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The Saglek Story, Artic Tragedy in 1942
Daedalus Flyer of March 1968, Vol. VIII, No. 1
|The Saglek Story, Artic Tragedy in 1942
The following letter, received from Daedalian (Brig. Gen.) Harold L. Neely, is reprinted verbatim, together with his enclosure which graphically depicts the hazards encountered in ferrying aircraft to combat theatres 25 years ago.
The incredible courage, esprit and optimism of the crew members of the ill-fated Martin B-26 Marauder is clearly revealed throughout the diary of the pilot which follows. EDITOR
I do not have a yarn to send you, but I am inclosing a true story, known to members of the Air Defense Command as "The Saglek Story." It may be too long for publication, but I am sure you will find it interesting and might find a use for it later.
I heard this story in 1961 when I first visited Saglek Air Station as Commander of the 64th Air Division. At that time Saglek came under the Goose Air Defense Sector, commanded by Colonel Victor Milner which was part of the now deactivated 64th Air Division. A paved and lighted runway, approximately 4000 feet long, is situated at the site of the Martin B-26 Marauder crash. What remains of the aircraft is still to he seen just off this runway.
Recent experience in Arctic operations makes one wonder how much progress has been made in Arctic survival and rescue since the Martin B-26 Marauder incident of 25 years ago. Are the lessons of modern technology being applied in this area to reduce the risks of the lone fighter pilot with only a survival kit strapped to his rear end when he ejects? Let us hope so.
DIARY BY ONE NOW DEAD
Diary kept by pilot of Martin B-26 Marauder which crashed near Saglek Bay, Labrador, 10 December 1942. Although a few miles from an Eskimo village, no attempt was made by any of the crew members to walk out. On December 23rd, three crew members started south in a boat that belonged to the Martin B-26 Marauder. No remains have ever been found of this group. The last entry in the diary is 3 February 1943.
We pick up the diary when the ill-fated crew is about to depart BW-1 Greenland, for Goose Bay, Labrador.
NOV. 12, 1942 - We're still sitting here with 16 minutes of daylight each day. We've less than six hours of daylight between sunrise and sunset now. Had about two inches of snow last night and everything was really pretty. Spent most of the morning sweeping it off the plane. They said that there's a chance of leaving tomorrow but this place seems so much like Dome that it doesn't seem like we should leave.
NOV. 16, 1942 - This place is full of changes. Yesterday afternoon Jansen and I walked down to the river. There was a solid sheet of ice resting on the rocks, and it was covered with almost two inches of snow. Every once in a while, we would break through up to our knees, but there was nothing under the ice. Last night we had rain with a warm wind with gusts up to better than 60 miles per hour. So this morning there was only isolated patches of ice left. Today was the first time in two weeks that we have been able to walk on bare ground. We've had till kinds of weather, most of the days were fairly warm. But one day it was six degrees. We've seen days when not a breath of air stirred.
NOV. 26, 1942 - I still say this is screwy weather. We were alerted this morning at 0330. There was a solid overcast. We killed time until 0600 then we got briefed. It was still overcast and seemed to be getting worse. The A-10s and the B-25s started kicking off, but about then, it started to rain and the ceiling looked like it was very low. About ten minutes later it stopped raining and an A-20 came over at 600 feet with room to spare. By 0830, the sun was shining and everything looked as nice as we could ask for, but it was too late to take off.
DEC. 10, 1942 - Took off at last for Goose Bay. About 1315, we ran into some clouds and I turned around and called for the formation to turn around also. One plane dropped out. I think I saw the two P-40s later. I lost the others while letting down below the clouds. We saw an opening to the south at about 2,000 feet and after flying in that direction we broke out. We finally had to go back up to 13,000 feet, but it was clear sailing, so we kept on. Lt. Josephson gave me a new heading to get back on course, but we know now it was too much of a correction. About halfway I picked up Goose beam, but the set went dead after a few minutes. It was too late to turn back then, so we tried to get it on the compass, but couldn't. We finally hit the coast. We decided we were south of Goose Bay, so we turned north until we finally realized we were north. We were almost out of gas, so I started looking for a place to land. I wanted to get back where there were trees but the engines started missing, so we came back down, the crew never batted an eye when they were told that we were going to have to make a crash landing. Even if I do say so myself, it was a good landing and Lt. Josephson did a good job of cutting the switch, we hit a rock that tore the bombay open and one prop tip went through the fuselage behind me, outside of that the ship was intact. It swung around almost 90 degrees without stopping, but made a good wind break that way; it was almost dark so after eating a cold ration we went to bed inside of the ship; we had 17 blankets, a comforter and bed roll, but we slept very well. Lt. Josephson took a star shot and decided we were 300 minutes from Goose.
