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  B-17E Flying Fortress Serial Number 41-2435  
5th AF
19th BG
28th BS

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USAAF Feb 23, 1942
Pilot  1st Lt William H. Watson, O-416941 (MIA / KIA) De Kalb County, IL
Co-Pilot  1st Lt John F. Putman, O-413546 (MIA / KIA) Los Angeles, CA
Navigator  1st Lt James O. Etter, O-434209 (MIA / KIA) Cleveland County, OK
Bombardier  SSgt Robert A. Abadie, 6296091 (MIA / KIA) Travis County, TX
Engineer  T/Sgt Eugene M. Clemens, 6564203 (MIA / KIA) Brule County, SD
Crew  Sgt Leo T. Ranta, 6578753 (survived) Marysville, CA
Crew  Sgt Robert V. Copley, 06999315 (MIA / KIA) Sandusky County, OH
Gunner  Cpl Philip A. Deal, 6915668 (MIA / KIA) Indianapolis, IN
Gunner  Sgt William H. Parker, 6581531 (MIA / KIA) Adams County, WA
Crashed  August 2, 1942 at 9:30am
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 2246. On December 1, 1941 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress serial number 41-2435. The same day, flown by Harry Spieth from Boeing Field.

Wartime History
This B-17 was flown to Hickam Field. During January 1942, flew patrol missions off Hawaii. On January 16, 1942 the bomber claimed to locate, bomb and sink a Japanese submarine. Next, flown from Hickam Field across the Pacific to Australia. Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG), 28th Bombardment Squadron (28th BS). No known nose art or nickname.

Possibly participated in the February 22-23, 1942 bombing mission over Rabaul, the first American bombing mission in the South Pacific.

On March 12, 1942 took off from Horn Island Airfield piloted by Horgan and Fields on a mission against Salamaua. Returning, landed at 7-Mile Drome and remained overnight.

On March 13, 1942 took off 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Major William Lewis, Jr. with co-pilot 1st Lt Jack L. Carlson with a crew consisted of five men from the 435th Bomb Squadron and six from another unknown unit on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Over the target, this B-17 successfully attacked Lakunai Airfield claiming several aircraft on the ground destroyed. Returning, this B-17 encountered A6M2 Zeros returning from a strafing attack on 7-Mile Drome. Top turret gunner MSgt Carl G. Johansson claimed an A6M2 Zero [none were lost] fifteen miles north of Port Moresby, then landed safely landed at 7-Mile Drome. The other three aircraft returned direct to Townsville due to engine trouble.

On April 18, 1942 at 5:45pm made an emergency landing on reclaimed land to the north adjacent to RAAF Station Sandgate between the base and the start of the Hornibrook Highway in Queensland.

On July 27, 1942 one of nine B-17s that participated in a bombing mission against Buna.

Mission History
On August 2, 1942 in the morning, took off from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt William H. Watson as one of five B-17s plus five B-26s from 22nd Bombardment Group (22nd BG) escorted by P-39 Airacobras 41st Fighter Squadron (41st FS) on a search mission for a convoy off Buna. For the mission, this B-17 was assigned to the 30th Bomb Squadron (30th BS) and flown by a crew from the 28th Bombardment Squadron (28th BS). Enroute, bad weather separated the B-26s and their P-39 escorts.

Meanwhile, nine A6M2 Zeros from Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group) led by Lt(jg) Jun'ichi Sasai took off from Lae Airfield and flew towards Buna to fly a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to protect the inbound convoy, although it had already been recalled back to Rabaul. The Zeros were flying in three Shotai of three planes each: 1 Shotai led by Lt(jg) Jun'ichi Sasai, 2 Shotai WO Takatsuka Toro'ichi and 3 Shotai led by FPO1c Saburo Sakai. At 9:10am they spotted five B-17 between 4,000' to 5,000' under a low overcast over Cape Ward Hunt and intercepted making determined frontal and rear attacks.

