Lasting Effects Of A Late Winter Storm -1943

Originally Published in The Smithfield Times, (R.I.) – May, 2016

Lasting Effects Of A Late Winter Storm

By Jim Ignasher

     It was March 30, 1943, the world was at war, and although the calendar declared it to be spring, snow began falling over New England as a weather system blew in from upstate New York.  Although it had been expected, it was underestimated, and left war casualties, sadness, and two unsolved mysteries in its wake.  

     This is a story that won’t be found in history books; a forgotten footnote eclipsed by grander world events that I discovered when a tiny news item about a missing navy airplane caught my eye as I sifted through microfilm at a local library.  Intrigued, I dug further, and learned that the missing plane was only a small part to a much larger story.   

    Even before the snowy weather set in, lowering thick clouds indicated what was coming, and by mid-morning had dropped to 4,000 feet.  But there was a war on, and pilot training necessarily included flight instruction in all types of conditions. As such, events for that day began to unfold at 10:45 a.m. over Bozrah, Connecticut, a town just west of Norwich, where a formation of four British naval aircraft out of Quonset Point were on a routine training flight.  One of those planes was piloted by 19-year-old Midshipman, Raymond Clarke of Nottingham, England, and his instructor, 21-year-old Sub-Lieutenant Donald F. Dillon of New Zealand.  While over Bozrah, their plane developed engine trouble possibly due to carburetor icing.  Flying beneath the low clouds, they were too low to bail out, and subsequently crashed in a wooded area where the resulting explosion killed both men.

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)  U.S. Navy Photo

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)
U.S. Navy Photo

  While authorities investigated the wreck in Bozrah, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger steamed towards Boston off the coast of Massachusetts, on its way to the Boston Navy Yard for re-fitting.  Prior to its arrival, the ship‘s complement of thirty aircraft were being sent inland; their ultimate destination Quonset Point, R.I.   

     Ranger’s planes began taking off at 3:25 p.m., but what nobody aboard realized was that the weather system had moved across the area faster than anticipated, and once the aircraft neared shore they found themselves in thick overcast that began 200 feet off the ground and extended upwards to 7,000 feet. As visibility dropped to zero, the weather began affecting radio communications, and inevitably the aircraft became scattered.  

     It’s likely that at first the men weren’t too concerned, for all were experienced combat pilots.  Yet Lt. Lukes M. Boykin knew there was something wrong with his aircraft when he tried to lock the air control lever in the “alternate” position and it wouldn’t stay there.  Placing the control in this position was necessary to prevent ice forming in the carburetor, so he held it in place with his right hand and flew with his left.  Despite his efforts, the engine began running rough, and then lost all power, forcing him to ditch in the icy water off Swampscott, Massachusetts. As the plane began to sink, Boykin and his radioman H.H. Reed, scrambled into an inflatable life raft, and were rescued a short time later by a Coast Guard boat from nearby Winter Island.

   Meanwhile Lt. Theodore A. Grell, was experiencing engine trouble with his airplane while passing over a rural section of northern Fall River, Massachusetts.  As the plane quickly lost altitude he knew a crash was inevitable, and bailed out even though he was now below a safe altitude to do so.  His chute had only half opened when he crashed into the top of an apple tree which miraculously broke his fall.  His plane crashed and exploded about a half-mile away. 

     As he lay there seriously injured in the falling snow, he was probably amazed to be alive.  Before long local residents came to his aid, covering him with blankets until an ambulance took him to Truesdale Hospital.  

     As Lt. Grell was on his way to the hospital, three other Ranger pilots were also in trouble.  Lt. (Jg.) Charles V. August, Lt. Keene G. Hammond, and Lt. (Jg.) Dee Jones, had managed to stay together, but came to the realization that they were lost.  With no visual reference points, they had inadvertently veered off course and were now heading over western Massachusetts towards upstate New York. 

     At about ten miles west of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., they found themselves running low on fuel over the small town of New Paltz, and began circling for a place to land. With no airport in sight, the pilots were forced to try for a rough landing in an open field.  Lt. Hammond came in first and made a “pancake” landing with his wheels up causing minor damage to the plane, but was uninjured.   

    The next to land was Lt. August who managed the same feat.

     Lt. Jones wasn’t as lucky.  Upon landing his plane caught in the snow and nosed over onto its back trapping him inside.  Although he was relatively unhurt, he was in a very precarious position should any fuel ignite 

     The landings were noticed by two civil defense aircraft spotters stationed in an observation tower, who dutifully notified authorities.  As townspeople rushed to the scene, Lt. Hammond called for shovels and efforts to free Lt. Jones were begun.  Once he was extricated, the people opened their hearts and homes to the airmen, offering them a nights lodging, which they graciously declined, for their duty was to remain with their aircraft. 

