Transport Command

All posts tagged Transport Command

Something a little new this time, I’m just sharing an article. Darrell Hillier is a name familiar to any regular readers, especially if you read through my sources. He is often listed as a source, and has been a great help throughout all of my research. Darrell’s MA thesis has just been published through Memorial University, and I wanted to share it here with everyone. It is well worth the read and looks at the history and crash of USAAF B-24 Liberator No. 44-42169 which crashed near Gander on 14 February 1945 killing all 10 servicemen on board. But his thesis doesn’t just look at the crash. He has done extensive research, talking to family members and reading correspondences to look at the impact of this incident on the home front; how the families were notified, their questions, and how they lived with their loved ones first being declared MIA, then dead. I had the privilege to read a draft of the thesis a while ago, and have been waiting anxiously for it to be published so I could share it here. I haven’t written about this crash on my blog for a number of reasons, but it is the first crash site that I visited and it is the site that really woke up this passion for aviation archaeology. I made no secret that I am not an expert in aircraft, but do try to surround myself with people who continuously educate me on the finer points or who point my research in the right direction.

The tail fin from USAAF Liberator 44-42169. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2007.

You can find Darrell Hillier’s thesis, Stars, Stripes, and Sacrifice: A Wartime Familiar Experience of Hope, Loss, and Grief, and the Journey Home of an American Bomber Crew on the Memorial University Research Repository.

A machine gun and other wreckage from USAAF Liberator 44-42169. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2007.

As for myself, I am still getting settled into a new job, and it looks like my things (including any research documents I own) will not be delivered for a couple of months. That said, I have been working on some articles, and you can find one about the mock dogfight that happened over Gander that lead to the collision of a B-25 and an A-20 in their January/February 2018 edition of In Formation.

The engine from the USAAF A-20 involved in the 27 October 1943 crash. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

I do hope to be better settled soon so that I can get back to semi-regular posts.

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The last post looked at the B-17 that can be found in the Thomas Howe Demonstration Forest in Gander, and discussed what can happen to sites when they are not offered protection but yet are accessible to the public. Prior to the creation of Thomas Howe, the highway was put through the area and the crash site became much more accessible. Due to its accessibility, a lot of the wreckage has been removed. It’s a common theme, and happens whenever a road passes near a site. I’m not saying that everything needs to stay just as it is, but if aircraft material is removed from a site without anything being recorded, the information it can give is lost. This information can give more information about what happened, but if all that is left are a couple of landing gears (figure 1) and bits of steel, the site can really tell us nothing about what happened.

Figure 1: Landing gear with some evidence of fire. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

In the Gander area, USAAF B-17 44-6344 can be found between the Thomas Howe Demonstration Forest and the Silent Witness Memorial. It is just off the Trans-Canada Highway, and is relatively accessible. For this reason, there is very little that remains on the site. In fact, there is what looks to be a fire pit where people who were visiting the site stopped and had a lunch, leaving behind their pop bottles (figure 2).

Figure 2: Modern pop bottles on site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

USAAF B-17G 44-6344 crashed 4 August 1944 at 0218GMT. The aircraft made a normal takeoff from runway 23 (235 degrees) en route to the Azores, rose in a steep climb to 200 to 400 feet in a light rain, when the aircraft’s left wing began to drop as if the aircraft were going to make a diving turn. Witnesses described the dip in the wing as resembling a stall (figure 3). The aircraft descended at a 30 to 40 degree angle, and disappeared from view behind the trees. It crashed left wing first and exploded immediately in a 200 to 300 foot high flare (Blackeslee et al. 1944). An eye witness, USAAF navigator Andrew H. Hines, Jr. remembers the crash as follows:

Figure 3: Propeller hub on site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

Air traffic on the North Atlantic crossing was severely impaired. At the time our aircraft was scheduled to cross, planes were beginning to “pile up”, awaiting weather, and it became necessary to move them out. On approximately August 4th we were scheduled to fly the next leg of our trip – Gandar [sic] to Azores.

