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Eliot R. Young
312th Bombardment Group, 389th Bombardment Squadron
A-20 Havoc Pilot

The Crash Landing
by Eliot R. Young, Jr. (son of Eliot R. Young)

My Grandmother kept a brief log of Dad’s overseas experience on a calendar, on which she made frequent notations regarding his letters to her.  The particular letter that dealt with this experience was seventeen pages long, and the pertinent text is included in the following paragraphs.  On her calendar she correctly indicates that he was missing on January 19th and rescued on the 28th.  She received a telegram from the War Department addressed to her “in hospital today” shortly after she supposedly had an undisclosed operation.  I still wonder what her “operation” was.  She was notified sometime in late January that my Dad was missing, and it was a month before she was notified that he had been found.  I’m speculating here, but it is quite possible that she had worried herself so sick about my Dad’s disappearance that she required hospitalization.  In any case, I’m sure the period when my Dad was missing must have been the worst days of her life.  To quote my Grandmother regarding her son, “this boy is all I have in the world”.

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My Dad and I last discussed this incident two years before he died.  Fortunately his letters to his mother were saved, and many of the discrepancies in his last accounting to me have been clarified from the letters.  This was definitely not one of Dad’s favorite experiences during the war, and I got the impression that he was still kind of embarrassed about the whole incident when he said to me, “Rick, I still to this day can’t believe I was that foolish”. 

The pilot of the other A-20 was in a different squadron, and neither of the two pilots discussed it at all after they returned to the 312th Bomb Group.  In my Dad’s own words “as we both wanted to forget the whole thing”.

My Dad was given this routine assignment shortly after he was assigned to the 312th Bombardment Group.  At that time these flights were being done in earnest because the 312th was transitioning to the A-20.  Most of the 312th pilots were in Port Moresby learning how to fly the A-20.  My Dad was already an experienced A-20 pilot, so he and eighteen other individuals were given this assignment.  I believe he was transported to Townsville by the group’s C-47 cargo ship. 

One thing to bear in mind as you read about this incident; there were many such assignments given to these young pilots, and too many times they were never heard from again.  As always with the young and inexperienced in the combat zone, mistakes will be made and lives will be lost.  Fortunately for me, God and his mother’s prayers were with him.

Rough Engines - No Fuel
Almost immediately after they were airborne, Dad didn’t like the way the plane was flying, so he signaled Lt. Huber to head for Cairns in order to have the plane checked out.  When they landed at Cairns, Dad reported to the USAAF maintenance personnel that both engines were running rough, and this might have been caused by the need to “firewall” them in order to get off the ground at Townsville.  However, the maintenance personnel found nothing amiss with the airplane, and the two took off again with no apparent problems.

For some unexplained reason neither pilot checked his fuel levels, or requested that the fuel tanks be topped off.  This was to result in a near catastrophic situation for both, because, upon departure, neither pilot had enough fuel to make it to Gusap.  Dad didn’t realize his situation until all four fuel tank warning lights began to glow bright red. 

There is another hitch to this story.  Almost as soon as the two became airborne again, Lt. Huber began to fly west instead of northeast.  Dad signaled by waving several times that they were going in the wrong direction, but Huber just shook his head and kept pointing west. 

At this stage in his career, Dad was nothing more than a raw 2nd lieutenant, and Huber, being a 1st Lt. outranked Dad, but I’m not sure he was any more experienced.  In any case Dad felt, “he must of had some reason for doing this” and elected to follow him against his own better judgement. 

Lt. Huber was at Will Rogers Field with Dad, where both pilots received the same training in the A-20.  I think both pilots came overseas at the same time, possibly joining the 312th on the same set of orders.  I don’t think Dad knew Huber very well, and after this experience they had very little contact with each other during their stay with the 312th.  Dad never even asked Huber why in the hell he was flying in that direction.  As I have mentioned earlier, they both really wished that this “bonehead” incident had never taken place.

Lost over the Gulf
Their errant flight path took them over the Gulf of Carpentaria, in Queensland, northern Australia.  It was at this time that Dad realized he had a major problem with his fuel levels.  He then indicated by radio (the dash-20 Havoc’s had notoriously bad radios) that he was declaring an emergency situation, would have to land, and he was going to locate a beach area on one of the islands on which to do so.  As it was, and with good fortune, he was able to belly the airplane in on the beach (wheels up), and much to Dad’s surprise Lt. Huber landed on the beach right after him with his wheels down.  Dad’s first comment was “Oh, that’s just great!  Now we’re both stuck down here!”  He initially had thought Huber had enough fuel and should have gone on for help.  Actually, Huber’s fuel situation was almost as dire as Dad’s.

While we were discussing this incident, Dad mentioned that he thought there are still remnants of those two A-20’s on the island.  When I asked him he said, “I think the planes are still there”. 

I contacted Mike Claringbould regarding this possibility and according to him he believes they are, “but the remnants have been reduced to very little because of salt corrosion”.  

Mike continues, “The planes were A-20G dash-20’s serial 42-86620 and #42-86724 and I don’t know who was flying which…..and after the landings, attempts were made weeks later to salvage the two planes, but in the end they were used for spare parts and abandoned”.  Using the magnifying glass on the pictures we have, I was able to determine Hubers’ tail number: 42-86724.  The first two numbers are the year of manufacture.  In some cases the 4 was eliminated.  Someday, I’m going to go to Bountiful Island and see for myself what’s left.

I remember Dad telling me sometime in the early 1980’s an individual called him from Australia inquiring if he was the same Eliot Young who possibly flew one of those A-20’s.  Dad responded, “That was a long time ago and I don’t wish to discuss it any further”.  The individual thanked him and that was that.  According to Mike he thinks the individual who called was Bob Piper, a former RAAF historian who was researching USAAF plane wrecks in Australia at the time.

The Letter of February 14, 1944
This is the first correspondence to his mother after his mishap, and was written while he is still in Karumba, Australia at the RAAF seaplane base located on the southeastern side of the gulf.  This letter is the “special one” in reference to the notation my Grandmother had written on her calendar.   This is the full account of his experience with the crash landing, and of their rescue by the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force). 
[ Read Letter ]

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