Captain of B-25D coded 6N, 2/Lt. John D, O’Leary

I.P., to be sure he was awake. He said he didn´t

feel too good and that the previous day while flying at 14,500 ft, to 15,000 ft, enroute to target, he

had felt sleepy and was afraid he´d fall asleep on

this mission,” reported later co-pilot John Smith.

The bombardier ended up being alert that day and

was actually the first to spot incoming enemy fighters. What they all saw then was a monumental display of flak, that above the target concentrated on the left side of the formation.

The first threesome of Mitchells of the formation

conducted their raid against the middle of the airfield, the second dropped their bombs on the left

area, and the third, on the right.

“At approximately 12,500 ft we opened the bombay

doors and bomb release time was slightly ather

1300,” wrote John O’Leary in his report. The individual groups of three bombers were to make

a turn to the right after dropping their bombs

and head for home. „Almost immediately upon

closing the bombay doors after bombs away we

took a light hit by 88mm flak in the vicinity of the

bombay. Our airspeed was approximately 240

m.p.h. and the heaviest concentration of flack

was still to our left.“ At that moment, the leader

of the group performed an unexpected maneuver by banking left instead of right, directly into

the concentrated flak. Individual aircraft snaked

their way through the exploding grenades before

the lead pilot realized his mistake and went into

a right turn “Having been on the inside of the pre22 eduard

vious turn to the left, my airspeed was reduced to

approximately to 170 m.p.h., due to the steepness

of the turn. After the ship started the swing to the

right, the Flight Leader and the right wing man,

having an excessive speed over that which I was

indicating, began to pull away from me. It was at

this time that the Bombardier told us that a Me

109 (the Bf 109 is often mistakenly called this way

in the USAAF combat reports; author´s note) was

attacking low and from 11 o´clock, and at the same

time the tail gunner reported that another ME

was attacking from 6 o´clock. I saw the tracers

from both of these ships set up a cross fire which

poured through the right wing. It was at this time

that the 88th´s on the ground began to get our

range. Doing everything possible, as far as evasive action was concerned, to avoid both the fighters and the flack we tried to maintain our position in formation. The Navigator and top turret

man who were calling the flack bursts, told me

that flack was bracketing to us from both sides.“

The lagging B-25 subsequently received further

hits to the fuselage and both engines. After one

fateful hit, which even ripped the engine from it´s

mount, the aircraft began to roll about its longitudinal axis until it was on its back, and then entered into a flat spin. At that moment, the gates of

hell opened up for the crew…

Deteriorating Chances

“As we lay there in an inverted position in a flat

spin, a ME 109 made another pass at us, and

I saw 20 mm tracers pouring into the nose of the

Bombardier´s compartment. Both the co-pilot

and myself did everything in our power to try and

right the ship. Then realizing our condition was

hopeless, I ordered him out and hit the emergency alarm system toggle switch,“ recalled in his

report O’Leary. According to Smith, the aircraft

went through two and a half rotations in its flat

spin, and the forces that they generated and the

fact that the aircraft was inverted made exiting

the plane virtually impossible. That went for the

pilots as well as the rest of the crew. According

to O’Leary, John Smith tried to push his seat back

so that he could access the escape route through

the navigator’s station, but the centrifugal forces

were pushing him forward, making it impossible.

When O’Leary saw that his co-pilot was having

Co-pilot John Smith was wounded during the action and

fell into captivity. He returned home after the war.

problems, he ejected the escape hatch in the canopy, which is normally reserved for the pilots

to escape from the aircraft on the ground (for

example after a crash landing), but was now one

of the few options left for leaving the aircraft while still in the air. The Captain ordered Smith out,

which he succeeded in doing after a short battle

with the seatbelts. “I saw him fall clear of the ship,

but did not see his chute open.“

The co-pilot, however, saw the situation a little

differently: “I pushed the seat back, and started to step down into the Nav. Comp. and saw

Lt. Duszkiewicz lying in the tunnel-way trying

to pull himself through when the plane plunge

downward violently and threw me up against the

top of pilot´s compartment. I believe I released

the top escape hatch with my head as I hit. I fell

behind the pilot´s seat. The next I knew, everything was quiet and I felt cool air so I pulled the


photo: 57th Bomb Wing Association

photo: the Author’s Collection

Turn Right, Right! Not Left!

The whole story of the crew of the B-25D Mitchell

serial 42-64540 of the 486th Bomb Squadron is

like something out of a horror movie. Four of the

six men on board endured moments of terror

that must have seemed like an eternity and that

could only lead to their eventual demise. But, it

needs to be said…

The planes took off on November 17, 1943 from

San Pancratzio airbase in southern Italy (not far

from Lecce) at 1010h local time. In all, 36 340th

BG aircraft took part, and another 36 were contributed by the 321st BG. The pilots set their course at about 13,000 ft (4,000 m), and 2/Lt. John D.

O’Leary flew in the ninth position, the last of one

of the formations, in the third threesome on the

left. The men on board of the aircraft coded 6N

were flying just their third mission as a group.

The pilot, 2/Lt. O’Leary and co-pilot 2/Lt. John E.

Smith were among the rookies with the unit, and

the remaining four were assembled from other

crews. These were comprised of bombardier/

navigator 2/Lt. Daniel R. Duszkiewicz, radio operator/gunner S/Sgt. John P. Sweeney, top gunner

Sgt. Roderick M. MacDougall and tail gunner

S/Sgt. Frank F. Williams.

“While arranging his maps and outlining the course, Lt. Duszkiewicz asked me to call him at the



B-25 of the 340th BG on its way to a target, which in this case was Monte Cassino.

INFO Eduard - April 2021