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  P-40N-5-CU Kittyhawk Serial Number NZ3186 Code 81/G
15 Squadron

RNZAF October 2, 1945

Pilot  Sgt Colin Bruce Grubb, 429983 (MIA / KIA, BR) Auckland, New Zealand
Crashed  January 22, 1944

Aircraft History
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York. Constructor Number 29639. Assigned U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-40N-5-CU Warhawk serial number 42-105877. Disassembled and shipped overseas to New Zealand as part of defense aid.

Wartime History
Delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as Kittyhawk serial number NZ3186. Assigned to 15 Squadron. Coded 81 and G. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On January 22, 1944 took off from Torokina Airfield on Bougainville at 12:55pm piloted by Sgt Colin B. Grubb as one of twelve P-40s from 15 Squadron on an escort mission for USAAF B-25 Mitchells attacking Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul. This aircraft was flying in the second section, no. 4 position.

The escorting P-40s rendezvoused with the bombers and flew towards New Ireland. Also escorting were USAAF P-38 Lightnings and F6F Hellcats. The weather enroute to the target was good with 30 mile visibility with clouds over New Ireland and good weather over the target with clouds over the western end of the runway.

Over the target, the B-25 made their bomb run at 2:30pm while the P-40s stayed to the side and below providing bottom cover. During the run, B-25D 41-30658 took a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire and exploded.

After the bombers completed their run, the formation spotted six to eight A6M Zeros diving out of the sun to attack the rear of the bomber formation and intercepted at 2:40pm. During the combat, an F4U Corsair pilot observed an in-line engined aircraft believed to be a P-40 or Ki-61 crash in the sea opposite Mope and the pilot was seen to bail out, but this report proved unrelated to Grubb's loss. This P-40 was last seen at the start of the combat, none of the squadron recalled him leaving formation.

When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). In fact, this P-40 was shot down by Zeros and crashed near Bitagalip.

A PBY Catalina "Dumbo" searched for this aircraft but failed to find any trace of the pilot.

On October 2, 1945 the crash site of this Kittyhawk was located by RNZAF Missing Persons Investigation Unit (MPIU) near Bitagalip. This aircraft was identified the wreckage from the serial number "NZ3186" and photographed. Locals told the team this aircraft was chased by fighters from Rabaul and had crashed within 50 yards of their village. After the crash, they recovered the pilot's body and buried in a Chinese camp, 50 yards from the road to Ramalie Mission. The grave was tended to by Chinese and locals.

Recovery of Remains
After the crash, a Chinese civilian recovered the remains of the pilot and buried him at a Chinese camp located 50 yards from the road to Ramalie Mission. Afterwards, the grave was tended to by Chinese until the end of the war and marked with a small cross with the inscription "Unidentified NZ Airman Plane NZ 3186".

On October 1, 1945 the grave of the pilot was photographed by RNZAF Missing Persons Investigation Unit (MPIU) and later transported to New Caledonia for permanent burial.

Grubb was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is buried at Bourail War Cemetery at grave 8. 16.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-40N-5-CU Warhawk 42-105877

"105877 (MSN 29639) to New Zealand as NZ3186. Assembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot, Hobsonville and BoC at Hobsonville on 4 October 1943. Coded "81" and "G". To No.15 Squadron. Crashed near Bitagalip on 22 January 1944. The aircraft was shot down by an enemy fighter during an escort sortie."
Historical Research Agency (HRA) Photographs of 13 Air Force Operational Locations [13th Air Force photographs taken by RNZAF Missing Personnel Investigation Unit" photograph index page 5 (IRSUM: 00913798)
"7753 [P-40N Kittyhawk NZ3186 crash site]
"7754 Bitagarlup. Mission. 1st Oct 1945. Grave of Sgt. Grubb pilot of P40. He was buried by a Chinese civilian"
ADF Serials - Kittyhawk NZ3186
Air To Air The Story Behind the air-to-air combat claims of the RNZAF pages 270-274 (January 22, 1944 mission) 304 (grave photo), page 322 (biography, photo)
CWGC - Colin Bruce Grubb
FindAGrave - Sgt Colin Bruce Grubb
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
January 22, 2019


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