DEC. 11, 1942 - Lt. Josephson walked to the ford to the west and Golm the one to the east. We spent most of the day clearing up the ship and pooling rations in the afternoon. I climbed the mountain in front of us (where Saglek Air Station is now located ed.), but didn't learn much. Nolan worked on the put-put all day without results. We cranked the dingy radio. It was pretty windy so we spent the night in the ship.
DEC. 12, 1942 - Made three big improvements in our situation. Lt. Jansen and Golm discovered a lake close to our ship and saw a fox. Waywrench and I saw 50 seals; we know that there is food there. We made a lean-to out of tarps under the wing and slept out there. It was much better.
DEC. 13, 1942 - When the star shots were figured out it showed us to be close to the town of Hebron. Worked on the put-put all day with no success, so we tried to work the liaison set on the batteries but they were too weak. We pooled our covers and slept together.
DEC. 14, 1942 - Wind blew all day with increasing velocity and snow. Our lake went dry so we are back to melting snow. We went to bed early.
DEC. 15, 1942 - Had to eat a cold breakfast. Because the wind blew too much snow in our fire. Nolan changed the voltage regulators and got 25 volts, long enough for me to get a couple of stations on the liaison receiver. The put-put stopped, but we hope we know what is wrong with it. So we hope to get a message out soon.
DEC. 17, 1942 - The put-put out, but we did try the batteries. They, too, were dead.
DEC. 19, 1942 - More snow last night. Nolan and Mangins tried to work on the put-put but it was too cold. We built a fire in the lean-to and thawed out.
DEC. 20, 1942 - It was so windy we stayed in bed all day.
DEC. 21, 1942 - Everything was really snowed in so we spent the day eating and thawing out blankets and planning a trip south. Lt. Josephson, Lt. Jansen, and Sgt. Nolan plan to head south in the boat the first clear day.
DEC. 22, 1942 - Had a perfect day, the first clear day in over a week. We worked on the boat and cleaned snow away from the lean-to all day. We ate it pretty big meal with the three boat men eating a little extra.
DEC. 23, 1942 - Got up at 0715, got the boat ready and started carrying it. The wind was pretty strong and the boat was heavy, so we had a pretty hard time of it. We didn't get to the water until noon, and then it took quite as while to find it place to put it in the water. We intended to put them off shore, but they appeared to be making slow headway to the south. That was the last time we saw them. We had a hard time coming back against the snow. We had some peanuts and caramels and went to bed.
DEC. 24, 1942 - Christmas Eve and we've been here two weeks today. It was was lonesome with just the four of us, but we got up pretty early and dug out the gas strainer so we could make a fire. It was so windy we couldn't work outside so we dried out the blankets. Golm got blistered pretty bad and swollen hands which hard to be doctored. We stretched out our eating to cover most of the day. We had a sardine sized can of herring with crackers, a spoon full of peanuts apiece, a black cough drop, and a caramel, a cup of bouillon, a cup of grape drink, and plenty of coffee, using the same grounds over and over. It's really a surprise how much one can get from a small thing like at caramel, but we look forward to it with anticipation every dray.
DEC. 25, 1942 - What a Christmas. Mangin's feet pained him so much we had to get up at 0330. He was in agony before that, but was better after. Although his arches pain him pretty bad. Got up again at 0900. Golm went exploring, I massaged Mangin's feet, and Waywrench started fixing up the floor, which was in pretty bad condition from the fire. Later we had to dig out the rear entrance to the ship to fix the window up. After that, we had a first aid lesson. The only one who doesn't have anything wrong is me. We are about to eat our Christmas dinner and go to bed.
DEC. 26, 1942 - Had another swell day. The weather was perfect. Waywrench cleaned up the back of the ship, while Golm dug around in the rear of the bombay, uncovering a can of fruit cocktail and a can of chicken a la king. I worked on Mangins' feet and did some odd jobs. Everyone is feeling better, and I hope that Mangins will be up in a few days. We aren't starving by any means, but the conversations are mostly about food. You surely can remember some good tasting food.
DEC. 27, 1942 - Started today as usual by treating the casualties. Mangins feet are better, but we found a big blister on each foot. Golm and Mangins spent the day drying blankets. Waywrench finished cleaning out the back of the ship, and I climbed the mountain to see if I could see anything out to sea. I also took a roll of film. The enforced diet is beginning to tell on us, but we eat at little more tomorrow.
DEC. 28, 1942 - This has been to terrible day. The wind started up early in the morning and has kept us inside all day. We had two fires which took the rest of the day to repair. Mangins' feet are quite a bit better, and he will start working on the put-put soon. We may get the liaison set going yet. In the meantime, we can feel the effects of the short rations more every day. We pray almost every minute that the boys in the boat will get through and get help soon.
DEC. 29, 1942 - Today has been just average. The wind started up early again, but not too hard. Mangins' feet are almost back to normal.
