Masters of the Air: Lowell Connection

Yesterday I posted a review of the Apple TV series, “Masters of the Air” a drama about US Army Air Force aviators flying B-17 heavy bombers over occupied Europe during World War II.

Many men from Lowell served in the USAAF during the war and endured experiences much like those depicted in “Masters of the Air.” Some of them did not survive the war. Here are several stories of Lowell residents who were killed in action while flying.

Costas A. Ivos was born in Lowell on November 22, 1924, the son of Anthony and Garifelea Ivos. Costas graduated from Lowell High School and was a captain in the “Lowell High Regiment” which was a predecessor to today’s JROTC program. Costas entered the US Army Air Force in the fall of 1943. He was assigned to aerial gunnery school at Yuma, Arizona, and after training was assigned to a squadron of B-17 bombers as a radio operator/gunner. On March 15, 1945, Ivos’s aircraft, nicknamed “TNT Katie” was hit by German antiaircraft fire while on a bombing mission to Oranienburg, Germany. With the plane going down, the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Three made it safely to the ground and became prisoners of war, but the remainder of the crew, including Costas Ivos, died in the aircraft. After the war, the city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Worthen and Broadway streets Costas Ivos Square.

Wallace E. MacRitchie was born in Lowell in 1924. He was the son of Mrs. Violet MacRitchie of 31 Chelmsford Street, Lowell. Wallace entered the US Army Airforce and was assigned as a gunner to a medium bomber operating from the island of Corsica on bombing missions over Italy. On one such mission on July 12, 1944, MacRitchie’s aircraft experienced engine trouble and one of the plane’s two engines stopped running. The pilot continued on to the target and dropped the plane’s bombs, however, the remaining engine began malfunctioning. Expecting the plane to go down sooner rather than later, the pilot flew directly to the coast so he could land the plane in the water with the hope of being rescued. As the plane continued on, the pilot ordered the crew to throw overboard all unnecessary items. Once over water, the remaining engine failed and the pilot landed the plane in the water. The crew deployed a life raft but two members of the five-man crew were missing. The other three made a quick search of the rapidly sinking plane but the two crew members who were stationed in the rear of the plane, one of whom was MacRitchie, were not there. The pilot concluded that the two had misunderstood his order to eject unnecessary items and thought he ordered them to bail out. Consequently, the two bailed out of the plane over the ocean but since no one knew they had done that or when, they had no idea of where it had happened so were unable to direct a search and rescue mission to their location. The three crewmembers who made it into a life raft were soon rescued by an U.S. amphibious aircraft. The two who were lost, MacRitchie and Harold Winjum, were declared missing in action. They are memorialized at the Florence (Italy) Cemetery and Memorial. In 1947, the city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Westford and Grand Streets Wallace MacRitchie Square.

Paul E. McErlane was born in Lowell on May 3, 1923. He attended the Bartleet School and Lowell High School, graduating in the class of 1940. He was best known as a golf caddy who won the city’s “caddy championship” in 1940. Paul enlisted in the US Army Air Force and was assigned to the 333rd Heavy Bomber Squadron as a gunner on a B-17 operating from England. On a mission over the Netherlands on April 9, 1944, McErlane’s aircraft was struck by antiaircraft fire as it dropped its bombs over the target. Crew of other aircraft saw the McErlane’s plane spiral down and crash into the sea, exploding on impact. All aboard were deemed to be killed in the crash. Seven months later, Paul’s brother, Peter McErlane was killed in action in ground combat in France while serving as a First Sergeant in the United States Army. In 1947, the city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Mammoth Road and Fourth Ave McErlane Square in honor of Paul and Peter McErlane.

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