The Mid-Air Collision of
488th Bomb Squadron B-25s 8U and 8P
Alesani, Corsica, base for the 340th Bombardment Group, January 21, 1945.
Quentin Kaiser of the 489th BS describes the above photos which appear
in the 489th Squadron Book:
"The picture of the B-25 with the chewed up tail is on the
same page. It's listed as "war damage," but as I remember it the enemy did not chew up the
tail. That was the result of one B-25 running into another while in formation. I seem to
remember going down to look at the damage."
Dominique Taddei supplied the following information about
"...this photo has been taken the 21st of January 1945 at
Alesani. This B-25J was the "8P" 43-27657 with pilot, 2nd Lt. W.B. Pelton. After the bombing
of San Michele, the flak started to fire but nobody was hit. Changing the heading to join
Corsica, a strong blast of wind unbalanced the "8U" 43-4064 with pilot, 1st Lt. W.Y. Simpson.
The 8U collided with the 8P tail and killed the tail gunner S/Sgt. Aubrey B. Porter. The 8U
came down in a spin and crashed with all the crew members (KIA). The 8P landed safely at
Alesani with such tail. 8U crew: Pilot, 1st Lt. William Y. Simpson/ Copilot, 2nd Lt.
Frederick C. Greenig/ S/Sgt. James C. Rice/ Sgt. Doyle G. Shipley/ Sgt. Robert J. Jackson/
Cpl. Fred B. Hicks. 8P crew: Pilot, 2nd Lt. W.B. Pelton/ Cap., F/O H.K. Shackelford/ S/Sgt.
A.J.Bertagna/ S/Sgt. R.C. Garner/ Cpl. H. Lisby and S/Sgt. A.B. Porter (MIA). (The crew
lists give only the pilot positions nothing about the gunners) I have only the names.
Unfortunately for 1st Lt. Pelton, the 16th of March 1945, his B-25 "8H" ditched at 4 miles
after the take-off, the two engines stopped at the same time, the plane blown up in touching
the water. Only the body of the radio-gunner was found and buried at the cemetery of Bastia-
S/Sgt. Lawrence W. Kahl."
Quentin Kaiser's mission log shows that he flew his 59th mission to San Michele on
January 18, 1945, three days before the collision. In his log he wrote: "Brenner Pass, milkrun, 2 runs."
The 57th Bomb Wing flew more sorties to and dropped more bombs on San Michele than any other target on the Brenner Line
as you can see from this Brenner Pass data file.
Here's another look at B-25 8P which, as a testimony to the ruggedness of the B-25 Mitchell, actually made it back from San Michele, Italy to its base at Alesan Air Field,
Corsica following it's mid-air collision with B-25 8U. (According to my dad's mission log it's a 3.5 hour round-trip.)
I'm not sure if it was intended to be so, but I think
this plane, which is actually an
innacurately painted model of 8U, none-the-less is a very fitting
memorial to the perished crew (see above) of the original 488th Bomb Squadron B-25J 8U #43-4064 as well as
tail-gunner Aubrey Porter from the 8P #43-27657.
Jerry Rosenthal, a radio-gunner in the 488th Bomb Squadron gives the following account of the mission:
"On the 21st of January 1945, a Sunday, the mission was to San Michelle RR
Diversion where we lost S/Sgt Aubrey B. Porter, the 8P tail gunner, my tent mate and very
close friend. A. B. was on his second tour, his first was maybe a tour in England in B-17s.
I'm not sure as he was not very talkative. He did talk about Corsica being a lot like being
on an island in the S.W. Pacific, so his first tour might have been out there."
"Anyway, he wasn't a virgin! The accident happened because of very rough air. The formation
was bouncing around very violently with great fluctuations in altitude by each of the
planes. 8P was flying in number 3 position, (Pelton was pilot, Harry Shackelford, co-pilot). Two runs
on the target and they still could not drop. On the third run there was heavy, accurate flak.
8U (43-4064) in number 6 position, (Gordon Ainsworth, crew chief; Simpson, pilot; Greenig, CP; Shipley, B; Hicks,
R; Jackson, Tail), struck the right vertical stablizer of 8P with its left prop, cutting away the
stabilizer, the tail gunner's compartment and part of the left horizontal surface.
Porter was actually cut out of the tail by the prop! 8U lost a wing, went into a
flat spin and went down. Gil Hartwell, the tail gunner of the lead ship saw it all
and did not see any chutes. His diary said, "... Porter fell through space without
a chute. His chute and part of 8U's wing came by our tail. The whole thing just
missed us..."" Read Gil Hartwell's letter.
