Lester Martin Crew – Assigned 755th Squadron – May 1944

Standing: Jim Burke – AG, George Smarzinski – WG, Dick Grant – AG, Don Beverly – AG, Leslie Karnes – RO, Doyle Johnson – E
Sitting: Francis Thompson – CP, Les Martin – P, Charles Gribi – B

Not pictured: Bob Craig – N

(Photo: Charles Gribi)

Completed Tour

RankNameSerial #Crew PositionDateStatusComments
1LtLester C Martin813927PilotSep-44CTTrsf to AFRD for return to ZI
1LtFrancis S Thompson700876Co-pilotSep-44CTTrsf to AFRD for return to ZI
1LtRobert T Craig712772NavigatorOct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI
1LtCharles L Gribi698008BombardierSep-44CTTrsf to AFRD for return to ZI
T/SgtDoyle C Johston39404801Flight EngineerOct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI
T/SgtLeslie V Karns36639794Radio OperatorOct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI
S/SgtJames P Burke32879319Airplane Armorer-Gunner Oct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI
S/SgtGeorge L Smarzinski 36909263Aerial Gunner, 2/EOct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI
S/SgtDonald Beverly35795540Aerial Gunner, 2/EOct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI
S/SgtRichard A Grant35552998Airplane Armorer-GunnerOct-44CTTrsf to RD for return to ZI

Les Martin and his crew were assigned to the 755th Squadron at some point in May 1944.  Martin flew his first mission on May 27, 1944 with his officers, but none of his enlisted crew.  All of the enlisted crew on board the aircraft Briney Marlin on this date, were veteran gunners who had volunteered to fly.  S/Sgt Chester R. Carlstrum was the tail gunner from Crew 74.  He had about 25-27 mission completed.  S/Sgt’s Garland O. Meadows, Warren S. Cohlmeyer, Roy L. Cassady, Wilbert Abshire were all from Crew 75 and had flown between 18-20 missions.  S/Sgt George E. Hoessel was on Crew 70 and had 26 or 27 combat missions at this time.

During assembly, a B-24 piloted by Lt Howard Lobo collided with Martin’s aircraft.  Lobo and crew were lost, and Martin, initially ordering the crew to bail out, soon regained control of his aircraft and was able to return to base.  Sgt’s Carlstrum and Abshire bailed out when the order was given and were lost in the North Sea.

Martin and crew resumed flying in mid-June.  No fewer than 15 missions were flown on Briney Marlin.  While Martin did complete his missions, only 23 can be accounted for in the group’s various records.

Navigator 1Lt Robert T. Craig flew with at least two other crews during his time with the 755th Squadron, and may have done so as a lead Pilotage Navigator.  He is pictured with two additional crews, that of Capt Royce B. Glenn and Lt Myron C. McNamara.  The load list for Martin’s crew on July 12, 1944 lists Lt Charles Gribi (the crew’s bombardier) as taking the navigator’s position.

The entire crew completed their required 30 missions towards the end of September and were transferred back to the States in October.


The May 27th collision was the only event in the 458BG that generated an accident report and a missing air crew report[s] for the same incident. Since the collision was an accident and the two men who bailed out of Martin’s aircraft, along with all ten crewmen of the other aircraft were not recovered, both reports were warranted.

MACR 5632

Accident Report 44-05-27-518


DateTarget458th MsnPilot MsnSerialRCLSqdnA/C MsnA/C NameComments
14-Jun-44DOMLEGER65142-52441IJ331LAST CARD LOUIE
24-Jun-44CONCHES A/F77342-95183UJ312BRINEY MARLINMSN #1
25-Jun-44ST. OMER80442-95183UJ314BRINEY MARLIN
17-Jul-443 NO BALLS921042-95183UJ320BRINEY MARLIN
18-Jul-44TROARN931142-95183UJ321BRINEY MARLIN
19-Jul-44KEMPTEN941242-95183UJ322BRINEY MARLIN
20-Jul-44EISENACH951342-95183UJ323BRINEY MARLIN
24-Jul-44ST. LO AREA971441-29288LJ339BIG-TIME OPERATOR
01-Aug-44T.O.s FRANCE1001642-95183UJ326BRINEY MARLIN
02-Aug-443 NO BALLS1011742-95183UJ327BRINEY MARLIN
03-Aug-442 NO BALLS1021842-95183UJ328BRINEY MARLIN
04-Aug-44ROSTOCK1031942-95183M29BRINEY MARLIN
08-Aug-44CLASTRES1082042-51097TJ338UNKNOWN 022
11-Aug-44STRASBOURG1102142-95120MJ335HOOKEM COW / BETTY
12-Aug-44MOURMELON1112242-95120MJ336HOOKEM COW / BETTY
13-Aug-44LIEUREY1122342-95120MJ337HOOKEM COW / BETTY
27-Sep-44HORSHAM to LILLETR10--41-29577E466BGT9THE RUTH E-K

