Men from the 38th Bomb Group scrambled for cover as the Japanese raided Port Moresby’s airfields on the night of May 14, 1943. Once the red alert was lifted, it was approximately 0200 hours on the 15th, and not a good night to get some sleep. The air crews were roused from their beds a short time later when they were informed that they would be heading out on a mission to Gasmata at 0300. They were ordered to take out the approximately 40 Japanese fighters and bombers before the Japanese could send them to raid Dobodura around sunrise.
Due to the bad weather over the mountains and the Solomon Sea, crews were told to fly separately instead of trying to maintain some semblance of a formation in the weather. This was to be a long flight, resulting in most of the planes being equipped with wing tanks to give the B-25s an extra 300 gallons of fuel. EL DIABLO II, an unmodified B-25C, had been designated a non-combat plane until this mission when it was assigned to 2/Lt. Garrett C. Middlebrook. Because it had not been fitted with wing tanks, Middlebrook objected to his assigned plane but was told he still had to fly it.
As Middlebrook and his crew took off and headed over the Own Stanley Mountains on a bumpy ride, EL DIABLO II was suddenly caught in a downdraft and fell 2000 feet. The pilots regained control of the plane and the crew continued on in the electrical storm. Halos formed around the edges of the propellers and sparks flew threw the plane whenever lightning struck. At one point, the lightning saved the lives of the crew as it lit a mountain dead ahead. Middlebrook executed a climbing turn and avoided the mountain. By this time, the men weren’t sure of their exact location because of the turbulent weather they were flying through. Middlebrook reasoned that it would be best to fly north for 30 minutes, then over the sea. They finally found calmer air at 800 feet an hour before sunrise, but did not find land from this altitude.
An hour later, the B-25 descended as Middlebrook and his co-pilot, 2/Lt. William F. Noser looked for water, which they finally spotted from 300 feet. There wasn’t enough fuel to get them to the target and back home, so the crew decided to turn around and head back to base. It wasn’t long before they encountered turbulent weather and ascended to avoid downdrafts that could plunge the plane in the ocean and the mountains that were buried in the clouds. The crew did their best to stay out of the bad weather and finally reached the coast north of the Fly River, which was 250 miles away from home. There wasn’t enough fuel left for them to fly back to Port Moresby, so Lt. Middlebrook began looking for a safe place to land. Sand dunes scattered along the beaches were a potential hazard to the plane and the crew, but EL DIABLO II was nearly out of fuel. As Middlebrook buzzed the beach, he noticed a section of 1200 to 1500 feet of flat ground that would be ideal for landing.
The landing gear was lowered, the fuel and power cut, and the pilots landed the plane in the sand. While it was a bumpy landing that broke the nose wheel, no one was injured. The crew got out to inspect the plane and were greeted by a few natives who appeared to mean the crew no harm. After a little while, the crew tried talking to one of the boys who spoke a little English. It was established that an Australian detachment was half a day’s walk away from the crash site and the boy was willing to lead the downed airmen to the Australians. Two of the crewmembers went with the boy while the rest of the men secured the plane’s guns and destroyed the I.F.F. (Identification, Friend or Foe) radio set. Later that afternoon, the two men returned to the crew with a message that the Australians would pick them up by PT boat at the mouth of the Kapuri River that night.
The crew spent the next two days with the Australians before they were picked up by a C-47 that returned them to Port Moresby. EL DIABLO II was later recovered by a barge team, repaired and transferred out of the 38th Bomb Group roster.