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  PB4Y-1 Liberator Bureau Number 31948 Squadron Number 51-P-11
USN
VB-101
Formally VP-51


PacificWrecks.com
USN 1941
Pilot  Lt. Frank M. Fisler, O-81755 USNR (MIA / KIA) Ivanhoe, NC
Co-Pilot  Lt(jg) Wallace T. Jones, III, O-099740 USNR (MIA / KIA) New York, NY
Crew  Ensign William R. Gallagher, Jr., O-145474 USN (MIA / KIA) Freeland, PA
Crew  Ensign Robert P. Combs, O-102929 USNR (MIA / KIA) Webster Groves, MO
Crew  AMM2c Lawrence W. Alvord, 3759752 USN (MIA / KIA) Stockton, CA
Crew  ARM3c Lee Baldwin, 6200206 USNR (MIA / KIA) Chicago, IL
Crew  AMM2c James J. Curry, 4036479 USNR (MIA / KIA) West New York, NJ
Crew  AMM1c Raymond L. Flower, Jr., 2660540 USN (MIA / KIA) Huntington, WV
Crew  AMM2c Paul J. Patterson, 2662921 USN (MIA / KIA) Elkview, WV
Crew  ARM1c Talmadge H. Power, 2683874 USN (MIA / KIA) Colbert, GA
Crew  ACMM Benjamin Rogozinski, 2829423 USN (MIA / KIA) Canton, OH
Crew  AOM2c Walter S. Slachter, 2662992 USN (MIA / KIA) Midlothian, VA
MIA  March 5, 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at San Diego. Constructor Number 846. At the factory painted with olive drab upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. Assigned U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-15-CO Liberator serial number 41-24051. Delivered to the U.S. Navy (USN) as PB4Y-1 Liberator bureau number 31948.

Wartime History
Assigned to U.S. Navy (USN) as PB4Y-1 Liberator bureau number 31948. Assigned to Patrol Squadron 51 (VP-51), later redesignated VB-101. Squadron number 51-P-11. This side number indicated it was the 11th aircraft from Patrol Wing 51. No known nickname or nose art. This bomber was not repainted into a Navy color scheme.

On December 16, 1942 took off piloted by Lt. Glover with AMM2c James J. Curry plus five others on a half hour flight.

On December 18, 1942 took off piloted by Lt(jg) Kooy with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on a 2.6 hour flight.

On December 19, 1942 took off piloted by Lt. Beswick with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on a 9 hour flight.

On December 21, 1942 took off piloted by Lt. Stuart T. Cooper with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on a .6 hour flight.

On December 26, 1942 took off piloted by Lt. Stuart T. Cooper with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on a 9.5 hour flight.

On December 27, 1942 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus six others on a 2.1 hour flight.

On December 31, 1942 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus three others on a .3 hour flight.

On January 1, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus four others on a .9 hour flight. Later the same day, took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus two others on a .3 hour flight.

On January 10, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus six others on a 2.4 hour flight.

On January 11, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on a 1.6 hour flight.

On January 15, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus ten others on a 2.2 hour flight. Later that same day, again took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus five others on a .2 hour flight.

On January 16, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus eight others on a 2.5 hour flight.

On January 17, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus eight others on a 1.7 hour flight.

On January 19, 1943 took off from Barber's Point Airfield piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus ten others on a ferry flight that lasted 6.7 hours before landing at Palmyra Airfield.

On January 20, 1943 took off from Palmyra Airfield piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus ten others on a ferry flight that lasted 5.2 hours to Canton Airfield.

On January 21, 1943 took off from Canton Airfield piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus ten others on a ferry flight that lasted 8.4 hours to Nadi Airfield.

On January 22, 1943 took off from Nadi Airfield piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus ten others on a ferry flight that lasted 4 hours to Bomber 2 on Espiritu Santo.

On January 25, 1943 took off from Bomber 2 piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus six others on a flight that lasted 2.5 hours then returned.

On January 26, 1943 took off from Bomber 2 piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus six others on a flight that lasted 1.2 hours then returned.

On January 27, 1943 took off from Bomber 2 piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus ten others on a flight that lasted 1.4 hours then returned.

On February 4, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on an 11.3 hour flight.

On February 7, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on an 4.7 hour flight.

On February 12, 1943 took off from Bomber 2 on Esipritu Santo piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others on a flight that lasted 4.4 hours to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.

On February 13, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others armed with a single 1,000 pound bomb as one of nine on a mission against enemy shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area. Over the target, the PB4Y-1s Liberators bombed Japanese ships and were intercepted by A6M Zeros and fifteen A6M2-N Rufe floatplanes. The flight lasted 3.9 hours before returning.

