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  F4U-1A Corsair Bureau Number 17917  

Pilot  1st Lt. W. J. Thomas (rescued)
Crashed  September 23, 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1A Corsair bureau number 17917. Disassembled and shipped to the South Pacific (SOPAC) and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) to 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW-1), Marine Air Group 12 (MAG-12), Marine Fighting Squadron 213 "Hell Hawks" VMF-213. No known nickname or markings.

Mission History
On September 23, 1943 at 8:00am took off from the Russell Islands piloted by 1st Lt. W. J. Thomas as part of the second section of Shaw's Division on a mission to provide high cover for four SBD Dauntless and twelve TBF Avengers against Jakohina on southern Bougainville. The F4U Corsairs from VMF-213 were part of a sixty fighter escort including F4U Corsairs from VMF-214.

At 8:30am rendezvoused over Munda Point on New Georgia plus four Dauntless and twelve Avengers at 10,000' then proceeded to the target climbing to 14,000'. As the bombers and fighters approached the target area, twenty-four B-24s escorted by P-38s that hit Kahili Airfield were leaving the target area to the west and passed below the Corsair high cover.

At 9:30, the bombers made their dive bombing runs as the high cover was intercepted by many Zeros and a confused air combat developed from 22,000' down to 10,000'. Departing towards Shortlands, Thomas engaged Zeros until hit by gunfire from the rear and dove to roughly 2,000' with oil obscuring the left side of the canopy and was loosing oil pressure. Despite nosing downward and throttling back, the engine seized midway between the Treasury Islands and Vella Lavella, did a loop and bailed out sucuessfully at roughly 9:45am or 10:00am and saw his aircraft crash into the sea. Also lost was F4U Corsair 17920 pilot Roberts (MIA).

Fate of the Pilot
When Thomas' parachute opened, the leg straps were too loose and jerked when opened causing bruises and abrasions landed in the sea. Afterwards, other F4U Corsairs from VMF-214 circled Thomas until he deployed his life raft then departed.

After some difficulty, Thomas was able to deploy his life raft and cut off his parachute off by the shroud lines, cleaned and oiled his pistol then began paddling towards Vella LaVella but made no headway until roughly 3:00pm then became exhausted from the heat and rested.

At 5:30pm, spotted by a PBY Catalina escorted by four P-40s and seven F4U Corsairs that passed within five miles but did not see me despite releasing marker dye and firing three flares.

At 7:30pm, spotted another search plane and released more sea marker and tried to use a mirror as a reflector and waved the sail and yelled. Spotted by the escorting F4U Corsairs that zoomed over his life raft as the PBY Catalina circled the raft and released smoke bombs before landing to rescue him. Before departing, the gunners fired at the life raft to sink it. Afterwards, flown to Rendova and put ashore at 7:00pm and spent the night at the Rendova PT Boat Base. On September 24, 1943 transported by PT Boat back to Munda arriving at noon.


Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1A Corsair 17917
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List September 1943 F4U-1 Corsair 17917 pilot Thomas
NARA "VMF-213 War Diary September 1943" page 25-30
(Page 25) "September 23, 1943: Losses: 1st Lt. W. J. Thomas, Missing In Action - 1 F4U."
(Page 27) "[1st Lt. E. O. Shaw] I pulled back up to about 10,000 feet, over the bombers. Gus Thomas called me and told me that his oil line had been hit and that he was heading for home."
(Page 28) "[1st Lt. E. O. Shaw] I never saw Thomas again, but soon after we had separated, I heard him call over his radio that his oil pressure was out and he was going home. When I heard Thomas calling, I started back on the course that I thought he would take, in hopes of joining him but could not find him, so I returned home.
1st Lt. W. J. Thomas:
I was leading the second section in Shaw's division, furnishing high cover for the SBD's and the TBF's on strike against Jakohina.
...We were at this time heading back away from the target in the direction of the Shortlands. Roberts was still flying on Shaw. Two Zeros were tailing Roberts out of range. I turned into them, fired, and they turned away, but I could not observe any results of my fire. I then returned to Shaw and Roberts and scissored a couple of times with them. As we scissored a Zero tailed in behind Roberts, and I was able to sneak in behind it, fired into it and it burst into flames and went down burning. I could see Shaw and Roberts until a Zero made a head-on at me from above, I pulled into it, fired at it and it began t burn around the wing roots and cowling. It passed under me and as I looked down, I saw the Jap pilot jetison his hood and bail out. I did not see Shaw again. As I leveled off after shooting the third Zero, and F4U with a Zero on its tail, dove down under me from my port side. All I had to do was a high side to get 45° deflection shot, I fired, the Zero burst into
(Page 29) "flames and spun on down."
(Page 30) "made little headway..."

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Last Updated
February 14, 2020


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