     The New Paltz Independent, quoted one local resident who described the event as “the biggest thing since the Huguenots landed!”    

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943.
U.S. Navy Photo

     Yet another Ranger pilot, Lt. Arthur J. Cassidy, of Cranston, Rhode Island, was also in trouble.  He was last seen in his Wildcat fighter over Attleboro, Massachusetts, and by the end of the day he was declared “missing”. 

    As the search for Lt. Cassidy was begun, remnants of foul weather lingered into the following day.  On the afternoon of the 31st, army 1st Lt. Daniel H. Thorson took off from Mitchell Field, Long Island, in a P-40 fighter plane bound for Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  When he failed to arrive, he too was declared “missing”. 

     Later that same afternoon, a flight of four navy Wildcats belonging to Fighter Squadron 24, left Quonset Point for Floyd Bennett Field on Long Island. (These aircraft were not part of the Ranger compliment.)

     The flight left in two sections, each section containing two planes each. The first section, consisting of Ensign Robert G. Carlson, and Ensign Herr, dropped to an altitude of fifty feet as they crossed Long Island Sound, presumably to get under the low cloud ceiling for better visibility.  Suddenly Ensign Carlson’s aircraft banked sharply and disappeared.  (His body was later recovered on a Long Island beach.)  Ensign Herr continued onward and landed safely at Quonset Point.   

     The second section consisting of Lieutenant Ernest C. Houck, and Ensign Leonard E. Byrer, also met with tragedy.  Ensign Byrer was killed instantly when he crashed near the Bell Port Coast Guard Station on Long Island.  His body was recovered and sent home to Terre Haute, Indiana, for burial.  Lieutenant Houck simply disappeared and was never seen again.        

     On April 2, the Ranger left Boston for Argentina, and once safely out of port she began to recover her planes.  The storm had made for rough seas, which led to further accidents.  Lieutenants George C. Simmons, and Allen H. Thurwachter, damaged their planes with “hard-deck” landings, but both survived.

   As the Ranger resumed the war, the search for Lt. Cassidy was ending its third day. Both he and his Wildcat fighter (# 11740) had seemingly vanished while over land without a trace.

     Naval authorities appealed for help through the media, and many witnesses came forward claiming to have seen a plane in trouble, but whether it was actually Lt. Cassidy’s is open to interpretation. 

     Despite a wide spread air and ground search that eventually extended into northern Rhode Island, no trace of Cassidy or his plane was ever found.   

Curtis P-40 Aircraft U. S. Army Air Corps Photo

Curtis P-40 Aircraft
U. S. Army Air Corps Photo

     Meanwhile in Connecticut, the Army was conducting its own search for Lt. Thorson’s missing P-40, with negative results.  It wasn’t until April 24th that two Yale Forestry School students conducting a timber survey discovered the wreck of Thorson’s plane on Blackberry Ridge in Norfolk, Connecticut.

     Investigators were quick to surmise what happened. The cloud ceiling for March 31st had been 1400 feet, and the crash site was at an elevation of 1571 feet.  Lt. Thorson probably never saw the mountain. 

     As the war effort increased, these localized incidents were quickly forgotten, and the late winter storm became a distant memory.  

     Some of the pilots mentioned in this story were destined for bigger things.  Others wouldn’t survive the war.

     Lt. Lukes Boykin, who splashed down off Swampscott, was later promoted to Commanding Officer of Fighting Squadron 4 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex.

    Lt. Theodore Grell, who went down over Fall River, survived his injuries, but this wasn’t his first brush with death.  He’d previously survived being shot down over North Africa in 1942 during Operation Torch. He survived the war, and retired from the navy as a captain.

   Lt. (Jg.) Charles V. August, who landed in New Paltz, N.Y., had also survived being shot down during Operation Torch. Research indicates that after the war he moved to California.  

     Lt. Keene G. Hammond, another New Paltz pilot, was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and became commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 4 before Lt. Boykin took over.  Lt. Cmdr. Hammond was killed when he was shot down January 6, 1945, eight miles south-west of Vigan, Luzon. 

     Lt. (Jg.) Dee Jones, the third New Paltz pilot, was also a combat veteran of Operation Torch. He was killed May 4, 1943, when his plane crashed during gunnery training. 

