Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Seconds from Eternity...

Photo 1
(Source)
Juvat's Monday post, Attack on Dagua, has the following photo:

Photo 2
(Source)
Photo 3
(Source)
Shown above are three photos of the same raid, the same aircraft, all shot by the same photographer, John F. "Jack" Heyn, who spent 3 years in the Southwest Pacific with the 3rd Bombardment Group.  A year of that time he was with the 13th Bombardment Squadron, the rest of the time with Headquarters Squadron as a Photographer/Labtech. (Great website covering his work here.)

Juvat's caption says, "The black flecks in and around the middle explosion are pieces of a B-25 that flew into the frag pattern of the preceding attacker." Well, yes and no. Before we take a closer look at that second photo, it's worth noting the following:
Aircraft Type: North American B-25D-10 Mitchell
Aircraft Tail Number: 41-30345
Parent Unit: 8th BS, 3rd BG, 5th AF, based at Jackson Airfield, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Fate: Crashed Aug 28, 1943 into Hansa Bay, Madang, Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific while on a mission there. Aircraft hit by explosion from bomb blast from another B-25 which knocked off the right wing and tail. All three crew members were killed in action. (Source)
Aircraft 41-30345 is circled, if you look closely she is nearly inverted, left wing down, the right wing and tail missing.
I have zoomed into the photo, aircraft 41-30345 is to the left, what I believe are its right wing and part of the tail are to the right (red arrows).
Now if we look again at "Photo 1," we can see aircraft 41-30345 just above a Japanese vessel which has just suffered a catastrophic hit from a bomb from the aircraft ahead. (Quite possibly the same one Jack Heyn is aboard. We can also see splashes just aft of the Japanese vessel to the left of the photo and another splash to the right, to the left front of aircraft 41-30345.

"Photo 2" shows two of the three bombs detonating, the middle explosion has destroyed the Japanese vessel. Most of the debris is from the boat, not the bomber, I say that because of the trajectory of the debris, mostly going up, debris from the aircraft would tend to follow the aircraft's flight path. I believe that the explosion to the right of the photo is what doomed aircraft 41-30345, based on the aircraft's position in "Photo 1" and that the aircraft has been blown off of it's original flight path, deflected to the right of that path (to the left as shown in the photo).

"Photo 3" shows aircraft 41-30345 impacting the water near three Japanese vessels. If you look back along the flight path you can see debris from the aircraft (I believe) impacting the water about where you might expect. In the next photo I have circled the aircraft (large red circle) and the splash from aircraft debris, with some parts of the aircraft still in the air (small red circle).

Aircraft 41-30345 impacting the water.
Behind every historical photograph there is a story, often more than one story. When I noticed the unusual aspect (inverted and heading down) of the aircraft in the photo in juvat's post, I had to track that story down. What happened? Who were the crew of that ill-fated bird. Having examined the whole sequence of photos (at least the three I was able to track down) I realized that this wasn't just an interesting sequence of photos. No, it was a a sequence of photos showing the last moments of a number of brave men (not just in the air).

This website (from juvat's post) led me to Jack Heyn's website for the story on the aircraft I also did a search in Wikipedia (here) for Hansa Bay in World War II which got me the tail number of the aircraft, which Joe Baugher's site confirmed went down in Hansa Bay, New Guinea.

Joe Baugher's site mentioned that all three crewmen were killed. I looked to see if I could pin down crew sizes for the B-25D without success (standard crew size was five, but the Ds were heavily modified for strafing and low-level bombing, so a three-man crew isn't a big stretch). But looking around I arrived here...

The beginning of which simply states -
Pilot 1st Lt. Robert B. Widener, O-791744 (MIA / KIA) MA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Bernard Lazarus, O-795411 (MIA / KIA) NY
Gunner  Sgt James W. Lefler, 16019155 (MIA / KIA) IL
Crashed August 28, 1943
Near the end of that article -
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Lefler also has a memorial marker at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery at section M1 Site 64.
Three men, lost flying a low-level mission against the Empire of Japan on the 28th of August, 1943, a Saturday.

A sad tale, we need to remember such men, always.

I did find a fourth photo of this mission, shown below...

The red arrow points towards aircraft 41-30345, coming in for its bomb run.
1Lt. Robert B. Widener, 2Lt Bernard Lazarus, and Sgt James W. Lefler on their last mission.
Seconds from Eternity...

(Source)
RIP my brothers-in-arms, Ave Atque Vale.



38 comments:

  1. A sobering post, Godspeed to that aircrew. It seems that the fourth photo is actually photo 1, the former photo 1 becomes photo 2, 2 becomes 3 then 3 becomes 4. Indeed...... Seconds from Eternity and an episode that I doubt I'll forget to the end of my days. Good work Sarge, thank you for the in-depth look. A over-cast cool morning here, matches the mood now after reading this....... damm..........

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the last photo is actually the first. I had most of the post written, then decided to take one last look across the Internet for photos of that incident. The last one found was perhaps the most sobering of the four.

