On this Day, Oct. 3rd, 1944. A tribute to Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Bricen Jr. 445th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomb Group Revell B-25J 1/48 scale
Exactly 75 years ago today, while flying over Italy in the top turret of a B-25 J-1 named "Evora", this young man was killed. This was his 58th Mission. He just had his 22nd birthday a few weeks earlier on September 14th, 1944, and he left behind his wife and daughter.
He flew several missions in this plane named "Stuff". Unlike some units, the 445th did not have regularly assigned aircraft. The men flew missions in whatever was available. I have confirmed that Tommy flew in this very plane on the following dates:
May 26th, 1944
June 5th, 1944
August 16th, 1944
August 25th, 1944
SSGT Bricen was my Dad's cousin. His mother was named Agnes Gardner Bricen, and she was one of my Grand Father's older sisters. This is a family photo of him next to a top turret in a B-25. We believe this picture was taken in Corsica.
Here's a photo of "Stuff" in flight without the nose art applied. This is the same plane that I built a model of. It was part of the "Nose Art" Group build, and I recently finished it. If you look close at this photo, you will see the nose has been damaged by Flak. The upper bombardier glass has been blown away. The horrors of War... This plane did receive Flak damage in early 1945 which caused a crew fatality. The crewman just happened to be the Bombardier. This picture might have captured the plane in flight just after the Flak damage occurred.
Completing 25 missions was the "magical" number of missions needed to rotate home if you were flying in the 8th Air Force in a heavy bomber. The total number of completed missions needed for this to happen often changed. It depended on the unit you were assigned to, the theatre you were flying in, and the type of plane you were flying. It occasionally changed within the same unit from time to time. This number was based on manpower shortages, morale, and the losses that were being incurred...
"Tommy" as he was often called, joined the Army Air Force on January 4th, 1943.
He was assigned to the 445th Bomb Squadron in March 1944. The first recorded mission I found of him flying was on May 16th, 1944. This happened to be in an older B-25 "C" model, and it had a serial number of 42-32458. Unfortunately I have not been able to research all of his missions, as part of the unit's history is currently not available.
One of the more famous missions flown by the 321st, happened on August 18th, 1944. This was when they bombed the Toulon Harbor in Southern France. The target was several naval vessels. One target was a battleship named the "Strasbourgh" , another was a heavy cruiser and the last was a submarine. The Battleship and the submarine were sunk. The Cruiser was heavily damaged.
The B-25 that Tommy was flying in on that particular day was serial number 43-27714. It was tail #16, had the name "Blonde Beauty" applied on the nose, along with some "pin up" Vargas style nose art. This is a picture of "Blonde Beauty", the plane he flew in on the raid over Toulon Harbor. (I can see this plane eventually being the subject of another build at the "Iron Werks"). From what I can tell, "Blonde Beauty" was also the plane that he most frequently flew in. I have found evidence of him flying at least 19 missions in this very plane... It could have been more.
The crew Tommy flew with that day over Toulon are listed as follows:
Pilot 1st LT. Hardman, Allen F.
Co Pilot 2nd LT. Born, Walter E.
Bombardier Staff Sgt. Carney, Robert J. They had some enlisted men acting as bomb "toggliers"
Engineer Staff Sgt. Smith, William F.
Radio Operator Tech. Sgt. Wells, Joy E.
Gunner Staff Sgt. Bricen, Thomas J. Jr.
The after action report indicated that the Flak was heavy, accurate and intense over the target. Many planes returned to base with holes in them. Some planes were heavily damaged. None were shot down that particular day...although going from memory, two purple hearts were earned by crew members. This is a testament to the Grace of God, a little luck, the flying skills of the crews, and the B-25.
The 321st Bomb Group was later awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions on this day...
Through research I have been able to determine names and serial numbers of some of the B-25's that Tommy flew in. However the following is not a complete list of the planes.
"Babs", "Cuddle Bunny", "Viscious Vera", "Winnie May", "Rum Runner", "Miss Fancy Pants", "Spirit of St. Louis", "S**t House Mouse", "Peggy Lou", "Maggie", and a plane without a name, only a standing lady as art. This last un named plane was S/N 43-27534.
