Mission#21 September 15, 1943 – Capt. Robert C. Durlin Bailout and the loss of Lt Walter J. Donovan, 352nd Fighter Squadron

Date: Sept 15, 43

Dispatched: 51 Aborts: 3

Mission: Penetration support to 5th TF, 80 B-24’s Field Order: 62/132

Time Up/Down: 17:46 hrs     19:45 hrs Leader: Lt Col. McCollom

Target: St Andre De L’Eure

Claims Air: 00-00-00 Claims Ground: 00-00-00 Lost/Damaged: 01-02

Group took off from Metfield at 13.45 hrs and flew down to Thorney Island for the mission. Set course at 18:06 hrs. Rendezvous was made with the bombers at 18.31 hrs, 26,000ft, 20 miles northwest of Trouville. The bombers were five minutes late. Escorted bombers on course, no E/A seen – no flak seen. Left bombers at Thomer at 18:55 hrs. Landfall out at Trouville. Pilots N.Y.R. thought to have been lost from formation about 19:10 hrs. Heard on R/T to say, “We are going down through overcast.” Capt. Durlin and Lt Donovan, his wing man, were forced to bail out. Air sea rescue launch making search. Lt Rose and Lt Herfurth of Group HQ participated.

350th: Major Rimerman. T/U 17:46 hrs. T/D 19:45 hrs. Total flight time 1:59 hrs. No e/a encountered, no ground or sea activity observed and no flak encountered.

Major Ben Rimerman (Sqdn Ldr)
2nd Lt Robert N. Ireland
1st Lt John Sullivan
1st Lt John B. Rose
Capt Dewey E. Newhart (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Francis T. Walsh Flew with 351st
1st Lt Wayne K. Blickenstaff Flew with 351st
2nd Lt Walter L. Angelo Flew with 351st
Capt Robert E. Fortier (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Charles O. Durant
1st Lt Robert L. Newman
2nd Lt Joseph F. Furness
1st Lt Charles W. Dinse (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Dwight A. Fry
1st Lt William W. Odom
1st Lt Tom Lorance

351st: Major Christian. T/U 17:34 hrs. T/D 19:46 hrs. Total flight time 2:12 hrs. Route from advanced base R/V with bombers at Toulaville. Escort Thorny out at Toulaville. Stayed overnight at Thorny.

Major Shannon Christian (Sqdn Ldr)
1st Lt Gordon B. Compton
1st Lt Frank N. Emory
2nd Lt Francis L. Edwards
Capt Frederick H. Lefebre (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt John G. Treitz
1st Lt George N. Ahles
2nd Lt Hassell D. Stump
Capt Orville A. Kinkade (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Herbert K. Field
1st Lt Harry F. Hunter
2nd Lt George F. Perpente
Capt Walter C. Beckham (Flt Ldr)
2nd Lt Benedict E Kraft
1st Lt Vernon A. Leatherman
1st Lt Francis N. King
1st Lt William J. Maguire

352nd: Lt Col McCollom. T/U 17:46 hrs. T/D 19:45 hrs. Total flight time 1:59 hrs. Penetrative support for 5th Task Force. Course: Cobourg – Montrail – St Andre de L’e – Le Houre. Flight list is as per Squadron records:

1st Lt Gordon S. Burlingame
Capt Robert C. Durlin (Flt Ldr) W33
Capt Raynor E. Robertson (Flt Ldr)
Capt Charles J. Hoey
1st Lt Leslie P. Cles
1st Lt Charles W. Kipfer
1st Lt William F. Streit
2nd Lt Glenn C. Callans
2nd Lt Edison G. Stiff
2nd Lt Walter J. Donovan W39
1st Lt Leroy W. Ista
2nd Lt George S. Dietz
1st Lt Jesse W. Gonnam
2nd Lt Maurice Morrison

As the Squadron returned from the mission the appalling weather and increasing darkness resulted in the loss of two aircraft and one pilot. Capt. Robert C Durlin, a senior Squadron pilot and “A” Flight leader, flying SX-A (a/c 42-8420) and 2nd Lt. Walter Donovan flying SX-W (a/c 42-8494) got into difficulties and were forced to bail out. Durlin described what happened in the Missing Air Crew Report (No 625):

I was departing from the French coast after an escort mission, leading a flight of four ships. Upon attempting to descend through an overcast with the flight, I discovered part of my flight instruments were inoperative (flight indicator, needle). I orbited 360 degrees to port with my wing man, going through a hole in the overcast a short distance from the French coast. The second element lost me in the turn and evidently continued its course above the overcast.