      I would have re-structured the post, but it was late and quite frankly I was a bit shook up by the whole story. Amazing courage, horrible luck for those three men.

      Delete
    2. Actually, I like, in a horrifying way, the layout. Here's the breakdown of the action, and here's the before everything wen to hell in a handbasket.

      Delete
    3. That happened purely accidentally, but yes, that does work.

      Delete
  2. What a compelling post. Stalin was a cold blooded bastard, but he was right when he said that one man's death is a tragedy while a million men's death is a statistic. Thank you for rescuing these men from an eternity as statistics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Felt like a duty to do so, but you get that BP.

      Delete
  3. At least we can take some comfort in knowing that, at the speed the B-25 was going, they died before they knew what was happening to them. That looks like about a second, maybe two, from explosion to impact. They died for us, they shall be honored.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It looks like the plane’s already been hit on the way in, and is trailing smoke... and that maybe makes the difference, a split-second’s delay or distraction, and the plane is in the exact wrong spot...

    I’ve taken a ground tour of an airworthy B25, (“Georgie’s Gal”) and unassing the airframe is difficult at best, even in static conditions. Got to think it’s nearly impossible under any sort of adverse conditions, especially for the guy up front who has to climb through a very narrow tunnel...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From explosion to impact in the water was awfully fast. Even with easy egress they just wouldn't have had time to get out. Blink of the eye and it was over.

      Delete
  5. OK, The point I was trying to make, but failed to "speaka da inglish", was he flew through A frag pattern. One of the aspects of a frag pattern is some fragments of the bomb/target fly faster than the smoke and flames. So, even though he was beyond the "expolosion", it is quite possible he hit some of those fragments, severing his tail surface. A bear also has a good point that I didn't notice on the last photo when I first looked at it. I believe that smoke is probably from guns in the nose (which would also seem to verify the crew composition). If you look beyond that ship, you see relatively evenly spaced small splashes in the water and if you look just off the shoreline there's a similar splash. I believe Lt Widener was strafing that ship and given the small whiff of smoke rising from the ship, I believe he hit it, probably catastrophically. The resultant explosion looks like it occurred as he passed over the target. He wouldn't have been the first, or last, person to encounter that predicament. (For Instance...)

    Without a doubt, Lt Widener and his crew were in the exact wrong spot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Juvat. I thought the same, but not being an expert, wasn't sure. You may decline being called an expert, but your service experience qualifies you, IMO.

      Delete
    2. juvat - I'm sorry if I sounded critical of your caption, I was just trying to extend the analysis of what was going on in that photo. Now having read your analysis I think you got closer to the truth. I found that last photo late and didn't really look too closely, though I did notice the smoke trail and rather wondered about that. Not to mention the splashes in the water from what couldn't be bombs.

      I think your analysis is spot on, the explosion of the target he was strafing and the bomb explosion off his port wing was a double whammy, with wing and tail blown off and the aircraft flipped nearly onto its back, the crew had no chance. The preceding aircraft didn't kill that Japanese vessel, 1Lt Widener and his crew did.

      There's always a story behind a photo and thanks for pointing out all of the stuff I missed. I learned stuff today, always a good thing.

      "Exact wrong spot..." Kinda goes with your "I'd rather be lucky than good." 1Lt Widener and his crew were good and unlucky that day. A horrible combination. They killed their target, it killed them in return.

      Damn!

      Delete
    3. WSF - Yup, I concur, juvat's experience does qualify him as an expert.

      Delete
    4. Thanks for the addendum. I, too, was wondering why the plane was trailing smoke from it's fuselage, not it's engines, and was thinking that the plane had suffered previous damage to either the bomb bay or the radio shack area (approximately mid wing on the fuselage) and completely forgot about the multiple guns.

      Delete
    5. Actually, as I study the pictures a bit more, I'm going to go back to another aircraft's frag pattern. I think the photographer's aircraft is flying a parallel course to Lt Widener, albeit ahead. I think there was another B-25 on a perpendicular course from right to left. Based on the size of the splashes, that Aircraft dropped its bomb which on the first skip hit the water to the port rear of the ship Lt Widener was strafing and the second skip was just aft of its target. It then hit that ship and exploded, just as Lt Widener entered the frag pattern. I think that Aircraft (if I were flying it) would be just out the top of the photo's and could possibly be the B-25 in the photo named #3. That would be it's likely position if it made a climbing right turn to exit, however, blowing up the picture (fits the theme of the post) makes it look like it's in a left hand turn. Get's a bit grainy at that point, so difficult to be sure. Having done a bit of strafing in my day, I think Lt Widener may not have even seen the aircraft passing in front of him as he would have been concentrating on aiming at his target, the co-pilot would have been watching altitude and the gunner would have been looking for bandits behind. Solidly and Sadly, the "Fog of War" almost undoubtedly played a big role.

      No worries, Sarge. This thread is much like most debriefs. We've got to get down to all the details in order to learn.

      Delete
    6. Thanks juvat. I think you're right on all counts.

