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  B-26B "Kansas City Kitty" Serial Number 41-17585  
5th AF
38th BG
69th BS

Pilot  1st Lt Robert E. Wilmarth, O-425177 (survived) Medway, MA
Co-Pilot  Lt. Lloyd B. Field (survived)
Navigator  Lt. Paul R. Tibbets (survived)
Crew  Lt. James W. Magers (survived)
Crew  Pfc Ervin A. Wilkening, 37143919 (MIA / KIA) NB
Crew  ? (survived)
Crew  ? (survived)
Crew  ? (survived)
Crew  ? (survived)
Crashed  September 18, 1942
MACR  16549

Aircraft History
Built by Martin in Baltimore, Maryland. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-26B Marauder serial number 41-17585.

Wartime History
During May 1942 assigned to 38th Bombardment Squadron, 69th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Kansas City Kitty" by pilot Lt. Stephen H. Howburt.

During late May 1942 or early June 1942 one of twenty-six B-26B Marauders from the 69th Bombardment Squadron and 70th Bombardment Squadron that took off from Hamilton Field on a 13 hour ferry flight to Hickam Field. This was the first over water flight of B-26s flying from California to Hawaii without loss.

On June 15, 1942 took off from Hickam Field on a ferry flight across the Pacific via Christmas Airfield, Canton Airfield and Fiji before arriving on June 23, 1942 at Plaine des Gaiacs Airfield on New Caledonia. This B-26 flew patrol and training missions in support of COMAIRSOPAC.

Mission History
On September 18, 1942 took off from Plaine des Gaiacs Airfield on New Caledonia piloted by 1st Lt Robert E. Wilmarth with eight others aboard on a flight bound for Efate Island in New Hebrides to join the forward echelon of the squadron. Enroute the aircraft encountered bad weather and became lost when the radio compass malfunctioned. With darkness approaching, the pilot was able to locate land but was unable to find a suitable landing area and instead ordered the crew to bail out.

Fates of the Crew
After bailing out, all nine crew members exited the aircraft and landed on the shore of Espiritu Santo or in the water nearby. All were rescued and returned to duty with the exception of Pfc Ervin A. Wilkening who was believed to have landed in the sea and drown. His body was not recovered and was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Wilkening was officially declared dead the day of the mission and earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. He is memorialized at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on the courts of the missing, court 5.

Wilmarth retired with the rank of Major from the United States Air Force (USAF). He passed away on June 30, 2011 and is buried at New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-26B Marauder 41-17585
"41-17585 (38th BG, 69th BS, 5th AF) abandoned by crew over Espiritu Santo Island in the New Hebrides when ran out of fuel Sep 18, 1942. All crew rescued. [sic]"
Missing Air Crew Report 16549 (MACR 16549) was created retroactively during 1945–1946
History of the 69th Bombardment Squadron
"Several days later on September 18, the 69th lost its next B-26 when Lt. Wilmarth with Lts. Field and Tibbets and six enlisted men on a flight to Efate from Plaines de Gaiac, were lost in bad weather. The radio compass was 180 degrees off, so after turning th plane around and heading back for what fortunately was land, Lt. Wilmarth and crew were forced to bail out over Espiritu Santo. All men landed safely on or near the shore, except one PFC Erwin R. Wilkening, who was lost in the sea."
Letter Major Robert E. Wilmarth, March 29, 1948 via MACR 16549 page 2:
"On the afternoon of 18 September 1942, a B-26 loaded with a crew of myself, three (3) officers and five (5) enlisted men departed the airstrip of Plaine de Gaiac, New Caledonia, for the island of Efate which is one of the southernmost islands of the New Hebridies group. Weather was encountered in route and we became lost after futile attempts to home on radio signal due to faulty installation of loop antenna, it was believed.
Let down was made after sunset when a light was spotted in a break in the overcast, and flight was directed over a well lighted area which proved to be lights on docks and ships being unloaded. With but a few minutes of gas left and not at all cognizant of our position the bailout order was given by me after a futile attempt to locate a landing strip. This was latter found to be the Navy Club I Hospital on the island of Espiritu Santo.
Every man was equipped with a life vest and chute. The crew left the ship through the bomb bay and all chutes were reported as having opened clear of ship by Lt. Magers who was acting as bailout master and next to last to leave. After was reported clear by Lt. Magers, I followed shortly after him.
The ship was flown in a circle during the bailout procedure to enable the crew to land as close to the lighted area as possible. All survivors landed on shore or in the bay without major injuries."
FindAGrave - Robert E Wilmarth (grave photo, obituary)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ervin A. Wilkening
FindAGrave - PFC Ervin A Wilkening (courts of the missing photo)
Thanks to Greg Boeser for additional information

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Last Updated
October 1, 2018


Tech Info

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