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  P-38H-1-LO Lightning Serial Number 42-66596 Tail 179
5th AF
475th FG
433rd FS

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Justin Taylan Oct 29, 2003

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Justin Taylan Nov 1, 2015
Pilot  2nd Lt. John Clay Smith, O-736392 (MIA / KIA) Portsmith, OH
Crashed  November 9, 1943 at 10:25am
MACR  unknown (JPAC/DPAA: 2144-A)

Aircraft History
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Constructors Number 1107. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66596. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 475th Fighter Group (475th FG) "Satan's Angels", 433rd Fighter Squadron (433rd FS) "Possum". Tail number 179. No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engines serial number V-1710-91 serial number unknown and V-1710-89 serial number unknown. Armed with 20mm cannon serial number unknown with four .50 caliber machine guns makers and serial numbers unknown.

Mission History
On November 9, 1943 took off from North Borio Airfield (Dobodura No. 15) piloted by 2nd Lt. John C. Smith as one of twelve P-38s flying in three flights from 433rd Fighter Squadron (433rd FS) "Possum" on a mission to provide low cover between 6,000' to 8,000' for B-25 Mitchells from the 38th Bombardment Group (38th BG) on a strike mission against Alexishafen Airfield. The escort also included twelve P-38 Lightnings from the 432nd Fighter Squadron (432nd FS) "Clover".

The formation rendezvous over "The Gona Wreck" (Ayatosan Maru) then flew up the north coast of New Guinea to the target area. At some point, P-38 pilot 1st Lt William G. Jeakle aborted the mission leaving only three P-38s in the lead flight and a total of eleven P-38s from the 433rd Fighter Squadron (433rd FS) "Possum" led by Captain Daniel T. Roberts.

After the B-25s finished their strike against Alexishafen Airfield, Roberts radioed to release drop tanks. At 10:15am the P-38s engaged between 15-25 enemy fighters including Ki-43 Oscars and Ki-61 Tonys over Sek Harbor off Alexishafen. In the confused dog fight at low level, fighter aircraft seemed to be everywhere.

In the confused dog fight, Major Charles H. MacDonald noticed a P-38 in trouble below him. The Lightning was burning and its booms were coming apart before it finally crashed near the shore. He believed the pilot of the P-38 was most likely Lieutenant John Smith.

During the dog fight, this P-38 reportedly collided with a Ki-43 Oscar over Fredrich Karl Harbor (Nagada Harbor) and crashed crashed near Fredrich Karl Harbor to the north of Madang.

When this aircraft failed to return it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost over the target area in an aerial collision was P-38H 42-66834 (MIA) piloted by Captain Daniel T. Roberts and P-38H "Charlcie Jeann II" 42-66546 (MIA) piloted by 2nd Lt. Dale O. Meyer.

Recovery of Remains
After the crash, the Japanese buried the remains of the pilot in a grave at the crash site. During 1949, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) visited the crash site and located an isolated burial nearby and found aircraft part numbers. According to natives: "The plane crashed as a result of an air battle. Skeletal remains of two bodies were found near the wreckage of the plane." Possibly, these remains were the remains of the Ki-43 pilot and Smith, or were only one set of remains or another unrelated burials.

The remains were recovered were designated as an unknown (X-File) X-575 (Saidor) and buried at Saidor Cemetery. Later, the remains were exhumed and designated X-000021 (Manus) and reinterred at Finschafen Cemetery. Afterwards, transported to Manila and stored in the AGRS Mausoleum with the two sets of remains listed as Unknown X-8 (Finsch No. 1) and Unknown X-575 (Saidor). During 1950 these unknown remains were identified as Smith despite contradictory dental characteristics (possibly because of the remains of two individuals) and primarily on association of aircraft part numbers. Afterwards, his remains were transported to the United States for permanent burial.

Brian Bennett adds:
"John C. Smith's remains were listed as X-000021 (Manus) UNK X-575 (interned at Saidor), stating that two remains were recovered from isolated burial near Fredrich Karl Harbor, near Madang. And was buried at Saidor and reinterred at Finschafen, finally being stored at at AGRS Mausoleum, Manila as Unknown X-8 Finsch #1 and Unknown X-575. Smith's status was reverted to unknown when contradictory dental characteristics were discovered. Available records indicate the identification of Smith was based primarily on association of aircraft part numbers. There is a possibly two sets of remains were recovered at this crash site."

Smith was officially declared dead the day of the mission. During August 1950, he was permanently buried at Memorial Burial Park in Wheelersburg, OH.

The wreckage of this P-38 remains in situ near near Fredrich Karl Harbor. The wreckage is located near the shore and other peices further inland.

Justin Taylan visited the crash site on October 29, 2003:
"At Nagada Harbor there is enough wreckage from this crash site to identify the aircraft as a P-38 Lightning. On one of the pieces of tail wreckage was the Tail number (Squadron number) "179" painted in white and at least one stenciled digit '9' from the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) serial number '266496' stenciled on the tail representing the complete serial number 42-66496. The villagers lore about the wreck is that its haunted, and do not interfere with the wreckage. They told me when ever anyone goes near it, they get sick or bad things happen to them. Also, nearby they told me there was a 'wing' which they were unable to relocate, and further to the north, but in the same vicinity, the wreckage of a 'Japanese fighter'. I was unable to see this second wreck because an outsider had partially scrapped the wreckage, and the same man denied me from inspecting what remained."

During January 2014, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) Investigation Team (IT) visited the crash site with National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) representative Augustine Wak. This crash site is coded 2144-A.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-1-LO Lightning 42-66596
"66596 (475th FG, 433rd FS) MIA Nov 9, 1943. Collided with Ki-43 Oscar over Alexishafen Airfield. Pilot KIA."
MACR 1259 detailing P-38H 42-66843 contains references to John C. Smith's status as KIA, and recommends his status changed to MIA based on the statement of 2nd Lt. Jack A. Fisk.
X File X-000021 (Manus) UNK X-575, Unknown X8 Finsch #1
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66596
FindAGrave - John Clay Smith (grave)
Possum, Clover & Hades 475th Fighter Group in World War II (2004) pages 96-98 (November 9, 1943), 289 (losses), 295 (475th FG aircraft), 309 (Aerial victory claims 11/09/43 432nd FS / 433rd FS), 333 (index Smith)
(Page 96) "While he was over Alexishafen Strip [Major Charles H.] MacDonald noticed a P-38 in trouble below him. The Lightning was burning and its booms were coming apart before it finally crashed near the shore. Pressing combat demands on all sides permitted only the briefest moment of sorrow for the unlucky pilot who certainly died in the crash. The pilot of the P-38 was most likely Lieutenant John Smith who probably pressed his luck once again and paid the price often demanded of the brave."
The Quest Vol. 1, No. 1 Summer 2015 page 2 (upper right) [page 4]
"Lead investigator Andrew Speelhoffer and research analyst Anthony Hewitt, interview a landowner about an engine located on his property in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, January 2014. With the help of a translator and National Museum representative, Augustine Wak, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency team interviewed witnesses that were children who had information about World War II crash sites. The investigation provided information which will be used in further research of the cases which will hopefully lead to identifications. (Photo by DPAA)"

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Last Updated
February 18, 2020


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