25 February 1945 — Vipiteno, Italy
The 340th Bomb Group, 489th Bomb Squadron of the Twelfth Air Force was stationed at Corsica, Italy. On 25 February 1945, 1st Lt. James F. Matchette and his crew of the B-25J-1-NC Mitchell medium bomber, nicknamed “Prop Wash,” serial number 43-27517, took off under clear skies for a bombing mission to the railroad bridge at Vipiteno, Italy. After following a route up the west side of the Brenner Pass, the crew encountered heavy flak over the target area.
At approximately 13:00 hours and just before bombs away, the aircraft took a direct hit in the nose of the plane. Fire was seen coming from the top turret. The pilot gave the order to bail out. The bombardier, 1st Lt. James P. Westra continued in his position and got rid of all bombs which hit their target with devastating results. He continued to stay with the plane and lost his life. A later reported stated that his devotion to duty was greater than his thought of personal safety. 1st Lt. Matchette gave the following account in Missing Air Crew Report 12573:
Because of the severity of the fire which existed in the front portion of the ship, the bombardier, co-pilot and engineer were unable to make their way out. My own escape was through the small sliding window located directly to my left, in the pilot’s seat. This was permitted because of the fact that my left engine has been feathered. When I last saw the above mentioned men, the engineer was prostrate over the hatch, blocking our normal means of exit. The co-pilot was still in his seat, even after several frantic warnings by me to get out. It is my opinion that the bombardier, along with the other two was unable to make his way out through the severe fire that existed.
The Germans who captured me told me that they had found three of my comarades in the wrecked airplane. This is the only information that I have as to what happened to these three members.
Three airmen were killed when the B-25 crashed into the side of a mountian near Vipiteno, Italy. Matchette and two others were captured.