Martin Crew with Briney Marlin

Standing: Francis Thompson – CP, Chuck Gribi – B, Les Martin – P, Bob Craig – N, Unknown – Ground Crewman.
Middle Row (Kneeling, 2nd from left):  George Smarzinski – WG
Front Row (Sitting): Don Beverly – BTG, Leslie Karns – RO, Doyle Johnson TT/E.
(Photo: Les Martin)

May 27, 1944 – Mid Air Collision over Cromer

The following account was derived from Accident Report 44-5-27-518, MACR 5632, and phone conversations with Les Martin.

On this day, May 27, 1944, a scratch crew of veteran enlisted men were put together to man Briney Marlin.  The group was assembling over Cromer and had just completed a left turn and were making a right turn when the pilot of 42-95159, 2Lt Howard Lobo, either did not or could not complete the turn rapidly enough and collided with another B-24 42-95183 of the 755th squadron, Briney Marlin piloted by 2Lt Lester C. Martin.  The impact tore the entire tail assembly from #159 and that aircraft was last seen spinning down into the under cast about five miles offshore into the North Sea.  All ten men aboard were listed as MIA and later declared dead.  Two bodies were recovered after washing ashore – those of the navigator and bombardier.

Aboard aircraft #183 that day, as a fill in top turret gunner/flight engineer, was S/Sgt Chester R. Carlstrum, the tail gunner on Crew 74.  When the collision occurred, Martin rang the bail out bell.  Carlstrum dropped down and opened the bomb bay and salvoed the bomb load.  He then bailed out through the bomb bay.  The tail gunner S/Sgt Wilbert Abshire, tail gunner on Crew 75 also bailed out from the tail section.  In the few seconds between collision and the two men bailing out, the ship had lost several thousand feet of altitude.  Martin was able to regain control and he rescinded his bail out order.  The impact had bent about 6-8 feet of the right wing of Briney Marlin down at a 90° angle.  They radioed the control tower at Horsham and asked for instructions.  Colonel Isbell took off in Ginny, the group’s P-47.  He looked over the B-24 from the air and ordered Martin to point the aircraft out to sea and bail the crew out.

Col Isbell looks over Briney Marlin
Photo taken by Charles Gribi
Click for Charles Gribi Website

Martin decided he had enough control and decided to instead, attempt a landing at base.  Keeping the airspeed high, they were able to land okay without further incident.  As they were over the North Sea when the accident happened, Carlstrum and Abshire were never found, and presumably drowned in the English Channel.  They are both listed at Cambridge on the Tablets of the Missing.  The rest of Crew 74 did not fly that day.  Carlstrum and Abshire were within five missions or so of completing their combat tours.

Accident Report 44-5-27-518

On 27 May 1944, 0942, at 10,000 feet, 5 miles north of Cromer, while in formation, two B 24 H A/C 42-95183 and 42-95159, had a mid-air collision causing a major wing-tip damage to the first A/C 183, which was over run by A/C 159, in a sudden turn of formation from left to right. A/C 183 was flying in position as #2 ship of low trail element. #159 flying in high right element came down and across slipping into A/C 183 causing severe damage to right wing. As 2 A/C broke away the pilot Lt MARTIN of 183, had difficulty in controlling ship at first and was afraid it was going into a spin, gave order for crew to bail out. Being able to get A/C under control in a few minutes gave another order for crew to stay with the ship. Upon finding that he could fly ship and control it’s actions he decided to keep crew aboard and bring ship in for landing. Two men had bailed out, the Engineer and Tail Gunner. The A/C returned to it’s base, AAF 123, and made a successful landing without further damage.

6-8 feet of right wing tip was bent down

RAYMOND F. HEMRICH, 2D LT. 0-750385. AC. 755th Bombardment Squadron, 458th Bombardment Group (H). AAF Station 123, APO 558.
I was flying on the right wing of the lower left element. We were starting to turn to the right and we swung in toward the center of the formation.

