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  F4U-1 Corsair Bureau Number 02285  
USMC
MAW-1
MAG-12
VMF-215
"Fighting Corsairs"

Pilot  Major Robert G. Owens, Jr., C.O. VMF-215 (survived) Greenville, SC
Ditched  January 24, 1944


Aircraft History
Built by Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1 Corsair bureau number 02285. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South Pacific and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC), Marine Air Wing 1 (MAW-1), Marine Air Group 12 (MAG-12), Marine Fighting Squadron 215 "Fighting Corsairs" VMF-215. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On January 24, 1944 took off at 6:35am from Barakoma Airfield on Vella Lavella Island piloted by Major Robert G. Owens and landed at Torokina Airfield on Bougainville to refuel the took off again at 10:35am leading the formation of twenty-nine Corsairs on a mission to provide independent high cover for TBF Avengers on a mission to attack Japanese shipping in Simpson Harbor off Rabaul.

This Corsair was part of the first division. Inbound to the target, six Corsairs aborted. The escorts also included P-38 Lightings. At 12:20pm, the Corsairs arrived over the target area ahead of the bombers by 10-15 minutes and flew two circles at 26,000'. Below, they spotted 5-6 flights of enemy Zeros and Tonys below and made three passes against them as the Avengers bombed shipping in Simpson Harbor at low level.

NARA "VMF-215 War Diary January 1944 Action Reports January 23, 1944" pages 62-63:
"Major Owens: Right over Rapopo, at about 8,000', as we were letting down toward the bombers, I saw a Zeke flying all by itself. I dove down on it, caught it at about 6,000' and gave it a long burst. He kicked to the right and left and I followed him and saw him smoking badly until he dove and turned back under me. I pulled up and looked back down at him. He was at about 4,000' smoking badly and going almost straight down. Then I climbed back up to the fighter formation and we went down to the bombers. We followed the bombers down the channel and we were first to th east of Cape Gazelle at 1500', weaving above the bombers, I saw a Jap coming towards the bombers low, from the south. I dove on him and caught him with a long burst at 10° deflection and saw him flame almost immediately and start down. He was not like any other Jap fighter plane that I've seen before. It had a rather short stubby fuselage with elliptical wings fairing back into the fuselage; large radial engine with a large spinner - and seemed to be going exceptionally fast."

During the air combat, this Corsair sustained gunfire damaged to the cockpit including at least three hits and Owens sustained burns and cuts on his face and arms and claimed one Tojo [sic] and 1 Zeke probable.

Departing, the formation departed flying at sea level southwards over Saint Georges Channel. Damaged, Owens ditched 30 miles to the west Torokina on Bougainville.

Fate of the Pilot
Owens managed to deploy his life raft, but was burned.

Rescue
Afterwards, Owens life raft was spotted by friendly aircraft that circled his position roughly 15 miles west of Torokina. At 2:15pm, PBY Catalina #17 piloted by Lt(jg) O. H. Patterson from U. S. Navy (USN) VP-14 landed to rescue Owens. Earlier that same afternoon, the same flying boat successfully rescued pilot 1st Lt Glen E. Hart who ditched P-38H 42-66897 on January 17, 1944. Afterwards, departed for Blanche Harbor arriving at 3:00pm. Both rescued pilots were transferred to a seaplane tender for medical care. On January 25, 1944 transported aboard a PT Boat back to the squadron.

Owens earned the Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained this mission. Also, the Navy Cross for his actions between January 5, 1944 to February 15, 1944.

Memorials
Owens remained in the U. S. Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. On September 1, 1968 promoted to the rank of Major General. honorary pallbearer at President Dwight D. Eisenhower's funeral. In 1972 he retired from the Marine Corps and passed away on October 31, 2007. He was buried on January 18, 2008 at Arlington National Cemetery at section 60 site 129.

References
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1 Corsair 02285
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List January 1944 - F4U-1A Corsair 02285
NARA "VMF-215 War Diary January 1944" pages 11-12
NARA "VMF-215 War Diary January 1944 Action Reports January 23, 1944" pages 59-64
(Page 62) "Major Owens: Right over Rapopo, at about 8,000', as we were letting down toward the bombers, I saw a Zeke flying all by itself. I dove down on it, caught it at about 6,000' and gave it a long burst. He kicked to the right and left and I followed him and saw him smoking badly until he dove and turned back under me. I pulled up and looked back down at him. He was at about 4,000' smoking badly and going almost straight down."
(Page 63) "Then I climbed back up to the fighter formation and we went down to the bombers. We followed the bombers down the channel and we were first to th east of Cape Gazelle at 1500', weaving above the bombers, I saw a Jap coming towards the bombers low, from the south. I dove on him and caught him with a long burst at 10° deflection and saw him flame almost immediately and start down. He was not like any other Jap fighter plane that I've seen before. It had a rather short stubby fuselage with elliptical wings fairing back into the fuselage; large radial engine with a large spinner - and seemed to be going exceptionally fast."
Austin American Statesman "Twin-engined angels save 38 lost airmen in 35 days" February 21, 1944
"Typical of the men who praise the Navy’s pilot recovery program are Marine Major Robert G. Owens, 26, McDaniel Court, Greenville, S.C. ...over Rabaul, Maj. Owens was in a burning plane. He had just downed his seventh Zero when his own plane was hit. Owen’s first reaction was to bail out. He even started to craw out onto the wing, but changed his mind when he saw he was directly over the city [Rabaul]. Getting back into his burning plane, he decided to try to get past Cape St. George, New Ireland. By some miracle the fire went out. On the horizon he saw the PBY that had picked up Hart, and when his plane motor started to fail. Owens radioed the PBY to stand by for a water landing. 'I had known of the great work done by those plane,' related the Marine ace, 'but now I say, God bless these men.' "
The Washington Post "Obituary Robert G. Owens Jr." November 11, 2007
FindAGrave - MG Robert Gordon Owens, Jr (photos, grave photo)

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Last Updated
January 23, 2019

 

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