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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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12th Air Force
18.06.1943 438th Bombardment Squadron (M) B-26B 41-18318, Capt. John B. Beard

Operation: Olbia Harbour, Sardinia

Date: 18th June 1943 (Friday)

Unit No: 438th Bombardment Squadron (M), 319th Bombardment Group (M), 42nd Bombardment Wing, 12th Air Force

Type: B-26B

Serial No: 41-18318

Battle No: Unknown

Location: About 40 km (25 mls) west of Olbia Harbour, Sardinia

Base: Sedrata airfield, Algeria

Pilot: Capt. John Berry Beard O-661695 AAF Age 22 PoW * (1)

Co Pilot: 1st Lt. John ‘Jack’ Sieffus Van Epps, BSM, O-727285 AAF Age 21. PoW/Escaped (2)

Bombardier/Nav: 2nd Lt. Theodore Austin Weil O-664850 AAF Age 26. KiA

Turret Gunner: T/Sgt. William Archie Mohler, DSC, 6296458 AAF Age 26. KiA

Waist Gunner: Sgt. Ernest Berry English 13034174 AAF Age 21. PoW Unknown camp (3)

Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. George Owen McGuire, SSM, 11029262 AAF Age 21. PoW ** (4)

* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).

** Stalag 17b Krems-Gneixendorf near Krems, Austria.

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the 18th June 1943 the 319th and 320th BGs attacked the Sicilian port of Olbia. The latter group suffered no losses, but three Marauders from the 319th were destroyed. The mission had started badly when 2nd Lt. Harold Mesco's B-26B #41-18301 Dodo Bird II from 437th BS crashed on take-off from Sedrata.

12th Air Force B-25s had attacked the port of Olbia just prior to the 35 B-26s arriving over Sicily, so the port's defences were fully alert. The flak was intense, and Bf109Gs and Macchi C.202s also attacked the formation.

Note: It has also been reported that the number was 31 B-26s.

Another victim was 437th BS B-26B #41-31603, flown by 1st Lt. Roger L. Zeller, which was shot down by fighters over the target. One of his crew is still MiA, four became PoWs and one evaded. Upon leaving the target area, the bombers were again set upon by enemy fighters, and the flak-damaged 437th BS B-26B #41-18291, flown by 1st Lt. James L. Schoonover went down chased by a Bf109G. Its six-man crew parachuted into the sea but British Air Sea Rescue efforts found no trace of the airmen and were therefore reported MiA.

An after mission report described that B-26B 41-18318, was apparently hit by heavy flak over the target causing the main gear and nose gear to lower. This drag forced the aircraft to fall behind the formation. Enemy fighter continued to attack and the aircraft fell into a steep turn to the left. Three parachutes opened shortly after the dive started. The aircraft was not seen to strike the ground.

Two B-26s were claimed by Flak over Olbia. Also there were a number of Italian fighter claims over Olbia for damaging a number of B-26s with one B-26 as a probable but it has not been possible to attribute the loss of the aircraft to a specific Italian pilot. The claims were made by pilots from 354th and 355th Squadrons of the 24th Group, Regia Aeronautica flying Macchi C.202s.

The aircraft left the formation approximately 5 to 10 mins west of the target and just short of the sea. Capt. Beard baled out nose wheel door and Sgt. English out of the waist window.

As 1st Lt. Van Epps was making his way to the bomb bay to bale out he saw 2nd Lt. Weil clipping on his parachute. He told 1st Lt. Van Epps to jump and that he would be right behind him. When 1st Lt. Van Epps’s parachute opened four enemy fighters flashed past him and riddled the aircraft with gunfire. He believed that 2nd Lt. Weil must have been injured or killed before he could bale out. It is believed that this was 2nd Lt. Weil’s first mission.

Sgt. Mohler was badly wounded and was pulled out of his turret position by S/Sgt. McGuire and threw him out of the waist gun window holding onto his ripcord to open his parachute. He observed Sgt. Mohler’s parachute open and then baled out himself. Sgt. Mohler’s body was found on the ground in his opened parachute.

The location of the crash site was estimated to be about 40 km (25 mls) west of Olbia Harbour, Sardinia.

(1) After Capt. Beard was captured, in the vicinity of Calangianus, he was flown to the Rome airport on the 6th July 1943 and subsequently taken to Poggio Mirteto where he was held for 8 days. On the 14th July 1943 he was transferred to the Italian PoW camp PG.21 in Chieti. After the Germans took control of all PoWs on the 23rd September 1943 he was probably moved to PG.78 at Sulmona before his eventual transfer to Stalag Luft 3.

Calangianus is some 27 km (17 miles) west of Olbia Harbour, Sardinia

Capt. Beard retired from active service as a Major on the 26th January 1946. He went into the business of Farm Crop, Air Dusting and Fertilizing in Arkansas. On the 3rd July 1957 whilst Crop Dusting a farm 2 miles east of Augusta, Woodruff County in Arkansas his aircraft collided with a tree and he was killed instantly aged just 36.

Above: Capt. John B. Beard (Courtesy of Patti Johnson - FindAGrave)

John Berry Beard (20th July 1920 - 3rd July 1957)

(2) 1st Lt. Von Epps was captured by the Italians and after a short interrogation he was sent to PoW camp PG. 21 in Chieti.

In his PoW report Capt. Zeller described how he and 1st Lt. John S. Van Epps escaped, evaded and returned to Allied lines:

On the 23rd September 1943 the American officers were moved from PG.21 to PG.78, Sulmona in trucks, where they arrived at 12:00 hrs. They spent the afternoon looking over the place with the idea of escaping that night, even though the Germans were in control of the camp. At 20:00 hrs 1st Lt. Van Epps and Capt. Zeller crawled through the wire and made their way for about 8 km (5 mls) from the camp where they hid out in the mountains all that day and all night.

