|Pilot 1st Lt. William T. Ritter, O-797714 (MIA / KIA) Oconomowoc, WI
MIA January 18, 1944
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66554. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 432nd Fighter Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engines V-1710-89 serial number 42-93701 and V-1710-91 serial number
42-29699. Weapon serial numbers noted in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 1914.
On January 18, 1944 took off from Doboudra Airfield No. 10 on a fighter sweep over Wewak. Weather was overcast at 23,000' with low scattered cumulus clouds.
Over the target, at 18,000' the formation intercepted a group of roughly twelve Ki-61 Tony fighters. Lt. Ritter and his wingman Lt. Michener both had trouble releasing their drop tanks before intercepting a single Tony that broke formation and flew in front of them. Both P-38s opened fire and hit the enemy plane, Ritter's gunfire set it on fire. As Ritter's plane passed, his left wingtip collided with the the center of the Tony's left wing at roughly 10:50am. The wingtip tore off and this P-38 burst into flames. Last seen at roughly Lat 3.33 Long 143.38.
1st Lt. John E. Michener states in MACR 1914 page 5:
“I was flying on Lt. Ritter’s wing at 18,000’ when I first sighted the enemy. There were about 12 Tonys directly in front and a[t] 1,000’ above us. One of the Tonys peeled down, as if snafued, directly in front of us. He didn't see us until after we had fired at very short range. Lt. Ritter and I both had trouble dropping our belly tanks. Lt. Ritter and I were in a tight formation when we attacked the Tony. As I swerved over Lt. Ritter and [I went] out to the the right. I fired at the Tony before he was directly in front of us. As I pulled back over to the left to avoid Lt. Ritter gave him a burst that set him on fire. When the Tony was hit he appeared to cut back to the right and up. As Lt. Ritter’s plane, having excess speed, was passing to the right of the Tony, his left wing tip collided with the center of the Tonys right wing. He immediately burst into flames and started down. I past over to the left of both planes. I nosed down and turned slightly to the left to try to see what had happened to Lt. Ritter. I was unable to see if he had bailed out.”
Postwar, this aircraft was located by Australian authorities. No action has ever been taken by the U.S. regarding this case to date.
Brian Bennett adds:
"A couple of years ago I did manage to convince JPAC that there was information to be had at the AWM and Nat archives and pursuade pay for a bus trip down. In one of the old RAAF files I found some odds and sods of notes that were not tied to any particular file and I recall that I wrote theses down. As I say I can’t find them at the moment but I did plot stuff to maps-I always do this as maps and I get on. There was something on Ritter-a strange note but which indicated that the crash site of his aircraft had been found as an engine number had been found and noted.
I nearly certain that the engine number was 42-93701 and the site was located near a village called KWOIRUO which is on PNG topo series T 683, Sheet 7590 Maprick. On the very poor map from the MACR microfishe-and that is another point as the MACR records at Jpac Hq are all on microfishe and so many are degraded now that is very hard to read them. Now I have no idea if there is a crash site in that area of Kwoiruo as these places are hard to get to now by road if at all."
Ritter was officially declared dead on January 16, 1946. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart (posthumously). Ritter is memorialized on the tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Emily Ritter (relative of William T. Ritter)
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-1-LO Lightning 42-66554
"66554 (475th FG, 431st FS) MIA Jan 18, 1944"
Missing Air Crew Report 1914 (MACR 1914)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William T. Ritter
1Lt William T Ritter (tablets of the missing)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66554
Thanks to Philip Fazzini for additional pilot details
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June 4, 2019