On February 14, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven others armed with a single 1,000 pound bomb as one of nine on a mission against enemy shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area. The bombers were escorted by ten P-38G Lightnings from the 347th Fighter Group (347th FG), 339th Fighter Squadron (339th FS) plus twelve F4U Corsairs from Marine Fighting Squadron 124 (VMF-124). Over the target by 11:45am, the bombers released their bombs against Japanese shipping and scored two near misses bracketing Hitati Maru (Hitachi Maru) and two near misses bracketing Kisaragi Maru.

After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by roughly thirty A6M Zeros and fifteen A6M2-N Rufe floatplanes from Shortland. During the air combat, two PB4Y-1's were shot down including PB4Y-1 pilot Bacon (MIA) and PB4Y-1 pilot Cooper (MIA). One was shot down by a head-on attack by enemy fighters over the target and crashed. The other crash landed or ditched off New Georgia. The seven remaining bombers landed at Henderson Field. In total, the flight lasted 4.4 hours. Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".

On February 16, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus seven other on a flight that lasted 2.5 hours.

On February 21, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus eight others on a flight that lasted 3.7 hours.

On February 23, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus eight others on a flight that lasted 5 hours.

On March 3, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler with AMM2c James J. Curry plus eight others on a flight that lasted 5.3 hours.

Mission History
On March 5, 1943 at 1:30am took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler as one of nine bombers on a mission to bomb Japanese shipping in Tonolei Harbor on southern Bougainville. Five PB4Y1s were armed with twenty flares. The other four PB4Y-1s were armed with eight 500 pound bombs each.

Over the target, five with flares flew along the southern coast of Bougainville and released them from an altitude of 14,000' to 10,000' at half mile intervals to illuminate the area from Buin to Tonolei Harbor with each set to ignite at 3,000' to illuminated the area during 4:00am to 4:20am.

Meanwhile, the four with bombs made bomb runs over the illuminated area but failed to spot any ships. Although visibility was unrestricted, except for the darkness and a slight haze over southern coast of Bougainville, no Japanese ships were observed. Several searchlights were observed from Buin to Kahili area and light anti-aircraft fire was noted.

Returning, two of the PB4Y-1 Liberators armed with bombs flew to Ballale Island to release their ordnance. One bombed the eastern end from 7,000'. The other bombed from 8,000' and missed with its bombs falling into the sea. During their attacks, a searchlight from Ballale Island came on and several bursts of anti-aircraft fire were observed.

When this bomber failed to return the entire crew was declared Missing In Action (MIA). Officially, this PB4Y-1 was stricken off charge (SOC) on April 31, 1943. Also lost was PB4Y-1 31947 (MIA).

On the return flight, one of the PB4Y-1s that returned observed a large fire, with pieces falling off around 1,200' between Cape Esperance and the Russell Islands. Possibly, this was related to the loss of one or both the missing bombers. The other seven PB4Y-1s landed at Henderson Field between 6:15am to 7:00am.

The two missing bombers might have suffered an aerial collision in the darkness. Alternately, each loss may have been due to Japanese anti-aircraft fire, mechanical failure, weather or pilot error or other unknown circumstances. Afterwards, no trace of either bomber or their crews were located.

Memorials
The crew was officially declared dead on December 10, 1945. The entire crew with the exception of Power earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The entire crew earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.

All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. The crew was also memorialized on memorial to Patrol Squadron VP 11/54/51, VB 101, PATSU 1-2 at Bomber 2 Airfield on Espiritu Santo.

Fisler earned the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal with gold star and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Jones earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Gallagher earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Combs earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Alvord earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Baldwin earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Curry earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Flower earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Patterson earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Power earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Colbert City Cemetery in Colbert, GA.

Rogozinski earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Slachter earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Relatives
Bill Petrolino (nephew of James J. Curry)

