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  B-17E "Tugboat Annie" Serial Number 41-2599  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
65th BS

Former Assignments
19th BG
28rd BS

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Boeing c1942

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USAAF c1942

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USAAF c1943
Pilot  2nd Lt Harris N. Lien, O-726270 (survived)
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Albert L. Fair, O-661822 (survived)
Navigator  2nd Lt Ruby E. Johnston, O-790247 (survived)
Bombardier  2nd Lt Alfred Retzhy, O-728513 (survived)
Engineer  Sgt J. Shapuras (survived)
Radio  Pvt Minor C. Smith, 6960170 (survived) TX
Gunner  S/Sgt Russel E. Owens, 36199496 (survived)
Assist Engineer  Pvt Wendell D. Revers, 36336232 (survived)
Assist Radio  Claude W. Robinson, 35376879 (survived)
Ditched  January 17, 1943 at 3:35am
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. This B-17 was funded by donations from residents of Portland, Oregon. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress serial number 41-2599. After completion, photographed over Mount Rainier in the Cascade Range of Washington State. Later, an airbrushed and colorized with the U. S. star rendered without the center red dot but tail serial number "12599" visible was printed on a postcard with the caption "The Boeing Flying Fortress. Soars Above The Clouds". On February 26, 1942 flown to Lowry Field. On June 7, 1942 flown to Hamilton Field.

Wartime History
On June 6, 1942, took off from Hamilton Field piloted by 1st Lt Bruce A. Gibson on a flight to Hickam Field then ferried overseas across the Pacific via Fiji before arriving in Australia on June 27, 1942.

Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG), 28th Bombardment Squadron (28th BS). Nicknamed "Tugboat Annie" in a cursive lettering after the film Tugboat Annie (1933) that was based on the life of Thea Foss of Tacoma, Washington.

On August 12, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt Richard T. Hernlund on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Forty minutes short of the target, jettisoned bombs and aborted the mission.

On August 19, 1942 took off piloted by Captain Richard F. Ezzard on a bombing mission against Rabaul.

On August 25, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt Coleman on a mission to bomb Japanese shipping off Milne Bay but failed to find any targets.

On August 26, 1942 one of eight B-17s that took off from Mareeba Airfield at 4:00am on a bombing mission against a Japanese convoy off Milne Bay. Inbound to the target was bad weather with a ceiling of only 2,000' or less. Between 6:30am to 7:45am, the formation bombed from roughly 1,500' and experienced accurate anti-aircraft fire from the ships.

On August 28, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Gilbert Erb with co-pilot Capitan Beck on an official check-off flight.

On August 29, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by 1st Lt Walter F. Nyblade on a bombing mission, nil results or aborted the mission.

On August 30, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by 1st Lt Walter F. Nyblade on a mission to search the Milne Bay area but found no enemy activity.

On September 9, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Jack P. Thompson mission details unknown.

On September 11, 1942 one of five B-17s from the 28th Bomb Squadron that took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Jack P. Thompson with co-pilot Crawford on a bombing mission against two Japanese destroyers twenty miles east of Normanby Island. One of the B-17s scored a direct hit on the stern of Yayoi, which later sank.

On October 5, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Arthur A. Fletcher on a bombing mission against Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.

On October 17, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Jack P. Thompson on a bombing mission against Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.

On October 18, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Jack P. Thompson on a bombing mission against shipping off Rabaul.

On October 21, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield on a mission, details unknown.

On November 1, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt. James G. Ellis on a bombing mission against Japanese shipping off Buin-Faisi.

During November 1942 transferred to 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG), 65th Bombardment Squadron (65th BS). Assigned to pilot 2nd Lt Harris N. Lien with crew chief Hewitt.

When lost, engines R-1820-65-97 serial numbers No. 1: 41-22371, No 2: 41-24372, No. 3: 41-22645, Mo 4: 42-79590. Armed with .50 caliber machine guns makers and serial numbers unknown. Officially condemned on January 18, 1943.

Mission History
On January 16, 1943 in the early evening while taxing to the runway, a red alert was sounded indicated an incoming air raid and the engines were cut and restarted delaying the mission At 8:15pm took off from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt Harris N. Lien armed with four 1,000 pound demolition bombs as one of eight B-17s on a bombing mission against shore installations at Simpson Harbor near Rabaul.

In flight, the fuse for the instrument panel kept tripping, requiring the navigator and radio operator to perform their duties using only flashlights. Inbound to the target, the weather was poor but not rough enough to abort.