He was shot down and killed in a B-25 named "Evora". Sadly I have not been able to locate a single picture of this plane. I have a copy of the MACR #9028.
Thomas Bricen was killed in a B-25J-1, serial number 43-27553, named "Evora". The crew was listed as follows:
Pilot 1st LT. Frank, Robert R.
Co Pilot 1st LT. Reed, Donald C.
Bombardier 1st LT. Voelker, Joseph M.
Engineer Corporal Miller, Emanuel (no middle initial given)
Radio Ops Tech Sgt. Davis, Olin (no middle initial given)
Gunner Staff Sgt. Bricen, Thomas J. Jr. my Dad's Cousin
The mission for this day was the Galliate Road bridge in Northern Italy. The bridge was 1300 feet long, and was located near Milan. It was considered a "Hot" target and had a lot of Flak emplacements in the area. It was the most heavily defended target that one witness had experienced up to this point, as he described it afterwards. The anti aircraft fire was reported as heavy and accurate. Two planes were shot down this day.
According to several eyewitness accounts that were recorded after the mission, and combined with what is mentioned in the reports, this is what happened at approximately 14:10 hours that afternoon.
While starting the bombing run, and just seconds before the bombs were being released, the B-25 Tommy was flying in received a direct hit on the Port side engine from an 88 MM gun at an altitude of approximately 13,500 feet. The engine immediately caught fire. The plane dropped from the rest of the formation and began losing altitude. At this point the plane appeared to be under control.
A witness named Sgt. Gerald M. Bertling, a tail gunner who was flying in "Miss Belle Fontaine" S/N 44-28948, was flying on the right wing of the 4th element reported this:
"After we began our bomb run we encountered heavy, intense and accurate flak. A few seconds before the bombs were released, I saw two large pieces of metal fly past our element. I turned in time to see the left wing plane of the 1st element on fire, sliding under the formation and losing altitude quickly. It began to spin and after it lost 3,000 feet one wing fell away and it began to spin faster. I saw the plane crash and burning a few miles from the target."
Another witness statement was made by the pilot of "Spirit of St. Louis", S/N 43-4008, 1st LT. Elwood F. McLaughlin. He stated this: "Approximately 4 seconds before "Bombs Away", Lt. Frank's plane appeared to receive a direct flak hit in the left engine. The engine exploded and burst into flames. For a second, the left wing rose and then the plane slid off to the left. The entire left wing was burning when I lost sight of it."...
I found another statement that was made by the tail gunner of 43-4008, "Spirit of St. Louis". This was told by Staff Sgt. William A Smith. "just before the bombs release point, I noticed a trail of flame coming from behind our own left rudder. The next instant the aircraft came into view. The entire left side of it seemed to be engulfed in flames. Then the plane rolled over on it's left side and started downward out of control leaving a trail of burning fragments. I did not observe any parachutes. We then went into a steep bank and I was unable to see the plane in question after we leveled off."
It had to be horrific.
One parachute was actually observed, but it was burning, as was the crewman who was suspended beneath it. The parachute eventually failed due to the fire, causing it to be what is called a "streamer"... The parachute was observed to be burning as it fell by the German defenders.
"Evora" ended up crashing just West of the bridge, in what was part of the impact area of the bombs that had just been dropped.
The Germans later recovered the crew's remains from the crash site. One crewman was not present in the wreckage. This was the one who managed to bail out and open his parachute. His burned body was found nearby, at the edge of the river steam. The Germans reported this person as an "Enlisted Man" and mentioned that he was a gunner. They did not mention the person by name.
They were all buried next to each other on October 5th, 1944, in the Cemetery of Trecate, Province Novara, Upper Italy.
Later, as the Allies advanced an occupied this area, the crew of "Evora" was exhumed and reburied in the American Military Cemetery in Florence Italy.
Grave #50 Davis, Olin
Grave #51 Frank, Robert R.
