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US Navy Task Force
Frederick 'Fred' C. Eaton, Jr., 0395142 (survived)
Co-Pilot Captain Henry M. "Hotfoot" Harlow, 0398714 (survived)
Navigator 1st Lt. George B. Munroe, Jr., 0412187 (survived)
Bombardier Sgt Richard E. Oliver, 6578837 (survived)
Engineer T/Sgt. Clarence A. LeMieux, 6558901 (survived)
Radio/Gunner Sgt . Howard A. Sorensen, 6581180 (survived)
Waist Gunner Sgt William E. Schwartz, 6913702 (survived)
Waist Gunner T/Sgt Russell Crawford, 6851455 (survived)
Tail Gunner SSgt. John V. Hall, 6710161 (survived)
Force Landed February 23, 1942
On February 11, 1942 departed Hawaii on a ferry flight across the Pacific bound for Australia as part of "A flight" led by Major Richard H. Carmichael. The flight departed Hickam Field and first flew to Christmas Airfield. The next day, they flew eight hours to Canton Airfield, then landed at Nandi Airfield on Fiji and were delayed one day while the loyalties of the Vichy French in New Caledonia were ascertained. Once considered safe, they transited through Plaine Des Gaiacs Airfield, and flew to Australia, arriving at Garbutt Field on February 20, 1942.
Garbutt was considered an easy target for Japanese bombers, so this B-17 was dispersed to Cloncurry Airfield. In Australia, this B-17 joined the 19th Bombardment Group. The next day, recalled to Garbutt Field to participate in the U. S. Army Air Force's first bombing mission mission in the South Pacific. This would be this bomber's first and only combat mission.
Over the target, Eaton had to make a second pass, due to a mechanical problem with the bomb bay, but finally dropped onto a freighter of 10,000 tons. Reportedly, on the second bomb run, an anti-aircraft shell that passed through the right wing without exploding, creating a visible hole. Results of the bombing were hard to observe due to clouds.
Off the target, this B-17 was intercepted by fighters over Rabaul, and maneuvered to escape them. The tail gunner claimed one Zero, shot down at 24,000 feet after firing burst of 400 rounds from a range of 200-300 yards. Waist gunner Crawford, claimed two more. In fact, none of the intercepting Japanese fighters were lost or damaged. The B-17's tail section was hit by Japanese 7.7mm machine gun and 20mm cannon fire.
After the battle, this B-17 reached the north coast of New Guinea, before running short on fuel. Spotting an open field, Eaton successfully force landed wheels up. From the air, he thought it was dry ground, but actually it was a swamp covered with kunai grass. As the bomber touched down, it turned slightly, pointing the nose of the bomber to the southeast at a heading of 183 degrees.
Fate of the Crew
Lost, the crew pushed ahead for days and at one point suffering from heat exhaustion and fatigue they considered splitting up, but decided to stay together. Finally, they spotted a native and were taken to his village where they were fed and spent the night.
After the crash, Australian Resident Magistrate, Alan Champion at Buna had been told a B-17 went down in his area and was told to search for the crew. Departed from Gona in a mission launch, he searched the area near Oro Bay and the Musa River. Unable to find them, he called into a village and found the crew in their care. The crew of nine were too numerous for his boat and required him to borrow a canoe from the village, to tow everyone back to Buna.
At Buna, the crew waited for two weeks until MV Matoma arrived and transported them from Oro Bay bound for Port Moresby. During their journey, the vessel called into Samari Island and Abau Island before reaching Fairfax Harbor off Port Moresby on April 1, 1942. In total, it was thirty-six days since their crash landing. Afterwards, the crew was send to Australia and recovered in the hospital, then returned to flying duty.
During 1972, the bomber was rediscovered during an RAAF helicopter exercise. The B-17 was found to be in remarkable condition and fully intact. Aboard all the interior equipment was prewar U. S. Army Air Corps issue. Even the belted .50 caliber ammunition was manufactured in 1933, 1935 and some during 1938. Airframe corrosion was negligible and no damage aside from bent propellers from the crash landing, and some broken perspex glass.
On October 22, 1974 Charles Darby visited the bomber by helicopter. Photographs from his visit were the first publish in his book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks. His photos show the radios, compass and flight yokes still in place.
After rediscovery, visitors to the wreck removed the instruments, guns and ammunition. The machine guns were removed by Australians during the 1972 visit. One 50 cal machine gun was later donated to the PNG Museum where it was displayed until 2006.
"Swamp Ghost" nickname and International Icon
Salvage Proposal: Travis Air Force Base
Salvage Proposal: Tallichet / Hagen
In 2003, Robert Greinert advised the PNG Museum's Board of Trustees that the wreck was falling apart and needed to be salvaged. Hagen did not have input or involvement with the reports production, but did fund the visit to the aircraft by Greinert and others on November 21, 2003. The 1999 export permit had expired, but this permit had an automatic renewal clause in the contract.
Impounded at Lae
PNG Government Investigation by Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
Despite declaring the salvage and sale illegal, the salvagers continue to exert pressure on the PNG government and museum to allow them to export the wreck. During April 2008, the presented virtually the same proposal as originally offered, roughly $100,000 USD, but added the intention to donate a 'display facility' to the museum.
According to PNG newspaper article on September 10, 2008, a vote by the National Executive Council (NEC) has apparently reversed their decision, and accepted the offer for 300,000 Kina (roughly $115,000 USD) plus "display facility, recreation playground and barbecue area". The precise details of this deal, or copies of letters or executive orders have never been published to the public.
Unveiling and Display
On December 8, 2010, the fuselage went on display outdoors ringed by a fence at Planes of Fame Museum at Chino Airport. On April 2, 2011 salvager Alfred Hagen gave a lecture "Recovering Lost Aircraft - B-17E Swamp Ghost" at the museum. During this period, the rear fuselage, tail and wings were stored outdoors at AeroTrader also located at Chino Airport.
During January 2013, the fuselage was removed from public display and moved to AeroTrader, where the bomber was readied for shipment to Hawaii. According to Flightpath Magazine July 2012, the B-17 was bound for the Pacific Aviation Museum (Ford Island Museum). When asked on February 25, 2013, executive director Ken DeHoff stated "no comment" when asked if Swamp Ghost was bound for the museum and declined to answer any questions.
Since 2013, B-17E 41-2446 was displayed at the Pacific Aviation Museum outdoors adjacent to Hanger 79. The bomber is displayed behind a perimeter fence with signs at the front of the aircraft. During 2015, the aircraft was moved inside Hanger 79.
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