Radar Air Warning in Italy 1944 (Illustration)

At the 566-ASWB, the on-duty highest ranking officer, and at the 563-ASWB, which was monitoring the action, both were placing calls to their commanders to inform them of the situation. This was quickly passed on to their reporting command, the XIX USAAF. Aboard the B-24, the pilots and crew, who were flying with no light other than the instrument panel and the limited lighting required in the navigator’s compartment and bomb bay, where the switch switcher was waiting to be told by the navigator, the next switches he was to turn on or off. Engine #3 provided the major power to the interior of the plane, including the electric motors that drove the hydraulics which provided the power to operate the chin and tail turrets. Suddenly, their left wing was lit up and loud explosions were heard. The engine suddenly shut down and a fire started within the cowling. At the same time, the bright light ruined the night vision of the pilots and immediately the electrical power died. The pilots immediately switched on the emergency power that was supposed to be provided by Engine #2 emergency generator and even though the power meter showed it was providing the interior of the bomber with emergency power, it was obvious none was being supplied. The emergency power check was one the pilots conducted when preparing to take off. Without that emergency power, they were not supposed to fly. However, the B-24’s top-secret electronics were being constantly updated and each upgrade required more power.


The original power was supplied from large forklift batteries, however, after some mission one night, the top-secret equipment shut down which caused that night’s mission to fail. Upon discussion by the ‘genies’ who maintained the equipment, they realized the equipment now required additional power. As the normal emergency generator on engine #3 was rarely used, the decision was made without the crew being told, to install a hidden connection on that emergency generator’s supply line, that diverted the emergency power to the top-secret equipment. One night, during a main generator problem, the pilots switched to the emergency power. The voltage flux in the top-secret equipment caused it to fail and they had to shut down the mission early. Upon their return, the ‘genies’ discussed the problem and decided that the engine mount for the emergency power generator was the same as the main generator, so they replaced the normal emergency power generator with a larger main power generator and at the same time they rigged the power switch so the crew would think they had the required emergency power when in fact it was no longer available. That greatly increased the power available to the top-secret equipment and it would prevent any emergency switching that may damage the equipment. So, without informing the flying crews that they no longer had emergency power if required, they wired the switch to give a false indication. In fact, with the obvious knowledge of the electronics officer, the executive officer, and the commander of the squadron, a decision was made, that the top-secret electronic equipment was more important than the lives of the aircrew.

IllustrationHornsby felt the plane begin to buck and want to dive due to the sudden unbalance of power, so he had to gain control and with Casper working the other engine’s power output, he told Casper to set off the fire extinguisher to put the fire out. As Hornsby began to regain control, Casper told him, it was not working and the fire was growing. If it continued, it could break into the wing, melting the wing and setting the fuel on fire, and then the wing would break free and they would fall to their death. Hornsby hollered at the radio operator to get back and warn the crew in the back to get ready to bail out, as the intercom was as dead as the generator. Then, he was to go to the nose and tell the men there to be ready to bail out. He and Casper then made the decision, their only hope was to dive as quickly as they could and build up their airspeed to a point where the fire would be blown out. At that time, their eyes were beginning to adjust to the lack of light, however, the phosphorus dots on the instruments were beginning to fade and if he could not see their altitude, he might dive them into the ground. Casper got the flashlight and used it to shine on the instruments so Hornsby could see them.

Due to the engine being out, and the interference of the air stream, the bomber had been bouncing up and down and rocking back and forth. However, he started the dive and as Casper called off the lowering altitude, they were able to blow the fire out, both of them had to pull back on the controls to stop diving and regain as much altitude as they could. While they were doing this, the number four, outboard engine began acting up, probably due to damage occurring at the same time the #3 had been destroyed. Until Hornsby was interviewed by the author, he had always believed what he had been told by his commander when he got back to his unit. They had flown so far to the east that they were over the Rhine River when the German anti-aircraft artillery had destroyed their #3 engine and damaged the #4. He remembered seeing the moon reflected off a big river and he believed the lie he was told. The pilots got the bomber under control, however, they were in a pickle. With no lighting in the bomber and with engine #3 dead and the other hurting, Hornsby knew they did not want to try to cross the Channel. A B-24J did not fly well with an engine gone, it was worse when the remaining engine on the same wing was failing. So, they had to bail out before they got too far to the west. He told Danahy to go back to the nose compartment to check with the navigator to find their location and to tell them while he was going to keep the bomber in the air as long as they could fly west, willing to bail out and crash the plane in Liberated Europe. Casper had to keep the flashlight on the instruments, as the blow buttons would dim very quickly if the light was taken away. The only problem was that he accidentally flashed Hornsby a couple of times and each time, he lost his night vision.

