11th BG c1942
Built by Boeing at Seattle. On January 30, 1942 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress serial number 41-2523. Flown to Hill Field then to Hickam Field.
Assigned to the 5th Bombardment Group "Bomber Barons", 72nd Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.
On May 31, 1942 took off form
took off from Hickam Field piloted by 1st Lt. Edward A. Steedman with an extra bomb bay fuel tank as one of ten B-17s on a flight to Midway Airfield on Eastern Island arriving in the late afternoon n anticipation of the Battle of Midway. The crew included: pilot 1st Lt. Edward A. Steedman, co-pilot 2nd Lt. Darwin K. Carpenter, navigator 2nd Lt. Kenneth E. Burch, bombardier SSgt Richard M. Cullison, engineer Sgt William J. Penanas, assistant engineer/ball turret gunner Cpl Frank Frucci, Jr., radio/gunner Cpl Earl M. Schaeffer, assistant radio Cpl Albert S. St. Jean and gunner Cpl Jim L. Gamble. In the haste to deploy, this bomber was not fully equipped f and did not have enough oxygen masks aboard.
Battle of Midway
On June 3, 1942 took off from Midway Airfield on Eastern Island at 4:30am piloted by 1st Lt. Steedman as a precaution against a possible Japanese air raid and returned by 8:25am and were refueled. Informed the Japanese fleet had been spotted, the B-17 crews were told to wait until the exact location and composition of the force was known.
At 12:30pm took off again piloted by 1st Lt. Edward A. Steedman armed with four 600 pound bombs and a bomb bay fuel tank on a mission to attack the Japanese fleet. The formation of nine bombers was led by B-17E "Old Maid" 41-2409 piloted by Col Sweeney and divided into three elements of three bombers. This B-17 was part of the third element included Captain Faulkner, Lt. Steedman and 1st Lt. Robert B. Andrews (5th BG, 31st BS). At 4:23pm the formation spotted the Japanese fleet roughly 570 miles west of Midway Atoll. During the bomb run, the third element was flying at an altitude of 12,000'. This B-17 only released a single bomb due to trouble with the release mechanism and claimed a near miss on a transport. Returning, the formation encountered severe weather roughly 400 miles west of Midway Atoll and the formation broke up with all bombers flying back individually. Flying alone, Steedman found himself lost and was unable to reach Midway station because the frequency was only given to the lead bomber. Instead, radio operator Schaeffer was able to contact Pearl Harbor and got the correct frequency and was able to call the station and was picked up by radar on Midway and guided back to landed safely at Midway Airfield after a roughly eight hour mission.
On June 4, 1942 took off from Midway Airfield on Eastern Island at 4:05am piloted by 1st Lt. Steedman armed with bombs and a bomb bay fuel tank on a patrol mission to bomb the Japanese fleet. The formation of fifteen bombers was led by B-17E "Old Maid" 41-2409 piloted by Col Sweeney and divided into five elements of three bombers. This B-17 was part of the second element included Captain Faulkner, Lt. Steedman and 1st Lt. Robert B. Andrews (5th BG, 31st BS). Flying westward, the formation faced clouds before spotting the Japanese fleet around 8:00am and circled looking for the aircraft carriers. This element spotted four aircraft carriers and attacked the largest carrier Akagi. During the bomb run, this B-17 was hit by anti-aircraft fire in the no. 1 engine and electrical wiring in the bomb bay and ball turret was damaged forcing bombardier Cullison to release the bombs manually and claimed one hit on the port bow of the carrier and five near misses (Schaeffer claimed it was two hits and the other six were near misses straddling the carrier - these claims were erroneous). During the attack, Andrews released only four bombs and went around again to make another run. Returning, Faulkner and Steedman were flying at 25,000' when intercepted by A6M2 Zeros. Gunners aboard this B-17 claimed a single A6M Zero claimed as probably destroyed (Schaeffer claimed they shot down two Zeros). During the attack, Schaeffer and St. Jean shared a single oxygen mask in the radio compartment took turns defending the waist position and had to be revived by Frucci using a portable oxygen bottle this bomber landed safely at Midway Airfield.