"The War Diary - Headquarters Squadron, 340th Bomb Group reported as follows:
"2nd Lt. William B. Pelton and his co-pilot, F/O Harry K Shackelford, of the
488th Squadron pulled an 'aerodynamic miracle' this afternoon when they brought
their B-25 back from a mission to the Ora-San Michele rail diversion without
its right stabilizer and right elevator. How they landed the plane safely is
still bewildering our operations officer and the hundreds of men who saw the
damaged craft come in. The plane was battered in a collision with another
488th B-25 when one element of the formation was making third run on the target,
owing to a malfunction. The other plane, piloted by 1st Lt. William Simpson,
went down over the target, and Pelton's plane also went into a spin, but the
latter officer was able to recover. The tail gunner was lost however, when
Simpson's plane scooped out the empennage of Pelton's plane. No trace of his
body, clothing, or parachute was found when Lt. Pelton landed.""
"Porter's body was found and buried by partisans, later to be reburied at the American
Cemetery near Naples (Anzio). They missed the target. We had to fly another mission
to the same target the following day. We had the same weather conditions: very rough air.
The mission report said: ...WEATHER OVER TARGET: CAVU BUT AIR VERY TURBULENT."
"I flew radio in 8M (43-4055), number 3 in a 6 plane mission. The target was hit. The lead
bombadier made only one pass, thank God! No flak." Jerry Rosenthal, 488th BS
These are some of the fragments as photographed by Christian Gloor, that were recently discovered at the
crash site of B-25J 8U 43-4064 near Trento, Italy (see below).
Recently some people have discovered what they believe to be the wreckage of the crashed B-25J 8U (43-4064) near Trento, Italy.
Christian Gloor who is researching a story about the crash of another B-25J "The Big Swing" from the 448th Bomb Squadron
of the 321st Bomb Group, says this about the recent discovery:
"We were visiting the region around Trento last weekend. S/Sgt. Max Lasskow from the 448th
visited us in Switzerland and with some Italian friends we organized a reunion with flak
gunners and other veterans of that region. It was a great experience in a very friendly
atmosphere and Max enjoyed it very much! So did we - that's me, my wife and a friend of ours.
It was great to see these former enemies gathering after 60 years, joking, laughing and
drinking together and spending some quiet moments remembering and honoring those who didn't
come back. On the very 60th anniversary of Max' last mission, monday 7 February, we organized
a visit to the prison where the crew of the "Big Swing" had been interogated by the Swiss
authorities and Max got the opportunity to make a helicopter flight (the first in his life)
over the place where he had landed with his parachute, the town hall where he had been interrogated
and the mountain ridge where his aircraft eventually crashed to destruction."
"My Italian friends had re-discovered the crash-site of "8U" and found some fragments which they
showed to me. I took some pictures and will send them to you by e-mail as soon as they will be
developed, as well as a map indicating the exact location of the crash. It seems that the dead
crewmen had been buried near the crash-site, but were then exhumated
in August 1945 by the Americans. My friend Mario is just now trying to find out more."
This map from Christian Gloor indicates the target of San Michele (red rectangle) north of Trento.
Target of San Michele (northern red rectangle) and the 8U crashsite (southern red rectangle).
#697 21 Jan Ora-San Michele RR/Div. A-797389 488th, 486th squadrons
The tactical diary in the '489th Bomb Squadron Book' states the following for Jan. 21, 1945:
The 488th squadron lost a plane over the target.
This photo from the '489th Bomb Squadron Book' shows a close hit on the San Michele Railroad bridge.
Roger Juglair sent me this flight schedule from the 488th Bomb Squadron for an earlier mission
on August 23, 1944 in which the same two aircraft, 8U and 8P, were participating. Interestingly, 8P had
Joseph Heller, author of "Catch-22" as bombardier and 8U had Francis Yohannan as bombardier.
Yohannan was the real-life inspiration for Heller's main character of Yossarian in "Catch-22."
488th Operations Officer Captain John E. Rapp was piloting the lead plane in the box.
8U and 8P were again adjacent to each other in the box just as they were on the fateful day of January 21, 1945.
In the book Heller describes a collision between two aircraft on a mission.
Back to Page 1 of "The 489th Bombardment
Squadron in Corsica".
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