|Pilot 2nd Lt. Owen N. Giertsen, O-746088 (survived) Bloomfield, NJ
Crashed November 2, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 431st Fighter Squadron. Squadron number 186. This aircraft was initially assigned to Lt. Smith and possibly nicknamed "Old Malarkey".
By October 11, 1943 assigned to 1st Lt. Herbert W. Cochran who nicknamed it "Red" after Cochran's wife Betty who was a redhead.
Mike Newland adds:
"I have concluded from Cochran's letters that he received his first plane from the 431st FS, 42-66843 and was an old plane and was given to him in Oct, 1943 Cochran was assigned squadron number 186, which 2nd Lt Owen Giertsen crashed on November 2, 1943. I have no photos of this plane, but records show it named "Red" after his wife. After this plane crashed, Cochran was assigned a P-38J "Decatur Illinois" 42-104358 in early 1944."
On October 29, 1943 Cochran took off piloting this aircraft on a mission escorting B-25s over Alexishafen when he was credited with shooting down a "Zero" [sic], his second aerial victory.
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran dated December 6, 1943:
"I have my own plane now with my name on it and my three flags in all their glory adorning its beautiful fuselage. I'm naming it "Red" after guess who? I'll really have nine flags on it as it used to be assigned to Lt. Smith whom we lost Nov 9, and he had six victories. I'll send you a picture of it as soon as I get the film you're sending."
Note this is the first time he mentions "Red". Note that Smith flew 42-66533 on the same mission as Herb's 2nd kill 10/29/43. 42-66533 would have had six flags denoting the "six victories".
On November 2, 1943 took off from Dobodura Airfield at 11:15am on a mission to escort B-25 Mitchells and B-17 Flying Fortresses skip bombing against enemy shipping in Simpson Harbor. Over the target, anti-aircraft fire hit below the left engine of this aircraft, stopping it and wounding Giertsen in the face with shrapnel.
Damaged and wounded, Giertsen joined a formation of B-25s for support, but was attacked by A6M Zeros and fired at at least one, before ditching off Wide Bay, several miles out to sea. The current pushed him back towards land. Ashore on New Britain, he followed a path towards Rabaul.
On November 6, 1943 Gordon Manuel, shot down months earlier located Giertsen and joined him. Together, they joined three Australian coastwatchers led by Major Roberts reaching their outpost on November 9, 1943. On
February 5, 1944 USS Gato surfaced in Open Bay to rescue a group of downed Allied pilot. Giertsen was rescued aboard the first raft load of aviators.
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran mailed October 11, 1944 "Getting a plane assigned to me"
E&E Report No. 33 Owen N. Giertsen pages 1 - 5
70,000 to One pages 114 - 122
"When the war came, Owen was working for the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. He had a job making precision tools. He could have been deferred because h was in a really essential industry, but somehow he wrangled his way into the Air Forces. He had been on twenty patrols in the Pacific theatre, but he got it the first time over Rabaul."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66843
Hostages To Freedom mentions Giertsen escape 233 - 235
Thanks to Mike Newland for additional information
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November 30, 2019