(Note: Here follows a lengthy, somewhat incoherent and rambling discourse in a different handwriting, apparently the entry of one of the other crew members. In this entry, the writer is obviously despondent and thinking of his wife or sweetheart. He dwells on the "taste" and "message" and "warmth" of kisses; the satisfaction , even, in "rubbing noses," although, he writes, "there is nothing good to the taste about the nose - only an old piece of bone pushing out of the face and a nuisance in time of winter, but a friend before meals and in a garden. " Truly, the mind, in tragedy and solitude traverses the entire spectrum of metaphysics as revealed in this entry. We resume the diary in the handwriting of the pilot. THE EDITOR.)
DEC. 30, 1942 - Today was overcast with snow showers. Spent most of the day working on the inside. Golm lost a finger nail, and may lose another. I'm just thankful that his hand doesn't pain him. Worked a little on the put-put and made some progress, but it was too dark to work much. Got up a game of 500 Rummy which everyone seemed to enjoy. The boys have been gone a week today. God grant that they are still going.
JAN l, 1943 - Happy New Year. It snowed and blew all night and kept it up all day. So since we land no fire we stayed in bed all day.
JAN 2, 1943 - More wind and snow today. It slacked up a little around noon so we got up with the aid of a fire in a peanut can. Waywrench got the prop and ceiver (sic) tank out with a gallon of alcohol and glycerine, and I dug out the oil drain. After that, we had a couple of hot fires and plenty of coffee and had a lemon powder and a cup of bouillon. Our main dish was the last can of datenut roll with jelly, and it was very good. We didn't finish with the eating and drinking until almost noon. Then I worked on Mangins' feet, and we went to bed. There was quite a bit of loose snow outside but the very shape of the ship keeps it fairly clean. It actually rained today but I didn't know what effect that it's going to have on our situation. The boys have been gone ten days today, which is the time we figured it would take them to make the trip. We hope they made it and can help bring help soon.
JAN 3, 1943 - There wasn't much wind last night so we thought that we would have a good day, but the wind picked up, and it snowed all day. The ship has a sheet of ice on it and is covered with snow. Besides that, the drifts are higher and closer than they have ever been before. We hooked up the hand fuel transfer pump, and I'm positive we pumped some gas over to this side, but we couldn't get it to drain out, so we had to use the alcohol to cook with. I got into a big hurry once and caused a fire in which I got burned but not badly. Now we are all wearing bandages. I found two bouillon cubes in the radio operator's desk. Spent a lot of time putting snow under our bed. There was quite a hole there, so we should be able to sleep better tonight. It must be raining outside now. It couldn't be melting ice on the wing. We keep praying for clear weather and hope that the boys got through. Also to try out a new theory to where Hebron is.
JAN. 4, 1943 - Had a blue sky when we got up, but it stayed overcast all day. There wasn't much wind however, so we got up and went to work. Waywrench and I got quite a bit of gas out of the other wing, so we are pretty well fixed on that. Mangins has the put-put almost ready to try again. We are just praying for good weather in hopes of a rescue plane (if the boys got through). I am cutting down still more on the rations.
JAN. 5, 1943 - It started off like it beautiful day, but turned to it light low overcast. Waywrench and I cleaned the plane of snow and Mangins finished the put-put, which seems to be in pretty good shape. It started clearing late this afternoon.
JAN 6, 1943 - This is the eighth day of bad weather. The entrance is blocked, and it doesn't do any good to dig it out. It has been two weeks since the boys have left and spirits are still high in spite of the bad weather.
JAN 7, 1943 - We've been here four weeks today. The entrance was blocked up this morning. As I was going into the ship, I saw a little bird. We caught him and boiled him for a couple of hours. Then made stew by adding a bouillon powder. It was really delicious. Golm started to go looking for Hebron, but the snow was too soft. Mangins got outside for the first time in 13 days. If we can't find a town or get the put-put going in three days, we are going to have to sit and wait until the weather clears and pray that the boys got through because we are too low on food to do anything else. God help us get out of here safely.
JAN. 8, 1943 - Today was the most strenuous for me since we got here. I tried to get to Hebron, and I still think I know where it is, but there are two mountains in the way. I can feel myself growing weaker and, we have less to eat every day. I don't know what we would do if we didn't have that three pounds of coffee. We sit around and drink that and talk about all kinds of food, but I think we all crave chocolate candy more than anything else. The boys have dug out the back of the ship so if tomorrow is clear, we still have one last try with the put-put radio.
JAN. 9, 1943 - Well, we put the put-put back in its place, and it jammed again so that leaves us with one possibility, that the boys got through.
JAN. 10, 1943 - We have been here one month today, 31 days. Spent most of the day which was perfect as far as the weather was concerned looking for the plane and fixing up bandages. The boys' spirits were much higher today, after our little church service. Our only food today was a slice of pineapple and two spoonfuls of juice.
