20th CMS c1944
|Pilot 1st Lt. Royce E. Harms, O-675428 (MIA / KIA) WI
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Thomas Rafael, O-735815 (MIA / KIA) CA
Navigator 1st Lt Gerald P. Smith, O-734616 (MIA / KIA) OH
Engineer T/Sgt Stephen H. Laichak, 33018314(MIA / KIA) PA
Radio T/Sgt James R. Reynold, Jr., 13005087 (MIA / KIA) NJ
Photographer S/Sgt Melvin J. West, 13087356 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner Sgt Harold E. Amos, 17129527 (MIA / KIA) KS
Gunner Sgt Herbert G. Julian, 32388140 (MIA / KIA) Orange, NJ
Gunner Sgt Boyd D. Berg, 39043477 (MIA / KIA) CA
Gunner Sgt Samuel T. Catlin, 20302431 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner Sgt Raymond T. Weld, 11036161 (MIA / KIA) West Hartford, CT
MIA September 30, 1944
Built by Consolidated in San Diego. Constructors Number 4358. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24J-160-CO Liberator serial number 44-40422. Converted to F-7B photographic reconnaissance version. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group (6th PRG), 20th Combat Mapping Squadron (20th CMS). No known nickname or nose art. In total, this F-7B flew 14 missions prior to its loss. When lost, engines R1830-43 Serial Numbers: BP 429118, BP 438031, BP 438107 and 441229.
On September 30, 1944 took off from Mokmer Drome (APO 920) on Biak at 5:15am on mission 274Z-3 over Leyte At noon, arrived over the target area. Returning at 1:25pm rendezvoused with another bomber in the flight and proceeded on heading 124° for the return flight.
At 1:45pm the pair separated due to bad weather. At
4:25pm this bomber made radio contact and requesting the ground station to send a series of V's. At 6:28pm the radio operator made a voice call back. The ground station was unable to establish communication back.
At 6:29pm the fighter sector heard a "Mayday" call several times but was unable to establish communications either. Finally at 6:55 another aircraft heard call sign Bondage Able giving a "Mayday" distress call but was unable to reach the bomber. Afterward aircraft was never heard from again amd failed to return to Biak by 6:00pm. When this bomber failed to return it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
When the bomber failed to return, a search was coordinated by Major Davis, following the approximate course and position of the bomber. On October 1, a search was made by two B-24s and PBY Catalina. On October 2, a search was made by two B-24s and a B-25. Neither found anything and the search area was extended and continued for another 72 hours.
Fate of the Crew
In fact, it was lost in sever weather and force landed
in a swampy area in the Sarmi area. All crew survived the
forced landing, but did not survive the war.
Reports from the Japanese Army 36th Division diary reveal that four Americans, likely members of this crew were killed in a gun fight with Japanese forces near the mouth of the Verkam River. The Japanese claimed to loose one office and one NCO wounded. Two of the Americans were killed trying to canoe out to sea. One was shot and fell into the river and the other was killed trying to swim away.
During early October 1944, three of the crew were captured by the Japanese: Lt. Rafael, Sgt Julian, Sgt Catlin. All three were executed near Amisira. Rafael and Julian and were beheaded.
Postwar, Japanese Army Captain Satoru Ona was put on trial and found guilty and hanged for this war crime in Manila.
Recovery of Remains
In 1947, the remains of two unidentified bodies believed to be two members of this crew executed by the Japanese were recovered by RAAF Search Team led by S/L Keith Rundle and turned over to the U. S. Army and temporarily buried as "Unknown X-1" and "Unknown X-2" at USAAF cemetery Bosnek #1 on Biak. Afterwards, the remains were buried at USAF Cemetery, Fischaffen #4, at Finschafen as X-19 and X-20. Later, these remains were exhumed by AGRS Detachment No. 2 and transported to Manila and arrived at Manila American Cemetery on June 5, 1947 and redesignated X-115 and X-117.
The entire crew was declared dead the day of the crash. Harms, Rafael, Reynolds, West, Amos, Julian, Berg, Catlin and Weld earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Laichak earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. The entire crew is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Royce E. Harms, Jr. (son of Royce E. Harms)
"My mother never knew what actually happened. Seems like everyone got the same run a round story until recently."
