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Qantas January 6, 1943
|Pilot Captain Jean A. Jack, O-24178 (rescued) Tekamah, NB
Co-Pilot 1st Lt Arthur G. Durbeck, O-431269 (rescued)
Navigator 1st Lt James W. Knapp, O-860497 (rescued)
Bombardier MSgt Harry Urban, 6979202 (rescued)
Engineer T/Sgt John J. Meehan, 6949374 (rescued)
Radio T/Sgt Carl P. Averill, 6149242 (rescued)
Asst RadioSgt David E. Carlson, 37086222 (rescued)
Ball Turret Gunner Cpl Armando B. Mancini, 12024720 (WIA, rescued)
Gunner Cpl Canaan (rescued)
Tail Gunner Sgt Dale F. Barr, 17038234 (rescued)
Ditched January 5, 1943
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 3221. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17F-20-BO Flying Fortress serial number 41-24538. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG) "Ken's Men", 403rd Bombardment Squadron (403rd BS). No known nickname or nose art.
On January 5, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Jean A. Jack armed with 100 pound bombs as one of three B-17s from the 403rd Bombardment Squadron (403rd BS) on a bombing mission against Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul. The three included this bomber plus B-17F "The Reckless Mountain Boys" 41-24518 and B-17E 41-2639 each armed with 100 pound general purpose bombs. Inbound, B-17F "The Reckless Mountain Boys" 41-24518 aborted the mission due to engine problems.
The remaining two bombers planned to approach Raratuna Crater at an altitude of 1,700' then made a diving 90° turn then climbed to 2,000' and made a bomb run that lasted 30 seconds then made a 100° turn away from the target area to return to base. They planned to bomb Lakunai Airfield to supress any Japanese fighters and anti-aircraft defenses ahead of the main formation targeting Japanese shipping in the harbor.
Arriving over the target, the two B-17 found the target obscured by clouds and made three bomb runs but were unable to release any bombs. They were targeted by intense anti-aircraft fire over Simpson Harbor and were intercepted by A6M Zeros from 582 Kōkūtai (582 Air Group) joined by Ki-43-I Oscars from 11th Hiko Sentai (11th Flying Regiment). Between 10:00am until 10:30am the Zeros chased the B-17s roughly 100 miles south of Rabaul. During the air battle, gunners aboard the B-17s claimed four Zeros shot down.
The mission report says "Both old and new type Zero noted as well as E/A [enemy aircraft] resembling ME-109. Enemy aircraft made determined attacks mostly from the front quarter". The "ME-109s" were in fact Ki-43-I Oscars. Aboard this B-17, MSgt Urban, Lt. Knapp, T/Sgt Averili and CpI Canaan each claimed one plane shot down. It is possible that one more enemy plane was shot down.
During the first pass by enemy fighters, this B-17 sustained damage to the ball turret, radio compartment and no. 1 engine that failed to feather. Likely, the bomber was hit by 7.7mm machine gun bullets or cannon shells (20mm shells or 13mm machine cannon shells fired by the Oscars). The left wing was hit by gunfire inboard of the no. 1 engine nacelle damaging the main spar, engine controls, oil cooler and put a hole in the fuel tank.
Damaged, this B-17 managed to fly southward before ditching in the sea roughly 200 yards off Urasi Island, northwest of the passage between Furgeson and Goodenough. Before ditching, the radio operator broke radio silence and send a message they were going down and their position. Also lost was B-17F "San Antonio Rose" 41-24458 (MIA).
Pilot Captain Jean A. Jack recalls the ditching:
"It was obvious that there was no way that I could get back, so I started deviating my course a little bit to the south and following the islands that are scattered out through there. Knowing that our final landing place was going to be the ocean itself, I started looking as I would pass by these islands. I was looking for huts, native huts, because I figured if there were native huts, people were living down there. That means there's food and water down there and so I thought that was pretty important. So I kept looking for something like that on the way and eventually I got to a place that there was an extinct volcano there, Urasi Island. It had, scattered in the palm trees along there, huts; you could see native huts. I figured we haven't got very much longer to stay up in this thing, so I told the radio operator to break radio silence and send a message back to our command that we were going down at sea and give them our position report."
Arthur Durbeck adds:
"Our airplane was badly shot up. The ball turret was shot out. There were holes in the radio compartment. The no. 1 engine was shot through by either machine gun bullets or cannon shells. The left wing was shot through by cannon shell just inboard the No. 1 nacelle shooting out the main spar, engine controls, oil cooler and putting a hole in the gas tank. The engine failed to feather. Due to damage to the aircraft and loss of gasoline and weather it was necessary to make a crash landing at sea, there were no injuries to personnel due to the landing."
Fates of the Crew
The entire crew survived the ditching unhurt. The crew deployed both life rafts and paddled to Urasi Island to await rescue. Friendly locals came to their aid.
On January 6, 1943 two Allied aircraft searching independently located this downed B-17 and the crew. The first was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Beaufort from No. 100 Squadron. Also, B-17E "Blues in the Nite" 41-9209 piloted by Lt Compton dropped food supplies down to them. When found, it was hoped they were General Walker and the crew of B-17F "San Antonio Rose" 41-24458.
1st Lt Arthur G. Durbeck adds:
"On our return trip from a raid on Rabaul, we were attacked by three Zeros [Ki-43 Oscars] and shot up very badly. Our ball turret gunner [Mancini] was severely injured during the fight and sustained wounds in the left leg and left forearm. Our fuel tanks were holed in several places and our port outer engine went out of action.
After a long hard fight we at last managed to shake off the enemy planes and set out to try and reach our base. It was not long before the pilot realized that with one engine out of action and the loss of fuel we would never be able to make it.
