Category Archives: Montana History

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.

March 1945 in Montana

March 1 – All taverns, nightclubs, and places of entertainment were ordered to close at midnight to save energy.

March 5 – Temperatures in Lewistown fell to minus 34 degrees, the coldest place in the nation.

March 10 – The 163rd Infantry Regiment (formed from the Montana National Guard) landed on the Zamboanga peninsula of Mindanao, Philippines.

March 18 – Memorial services were held at Browning for five Blackfeet tribal members killed in the war.

March 22 – The Pacific Car and Foundry Co. in Billings was honored with an “E” award celebration for war production.

March 26 – A “war-weary” veteran pilot from the Great Falls Army Air Base was arrested after repeatedly buzzing Great Falls at 2 a.m.

February 1945 in Montana

April 1945 in Montana (coming soon)

Montana History Calendar 1942

Montana History Calendar 1941

Montana History Calendar 1930s

Read more about March 1945 in Montana and the history of the state during World War II.

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


What others think of Montana’s Home Front During World War II

 “a wealth of new information
and many never-before-seen photographs of
Montana during the 1940s. The result is a very
comprehensive, fascinating account of how the
state’s population coped with the tragedy of a worldwide military conflict.” – Judith Shafter – State of the Arts

“you’ve got to see it for yourself but any history or travel enthusiast will be very pleased with the wealth of information in this book.” – Greg Wortman, Billings Examiner

“excellent for the wealth of Montana history contained within. A fascinating snapshot of civilian life during the war” – ebay member burnafterreading



Prisoners of War in Montana

Today’s Missoulian carried an article by Perry Backus of the Ravalli Republic on two Bitterroot Valley residents who are compiling information on the German prisoners of war (POWs) who worked on local farms in Montana during the summers of 1944 and 1945.

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

Finding enough labor to work the sugar beet fields was a recurring nightmare for farmers, sugar companies, and government officials during World War II. At first community volunteers from young to old, augmented by high school and college students, worked to bring in the critical harvest of sugar beets. Later, thousands of Mexican workers were brought to Montana each summer, as well as a few hundred Jamaicans, but the state faced a continual shortage of farm labor throughout the war years. Farmers were relieved during the spring of 1944 when the Federal government announced that as many as 7,000 German prisoners of war would be sent to Montana (actual numbers were probably lower).

Some of the prisoners of war in Montana wound up at the farm owned by Homer and Betty Bailey in the Bitterroot, and their daughter Mary Lyn has been compiling information about the little-known prisoner of war camps. You can read the Ravalli Republic article here. Mary has received numerous responses to the article and is interested in hearing from anyone who has memories or knowledge of the German prisoner of war camps.

Typically, temporary camps for the prisoners were built at sugar beet refineries and on local farms. Many of the camps were built for 250 prisoners, with two American officers and 30 enlisted men to guard them. Usually these were tent camps, surrounded by barbed wire fences with guard towers and searchlights. The farmers and sugar beet companies were responsible for constructing the camps. Many of the Germans had served with the Afrika Corps in North Africa before being captured. They received a voucher for 80 cents per day that could be used to purchase personal items. They could work no more than eight hours per day, excluding breaks, meals, and transportation, and were accompanied everywhere by armed guards. Local residents were not supposed to speak to the prisoners. Wheat farmers also used prisoners, and when the 1945 beet harvest was complete, 250 Germans were sent to the Bitterroot to pick apples. A small number of Italian prisoners worked near Billings, and both Italian and Japanese detainees at Fort Missoula also helped with the sugar and apple harvest. Marvin Costello of Stevensville, 14 years old at the time, remembered “The prisoners all seemed so young, not much older than me…They acted like they were all pleased to be safe as POWs after what they had probably been exposed to in the war.”

Mary Lyn would like to organize a gathering to bring together those who remember the Germans prisoners. She can be contacted at 406-360-6279 or You can also leave a comment here.

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