|Pilot 1st Lt. Paul F. Sayre, O-438556 (MIA / KIA, BR) OH
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. James L White Jr., O-662847 (MIA / KIA, BR) Santa Barbara, CA
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Robert l. Block O-728332 (MIA / KIA, BR) Chicago, IL
Navigator 2nd Lt. Robert R. Null, O-727650 (MIA / KIA, BR) Los Angeles, CA
Crew TSgt Earl E. Godsey, 17028285 (MIA / KIA, BR) KS
Crew SSgt John P DeMartini, 39840907 (MIA / KIA , BR) CA
Crew TSgt Homer L. Bartlett, 15017791 (MIA / KIA, BR) WV
Crew SSgt Milton E. Barber, 39093956 (MIA / KIA, BR) MN
Crew SSgt Harold P. Hetelle, 16052683 (MIA / KIA, BR) IL
Crew Sgt Mark H. Briggs, 15059395 (MIA / KIA, BR) IN
Crashed April 16, 1943
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 872. On October 19, 1942 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-15-CO Liberator serial number 41-24077. On October 27, 1942 flown to St. Paul, MN for modification. On November 21, 1942 to Sacramento Air Depot for further modification. On November 30, 1943 departed Hamilton Field via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
On December 18, 1942 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 90th Bombardment Group (90th BG), 320th Bombardment Squadron (320th BS) at Iron Range Airfield. Assigned to pilot Captain Taylor with co-pilot Lt. Lionel B. Potter. No known nickname or nose art. During the remainder of December, the crew installed two additional machine guns in the nose for additional forward firepower and prepared the bomber for combat missions.
On December 26, 1942 one of sixteen B-24s from the 320th Bombardment Squadron and 319th Bombardment Squadron scheduled to take off from Iron Range Airfield around 10:00pm on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Lost during take off was B-24D 41-23875, canceling the remaining take offs. Only six B-24s managed to take off, including this bomber.
On December 27, 1942 took off from Iron Range Airfield at 12:10am piloted by Taylor with co-pilot Lt. Lionel B. Potter, bombardier Sgt Rosenberg with observer Col. Koon, C. O. of the 90th Bombardment Group armed with twelve 500 pound bombs on a bombing mission against Rabaul. After passing the coast of New Guinea at 25,000', this bomber encountered cumulonimbus clouds from sea level to over 40,000' and experienced three hours of severe weather. Over what the crew thought was Simpson Harbor around 5:10am, this B-24 was targeted by anti-aircraft fire and searchlights but was unable to bomb. Attempting a second bomb run, Taylor managed to evade the beams. Dropping to 5,500' for a third bomb run against a vessel, all twelve bombs were dropped at an interval of 50'. No hits were confirmed because the B-24 took evasive maneuvers then departed in the same bad weather before landing at 5 Mile Drome (Wards) near Port Moresby to refuel then returned to Iron Range Airfield. The mission lasted eleven hours and was the first combat mission for this B-24 and Taylor's crew.
On December 31, 1942 took off from Iron Range Airfield at 1:30am piloted by Captain Taylor with co-pilot Lt. Lionel B. Potter armed with four 1,000 pound bombs on a bombing mission against Rabaul. The weather was very poor. Arriving over the target at 5:30am, the entire area was blanketed by a solid cloud layer. After flying around for an hour trying to find a hole in the overcast, then departed. Returning via Lae which was also covered with clouds, this B-24 released their bombs on Lae Airfield then returned to 5 Mile Drome (Wards) at 10:00am.
On January 1, 1943 took off from 5 Mile Drome (Ward) at 1:15am piloted by Captain Taylor with co-pilot Lt. Lionel B. Potter, navigator Sullivan plus gunners MacCalmont and Wright armed with 1,000 pound bombs on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Before takeoff, the crew was joined by Brigadier General Kenneth N. Walker, C. O. 5th Bomber Command who flew as an observer. Climbing to 25,000' this B-24 experienced intense rain, sleet and ice for three hours flying. Afraid of turning back with the General aboard, Taylor proceeded to the target and co-pilot Potter gave the General his seat in the cockpit. Arriving at 6:45am they found the target area covered by clouds aside from Simpson Harbor with approximately 100 vessels inside. This B-24 made a bomb run from approximately 8,000' against a large transport but the bombs did not release and was targeted by anti-aircraft fire and was intercepted by two Zeros. Co-pilot Potter held the bomb bay doors open while a second run was attempted. Intercepted by five Zeros, this B-24 turned back and escaped into clouds. Aboard, the gunners claimed two Zeros shot down and their claims were verified by General Walker. Unable to release their bombs, this B-24 landed back at 5 Mile Drome (Wards) by 10:00am.
On January 8, 1943 took off from 5 Mile Drome (Wards) piloted by Captain Taylor on a bombing mission against a Japanese convoy off Lae.
On January 9, 1943 took off from 5 Mile Drome (Wards) piloted by Captain Taylor on a bombing mission against a Japanese convoy off Lae.