The pilot [Jack] called the crew into the radio room and when they were assembled he explained the situation and said he would try and land on or near to an island. He then ordered the life rafts to be prepared and the wounded man was brought on to the flight deck. Everything went to plan until, within about a mile of the shore, the fuel suddenly gave out and the aircraft crashed into the sea. There were no casualties in the landing and within two minutes the entire crew were safely away in the raft.
We made for the shore which was about half a mile away and were met by a crowd of natives in their canoes. They proved to be very friendly and assisted us to a great degree. When we reached the shore which was about half a mile away and were met by a crowd of natives in their canoes. They proved to be very friendly and assisted us to a great degree. When we reached the shore the natives, one of whom could speak pidgin English led us to a large hut which was approximately one and a half miles from their village. After making us comfortable they then went away and returned with their arms full of tropical fruit.
I cannot speak too highly of the kindness of these simple people. As soon as we had made the gunner comfortable, the pilot called for two men to take a parachute to the highest point of the island and spread it out in the hopes that it might be seen from the air. We spent the night in the native hut and next day we saw your flying boat making in our direction. Our hopes rose high until we saw that it was making for another island, but after circling around it you came in our direction again and we realized that we had been found. Boy! We were glad to see your flying boat!"
Later that same day, S.23C "Coriolanus" VH-AKP piloted by Captain B. Hussey landed off Urasi Island. Above B-17E "R.F.D. Tojo" 41-2627 photographed the submerged bomber and the crew using inflatable life rafts and native canoes paddling out to the flying boat. Safely aboard, the crew were flown to Fairfax Harbor off Port Moresby and later returned to duty.
This B-17 landed roughly 200 yards off Urasi Island with the tail section visible above water.
Rod Pearce adds:
"There is a wing up on the beach and a propeller was pulled from the wreck and ended up in some museum. The rest must be in water."
Dale F. Barr, Jr. (son of Dale F. Barr)
"I have a scrapbook my father Dale Sr. (tail gunner) put together of the reconnaissance photos and photos from the Qantas air boat that picked them up from Urasi Island. There are photos of the crew and a photo of my father receiving the Silver Star from General Kinney."
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17F-20-BO Flying Fortress 41-24538
"24538 delivered to Cheyenne Aug 3, 1942; transferred to Hamilton Sep 11, 1942; assigned to 5th Air Force, 43rd BG at Sumac Sep 15, 1942. WO Oct 31,1944"
403rd Bomb Squadron History
"...after completing a successful daylight raid on Rabaul and shooting down four Zeros, [41-24538] was so badly crippled itself that it had to make a crash landing on a small island... due to the skill of the pilot... no one was injured. After a night spent ‘Crusoe Fashion’ on the island they were rescued by a RAAF [sic Qantas] flying boat."
News "An Air Rescue Captain Herbert Hussey"
Front-Line Airline The war story of Qantas Empire Airways Limited pages 155-157
"Finally Captain Hussey found that General Kenney was in [Port] Moresby and made an appointment with him. The General said that the aircraft was a B-17 and the circumstances justified special efforts. Its location was stated and General Kenney wished Captain Hussey to offload the wounded and proceed as quickly as possible. This was done and a doctor and medical attendant were included in the personnel.
On the way to the island, an escort of Allied fighters picked up the flying boat and gave top cover in the event of running into Japanese aircraft. This was the first time a lone Qantas aircraft had had protection.
The locality indicated was searched without result, but after circling for some minutes over Urasi Island, the party was quickly located. Setting the flying down on the open sea was not easiest task but it was safely done, and the flying boat taxied close inshore.
Hardly had the flying boat touched the water than one of the castaways crew came out in a rubber boat. He reported that the whole crew ere there, 9 in all. The co-pilot of B-17F 41-24538 was Lieutenant Durbeck who told the story of their adventure."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17F Flying Fortress piloted by Jack
The Queensland Book of Memories: Herbert Bindley Hussey
General Kenney Reports pages 176, 177
Pride of Seattle (1998) pages 13-14
janus.mtsu.edu - Jean Jack (via WaybackMachine)
Front Line Airline mentions this incident
Obituary Col. (Retired) Jean A. Jack 1915 ~ 2006
The War Diaries of Eddie Allan Stanton (1996) page 114
"January 1943, Gumasila Island a B-17 crashed a week or so ago no airmen killed. I found log, took off from 7-Mile to Gasmata then over Buka at 28,500') and back to 7-Mile via Woodlark. Pilot Smyth Navigator Knapp' Crashed on other side of the island into the water 50m from shore, tail above the water. Did not take anything, nothing to take. Morning natives brought two rifles crew left behind. Many shells casings near village."
Letter Dale F. Barr to Eugene Monihan September 25, 1991
"When the flying boat landed and taxied as close to the island that he dared, we paddled out to him in our life boats and I will never forget the events that followed. The pilot stuck his head out the window and shouted to us 'Is this General Walker's crew?' I answered, "No this is Jack's crew from the 403rd Bomb Squadron". The pilot replied "are you sure this isn't General Walker's crew? Again I told him who we were. To this day I think he was ready to pull out and leave us there. He was so disappointed that we weren't General Walker's crew, but of course I see it another way! I wonder if they had known higher up that this wasn't General Walker's crew, if they would have sent the flying boat up to rescue us. We'd probably still be sitting there, ha ha. This is just one of the memorable moments of that ill fated day."
Ki-43 'Oscar' Aces of World War 2 (2009) page 74
Ken’s Men Against The Empire (2015) pages 99 (map), 101-107, 209 (painting)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall, Eugene Monihan and Dale Barr, Jr. for additional information
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