Dr. James Bertel (nephew of James R. Reynold, Jr.)
"J. R. Reynolds Jr was my uncle. This is all new as to fate aircrew. Why were his parents not notified of actual fate of aircraft? My grandfather only knew the plane disappeared. Col. Ecoff told him of search and was of opinion Harmes managed to ditch. My uncle was TSgt, James R. Reynolds, Jr. His last mission to photo recon Leyte,30 Sept. 1944, was unusual, it was a flight of 3 ships led by 6th Photo Gp. cmdr. Lt. Col Alex Guerra. With Guerra was reporter Lee Van Atta. His story in Hartford newspaper implies Guerra turned back."
Dorothy Amos (wife of Harold E. Amos)
Paul Julian (nephew of Herbert Julian):
"I am the nephew of Sgt Herbert Julian lost along with the rest of his crew, when their F7B disappeared on 9/30/44 after a mission to Leyte. As recently as 2009, the official record indicated that no trace of the aircraft or crew had ever been found and they were presumably lost at sea. I personally spoke to one of the pilots who conducted searches and he confirmed the above. This morning I randomly came across your site and discovered a passage in which it was reported that the aircraft crash landed in the Sarmi area and the crew survived. It also stated that my uncle and another crew member had been captured and beheaded by the Japanese. Finally, it stated that unidentified crew remains had been shipped to the Manila cemetery for internment. Can you possibly provide information as to your sources for these reports? Does that mean that the wreckage of the aircraft might still be there?
Your web site kicked this search into high gear when you disclosed the aircraft had not crashed at sea as had been maintained by DOD for over 60 years but had instead crash landed on New Guinea. You also reported my uncle and Lt Raphael had been captured and executed by the Japanese. Since then this case has taken many turns but we believe that we can say unequivocally what happened to the aircraft and three of its crew. We believe the wreck can be found and it may well contain the remains of one or more crew. We also can say with a high probability where the captured men were interrogated and likely murdered. If you can spare a half hour of time I would greatly appreciate it."
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24J-160-CO Liberator 44-40422
"40422 (6th BG [sic]) lost returning from mission to Philippines Sep 30, 1944. 11 KIA."
Missing Air Crew Report 12423 (MACR 12423)
None of the crew are officially listed as POWs in NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File, but this file is incomplete for Pacific POWs
The Hutchinson, Kansas News-Herald October 23, 1944, Page 8
"MISSING IN ACTION Ashland--Mrs. Dorothy Amos received a telegram from the war department announcing that her husband, Sgt. Harold E. Amos, has been missing in the Philippine islands since Sept. 30. He was a gunner on a Fortress [sic] bomber."
X-File Finschhafen #4 X-19 (which then went to the Manila mausoleum as X-115)
X-File Finschhafen #4 X-20 (which then went to the mausoleum as X-117)
Courier-Post "Mystery of WWII plane unravels" by Carol Comegno September 5, 2015
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Royce E. Harms
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Thomas Rafael
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gerald P. Smith
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Stephen H. Laichak
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James R. Reynolds Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Melvin J. West
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Harold E. Amos
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Herbert G. Julian
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Boyd D. Berg
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Samuel T. Catlin
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Raymond T. Weld
FindAGrave - 1Lt Royce E Harms (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Thomas Rafael (tablets of the missing - date of death incorrectly listed as October 15, 1944)
1Lt Gerald P Smith (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - TSgt Stephen H Laichak (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Melvin J West (tablets of the missing photo)
Sgt Harold E Amos (tablets of the missing photo)
Sgt Herbert Julian (photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Boyd D Berg (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Samuel T Catlin (tablets of the missing)
Sgt Raymond T Weld (tablets of the missing)
Fold3.com - Crew of the Photo Queen by
Dr. James Bertel
Courier Post "Mystery of WWII plane unravels" by Carol Comegno September 5, 2015 [incorrectly claims plane crew was lost aboard was Photo Queen, rather, they were photographed in front of this aircraft prior to their loss.]
Thanks to Paul Julian and James Bertel for additional information
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
February 18, 2020
Sept 30, 1944