Bechtel Crew - Assigned 753rd Squadron - August 13, 1944
Mid-Air collision - February 23, 1945 (Acc Rpt 45-2-23-45)
|2Lt||Russell J Bechtel||0704452||Pilot||23-Feb-45||KIA||Cambridge American Cemetery|
|2Lt||Joseph C Bryant||0771659||Co-pilot||23-Feb-45||KIA||Cambridge American Cemetery|
|2Lt||Paul H Collette||0723291||Navigator||28-Oct-44||RFS||Suspended from flying|
|2Lt||William E Torres||0716780||Bombardier||23-Feb-45||KIA||Cambridge American Cemetery|
|Sgt||Eldon O Williams||39408944||Radio Operator||10-Apr-45||UNK||Classified MOS 866 (RCM)|
|Cpl||William C Dromey||31311311||Flight Engineer||21-Apr-45||UNK||Promoted to Sgt|
|S/Sgt||Everett E Russell||36612622||Aerial Gunner/2E||23-Feb-45||KIA||St Louis, MO|
|S/Sgt||Louis R Dolce||32929744||Aerial Gunner/2E||23-Feb-45||KIA||Cambridge American Cemetery|
|S/Sgt||Alex C Bail||33671177||Airplane Armorer-Gunner||23-Feb-45||KIA||Cambridge American Cemetery|
|S/Sgt||John A Gast||36448807||Aerial Gunner||23-Feb-45||KIA||Cambridge American Cemetery|
On February 23, 1945, while returning from the 458th Bomb Group's mission to bomb the Gera and Reichenbach Marshalling Yards in Germany, Bechtel's crew, flying B-24H 42-50449 HEAVENLY HIDEAWAY, collided with 2Lt Daniel F. Hunt, Jr.s crew (754th Sqdn), flying B-24H 41-29596 HELL'S ANGELS. Both ships went down about 10 miles north of Horsham St. Faith, 15 of 18 men being killed.
Three members of Bechtel's crew were not on the February 23rd mission. Lt Paul Collette, navigator, had been removed from flying status the previous October. There is no further information available on him. It appears that Lt William Torres took over as "bombigator". Sgt's Williams and Dromey appear to have gotten into some mischief and were both reduced in rank to Private in October 1944. They remained with the 753BS and apparently regained their commander's good graces as both finished out the war with the rank of Sergeant. It is not known if either flew any further missions, although in Williams' case it was likely as he was given an additional classification of 866 (RCM).
Flying in the enlisted men's places with
Lt Bechtel's crew that day were T/Sgt Harold A. Nelson (E), and Sgt
Leonard E. Wood (G). Harold Nelson was an individual replacement,
arriving at the 458th on August 12, 1944 and Leonard Wood was a gunner
on 2Lt Donald K. Williams crew, assigned November 17, 1944. Both of these men were killed.
|DATE||TARGET||458th Msn||Pilot Msn||Serial||RCL||Sqdn||A/C Msn||A/C Name||Notes|
|27-Aug-44||FINOW||121||2||41-28705||W||J4||42||YE OLDE HELLGATE||MISSION CREDIT IN NOV|
|01-Sep-44||RAVENSTEIN, HOL||AZ14||3||44-40277||P||J4||9||MISS USED||AZON MISSION|
|21-Sep-44||HORSHAM to LILLE||TR05||--||41-28735||S||J4||T3||V||VERIFY A/C|
|25-Sep-44||HORSHAM to LILLE||TR08-1||--||42-28739||D||T2||NOT 458TH SHIP - HETHEL||1ST FLIGHT|
|25-Sep-44||HORSHAM to LILLE||TR08-2||--||42-29250||T1||NOT 458TH SHIP - HETHEL||2ND FLIGHT|
|27-Sep-44||HORSHAM to LILLE||TR10||--||41-28721||G||753||T8||DOWNWIND-LEG||MORFORD CROSSED OUT|
|29-Sep-44||HORSHAM to LILLE||TR12||--||42-94975||M||754||T6||NOT 458TH SHIP - SHIPDHAM||TRUCKIN' MISSION|
|18-Dec-44||KOBLENZ||REC||--||44-40201||N||J4||--||SILVER CHIEF||RECALL DUTCH ISLE|
|24-Dec-44||SCHONECKEN||157||ABT||44-40201||N||J4||--||SILVER CHIEF||ABORT - #3 ENG OIL|
|28-Dec-44||ST. WENDEL||160||14||44-40281||Q||J4||23||A DOG'S LIFE|
|30-Dec-44||NEUWIED||161||15||44-40281||Q||J4||24||A DOG'S LIFE|
|13-Jan-45||KAISERLAUTERN||169||16||42-50912||D||J4||1||THE TRAVLIN' BAG|
|14-Jan-45||HALLENDORF||170||17||44-40118||S||J4||28||WE'LL GET BY|