     Lt. George C. Simmons who crash landed on Ranger April 2nd, later took part in the sinking of a German freighter in October, 1943. He made it safely back to the carrier with his aircraft shot full of holes.

     Lt. Allen H. Thurwachter who also crash-landed on Ranger’s deck April 2nd, died a few months later on October 19, 1943, while participating in search and rescue operations for two missing navy airplanes that left Martha’s Vineyard for a training flight. His radioman/gunner, ARM1c Bradley E. Hunter was also killed. 

     The bodies of Midshipman Raymond Clarke and Sub-Lieutenant  Donald Dillion, both killed in Bozrah, were buried with full military honors in Newport, R.I.

Lt. Daniel H. Thorson U.S. Army Air Corps Photo

Lt. Daniel H. Thorson
U.S. Army Air Corps Photo

    The body of Lt. Daniel Thorson, killed when his P-40 crashed in Norfolk, Ct., was sent home to Great Falls, Montana, for burial.  In 2003, the citizens of Norfolk, remembered the 24-year-old’s sacrifice and erected a memorial at the crash site.        

     The enduring questions left in the aftermath of this storm are what became of Lieutenants’ Houck and Cassidy.  Houck was presumed to have gone down in Long Island Sound, but Cassidy had disappeared while over land.  Why then, was he never found?  One possibility is that he went down in a remote area, perhaps rural western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, or even upstate New York, and his plane disintegrated on impact.  Another theory is that he went down over water, possibly in a lake, or a reservoir.  Perhaps, someday, the mystery will be solved.    

    Hope of solving that mystery arose in July of 1958, when a New Bedford fishing boat snagged its nets on the wreckage of a World War II navy fighter off Martha’s Vineyard. Divers hired to inspect the boat’s propellers also dove on the wreck and found human remains inside.  A newspaper story about the find stated in part; “The Quonset public information office said it has had one inquiry from a man who said a member of his family was lost during World War II, supposedly on a flight to Quonset from his carrier.”  Follow up research was unable to uncover more information other than the fact the aircraft recovered was a navy Hellcat, and not a Wildcat of the type flown by Lt. Cassidy. 

     What makes the case of Lt. Cassidy even more tragic is the fact that he was married only thirty days before he disappeared, and was looking forward to spending some time with his new bride at their home in Cranston.  She lived the rest of her life never knowing what happened to him.    

     This Memorial Day, please take the time to thank a veteran. 



U.S. Navy crash report briefs

#43-6398, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6399, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6410, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6411, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6424, dated April 2, 1943

#43-6425, dated April 2, 1943

Attleboro Sun, “Plane Reported Missing In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 1

Attleboro Sun, “Blimp In Search For Lost Plane”, April 2, 1941.

Attleboro Sun, “No Word Of Missing Plane”, April 3, 1943, Pg. 1

Boston Herald, “Two Planes Crash In State”, March 31, 1943, Pg.1

Boston Herald, “1 Killed, 2 Pilots Missing Near Floyd Bennet Field,

Cranston Herald, “Cranston Flier Reported Missing”, April 8, 1943

Fall River Herald, “Navy Plane Feared Lost”, April 1, 1943

Fall River Herald, “Navy Plane Crashes In Apple Orchard Here”, March 31, 1943

Fall River Herald, “Plane Falls; Pilot Drops In Parachute”, March 31, 1943

Lynn Telegram, “Plane Falls Into Sea Off Swampscott Shore”, March 31, 1943, pg.1

Lynn Telegram News, “Rescue Pair In Navy Plane After Crash”, March 31, 1943, Pg.11

New Paltz Independent, “Three ‘Wildcats’ Lost In Fog Make Emergency Landing On The Paltz Flats Thursday”, April 1, 1943

New York Times, “Navy Flier Dies In Crash”, April 2, 1943, Pg. 13

Newsday, “Recover Body Of Mitchell Field Pilot”, April 16, 1943

Norwich Bulletin, “Two Fliers Lose Lives In Crash Of Plane At Gilman”, March 31, 1943,

Norwich Bulletin, “One Naval Pilot Killed And Two Others Missing”, April 2, 1943, Pg.1

Pawtucket Times, “Navy Plane Sought In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943

Pawtucket Times, “Plane Crashes Kill 2 Fliers”, March 31, 1943

Pawtucket Times, “3 Navy Craft Forced Down In Scattered Accidents”, March 31, 1943

Pawtucket Times, “Dead Navy Fliers Are Identified”, March 31, 1943, Pg.1

Providence Journal, “Fliers Identified”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 22

Providence Journal, ”Plane Reported Missing By Navy”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 27

Providence Journal, “Two Aviators Missing”, April 2, 1943, Pg. 20

Providence Journal, “Remains Of Unknown Plane, Pilot Found”, July 9, 1958

Providence Journal, “Identification Of Pilot Sought”, July 12, 1958, Pg.2

Woonsocket Call, “Navy Plane Lost In Bay State Area”, April 1, 1943

Milwaukee Sentinel, “1 Dies, 2 Lost On Flights”, October 22, 1943.

