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8th BS August 28, 1943
Justin Taylan Nov 2003
|Pilot 1st Lt. Robert B. Widener, O-791744 (MIA / KIA) Boston, MA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Bernard Lazarus, O-795411 (MIA / KIA) Bronx, NY
Gunner Sgt James W. Lefler, 16019155 (MIA / KIA) Madison County, IL
Crashed August 28, 1943
Built by North American. Constructors Number 87-8510. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-10 Mitchell serial number 41-30345. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 3rd Bombardment Group, 8th Bombardment Squadron. Possibly nicknamed "Reluctant Dragon". When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers were not noted.
On August 28, 1943 took off from Dobodura Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Robert B. Widener on a mission to bomb and strafe enemy shipping in the Hansa Bay area. Over the target, the formation attacked a 500-ton "Sugar Charlie" in the southeast corner of Hansa Bay.
During the bombing run, this B-25 was too close to the preceding plane's bomb blast and the explosion knocked off the right wing and tail near the eastern side of Hansa Bay. Streaming smoke, the damaged B-25 crashed into Hansa Bay among the ships it was attacking. The entire crew was instantly killed in the crash. When this bomber failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
The bomber's crash was documented in a series of four photos from the proceeding B-25 that captured its final moments and were later published in a series of photos captioned "Death of a Grim Reaper".
Bill Swain also explains:
"Per Mike Kischkum, one of the [B-25] gunners on a plane directly behind Widener's [this aircraft], Widener got too close to the plane in front of him and ran into the the bomb blast of that plane, which knocked off the right wing and tail, causing the crash. This is also stated in the 3rd Bomb Group's 'The Reapers Harvest' photo album".
Veteran Jack Hyen recalls from his diary:
"An extraordinary shot, or I should say series of shots. I'm sure they'd make a wonderful feature news story in any newspapers, but they will probably never get close to a news press. It is an 8th Sq ship on a mission at [Hansa Bay] where it caught some small shipping. It was knocked down by the bombs from the ship which took the picture. In the top picture he is coming over on his pass and the bomb that got him has just began its explosion. In the center the ship has its tail section and right wing blown clean off and dives to the water. The last one shows the ship enveloped in smoke as it hit the water and exploded. I imagine the Japs got a big bang out of this incident but I'm sure they didn't enjoy the thorough going over they got from the rest of the ships in the formation, cause as you can plainly see there was plenty of close fireworks for them."
The wreckage of this B-25 remains on the sandy bottom of Hansa Bay. Nearby are several small Japanese shipwrecks, possibly the same ones attacked that same day.
Justin Taylan adds:
"During early November 2003 while visiting Hansa Bay with John Douglas, we visited the beach pictured in the foreground of the second photo in the sequence. This idyllic beach was a place of violence sixty years ago. In the sea is the wreckage of the B-25 and several Japanese shipwrecks. I snorkeled the water, in hopes of finding the wreckage, but the water quality was too murky that day. On the beach is the base of a Japanese 75mm anti-aircraft gun, partially buried in the sand. Earlier that year, storms revealed Japanese bones around the gun. According to locals, a Japanese delegation recently preformed a memorial service at the gun, and candles and incense were still present. We posed for a group photo, with the site of the B-25 crash behind us. One of our friends used a Japanese bayonet as a machete, even to this day!"
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Lefler also has a memorial marker at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery at section M1 Site 64.
Previously, Widener survived the ditching of B-25D 41-30313 off Nassau Bay and returned to duty
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert B. Widener
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Bernard Lazarus
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - James W. Lefler
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-10 Mitchell 41-30345
8th Bombardment Squadron History frame 1968
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert B. Widener
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Bernard Lazarus
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James W. Lefler
FindAGrave - 1Lt Robert B Widener (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Bernard Lazarus (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt James W Lefler (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - James W. Lefler (photo, memorial marker photo)
The Reaper's Harvest Yearbook
"Death of a Grim Reaper. At Hansa Bay the hazards of low level bombing are graphically illustrated. An overanxious Grim Reaper follows too close on the path of the plane that preceded him and receives the full blast of his bombs. Part of the wing is ripped off and the plane tossed over on its back. In the final photograph of this tragic sequence, the stricken craft strikes the water and is dashed to pieces. The entire crew was instantly killed."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25D Mitchell pilot Widener
Thanks to Bill Swain and Jack Heyn for additional information
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