In the Fall of 1942, the 305th Bomb Group arrived in England after a six month work up cycle in Utah, California and Washington. When the men reached East Anglia that fall, the Army Air Force assigned them a batch of factory-fresh Boeing B-17F Flying Fortresses with which they would soon begin operations against German targets in Western Europe. One of those original B-17’s was #41-24611, which the crews named “Boomerang.” The 305th was one of the first bomb groups to reach the 8th Air Force, which attracted a lot of media and PAO attention. This film clip was taken at the start of one of the unit’s earliest combat missions, either in late 1942 or early 1943. Seen taxiing toward its take off run is Boomerang and her crew.
On February 16, 1943, the 305th flew a bombing mission over Brittany, France. The Forts were hit by flak and fighters, and the Luftwaffe interceptors singled out Boomerang. Firing passes knocked out two of the B-17’s engines, and it dropped out of formation on fire. Other members of group saw a number of parachutes blossom from the aircraft just before it disappeared into a layer of clouds. Another Fort was cut out of its squadron box and sent down in flames at about the same time. Both B-17’s crashed near Molac, France, with one crew member from each aircraft dying in the ordeal.
Boomerang’s surviving crew tried to escape and evade. Several of them were able to avoid capture–at least at first. They were split into two groups, and one eventually was run down by the Germans and taken prisoner. Two men successfully evaded and returned to Allied territory.
Boomerang’s crew that day:
Pilot: Charles Steenbarger
Copilot: Thomas Mayo
Navigator: John Carpenter Jr. (Killed in Action)
Bombardier: Joe Varhol
Radio Operator: Carey Ford
Top Turret Gunner: Fred Dewig
Ball Turret Gunner: Charley Gilbert
Tail Gunner: Lowell Lewis
Waist Gunners: Dale Markland and Don Wall
Norris Miller was also aboard the aircraft.
Here is the film clip:
Ford and Markland were the two who successfully evaded capture.
The townsfolk in Molac later erected a monument honoring the two crews shot down that day. It can be seen here: