5th BG c1943
|Pilot 1st Lt. Karl G. Stubblefield, O-662841 (MIA / KIA) AZ
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. William E. Nevling, O-677853 (MIA / KIA) PA
Navigator 1st Lt. Walter C. Witherspoon, O-664358 (MIA / KIA) CA
Bombardier 1st Lt. Robert J. Jones, 0-663274 (MIA / KIA) GA
Engineer MSgt Lowell E. Symons, 6668566 (MIA / KIA) IN
Asst Engineer TSgt John L. Larson, 6926187 (MIA / KIA) GA
Radio TSgt Thomas H. Shadrick, 6998338 (MIA / KIA) MD
Asst Radio Sgt Don E. Christenson, 36207090 (MIA / KIA) WI
Passenger Sgt Ranier P. Payton, 15087440 (MIA / KIA) KY
Crashed July 27, 1943 at 5:40am
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to the South Pacific.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 11th Bombardment Group, 23rd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "De-Icer". When lost, engines R-1820-65 serial numbers 42-79198, 42-24322, 41-22656, 41-23409. This B-17 was armed with four 30 caliber machine guns in the nose, plus 50 caliber machine guns at the other positions.
Took off from Carney Field on Guadalcanal on a night bombing mission over Kahili Airfield (Buin). Weather was clear with a quarter moon visible.
Last seen at dawn immediately after a successful bombing run was made over the target, five miles north-west of the target at 5:40am.
Captain Roy Ballah observed (MACR 182 page 11)
"I was co-pilot in airplane #2520 [B-17E 41-2520] with our Squadron commander, Major Berton H. Burns as pilot leading a formation of B-17s over Kahili Airdrome... I saw our right wingman, Lt. Stubblefield in airplane #9128 go down in flames. One or more enemy night fighters, unseen, attacked the formation and was last seen to be in flames going down. Our own plane was also attacked and the assistant radio operator and tail gunner were wounded. Our aerial engineer saw one night fighter and fired at him. However, we returned to base safely and [our] airplane had many holes in it."
In fact, this B-17 was shot down by Japanese J1N1 Irving night fighter. Justin Taylan adds:
"I researched the Japanese side of this mission in Japan at the Tokyo Defense Archives. According to Japanese records, a single J1N1 Irving night fighter was airborne and claimed two B-24 [actually B-17s] shot down at 03:45 JST [5:45 local time]. Likely both B-17E 41-9128 (shot down) and B-17E 41-2520 (damaged) represent these victory claims."
The entire crew was listed as Missing In Action (MIA) until August 7, 1943 then they were officially declared dead the day of the mission. The entire crew with the exception of Witherspoon is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Witherspoon is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Honolulu Cemetery (Punchbowl).
Walter C Witherspoon (nephew of Witherspoon)
"I was named after the navigator who was my father's older brother. The family had always believed the plane went down over water but according to the MACR that is not the case. served 16 years in the Air Force and am involved in some wreck chasing myself here in the So Cal area."
A History of IJN's Night-Fighters page 78
"At 0030 in July 27, a Gekko (CPO Hayashi with WO Ichikawa left Balalle. At 0319, the crew sighted smokes coming from Buin. 20 minutes after this, search lights caught B-24(s) flying from the direction of Guadalcanal, at the altitude of 4000 meters. When Japanese searchlights were not able to catch up with the bombers anymore, lights on wings were lit. The Gekko sneaked under the (#1) bomber and bursted at the root of a wing. The Liberator went down enveloped by a big flare. Now the interceptor went under another B-24 (#2) which commenced firing at the invisible Irving. The Gekko concentrated its bursts to the wing root of the second bomber and its wing was blown off from its fuselage. It fell down and exploded when it crashed on the ground."
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, July 19, 1943 thanks to Minoru Kamada
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November 13, 2017