Friday, April 26, 2019

January 16, 1942: Carole Lombard Crash

Friday 16 January 1942

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
Recovery team at the site following the Carole Lombard crash on Mount Potosi of 16 January 1942.
American Homefront: Returning on 16 January 1942 from a War Bond rally in Indianapolis in which she sold $2 million bonds, Indiana, actress Carole Lombard, 33, perishes when her DC-3-382 NC1946 propliner (Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. (TWA) Flight 3) crashes near Good Springs, Nevada. The twin-engined plane flies straight into a vertical cliff (Double Up Peak) on Potosi Mountain in the Spring Mountain Range and causes a fireball seen for 40 miles. The crash occurs at 19:20 local time, just after takeoff from a refueling stop at Las Vegas (a small town at the time). Everyone on board - 15 soldiers, four passengers including Lombard and her mother and agent, and 3 crew including one female stewardess - perishes. Rescue/recovery efforts are difficult because of the location and the wintry conditions. The bodies are recovered with great effort by men hauling them up steep slopes and cliffs in bags but not all of the body parts are found. Lombard is identified through dental records, her earrings, and by visual identification of her remains by acquaintances. Legend has it that Lombard's wedding ring remains on the mountain.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
The impact point on Mount Potosi of the Carole Lombard crash of 16 January 1942.
The Civil Aeronautics Board concludes:
Upon the basis of the foregoing findings and of the entire record available at this time, we find that the probable cause of the accident to aircraft NC 1946 on January 16, 1942, was the failure of the captain after departure from Las Vegas to follow the proper course by making use of the navigational facilities available to him.
In essence, the CAB finds that pilot error caused the Lombard crash. The pilot or co-pilot apparently entered a proper course heading for departures from the usual stopover point, Boulder City, instead of for Las Vegas. Inevitably, some conspiracy theories arise later about the plane being shot down by German spies, an engine caught fire, and so forth. The war has a direct influence on causing the Lombard crash, as local authorities had turned off (due to vastly overblown war concerns) safety beacons on the mountain that would have warned the crew of the danger. Ms. Lombard, whose real name is Jane Alice Peters Gable, had suggested to husband Clark Gable (his real name, though it was a shortened form of William Clark Gable) that he join the military. The tragic death of his wife Carole Lombard ultimately leads Clark Gable to enlist in the US Army Air Force. Some of the plane's remains may still be seen on the mountainside, probably because they are very difficult to reach.

