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Mission 139, 485th Bomb Group
16 February 1945 | Chiusaforte, Italy
The 485th Bomb Group, 829th Bomb Squadron of the Fifteenth Air Force was based at Venosa, Italy. The runway at Venosa was constructed of pierced steel planking.
Colonel John F. Tomhave became the second commander of the 485th Bomb Group when the first commander was shot down. On 16 February 1945, the 485th Bomb Group was tasked on mission number 139 to the Obertaubling aircraft plant at Regensburg, Germany. Col. Tomhave and his crew were to be the lead aircraft and 1st Lt. Carl D. Stockdale and his crew were to fly in the number three position. Tomhave was flying a B-24L with serial number 44-49657 with a crew of eleven and Stockdale was flying a B-24L with serial number 44-49772 with a crew of nine airmen. This was a replacement crew having only arrived in Italy in November 1944.
The aircraft took-off under clear skies for their mission target. After bombs away and on the return trip home, the group formation went over a flak area. Col. Tomhave took evasive action by making a sharp turn to the right. 1st Lt. Stockdale was startled by this evasive action and he too changed course but lost his place in the formation. While trying to regain his position, Col Tomhave’s aircraft was hit by flak in the number one engine which caused him to veer left. Unable to stop his turn and reverse his direction, Stockdale’s plane crashed into Tomhave’s B-24. Stockdale’s nose turret crashed into both vertical fins and a large part of the rear of Tomhave’s aircraft causing the rear tail assembly to be completely sheared off. The B-24 went into a whip stall and at the top of stall, the ship broke in half. Several men fell out of the waist section of the plane. Fergus was thrown clear of the aircraft which was now very close to the ground. He managed to open his chute, landed in a snow covered field. He was first approached by a local Italian. Soon the Germans came and took him to a stone hut for the night. The next day, Fergus was put on a train to be sent to the interrogation center.
Stockdale’s aircraft veered off from the collision with his right wing sheered off and was out of control. Several airmen managed to bail out and their parachutes open. Both planes crashed high in the Alps near the town of Chiusaforte, Italy. Missing Air Crew Reports 12494 and 12700 were filed when the crews failed to return to base.
A book written in 2001 and revised in 2007 called I’m Off to War, Mother, But I’ll Be Back by Jerry W. Whiting and Wayne B. Whiting describes in detail the events of the collision and survival and capture of the airmen of both crews.
Walter Frederick Fergus
Staff Sgt. Walter Frederick Fergus (37725759) was the tail turret gunner for the Tomhave crew. He was born on 3 March 1925 in Kansas, son of Walter L. and Violet M. Fergus of Valley Center, KS. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 24 October 1943. After he was liberated from Moosburg, Fergus went to Camp Lucky Strike in France, boarded a ship, that on the way home, was parked in the Thames River in London until they joined a convoy back to the states. He lives in Wasilla, AK.
Earl Victor Beatty
Sgt. Earl Victor Beatty (35912755) was the top turret gunner for the Stockdale crew. He was born on 7 June 1918 in Warren, OH, the son of Earl and Alice (Galbreath) Beatty.. After graduating from Chalker High School, he went to Marrietta College. He graduated in 1940. On 10 March 1940, Beatty married Helen I. Culp. Three years later he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 29 July 1943 in Cleveland, OH. For his service, Beatty was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal, POW Medal, Good Conduct medal, American Cammpaign medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four Bronze Stars and the World War II Victory medal Beatty died on 6 June 2011 in Warren, OH. He was buried in the Southington Reformed Cemetery.
Theodore Walter Molek
Sgt. Theodore Walter Molek (35052650) was the radio operator/waist gunner for the Stockdale crew. He was born on 6 September 1924 in Cleveland, OH. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 16 March 1943 at Camp Perry, Lacarne, OH. After his service, Molek was a mobile home dealer. He died on 4 August 1991 in Cuyahoga, OH.