(Smith County Insider Press) New Middleton, Tennessee — Three Smith County men have worked together to uncover a piece of hidden history in New Middleton, Tennessee.

According to legend, a plane crash occurred in the New Middleton community during World War II Maneauvers in the 1940’s, but through the decades, no such crash has ever been discovered.

Until now.

Charles McKinney and David Landreath have been neighbors in New Middleton for many years.  Recently, they discovered the plane crash legend they have heard about their entire lives is actually true.

McKinney and Landreth were working together on a fence that had fallen one November afternoon when the topic of the plane crash came up in their conversation.  McKinney asked Landreth if he had ever heard the story about a plane crashing in the area during WWII.  Landreth knew exactly what he was talking about because his late great-grandfather had told him the story many times, and he had even showed him close to where the crash site was believed to have been.

Landreth’s great-grandfather, Neal Baird, owned the property at the time of the crash.

When McKinney found out Landreth possibly knew the location where the plane had crashed, the hunt was on.  McKinney contacted his friend from Gordonsville and owner of Cornerstone Cafe, Keith Sciara, to help assist them in finding the crashed plane with his metal detector.

After a few days of metal detecting and online research, Sciara and McKinney were able to find the crash site.

The legend was no more.

They dug the site for several days and found hundreds of pieces of what used to be an airplane.  They even found one of three props from the plane completely intact.  David Landreth, the current owner of the property, plans to donate a portion of the findings to the Smith County Heritage Museum.

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The hunt was not over yet.  Just because the plane crash site had been found, they wanted to know more.  They began to research how the plane had crashed, who the pilot was, when it happened, how it happened, etc.

After much exhausting research, they discovered just about everything there is to know about the crash.

The plane was identified as a Bell P-39 Airacobra Fighter plane.  The Bell P-39 was one of the principal American fighter aircraft in service when the United States entered World War II.  The P-39 was an all-metal, low-wing, single-engine fighter, with a tricycle undercarriage and an Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled V-12 engine mounted in the central fuselage, directly behind the cockpit.

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The pilot was identified as 2nd Lieutenant Roy Corwin Davidson, 23, of Boise, Idaho.  Davidson was flying a Bell P-39 Airacobra Fighter plane.  During the Tennessee Maneuvers, the military was split into two forces: the Red Army and Blue Army.  Davidson was flying for the Red Army.

The morning of the crash, May 5, 1943, Davidson took off from a military airfield in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to fly a visual reconnaissance mission for the Red Army of the Tennessee Maneuvers.

While Davidson was flying over Old Middleton, he observed four A-24s flying in formation.  According to a statement in the crash report, he engaged the last of the four A-24s in a dog fight.  According to a statement given by the pilot of the A-24, he stated that he was engaged by a P-39 with enemy markings.

In the statement of the A-24 pilot, he stated “I was flying from the target to the rally point when I first saw the P-39 coming toward me. Having flown past the three A-24s in front of me, the P-39 was passing on my left when it started to turn into me, and I started a turn in the same direction. The P-39 pilot continued to tighten the turn and I kept my circle inside of the P-39. After about 1-1/2 or 2 turns, the P-39 did a violent snap and dove under me. When I was clear to see under me, the plane was burning on the ground.

The four A-24 planes were flying a fake bombing mission on a railroad bridge a half mile southeast of Gordonsville. Approximately two minutes after they completed their mission, they were engaged by Davidson in Old Middleton around 7:10 a.m.  The A-24s were headed back to their base in Lebanon, Tennessee.

Another statement was given by an eyewitness on the ground that conflicted with the statement given by the pilot of the A-24.  The following is a portion of the statement given by the eyewitness on the ground:

“The P-39 was flying at fairly low altitude when three blue A-24s came over. One of the A-24s peeled off of the formation and started chasing the P-39 in a dog fight. They had circled several times in very short turns. The P-39 appeared to bank very sharp and dive with the power on. At this time it was at fairly low altitude, probably less than 500ft. The Red P-39 did not pull out of the dive and crashed almost head-on.”

Roy Corwin Davidson was killed upon impact into the ground with the plane immediately bursting into flames.  Davidson’s body was removed from the scene and transported to Cookeville, Tennessee.

Click HERE to see a copy of Davidson’s Death Certificate.

The day Davidson crashed, his wife, Barbara Qualls Davidson, was in Chattanooga at the airfield visiting him.  She was believed to have been pregnant at the time.  They were married on May 21, 1942 — less than one year before the crash.  Their wedding day was the same day Roy graduated from army flying school.

Barbara Qualls Davidson died six years later at age 28 in California.