Double .50 Cal BMG B-24 Liberator Turret

Unknown to the pilots, Sgt Bartho, in the hydraulic-driven nose turret had immediately rotated his turret to the right to see what had caused the explosion. Then, when the power went off all of a sudden, he had no hydraulic power and he could not turn the turret. Bartho was a taller man and when the author interviewed several B-24J nose gunners, they told him that if you were tall it was impossible for you to follow the emergency instructions in case of such a failure. The gunner was supposed to bend down, reach toward the rear of his seat then disengage the hydraulic drive from the gear drive. Then, he had to reach an emergency handle that was clipped to the back of his seat. Once he had the handle, he had to insert the end in a small hole in the bottom of the turret. This would then allow him to hand crank the turret back to its neutral position and allow him to open the turret door to exit the turret. At the same time, in the nose of a B-24J, one of the crew had to be inside the nose, near the turret and he had to open an inside door that had to be open so the hatch door could open and the gunner could get out. At some point, Lt Grey had to have realized Bartho was not able to move the turret, and with the intercom out, he could not communicate with anyone to help. I believe, as the only man who knew what the top-secret equipment was capable of doing, he had been ordered, not to be captured.

B24 CockpitIn the cockpit, Hornsby and Casper agreed it was time to bail out, as they did not want to accidentally fly out over the Channel. They knew they did not have the ability left to cross the Channel and they did not want to die in the Channel. It had been about a half hour since the engine damage had happened and when Danahy returned, he said the navigator had no lights, other than a flashlight and he actually had no idea where they were, except they had to have flown far enough to the west, it was time to bail out. Hornsby then gave the order to bail out telling Casper and Danahy that he would stay in for five minutes or until the plane had less than 10,000 feet, and then, he would follow. Casper immediately stood up, opened the escape hatch above the pilots, and bailed out. Danahy and the flight engineer went to the waist. Everyone had their chutes on and they started to drop out using the waist emergency exit. The flight engineer headed for the nose, hollered for them to bail out and he went down into the nose escape hatch, past the nose wheel, and fell free. Back at the waist hatch where Danahy had sat down on the edge with his feet out in the slipstream, Mears asked him if he had seen Bartho. Mears and Bartho were good friends and tonight, they had exchanged their normal positions. Danahy hollered no, he had not and Mears hollered back, that he was going to the nose to check on Bartho. Danahy really did not want to bail out by himself and he tried to pull himself back up, but the slipstream would not let go and it pulled him down and out. That was the last time, any survivor saw Mears, the following being based on what must have taken place in the nose. Mears arrived in the nose and it is obvious that he and Grey continued to work to help Bartho. One has to question the actions of Lt. Grey. He knew, they had been told to bail out, he had his parachute on, and yet, he did not drop down and out of the nose escape hatch. Mears arrived and realized that Bartho must have turned his turret away from its home position, just as the hydraulic power went out. With the intercom out, they would have been unable to communicate. Even though they had been told to bail out both had parachutes on and both were a couple of steps from an escape hatch. Both were staying in the nose and both had to know they were going to die when the B-24 crashed. The author believes, Lt Grey stayed with the bomber as he was the only one aboard, who knew exactly what the electronic equipment was capable of doing and it is most likely that he was ordered to end his life if he thought he might be captured. In the cockpit, Hornsby looked at his watch and when the time was up, he climbed up out of the pilot’s escape hatch, slid down and off the bomber, and pulled his zip cord.