Grave #52 Miller, Emanuel
Grave #53 Reed, Donald C.
Grave # 54 Bricen , Thomas J Jr.
Grave #55 Voelker, Joseph M.
Tommy along with a few of his fellow crew members remain there still to this day. Several of his crew were repatriated back to the US after the War was over.
Freedom is not free...
The model was built as a part of the "Nose Art" Group Build we recently had. This particular plane is one that I have been wanting to build for quite a long time now. I have been doing research on my Dad's cousin over the past few years, and the 75th anniversary date of his death was approaching. I wanted to get it done for obvious reasons. No time was better than the present. Here's a link ot the actual build in case you are interested...
This is the Revell Monogram kit that has been around for decades. It was originally released back in the late 1970's going from memory. It was built right from the box with the only additions made was a set of after market decals. These decals were made by "Bombshell Decals", and as the name implies, they are the "bomb" ! They worked flawlessly.
On the real planes, they were delivered from the North American factory in a natural bare metal finish. The Olive Drab top coat was quickly applied in the field after the Germans attacked the 321st while on the ground with a group of Ju-88's. The shiny metal finish made a good target... I decided to replicate the bare metal using three shades of Bare Metal Foil.
If things work out, I want to build another one of these. This next B-25 will also be a tribute build to yet another family member. Ironically his name was also Thomas. However he was a pilot and he flew B-25's with the 42nd Bomb Group in the Philippines. He was killed on April 8th, 1945... so I have about 6 months to build the next one.
Comments are encouraged.
Absolutely beautiful build and presentation, Louis...love it ! 🙂
Thank you Craig ! @craigindaytona
Good to hear from you buddy...
Wow, well done Mitchell. I love the pics, and the paint scheme. One you do not see too often. Great angles, and the stance the B-25 has at rest. The best part is the story behind the model itself, especially one that is personal. The research and history is a good read and to learn a bit the life of a gunner. Amazing work on the foil process. Something I just can't bring myself to do. Take the easier way with Metallic paints. (yeah right easy) The glazing work is excellent, Turrets clear, proper and correct for this version. Well presented Louis, bravo!
Thanks Chuck ! @uscusn
I have been wanting to tell Tommy's story for quite some time now. I'm surprised that the landing gear legs haven't broken yet... There's a ton of weight in the nose. As far as a metal finish, I have always liked working with foil. My attempts at spraying a metal finish from a can simply don't turn out as good as I would hope for. You seem to be much better at that than I am. You have some really nice work posted on here.
I had some help with the turret. Initially I thought it was a clear frameless version, like the Martin turret you sometimes see on restored planes. That proved to be incorrect, as this plane had a Bendix turret. Most, if not all of the later J models had framing on the turret, despite what you hear from a few. There was a whole big discussion on this during the build thread. Here's a picture of the real deal...
you can also see the frames in the photo I posted of Tommy... If I were to do any changes to this one, it would be adding the muzzle breaks on the top turret .050 MG's.
Great build Louis, a real tribute! I very much like the quality of finish on the underbelly bare metal. Thanks for posting, my friend!
Thank you very much for the compliments ! I too am very pleased with how the bare metal underside turned out. It was a labor of love for me. Now I have one more to go... for my Dad's other cousin who also was tragically killed during the war... also in a B-25.
I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one. Thanks !
Simply supreme Louis. Just an truly outstanding job here. Well done!
Hello James, @jamesb
I sincerely appreciate the compliments. This means a lot to me, coming from someone like you that has been around some "real" ones a time or two.
Thanks again buddy...
Great article and build Louis!
Thanks Dale ! @dtravis
Glad you liked it...
Louis, I managed to completely miss the WIP behind this model, fortunately you do such a great presentation, not only from the model but essentially from the real machine and the brave men that flew her, that I feel the essential is here.
Great and terrifying story, with a super model. I thought it was the AM kit instead of the older Monogram mould...that’s how good it looks. Now can we count with the PTO model late this year?
Thank you Pedro ! @holzhamer
This is the much older Monogram kit, and to hear about it looking as good as the AM version... that is a very sincere compliment. I definitely appreciate this.
