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|Pilot 2nd Lt Henry A. Keel, O-004018 (POW, executed, MIA) Umatilla, FL
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Durward R. Reed, O-431512 (MIA / KIA) Lockland, OH
Bombardier Sgt George H. Bengel, 6705073 (MIA / KIA) Lake Worth, FL
Gunner Cpl Louis E. Murphy, 11013602 (survived) Portland, ME
Engineer Sgt Danforth E. Wilkins, 14006575 (MIA / KIA 12/6/42) Monroe, LA
Radio Sgt Thomas Marsh, 411504 RAAF (MIA / KIA) Portland, NSW
Ditched May 23, 1942
Built by North American Aviation (NAA) in Inglewood as the twenty-ninth B-25C Mitchell manufactured. Constructors Number 82-5097. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25C Mitchell serial number 41-12462. On February 19, 1942 assigned to the Netherlands East Indies Air Force (NEIAF) as B-25C serial number N5-126. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia and requisitioned back to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF).
On March 27, 1942 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 3rd Bombardment Group (3rd BG), 13th Bombardment Squadron (13th BS). No known nickname or nose art.
On May 23, 1942 took off from 14 Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt Henry A. Keel on a bombing mission against Lae Airfield. Aboard was Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) radio operator Sgt Thomas Marsh.
The formation of six was led by B-25 piloted by Captain Herman Lowery, Commanding Officer (C. O.) 13th Bombardment Squadron (13th BS) with wingmen B-25 pilot 1st Frank Timlin and this aircraft. The other three were B-25C 41-12491 pilot 1st Lt. Dickinson with B-25 pilot Shearer and B-25 piloted by Birnn. After taking off, Shearer failed to join the formation and aborted, leaving only five bombers to proceed with the mission.
Five minutes before reaching the target area, the B-25s were attacked by five A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai. After dropping their bombs, this B-25 was hit in the right engine by gunfire. The rest of the formation attempted to throttle back to stay in formation with the damaged bomber. Keel was unable to feather the damaged engine and waved the other B-25s off. Damaged, this B-25 successfully ditched near Salamaua. The entire crew survived the ditching. When this B-25 failed to return it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost was B-25C 41-12491 (two survived, 4 missing).
Fates of the Crew
All the crew exited the aircraft which sank quickly. Four Zeros then proceeded to strafe the survivors, who decided to separate for safety. The Zeros remained overhead until dark, presumably signaling the position of the crew in the water. None of the survivors were injured by the strafing.
Murphy swam in the opposite direction and reached the north coast of New Guinea. He was aided by local people and taken to the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) and later the Australian Army "Kanga Force" and later returned to duty.
Statement of Corporal Louis Murphy via Missing Air Crew Report 15937 (MACR 15937) page 2:
"Approximately five minutes after we had dropped the bombs (on Lae Airdrome) the formation was attacked by approximately eight type '0' fighters. During the attack, our airplane received a direct hit which knocked out the right engine. I believe that due to the right engine being shot out and being unable to stay with the formation, and with four Zeros pressing their attack in, Lt. Keel (pilot) decided to change a landing on the water. The landing was accomplished smoothly, and we abandoned the hip and immediately launched the life raft. We began grouping around the raft and the four Zeros began strafing us. This making such a large target, we were ordered by the pilot to separate. At this time, we were all safe and intact. I began swimming in the opposite direction from the rest and this was the last I saw of my crew. I do not believe that Sgt. Marsh (RAAF) and the rest of the crew were ever hit by the enemy airplanes for after the four Zeros left, I could still hear them yelling to each other, and the flight of the Zeros that came back did not strafe but once or twice, then began circling the raft and stayed over head until dark, seemingly to be watching and signaling the position."
Keel and possibly other members of the crew were captured by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and became Prisoners Of War (POW) and were transported to Lae then moved to Rabaul. Keel and possibly others from the crew were detained by the Keibitai 81st Naval Guard Unit (81st Naval Garrison Unit) at the Keibitai Headquarters at Rabaul. During 1942, Keel was executed and buried in a mass grave on Matupi Island.
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, a RAAF Searcher Team led by S/L Keith Rundle located a mass grave on Matupi Island that was exhumed during May–June 1947 and June–July 1950. During the exhumations, Keel's dog tag and likely his remains were recovered. Although his dog tag and likely his remains were found, forensics at the time did not identify the remains as him.
The missing crew members were officially declared dead on December 5, 1945. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Bengel earned the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Australian Marsh was officially declared dead the day of the mission on May 23, 1942. He is memorialized at Lae War Cemetery on the the Lae Memorial, panel 7.
Louis E Murphy passed away July 5, 1993. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in South Portland, ME at St Rocco 1.
Paul Wilkins (nephew of Danforth Wilkins)
Patrick Duffy (nephew of Louis Murphy)
"As a child I remember him telling his story of survival once he hit the water. We even had a comic book of war hero’s telling his story when I was a kid."
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Durward R. Reed
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Louis E. Murphy
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Danforth E. Wilkins
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25C Mitchell 41-12462
"12462 (MSN 82-5097) to Netherlands East Indies AF Feb 19, 1942 as N5-126. Ferried to Australia but impressed by USAAF Mar 27, 1942 and assigned to 3rd BG. Shot down May 23, 1942 during attack on Lae, New Guinea."
Missing Air Crew Report 15937 (MACR 15937) created retroactively circa 1945-1946
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25C Mitchell 41-12462
News "Posthumous DFC for former local gunner" [George H. Bengel]
"DSC Citation George H. Bengel: Technical Sergeant Bengel was bombardier and front gunner in one of a flight of five medium bombers raiding Lae. Intercepted by five enemy fighters before reaching the target, he drove off two attempts at head on attack. Despite anti-aircraft fire and continued interception, he placed his bombs well in a line down the runway. One engine of his airplane was disabled. Technical Sergeant Bengel ably defended it from frontal attacks, his accurate gunnery causing one enemy fighter plane to crash into the sea. A few minutes later his own aircraft was forced to a water landing. In this action and many others, Technical Sergent Bengel's resolute courage and his skill as bombardier and gunner were an inspiration to his comrades."
NAA "War crimes - First Lieutenant David S Hunter - Re execution by the Japanese at Rabaul" (NAA: A1838, 1550/19)
NAA "Fate of David Hunter (United States Air Force) - New Britain [Includes transcripts of proceedings; 4 components; 6cm]  New Britain 12: Fate of David Hunter (USAF) - New Britain [component 1 of 4]" (NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1852 PART 1)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Henry A. Keel
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Durward R. Reed
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - George H. Bengel
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Danforth E. Wilkins
CWGC - Thomas Marsh
FindAGrave - 1Lt Henry A Keel (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 1Lt Durward R Reed (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - TSgt George H Bengel (obituary, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Danforth E Wilkins (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sergeant Thomas Marsh (Lae Memorial)
FindAGrave - Louis E Murphy (grave photo)
Eagles of the Southern Sky (2012) pages 142-144, 332
Target Rabaul (2013) pages 225, 365, 356, 390
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis
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