On April 16, 1943 took off from 5 Mile Drome (Wards) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt. Paul F. Sayre on a bombing mission against Japanese shipping off Wewak. Reportedly crashed 40 miles southwest of Bena Bena. In fact, this B-24 crashed into the Eastern Highlands, killing the entire crew. The cause of the crash is unknown.
Between April 20-28, 1943 the crash site was visited by Patrol Officer (Kiap) Captain L. W. Heinicke. He reported the bomber hit trees, ripping off the wings and tail before impacting into the ground. No impact crater was visible and smaller pieces of wreckage were flung away from the site likely when the fuel tanks exploded. He reported the general condition as "everything smashed and burnt beyond any possible doubt of salvage."
Among the wreckage were found the bodies of the crew deemed to be nine individuals and were burnt beyond recognition. No trace of any identification discs or mementos were found, aside from a small photograph found in the butt of one of their M1911 automatic pistol, forwarded to Lt. Snook when he arrived. It was deemed any bombs aboard did not explode and are likely buried at the crash site.
Also during late April 1943, Australian Army troops led by Lt E. R. Snook, Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) No 1 Corps visited the crash site while working to determine the feasibility of a jeep track to Kainantu.
Recovery of Remains
During late April 1943 visit to the crash site, the remains of the crew were buried in five graves with the assistance of 300 Kesikena villagers. Afterwards, a "pull pull" flowering bush was planted atop each grave and the chief of Kesikena promised to look after the graves. Later, these remains were later exhumed by US Army, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS). Postwar, their remains were transported to Manila and the United States for permanent burial.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on the day of the mission. Bartlett and Briggs were both incorrectly was declared dead on October 16, 1943.
Postwar, four of the crew was buried at Manila American Cemetery. Sayre at Plot L Row 6 Grave 106. Bartlett at Plot D Row 6 Grave 134. Hetelle at Plot D Row 5 Grave 166. Briggs at Plot D Row 4 Grave 171.
The rest of the crew were transported to Hawaii and the United States for permanent burial.
White is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Santa Barbara, CA.
Block is buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge, IL
Null is buried at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at plot D grave 68.
Godsey is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Lindsborg, KS.
DeMartini is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery at plot C site 593.
Barber is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery at plot C-25, 0, 14313
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records -
Robert R. Null
USAF Serial Number Search Results -
B-24D-15-CO Liberator 41-24077
"24077 (90th BG, 320th BS) lost Apr 16, 1943 in attack on convoy near Wewak. Crashed 30 mi S of Bena Bena. Located in 1995 near Okapa village, Eastern Highlands, PNG."
My Stretch in the Service, Volume 1 by Lionel B. Potter [PDF] pages 47-50, 52-53
(Page 47) December 18th, 1942
One week before Christmas, a lot that means over here in the jungle. Capt. Taylor and I did get a present though, a new B-24, No. 41-24077, a number the Japs will have cause to remember. So I spent the day checking over the ship and starting to get it ready for combat duty. Hence, I’m having the bomb sight lowered to make room for the new nose gun, the rest of the guns cleaned and generally made ready for service. We’re having the ammunition changed to 1-1-1, tracer-armor piercing-incendiary, a rough combination for combat shooting. The guns are becoming more and more important as we are getting a lot of Zero pursuit interception on our missions to sink these convoys trying to get through from Rabaul to reinforce Buna and Salamana. The boys are really getting shot up too. No causalities; plenty of holes.
(Page 48) December 23, 1942
Capt. Taylor got a new ship today so yours truly in good co-pilot fashion got our crew on the ball and installed more guns and cleaned those we had. It is a new plane no. 41-24077 and promised to be a honey. Rained again today, it looks like the rainy season is here for sure. Everything is damp or muddy slush.
(Page 49-50) December 26-27, 1942
(Page 52-53) December 31 1942
We got off for Rabaul at 01:30 and proceeded to Rabaul in the worst kind of weather. When we got there, about 0530m, we found the harbor blanketed by a solid cloud layer. After flying around for an hour trying to break through the overcast, we headed back as Rabaul Harbor with its 3 airdromes full of Zero fighters was no place to be after daylight and alone. One the way home, we went by Lae to drop our four 1,000 lb. bombs on the Jap airdrome there, but no luck, the weather was bad here too. So we traveled on back to Port Moresby and landed at 10am.
We were supposed to go out on this one raid, but the bomber command decided that we would stay over and go to Rabaul again that night to participate in the big attack. About 1pm, we lay down to get some much needed rest.
We got up in time for dinner and got a few of the details of the raid. It seems that the B- 17’s were to go into the Rabaul Airdromes and bomb them into immobility and attack the A/A positions about 4am. Then, after daybreak, we in the B-24’s were to bomb the ships in the harbor. With the Zeroes unable to take off and heckle us and the A/A unable to shoot us down, we should be able to bomb the shipping to our hearts desire. This looked fine on paper.
We were briefed again at 10pm and then to bed for a couple hours sleep.
