The Freak Accident

For a sultan in Ternate, August 15, 1944 was like any other day, until a 501st Squadron B-25 took out the corner of his palace’s roof during a raid. Afterwards, he promptly complained to the Allied authorities.

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On the 15th, the 500th and 501st Squadron were bombing Ternate, the largest town they attacked since Rabaul, as the Allies continued to push the Japanese further into western New Guinea. The 501st was lead by 1/Lt. Eugene E. Nirdlinger, who discovered while over the target area that his bomb racks were malfunctioning. He turned away in search of a place to salvo his bombs and came upon a ship in a harbor, which would make an excellent target. With 1/Lt. John J. Nolan in QUITCH accompanying Nirdlinger, the two B-25s lined up for their attack.

When they neared the ship, they were greeted by antiaircraft fire. Nirdlinger managed to drop his bombs, then he and Nolan began climbing over a hill and away from the area. As they flew along, S/Sgt. Donald M. Holland, a gunner on QUITCH, saw Nirdlinger’s B-25 go underneath their plane. It pulled up sharply, with its tail hitting the right wing of Nolan’s aircraft, then broke off and crashed into the hillside.

Fireball

A fireball of burning gasoline boils up from the fatal crash of 1/Lt. Nirdlinger’s B-25 on the hillside above Dodinga Village on August 15, 1944.

Getting QUITCH home was going to be a challenge. The brief collision with Nirdlinger’s plane had wrenched off six feet of QUITCH‘s right wing, with the rest of it bent downward like a flap. This put QUITCH at risk of rolling and the pilots worked frantically to get the B-25 level again. They had to almost fully power down the right engine, but eventually they managed to level out and cautiously climbed to 5000 feet. A few hours later, QUITCH was put into a descent for an emergency landing at Kamiri Airdrome, but didn’t end up making it to Kamiri. The left engine, which had been going at full power since the accident, gave out. Nolan landed QUITCH as smoothly as he could in about three feet of water. No one was seriously injured and the crew was picked up the following day. After his experience, Nolan was too shaken up to fly another mission and returned to the U.S. not long afterwards.

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8 thoughts on “The Freak Accident

  1. That was an extraordinary feat of airmanship. I am often amazed at the hardships that those young men had to endure on their missions. On this occasion, the crew was fortunate to return home alive. Thank you again for a great article.

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  2. Pingback: International Historical Research Associates | The Freak Accident

  3. Pingback: A Tribute to Lt. Col. John J. Nolan | IHRA

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