JAN. 11, 1943 - Our 3rd day of perfect weather, also the coldest day since right after we got here. Spent the day watching for the plane which didn't come. The oil gave out on this side, which brings about another problem. The short rations are beginning to tell on us, but we are still in high spirits. If we don't live to eat some of the food we talked about, we've ate (sic) mentally one of the best meals in the world.
JAN. 12, 1943 - Today was the boys' 20th day, our 33rd, and was overcast, but was calm. We got the oil almost dug out but are all so weak that we can hardly work. The boys' spirits are still high though, and we had a couple of lively bull sessions on our one topic, food. Our ration today was is slice of pineapple.
JAN. 13, 1943 - Another calm overcast day. We dug up the oil, dried out the blankets, made a new bed on snow, and ate our last food, a slice of spam and a soda cracker apiece. All we have left is a half of pound of chocolates and 3 drink powders, but we talk like rescue was certainly tomorrow. It cleared off late this afternoon, so maybe there is hope for tomorrow.
JAN. 14, 1943 - Clear day, but with wind. We cleared off the plane and waited, but nothing happened. Late this afternoon we were playing cards, Wren oiled the gas too fast and caused an explosion which burned both his and my face, hair, and hands. Our rations were 4 chocolates, but we are still working out pretty well. After a devotional, we went to bed.
JAN. 15, 1943 - A perfect day as to the weather, but the coldest since we got here. Spent most of the day trying to keep warm and listening for a plane. Also made big plans for a couple of days in New York when we get our furloughs. Rations were 2 chocolates and a bouillon powder. No one is particularly hungry yet, but we are getting weaker and colder because our bodies aren't putting out enough heat.
JAN. 16, 1943 - Another calm clear day, but the coldest we have yet had. The oil froze up, so we had to end up by burning nothing but gas. The only thing we have left is one bouillon powder and 2 sticks of gum. The strain is beginning to tell, but we still have good bull sessions about food and the furlough in New York.
JAN. 17, 1943 - Couldn't have asked for a better day except that it is so cold that the oil is frozen and won't burn. So our gas is going pretty fast. Had our food, bouillon powder, so unless rescue comes in a few days, - - - - - - -. The boys have been gone 25 days which is a long time, but they are still our only hope; our families will really miss some swell dishes and menues.
JAN. 18, 1943 - Cold and clear. My watch slopped, so we didn't get up until noon. Must be a little warmer because we got a little oil. Today was our first complete day without any food, but spirits are still pretty high. It's surprising how much punishment the body and mind can take when necessary. We are still in pretty good condition but rather weak. Not much hope left.
JAN. 20, 1943 - It snowed and blew all night, but we all slept pretty good and were much more cheerful today. We stayed longer than we should have though and are pretty tired. That snow has been blowing pretty hard all day and is piling up in front of the door, so I don't know what we will do if it doesn't stop pretty soon.
JAN. 21, 1943 - Six weeks today and rough night with snow and ruin, so everything was soaked when we got up. Only Waywrench and I got up and then only long enough to melt snow for water. Things could be worse.
JAN. 22, 1943 - Got up around noon, and was up until about 6. I cleared up the entrance and made the bed. We could stand some good weather.
JAN. 23, 1943 - Spent a miserable night. Everyone got crowded and nobody could get comfortable. Had a good day, but everybody is pretty discouraged, although the conversation was pretty good. We haven't really felt famished, but we are really weak. It really gets me to see these boys start to do something and have to stop from lack of power to go on. Waywrench has developed a case of piles and is really suffering.
JAN. 24, 1943 - Had a miserable night. Everybody got up at one thirty, shot the bull and drew gas, and went to bed at seven thirty.
JAN. 25, 1913 - Cold night, clear day, but still pretty bad.
JAN. 26, 1943 - Overcast but fairly calm. Each day we don't see how we can last another day, but each time we manage to go on. We all smoked a pipe of tobacco this morning and Golm really got sick, and I felt pretty bad. But we came out pretty well.
FEB. 3, 1943 - Slept a solid week in bed. Today Waywrench died after being mentally ill for several days. We are all pretty weak, but should be able to last several more days.
NOTE: This is the last entry in the Diary, the men were found in the first part of March by Eskimos from Hebron and were only about one and one half hours walk from Hebron.
List of food when landed: 7 cans of Spam, 3 cans of peanuts, 8 cans of chicken, 2 cans of pineapple, 3 cans of fruit cocktail, 2 cans of datenut roll, 1 can of brown bread, 3 boxes of chocolates, 28 Hershey bars, 4 packages of dates, one pound of crackers, 4 boxes of fig newtons, 1 pound of cheese crackers, 1 case of coke, 2 cans of salmon, 3 pounds of coffee., 20 packages of caramels.
An original song about the tragedy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVyImkVFNqM