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  P-39F-1-BE Airacobra Serial Number 41-7204  
USAAF
5th AF
35th FG
39th FS

Former Assignment
8th FG

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Rehrer June 23, 1942

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Justin Taylan 2006
Pilot  2nd Lt. Harvey E. Rehrer, O-426867 (survived) Reading, PA
Crashed  June 16, 1942
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. On January 15, 1942 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-39F-1-BE Airacobra serial number 41-7204. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia arriving February 2, 1942 and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 8th Fighter Group (8th FG) and operated from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby. No known nose art or nickname. Next, assigned to the 35th Fighter Group (35th FG), 39th Fighter Squadron (39th FS). No known nose art or nickname.

Mission History
On June 16, 1942 although 2nd Lt. Harvey E. Rehrer had the day off, he volunteered to fly as a replacement for a sick pilot. Took off from 14 Mile Drome (Laloki) near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt. Harvey E. Rehrer as one of four Airacobras led by Lt. Francis Royal on a patrol mission. Flying in formation, they were joined by two additional P-39 Airacobras from 12 Mile Drome and the combined formation climbed to 22,000' to patrol over the Rigo area.

During the flight, Rehrer was flying as "tail end charlie" and was experiencing power problems with his engine. As volunteered replacement pilot, Rehrer was not flying his regular aircraft or formation position. Meanwhile, A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group) were spotted directly above at 25,000' flying in a southwesterly course.

Zeros broke away and maneuvered to intercept.  Without being observed, a Zero maneuvered behind Rehrer's tail and open fired. Rehrer saw tracer bullets from behind him, and before he could react, his aircraft was hit with his center drop tank set on fire. Fellow pilots observed him going down in flames and did not see him bail out.

Damaged, on fire and descending in an inverted spin, Rehrer managed to kick off the right cockpit door and bail out. When his parachute opened, his shoulder was dislocated by the jolt.

Fate of the Pilot
Rehrer landed in the vicinity of his crashed fighter and remembered hearing the machine gun ammunition exploding in the flames. He began walking, located the Brown River and began climbing over ridges.

Rescue
On June 22, 1942 after six days, he reached a native village where he was given food, clothing and rested for the night. On June 23, 1942, the villagers took him back to his squadron. He had been lost for seven days and afterwards was hospitalized at the 12th Station Hospital at Townsville.

Wreckage
Crashed in the Brown River area. The aircraft crashed into a ravine, the tail section broke off and landed elsewhere.

During 2001, Wilkinson Egimbari photographed this aircraft for John Douglas. The photos showed a Airacobra type aircraft, but were unable to be identified. Egimbari claimed to have found a shoe in the cockpit.

On September 21, 2006 this aircraft was identified by Keith Hopper and Justin Taylan.

Justin Taylan adds:
"There was rumors of a plane in this area, and we decided to trek there to find out for sure. The wreckage is on a slope at the base of a ridge, near a stream. The Serial Number was confirmed from the stencil on the left side of the cockpit. There was a lot of cooked off 30 caliber ammunition in the wreckage, no .50 caliber or 37mm rounds were found. The tail was separated and located on another ridge, 875m away in a straight line. Likely the tail separated before the crash. We did not locate the engine, which likely fell down the slope into the stream. Along the stream bed, we found other pieces of smaller wreckage that had been swept down by erosion into the stream. In December, I visited with Harvey Rehrer and his wife to learn the rest of the story from him."

References
Wartime records say this aircraft was shot down near Rigo, but this was proved incorrect when the crash site was identified in 2006.
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - P-39F Airacobra Serial Number 41-7204
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-39F-1-BE Airacobra 41-7204
"7204 pilot bailed out Jun 16, 1942 and crashed near Rigo [sic]"
RAAF Casualty Card - P-39 Airacobra 41-7204
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-39 Airacobra 41-7204
SSgt Donald Thomas (39th FS) Diary,June 16, 1942 via John Stanaway
Samurai! by Saburo Sakai pages127-128 Dogfight Over Port Moresby June 16, 1942
Sacramento Bee "WWII pilot gets surprise 60 years after being shot down, he is 'reunited' with fighter plane" December 21, 2006
Eagles of the Southern Sky (2012) pages 185-186, 334
Thanks to John Douglas, Edward Rogers and Keith Hopper for additional information

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Last Updated
June 20, 2021

 

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P-39

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