Our crew was briefed for the flight and we were assigned the position of number 3 for takeoff. As we taxied toward the end of the runway we could see in the east lightning and bad weather from an approaching storm. At the end of the runway we stopped while number 1 took off. He cleared the end of the runway successfully and disappeared into the murk of the approaching bad weather.

Number 2 pulled out on the runway and accelerated for take off. As number 3 we pulled out behind the vacated area and began engine acceleration for our own take off. Number 2 cleared the runway and climbed slightly then heeled over and crashed into the ground. The sky lit up. As number 2 struck and caught fire, our pilot accelerated our engines and we began to roll toward our own take off. We cleared the end of the runway and lifted into the air slightly and flew by the burning wreck of number 2. It was a boiling sea of flames. No one escaped alive. We passed, gained altitude and were immediately in a zone of St. Elmo’s Fire. A ring of sparks marked the tips of our four rotating propellers. Arcs of static electricity began to dance though the aircraft. […] After a few minutes we left the disturbed weather. I had a clear sight of St. John’s which I used as a point of departure for our flight to the Azores (pers. comm. 2 Aug 2013; see table for crew).

 

Name Serial No. Rank Serial No. Unit Duty Injuries
Oppenheimer, Saul J. 819304 2nd Lt. 819304 15th AF Pilot Fatal
Wampler, Chester C. 767028 2nd Lt. 767028 15th AF Co-pilot Fatal
Hild, Malcolm H. T3200 F/O T3200 15th AF Navigator Fatal
Harrog, David L. 719071 2nd Lt. 719071 15th AF Bombadier Fatal
Faulconer, Warren G. 13143604 Sgt. 13143604 15th AF AEO Fatal
Lawson, Gordon T. Jr. 17072183 Cpl. 17072183 15th AF ROB Fatal
Ruggeri, William 36559279 Cpl. 36559279 15th AF AB Fatal
Shelley, Keith M. 13092412 Cpl. 13092412 15th AF AROG Fatal
Leathers, Maurice E. 37678642 Cpl. 37678642 15th AF AG Fatal
Taylor, Forrest G. 19054972 Cpl. 19054972 15th AF AAG Fatal

Crew list for USAAF B-17 44-6344. Adapted from Blackeslee et al. 1944.

One pilot, Stanley L. Anderson, attempted to contact the control tower to inform them of the crash, but other aircraft interfered with getting through. After trying four times, Anderson went directly to Control Operations and informed them of the crash. The subsequent investigation could not find the cause of the accident, but believed that it was due to an engine stall. The aircraft had had some maintenance done on its flight indicator, but the investigation found that this was not a factor in the crash (Blackeslee et al. 1944).

Figure 4: Melted aluminum. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

As previously stated, there is very little left to this aircraft, just a few larger pieces like landing gears. All aluminum and copper has been removed from the site, except for a little bit of melted aluminum (figure 4). According to Frank Tibbo, some of the damage was due to a forest fire in that area, and the scars of that can be seen in how the area has fewer trees than the surrounding forest. It is unknown if the melted aluminum is from the heat of the crash or the later forest fire. That said, some of the wreckage could have been removed when highway crews were putting in a culvert close to the site, or some could be covered by the highway (figure 5).

Figure 5: Wreckage in the drainage ditch near the highway. Photo by Shannon K. Green, 2010.

This site is an example of what can happen to sites if they are accessible and not protected, especially when the cost of scrap metal is high. Most sites I have visited show at least some evidence of trying to remove aluminum, and I have been asked by people “how much copper is still there?” which is usually a red flag to not tell that person where a site is located. While most people will respect a site, especially if there is some form of memorial present, it only takes a couple of people to completely destroy a site.

Measuring the artifacts on site. Photo by Shannon K. Green, 2010.

Sources

Blackeslee, H.B., W.H. Lang and J.E. Stewart
1944      War Department U.S. Army Air Force Report of Aircraft Accident. War Department, Gander, Newfoundland. Ms. available from http://www.accident-report.com/.

Hines, A.H.
2013 Personal communication via email, 2 August 2013

Tibbo, F.
2010 Personal communication

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