Town of Bozrah, Ct., death records.


“Missing In Action And Prisoners Of War”

“Air Group 4 ‘Casablanca To Tokyo’ The Ranger Air Group Over Casablanca”

“Fighting Squadron Four Introductory History”

“A Tribute To Lt. Cmdr. Keen G. Hammond, Skipper Of VF-4”

“Lt. L. M. Boykin Commanding Officer, Fighting Squadron Four”










The Disappearance Of Lieutenant Jg. Arthur J. Cassidy Jr. – March 30, 1943

The Disappearance of

Lieutenant (Jg.) Arthur J. Cassidy Jr. – March 30, 1943


U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)  U.S. Navy Photo

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)
U.S. Navy Photo

     On March 30, 1943, a late winter storm blew into New England from across New York.  It was nothing significant in relation to its duration, or the amount of snowfall, but it was underestimated, and left behind a mystery that to this day has never been solved.   

     On that day the USS Ranger (CV-4) was steaming off the coast of Massachusetts heading towards the Boston Navy Yard for some refitting.  As a precaution, the ship’s aircraft were to be sent inland.  Below decks the pilots joked in the ready room as the planes were fueled for takeoff.  Their final destination was to be Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, but first they were to stop at Squantum Naval Air Station in Quincy, Massachusetts, and obtain an updated weather forecast.  If it was favorable, they were to proceed to Quonset.  If not, they were to wait at Squantum.

     Unfortunately, this information was not relayed properly to the pilots, and as a result, all aircraft headed directly for Quonset and flew head-on into the storm.  There were thirty aircraft in total; twenty-five F4F Wildcat fighters, four SBD Dauntless dive bombers, and one TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.      

Lt. Jg. Arthur J. Cassidy (left) aboard the USS Ranger with "Red Ripper's" insignia on jacket.  National Archived Photo

Lt. Jg. Arthur J. Cassidy (left) aboard the USS Ranger with “Red Ripper’s” insignia on jacket.
National Archived Photo

     As bad weather closed in visibility dropped to zero.  The cloud cover began at 200 feet and extended all the way up to 7000 with icing conditions.  It wasn’t long before the aircraft got separated, and in some cases lost. Radio communications became garbled with intermittent static, leaving each pilot to his own devices.  

     The first aircraft to run into trouble was an SBD Dauntless, (Bu. No. 06826) piloted by Lt. Lukes M. Boykin.  His aircraft developed carburetor icing and was forced down in the water off Swampscott, Massachusetts.  Fortunately he and his radioman H. H. Reed were rescued by the Coast Guard.      

     Meanwhile, Wildcat #12196 piloted by Lt. Theodore A. Grell went down over Fall River, Massachusetts, most likely due to ice buildup.  Fortunately, Grell was able to bail out safely from an altitude of barely 200 feet!     



Red Rippers squadron insignia

Red Rippers squadron insignia

     Other members of the Ranger’s aircraft contingent were also in trouble.  Three Wildcat aircraft, #12143, #12186, and # 12179), got lost and wound up low on fuel over the small town of New Paltz in upstate New York.  After circling for several minutes they made an emergency landing in an open field. 

     Despite the accidents, by the end of the day all of the Ranger’s airmen had been accounted for except for Lieutenant (Jg.) Arthur Cassidy.  A check of all New England airfields revealed that he had not landed at any of them, nor had any municipalities reported any downed aircraft that the military wasn’t aware of. 

     The last possible sighting of Cassidy and his aircraft came from a woman in Attleboro, Massachusetts, who reported that she had seen a navy plane in distress over the North Attleboro area about 4:00 p.m. the day of the storm. It should be noted that there was no proof that the plane the woman saw was actually Cassidy’s aircraft, but with nothing else to go on, the navy took it as such, and began an intensive search.      

