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Frank Furiga, Mid-Air Collision Witness

On September 28, 1944, on the 384th Bomb Group’s mission to Magdeburg, Germany, the B-17’s of the Buslee and Brodie crews collided coming off the target. I have written extensively about that day – my father, George Edwin Farrar, was the sole survivor of the Buslee crew.

I have reported eye witness accounts of the collision as told by 384th Bomb Group pilot Wallace Storey and ball turret gunner Robert Mitchell. Today, just a day past the seventy-seventh anniversary of the collision, I have a new eye witness account to report, this one from fellow 384th NexGen member Paul Furiga, as recorded by his father, 384th bombardier Frank Furiga.

First, let me explain how Frank Furiga had such a bird’s eye view of the collision. Frank was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group at the same time as my father. Frank was a bombardier on the Bert Brown crew and my dad was a waist gunner on the John Buslee crew.

At the time they entered combat duty, only the bombardiers aboard the lead aircraft in the formation actually determined the point at which the group would drop their bombs on the target. The remainder of the bombardiers didn’t do much else besides toggle or flip a switch to send their bombs away as soon as they saw the bombardier in the lead aircraft release his.

Considering the duration and intensity of their stateside training prior to entering combat and their status as officers, this practice was not very fulfilling for the group’s trained bombardiers. In fact, many bombardiers were replaced with an enlisted man, a gunner, who was called a togglier. Many of the trained bombardiers were reassigned from their original crews upon entering combat and many of these trained bombardiers retrained to become navigators.

Frank Furiga was one of these men. He flew his first ten missions as bombardier, first with the pilot of his original crew, Bert Brown, until Brown was wounded on September 5, 1944, then a couple of missions with pilot Russell Cornair.

Following those missions, Frank Furiga and the entire Brown crew had a break from combat with a week’s flak leave to the city of Southport on the west coast of England sometime between September 10 to 21, 1944. Frank reported in his diaries and stories that they were lodged in a lovely large hotel run by the Red Cross for about seven days.

A page from Frank Furiga’s scrapbook, the Bert Brown crew at Southport, photos taken during flak leave.
Photo courtesy of Paul Furiga.

After returning to duty from flak leave, Frank Furiga wrote,

When we got back to the 547th Squadron, I was contacted by Captain [Maurice Arthur] Booska, one of the staff officers. He told me that there was a need for a Flight Control Officer [FCO]. This position necessitated the crew member to ride in the Tail Gun position of the Lead Plane. A clip board was supplied with all of the planes diagramed on sheets. The job was to act as a “seeing eye dog” for the Lead Pilot and report anything important and unusual happening with the planes flying behind.

In view of the fact that I was just tripping switches on my missions now, I accepted. My very first mission as FCO was to Mainz (Sept 21), followed by Frankurt (Sept 25), and then Osnabruck (Sept 26). This [Sept 26] was my thirteenth mission. Yes, there was flak about and enemy planes especially the German jet fighters.

On the mission on which the Buslee crew’s and Brodie crew’s B-17’s collided, Frank wrote,

On September 28th, we went to Magdeburg, Germany, an industrial city. Coming off the target after bomb drop, I was horrified to see the plane of our very good friends, John Buslee and David Albrecht collide with the Brodie-Vevle plane and they immediately went into death spirals and I could see no parachutes.

It was a bad evening for the Bert Brown crew. I still lived in the same barracks even though I was no longer on the Brown crew.

Frank also recounted the incident in an audio recording which his son Paul transcribed. It began,

On the 28th of September, we were bombing an antiaircraft factory at Magdeburg, Germany. I had been released from my original crew now and was flying as a mission tail observer, with the lead plane of the 547th Squadron. The 546th Squadron was flying higher and behind us and to the right. [Correction: the High Group consisted of crews of the 544th Squadron, like the Buslee crew, and 545th Squadron, like the Brodie crew, rather than crews of the 546th Squadron].

As diagramed In the formation chart, Frank Furiga was an observer in the tail of Capt. Booska’s B-17 43-38542 leading the Low Group.

September 28, 1944 Low Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

The Buslee (B-17 43‑37822) and Brodie (B-17 42‑31222) crews were positioned in the High Group and as reported by Frank Furiga, “flying higher and behind us and to the right.”

September 28, 1944 High Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

Frank Furiga continued,

The flak was accurate and heavy. I narrowly missed getting hit myself when a flak burst disintegrated the entire windscreen in my tail position, and a floor around me was littered with fragments.

As we dropped our bombs and made a tight right turn off the target, I saw a Fortress suddenly slacking its speed and then drop like a rock and smash into the plane of Lieutenant Buslee. The entwined fortresses went into a dance of death.

And as they plummeted downward, separated turrets, engines and shared wings were tossed aside. There are no signs of opening parachutes. Our hearts were saddened when we landed at Grafton Underwood.

The group debriefing showed that no one had observed chutes opening. This hurt for a long, long time. And the barracks were really quiet that night.

Frank Furiga flew nine missions as a tail observer and then retrained as a navigator. He served the remainder of his missions as a navigator and I’ll be telling you more about his service and interactions with both Buslee and Brodie crew members in future posts.

Seventy-seven years after the mid-air collision of September 28, 1944, over fifty years since I listened to my dad first tell the story, and ten years after I started researching the accident, I am still finding new information about that day. On this day, I thank Paul Furiga for sharing new detail through his dad’s stories and Frank Furiga for recording them.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021