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.