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|Pilot 1st Lt. Wesley E. "Wes" Dickinson, O-404165 (survived) San Jose, CA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Theodore G. Wuerpel, O-431590 (MIA / KIA) Mexico
Bombardier Sgt James H. Webb, 6383911 (survived) Haslam, TX
Gunner Sgt John A. Gibson, 405549 RAAF (MIA / KIA) Tabulam, NSW
Gunner Cpl. Richard M. Haley, 11014921 (MIA / KIA) Grafton County, NH
Passenger Cpl. Earl R. Sevene, 11015350 (MIA / KIA) Washington County, VT
Crashed May 23, 1942
Built by North American Aviation (NAA) in Inglewood. Constructors Number 82-5126. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25C Mitchell serial number 41-12491. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 3rd Bombardment Group (3rd BG), 90th Bombardment Squadron (90th BS). No known nickname or nose art.
On May 23, 1942 took off from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt. Wesley E. Dickinson on a bombing mission against Lae Airfield. One of the gunners, Sgt John A. Gibson was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Aboard as a passenger was Cpl. Earl R. Sevene a ground crew member who asked Dickinson to join the crew to experience a combat mission.
The formation of six was led by B-25 pilot Captain Herman F. Lowery, Commanding Officer (C. O.) 13th Bombardment Squadron (13th BS) with wingmen B-25 pilot 1st Frank Timlin and B-25C 41-12462 pilot 2nd Lt. Keel. The other three were B-25C 41-12491 pilot 1st Lt. Dickinson with B-25 pilot Shearer and B-25 pilot Birnn. After taking off, Shearer failed to join the formation and aborted, leaving only five bombers to proceed on the mission.
Five minutes before reaching the target area, the B-25s were attacked by five A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group). After dropping their bombs, the B-25 formation flew southward down the north coast of New Guinea towards Buna. Undetected due to haze, a solitary A6M2 Zero piloted by WO Gitaro Miyazaki made a head-on pass against this bomber, hitting the right engine and nose killing two crew: Wuerpel and Sevene.
Pilot Dickinson ordered the rest of the crew to bail out, and held the damaged bomber long enough for them to escape. Webb bailed out first, followed by Dickinson. The rest of the crew were dead and went down with the bomber when it crashed near Cape Loena. When this bomber failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost was B-25C 41-12462 (MIA).
Fates of the Crew
Dickinson bailed out and landed unhurt near Fufuda and was assisted by villager named Hangiri who brought him to Gona Mission Station, where he waited for MacClaren King to pick him up. During his stay at the mission, he befriended Reverend James Benson and Mavis Parkins.
Before departing, he gave his compass to Benson who later used while trekking inland to escape the area. When the MacClaren King arrived at Gona, Dickinson boarded and met Webb who had landed in a nearby village further down the coast and were transported to Port Moresby. Both returned to duty. Afterwards, he married an Australian woman and worked in the computer industry until the 1970s, then retired in San Jose, California. In the late 1990s he corresponded with the son of Hangiri, Malchus Hangiri.
Webb bailed out and landed unhurt in the jungle and wandered for three weeks before finding a native village. Assisted by the natives, he was escorted to Australian spotters Bald, Irwin and O'Connor at Ioma, then taken to Gona Mission to join Dickinson. Together, they were transported to Port Moresby.
In December 1946, a RAAF Searcher Team led by S/L Keith Rundle searched for this aircraft, and met Reverend James Benson, but deemed the aircraft to be unrecoverable and abandoned the search.
According to Fufuda villagers, this B-25 crashed in a swamp near the bank of the Kumusi River. It was known to them for several years after the crash. By the early 2000s, the crash site was either covered by sediment or swept away during seasonal flooding.
Four of the crew: Wuerpel, Sevene, Haley and Gibson remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.
Wuerpel was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Sevene was officially declared dead on May 23, 1942. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Haley was officially declared dead on November 18, 1945. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. An American Legion post in New Hampshire is named in his honor.
Gibson was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized at Lae War Cemetery on the Lae Memorial, panel 7.
Webb passed away on July 5, 1986 at aged 72. He is buried at Forest Park East Cemetery at Shreveport, LA.
Dickenson passed away on December 2, 2009 at age 92 in Saratoga, CA. He has an unknown burial.
Note, the approximate wartime position of the crash of this B-25 is incorrectly listed as Lat 4.35 Long 145.32, this location is on the north coast of New Guinea northwest of Madang near Kar Kar Island.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Theodore G. Wuerpel
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Richard M. Haley
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Earl R. Sevene
WW2 Nominal Roll - John Arthur Gibson, 405549
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25C Mitchell 41-12491
"12491 (MSN 82-5126) to Netherlands East Indies AF Apr 1, 1942. Ferried to Australia and taken over by USAAF. Shot down May 23, 1942 during attack on Lae, New Guinea"
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) unnumbered created retroactively circa 1945-1946 related to B-25C 41-12491
90th Bombardment Squadron History (90th BS History) page 38
Report by S/L Rundle on Missing Aircraft Mitchell B-25 41-12491 October 12, 1946
RAAF Survey of Aircraft Wreckage, Papua New Guinea, number 170 page 6, map attachment 12
"#170 | 09.01-147.59 | Owen Stanleys [sic near Fufuda] | B-25 41-12491 | Believed lost in this area"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Theodore G. Wuerpel
FindAGrave - 2Lt Theodore G Wuerpel (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Corp Earl R Sevene (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sergeant John Arthur Gibson (Lae Memorial)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Richard M. Haley
FindAGrave - Corp Richard M Haley (tablets of the missing)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Earl R. Sevene
FindAGrave - Corp Earl R Sevene (tablets of the missing)
CWGC - Sgt John A. Gibson
FindAGrave - James H. “Sparky” Webb Sr. (obituary)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25C Mitchell 41-12491
Prisoner's Base and Home Again (1957) by James Benson mentions the surviving crew members
The Private War of the Spotters (1990) pages 48-49
"The pilot, W. E. Dickenson (sic) of Delworth, Minnesota asked the bombardier James Webb to jump first and he followed soon afterwards. Astonishingly, Dickenson took a compass bearing on a native village as he was descending. He had little difficulty locating the village and the natives escorted him to Sangara Mission station, just three days walk away. He had a badly wounded right arm and shoulder, but mercifully he survived.
Jim Webb was less fortunate. After his parachuted landing he wandered, hopelessly lost for three weeks before he came across a friendly native village, whose people escorted him to the spotters Bald, Irwin and O'Connor at Ioma. Webb was given attention by the signalmen for four days before he was fit to join up with Dickenson at Gona. These two airmen were transported back to base in the mission schooner 'MacClaren King'."
Letter to Malchus Hangiri from Wesley Dickinson October 8, 1997
I Was Lucky (2003) by Wesley Dickinson pages 125-139
Interview with Malchus Hangiri by Justin Taylan September 7, 2005
Eagles of the Southern Sky (2012) pages 142-144, 332
Tributes - Wesley Edward Dickinson (obituary)
Thanks to Wesley Dickinson, Malchus Hangiri, Edward Rogers and Daniel Leahy for research and analysis
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
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Bailing Out Over New Guinea
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