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43rd BG c1943
IJN May 1943
Jeff Ridges 2005
|Pilot Captain Byron L. "Dutch" Heichel, O-421699 (POW, survived) ID
Co-Pilot 1st Lt Berry T. Rucks, Jr., O-43786 (POW, survived) TN
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Oscar Melvin Linsley, O-666689 (KIA, BR) Sioux City, IA
Navigator 2nd Lt Marcus L. Mangett, Jr, O-734579 (MIA / KIA) Tiffin, Ohio
Student Navigator 2nd Lt. Eugene D. Bleiler, O-734528 317th TCG, 39th TCS (MIA / KIA) PA
Engineer T/Sgt John E. Fritz, 16948783 (POW, died en route Japan, MIA) PA
Asst Engineer S/Sgt Kenneth P. Vetter, 6669847 (WIA , POW, executed Nov 25, 1943, MIA) Rutherford, KY
Radio M/Sgt Clarence G. Surrett, 6956646 (POW, survived) Dewey, OK
Asst Radio T/Sgt James E. Etheridge, 6958335 (POW, survived) TX
Gunner S/Sgt Gilbert A. Flieger, 19095893 (MIA / KIA) ID
Gunner Pvt Frank L. Kurisko, 11036019 (POW died en route Japan, MIA) NH
Ditched May 7, 1943 at 11:50am
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) on July 23, 1942. Outfitted at Lowry Modification Center on July 29, 1942. On August 27, 1942 flown to Sacramento Air Depot then to Hamilton Field. On August 31, 1942 departed Hamilton Field flying via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Reckless Mountain Boys" a term associated with the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys mentioned in the folk song, "The Martins and the Coys". The nose art depicted a flintlock musket and power horn. The B-17 was adorned with dark green "tiger stripes" on the tail.
On January 5, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Adams on a bombing mission against Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul. This B-17 was one of three B-17s from the 403rd Bombardment Squadron along with B-17F "The Reckless Mountain Boys" 41-24518 and B-17F 41-24538 each armed with 100 pound general purpose bombs. On the way to the target, this B-17 aborted the mission due to engine problems.
On February 18, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Neil G. Kirby on a bombing mission against Tonolei Harbor on southern Bougainville. Returning, this bomber ran short on fuel and landed at Hula Airfield Airfield (Hood Point Airfield). Afterwards, refueled and returned to 7-Mile Drome.
Over Kavieng, this B-17 was spotted and six A6M2 Zeros from the 253 Kōkūtai took off from Kavieng Airfield to intercept this B-17. The Zeros made firing passes that hit the B-17's no. 2 engine setting it on fire, knocked off the ball turret door and badly wounded gunner Vetter. Pilot Heichel dove down to sea level to avoid being attacked from below and headed southward until the the no. 2 engine failed. Repeated attacks by the Zeros disabled the no. 1 engine. During the attacks, Linsley, Bleiler and Fleiger were hit by gunfire and killed. Three others: Ethridge, Vetter and Mangett were severely wounded.
Damaged, this B-17 ditched onto a coral reef roughly 50 yards offshore Komalu on the southern coast of New Ireland. During the crash, the nose section impacted the reef and broke the fuselage rear of the top turret. The rest of the aircraft remained above water largely intact.
Fates of the Crew
Afterwards, the crew made their way ashore with the help of native people. The three crew members who died in the crash: Linsley, Bleiler and Fleiger were recovered from the B-17 and buried on the beach by the crew with the help of native people.
The survivors were armed with three pistols, a Springfield rifle, a machine gun and a "Gibson Girl" portable radio. Together, they fled to Komalu Plantation then into the hills with a local.
By the time Japanese overseer Tadashi Imamura arrived at the plantation, the crew were gone. The next morning, a gunboat from Rabaul arrived in the area. Also, Japanese Army troops arrived from Namatanai and Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) troops arrived from Kavieng.
Rudolf Diercke the German manager of Komlu Plantation wrote a note in English that was delivered to the crew. It read: "I am a German, and I can vouch for the intentions of the Japanese. It is best that you surrender your arms to the native boy and come to us. We are gentleman and have no desire to maltreat you. Three of your fellow crew members found dead in the airplane have been buried with a simple ceremony in the kanaka [native] cemetery."
Realizing resistance was futile, the entire crew complied with the note and surrendered to the Japanese. Immediately, a stretcher was provided for each prisoner. Each many was searched, interrogated and guarded.
The enlisted men: Fritz, Surrett, Ethridge, Vetter and Kurisco were loaded aboard the gunboat and transported to Rabaul. The officers: Heichel, Rucks, and Mangett were carried on stretchers northward across the mountains to Karu, then aboard a truck to Kavieng for further interrogation.
Afterwards, the officers were transported to Rabaul and reunited with the rest of the crew at the Navy POW Camp at Rabaul. During captivity, Vetter gave his ring to a Japanese guard who later mailed it to his mother.
Reportedly, on November 25, 1943 Mangett and Vetter plus seven other Americans were taken from the camp and executed by the Kempei Tai at Rabaul. The remaining six crew members were sent to Japan but Fritz and Kurisko died en route.
Heichel, Rucks, Surrett and Etheridge were interned at Ofuna Camp near Yokohama and were beaten, interrogated and labored until the end of the war. All survived captivity and returned to the United States. Surret is listed as liberated from Tokyo POW Camp (Shinjuku).
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) exhumed the bodies of the three buried at the Catholic Mission. Reportedly, an airman's wrist watch was found in one grave. When the dirt was wiped away and winder twisted, the watch began ticking.
Linsley, Bleiler and Flieger were officially declared dead May 7, 1943. Postwar, their remains were exhumed by American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) and transported to the Philippines and United States for permanent burial.
Bleiler and Flieger
were buried at Manila American Cemetery. Bleiler at plot A row 14 grave 143. Flieger at plot A row 8 grave 133.
A tripod was mounted over the nose, to extract the Norden bomb sight and equipment. During May 1943, the Japanese dismantled the B-17. One engine was shipped to Rabaul, and the fuselage of the plane was cut up and stacked on the beach under trees.
After their salvage, all that was left on the reef off Komalu were three of the engines. Today there are just two propellers and a couple of lumps of rusted metal, partially encrusted in coral.
Rod Pearce recalls:
Tom Ackerman (nephew of Oscar Linsley)
Dale Neikirk adds (nephew of Marcus Mangett)
Jennifer Downing (great niece of James E. Etheridge)
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