Newfoundland and Labrador has long aviation history; much longer than most people realize. Because of the province’s proximity to Europe it was the starting point for many of the earliest attempts at transatlantic flights such as the first successful transatlantic one by Alcock & Brown who took off from Lesters Field in St. John’s on June 14, 1919. This proximity to Europe also made Newfoundland and Labrador of strategic importance during World War II when air and naval bases were constructed at Gander, Stephenville, Goose Bay and Argentia. These bases have resulted in several aircraft and ship wrecks and these have been issued Borden numbers and protected as archaeological sites. Of note is an aircraft wreck that crashed in Saglek, Labrador which is part of this province’s archaeological inventory.
In 1942 the United States had an airbase at Narsarsuaq, Greenland. On 10 December 1942 a crew of 7 men on board the “Times A Wastin”, a Martin B-26 “Marauder” Medium Bomber of the 440 Sqn, 319 Bomb Group departed Narsarsuaq on their way back to the United States via Goose Bay. The crew of the B-26 were pilot 1st Lt. Grover Cleveland Hodge, Jr., co-pilot 2nd Lt. Paul Jansen, navigator/bombardier 2nd Lt. Emmanuel J. Josephson, radio operator, TSgt. Charles F. Nolan and gunners Sgt. Russell (NMI) Reyrauch, Cpl. James J. Mangini and Cpl. Frank J. Golm.
After crossing the Davis Strait between Greenland and Labrador the B-26 ran into rough weather and crashed at Saglek. All of the crew survived and the plane didn’t suffer too much damage. As per their training the crew stayed with the wreck assuming they would be rescued; but rescue never came. By December 23rd three of the crew had decided to head south in a small boat that was part of the aircrafts rescue kit. They were never heard from again. Despite knowing, early into their ordeal, that they were close to the Inuit village of Hebron they didn’t try to find it until January 1943. By that time they were weak from hunger and the snow made it more difficult to walk. Like so many Arctic stories of survival the whole crew could have survived if they had all tried to walk south to Hebron which was just 18 miles (in a straight line) south of the wreck.
The remaining four crewmen stayed with the aircraft in a desperate attempt to survive. We know of their ordeal in detail from a diary kept by the pilot, 1st Lt. Grover Cleveland Hodge. The following are several excerpts from that diary. The complete diary is online and can be read here: http://www.lswilson.ca/page8.htm
DECEMBER 14, 1942 Wind blew all day with increasing velocity and snow. Our lake went dry so we were back to melting snow. Went to bed early.
DECEMBER 20, 1942 It was so windy we stayed in bed all day.
DECEMBER 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 a while to find a 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 across the snow. We had some peanuts and caramels and went to bed.
JANUARY 1, 1943 Happy New Year. It snowed and blew all night long and kept it up all day. So since we had no fire we stayed in bed all day.
JANUARY 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. Weyrauch and I got quite a bit of gas out of the other wing, so we are pretty well fixed on that. Mangins has the putput almost ready to try again. We are just praying for good weather both in hopes of a rescue plane (if the boys got through). I am cutting down still on the rations.
JANUARY 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 putput radio.
JANUARY 13, 1943 Another calm overcast day. We dug up the oil, dried out blankets, made a new bed on snow and ate our last food, a slice of spam and a soda cracker a piece. All we have left is a half pound of chocolates and three drink powders, but we talk like rescue was certainly tomorrow. It cleared off late this afternoon, so maybe there is hope for tomorrow.
JANUARY 21, 1943 Six weeks today and rough night with snow and rain, so everything was soaked when we got up. Only Weyrauch and I got up and then only long enough to melt snow for water. Things could be worse.
FEBRUARY 3, 1943 Slept a solid week in bed. Today Weyrauch died after being mentally ill for several days. We are all pretty weak, but should be able to last several more days at least.
NOTE: This is the last entry in the diary. The remains of the crew were found April 9, 1943 by Inuit from Hebron
This wreck has attracted a lot of visitors over the years and many people have taken away parts of it as souvenirs. While no archaeological work has been done on the wreck an archaeological Borden number (IcCp-17) was issued in an attempt to protect it from collectors.