They travelled by night and hid by day and finally took refuge in the shack of a mountain charcoal burner where they stayed for 9 days, expecting to hear news of the Allied advance. From the second day on they were in civilian clothes which they had obtained from friendly civilians. Unobserved by Germans, who were the neighbourhood, they kept to the mountains. On the 14th October 1943 they came to a farmhouse in the hills just outside of Trivento where they were taken into the care of Mary Nieman, an American who was married to an Italian, the owner of the farm.

Trivento is some 60 km (37 mls) SE of Sulmona.

Capt. Zeller reported that Mary had helped more than 30 Allied evaders providing them with food and money. He described that the farm as being about 10 to 15 acres in size and also that her husband, Giovanni Nieman, had lead parties of American and British evaders through the front lines.

1st Lt. Von Epps and Capt. Zeller stayed at the farmhouse over-night and upon directions furnished by Mary Nieman, they left on the 15th October 1943 and crossed the British lines near Casacelanda. On the day they left, the Germans had located a gun emplacement not more than 800 m (½ ml) from the farmhouse. From Casacelanda they were relayed back to British 8th Army bases and returned to his base.

Casacelanda is some 25 km (15 miles) ESE of Tivento.

1st Lt. Van Epps was awarded the Bronze Star Medal (BSM) on the 8th March 1945. The citation said:

JOHN S. VAN EPPS, 0-727285, First Lieutenant, Air Corps, 433 Bombardment Squadron, for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy in Italy from 23 September to 16 October 1943. Taken prisoner by the Italian Army when his aircraft was shot down in Sardinia on 13 June 1943, First Lieutenant Van Epps remained in Italian Prisoner of War Camps until 23 September 1943, when, accompanied by another captured American airmen, he effected an escape. Travelling on foot during darkness, through enemy territory, he succeeded in passing through the enemy lines during an artillery barrage and making contact with advance Allied Forces in southern Italy. His outstanding courage, resourcefulness and devotion to duty in successfully effecting his escape from the enemy at the risk of his life reflects great credit won himself and the Armed forces of the United States. Entered service from Corona, California.

He retired from the USAF as a Lt Col. after 28 Years of Service.

(3) Sgt. English was captured by the Italians and after a short interrogation he was flown to Rome airport on the 6th July 1943 and subsequently taken to Poggio Mirteto. He remained there for 6 days and then on the 12th July 1943 he was transferred to the Italian PoW Camp PG.59 at Servigliano.

On the 14th September 1943, a few days after the Italians surrendered to the Allies, prisoners from PG.59 fled into the surrounding countryside due to the imminent arrival of German troops. All that is known about his whereabouts is a record dated the 28th December (unknown year but presumed to be 1943) and that he was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated.

A newspaper article in the Ashville Citizen Times dated the 3rd August 1944 reported that Sgt. English had been liberated and that he was on his way home.

(4) S/Sgt. McGuire was awarded the Silver Star Medal (SSM) for gallantry in action. The citation announced on the 27th February 1944 said in part:

“On June 18, 1943, Staff Sergeant McGuire was a tail gunner in a B-26 on a mission to attack military installations in Sardinia. During the bombing run his plane was attacked by several enemy fighters who succeeded in disabling the starboard engine, set the entire aft section on fire, and seriously wounded the turret gunner. When the order was given to abandon the plane, Sergeant McGuire completely disregarded his own personal safety and chose to remain in the plane to lend assistance to the unconscious turret gunner. Despite the blazing fire, Staff Sergeant McGuire succeeded in adjusting the parachute on the wounded gunner pushing him from the plane, held the ripcord so that the parachute would open. His unusual courage and exceptional bravery were directly responsible for the possible safety of a fellow gunner who was physically incapable of leaving the stricken aircraft …..”.

Burial details:

Above: Grave marker for 2nd Lt. Theodore Austin Weil. (Grave marker: © 2009-2020 CynC - FindAGrave. Used with permission)

2nd Lt. Theodore Austin Weil. Air Medal. Recovered and repatriated and laid to rest at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Section U, Site 27, San Antonio, Texas. Born on the 26th February 1917 in Hammond, Illinois. Son of Theodore Austin and Bertha Belle (née Hamilton) Weil. Both his parents predeceased him in June 1936 and May 1943 respectively. His brother Edwin Hamilton Weil of Bexar, Texas, USA was his Next-of-Kin.

Above: Grave marker for T/Sgt. William Archie Mohler DSC (Courtesy of Beth – FindAGrave)

T/Sgt. William Archie Mohler DSC, Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Recovered and repatriated and laid to rest at the Colorado City Cemetery, Plot C-06-06, Mitchell county, Texas. Born on the 24th March 1917 in Gatesville, Texas. Son of James Perry Barton and Parilee (née Jones) Mohlar Colorado City, Mitchell county, Texas, USA.

T/Sgt. Mohler was credited with destroying a Bf109F over the Gulf of Tunis on the 22nd January 1943.

T/Sgt. Mohler was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his valour during this mission. The Citation reads:

“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Technical Sergeant William A. Mohler, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Turret Gunner of a B-26 Bomber during a successful mission against the enemy in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations on 18 June 1943. During the bomb run, fire from enemy fighters severely wounded Sergeant Mohler in the neck and so seriously damaged his plane that it was forced from formation and exposed to the persistently attacking planes. Suffering intense pain, Sergeant Mohler courageously stayed at his guns to fight hostile aircraft until he collapsed. His bravery enabled his crewmen to escape, although they later had to parachute to safety. Technical Sergeant Mohler's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself and the United States Army Air Forces”.

Researched by and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Jun 2023).

Other sources listed below:

RS 13.06.2023 - Initial upload

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Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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