NORTH AMERICAN B-25J MITCHELL
Serial Number 44-28932 - "Tondelayo"
The Collings Foundation B-25 Mitchell was built at the North American Aviation
factory in Kansas City, KS as s/n 44-28932 and was accepted by the United
States Army Air Corps. on August 3, 1944. Instead of heading for combat,
44-28932 served in the United States as part of the AAF Flying Training command
for the remainder of the war. Her training duties continued after the war at
over twelve different bases in the US until January of 1959 when 44-28932 was
dropped from USAF inventory as surplus. Over the next twenty-five years, B-25
44-28932 flew as a civilian-operated forest-fire fighting aircraft in the
In 1984 the B-25J 44-28932 was acquired, making it the first World War II
bomber aircraft to be brought into the collection. Over the following two
years the aircraft was restored by Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft.
Post-restoration, it was operated by the Collings Foundation in the Boston area
over the next ten years flying to airshows and events staffed by a volunteer
crew of enthusiasts and veterans. In 1994 the B-25 was flown to Houston, TX to
join the volunteer group and aircraft composing Collings Foundation West based
at Houston Hobby Airport.
In a move to preserve the aircraft and refresh it from its years of operation
the Collings Foundation took the B-25 to Chino, CA for overhaul by B-25
restoration expert Carl Scholl of Aero Trader, Inc. in late 2001. After work
was completed, the B-25 was flown to Midland, TX to be repainted by AVSource
West as "Tondelayo," a famous B-25 that flew in the "Air Apaches," 345th BG,
500th BS of the 5th Air Force in the Pacific Theater against targets in New
"Tondelayo" was the name originally given to the B-25 by the crew of Lieutenant
Ralph Wallace inspired by Hedy Lamarr's character in the 1942 movie "White
Cargo." The story of "Tondelayo" during its mission on October 18th, 1943 is
one of the finest examples of tenacity, bravery, and endurance by any bomber
crew during World War II. That day, the 500th BS was the fourth squadron of
the 345th BG to attack shipping in Vunapope near Rabaul. Captain Lyle Anacker
flying B-25 "Snafu" lead the flight with Lt. Wallace in "Tondelayo" and Lt.
Harlan Peterson in "Sorry Satchul" in the formation. Strafing low-level and
claiming three ships in their wake, the attack was a success until the flight
was jumped by avenging fighters waiting for them. Lt. Peterson's aircraft was
hit in the left engine and was forced to ditch immediately. "Tondelayo" was
hit in the right engine and was shut down and feathered as it was nearly torn
from the wing by the vibration.
Anacker and Wallace closed into tight formation as they headed for home. Over
Cape Gazelle an estimated forty to fifty Japanese fighters dove upon the flight
of the two B-25s. For over seventy-five minutes the fighters attacked as
Captain Anacker Lt. Wallace and the crew of "Tondelayo" fought for their lives.
During the gunfight, the top turret of "Tondelayo" ran out of ammunition and
two of the crew balanced the work of passing gun belts from the nose to the top
turret while manning their waist gun positions, handling the radio, and taking
turns clamping their hands around a severed gas line to preserve the fuel
that would tak them home. Anacker's aircraft flying with "Tondelayo" became
so badly damaged that he was forced to head for shore and ditch the aircraft.
Alone in the battle now, "Tondelayo" pressed on, flying only thirty feet above
the water while facing desperate attacks by the Japanese fighters, at least
four of which crashed into the water furiously trying to bring "Tondelayo"
down. After five fighters had been shot down by Sgt. John Murphy in the top
turret and the rest turned back, "Tondelayo" limped into the base at Kiriwina
for landing. The crew's amazing effort led to the award of the Silver Star.
After receiving a new right wing, engine, radio equipment, propeller blade, and
scores of patches, "Tondelayo" flew again.