William J. Smith 1944
|Pilot 1st Lt Eugene E. Benson, O-735510 (rescued) Micollet County, MN
Lt. William Joseph Smith, O-742619 (rescued) Ashland, KY
Navigator 1st Lt Hollie H. Rushing, O-803152 (rescued) Jackson, MS
Radio TSgt James C. Healan, 34350583 (MIA / KIA) Winder, GA
Gunner Sgt Harold J. Gross, 39244301 (MIA / KIA) OH
Ditched February 15, 1944
Built by North American. Constructors Number 87-8535. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-15 Mitchell serial number 41-30370. Ferried via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia. Converted to a D-1 strafer variant by the 4th Air Depot at Garbutt Field near Townsville.
On July 23, 1943 assigned to the 5th Air Force, 38th Bombardment Group, 71st Bombardment Squadron. Assigned to pilots Storm and Cole with crew chiefs Jenne and John. Nicknamed "Pissonit" with the nose art of Walt Disney's Big Bad Wolf cartoon
character. When lost, engines: R-2600-13 serial numbers 41-30369 and 41-29098.
On February 15, 1944 took off from Dobodura Airfield piloted by 1st Lt Eugene E. Benson armed with 500 pound bombs on a low level strike against Kavieng on New Ireland. This B-25 was flying on the right wing of B-25D 41-30182 piloted by Major Howard M. Paquin who was leading the second flight.
Over the target, their flight flew in a line abreast formation over and Kavieng and were targeted by anti-aircraft fire. Aboard this B-25, the crew felt a bang as the left wing bounced into the air and the left engine caught fire. Despite being hit and loosing power from the left engine, Benson stayed with the formation and releasing their bombs and strafing the target area.
Inside, the crew attempted to feather the left engine and cut the fuel, while still firing their guns. The fire extinguisher system managed to extinguish the fire temporarily but soon began spreading again. The flames spread into the left engine nacelle and cause an oxygen bottle to detonate further fueling the fire and caused the left landing gear to drop down streaming hydraulic fluid.
With the extra drag, the B-25 fell out of formation and began loosing altitude and air speed despite maximum power being applied to the right engine with both pilots struggling to keep the plane level. In the rear fuselage, Healan and Gross were trapped in the rear of the plane by the flames. Healan managed to climb over the bomb bay into the cockpit.
Unable to escape, Gross to bail out at an altitude of approximately 150' and his parachute only partially opened before he hit the surface of the sea and was likely killed on impact or drown. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Flying above the surface of the sea, the B-25 got off a mayday call before ditching tail first with the left wing touching next. On impact, the momentum of the impact caused the entire aircraft to submerge but after five seconds resurfaced. This B-25 ditched roughly 2 1/2 miles off the North Cape of New Ireland north of Kavieng.
Fates of the Crew
After the ditching, Benson, Smith and Rushing managed to exit out from the cockpit escape hatch. Despite searching, the other two crew were not seen after the ditching. Healan was last seen in the navigator's compartment and never exited the plane. Likely he was trapped inside the aircraft and was killed on impact or drown when it sank and is listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fuel on the surface of the water was burning creating black smoke that prevented them from the life raft or emergency supplies. The three survivors clung to Smith's parachute because they were unable to locate the life raft due to the fire. Meanwhile, their ditching was observed
by Major Paquin who also radioed air-sea rescue to report them as down.
Together, the three drifted for approximately two hours in rough seas. They spotted a flight of P-47 Thunderbolts, and all three used their mirrors to signal them until one peeled off and circled their position.
Afterwards, PBY "Arkansas Traveler" 08139 piloted
by Lt(jg) Nathan G.
Gordon arrived, circled and dropped smoke pots before making his third landing near the survivors, despite rough seas and Japanese fire from the shore. After landing, the left engine was shut down and taxied nearer, with the men only visible when they crested at the top of waves before a crew member tossed them a rope. Afterwards, Gordon
earned the Medal of Honor for this action.
"Our radio went off again, and we got the call from
the spotting B-25 to rescue another crew. This plane had ditched about
a mile from shore. Again, we power stalled to land, and had to cut the
left engine so as not to hit the crew in the water. This time it was
another B-25 crew. Only three were there. Our remaining two P-47 escorts
left while we were making the landing because they too were low on fuel.
We now had ten aboard, and we started for home.
I would say we got about 20 miles away from Kavieng when again, our
radio went off. It was the same B-25 called in and told us about
another crew, this time very close to the shore. Since our escort
had left, I asked him "Are you going to stay with me?" and he replied
back "Yes". We had been told that the Japanese had float
planes there too, and I was afraid about meeting one of them now
that we were alone."
This B-25 has never been located and is presumed to be in deep water roughly 2 1/2 miles off the North Cape of New Ireland north of Kavieng.
Gross was officially declared dead on February 14, 1944. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Healan was officially declared dead on February 15, 1945. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He has a memorial marker at Rose Hill Cemetery in Winder, GA on his parent's grave in section D. He also has a memorial marker at Barrow Memorial Gardens in Winder, GA."
Rushing passed away January 29, 2002. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Homer, LA.
Benson retired with the rank of Captain. He earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He passed away June 13, 2006 and is buried at Woodland Hills Memorial Park in Mankato, MN.
Smith passed away in 2010.
Stephen Smith (son of William J. Smith)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Eugene E. Benson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William J. Smith
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Hollie H. Rushing
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - James C. Healan
USAF Serial Number Search Results -
B-25D-15 Mitchell 41-30370
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-15 Mitchell serial number 41-30370
Missing Air Crew Report 3205 (MACR 3205)
Fifth Air Force - Air Sea Rescue Service - Record - B2-5D1 41-30306 (Second Rescue) via Edward Rogers
"Location: Shot down Kavieng Harbor
Cause of Loss; Hit by light machine gun fire.
Summary of rescue effort: One man was seen to bail out and the other ditched with the plane. Three of that latter were rescued. The rescue of the men who ditched was made with six men, previously rescued, aboard in a ship that was already damaged. The other man was reported sighted and the ship again landed under 75mm fire to find the man had drown."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James C. Healan
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Harold J. Gross
FindAGrave - TSgt James C Healan (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - TSGT James C Healan (memorial marker photo, Rose Hill Cemetery)
James Columbus Healan (memorial marker photo, Barrow Memorial Gardens)
FindAGrave - Sgt Harold J Gross (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Hollie Howard Rushing, Sr (obituary, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Eugene E Benson (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Rev William Joseph Smith (obituary, grave photo)
Warpath Across The Pacific pages 128-129 (February 15, 1944 rescue)
The Forgotten Fifth pages 69-70 [ Read Excerpt ]
PBY: The Catalina Flying Boat pages 170-173
"Black Cat Rescue" by Nicholas Trudgian
"Flight Out of Hell" by Nicholas Trudgian
Sun Setters of the Southwest Pacific Area pages 262 (map), 281-285 (February 15, 1944 mission), 286-287 (Gordon arrival), 288 (surviving crew rescued), AII-8, AIII-7
World War II History "Flight Out Of Hell"
Thanks to William J. Smith and Nathan G.
Gordon for additional information
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February 14, 2020