth Air Force Story.  On page 23, an image of a diving B-24 with a half-destroyed tail is captioned, “Liberator was hit by flak on 12 May 1944 after completing its bomb run over Porto Santo Stefano, Italy.  After losing part of its tail, the plane remained with its formation for seven minutes, then split-essed a number of times with the pilot recovering control by use of ailerons each time.  Finally, after all crewmen had bailed out safely, the plane went out of control and crashed into the sea.”

       Porto Santo Stefano?  Liberator?  The caption was similar in content and tone to that in Birdsall’s book, and it became obvious that the two photographs were images in the same sequence.

     The key would be the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR).  In turn, the key to obtaining a copy of the MACR (as microfiche; well, this was 1985, years before the advent of Fold3.com, JPGs, and PDFs!) was the date: May 12, 1944.  With that information, I received the relevant MACR (4836) from the National Archives.  Placing it within a microfilm reader, I discovered that from the plane in question – B-24H 42-52096 – there were no survivors.

     What happened?

____________________

     Who were the plane’s crew?

Pilot: 2 Lt. J.C. Word (Full first name unknown.)
Mrs. Ava Word (mother), Wright City, Ok.

Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.

Co-Pilot: 2 Lt. Norbert T. Bertling
Born 1919
Mrs. Agnes Bertling (mother), Cashton, Wi.
According to ABMC website, commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.
According to FindAGrave.com, buried at Moen Cemetery, Cashton, Wi.

Navigator: 2 Lt. Edward Franklin Garrett; On 38th Mission
Mrs. Catherine T. Garrett (wife), 11 Villa Road, Menands, N.Y.
Mrs. John Dobler (mother), 41 Ford Ave., Troy, N.Y.
Mrs. Harry Stufflebeam (sister)
Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy.
Photograph and missing in action notice from The Times Record (Troy, N.Y.) of June 15, 1944

New York State Digital library
New York State Digital library

Bombardier: 2 Lt. John M. Werner
Mrs. Ethel V. Werner (wife), 1122 Voight St., Houston, Tx.
No record at ABMC website
No record at FindAGrave.com

Flight Engineer: T/Sgt. Gilbert Wesley Hatfield; On 50th Mission
Born 9/8/17, Klamath Falls, Or.
Mrs. Elsie Mae (Postma) Hatfield (wife), Jean (step-daughter), Tuscon, Az.
Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Pleasant and Grace Bernice (Jones) Hatfield (parents); Three siblings
Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.
Photographs and biographical information by Sally Wise, at FindAGrave.com.

hatfield-gilbert-wRadio Operator: T/Sgt. Morris Spector
Miss Celia Mayer (ward), 487 East 174th St., New York, N.Y.
Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.

Gunner (Nose): S/Sgt. Harry M. Beightol; On 50th Mission
Born 6/5/20
Mrs. Mary Jane (Wood) Beightol (wife), Route 1, Mayville, N.Y.
Mr. and Mrs. C. Vernon and Nellie Mae (Persons) Beightol (parents); Mrs. Marjorie Shepardson (sister), Howard Hill, N.Y.
Buried at Mayville Cemetery, Mayville, N.Y.
Information from the following New York state newspapers: Chautauqua News and Sherman Advance 6/2/44, 6/9/44; Jamestown Post-Journal 10/21/43, 6/26/44, 10/27/44, 12/7/44, 2/5/49, 2/7/49, 10/28/54; Daily Sentinel (Rome) 3/5/45

Gunner: S/Sgt. James G. Shirley
Mrs. Alice V. Shirley (mother), 180 Sears Point Road, Vallejo, Ca.
Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.

Gunner: S/Sgt. Paul Dillard Boaz
Born 1/8/23, High Point, N.C.
Mr. and Mrs. Hobart Dillard and Susan Evelyn (Barefoot) Boaz (parents), Route # 1, Cameron, N.C.
Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.
Commemorative grave marker at Barefoot-Lamm Cemetery, Wilson County, N.C.
Photograph and biographical information by Jeff Barefoot, at FindAGrave.com.

boaz-paul-dGunner (Tail): S/Sgt. Lloyd Whitley
Mrs. Ethel J. Whitley (mother), Route #1, Charlotte, N.C.
Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.

    Three photographs of Lt. Word and his crew are also available at the 450th Bomb Group wesbite.

     Photos of the fall of Marty the Rubble Maker appear in the next post.

– Michael G. Moskow