380th Bomb Group Association
NEWSLETTER #30 -- April 2007
CAN BE DANGEROUS
by William D. Bever
In the Southwest Pacific during 1944, training of bomber combat crews in the 380th Bomb Group, 5th Army Air Forces was scheduled between their operational missions to keep crews prepared for what they might encounter over the vast miles to and from bombing targets.
Gunnery training (mock interceptions) of crews was setup with Australian and United States military personnel to academically prepare both countries' airmen with added experience to accompany them as they continued to rout the Japanese from New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies.
On September 18th, 1944, Crew #4, Pilot, 1st Lt John S. DiDomenico, Co-pilot, 2nd Lt Paul W. Norris, Navigator, 1st Lt John H. Reid, Bombardier, 2nd Lt Everett D. Bever, Radio Operator, TSgt John H. Miller, Engineer, TSgt Robert G. Gjerstad, Gunner, SSgt James L Edwards, Gunner, SSgt Ellie V. Hester, Gunner, SSgt Albert S. McKinney and Gunner, SSgt Thomas E. Murray of the 528th Bomb Squadron stationed at Darwin, Australia, went up to Melville Island on a gunnery training mission. The bomber's gunnery crew was to encounter several Australian Spitfire fighter planes to increase their accuracy potential of finding enemy fighter planes and engaging them.
The first few Spitfires were tracked by the gunners and mock interceptions went according to their training procedures. The last Spitfire to engage them most likely misjudged its closing speed and position of its location with 1st Lt DiDomenico's crew #4 B-24 Liberator. The right door gunner, SSgt Ellie V. Hester, saw the Aussie Spitfire closing in and knew it was going to hit them, but could not warn the pilot in time as the Spitfire flew into the B-24's number one engine. The impact sheared the number one engine propeller off of the bomber and left wing of the Spitfire. The Spitfire's Flight Officer, A.K. Kelly of the 452nd squadron, cartwheeled into the Gulf of Van Diemen, never having a chance to bail out.
Upon impact, the right wing of crew #4, flying at 10,000 feet, went perpendicular to the ground. The pilot and co-pilot frantically worked the rudders to level the bomber back to an upright position. The bomber's intercom was chaotic as the pilot ordered everyone to bail out. Radio Operator TSgt John H. Miller was sitting at his radio work station, working a crossword puzzle when the Aussie Spitfire hit their #1 engine, slamming his head into the radar screen. Up above, the upper turret gunner, Robert G. Gjerstad, fell from his upper position, hitting the radio operator with his body.
The entire crew decided to stay with the plane as it finally leveled out at 3,000 feet. The pilot told the radio operator to get on the radio to let Darwin know what their location was and what had happened. When land was seen, the bomber flying with three engines was in close proximity to Darwin. The pilot once again told the crew they could bail out over land as he was not sure how well the bomber would land after what it had just been through. The crew decided as a group not to bail out, having the utmost respect for their pilot's flying ability. Crew #4 had a safe landing. Pilot DiDomenico added this safe landing to his total of eight emergency landings on three engines.
Greeting the crew upon landing was the 528th squadron flight surgeon, Captain Butts, who passed out a bottle of whiskey with sleeping tablets to the relieved crew. Crew #4 deserved a break from one of their greatest scares and narrowest escape from death.
Bill is the son of Everett D. Bever, Navigator, DiDomenico's Crew
Photos from Glenn R. Horton, Jr., BEST IN THE SOUTHWEST
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