|31-Jan-45||BRUNSWICK||176||19||42-50912||D||J4||6||THE TRAVLIN' BAG||RECALL - SORTIE CREDIT|
|03-Feb-45||MAGDEBURG||177||20||42-110141||U||J4||37||BREEZY LADY / MARIE / SUPERMAN|
|06-Feb-45||MAGDEBURG||178||21||42-50912||D||J4||8||THE TRAVLIN' BAG|
|17-Feb-45||ASCHAFFENBURG M/Y||REC||--||44-40273||T||J4||--||HOWLING BANSHEE||RECALL - WEATHER|
|22-Feb-45||PEINE-HILDESHEIM||186||24||44-40134||R||J4||52||UNKNOWN 039||ABORT - ?|
|23-Feb-45||GERA-REICHENBACH||187||25||42-50449||W||J4||47||HEAVENLY HIDEAWAY||COLLIDED w/HUNT 596R|
Accident Report 45-2-23-514
Approximately 1527 on 23 Feb 45 B-24 449 and B-24 596, in formation with the 458th Bomb Group, collided in mid-air about ten (10) miles north of AAF Station 123. Altitude at time of collision was about 16,500 feet, visibility about 1 mile reduced to 200-300 feet in clouds.
Ship 596 was flying #3 position and ship #449 was flying #4 position ion the hole element of the second squadron. Just before the accident the element leader had aborted, and no one had assumed the lead. All ships were flying their relative position when a layer of dense clouds were entered. A few seconds later, as reported by the survivors of ship #596, another ship appeared very close just below their left wing. Almost immediately the ships came together.
The right wing of ship #449 was torn off and it evidently went into a spin immediately. the ship was destroyed by fire.
Ship #596 crashed about 1-1/2 miles from #449. It was scattered over a large area and appeared to have broken up several thousand feet above the ground.
Cause of accident 100% unknown
754TH BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON (H)
AAF 123 APO 558
27 Feb 1945
SUBJECT: Collision of Aircraft, 41-29596 and 42-50449
TO: Air Inspector, 458th Bombardment Group
1. The collision occurred over Buncher 15 as our Squadron, second section of the Group, was making the first ten minute circle to the left to allow time interval for the first Squadron to execute proper instrument let down. Our altitude was approximately 16,500 and visibility was one-half mile in scattered clouds. The aircraft involved, [call sign] Cotstring 596 R and Fiction 449 W were flying left and right wing respectively in the slot. The slot lead, Lt. Besten left a few minutes prior due to fuel shortage. From this point, the positions of the ships in the slot is debatable. Fiction W was either flying left wing on Cotstring R or lost his position when we entered the high scattered clouds in the buncher area. Fiction W, however, did get on the inside of the formation and on endeavoring to get back into formation, overestimated his rate of closure. Fiction W’s right wing removed the upper half of Cotstring R’s left fin and definitely damaged the left elevator controls. My nose-gunner reported that Cotstring R’s entire tail assembly controls were damaged if not entirely removed. This aircraft immediately went into a steep dive straight ahead. Fiction W, however, lost the outer section of his right wing and #4 engine caught fire. He turned sharply to the right and is believed to have spun in.
2. I reported the collision on wing channel to the Squadron Leader whereby Lincoln Red Control Tower was informed.
3. The above report is as related to Sgt’s Francis Birmingham and John W. Bradley.
William G. Everett
2nd Lt. Air Corps
Lt Russel J. Bechtel
Purple Heart Letter and Award Certificate; Letter
(Courtesy: Timothy Boshart)
Sgt Leonard E. Wood
Artwork & Photos - Mike Bailey
Flare pistol and flak helmet from one of the a/c involved
Courtesy: City of Norwich Air Museum (CNAM)