Visibility below the overcast was extremely poor, so I continued on (330 degrees) on what I considered the correct compass course. Shortly after I encountered what I thought was the English coast, but which turned out to be the French coast, as an intense anti aircraft barrage was encountered. The compass was swinging consistently through a 180 degree arc. Not trusting the compass I called several times for an emergency homing on channel ‘D’, but received no reply.

My wing man, Donovan, called and said that he had to bail out near an Island off the French coast. I switched to emergency IFF and went to channel ‘B’ and gave a Mayday for Donovan but was unable to remain in the vicinity due to the intense flak barrage from a nearby island.

I climbed back into the overcast through a small hole, continuing my call for homing on ‘D’ channel. Due to the inaccuracy of my compass, I was unable to follow the vector given by homer. I continued on as close as I could figure on a northwest heading to England, darkness having already descended. My fuel gave out a short time later and I gave a Mayday on channel ‘B’ and switched the IFF to emergency.

I rolled the ship over and bailed out at about 6000ft, at about 20.30 hrs. When I thought I was free of the ship, I became aware of a fluttering overhead. Then I noticed that my chute was already partially opened, without my having pulled the ripcord. I also saw that the shroud lines were badly tangled and that the canopy was torn. I struggled with the shroud lines, attempting to untangle them. This opened the chute about half way. I continued to work on the shroud lines until I struck the ground and lost consciousness. I regained consciousness about an hour and a half later, and was picked up by searchers about one and a half hours after that.

Capt. Durlin was found in the early hours by some RAF men searching a tiny island off Lizard Point, in the far south west of England. The partial parachute failure had resulted in him breaking his back along with several ribs and an ankle. Several colleagues from the Squadron were able to visit him in hospital, as did the investigation team who had found his aircraft which had crashed near Truro. He did not fly with the Squadron again and it is not known what happened to him subsequently. The crash site of his Thunderbolt was excavated in 2008 and you can see pictures from their investigations Here and Here. There is also a website detailing the records of RAF Davidstow Moor that mentions the incident Here.

Lt. Walter J Donovan had only joined the Squadron as a replacement on September 3 and was taking part in his first mission. Lack of experience probably led him to be either hit by flak over the French coast or to become lost in poor weather when he and his leader stumbled into the battery of fire. Air Sea Rescue mounted a search, but nothing was ever found and he was recorded as having been lost at his last known position, 18 miles south west of Portland Bill.

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2 Comments

Filed under 352nd Fighter Squadron, Missions

2 responses to “Mission#21 September 15, 1943 – Capt. Robert C. Durlin Bailout and the loss of Lt Walter J. Donovan, 352nd Fighter Squadron

  1. Shona Allison

    Any more info? Love to learn more. Walter Donovan was my great uncle. Thank you! My family has learned so much from this report.

  2. Larry Durlin

    Great to hear details about Robert Durlin, who was my uncle. After his bailout he recovered in England and then returned to the U.S. where he returned to flight status within a year, and spent the rest of the war stationed at Peterson Field, co. as a test pilot and instructor. In 1946 he enter flight service with United Airlines as a copilot on DC3’s. By 1953 he was a pilot on DC6B’s and was flying routes from Denver,co. to Japan, in aid to MATS. On one of these trips he was laying over at Wake Island and was swimming inthe Pacific Ocean and was subjected to a severe undertow and drowned. He was 34 years old and was survived by a wife and three sons. Larry Durlin

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