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|Pilot Captain Harold G. McNeese, O-726442 (survived) Chicago, IL
Co-pilot 2nd Lt Harvey R. Vanderslice, Jr., O-789033 (survived) Chester County, PA
Navigator 2nd Wesley M. Carrol, O-728533 (survived) Montgomery County, OH
Bombardier 2nd Lt Donald DeClergue, O-728239 (survived)
Engineer S/Sgt Roy N. Lund, 37110132 (MIA / KIA) Polk County, IA
Asst. Engineer SSgt William H. Adams, 14071345 (survived) MS
Radio SSgt Robert O. Smith, 16035680 (MIA / KIA) Chicago, IL
Asst Radio Sgt Lawrence C. Averitt, 14068152 (MIA / KIA) Cumberland County, NC
Gunner Sgt Elton M. Hartt, 20146651 (MIA / KIA) Chapman, ME
Crashed February 13, 1943
Built by Consolidated in San Diego. Constructors Number 767. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-13-CO Liberator serial number 41-23957. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South Pacific.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 307th Bombardment Group, 424nd Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. When lost, engines R-1830 serial numbers 42-424??, 42-412??, 42-41711 and 42-4230?. Armed with .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers not listed in the Missing Air Crew Report 559 (MACR 559).
On February 13, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal piloted by Captain Harold G. McNeese armed with 1,000 pound bombs as one of six B-24 Liberators in the second wave of a bombing mission against Japanese shipping in the Shortland-Buin area. The weather was good visibility with scattered cumulus clouds.
The bombers were escorted by six P-38 Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron and seven P-40F Warhawks from the 44th Fighter Squadron. Inbound, two P-38s and three P-40s aborted the mission due to engine trouble.
Over the target, the B-24s made their bomb run from 14,000' releasing 36 x 1,000 pound bombs. Only a single hit was claimed on a transport. The formation was intercepted by 30 Zeros and 15 floatplanes and was subjected to heavy anti-aircraft fire from Navy vessels in the anchorage. The fighters engaged in air combat and the U. S. claimed 8 enemy fighters shot down.
Justin Taylan adds:
"I researched this mission at the Tokyo Defense archives. A total of 39 Japanese aircraft attacked the formation including 11 Rufes (one aborted) from 802 Kōkūtai, 20 Zeros from 252 Kōkūtai and 9 Zeros from 204 Kōkūtai."
Two bombers were shot down over the target area. B-24D 41-23975 (MIA) was hit, fell behind the formation and crashed into the sea. B-24D 41-23980 (MIA) suffered a direct hit by anti-aircraft fire caught fire and crashed.
Under attack for an hour, this B-24 was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and gunfire that set the wing and an engine on fire. Four of the crew Lund, Smith, Averitt and Hartt bailed out, presumably over Shortland Harbor. At least one of their parachutes was strafed by enemy aircraft as it descended. The four who bailed out were never seen again and all remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Damaged, this bomber dropped out of formation and was escorted by P-38G pilot Rist to the southeast towards Choiseul. The five others aboard ditched roughly 50 miles north of the central portion of Choiseul. Another B-24 crew member Wesley M. Carrol reported it ditched 20 miles off Choiseul.
Paul Roales adds:
"My interview with Wesley M. Carrol. I tracked him down through his unit reunion committee. He called me on the phone on March 27, 2007. We talked for a few minutes. He said his position as navigator in the B-24 prevented him from seeing much of the battle. The only aircraft he saw during the battle was one P-40. He did not know (or did not remember) the names of the local islands, so when I asked him about specifics of where the B-24 flew he could not provide much help. He called the area Cholin Harbor [Choiseul Bay]. He did indicate that the long account in the book "Up The Slot" was accurate."
Fates of the Crew
The five surviving crew: McNeese, Vanderslice, Carrol, DeClergue and Adams successfully deployed their life raft. Together, the crew made their way around the northern coast of Choiseul then crossed to Santa Isabel. Finding friendly natives, they contacted the Allied coastwatcher on Santa Isabel.
Three weeks later, they were rescued and returned to Guadalcanal.
Lund, Averitt, Smith and Hartt were officially declared dead on December 12, 1945 and remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Each earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Lund also has a memorial marker at Sheldahl Cemetery in Sheldahl, IA.
Hartt also has a memorial marker at Fairmount Cemetery in Presque Isle, ME.
Vanderslice was Killed In Action (KIA) on June 2, 1944 as a crew member aboard another a B-24 Liberator on a mission against Truk. He earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart, posthumously. He is buried at East Coventry Mennonite Cemetery in East Coventry Township, PA.
McNeese remained in the U. S. Air Force (USAF) and retired with the rank of Colonel. He passed away on February 21, 1995 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at Section 60, site 6827.
Robert Reilley (nephew of Robert O. Smith):
"My uncle, and the person for whom I was named, Staff Sgt. Robert O. Smith was a waist gunner on the B-24D piloted by Lt. Harold G. McNeese. My Uncle and the other crew members in the back of the plane lost communication with the crew in the cockpit sometime after they were hit. They may have thought the plane was going down and apparently bailed out. Lt. McNeese wrote a beautiful letter to my grandparents in March 1943 commending my uncle and relaying his dismay that after they crash landed near Choiseul the men in the rear of the plane (4) were missing. My uncle, and presumably the other crew members in the rear, were never found. He is memorialized among the missing at Manila American Cemetery. He was awarded the Purple Heart."
Note, some sources incorrectly note MACR 3559 [sic] as associated with this bomber.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Harold G. Mc Neese
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Harvey R. Vanderslice, Jr.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Wesley M. Carrol
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William H. Adams
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert O. Smith
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Lawrence C. Averitt
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Elton M. Hartt
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24D-13-CO Liberator 41-23957
"23957 (424th BS, 307th BG) lost Feb 13, 1943, Solomon Islands. MACR 559"
424th Bombardment Squadron (H), AAF 307th Bombardment Group (H) Intelligence Section Advance Air Echelon "Special Intelligence Report Re Force Landing of Lt. McNeese's rew February 13, 1943" pages 1-3
Kodochosho, 802 Kōkūtai, February 13, 1943
Kodochosho, 204 Kōkūtai, February 13, 1943
Kodochosho, 252 Kōkūtai, February 13, 1943
Missing Air Crew Report 559 (MACR 559) created September 1, 1943
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Roy N. Lund
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert O. Smith
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lawrence C. Averitt
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Elton M. Hartt
FindAGrave - SSgt Roy Nels Lund (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Roy Nels Lund (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Robert O Smith (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SGT Lawrence C Averitt (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Elton M Hartt (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Elton Milford Hartt (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Harvey R. Vanderslice, Jr (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - Col Harold Graham McNeese, Jr (photo, grave photo)
"Up The Slot" contains a description of the survival of the crew
Guadalcanal and the Origins of the 13th Air Force page 180-181, 240
Vampire Squadron (1985) by William H. Starke pages 25-26
Air & Space Magazine "Above & Beyond: A Bougainville Mystery by Paul A. Roales, November 2006
Thanks to Paul A. Roales and Edward Rogers for research and analysis
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