There is original footage below of Lombard and the recovery process.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., Douglas DC-3-382 NC1943, the same type aircraft as NC1946. (Boeing Images).
Eastern Front: The commander of Army Group South, Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau, recently suffered a stroke and is not expected to survive. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, removed in mid-December from his command of Army Group Center for "health reasons," is planning a lengthy vacation in the Austrian Alps when he receives a telephone call on 16 January 1942 from the army personnel office (not Adolf Hitler, who sometimes makes these calls personally). The anonymous staff officer asks von Bock if he would be willing to take over command of Army Group South. Startled, von Bock instantly agrees and indicates that he will be on a train to Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia on the 17th. The incident is very odd, as Hitler does not particularly like von Bock and has many other options. Von Bock later learns informally that the true reason for his return is Hitler's concern about unfavorable publicity both within the Reich and abroad about all of the German generals who have been fired recently (and there are more to come). Regardless of the reason, von Bock quickly goes from almost certain retirement to command of the army group that is destined to decide the fate of the Third Reich over the next year.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
Scene of the crash of Transcontinental and Western Flight 3 on Potosi Mountain, Nevada. The point of impact was at an elevation of 7,770 feet (2,368 meters). (Bettman Archive via Lost Flights).
Reichenau also becomes a subject of interest on the Soviet side. The Red Army has retaken Klin from the Germans, and they have found many Wehrmacht documents. One of these is von Reichenau's infamous 10 October 1941 "Severity" order. The order, issued when von Reichenau commanded the German 6th Army, authorized the indiscriminate killing or starvation of Soviet civilians and Red Army soldiers whenever it would benefit the Wehrmacht. The Soviet government publishes the order in the belief that it will stiffen Soviet resistance to the German invaders.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
Transcontinental and Western Air Douglas DC-3 NC1945, sister ship of NC1946, TWA Flight 3. (TWA).
In the Crimea, the Soviets land the 226th Rifle Regiment at Sudak, which is behind the German lines. The troops are supported by powerful naval forces offshore that include the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna, the cruiser Krasnyi Krym and four destroyers. There is only a small Romanian garrison in Sudak that offers little resistance. Back near Sevastopol, General Erich von Manstein, commander of 11th Army, regards this as a diversion and only sends a couple of Romanian infantry battalions to keep an eye on the bridgehead. The Luftwaffe gets in some practice against the Soviets, and artillery also makes the Soviets' lives very unhealthy. The Red Army troops continue to hold out, however, and area commander Lieutenant Dmitry Kozlov decides that the German failure to quickly wipe out the small force indicates weakness. So, he makes plans to reinforce them. Manstein, meanwhile, keeps his eye on the objective and continues building up his forces on the all-important line along the Parpach Narrows.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
"The German Commander of the U-boat, Oeberleutnant Zur See Horst Elfe, leaving the destroyer." Elfe was the commander of U-93, sunk by HMS Hesperus (which picked up the survivors) west of southern Spain on 15 January 1942. This photo was taken on 16 January 1942 when Hesperus reached Gibraltar (© IWM (A 8117)).
Battle of the Pacific: Before dawn, Japanese troops quietly cross the Muar River on the Malay Peninsula and capture barges moored there. They tow them downstream to the town of Muar, where Japanese troops climb aboard and then cross the river in them. The only Allied troops in Muar are members of the 45h Indian Brigade who are not expecting any trouble because they still think the Japanese are far upstream. Australian artillery nearby begins opening fire at the motley collection of packed barges and Chinese junks sailing across the mouth of the river. The Japanese crossing at Muar itself is repulsed by the artillery fire, but the Japanese quickly get an entire division across the Muar River a little further upstream. The defense is hampered when the commanders of the Rajputana Rifles and the Royal Garhwal Rifles are killed along with most of their officers in fighting near the town and a Japanese aircraft raid on its headquarters decapitates most of the leadership of the 45th Indian Brigade. By nightfall, the Indian 45h Brigade has retreated in disarray several kilometers down the coast to Parit Jawa and the Japanese are in control of Muar Town and its valuable harbor. This is a critical breach of the British defense of Johore, the final slice of the mainland before Singapore. There are still British troops inland far to the north retreating from Gemas whose retreat can easily be cut off from Muar. The Australian troops nearby prepare to launch a counterattack on the 17th to retake these critical areas.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
Prisoners who were taken from U-93 are now on their way to a prison camp at Gibraltar, 16 January 1942. © IWM (A 8120).
In Singapore itself, it's already getting too hot for some to handle. The daily Japanese air raids are virtually unstoppable and getting worse all the time. The anemic Royal Australian Air Force presence is unable to both defeat the raids and also help the stumbling army units to the north. So, they have to choose one or the other priority, and neither choice exerts a decisive result. Today, a dozen RAAF Brewster Buffalos focus on ground support and successfully shoot up a Japanese convoy near the Gemas-Tampin road. In addition, four Buffalos sink four barges at Malacca, while six RAAF Hudsons join in the attempt to stop the Japanese crossing of the Muar River. This is all useful to some extent to the British army, but meanwhile, the daily Japanese bombing raids on the Buffalos' own airfields in Singapore while the Brewsters are operating further north are destroying the RAAF's ability to function at all. The situation is so bad that the RAAF is preparing to abandon Singapore entirely and transfer west to Sumatra in the Netherlands East Indies. There, they at least will be able to continue functioning but be of limited value to the retreating British army on the Malay Peninsula and the air defense of Singapore. Once the defending fighters are gone, the Japanese bombers will have virtually complete control of the skies over "Fortress Singapore." That is an extremely dangerous situation for the British no matter how bravely they intend to defend Singapore.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
"Tamil workmen clearing debris in Singapore after a Japanese air raid, 16 January 1942." © IWM (HU 57224).
In the Philippines, the Japanese have made an incursion into the Allied line on the western (the II Corps) half of the line. The Filipino 51st Division counterattacks but completely fails to reestablish its line. The Japanese also have split the center of the Allied line between the I and II Corps on Mt. Naib, which provides a dangerous opening to the south. The Americans quickly shift the U.S. Philippine Division in as reinforcements to the area. They at least temporarily halt the Japanese, but it is unclear who truly has the upper hand. The Americans consider withdrawing to the Reserve Battle Line running from Casa Pilar to Bagac but hold their ground. Further west, in the I Corps sector, the Japanese cross the Batalian River and attack the coastal town of Moron (Morong). The US troops counterattack and force the Japanese back to the river but take heavy losses. The battle at Moron is notable because Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey of the 26th Cavalry Regiment orders his mounted troops to charge into the town when he sees the opportunity for a surprise attack. The 27 heavily outnumbered Filipino and American cavalrymen charge and succeed in scattering the Japanese forces who have entered the town. This enables the Allies to briefly retake the town. It is the last mounted charge by U.S. cavalry to date.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
"Australian soldiers at a coastal fortress near Brisbane, 16 January 1942. Close-range shot of a group of four Australian soldiers, wearing helmets, kneeling around a mortar that is about to be fired. A sergeant is kneeling behind the men supervising the activity. The location is undisclosed. Caption: 'Battle Station at an important coastal fortress near Brisbane (Information was taken from The Courier-Mail Archives, 16 January 1942 - picture not published)."
The US Navy sends Task Force 8, centered around USS Enterprise, to the Marshall and Gilbert Islands to launch a strike. The Task Force is about 800 miles northeast of the Solomon Islands when one of its planes fails to return. The three men in the Torpedo Squadron Six TBD Devastator run out of fuel and take to a raft in the middle of nowhere, with nothing in sight but water. This is the beginning of a 34-day ordeal with no stored food or water that they somehow survive.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
Fallschirmjäger Feldwebel Helmut Arpke, born 20 March 1917 in Graudenz; killed in action 16 January 1942 near Schaikowka, Russia. This photo was taken in May 1940 when he won his Ritterkreuz (Federal Archive Bild 146-1980-108-36A).
US Military: President Roosevelt asks his cabinet to consider the need and feasibility of a military roadway through Canada to Alaska. This idea of an Alaskan Highway (ALCAN Highway) has been kicking around since Thomas MacDonald, director of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, proposed an international highway spanning the United States and Canada in the 1920s. Roosevelt has made several unsuccessful attempts in the intervening years to convince the Canadians of its usefulness, but it has never been built. World War II has made such a highway more interesting to both countries. Among the issues to be considered is the actual route, on which there is no agreement, and whether Army leadership and the US Army Corps of Engineers feel the highway is feasible and worth the immense effort required to build it. The construction season in the region is short and would require diversion of many construction units from other priorities.