B-24 crashed - Illustration (Cavendish's B24 Crash)

In the nearby countryside, the French woke up to the sound of laboring engines, then a sudden shriek as the aircraft went into a dive, followed by an explosion, the sound of the bomber hitting the earth, then another explosion, and all was silent. At the nearby, A-72 American Air Base, the home of the 397-BS, Pvt Barney Silva woke up in his bunk as he heard what sounded exactly as the movies portrayed the diving crash of an airplane. There were two explosions and then, silence. He had just pulled the covers up over his head when the intercom speaker came alive with the announcement, ‘Pvt Silva, get your ambulance and report to the headquarters at once. He checked the time and it was just 0230 in the morning of November 10, 1944.

Debris at the crash site and remains of B24J R4-I #42-51226Lt Casper had been the first one out and as he was higher and the wind was blowing he landed the furthest to the west. He had been falling through the sky when he saw dim lights and suddenly he landed on the slate roof of a building. He began to slide down one side and his parachute went down the other. Inside the building, the office of a sugar factory, the night fireman heard something on the roof and sliding tiles. He had been looking out a window to the northwest after hearing the approaching plane. When he heard something land on the roof, it was sliding down the roof, along with some loose tiles. He started toward the door and heard a knock. Casper had slid off the roof and was falling straight down when his parachute shrouds tightened and he came to a stop, standing in front of the door. At the same time, his parachute slid clear and as it fell, he collected it. When done, he knocked on the door, which was immediately opened by a Frenchman. The man could speak enough English to understand Casper and he went to a telephone and made a call. In a few minutes, the telephone rang and the Frenchman told Casper, that the nearby American base was sending a vehicle to pick him up. Danahy and Chestnut had bailed out very close together and landed in a pasture. They immediately got together and heard people talking, a short distance away they saw the doors of some houses open and they walked over, they were invited in and told they were sending someone to a house with a telephone, who would call the nearby American air base to have them picked up.

Wreckage of 36BS Liberator R4-L near Boucly, France on 11/10/44. Among those killed from the Lt. Hornsby crew were navigator 2d Lt. Fred Gray, and aerial gunners Sgt. Ray Mears and Sgt. Frank BarthoJust before the men began to land, they had been tracking their bomber by the sparks blowing out of the damaged engine, then the sound changed and it was diving to the ground, looking in that direction, most of them saw two flashes and heard the explosions, then there was a flash fire and they knew, 226 had met her end. Danahy landed near a road and the bomber appeared to have crashed a short distance away. He decided, the safe thing to do, was walk away from the crash site until he knew he was safe. He soon came to a stream and heard someone crossing the stream, whistling ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’. He hollered and Chestnut came over and they discussed their situation. They decided they would go back to the road and walk down it, away from the crash site. They had gone a short distance, when they heard someone coming from the other direction, the crash site was still providing a little light and they saw a boy on a bicycle riding toward them. Danahy told Chestnut, he had studied French in school, so he would try to talk to the boy. He stepped out spread his arms apart and began speaking French. He later told the author, that the boy’s eyes opened up to the size of a plate, he leaned over and peddled as hard as he could, skirted Danahy, and rode as fast past as he could, down the road.

B-24D Liberator 41-23728 Hot Stuff crash site

They continued to walk down the road and soon saw a man coming toward them carrying a lantern. The man approached them and they told him, they were Americans and he motioned they should follow him. Soon, they approached a small village and the man went to a house, opened a door, and invited them in, where the man’s wife offered them coffee, with bread and butter. Unknown to them, the boy was hiding in an outbuilding and the man went out and told the boy to go to the next village and tell the policeman about the two men. After a while, the boy came back and told the man to take them to the village hall where the policeman would be. He indicated the two should follow him and he took them to the village hall. There they were told, a man who had a working car would pick them up and take them to the next location. In a few minutes, a small car, kind of like a Model T Ford, pulled up and Danahy remembered, it had the most chrome he had ever seen on a car. The fellow drove a few minutes, stopped alongside a small hill, and indicated the men should get out. As he left the car, Danahy realized, the man was carrying a pistol and instantly, wished he had his own Colt 45. However, after a couple of missions, the crew realized they were just in the way and they never went where a gun would be needed. The man came around the car, pointed the gun at them, and indicated they should start up the hill. Danahy told the author, that he was certain, the man was taking them to the woods on top of the hill to kill them.

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