The crash site is in present day New Middleton, Tennessee, across the road from New Middleton School.

Included in the crash report were actual photos of the crash site the day of the crash. See photos below.

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Lt. Roy Corwin Davidson’s Obituary:

Services for Lt. R. Corwin (Corky) Davidson of Boise, who was killed in a plane crash last Wednesday near Chattanooga, Tenn., will be conducted Monday at 2:30 pm at St. Michael’s cathedral. Bishop Frank A. Rhea will be in charge and James L. Strachan will be the organist. Pall bearers will be Gowen Field Lieutenants and burial will be at Cloverdale Memorial Park, where taps will be sounded at brief graveside services. Arrangements are being made by Summers. Lt. Davidson was born July 13, 1919 at Burley, where he attended grade school. In 1934 the family moved to Boise and in 1938 he graduated from Boise High School. He was a member of the DeMolay organization. He attended the University of Idaho for three years, where he studied business economics and was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. In May of 1941 he was enlisted in the army and was stationed at Santa Maria and Fresno, Calif. He was graduated from flying school in Phoenix, Ariz., in May 1942, and the same day was married to Miss Barbara Qualls of Boise. His wife was in Chattanooga at the time of the accident Wednesday. Lt. Davidson was flying a pursuit ship on Army Maneuvers at the time of the crash. Survivors include his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Davidson of Boise; a sister, Mrs. Fred Lollge, who has come from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and two aunts, Mrs. Claudia Hendricks of Rexburg and Mrs. L. G. Hoffland of Los Angeles. 

WWII Maneuvers in Smith County

The Army chose Middle Tennessee because the terrain resembled Western Europe and the Cumberland River was similar to the Rhine River in Germany.  General George Patton, responsible for finding a suitable location for the war games, was familiar with Middle Tennessee because his grandmother lived in Watertown in Wilson County.  From the opening phase of the Maneuvers in June 1941 until the training was suspended in March 1944, around 850,000 combat and support troops, including armor, infantry, artillery, engineers, airborne infantry, and others participated in the Maneuvers.  With them came tanks, jeeps, halftracks, trucks, artillery, pontoon bridges, planes, and all the other equipment that an army needs.  The Tennessee Maneuvers were under the authority of the 2nd Army of the United States.

Smith County was one of 21 Tennessee counties that were affected by the Tennessee Maneuvers.

 

The Tennessee Maneuvers resulted in the deaths of 268 soldiers and 10 civilians.  Nine died in plane crashes during the Maneuvers (this does not count several deaths from crashes of planes involved in regular training in Tennessee).

 

Sam Perkins, who lived in Smith County during the war, remembered that soldiers often lost personal gear at encampments.  Whenever soldiers moved out and abandoned their bivouacs during the Maneuvers, the local children would scour the area finding belts, canteens, and first aid packs.  Perkins also remembered that a large group of soldiers camped on his father’s farm in New Middleton during the Maneuvers.  The Army set up seven field kitchens in the feed lot around their house, and the family traded eggs and fresh vegetables to the soldiers in exchange for sugar, coffee, apple butter, and orange marmalade.  One soldier gave Perkins an old Royal brand typewriter and some books that the soldier was tired of carrying.

Another Smith County resident, whose farm still bears the scars of tank treads, said that one night the soldiers set up a projector in camp, and he watched Last of the Mohicans with the soldiers.

Several Carthage tobacco warehouses were used as supply depots. USO clubs were organized in communities all over the county, and the churches and citizens made the soldiers feel welcome.

 

During the Tennessee Maneuvers, the 2nd Army was stationed in several “bivouacs” or short term encampments in the Smith County area.  Here is a list of locations of all bivouacs in Smith County during the Tennessee Maneuvers:

  • Hiwassee Road
  • Jack Apple Church, Enigma
  • Ditty Hollow Road
  • Monoville
  • Nixon Hollow
  • Old Middleton
  • Thomas Farm, New Middleton
  • Smith Farm, New Middleton
  • South of Hickman
  • Thomas Farm, Hickman (also used as an Airfield)
  • Stonewall
  • Northwest of Bluff Creek
  • South of Bluff Creek, Gibbs Farm
  • South of Bluff Creek, Wooten Farm
  • Kempville
  • Gualtney Farm

The photo below shows an encampment with rows of tents in Old Middleton (present day New Middleton). That area has remained relatively unchanged when compared to a photo taken in 2005 of the same area.

Photo courtesy of the Smith County History Book

Article By: Smith County Insider – ©Smith County Insider – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sources:

  • Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Division of Archaeology Report of Investigations No. 13
  • Smith County History Book

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