Arriving over the target at roughly 11:50pm, each B-17 conducted their bomb runs individually. Over Simpson Harbor, this B-17 made its bomb run but was targeted by search lights and targeted by anti-aircraft fire that hit the tail section and damaged the no. 3 engine.

Returning, the No. 3 engine began running rough and the weather became worse and required them to fly above and around a storm.

On January 17, 1943 in the early morning, the B-17 ran low on fuel and the last leg of the flight over the Owen Stanley Range was deemed to be too dangerous. Pilot Lien asked the crew if they would rather bail out or ditch and the consensus of the crew was to attempt a water landing. Spotting the north coast of New Guinea, the crew believed they were near Milne Bay and called for assistance over the radio but but got no response. To lighten the bomber, all the machine guns and ammunition were jettisoned and the crew assumed crash positions in the radio compartment.

Meanwhile, both pilots searched for a suitable location to ditch then sent a final S.O.S. message before ditching at 3:35am roughly 300 yards off the north coast of New Guinea. Immediately the bomber began to fill with water and settled into the sandy bottom with the tip of the tail above the surface indicating the depth was roughly 10-12'. None of the crew were hurt in the ditching. In fact, they landed to the north of Buna.

Fates of the Crew
The crew deployed the life rafts and paddled ashore. After hiding the rafts, the crew slept near the beach. The next day, the crew explored the area and attempted to find a path though the jungle eventually finding an abandoned native hut and managed to build a fire. The next day the crew's supply of water and food was nearly exhausted. Pvt Smith and Lt. Fair were unable to walk due to blisters on their feet, and stayed behind with Lt. Johnson. The rest of the crew continued onward and found native people who took them to Benroda village and fetched the three left behind. In the village, all were fed and rested for the night. That evening, a native police officer arrived from Buna who had been dispatched to look for them.

The next morning, the crew were transported aboard native canoes to another village. There, Lt. Lein and the native police officer departed to get help while the rest of the crew waited in the village. At noon the next day, Lt. Lein arrived aboard an Australian launch with canned bully-beef and marmalade, and the crew departed for Aqua village where they spent the night.

Next, the crew boarded a Liberty Ship returning from Buna and were transported two days and a night before arriving at Milne Bay where the ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft. Waiting ashore, the crew waited for two days, but no aircraft arrived. Instead, the crew boarded another transport and after eight days arrived at Port Moresby and returned to their unit. For this mission, the entire crew were recommended for a Silver Star, but the award was never approved.

Memorials
Lien retired as a U. S. Air Force (USAF) Major. He passed away on September 27, 1996 and was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery at plot 2, grave 989.

Smith retired with the rank of Staff Sergeant and passed away on June 19, 1959. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Paris, TX.

References
Note, some sources list the nickname as "Tug Boat Annie" (three words) in fact the nickname was "Tugboat Annie" (two words).
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2599
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2599
"2599 ("Tugboat Annie") delivered to Lowry Feb 26, 1942; transferred to Hamilton Jun 7, 1942; assigned to 19BG/96BS at Hickam, Hawaii Aug 1942; transferred to 43BG/65BS, ditched at sea Jan 16, 1943. took part in the Battle of Midway. [sic]"
Gilbert E. Erb Flight Log - August 1942
43rd BG, 65th BS Mission No. I B-17E 12599 "Tugboat Anne" January 16-17, 1943 via Steve Birdsall
Chicago Daily Tribune "Diary of 'Tugboat Annie'; the Japs Knew Her Well" May 14, 1943
"Diary compiled by Corp. Buell W. Rolens, Murphysboro, Ill... Jan 16–Rabaul is the objective for today. Lt. Lien reports: 'It is easy flying until we reach the target, where all hell breaks loose. Annie's tail looks like a sieve after the ack ack strikes her. The wings are damaged, one engine shot out and another damaged. We leave the target and head for home, as huge fires are left behind at Rabaul. After an hour we run into a storm. We look for a beach to land on, hoping to salvage Annie but fate is against us. With the fuel deduced to five minutes' flying time, I resolve to keep Annie's record clean for never having had a man hurt while flying her. I set her down in the water and, fortunately, not a man is scratched. We wade to shore as the plane is engulfed in the Pacific."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2599
Fortress Against The Sun pages 241, 316, 387 lists 93rd BS incorrectly, 430 (footnote 51)
Ken's Men Against The Empire Volume 1 (2015) pages 114 (January 16-17, 1943), 328 (41-2599), 342 (photo), 405 (index Tugboat Annie")
FindAGrave - Harris N Lien (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Minor Caldwell Smith (grave photo)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall for additional information

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Last Updated
July 4, 2020

 

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