During the air combat, A6M2 Zero pilot Lt(jg) Jun'ichi Sasai claimed a B-17 shot down (this bomber) and another damaged (incorrectly). Shot down by defensive gunfire was A6M2 Zero pilot F1c Motoyoshi Yoshio (MIA). This B-17 was hit by gunfire, caught fire and entered a spin. At least five of the crew managed to bail out including Ranta and Abadie. At approximately 9:30am, the B-17 crashed into the sea on the far side of Mitre Rock off Cape Ward Hunt, roughly two to three miles off the north coast of New Guinea. Meanwhile, two of the other B-17s jettisoned their bombs and returned to base while one B-17 bombs Gona Mission and the last B-17 failed to bomb and departed.

Fates of the Crew
Ranta was the first to bail out, and on landing in the sea observed five other parachutes descending, one of them was Abadie. After Abadie landed, he attempted to aid him but the pair became separated in rough seas. Ranta managed to swim ashore at Cape Ward Hunt on the north coast of New Guinea and walked up and down the beach searching for the rest of the crew but failed to find any of them.

After meeting friendly locals, he was taken to Anglican missionary Romney Gill at Duvira then to Gill's hideout known as "X1". Later, he was joined by the crew of B-26 "Dixie" 40-1496. Together the group walked to Garaina Airfield to await rescue. On September 3, 1942 they were flown aboard a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Hudson back to Port Moresby.

The entire crew (with the exception of Ranta) was officially declared dead on January 7, 1946 and remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA). All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.

Etter has a memorial marker at IOOF Cemetery in Norman, OK.

Clemens also has a memorial marker at ZCBJ Cemetery in Wagner, SD.

Copley also has a memorial marker at Quinshan Cemetery in Gibsonburg, OH.

Deal has a memorial marker at Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, IN at section 2.

Sole survivor Ranta died on March 9, 1974. He is buried at Sutter Cemetery in Sutter, CA at plot G-162-1.

Susan Abadie (daughter in law of Robert A. Abadie):
"My husband’s father was shot down on August 2, 1942 on B-17 serial number 41-2435 in search of a convoy near Buna. He was Robert Alen Abadie 6296091 and he was the bombardier. I have his Air Log for that plane and time and a letter to Betty Abadie from one of the crew in one of the other planes. It tell her what he saw and what happened."

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William H. Watson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John F. Putman
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - James O. Etter
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Leo T. Ranta
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert V. Copley
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Philip A. Deal
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2435
"2435 (30th BS [sic] 19th BG) shot down Aug 2, 1942 near SW of Musa Point [sic] PNG. 8 KIA, 1 bailed out and survived. Formally w/o Oct 31, 1944."
Diaries of S. R. M. Gill 1942 [extracts] page 305
"He is Leo Rauta [sic], of Sacramento District, town Marysville, one of nine men, the crew of a F. F. [Flying Fortress] which was shot down somewhere on the other side of Mitre Rock about 9.30am last Sunday. He thinks three died in the plane which was attacked by six Zeros (their plane was at the tail end of F.F.) and knows that the other five bailed out, he saw their ‘chutes coming down after he himself reached the water.  One came down near him, Sgt Abadie, and seemed to be in difficulties and sick. Leo helped him until they got separated by the sea."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2435
Bruce Hoy adds: "[March 13, 1942] Horgan was one of those who returned, so Horgan and Lewis must have switched aircraft, or someone has made a clerical error in identifying the relevant B-17."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William H. Watson
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John F. Putman
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James O. Etter
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert A. Abadie
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Eugene M. Clemens
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert V. Copley
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Philip A. Deal
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William H. Parker
FindAGrave - 1Lt William H Watson
(photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 1Lt John F Putman (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - James O Etter (memorial marker photos)
FindAGrave - SSgt Robert Alan Abadie (photos, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - TSgt Eugene M Clemens (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Eugene M. Clemens (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Robert V Copley (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Robert L Copley (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Corp Philip A Deal (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Philip A Deal (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt William H Parker (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Leo Theodore Ranta (grave photo)
Eagles of the Southern Sky (2012) pages 219 (August 2, 1942), 220, 222 (August 2, 1942 Ranta), 306 (Yoshio), 310 (Losses by date: Yoshio), 349 (index Ranta)
Thanks to Bruce Hoy and Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
March 13, 2024


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