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John Douglas July 2006
|Pilot 2nd Lt. Richard S. Strommen, O-746216 (survived) Fort Atkinson, WI
Crashed September 15, 1943 at roughly 1:15pm
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38G-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-12709. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 8th Fighter Group (8th FG), 80th Fighter Squadron (80th FS) "Headhunters". No known nickname or nose art. When lost, this aircraft was described by Strommen as "The plane I was flying [this aircraft] was the oldest on the field but in very good condition."
On September 15, 1943 in the early morning took off from 3 Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt. Richard S. Strommen on a fighter sweep over Wewak ahead of a bombing mission by B-24 Liberators from the 90th Bombardment Group (90th BG).
This aircraft was part of the third flight flying as wingman for Captain Norbert C. Ruff. Inbound to the target, one P-38 in this flight aborted the mission and returned to base. This was Strommen's second combat mission and he had only been in the combat zone for fifteen days.
Arriving over Wewak at an altitude of 20'000', the P-38s spotted enemy fighters flying low in various sectors with the largest number over the sea between 10,000' to 16,000'. The P-38s released their drop tanks and dove to intercept. During this run, Strommen fired several shot bursts at one fighter that performed a split S'ed and observed no hits. After this attack he lost his flight leader and pulled up to gain altitude and joined another formation of three P-38s and made another pass at enemy fighters and again observed no hits before it split S'ed.
Again, Strommen became separated and continued to made two firing passes on enemy fighters on his own. Likely, he was opening fire too soon and his tracers were observed by the enemy fighters allowing them to take evasive action. During his next solo pass, he believed he scored hits but at the same time heard the sound of "as of ripping paper" and saw bullets hitting his wing and engine nacelle causing the engine to fail and saw an "Zeke" [sic Ki-43 Oscar] behind pulling straight up. Running low on fuel and damaged, he pulled up and escaped. Over the radio, he called twice for an escort home but got no response, possibly due to radio chatter from other pilots engaged in combat.
Alone, he headed of 180° southward then flew on a course of 160° to reach the southern coast of New Guinea as quickly as possible and encountered several layers of clouds with about 90% cloud coverage and began to descend to 600' until he was able to fly below the overcast. Although he could see offshore islands to the left and the sea to the right and flew inland searching for any landmarks and climbed to 12,000 to avoid hills and clouds.
Lost, he called for a vector from "Madam" to base but radio reception was poor and full of radio chatter from others. Waiting for a reply, he circled for 30 minutes waiting a, then flew on a course of 129° until he ran out of gas and began a gentle glide at an altitude of 5,000' when he bailed out over the interior of New Guinea at roughly 1:15pm. While descending, he saw his P-38 continue to glide then crashed into the bush and never saw it again.
Fate of the Pilot
Strommen landed in tree suspended off the ground and took about 30 minutes to cut himself free from the harness using his knife and immediately began walking on a course of 135° using his compass and the machete from his jungle survival kit. He walked for two hours to get away form the area he landed, believing he might have landed in enemy territory.
The first day, he observed four native people in a canoe and attempted to signal them but they turned around and departed. The area where he landed was swamp lands and he was in knee deep water for seven days. During that time, he swam across several rivers and lived off only D-rations. During his trek, he found several native gardens where he built fires and one night slept in an abandoned shelter. Mosquitoes were unbearable and his hands and legs became covered in sores and lacerations.
On September 22, 1943 five days after bailing out, Strommen found a walking track and followed it to a native village and asked for the chief and was given bananas and coconuts, washed and given clean clothing and spent the night in a douba men's house. On September 23, 1943 they transported him via canoe to Romilly Sawmill near Port Romilly where six Australians from Australia New Guinea Administration Unit (ANGAU) were stationed that relayed a message to the nearest wireless station about his presence. For three days, he rested at the sawmill until a launch arrived on September 28, 1942 and transported him to Kikori. On September 29, 1943 a Catalina landed at Kikori and flew him back to Port Moresby.
This P-38 crashed near Baimuru (Ibiko) in Gulf Province. The tail boom has traces of a tail letter (letter unknown). The 80th Fighter Squadron used letters the tails of aircraft.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Richard S. Strommen
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38G-1-LO Lightning 42-12709
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38G Lightning 42-12709
National Archives 90th Fighter Squadron History Frame 359 Microfilm 1065#3
E&E Report No. 4 - Evasion and Escape in New Guinea Richard S. Strommen November 12, 1943 pages 1-5
Wisconsin State Journal "Fort Flier Walks 'Home'" October 2, 1943 page 1
Wisconsin State Journal "Lieut. Strommen at Ft. Sheridan" June 21, 1945 page 7
Tales of a War Pilot (2001) chapter 3 "Escape from the Stone Age" pages 29-50 recounts Strommen's loss and return
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional research and analysis
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