Quonset Point, R. I. – May 2, 1944

Quonset Point, Rhode Island – May 2, 1944


U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger
U.S. Navy Photo

     On May 2, 1944, a TBM-1D Avenger, (Bu. No. 25430), was due to take off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station to participate in an aerial gunnery training flight.  The aircraft was designated to be the “target-tug”, meaning it was to tow a canvas target behind it which other aircraft would take turns firing at. 

     At 2:00 p.m. the aircraft began its take-off run with the target sleeve attached.  As soon as the aircraft became airborne the pilot raised the wheels.  At an altitude of 100 feet, the right wing stalled due to recent squadron modifications to it, causing a loss of altitude.  At the end of the runway was Narragansett Bay.  The target sleeve hadn’t yet become airborne, and began dragging in the water off the end of the runway.  Then the right wing stalled a second time and the plane went down in the bay.

     There were four men aboard the aircraft; the pilot, a gunner, and two radio-men.  (The Avenger generally carried a crew of three)  When the plane hit the water one crewman suffered a broken left arm, another a lacerated hand, and the other two were not injured.  All were rescued.

    The aircraft was a total loss, with its fuselage having broken in half.   

    The men were assigned to CASU-22 at Quonset Point.

    Source: U.S. Navy accident report #44-13795, dated May 2, 1944.



Narragansett Bay, R. I. – December 22, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – December 22, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of December 22, 1943, a TBF-1 Avenger, (Bu. No. 05900), with three men aboard, was making practice carrier landings on a platform off the shore of Point Judith when the plane went off the platform and into the water and sank.  The crew escaped without injury.  The accident occurred due to faulty brakes.


     U. S. Navy crash report #44-10432  

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – May 23, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – May 23, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of May 23, 1943, a flight of six TBF-1 Avengers took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a formation-practice bombing flight.  One of those aircraft was Bu. No. 06123, piloted by Ensign Leon T. Gerhart, (22), of Pennsylvania. 

     Ensign Gerhart’s aircraft had a crew of three aboard:

     ARM3c Donald J. Cross, (20-21) of Wisconsin.

     AMM2c Morrison C. Dobson

     AMM3c William Richard Walker

     Once airborne, the TBF’s rendezvoused with Ensign Gerhart flying in the No. 2 position.  The bombing mission was carried out, with each aircraft making their run individually at an anchored target boat.   At about 9:25 a.m., with the exercise completed,  the signal was given to re-form.  As this was taking place, Ensign Gerhart’s aircraft was involved in a collision with another TBF, (Bu. No. 47528).  During the collision, the tail section of Gerhart’s aircraft was completely broken off, and his plane fell out of control and crashed in Narragansett Bay.   All aboard were killed.

     The other aircraft (Bu. No. 47528) suffered damage to its right wing, but was able to successfully make an emergency landing at Quonset Point.  Nobody aboard that aircraft was injured.

     To see a photograph of Ensign Gerhart, go to www.findagrave.com, see memorial #86945634


     U. S. Navy Crash Report #43-6986 


Narragansett Bay, R. I. – July 16, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – July 16, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     At 12:20 p.m. on the afternoon of July 16, 1943, a U.S. Navy TBF-1 Avenger, (Bu. No. 47517), took off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station for what was termed a “special exercise” by the navy.   The weather was clear with unlimited visibility with surface winds of 15 knots. 

     There were three crewmen aboard the aircraft.

     The pilot: Lieutenant Robert Yarnell Bair, 29, of Iowa.

     AOM3C Wade Alexander Harris

     ARM3C Thomas Francis McConnon  

     At about 2:30 p.m., the aircraft was observed by crew members of the USS Thrush, a WWI era minesweeper operating in Rhode Island waters.  At the time, the Thrush was about four to five miles away from the aircraft, when the aircraft was seen diving towards the water and explode on impact. 

     All three crewmen aboard the Avenger were killed, and the aircraft was not recovered.  However, it is mentioned in the navy report of the incident that “confidential gear” was recovered by divers from the USS Thrush. 

     The aircraft was assigned to the Aircraft Anti-Sub Development Project Unit.


     U.S. Navy  crash report #44-7664      

Westerly, R.I. – October 24, 1943

Westerly, Rhode Island – October 24, 1943

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger National Archives Photo

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger

National Archives Photo

     On October 24, 1943, a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger (Bu. No. 06096) piloted by Ensign Ralph E. Sethness, 28, was approaching Westerly Auxiliary Air Field (Today known as Westerly State Airport) when the plane developed engine trouble and crashed on the golf course of the Winnapaug Country Club.  (The club was, and still is, located at 180 Shore Road in Westerly.)

     The plane came down near the 7th hole and burst into flames.  Two local men, Robert C. Gentile, and Benjamin B. York, were the first to arrive at the scene where they found the badly injured pilot lying right next to the burning wreck with live ammunition from the plane’s machine guns starting to go off.  With disregard for their own safety, they carried Ensign Sethness fifty feet away and lay him down.  No sooner had they done so, the plane’s fuel tanks exploded spraying flaming gasoline all about the area.  The flames quickly set off a succession of machine gun rounds, and Gentile shielded the injured man with his body.   This lasted for about two minutes until the heat of the flames forced them to move Ensign Sethness another fifty feet away.  There they tended to him as best they could until fire and rescue units arrived.     

     Both men were later awarded the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for their efforts.  

     The Grumman Avenger generally carried a crew of three men however, on this particular flight Ensign Sethness was alone.  The reason for the flight was not stated, nor was the cause of the accident.   Ensign Sethness was assigned to torpedo squadron VT-15.


     The Westerly Sun, “Saw Plane Crash, Shore Road Men Rush To Scene”, October 25, 1943

     U.S. Navy accident report #44-9275

     Carnegie Hero Fund Commission


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