The next B-25 will also be a later "J" model and again I plan on using the old Monogram kit. This one will be painted in the typical OD Green and Neutral Gray. I found a picture of a very similar B-25 that was flown by the 42nd Bomb Group. This B-25 in the foreground happens to be a few serial numbers away from the plane my Dad's other cousin was killed in. Who knows ? The very plane I'm looking for could actually be in this photo... Just behind the one in the foreground.
The next one will look like this one. Again so far I have not found any photos of the actual plane I'm looking for. So close yet so far... I might add the "Crusaders" tail art work on mine however, as some of their planes had it.
The one I'm looking for is B-25J-10 / (or a dash 11 if it had a solid "gun nose"). Serial number 43-36015
Louis. That's some good "STUFF" right there! Excellent all around.
Thanks Gary ! @gwskat
You brought a smile to my face with that one ... Great minds think alike.
Great to see you got her done, Louis! Beautiful model and a fine tribute as well.
Thanks Jaime, @jetmex
I think the Nose Art GB was a wonderful idea that you had... and I'm glad to have been a participant in it. Thanks for coming up with the idea and following through with it. Otherwise I probably would not have built this one, or completed it in time like I wanted to.
Thanks again my friend.
wowie maui that's nice work
Thanks Bob... @p38j
I appreciate the compliment Sir !
A great tribute and fine build! Go Monogram! I'd like to do a Mitchell, maybe a Marine bird, the last one I attempted ended up a disaster, while drilling a hole in the bottom for a inflight stand... well it wasn't pretty.
Thank you Robert. @roofrat
I have always enjoyed building the Monogram kits. They are what I cut my modeling teeth on, (if you toss in a few Revell models along with them).
I have another 1/48 scale B-25 done, and it’s a US Navy version wearing tri color blue / white. Eventually I’ll get it posted on Imodeler.
Maybe you can start another one up soon. If you do I’d like to see the progress along the way. So if you don’t mind, why don’t you do a build journal with it ? That would really be cool. Maybe I’ll do one too for my next B-25.
I think that we all have had bad experiences at some point in a previous build or two. “It” happens. I used to have a T-shirt that had a very similar saying...
Thanks again for the compliments.
🙂 … Greetings … 🙂 :
A very fitting tribute and a super job on this model Louis.
Thanks ! @de4ever
I sincerely appreciate the compliments.
Hey, Brother Louis! @lgardner
Great report and a wonderful tribute to Sgt. Bricen, my friend! I've not seen B-25 in part NMF and olive top coat before. It's a good look and you did the foil work especially well. I really admire the B-25 and especially the men who flew them! Those superb 88s were especially deadly to those medium altitude missions.
I haven't been on iMod much these days, but I had to take the time to read & answer to your report.
Bravo, Brother CDAT!
My Brother from another mother ! @mikegolf
It's good to hear from you... I hope things are going well for you guys. Thank you for the kind words. The 88MM was deadly...whether it was mounted on a tank, or used as a Flak cannon.
I'm happy to hear that you liked the foil work. Take care my fellow CDAT, and I hope to see you on here more often in the future.
Thank you, my BFAM!
Great story and build. You are right, freedom is not free. Many will not agree with me, but it is worth the price. Some gave all, all gave some. Thanks for sharing, and for honoring their memory.
Thanks Gary, @wiley2770
All too often we take for granted the rights we currently have. We tend to forget that someone has paid the ultimate price for the many freedoms that we enjoy today. It is my hope that articles like this will remind others that Freedom is not Free. It is most often paid for in blood. Paid for by brave men and women who were willing to stand up and do what is necessary when it is necessary. Doing what is righteous and occasionally necessary for the overall good of mankind.
Please stay tuned for another future "tribute" build. Again it will be for a family member we lost during the War. He was a B-25 pilot, and flew from Palawan Island in the Philippines. In a similar story, he was lost along with his entire crew.
He was also known as "Tommy"... It must have been a very popular name in our family.
