Category Archives: Montana During World War II

The history of Montana during World War II

The return of Miss Montana

After a year of restoration by dozens of volunteers at the Museum of Mountain Flying, “Miss Montana,” a Douglas C-47 built in 1944 s reached Duxford, England on May 28, 2019. Scheduled to participate in “Daks over Normandy” the restored plane will drop paratroopers over France on June 5, 2019. Although currently known as “Miss Montana,” the plane was originally known by its number N24320, and is also known as the Mann Gulch plane.

Nose art on “Miss Montana.” – Kurt Wilson

Piloted by Jeff Whitesell, “Miss Montana” left Missoula on May 19, 2019 with six aboard, bound for England along the Blue Spruce Route through Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland.

Manufactured in 1944, just before the D-Day invasion, N24320 did not participate in World War II, although it did have a long and storied career. The Johnson Flying Service of Missoula, Montana bought the plane and used it to support US Forest Service personnel in Western Montana and Northern Idaho. Responding to a wildfire near Helena, Montana in August 1949, N24320 dropped 15 smokejumpers over Mann Gulch. The fire blew up and 12 of the smokejumpers, as well as a Forest Service smokechaser, were killed, the worst tragedy for smokejumpers up to that time. Five years later the plane crashed into Pennsylvania’s Monongahela River in December 1954, killing the pilot and nine others. The plane was recovered and put back in service the following year by Johnson Flying Service.

N24320 was eventually sold to McNeely Charter Service in Arkansas, but by 2001 McNeely was looking to sell the plane. Dick Komberec, a founder of the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula learned the plane was for sale in 2001, and $125,000 was raised to purchase the plane and return it to Missoula, where it became the centerpiece of the museum.

In early 2018 Eric Komberec (Dick’s son) and Bryan Douglass learned of the Daks over Dakota project to fly vintage C-47s over the D-day invasion area for the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, and agreed that N24320 should participate.

A year of frantic activity took place. First on the agenda was giving the plane an identity. For more than 70 years the plane had been known as either N24320 or simply “the Mann Gulch plane.” A new, more identifiable name was needed to spark the interest of donors and volunteers. As luck would have it, Eric Komberec’s maternal grandfather had flown a B-25 in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and had dubbed it “Miss Montana,” named after his wife Marge Enman.

Mac Enman’s B-25 bomber. The nose art was inspired by Mac’s wife Marge.

Besides a new name, the plane needed a complete overhaul, which does not come cheap. The Museum raised $450,000, and assembled a team of volunteers and mechanics to help. The engines were removed and sent off for rebuilding while the rest of the plane underwent a thorough renovation.

Finally by May 2019 the plane was deemed airworthy as it prepared to fly the “Blue Spruce” route across the North Atlantic to England.

Miss Montana’s Journey to England

  • May 14 7 parachutists dropped near Plains
  • May 19 After a 20-minute test flight at 8:00 am, Miss Montana flew over Mann Gulch on the first leg of it’s multi-day trip to England. It refueled in Miles City, MT and Rapid City, SD.
  • May 20 Miss Montana refueled in Wichita KS
  • May 21 Miss Montana refueled in Oxford Connecticut
  • May 22 Refueling at Maine
  • May 23 Refueling at Goose Bay Newfoundland
  • May 24 refueling at Narsarsuaq, Greenland
  • May 25 refueling at Reykjavik, Iceland
  • May 27 refueling at Prestwick, Scotland
  • May 28, Miss Montana arrives at Duxford, England

“Miss Montana” is scheduled to drop paratroopers over Normandy on June 5. Stay tuned for more updates.

Learn more about Montana During World War II

Montana's Home Front World War II
Montana’s Home Front During World War II, 2nd ed.

Wreck of the USS Helena found 75 years later

The light cruiser USS Helena, named after Montana’s capital city, was sunk during the Battle of Kula Gulf in the Solomon Islands during the night of July 6, 1943 as it fired on several Japanese ships. The Helena, illuminated by the constant muzzle flashes of its’ guns, was an easy target, and was soon struck by three Japanese torpedoes, which  broke the back of the ship. It sank in 860 meters of water. On March 23, 2018, nearly 75 years after the USS Helena was sunk, Microsoft founder Paul Allen announced that his R/V Petrel team had located the wreckage.

The wreck of the USS Helena with the bow number 50 clearly visible.

USS Helena CL-50
USS Helena – CL-50
• Commissioned – Sept. 18, 1939
• Propulsion – 8 steam turbines, 4 screws
• Speed – 32 knots
• Displacement – 13,000 tons (loaded)
• Length – 608 feet
• Complement – 888 men in peacetime, 1,200 wartime
• Aircraft – 4 Curtiss SOC-2 Seagulls
• Sensors – radar
• Armament
– 15 – 6-inch/47 guns (5 – triple mounts)
– 8 – 5-inch/38 guns (4 – twin-mounts)
– 8 – .50 caliber antiaircraft guns

The Helena was badly damaged during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was towed to Mare Island California, where it underwent extensive repairs, including installation of a state-of-the-art radar. While it underwent repairs, the ship’s crew honed their gunnery skills. After the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Helena  was sent to the Solomon Islands, where it participated in two major sea battles, the Battle of Cape Esperance and the Battle of Guadalcanal during the fall of 1942. The new radar and the gunnery skills of the crew made the Helena a fearsome adversary, and the Japanese Navy was fooled into believing that the Americans had developed fully automatic naval guns.

Read more about the USS Helena here.

USS Helena survivors
USS Helena survivors after being rescued in the aftermath of the Battle of Kula Gulf.


USS Helena memorial
The USS Helena monument in Helena, Montana

Read more about the USS Helena here.

Montana's Home Front During World War II
Montana’s Home Front During WW II

Montana’s Home Front During World War II




Montana eagle insignia: Mystery item of the week

I was recently contacted by a Dutch tourist whose son found this item on Omaha Beach in Normandy. If anyone has seen something similar or can positively identify this, please add a comment. I told the person who sent it to me that I would let them know if anyone can identify what it is.

Montana Eagle
This item was found on Omaha Beach by a Dutch tourist in 2017