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The co-pilot’s great-nephew, Tom Hall, offers his interpretation
by Tom Hall (great-nephew of 1st Lt Thomas C. Domville MIA co-pilot B-26 Marauder 40-1402)
This is a complicated MIA case.

At the time, some B-26s conducted “armed reconnaissance” missions. Armed reconnaissance tactics were evolving when [B-26 Marauder] 40-1402 was lost.

Planned as a mission of seven B-26s, Mission PM 1 started on 9 May as a search for Japanese ships. The Form 5 of Lt. Charles I. Hitchcock indicates that [B-26] 40-1446 got only a short distance from Townsville (Garbutt) before having to turn back with a mechanical problem. Pilot Richard “Roy” Royall and co-pilot Tom Domville reached Port Moresby and took off on the search mission but aborted due to engine trouble. They brought 40-1402 back to Port Moresby. (22nd Bombardment Group mission summary for Mission PM 1, Exhibit A).

The other five B-26s split into at least two formations and went in different directions. Most of them returned to Port Moresby by 1300 hours. They soon took off to fly back to Townsville, and it appears that none of their crews mingled with the Royall crew at Moresby. It is presumed that 40-1402 would have gone back to Australia with them if it had been able to, but it was not ready to fly. A refueling error was discovered. It required the fuel system to be flushed. (Mechanic Frank Barcovic said that he had wondered for years afterwards whether the error, which was due to the drums not being marked very well, might have caused the loss of the plane. I assured him in person that 40-1402 had been shot down.)

A second B-26 mission, TOW 3, flew into Port Moresby and its three B-26s departed by 1130 to attack Deboyne. It appears that after their bombing attack, all three flew directly from Deboyne back to Australia, as one of the B-26s in Mission PM 1 had done. HQ was apparently becoming comfortable in having B-26s fly a giant triangle, with Deboyne at its eastern corner.

Near sunset on the evening of 9 May, another new tactic was tried. Townsville dispatched only one B-26. Lt. Powell and crew carried bombs and flew east from Townsville in 40-1433. They returned to Townsville without finding any target. Their mission reveals that HQ was now willing to send a lone B-26 on an armed reconnaissance mission – one that had little chance of success due to nightfall. (22nd Bombardment Group mission summary for Mission TOW 6, Exhibit B)

The crew of 40-1402 stayed overnight at Port Moresby with the airplane. Months later, it would be recorded that 40-1402 “remained for following operations”. (Exhibit A) “Remained for following operations” does not mean “was to return directly to Townsville.”

As 10 May began, HQ would have wanted to know whether the Japanese still occupied Deboyne. Number 40-1402 was ready to fly and was apparently the only airworthy B-26 at Port Moresby. There is conflict about what time it took off. One report states 0800 (2nd Bombardment Squadron mission summary for Mission PM 1, Exhibit C), but another, which was written months after the mission, states 0645L. (L for Local. 2nd Bombardment Squadron mission summary for Mission PM 51, Exhibit D). The latter fits the sequence of events better and is closer to the takeoff time for Mission PM 1 of 9 May, as well.

Japanese documents disagree about the time that 40-1402 arrived at Deboyne. They agree that it was a single B-26 that attacked. A detachment of men from seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru would report that one B-26 attacked at 0750 (apparently Tōkyō time, one hour earlier than Port Moresby); the action report of the Kiyokawa Maru Air Unit placed the attack at 0840, and the translation of a floatplane pilot’s diary placed the attack at 1030. (Exhibits E, F, G, respectively)

B-26 40-1402 made one strafing pass. It was shot down by two Japanese aviators who fired from fortifications made of felled palm trees. (Exhibit F)

Soon after 40-1402 became overdue at Townsville, a ledger at Townsville HQ correctly indicated that a B-26 was to strafe Deboyne and was overdue. (North Eastern Area mission ledger, Exhibit H, via Bruce Hoy) The officer who wrote that entry went so far as to label the mission with a mission number, “PM (Port Moresby) 51”. The most likely reason that HQ already knew that a B-26 was to strafe Deboyne is that they had probably ordered it. Allied investigation on the ground at Deboyne did not start until around 26 May. Interviews with the natives there presented a garbled scenario, including the possibility that some of the aircrew had been captured.

The aircrew was classified “Missing in Action”. Findings of Death were issued for each of them on 4 December 1945.

During her research into the fate of 40-1402, my mother received a reply from the Australian War Memorial. It stated that the RAAF Historical Office considered Royall’s attack on Deboyne to be “unauthorized”. It gave no further detail about that. (449/9/250, 2 May 1984) Some days later, RAAF Historical Officer Robert Piper replied offhandedly, “Perhaps they attacked Deboyne on their own, single iniative ?? [sic] Good luck in the project.” (Exhibit J) There is no evidence that he spent another minute researching the loss of 40-1402, much less saw the entry in the North Eastern Area Command ledger. It shows that Mission PM 51 was a single-plane strafing attack on Deboyne by a B-26. (Exhibit H)

Unfortunately, attempts to blame Richard R. Royall for the loss of the aircrew persist. In a unit history of the 22nd Bombardment Group, Revenge of the Red Raiders (Gaylor et al., 2006) the authors allege that Royall “decided to take a detour to the DeBoyne Islands.” Based on documents that record the attack as an authorized mission, and those that show other B-26s flying a giant triangle from Townsville to Port Moresby to Deboyne to Townsville, “decided to take a detour” is probably incorrect. In any case, historians cannot know exactly what Royall thought or heard.

In a newer book, Pacific Air War, Volume 3 (M. Claringbould & P. Ingman, 2019), the authors go out of their way to make this aircrew seem incompetent and nefarious. Based on their own misunderstandings about takeoff and arrival-at-target times, the authors come to the preposterous conclusion that the aircrew took more than twice the time normally needed to fly from Port Moresby to Deboyne. Having no way of knowing what the aircrew said in their last hours, the authors borrow the “decided to detour theory” from Gaylor et al. but rather than single out Royall, they imagine that “Royall and his crew had secretly decided to strafe Deboyne on their way home”, making it a conspiracy among the aircrew. The book claims that the aircrew “knew full well” not to strafe Deboyne. Allied records strongly suggest to the contrary.

Months after the plane was shot down, the 2nd Bombardment Squadron summarized Mission PM 51 with no complaint about any of the aircrew. Indeed, 1Lt. Royall was promoted posthumously to the rank of Captain. He also received the Air Medal, as did other members of that aircrew.

Mission PM 51 of 10 May 1942 is the first time in the Pacific War that a Martin B-26 made a strafing attack from very low altitude, and it is apparently the last time in the Pacific War that a B-26 would do so alone.

Thomas R. Hall
March 2021

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