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  B-17E "Honi Kuu Okole" Serial Number 41-9244  
5th AF
43rd BG
64th BS

Previous Assignments
19th BG

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5th AF Jan 5, 1943

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43rd BG Jan 30, 1943

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43rd BG c1943

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43rd BG c1943

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43rd BG May 20, 1943
Pilot  Major Paul I. "P. I." Williams, O-418154 (MIA / KIA) OK
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt John S. Rippy, O-730964 (POW, executed November 25, 1943) CA
Bombardier  M/Sgt Gordon R. Manuel (survived) Hodgdon, ME
Navigator  2nd Lt. Richard U. Aguirre, O-733398 (MIA / KIA) ID
Engineer  S/Sgt Robert B. Gills, Jr., 33122679 (MIA / KIA) VA
Radio  Sgt Edward Driscoll, 36047422 (MIA / KIA) IL
Asst Radio / Waist Gunner  Sgt Lawrence L. Rexroat, 18004066 (MIA / KIA) OK
Waist Gunner  Sgt Robert A. Curry, 11007351 (POW, executed December 9, 1943) OK
Belly Turret  Pfc William R. Smith, 15098049 (MIA / KIA) OH
Tail Gunner  Sgt Joseph F. Murray, 13047717 (MIA / KIA) Lebanon, PA
Passenger  1st Lt. Robert F. Heller, O-398021 380 BG, 529 BS (MIA / KIA) IL

Crashed  May 21, 1943
MACR  2459

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. One of thirty-two brand-new Flying Fortresses delivered to Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA, between May-June 1942, for the RAF as part of the lend-lease agreement. RAF roundels and numbers were applied at the factory over top the U. S. Army markings. The U. S. Army serial number would be over painted after the bombers arrived in England. During the first week of August 1942, four of this batch of Fortresses: B-17E 41-9196, B-17E 41-9234, B-17E 41-9235 and this bomber were instead assigned to the U. S. Army. Each was over painted with U.S. markings over top the RAF markings.

Wartime History
Ferried from Hamilton Field to Hickam Field. While in Hawaii, this B-17 was nicknamed "Honi Kuu Okole", Hawaiian for "Kiss My Ass" with the nose art of the outline of a hand giving the middle finger. Ferried across the Pacific to Australia. Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group and began flying combat missions. Later, transferred to the 43rd Bombardment Group during late 1942 and based at 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby.

On January 5, 1943 this B-17 participated in a bombing mission against shipping near Rabaul.

By 1943, the nose contained a scoreboard with claims for seven enemy ships, 18 enemy aircraft and 68 bombing missions. Plus, nine heart markings for Purple Heart medals awarded to crew members for wounds sustained on combat missions.

On May 20, 1943 during the afternoon this B-17 took off from 7-Mile (Jackson Drome) near Port Moresby, flying northward to stage from Dobodura Airfield where a bomb load of 300 lbs bombs and 20 lbs fragmentation cluster bomb were loaded for a night mission over Rabaul.

Mission History
On May 21, 1943 at 1:00am, this B-17 was one of five that took off from Dobodura Airfield to bomb Vunakanau Airfield and Rapopo Airfield then return to base at Port Moresby. Two members of the crew volunteered for the mission: Heller, a B-24 pilot gaining experience in B-17s and Pfc Smith.

At 3:48am, this B-17 arrived at the initial point over the Warangoi River to begin its bombing run against Vunakanau Airfield. Tracked by J1N1 Irving night fighter piloted by Shigetoshi Kudo maneuvered below the B-17 and opened fire with its obliquely mounted 20mm cannons.

The B-17 was hit from below in the No. 3 and No. 4 engines. A few seconds later, the No. 1 and No. 2 engines were hit and the bombs ignited. Pilot Williams turned the stricken B-17 to the southeast and headed for the St Georges Channel and ordered the crew to bail out. Only Rippy and Manuel were able to parachute out, the rest of the crew perished when the B-17 crashed into the sea and exploded on impact, ripping off the tail and wing. According to Manuel, the night fighter circled the crash site and strafed.

This bomber was the first victory of a Japanese night fighter victory using oblique cannons. The same Irving next shot down B-17E 41-9011 and landed at Lakunai Airfield at 5:35am, having expended only 178 rounds.

Fates of the Crew
Sgt Gordon Manuel parachuted out first and landed in the sea. He made it to shore north of Induna Island near the mouth of the Kambubu River and Matala Plantation and was able to evade capture and survived behind enemy lines in the Put Put area, with the help of local people. Later, he joined a group of Australian coastwatchers and other downed aviators. On February 5, 1944 rescued by USS Gato from Open Bay and returned to duty.

2nd Lt John S. Rippy parachuted out second and landed in the sea. He made it to shore south of Induna Island and north of Talilis Plantation. Captured by the Japanese, he was transported to Rabaul where he was imprisoned at the Japanese Navy POW camp. On November 25, 1943 he was executed along with four crew members of B-17E 41-9011.

The entire crew was declared dead on the day of the mission. The entire crew (aside from Manuel who survived) are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Manuel died on August 16, 1950 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 8 site 6423 RH.

Gordon Manuel, Jr. (son of M/Sgt Gordon Manuel)
"He was later commissioned into the USAF as a 2nd Lieutenant with serial number O--888863. And ended his service as a Captain."

Janet Kimble (niece of SSgt Robert Gills)
"I have been researching my uncle's time in the AAF for several years. I have been aware of the pacific wrecks website for a long time but hadn't really spent much time on it and I didn't realize there was a specific page for the "Honi Kuu Okole". I have a few other pictures of the plane and a picture of Vunakanau but I only have prints and they haven't been scanned."

Dan Reichard (nephew of Sgt Joseph Murray)
My uncle's nickname was Bus which was short for Buster (no one in the family know exactly how he got the nickname).

Missing Air Crew Report 2459 (MACR 2459)
E&E Report No. 37 MSgt Gordon Manuel February 15, 1944 pages 1-18, appendixes 1-5
E&E Report No. 33 Owen N. Giertsen page 5, Meet M/Sgt. Manuel
70,000 to One by Gordon Manuel role in the mission and escape originally published in 1946
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-9244
Moonlight Interceptor details this shoot down in the prologue, page XIII
Hostages To Freedom also mentions Manuel's story and escape
Flightpath "B-17 At Black Cat Pass" by Steve Birdsall

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Last Updated
August 10, 2019


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