Carole Lombard plane crash 16 January 1942
A Boeing 314A flying boat of the type that took Winston Churchill across the Atlantic on 16 January 1942.
British Government: Having concluded his visit to Washington, D.C., for the Arcadia Conference, Prime Minister Winston Churchill returns to England. He does this in a novel way, by airplane. This is the first time that any head of state crosses the Atlantic by air. Churchill is no stranger to flying, even across large bodies of water such as the English Channel, but crossing the Atlantic is full of danger. Churchill uses a Berwick, a Boeing 314A flying boat. It is painted in olive drab camouflage with large Union Flags under the cockpit windows and piloted by British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) pilot Captain John Kelly Rogers under military orders. The original plan had been for Churchill to simply fly to Bermuda and then take a ship home, but he enjoyed the flight there so much that he decided to complete the journey in the flying boat, too. It is luxuriously appointed with comfortable bunks, and Churchill is so taken with this quick mode of transportation that he prefers flying for his future transatlantic journeys, too. One major special accommodation is made for Churchill, the addition of a special oxygen mask created by the Institute of Aviation Medicine at Farnborough which he wears even while sleeping.


January 1942

January 1, 1942: Declaration By United Nations
January 2, 1941: Manila Falls to Japan
January 3, 1942: ABDA Command Announced
January 4, 1942: MacArthur on His Own in the Philippines
January 5, 1942: Soviets Plan General Offensive
January 6, 1942: US Army in Europe
January 7, 1942: Soviet General Offensive Opens
January 8, 1942: Hitler Sacks Hoepner
January 9, 1942: Battle of Dražgoše
January 10, 1942: Building the Jeep
January 11, 1942: Japan Takes Kuala Lumpur
January 12, 1941: Rommel Plans Counterattack
January 13, 1942: First Ejection Seat Use
January 14, 1942: Operation Drumbeat First Sinking
January 15, 1942: U-Boat Off NYC
January 16, 1942: Carole Lombard Crash
January 17, 1942: British Take Halfaya Pass
January 18, 1942: Soviet Paratroopers in Action
January 19, 1942: FDR Approves Atomic Bomb
January 20, 1942: The Wannsee Conference
January 21, 1942: Parit Sulong Bridge Battle
January 22, 1942: Parit Sulong Massacre
January 23, 1942: Japan Takes Rabaul
January 24, 1942: Battle of Makassar Strait
January 25, 1942: Kholm Surrounded
January 26, 1942: GIs Land in Europe
January 27, 1942: Battle of Endau
January 28, 1942: Rommel Takes Benghazi
January 29, 1942: First US Coast Guard Ship Sunk
January 30, 1942: Singapore Isolated
January 31, 1942: Army Group South Averts Disaster


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