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943.
U.S. Navy Photo

     Media outlets were notified, and others came forward claiming to have seen a plane in trouble, but despite their eagerness to help, none of the witnesses were able to provide any useful information.  

     A massive air and ground search was conducted involving hundreds of military men, police, fire, and civilian volunteers. The search was widened to include several nearby towns in the Attleboro region as well as northern Rhode Island, but no trace of the plane or Lt. Cassidy was ever found. Some thought the Wildcat might have gone down in a large pond or reservoir, but according to one news account, the Navy discounted this idea with no explanation as to why.  

     On April 2, while the search for Cassidy was continuing, the Ranger left Boston for Argentina.  World War II went on.  Servicemen were transferred.  The military prepared for the invasion of Europe, and new headlines replaced the old.  The storm of March 30th and its aftermath were soon forgotten, and the mystery of what happened to Lt. Cassidy faded from memory.             

     So, what happened to Lt. Cassidy and his Wildcat?  There are several possibilities.

     One is that the plane went down in a remote area and disintegrated on impact.  Most New England towns were fairly rural in 1943.  Any explosion could have been muffled by the weather, and snow cover would have limited the spread of fire.     

Did Lt. Jg. Cassidy crash in western Massachusetts or some other remote area of New England?

Did Lt. Jg. Cassidy crash in western Massachusetts or some other remote area of New England?

     If Cassidy got disoriented like the three pilots who wound up in upstate New York, he might have flown to western Massachusetts where he could have gone down in the remote Berkshire Hills, or New York, or points north, such as Vermont and New Hampshire. 

     Another theory is that Cassidy unknowingly overshot Rhode Island due to the zero-visibility, and flew out over the ocean, not realizing his mistake until it was too late.      

     And despite what the navy said, it’s also possible he crashed in a large body of water such as a lake or a reservoir.  Maps of the search area, including northern Rhode Island, show several bodies of deep water large enough to swallow a Wildcat.  Since few reservoirs allow swimming or boating, it’s unlikely that a plane at the bottom would be discovered.  

     And perhaps the wreckage of Cassidy’s Wildcat has been found, only those who found it, didn’t know what it was, for WWII aviation wreck sites can be hard to distinguish to the untrained eye. Is there a hunter of hiker somewhere who has seen twisted portions of metal lying in the woods and never thought about it because it has always been there?  Maybe some fisherman knows of an aircraft related shape lying at the bottom of a body of water. Reporting such a find could lead to the answer of what happened to Lt. Cassidy.

     The serial number of Lt. Cassidy’s Wildcat is 11740, and his military service ID number is 0-098451.  This information is provided should anything be found.        

Navy Report on  Lt. Jg. Cassidy's disappearance. #43-6393 CLICK TO ENLARGE

Navy Report on
Lt. Jg. Cassidy’s disappearance.

Cassidy report continuation. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Cassidy report continuation.













     Arthur J. Cassidy Jr. was born in New York City, July 5, 1919, to Arthur and Marion (Meehan) Cassidy.    

     He graduated from Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus, Bronx, N.Y. in 1940, and entered the United States Naval reserve as a pilot cadet. 

     He served with Fighting Squadron 41 (VF-41) aboard the USS Ranger, and took part in Operation Torch, flying air support in the invasion of North Africa.

     Cassidy had survived two previous plane accidents. On May 8, 1942, he made a forced landing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  The second accident occurred May 21, 1942, while landing aboard the USS Charger, an escort carrier anchored in Chesapeake Bay.

     On February 26, 1943, he applied for a marriage license at the Cranston, (R. I.) City Hall, and was married to Marie Magdelaine Marchesseault on March 1st.   Their address was 99 Muran Street, Cranston.

     On March 31, 1944, Lt. Cassidy was officially declared dead by the navy. (Book 13, Pg. 213)


U.S. Navy Report of Cassidy disappearance 43-6393

Attleboro Sun, “Plane Reported Missing In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 1

Attleboro Sun, “Blimp In Search For Lost Plane”, April, 1943, Pg. 1

Attleboro Sun, “No Word Of Missing Plane”, April 3, 1943, Pg. 1

Providence Journal, “Plane Reported Missing By Navy”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 27

Pawtucket Times, “Navy Plane Sought In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 1

Fall River Herald News, “Navy Plane Feared Lost”, April 1, 1943, Pg.1

Cranston Herald, “Cranston Flier Reported Missing”, April 8, 1943, Pg. 6

Woonsocket Call, “Navy Plane Lost In Bay State Area”, April 1, 1943

City of Cranston, Rhode Island, vital records


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