References
Note, some sources and published references incorrectly list this aircraft as PB4Y-1 Liberator 31950, or the date of loss as March 3, 1943 or February 14, 1943 "Saint Valentines Day Massacre", both dates are incorrect.
The VB-101 action report for March 5, 1943 action report mentions Kahili Airfield, and Vila Airfield and Munda Airfield but none of those locations were targeted or bombed.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24D-15-CO Liberator 41-24051
"24051 to US Navy as PB4Y-1 BuNo 31948"
Navy Serial Number Search Results PB4Y-1 Liberator 31948
"31948 (ex USAAF B-24D 41-24051) SOC Apr 31, 1943 with VP-51"
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List March 1943
"3/5/1943 PB4Y-1 31950 [sic] VB-101".
NARA VB-101 Action Report March 5, 1943 page 1
"Strike: Primary target shipping Buin - Kahili. Secondary targets - Kahili, Ballale, Villa, Munda Airfields.
Nine PB4Y1s took off Henderson Field, Cactus 0105 to 01030 L.
Five planes each carried 20 Mk. 5 Mod. 3 flares. These planes proceeded to south shore of Bougainville and dropped flares, set to illuminate at 3,000’, along shore line from Buin to Tonolei Harbor. The flares were spaced at one half mile intervals. The area was illuminated from 0400 to 0420. The planes dropped from 14,000 - 13,000 - 12,000 - 11,000 and 10,000 feet respectively. No shipping was seen in area.
Four planes carried 8 x 500 lb. Army M-43 demolition bombs. Two of these planes, after runs over illuminated area and failure to find shipping targets there, proceeded to Ballale. At 0420 one plane dropped bombs from 7,000’ - the bombs exploded along the eastern edge of the island. The other plane dropped from 8,000’ with Ballale as target, the bombs apparently dropped in the water.
It was very dark in the target area, except for some slight haze over the south shore of Bougainville the atmosphere was clear and visibility unrestricted except by darkness.
Searchlights were encountered in the Buin-Kahili area. There was very little AA fire. One searchlight came on from Ballale. Only several burst of AA fire were encountered there.
Seven planes landed Henderson Field, Cactus, from 0615 to 0700 L. Two planes failed to return.
0145 between Esperance and Russell Is. a burning object was observed in the air at about 1200 ft. This was variously described as a 'large flare' and a 'large fire with burning pieces falling off.’
NARA "MAW-2 War Diary - March, 1943" pages 36-35
“March 5, 1943: Operations: of 9 PB4Y’s out, 2 failed to return. These 2 apparently set off large fires at Kihili [sic] at 0400.”
Flight Log Book, AMM2c James J. Curry from USN VP-51 via Bill Petrolino flights aboard "31948" December 1942 to March 3, 1943 flights aboard 31948 included: December 16, 18. 19, 21, 26, 27, 31 - January 1, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 27, 27 - February 1, 4, 7, 12, 13, 14, 16, 21, 23 - March 3, 1943
James J. Curry Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) citation:
"For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as plane captain and gunner of Liberator plane in Patrol Squadron Fifty One, later designated as Bombing Squadron one hundred one [VB-101], in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Midway from June 1 to 5, 1942; and in the South Pacific War Area from January 27 to March 5, 1943. Participating in numerous missions in the face of hostile antiaircraft fire, Curry rendered valuable service to his pilot, particularly during the night bombardment in the Bougainville area on March 5, 1943. By his skill and courage and devotion to duty, Curry contributed to the success of his plane in the infliction of extensive damage on enemy shipping aircraft, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
The Battle of Midway by John Ford includes footage of Fisler wearing a red baseball cap after rescuing air crews.
Tar Heel Junior Historian "Tar Heels in World War II" by Lt. Colonel (Ret) Sion H. Harrington III Spring 2008
"Sadly, Fisler would lose his life during combat in March 1943."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Frank M. Fisler
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wallace T. Jones III
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William R. Gallagher Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert P. Combs

American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lawrence W. Alvord
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lee Baldwin
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James J. Curry
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Raymond L. Flower, Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Paul J. Patterson
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Talmadge H. Power
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Benjamin Rogozinski
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Walter S. Slachter
FindAGrave - LT Frank M Fisler (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - LtJG Wallace T Jones, III (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Ens William R Gallagher, Jr (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Ens Robert P Combs (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - AMM2 Lawrence Wallace Alvord (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - ARM3 Lee Baldwin (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - AMM2 James J Curry (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - AMM1 Raymond L Flower, Jr (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - AMM2 Paul Jesse Patterson (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Talmadge H. Power (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - ARM1 Talmadge H Power (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - AOM2 Walter S Slachter (tablets of the missing)
We Flew Alone
page 14, (appendix A) 101
U.S. Navy Patrol Squadrons - VP-51 History
"My Uncle, James J. Curry, Aviation Machinist's Mate, Second Class, was MIA in the Pacific on March 3, 1943. Below you will find many documents (i.e., Citation, Purple Heart, etc)"
Patrol Squadron VP 11/54/51 VB 101, PATSU 1-2 memorial at Bomber 2 Espiritu Santo
History of Patrol Squadron-11F, Patrol Squadron-54, Patrol Squadron-51, VB-101, PATSU 1-2, and CASU F-56
Guadalcanal and the Origins of the 13th Air Force page 182
We Flew Alone pages 13-14
Thanks to Richard Dunn, Edward Rogers, Jim Sawruk and Minoru Kamada for additional information

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Last Updated
March 4, 2022

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