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8th PRS 1943
RAAF February 1944
Justin Taylan 2006
|Pilot 1st Lt. Frederic G. "Fred" Hargesheimer (rescued) Rochester, MN
Crashed June 5, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Constructors Number 222-7506. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38G-10-LO Lightning serial number 42-13073 and converted into a F-5A-10-LO photographic reconnaissance version. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group (6th PRG), 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (8th PRS). Nicknamed "Eager Beavers" with no nose art. Squadron number "73" (last two digits of the serial number).
On June 5, 1943 at 1:00pm took off from Dobudura Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Frederic G. "Fred" Hargesheimer on a photographic reconnaissance mission over West New Britain in search of Japanese barge traffic. At 2:00pm over Arawe, he made a position and weather report via radio but his unit was unable to decipher his message because Hargesheimer was give the wrong code card before taking off but was able to track his position by map coordinates.
Next, he passed over the southeastern tip of Rooke Island twice and found nothing, then circled Cape Gloucester Airfield and photographed runway area from 6,000' and observed no activity, then flew around Lolobau Island. Flying over the north coast of New Britain, he descended to 3,000' to avoid bad weather near the Talasea Peninsula and when he reached Garua the sky cleared.
He observed what appeared to be a new runway at Ubili Airfield (Sule) and circled it gaining altitude and afterwards proceeded southwards toward Gasmata, to confuse the Japanese, then turned northward to orbit Ubili Airfield (Sule) again. By this time, the weather had cleared and Hargesheimer searched for enemy barges reported in the area and made a photographic run over Ulamona sawmill and again circled Lolobau Island near Open Bay.
After departing Lolabu, this aircraft was attacked from behind by a single Ki-45 Nick from the 13th Sentai. The first attack caused sharp rattling noises and he checked his instruments believing he had engine problems. A second attack caused a large hole and fire on the rear of the left nacelle and observed the twin engine fighter behind him. Diving to the right, the left engine temperature gauge went into the red and he feathered the propeller and was unable to release his drop tanks. Damaged, he attempted to reach a cloud bank but the right engine was also hit and failed.
The School That Fell From the Sky, pages 35-36:
"I spotted what looked like the construction of a new airfield. I leveled off and circled the area for a better look. The least I could do was shoot a set of pictures and let the photo interpreters back at the base decide if this was an important field. I carefully lined up for a low-altitude pass over what looked like a runway and set the camera intervelometer for a series of overlapping pictures. The cameras were rolling when I was startled by a series of sharp staccato sounds. Eager Beaver quivered a bit as I made a hurried check of the engine instruments. Everything seemed normal. Suddenly a long jagged tear appeared in the port engine cowling. An instant later a puff of black smoke shot out from the hole, followed by a burst of flame. Instinctively I sent Eager Beaver into a screaming dive with throttles wide open; only then did I dare sneak a glance at the rear view mirror. I was afraid to look - but afraid not to. Turing my head, I stared straight into the flaming snout of a twin-engine enemy fighter."
Opening the canopy to bail out at roughly 1,500', the hatch did not completely release and while attempting to push it away Hargesheimer was sucked clear of the plane and opened his parachute and drifted down near the Pandi River and Nakunai Mountains. His aircraft crashed below him and he landed in the same vicinity and burst into flames instantly as the wing tanks were still full. As he descended, the enemy fighter fired at him but missed before landing in trees. Hiding his parachute, the fighter strafed where he landed but again missed.
Escape & Evasion
Wandering in the jungle for 31 days alone until he found villagers from Nantabu village who hid him for six months. Later, he was taken to the camp of Australian Commandos who arranged his rescue, along with other American and Australian aviators from behind enemy lines. On February 5, 1944 the USS Gato (SS-212) surfaced in Open Bay near Maitanakunai and transported them to Finschafen. From there, he was sent back to the United States.
Generosity To The People Who Helped Him
Back in America, Hargesheimer wondered what he could to to repay the villagers who had saved his life. Hargesheimer concluded that education and health services would be his gifts to the Nakanai people. He saved and returned to New Guinea in 1960 and in 1964 donated money to establish two schools: Ewasse Airmen's Memorial school and the Noau Primary school in West New Britain. He and his wife even lived among the people to serve as teachers. A health center was dedicated in 1969, with an oil palm plantation to fund the projects. Nearly every year, he returns to visit the school until July 2004.
In July 2006, Hargesheimer returned to New Britain and was taken by helicopter and then carried on a chair to the wreckage of his aircraft that had been discovered by locals in the Nantabu Mountains, including unexposed film from his cameras.
Cecilie Benjamin adds:
"90 year old [Hargesheimer] reunited with his plane in the depths of the PNG jungle after 63 years. He said "well I'm glad I didn't end up in that!" when I showed him the burnt out wing section where he had been hit. Craig, John and I had spent a total of 5 hours with the wreckage. It has been washed down a beautiful rain forest rocky creek. Progressing along it we saw bits of boom, manifolds, tail sections, a radio, wing, back strut, you name it until we got back to the main body of props, engine, left wing cowling, possible inverted cockpit etc."
USAF Serial Number Search Results - F-5A-10-LO Lightning 42-13073
"13073 assigned to 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at 14 Mile Drome near Port Moresby. Shot down Jun 5, 1943 on a mission over the New Britain by a Japanese Ki-45 Nick. The pilot parachuted into the jungle, where he barely survived for 31 days until found by local hunters who cared for him. Later, he was taken to the camp of Australian Commandos who arranged his rescue, along with other American and Australian aviators from behind enemy lines aboard submarine USS Gato on February 5, 1944."
E&E Report No. 34 - Frederic G. Hargesheimer pages 1-9
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - F5A Lightning 42-13073
Paradise Magazine May-June Issue (2006) by Cecilie Benjamin
FredHargesheimer biographical website
Hostages to Freedom (1995) mentions Hargesheimer
The School That Fell From the Sky (2002) by Fred Hargesheimer
Associated Press (AP) "WWII Pilot who forever repaid rescuers died" December 23, 2010 via Wayback Machine
70,000 to One (1947) Quentin James Reynolds mentions Hargesheimer
"We had gone out about fifty yards when one of the sailors spotted a signal from shore. It was dark now, but we could see a flashlight signaling. They turned the boat back to shore and rowed in the direction of the light. Three men were waiting for us - three men I had never seen before. They had been with Captain Stokey. They introduced themselves as Wing Commander Townsend, Flight Officer McClamont and Fred Hargesheimer."
UMN "Shot down over Papua New Guinea in '43, Minnesota native visits PNG project headquarters at the U" by G. Marty September 23, 1999 via Wayback Machine September 1, 2006
The National "The Chief Warrior" October 13, 2000
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