I seen two ships hit but only got a glance as I was busy. It seemed the wing of one ship hit the other on the tail section or that he drug his tail across the wing. I seen the tail section start to bend to one side and come completely off. The ship started a slow spiral dive to the left and passed close over the top of our ship. My men watched the damaged ship until it disappeared thru the clouds and reported seeing no one bail out.

2d Lt, AC.

Lt Col Hogg (sunglasses on left) and some of the flight crew, one of which (second from right) has his cap on backwards.

ROBERT T. CRAIG, 2D LT. 0-712772, AC 755th Bombardment Squadron, 458th Bombardment Group, AAF Station 123, APO558. Navigator A/C 183.
At 0941 on a heading of about 60 degrees, I saw a silver B-24H skidding dangerously close to our aircraft. He had skidded below us off the right and seemed headed right into us so as to hit us abreast. I immediately hit the nose wheel door release and stood by to bail out as I heard the smack of the collision and felt a slight jar. I already had my chute on and didn’t immediately jump since the plane still seemed under control and I knew we were over water.

I retained the opinion that the mid-section of the adjacent aircraft sheared off the last 5-6 feet of our right wing and he then went under us to nudge our nose turret with his nose and fall off forward and down. The collision occurred at 0942 while the plane was engaged in a formation right turn. The collision occurred 5 miles north of Cromer above Splasher 5. After the crash I stood by to bail out if any unusual maneuver at all was detected. I then called the pilot and being unable to make contact tuned Buncher 15 on the radio compass and told him to do a 180 since we were headed out into the North Sea.

After making our way back over the field and talking to the pilot I was convinced that a safe landing could be made and hence proceeded to a station in the waist.

Robert T. Craig
2d Lt. AC.

LESTER C. MARTIN, 2D LT. AC 0-813927, Pilot, A/C 183, 755th Bombardment Squadron, 458th Bombardment Group, AAF Station 123, APO 558.
I was flying ship #183 on the right wing of hole(?) element in Section I. We were forming at 10,000 feet at the time of the collision and had just started a right turn immediately upon completing a left turn. About thirty seconds after starting the right turn I heard my co-pilot shout and looked up to see a ship skidding into us from the right. I pulled my right wing up sharply and at about the same instant felt the collision. My ship started into a spin and I gave the order to bail out, the engineer and tail gunner leaving the ship immediately. The ship was brought under control within a few seconds after the crash and the rest of the crew was prevented from leaving the ship by my order over the inter-phone. After getting the ship under control I went into the waist, leaving the ship with my co-pilot and surveyed the damage. The only damage visible to me was about six feet of the right wing hanging in space. I decided then to bring the ship in and gave my men the choice of bailing out or staying with the ship for the landing and they did the latter. We circled the field, made a very wide pattern and a successful landing with no further damage to the plane or injury to the crew. The landing was made with half flaps and at an air speed of approximately 170 miles per hour.

2d Lt, AC.

1st Lt. Lester C. Martin wears the Distinguished Flying Cross as he stands beside the Consolidated B-24 Liberator Briney Marlin.  Escorted by a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lt. Martin brought his plane safely back to its base with seven feet of the wing (right) and aileron broken off and folded under following a collision with another bomber during assembly of a formation over the North Sea.  Lt. Martin was cited for superior skill and courage in recovering his aircraft from a spin after the wing had been broken and left hanging, returning to base without further damage or injury to plane and crew.

General Orders No. 99 2BD Hq, 17 June 1944 – DFC CITATION
LESTER C. MARTIN, 0-813927, Second Lieutenant, Army Air Forces, United States Army.  For extraordinary achievement, while serving as Pilot of a B-24 aircraft on a bombing mission to Germany, 27 May 1944.  Lieutenant Martin’s aircraft collided with another B-24 as the formation was assembling over the North Sea.  Seven feet of the right wing was broken and left hanging at a 60 degree angle, and the aircraft went into a spin.  Lieutenant Martin courageously remained at the controls and with superior skill righted the aircraft, returning it to base without further damage or injury to the crew.  The superior flying skill and cool courage demonstrated by Lieutenant Martin on this occasion reflect the highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.  Entered military service from Alabama.

S/Sgt Chester R. Carlstrum and S/Sgt Wilbert Abshire

Both men were original crew that trained with the group in Tonopah, and both were nearing the end of their combat tours.  Carlstrum was the tail gunner on Lt Vogel’s Crew 74, he was flying this mission as the flight engineer.  Abshire was the tail gunner on Lt Olney’s Crew 75, and he flew in that position on the May 27th mission.