After this mission, this B-17 was assessed to have the bomb racks "out of commission" and two engines were reported as "cutting out". While being refueling, an air raid alarm sounded and this B-17 departed Midway Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Steedman before being fully fueled for the flight eastward to Hickam Field. Low of fuel, this bomber landed at Barking Sands Airfield to refuel before returning to Hickam Field in the afternoon for repairs.
Next, assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group, 98th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Goonie" with the nose art of a white goonie bird in flight. Above the nickname was a shamrock with four leaves.
During late 1942, this B-17 operated from Bomber 1 on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. During this period, LIFE Photographer Robert Morse photographed the nose of this bomber. Another photograph showed the entire left side of the nose. During this period, this bomber had a scoreboard with fifteen bombs indicated bombing missions flown and a single row of seven Japanese flags indicating enemy fighters claimed by gunners aboard this bomber. Above the nose art was a star was added above the nose art with "Midway".
By early 1943, this B-17 was reassigned to the
5th Bombardment Group "Bomber Barons" and flew combat missions from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal serviced by ground crews from the 31st Squadron. It is unclear to which squadron it was assigned.
On March 20, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal piloted by Lt. Col. Marion Unruh on a night bombing mission against Kahili Airfield (Buin) in southern Bougainville. The formation was a mix of B-17s and B-24s flying in three plane elements on a diversionary strike while U. S. Navy (USN) and U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) aircraft laid mines offshore, the first mine-laying operations by aircraft in the South Pacific (SOPAC).
Over the target, the bombers were to remain over
Kahili Airfield (Buin) for nine minutes to distract anti-aircraft fire and searchlights. This bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire that caused a runaway engine. Flying back to base, this B-17 lost altitude until forced to ditch off the Russell Islands.
Fates of the Crew
The entire crew survived the ditching unhurt. The next day, they were rescued and returned to duty.
Joanne Emerick, 31st Bombardment Squadron Association Historian adds:
"I think Gerald 'Jerry' Bainter of Dresden, Kansas was aboard the plane that went down in March. To my knowledge Jerry Bainter was the photographer along on the flight. I have another photo of him flying with Capt. Jim Carroll, 31st, and shooting photos "out of the hatch". They were flying B-17E "Buzz King" 41-9124 when that photo was shot.”
Some sources list this B-17 as assigned to the 31st Bombardment Squadron.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2523
"2523 del Ogden Jan 30, 1942, slated for RAF but transferred to 11th BG, 98th BS Hawaii. Transferred to 5th BG, 72nd BS. On Ops for 38 days, ditched off Russell Island Mar 20, 1943, all crew rescued. Salvaged in Hawaii Aug 10, 1944."
Headquarters, 5th Bombardment Group (H)
8 July 1942 Midway mission by Lt. Col. A. J. Hanna, the 5th's Executive Officer via Steve Birdsall
Fortress Against The Sun pages 180 (May 31, 1942 flight to Midway), 181-183 (June 3, 1942), 184 (June 4, 1942), 326, 386, 421 (footnote 73-74), 441 (footnotes 10, 11, 12) 464 (index)
Page 326 "On March 20, the 13th AF worked in conjunction with the Navy and Marine Corps to inaugurate aerial mine laying in the South Pacific Area. While B-17s and B-24s would hit Kahili Airfield, effectively drawing the attention of the Japanese searchlights and antiaircraft gunners, the Navy and Marine Corps planes planned to come in low and sow mines in nearby Shortland Harbor. Late on the evening of March 20, nine B-17s and nine B-24s set off from Guadalcanal. Leading the B-17s was Lt. Col. Marion Unruh, the 5th BG Executive Officer, B-17E (41-2523, Goonie)."
Page 386 "B-17E 41-2523 - 98/72 - 11/5 - Goonie - Shot down off Russell Is., 20 Mar 43. Pilot Lt. Col. Marin Unruh."
Thanks to Steve Birdsall and Joanne Emerick for additional information
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October 23, 2019