      Delete
  6. So hard to look at. The series of pictures takes you right there. Good work and thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sequence of photos will haunt me for a long time. Good men, lost doing a tough job, I won't forget them.

      Delete
  7. Wonder if Jack Heyn knew what he had captured on film at the time? An amazing sequence of photos. Thanks for the great analysis, Sarge, and for your further explanation, juvat. My admittedly un-expert thoughts on photo 4/1 was that the smoke was likely from the nose-mounted guns - six or eight M2's will put out some serious smoke. May the crew's souls find everlasting peace...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point Tom, the .50 is an awesome weapon, more than one and you'll see (and feel) the effects.

      Amen on the "everlasting peace." May they be with God.

      Delete
  8. I have another take on the photo evidence and it points to a bigger set of stones than what is assumed. The b-25 is smoking on the way down for the bomb run. It's been already damaged. Just note that the bomb run is at most 100 feet. Nobody drops a load at that height because of frag damage from your own ordinance. My guess and that is what all these are is that they knew that they had a crippled ship that was going to crash land anyway so the crew (pilot and bombardier) in the blink of an eye decided to drop what they had prior to auguring in. Stones of great proportion to make that decision as the last full measure of devotion to duty, honor, country. They knew that this was a suicidal decision, they may have survived the landing that awaited them but elected to take the fight to the last second and man. Amy we once again have men such as these.

    Spin

    ReplyDelete
  9. From reading in books many moons ago(I, too, was a victim of the Military Book Club) I seem to remember that the bombs were somewhat retarded (not as in smart/not smart, but as in having a chunk of wood attached to the rear to slow them down a tad air-wise, and it broke off when hitting the water, so as to slow the bomb down enough that the dropping plane wouldn't do what we just saw above, but to itself, that is, shooting itself down with it's own bomb or bomb explosion.

    Care had to be made during a skip-run to also not cut one's wing off on the target's masts and other parts of the superstructure. (Kind of the same effect as barrage balloon cables, except lower.)

    The timing of the attack, angle, speed, size of bomb, sea state, all were factors into the skipping. And I seem to remember that going flat out straight over them, rather than trying to pull up or curve away, gave the best chance to not blow oneself up.

    But I am dredging this out of the memory locker, so I may be wildly off target. So to speak.

    In other words....

    Good post, thought provoking, horrifying but interesting. Photo analysis has always been a fascination with me (used to do it at the PD back in the day. Convenience store video has to be the worst video ever, got very good at matching eye/nose locations with suspects.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think juvat was spot on, it's a strafing run AND bomb run.

      Thanks Beans.

      Delete
  10. More notes:

    I think the “aircraft debris” splashes in photo 3 are, in fact, bomb impacts, probably from the destroyed airplane. Photo 1 shows similar impact splashes that in Photo 2 have quite dramatically gone “blooey.” Seems like the bombs are probably on a couple-second delay. (Wisely)

    The exploding ship and the spray (lower right) in Photo 1 (that bomb explodes in photo 2) seem to follow in a straight line with the photographing aircraft. If you look at the sequence, it seems like the photographer is moving directly away from that vessel. I’m fairly certain that the photographer is riding in the “offending” aircraft. (War is hell)

    If you look reeeeeeeeal close at photo 4 (chronologically #1), there’s a small, airborne, egg-shaped object just off the stern of the vessel. I think this is the bomb that’s making a splash in Photo 1.

    (Bored at work, again. Fascinating series of photos...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hhmm, I need to look at those pics again. Y'all are spotting some great details!

      Delete
  11. Here is a good read.

    https://www.amazon.com/Whip-Martin-CAIDIN/dp/0553028561/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

    Tech note for Sarge:
    Earlier today, the "Comment as:" drop down would only offer Google Account. Seems to be working now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read that book as a wee lad.

      As for the Tech note -
      That was intentional, see Thursday's post. Things have returned to normal. (Ask Skip what that means.)

      Delete
  12. I remember the Japanese lodging a protest on Kinney's Commerce Destroyers. Those -25's with the 8 fifties and / or a 75mm in the nose. Some had nacelles on the fuselage pointed forward as well. American ingenuity. I wondered about the smoke, too.

    Whip: I've read the cover off that one.

    I had an important dr's appt yesterday or I would've commented then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well....I hope everything is/went all right yesterday. I mean we can't let real life make a habit of commenting on blog posts, now can we? ;-)

      Delete
    2. STxAR - Let 'em protest.

      Things are good now yes?

      Delete
    3. juvat - Absolutely right, chaos would ensue!

      Delete
  13. Once again, thank you for making known to me these fine Americans.

    Again, as usual, a good ( if somewhat sad making ) post with comments which expand upon and enhance the post. And, yet again, having arrived late, I can but echo ( LSE ) the comments of those before me.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought the story was both interesting and important. We sometimes forget that behind the stories of war there were real flesh and blood folks not that different from ourselves, but who stepped up to do a tough job.

      And many of them didn't make it home.

      Thanks Paul.

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)