Calamity Charlie

CALAMITY CHARLIE was one of the original 18th Recon Squadron Marauders that was piloted overseas by 1/Lt. (later Maj.) Ralph L. Michaelis during the initial deployment of the Group. After traversing the ferry route between Hawaii and Australia, it arrived at Brisbane on April 22, 1942, in company with three other aircraft from the Squadron. Immediately upon arrival in Australia, Michaelis continued on to Reid River, where the renamed 408th Squadron had set up camp. There the engineer, Sgt. Centabar, continued his stateside job of supervising maintenance on the plane, assisted by Sgt. Jack S. Hirschbein. Centabar flew only a mission or two before all crew chiefs were grounded from combat flying.

The nickname was chosen during the fall of 1941, after the aircraft was assigned to the Michaelis crew while they were stationed at Langley Field, Virginia. Charlie was the nickname of Michaelis’ wife, and Calamity was a take off on “Calamity Jane,” a famous female muleskinner and personality from the American old west. Initially, only the name was stenciled on the nose of the Marauder, but after consultation with the crew, the design for the artwork, a modification of a Walt Disney cartoon bee, was chosen. This was painted on both sides of the nose before the plane left for California on the first leg of its deployment to the Pacific.

Michaelis and his crew flew their first mission on April 30th, in the Squadron Commander’s aircraft, but thereafter flew many of their missions in CALAMITY CHARLIE. The members of the crew during this period were 2/Lt. (later Capt.) Wade H. Robert, Jr., co-pilot; 1/Lt. Edwin R. Fogarty, navigator; 2/Lt. Arthur C. King, bombardier; Cpl. (later Sgt.) Stanley A. Wolenski, engineer; PFC. Havis J. Barnes, radio operator; Pvt. Daniel C. Perugini, gunner; and S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, photographer. The plane was also flown by several other Squadron pilots during its career with the 408th.

This Marauder was scheduled to fly its first mission on May 16th, but this was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions. Its combat debut was made over Rabaul on May 24th with Michaelis at the controls although he was leading a different crew on the mission. Over Vunakanau Airdrome it sustained AA damage to the right wing and hydraulic system, but it eventually landed safely at Port Moresby on one engine. On this mission, three members of Michaelis’ original crew, King, Wolenski and Swan, went down while flying with another crew. Wolenski apparently died in the crash; King was captured and apparently died in Japanese hands, while Swan died of his injuries after an extended period on the run from Japanese forces on New Britain.

Calamity Charlie

The artwork on CALAMITY CHARLIE, a 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauder, was painted on both sides of the nose. This aircraft transferred to the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group during the spring of 1943, and continued its career with the Silver Fleet until the beginning of 1944. During that period it displayed an unusual tally system on its mission scoreboard, which can be seen in a photo appearing in Appendix IV of Revenge of the Red Raiders. (Laverne L. Limpach Collection)

 

After repairs, CALAMITY CHARLIE was back in action by mid-June and thereafter flew regularly until its last combat mission with the 408th, which took place on November 27th. It played no role in the last six weeks of B-26 operations by the Group, probably because of the need for a major overhaul. On November 2, 1942 Michaelis was transferred to Port Moresby to become an Operations Officer in V Bomber Command. At the same time several Squadron officers transferred out to staff the recently arrived 38th BG.

The profile illustrates this aircraft as it appeared during September 1942, with ten mission markers on its scoreboard. When it completed its tour with the 408th, this was updated to reflect a total of 27 flown, including ones aborted for weather or mechanical reasons. By the time of its last missions with the 408th, the top of the vertical stabilizer had been tipped in the Squadron color, Kelly Green.

As with other 22nd BG planes, CALAMITY CHARLIE was overhauled during the spring of 1943, and the camouflage paint was removed. It was one of only two B-26s still assigned to the 408th at the beginning of June, 1943. The nickname and artwork were repainted on both sides of the nose in a revised format. The plane was transferred to the 19th Bomb Squadron’s “B” Flight by July, 1943, where it started the second phase of its combat career with the Silver Fleet.

Its first mission with the unit was flown on August 13, 1943. During its service with the 19th, CALAMITY CHARLIE did not have a regular pilot although 1/Lt. Jesse G. Homen flew it on ten missions during its last three months with the Squadron. Mission reports indicate that ten different crews flew the plane at least 24 times before it ended its combat flying on January 4, 1944. The members of the ground crew assigned to CALAM1TY CHARLIE during this period included T/Sgt. Frank L. Cain, crew chief; S/Sgt David M. Crawford, his assistant; and mechanic Sgt. Ed Schwietzer.

A unique aspect of the plane’s markings while with the Silver Fleet included a mission scoreboard done in a system of tally marks, which were recorded in groups of five on both sides of the fuselage. Photos taken at the time it was retired from service show the aircraft with 75 tally marks, which far exceeds the 45 combat missions known to have been flown by the aircraft. It is these markings that are depicted in the insert profile. As with the other Marauders remaining in service in the theater, CALAMITY CHARLIE was declared “War Weary” in January, 1944, and flown to Brisbane where it was scrapped during the spring.

Among the missions flown during 1942 were: Rabaul, 5/24 (Michaelis); Kila Point, 6/16 (Ellis); Buna, 7/22 (Augustine); Lae, 8/6, 9/13, 9/19 (Michaelis); Buna, 11/24, 11/27 (O’Donnell); and 11/27 (Ellis). During its service with the 19th Squadron in 1943, missions flown included: Lae, 8/13 (Hathaway), Lokanu Ridge, 8/25 (Burnside); Bogadjim, 8/27 (Rugroden); Cape Gloucester, 9/2 (Higgins); Cape Gloucester, 9/3 (Burnside); Lae (abort), 9/8 (Steddom); Lae, 9/9 (Steddom); Finschafen, 9/18 (Hathaway); Wonan Island, 9/21 (Burnside); Cape Hoskins, 10/2 (Homen); Alexishafen, 10/14 (Homen); Faria Valley, 11/5 (Homen); Satelberg, 11/19 (Irwin); Satelberg, 11/24 (Forrester); Kamlagidu Point, 12/2 Burcky); Cape Gloucester 12/3 (Flanagan); Wandokai, 12/8 (Irwin); Kelanea Harbor, 12/16 (Homen); Sag Sag, 12/24 (Homen); Madang, 12/26 (Homen); Cape Gloucester, 12/29 (Homen); Bogadjim,1/31 (Homen); and in 1944: Erima Point, 1/2 (Homen); and Nambaaron River, 1/4 (Homen).

Read more about CALAMITY CHARLIE and the rest of the 22nd Bomb Group in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

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