None of the crew was ever recovered.
Freedom is not free. Our family knows this all too well...
A wonderful build and tribute Louis!
Thank you very much !
A great post and tribute. You are the master of bare metal foil, and I (like others) really like the OD over NMF on the B-25. With the Mitchell being one of my fav WWII subjects, I may have to duplicate in 1/72! (finishing up my PBJ now - airbrushing nonetheless! - that'll give me an option to swing right into another 25 build...).
Hey Greg ! @gkittinger
Thanks for the kind words and compliments. Like you, the B-25 is one of my favorites. I have planned on building up another 1/48 Monogram B-25 in the future as a tribute build to another family member who was a B-25 pilot. His name was Thomas Smith and he flew with the 42nd Bomb Group in the Philippines.
None of the crew was recovered. They were all lost when the plane he was flying in plunged into the ocean. The Unit Commander was the pilot in charge. His last name was Smith also, and they were lost on April 8th, 1945. If I decide to go ahead with this tribute build I have a few options. The 100th Bomb Squadron, 42 Bomb Group flew B-25's in Natural Metal finish, and some planes were wearing OD Green over Gray. Unfortunately I have not found any pictures of the plane he was killed in. I have found a few pictures of B-25's from his unit, but none of the plane I wanted to build.
So I might make one up as a generic B-25. Nothing fancy, just a plane Jane B-25 wearing the same tail number / serial number as the plane he was flying in on that day.
I might add the "Crusaders" tail art, as some of the planes had it. This one could end up being a complete bare metal foil build... or it could go the other way. I have yet to decide.
This is the closest thing I can find so far... The top plane with the yellow fin tips. It is serial number 43-36001. The plane I am looking for was 43-36015, and flew with the same unit.
Thanks again !
The model has got the usual perless LG treatment and I echo David Mills in congratulating you on a moving and personal tribute. Paul
Hello Paul ! @white4freak
It’s always great to hear from you, and I sincerely appreciate the compliments. For me this build had a very personal connection for obvious reasons. This was a story that I have been wanting to tell for many years now. I have another B-25 in store for a future tribute build for another family member that we lost in the War who was a B-25 pilot. He flew from the Philippines.
Thank you again.
Thank you so much for this well researched and written story. You have certainly provided us with a compelling tribute to Tommy and his crew. Well done. Top notch build, as well.
Thank you Jim. @angus64
In the very near future I hope that I can get another 1/48 scale B-25J done. This one will also be a tribute built for another family member that we lost in the War. He was a B-25 pilot and he flew from the Philippines with the 100th Bomb Squadron, 42nd Bomb Group.
Ironically his first name was also Tommy ...
I hope that it will turn out as good as this one did. But it will most likely be wearing your more typical OD Green over Gray colors. The 42nd did fly a few planes in an overall natural metal finish though, so that might just be an option too.
Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the plane that he was killed in either. I have done a lot of research into his story, so please stay tuned for another similar article. It will have to be completed by April 8th of 2020... That will be the 75th anniversary of his death. He also perished along with his entire crew.
Congratulations on being able to weave together a tribute to a family member who gave it all for freedom and democracy through modeling and writing a build blog and article. "History that is deserving to be remembered' something that our current society easily forgets with cells phones ,tweets and selfies . At times I think people follow a credo " After me, you come first." ...if you have driven on some American freeways you know. I am prejudice by liking the Monogram B-25 and consider it a classic. It may not be the perfect scale replica however, this kit does capture the heart and soul of what is Americana and was put into this model of the North America's bomber. Two thumbs up.
Hello Stephen, @stephen-w-towel
First off, I want to thank you for the information about the metal frames on the turret. Without your assistance, this build would not be as correct, since I was going to leave the frames clear. Thank you.
Please stay tuned for another family tribute build. Ironically it will also be a B-25J... for another one of my Dad's cousins who was also killed during the War. He served with the 42nd Bomb Group from the Philippines and was a B-25 pilot. His name was 1st LT Thomas V. Smith... I want to have it completed so I can post it on April 8th, 2020. This will be the 75th anniversary of his disappearance into the Sulu Sea.
