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Today, November 2nd, is the 68th Anniversary of three P-40 Warhawks of the 57th Pursuit Group crashing in Marin County.

The US Army Air Forces 57th Pursuit Group was based at Windsor Lock (Bradley) Field, CT. The 57th flew P-40 Warhawks, the aircraft made famous by the American Volunteer Group (The Flying Tigers) in China. The 57th started an ill-fated cross country training mission on October 18th with 25 P-40s. By the time they reached March Field in southern California only 21 aircraft remained airworthy. On October 24th a flight of 19 P-40s left March Field for McClellan Field near Sacramento. They encountered poor weather over the Sierra that day and only 5 P-40s safely made it to McClellan. Nine aircraft made forced landings across central California and western Nevada. The remaining 5 aircraft crashed and 2 pilots were killed.

On November 2nd 1941, history repeated for the 57th Pursuit Group. That day with only 13 aircraft remaining airworthy the 57th took off from Medford, OR on a flight to Fresno. Once again they encountered poor weather and six of the 13 P-40s became lost. Three of the Warhawks ended up over Marin after the element leader, Lt. Thomas “Bud” L. Truax, lost sight of the flight while he switched fuel tanks over the Central Valley.

The other two pilots were Lt. Walter Radovich and Lt. Russell E. Speckman. They were unaware they were only a few miles from safety at Hamilton Field. They flew low over San Rafael and the Ross Valley. One witness remembered hearing roar of the P-40s flying below his hillside house in Kentfield!

Sensing the danger, Lt. Radovich separated from the others. He flew north passing the Marin County Courthouse in downtown San Rafael, clipped a tree and climbed to a safer elevation. After climbing to 2500 feet, Lt. Radovich decided to bailout. At the time, he was over the Lucas Valley area. Lt. Radovich broke his left leg when he struck the horizontal stabilizer on exiting his plane. After landing, he crawled for two hours before reaching Lucas Valley Road where he was rescued. He was taken to the hospital at Hamilton Field. It took Lt. Radovich seven months to recover from his injuries and return to flight status.

The other two P-40s flew so low that residents of San Rafael and San Anselmo feared they would crash in town. The witness mentioned earlier recalled hearing two thumps and immediately the roar of the P-40s stopped. The thumps were the Warhawks crashing near the top of Bald Hill at 5:35 PM. They hit about 30 feet apart. Both Lt. Speckman and Lt. Truax were killed instantly.

After the death of four pilots and the loss of eight aircraft, there was a great deal public uproar. One newspaper editor asked: “Why ask air corps pilots to risk their lives to prepare to defend their country, and fail to take every precaution to see that they are not killed before they have a chance to defend it? “After all the nation wasn’t at war!” A little more then a month later on December 7th, 1941, the United States was at war.

In the hours and days after the crash on Baldy many Ross Valley residents visited the crash site. The witness who lived in Kentfield visited the site the day after the crash and found the fuel tank selector switch and land gear instructional plate from the cockpit of one of the P-40s. Was it the switch Lt. Truax used when he lost sight of the remainder of the flight? The witness donated these items to MMWD’s historical archives early this year. Also with his help and a recently discovered 1946 aerial photo the actual crash site was rediscovered in July of this year just off the Mount Tamalpais Watershed on Bald Hill.

After the investigation what was left of the 57th Pursuit Group returned to Windsor Locks Field, CT. In 1942 the 57th Pursuit Group was redesignated the 57th Fighter Group. The 57th served with distinction in North Africa and Italy flying P-40s and later P-47 Thunderbolts. Lt. Speckman was buried in Ottawa, IL. Lt. Truax was survived by his wife Iona and was buried in his hometown of Madison, WS. The Army Air Field at Madison was renamed Truax Field in Lt. Truax’s honor and is still active as Madison’s Regional Airport and Air National Guard Base. Lt. Radovich recovered from his injuries and eventually reached the rank of Major. Major Radovich was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, British Distinguished Flying Cross, the American Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Invasion Arrow, and two campaign stars. After the war he returned to California, married and had 5 children. He passed away in 2006.


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There is a good 2 part article in the magazine Air Classics(July and August '09) about this incident. Written by Ralph Baxter and Norm Zareski, it concludes that "poor training, lack of preparation and incompetent command would lead to the near destruction of the 57th Pursuit Group". Great article and a great magazine.

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The commander of this flight (Nov 2, 1941) and the flight where five airplanes were lost with two deaths (Oct 24, 1941), Major Clayton Hughes, turns up later on the Accident Reports--as an airplane crash investigator in the Pacific Theater.  And he was a Colonel on the report.  I figured they would have busted him and sent him home after the two bad incidents in California, but he was retained until at least May 1943, when I found him investigating a B-24 accident.  The Air Classics articles are good; these two multi crash incidents are summarized in detail in my book. 


Anthony J. Mireles
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