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  B-17E "Uncle Biff" Serial Number 41-9156  
13th AF
5th BG
23rd BS

Former Assignments
301st BG
5th BG, 72nd BS
11th BG, 431st BS
5th BG, 394th BS

Click For Enlargement
Pepe January 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 2528. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress serial number 41-9156.

Wartime History
On April 30, 1942 assigned to the 301st Bombardment Group at Geiger Field. During May 1942 assigned to Arthur Birleffi and nicknamed "Uncle Biff" in his honor. On May 31, 1942 transferred to Lowry Field.

During early June 1942 one of eight 301st Bomb Group (301st BG) bombers flown to Hickam Field and attached to the 5th Bombardment Group (5th BG), 72nd Bomb Squadron (72nd BS) and flown by Birleffi and his crew on search missions around Hawaii and did not directly participate in the Battle of Midway.

Afterwards, this B-17 returned to Hickam Field while Birleffi and his crew returned to the United States. On June 13, 1942 took off piloted by Captain Orin Rigley and flown to Midway Airfield to search for Japanese flying boats reportedly operating from Wake Island.

During August 1942, assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group (11th BG), 431st Bombardment Squadron (431st BS) and flown overseas across the Pacific to the South Pacific.

This B-17 operated from Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). This B-17 flew combat missions over the Solomon Islands. Japanese flags indicating aerial victory claims were painted on the right side of the nose.

Doreen Cooke-Moran (daughter of Cooke)
"Uncle Biff was my dad’s plane, Russell E. Cooke. Jan Pepe’s picture was taken in the New Hebrides in January, 1943 with the 5th Group, 31st Squadron."

On September 29, 1942 took off from Espiritu Santo piloted by Captain White with tail gunner Sgt Handrow flying via Henderson Field on Guadalcanal for a bombing mission against Tonolei Harbor off southern Bougainville. One of eleven bombers led by B-17E 41-2611 piloted by Major Sewart forming a mixed formation from the 11th BG's 26th BS, 98th BS and 431st BS plus B-17s from the 5th BG, 72nd BS. Over the target was thick fog and the formation dove down to make their bombing run and were attacked by fifteen A6M Zeros. This B-17 was damaged and the gunners claimed four enemy fighters shot down, two by tail gunner Handrow and two by waist gunners. The formation was unable to locate the target due to bad weather and instead patrolled the western coast of Bougainville before spotting a Japanese cruiser and the formation bombed from 5,500' with all bombs missing the ship. Shot down was B-17E "Blue Goose" 41-2616 (MIA). The formation bombed from 5,500' with all bombs missing the warship. Returning, this B-17 landed safely at Henderson Field at 3:30pm with 450 bullet and shrapnel holes (other sources say 500 holes) including 17 in the tail, two in the no. 3 engine and a hole in the nose compartment. No one aboard was injured.

During January 1943 flown by the Captain Gordon L. Kelley and his crew back to Hickam Field for repairs by the Hawaiian Air Depot (HAD) 4th Echelon maintenance. During early 1943 this B-17 returned to the 5th Bombardment Group (5th BG). During July 1943 assigned to the 394th Squadron. During August 1943 assigned to the 23rd Bombardment Squadron which all the group's B-17.

After September 1943, this B-17 was retired from active duty and did not return to the United States. Ultimate fate unknown, likely scrapped at Hickam Field during June 1944.

Other sources list this B-17 as nicknamed "Eight Ball” incorrectly.
assigned to the 11th BG, 431st BS and written off during June 1944.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-9156
"9156 delivered to 301st BG at Geiger Apr 30, 1942; transferred to Lowry May 31, 1942; assigned to 7th AF at Hickham [sic], Hawaii Jun 7, 1942; transferred to 13th AAF at Poppy Jul 22, 1942; transferred to 7th AF at Hickham AB, Hawaii Jan 10, 1943; transferred to 13th AF at Poppy May 4, 1943, named "Uncle Biff". W/O at Oahu, Jun 11, 1945"
Grey Geese Calling page 213
Fortress Against The Sun pages 259-260 (September 29, 1942), 389, 433 (footnote 28)
Thanks to Doreen Cooke-Moran and Steve Birdsall for additional information.

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Last Updated
October 23, 2019


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