But that's another story.
Yes those were different times than what we live in today. There was once a thing called courtesy. It went away with the land line telephone... and is obviously only rarely present on today's American freeways. But every once in a while you run across someone who still practices the ancient ways... and it's really nice when you do. Now it's more like "Do unto others, then run !". So much for the Golden Rule.
Granted this old Monogram kit is getting a bit long in the tooth, but it still works. Doing one up is sort of like putting mag wheels on an old beater Toyota woods truck. But it's still fun to do and it looks cool ! For a little while at least...until the landing gear legs snap from all the weight to keep it balanced. Someday this will happen. I'd bet money on it.
I still really enjoy building these old Monogram classics. They rock !
Thanks again ...
Really super model, Louis.
The 321st BG, along with the 340th and 310th of the 57th Bomb Wing not only didn't have assigned aircraft, there weren't assigned crews! Guys flew every mission they could get, trying to get to the magic number of 70 and home.
Thanks Tom. @tcinla
You are absolutely correct. I stumbled across this fact when I was doing my research. I wondered why I rarely saw the same names flying together, and why they never flew in the same planes day after day. I do believe that Tommy tried to fly with a particular pilot whenever it was possible... and they tried to get missions together while flying in the "Blonde Beauty".
Even though the records from this unit are mostly complete, there are some gaps in coverage. I was able to confirm that Tommy flew at least 19 missions in that particular plane... out of his 58. I'll go back and try to get the pilots name that he flew with on many occasions. For some reason the name Harding comes to mind... but I'm not 100 percent for sure about the name. I know that he also flew quite often with this man. His name was Joseph M Voelker and he was the Bombardier. Unfortunately he was also killed in the plane that Tommy went down in...
Another plane that Tommy flew a lot of missions in was named "Cuddle Bunny"
Let me check and I'll get back with you about the pilot's name.
OK here is the answer ... Tommy flew a lot of missions with 2nd LT Hardman, A. F.
I was close...
Well done buddy, nice job as well as an excellent tribute to a fallen family member. You truly are the master of the bare metal foil. My version of Stuff, done several years ago, doesn't look as nice as this one. Excellent work buddy, and a larger base will be coming your way soon.
Thanks Tom ! @tom-bebout
Your version of "Stuff" was one of the inspirations for this build. Once I found out that Tommy actually flew missions in this very plane, I knew that someday I would eventually end up building one...
I'll definitely be building another 1/48 scale Revell B-25J. I have enough decals in the stash to make up the plane I was hoping to, for the next tribute build for 1st LT Thomas Smith.. Now I can park it in style on a fabulous new base... it's perfect for taking photos too.
Thanks again buddy ! I appreciate everything.
Really interesting story. My old man flew Sptfires out of Corsica escorting these guys. This is a great corrective to the idea that the war was a walk in the park by this stage.
Hello Ross, @ross4
Thanks for the compliment on the article.
Your old man must have done his job well... I have read numerous mission reports from the 321st, where they were escorted by Spitfires, (and occasionally P-47's) from Corsica. They only occasionally encountered enemy fighters because of this.
Flak was what they suffered most of their casualties from. It was deadly... and extremely accurate. I would not be surprised if it wasn't radar guided... it was that good. This in turn was bad for the Mitchel crews.
Unfortunately this theater of operations didn't get the media exposure that they did from England. The CBI was another area that suffered from this lack of exposure, and with some exceptions, so did the units that served in the South Pacific.
a wonderful but sad story. the aircraft you have modeled has been superbly rendered.your relative was a true hero and good on you to research his story and bring him to life again for your family and the modeling community and anybody else who happens upon this.
Louis, thank you for the great story/research (and thank you for all comments above). I found your page via serial number B-25C 42-32458. You might like to know that this aircraft features in a 1940s training video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YQmkjpP6q8 - I'm not absolutely certain I read the numbers off the tail correctly (fuzzy!), but you might be interested in what it looked like to land on one engine, etc.