The crew of Angel of Mercy shortly after an emergency
landing. From left to right: S/Sgt Donald E. Wilson, 2nd
Lt. William W. Graham, 1st. Lt. William S. McMillan, T/Sgt
Kenneth G. Graham, T/Sgt. Mueller and 1st Lt. Walter D.
McLean. Missing from the picture is wounded rear gunner
S/Sgt. Arthur S. Hatfield.
INFO Eduard - September 2021
Angel of Mercy just before belly landing at Fano Air Base.
Angel of Mercy’s incomplete story
The aircraft serial No. 43-35982 came from the
production block B-25J-10-NA. We don’t have
the information about the exact manufacturing
date neither when it was delivered to 428th BS,
we know however that it flew its first mission on
January 8, 1945. It was the raid on Crespellano assembly area, and the aircraft was flown by Capt.
C. W. Sprague (with 2nd Lt. R. D. Stead as copilot).
In this aircraft Sprague flew in total six missions,
afterwards several pilots alternated at its controls from the beginning of February. As the well-known photographs show, on the port side of
the fuselage of Angel of Mercy, under the cockpit
besides T/Sgt E. O. Robinson‘s name as a Crew
Chief (he survived the war and died on August 9,
1987) there was also 1st Lt. Thaddeus C. Michal’s
name as an Airplane Commander. He was a very
experienced pilot who served with the unit from
August 1944 until the end of March 1945. For his
service he was awarded Air Medal and, in addition to it, nine Oak Leaf Clusters. On March 25 he
was decorated with the DFC for a mission flown
on February 6, 1945, when his ship was heavily
damaged by anti-aircraft fire during the raid on
San Ambrogio marshalling yards. Regardless,
Michal pressed on the attack and his bombardier
dropped the bombs on the target with „devastating effect “. The ship Michal flew on this mission
was not 43-35982, i.e. Angel of Mercy however,
but 43-35957 (this aircraft was lost on March 10,
1945 during the raid on Oro and the crew of 1st Lt.
G. A. Rorer was killed). Next day Michal flew 4335982 for the first time and with several exceptions he flew it into combat from then on, mostly
with 1st Lt. F. S. King as a copilot. Together they
flew eight missions in February.
It’s possible that Angel of Mercy was assigned to
Michal as of February 7. If the unnamed ship became Angel of Mercy while he was flying her, or
if she had been christened so by Sprague or her
Crew Chief cannot be ascertained from the historic documents known to the author. At any rate
Angel of Mercy flew 13 missions in February (out
of the total 32 missions flown by the whole squadron) out of which nine times piloted by Thaddeus
C. Michal. A month later „Angel“ flew additional
17 missions out of which nine times piloted again
by Michal who shared the airplane with McLean. He flew the ship on seven missions and 2nd
Lt. S. A. Willis „borrowed“ her once. Michal said
goodbye to „his“ Mitchell on March 19 flying the
raid against Vo Sinistro (approximately 15 kilometers south of Rovereto). Due to the navigational error the formation bombed the railway in
Chizzolo (approximately 8 kilometers north from
the original target). It was Michal’s seventieth,
and last mission. In the beginning of April, he was
headed back home to USA.
Pilots and their airplanes
The custom to display pilots‘ names on the aircraft
needs to be explained. The name shown did not
mean that the ship was assigned exclusively to
this pilot. In fact, pilots rotated flying the particular
ship and quite often the pilot-in-command and his
copilot were not paired permanently, not to mention the rest of the crew. For example, McMillan
flew with McLean for the first time on April 17 i.e.,
two days before the Rovereto raid which was their
second mission together. After the emergency
landing with Angel of Mercy they flew together in
Photo: Cpl. Robert A. Cooper via fold3.com
After this excited communication a calm order to
drop the bombs was heard on the air and the leading ship started to turn away from the target.
Flak fire intensified and it seemed impossible for
anyone to fly through its barrage. Lt. W. H. Naff’s
aircraft from 380th BS was hit very hard and lost
one engine. Another aircraft left the formation
to escort him. Naff managed to bring the heavily
damaged ship back behind the Allied lines where the whole crew bailed out. It was not over yet.
Another seriously damaged aircraft was 1st Lt.
William S. McMillan’s ship. His “Angel of Mercy”
was hit by several shrapnel shells which damaged the hydraulic system. The copilot was 1st
Lt. Walter D. McLean, the other crew members on
board were bombardier 2nd Lt. William W. Graham, radio-operator and gunner S/Sgt. Donald
E. Wilson and gunners T/Sgt Kenneth G. Mueller
and S/Sgt Arthur S. Hatfield. Both men at controls
managed to maintain Angel of Mercy on the course so that Graham was able to drop the bombs on
the target. The loss of the hydraulic system also
meant that the landing gear could not be lowered
for the landing.
That was however a secondary problem in the
given moment, first they had to make it with a damaged aircraft over the mountains, and to friendly
territory. They succeeded in doing both and their
comrades at Fano base, where the group had
moved barely two weeks before from Corsica,
would observe an unusual landing. The Mitchell
approaching the runway had only the nose leg extended. The unusual belly landing was successful
though, and except for the rear gunner Hatfield,
who was already wounded over the target, everybody else escaped unscathed.
For his leadership under the heavy fire the formation leader, Col. Peter H. Remington, was
decorated with Silver Star, several other pilots
were awarded as well. McMillan was decorated
with DFC for his conduct and the citation to the
decoration award stated: "[…] Upon the commencement of the bomb run, shell fragments from
intense anti-aircraft fire heavily damaged his airplane. Displaying great courage […] maintained his
crippled aircraft on course, thereby enabling his
bombardier to release his bombs […] Then piloting
the shattered bomber over difficult mountainous
terrain to his base, […] effected a perfect landing
without injury to his crew."
McMillan managed to save his fellow crew members however he could not save the ship. The Flak
damage as well as the “kiss” with the ground upon
landing were extensive and she was written off.
Photo: Cpl. Robert A. Cooper via fold3.com
Walter D. McLean at the time of his studies.