(Pages 52-53) January 1st, 1943 - I got a little screwed up on my dates thanks to all this night bombing. But New Year’s Eve was spent being briefed for the raid. When we got down to the plane, around 12:30, we saw some of the boys shooting off flares and firing their guns in celebration of the New Year. We just piled into the airplane, checked the guns, gasoline and bomb and wished each other a happy New Year.
At 1 o’clock, we taxied to the end of the runway and prepared to take off. Gen. Walker of the 5th Bomber Command was supposed to fly with us and he didn’t show up until we got to the head of the runway.
We took off at 01:15 and proceeded to Rabaul through some more horrible weather. The weather was so bad tonight, or this morning, that I honestly didn’t think we were going to get back. We were at 25,000 feet until we got right over the target. During that 3 hour flight from Moresby to Rabaul, we ran into everything: rain, sleet, ice of all descriptions and it was rough as a cob. Why we didn’t turn back I don’t know, unless it was that Capt. Taylor didn’t want to initiate the move and the General didn’t want to show weakness by suggesting. So we merrily flew on through the worst storm I ever hope to have the displeasure to fly through, on tops of the weather, I had given Gen. Walker by co-pilots position and I was standing on the flight deck using a portable oxygen bottle which ran out on me at 25,000 feet – I damn near passed out before I found another outlet in the bomb bay.
We were supposed to rendezvous over Cape Lambert, just outside of Rabaul, at 6 o’clock but we didn’t get there until 06:45 ourselves thanks to the sensational weather. So we went right on into the harbor. We broke out of the storm we had been flying through for 3 hours and there, right in front of us, was the harbor itself. I doff my chapeau to our navigator “Red” Sullivan, I don’t know how he got us there without seeing any checkpoints, the stars or the moon. Rabaul Harbor was entirely clear of clouds and was beautiful in the early morning light, it was 6:45am and broad daylight. The harbor was a grand sight, just loaded with boats of all sizes and descriptions. This kind of target is a bombardier’s dream of Heaven. There must have been 100 boats in the harbor, all sitting quietly at anchor. We spotted a huge transport off by itself and started our bombing run on it. It was so big it looked like the Queen Mary. We made a perfect run through a barrage of A/A fire that was bursting just to our right. Rabaul A/A was not supposed to be accurate, but this was a lie, the shrapnel sound like hail on the sides and wings of our ship. Then we had a stroke of foul luck, the bombs didn’t release when we got over our boat. We were really sick to put it mildly. The bombs wouldn’t release because the bomb bay doors had slipped down slightly and the safety catch had locked the bombs in. On our second run, A/A fire was still jarring us around, I went down and sat in the bomb bay and held the doors open. I was sitting in this position, with my feet dangling 8,000 feet above Rabaul Harbor, when the machine guns in the rear of the plane opened fire with a mighty staccato. I had just a moment to figure out what had started this when I saw 2 Zero’s coming up at me from under the ship and firing directly into the bomb bay where yours truly was sitting. Our gunners were firing like mad and I could see the red tracers going by the Zero’s. Then I saw what I had been expecting, smoke and fire spurting from the wings of the Zero’s. I just sat there and waited for the bullets to hit me, but this wasn’t my day and the shots went into the tail section and wing. This was my first look at a Zero and not exactly under ideal conditions. They are a cream color and have big red circles in the wings, very easy to identify.
Just about that time the bomb bay doors were closed from the flight deck and I went up there myself. I found that our tail gunners’ guns had jammed and we had decided that it was not healthy to battle 5 Zero’s without a tail gun. So, we turned away from the target and lit out for the nearest cloud with 5 Zero’s in hot pursuit. By the time we disappeared in the clouds, there were only 3 Zekes chasing us, each waist gunner had shot one down, the General himself gave MacCalmont and Wright their proof and credit. So it was with mixed feelings that we left Rabaul, still carrying our 1,000 lb. bombs. We were sick because they hadn’t released but were happy to leave that “hot shop” with 2 Zero’s to our credit and not one B-24 to theirs.
The return trip was uneventful, the weather isn’t bad in the daytime when you can see it. So it was that I spent New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 1943, a big celebration but not exactly like that of previous years. This was our third trip over Rabaul in 4 days and the Japs are getting to know us, 4077 is getting to be the 'Rabaul Express'."
Extract From Patrol Report Captain L. W. Heinicke R2 - 43/44 "Inspection of Crashed Aircraft" via Pete Johnston
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Paul F. Sayre
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Homer L. Bartlett date of death listed as October 16, 1943
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Harold P. Hetelle
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Mark H. Briggs date of death listed as October 16, 1943
FindAGrave - 1Lt Paul F Sayre (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - James L White, Jr (grave photo)
Robert I. Block (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Robert R Null (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Earl E. Godsey (grave photo)
FindAGrave - John P DeMartini (grave photo)
Milton E Barber (grave photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Harold P Hetelle
FindAGrave - Sgt Mark H Briggs
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 41-11870 (serial number of aircraft presumed)
Thanks to Edward Rogers and Pete Johnston for additional information
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February 18, 2020