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John Douglas 1999
John Douglas 2005
|Pilot 2nd Lt Claude L. Dean, O-429921 (MIA / KIA July 30, 1942, BR) Kaufman County, TX
Gunner Sgt Allan W. La Rocque, 6976689 (MIA / KIA July 30, 1942, BR)
Crashed July 29, 1942
Built by Douglas. Constructors Number 822. On December 21, 1941 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as A-24-DE Dauntless serial number 41-15766 at Savannah, GA. Between January 7, 1942 until January 29, 1942 at McCellan Airfield. On February 25 1942 assigned to "Project X" then disassembled and shipped to Australia code named "Sumac" and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 3rd Bombardment Group (3rd BG), 8th Bombardment Squadron (8th BS). Assigned to pilot 2nd Lt James T. Holcombe. No known nickname or nose art.
On July 29, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt Claude L. Dean on a mission to dive bomb Japanese transports off Gona. The formation included eight A-24 Dive bombers escorted by P-39 Airacobras from the 41st Fighter Squadron flying top cover, and P-39 Airacobras from the 8th Fighter Group, 80th Fighter Squadron flying close escort.
Inbound to the target, one A-24 aborted the mission, and the remaining seven A-24s proceeded to the north coast of New Guinea and spotted Japanese transported roughly twenty miles north of Gona roughly 1 1/4 miles offshore. The convoy was escorted by A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai that intercepted the A-24s as they started their dives.
The A-24s dive bombed in two waves. The first wave of three dive bombers included: A-24 41-15797 (shot down), A-24 piloted by Hill (heavily damaged and force landed at Fall River) and A-24 pilot by Raymond Wilkins (the only aircraft to return to 7-Mile).
The second wave of four dive bombers included: A-24 41-15819, A-24 41-15766 (this aircraft), A-24 pilot Cassels and A-24 pilot Parker were all shot down. A bomb from the second wave hit the Kotoku Maru in the no. 5 hatch, forcing its troops to unload and leave cargo undelivered. Afterwards, all Japanese vessels departed for Lae.
During the interception or dive bombing run, this A-24 sustained damage and both crew members bailed out near the north coast of New Guinea and landed safely. When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fates of the Crew
After bailing out, both crew were found by local people and taken to the Australian Army spotters at Ambasi. On July 30, 1942, a radio report was received that stated four aircrew Dean, La Rocque, Parker and Hoppe were safe and that Japanese patrols were in the vicinity. The radio went off abruptly and never transmitted again.
3rd Bombardment Group, Headquarters reported a radio message from the survivors on July 30, 1942:
"Radio report received advised that four [Dean, La Rocque, Parker and Hoppe] were safe and that Japanese patrols were in the vicinity. The radio went off the air suddenly, and never came on the air again."
3rd Bombardment Group Headquarters reported a radio message from the survivors:
"...crash landed on the north coast of New Guinea near Ambasi due to interception. Radio report received advised that four were safe and that Japanese patrols were in the vicinity. The radio went off the air suddenly, and never came on the air again."
The group of Australians and Americans attempted to bypass Japanese forces to reach safety. On August 2, 1942 they were joined by Reverend James Benson and two sisters from the Gona Mission Station. For the next six days, the group was on the run. On August 8, 1942 the group was ambushed by the Japanese and all were killed or executed. Sole survivor Reverend James Benson was taken prisoner and survived until the end of the Pacific War.
During 1999, this aircraft was located in a sago swamp by wreck tecs on behalf of John Douglas. Later during 1999 John Douglas visited the crash site himself. In 2005 he returned with authors Larry Hickey and Edward Rogers.
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, the remains of the crew were located, recovered and transported to the United States for permanent burial.
The crew were officially declared dead on July 30, 1942. On April 26, 1950 Dean and La Rocque were buried in a group burial group burial at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in section I, graves 109-110. The burial also includes Cpl Franklyn R. Hoppe gunner A-24 pilot Parker.
Dean also has a memorial marker at Kaufman Cemetery in Kaufman, TX.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - A-24-DE Dauntless 41-15766
"USAAF version of SBD-3 / 41-15766 SOC Nov 7, 1942"
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - A-24 Dauntless piloted by Dean
Prisoners Base and Home Again (1957) mentions this crew
FindAGrave - Claude L Dean (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Claude Lee Dean (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - SGT Allan W LaRocque (grave photo)
Thanks to John Douglas, Edward Rogers and Larry Hickey for additional information
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