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  PB4Y-1 Liberator Bureau Number 31950 Squadron Number 51-P-4
Formally VP-51

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at San Diego. Constructors Number 848. At the factory painted with olive drab upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. Delivered U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-25-CO Liberator serial number 41-24053.

Wartime History
Assigned to U. S. Navy (USN) as PB4Y-1 Liberator bureau number 31950. Assigned to squadron VP-51, later redesignated VB-101. Squadron number 51-P-4. This side number indicated it was the 4th aircraft from Patrol Wing 51. No known nickname or nose art. This bomber was not repainted into a Navy color scheme. Ferried from Barber's Point Airfield on Oahu then across the Pacific to the South Pacific (SOPAC).

Mission History
On February 14, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal off piloted by Lt. Jay D. Bacon Jr. armed with a single 1,000 pound bomb as one of nine PB4Y-1 Liberators led by LCDR William A. Moffett Jr. (C. O. VB-101) on a mission against Japanese shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area.

The formation of nine PB4Y-1 Liberators was led by LCDR William A. Moffett Jr. (C. O. VB-101). 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). During the air combat, PB4Y-1 pilot Cooper was shot down by a head on attack by Zeros and crashed over the target area. Returning, PB4Y-1 pilot Bacon was damaged by gun fire and ditched north off New Georgia. When this bomber failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Due to the severe American losses, this mission was dubbed the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".

The entire crew of eleven were officially declared dead December 10, 1945. 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.

Notes on PB4Y-1 Liberator crew list for February 14, 1943
Note, many published sources and some wartime records incorrectly give the date of loss as March 3, 1943 or March 5, 1943, both are in error.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24D-15-CO Liberator 41-24053
"24050 to US Navy as PB4Y-1 BuNo 31947"
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PB4Y-1 Liberator 31950
"31950 (ex USAAF B-24D 41-24053)"
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1943 does not listed either PB4Y-1 Liberator missing on 2/14/43
Army Air Forces Historical Studies No. 35 "Guadalcanal and the Origins of the 13th Air Force" (1945) pages 182 (February 14, 1943), 240 (footnotes 12-16) via Wayback Machine May 20, 2006
(Page 182) "Next day [February 14, 1943] the Liberators tried again. Nine more went up to Buin, accompanied this time by 10 P-38's and 12 of the Marine's new F4U's. Again the Jap sent up 45 fighters to intercept, and again the cost was heavy. One B-24 [PB4Y-1] was shot down in a head-on attack, another crash landed off New Georgia; two of the Corsairs went down, while the 339th Fighter Squadron, on one of its blackest days, lost 4 of its P-38's. Bombers and escorts had shot down [claimed] 12 Zeros and the B-24s sank a large cargo vessel 2 miles off Kahili, but the price was too high. [Footnote 17] It was immediately apparent that operations of this type could not long be sustained. Consequently on 14 February daylight attacks on the Buin area were discontinued until more adequate fighter cover could be provided. (Footnote 18)"
(Page 240) "Footnote 17. Ibid. War Diary, MAW-2, 14 Feb. 1943; History of the 339th Fighter Squadron (TE). One of the P-38 pilots, Lt. John R. Mulvey, was rescued the following day.
Footnote 18. War Diary, MAW-2, 14 Feb. 1943; incl. (War Diary MAG-12), "Record of Events, Fighter Command, Guadalcanal, February 1, 1943 to July 25, 1943," in USMC Hist. Div. files."
U. S. Navy Patrol Squadrons - VP-51 History
History of Patrol Squadron-11F, Patrol Squadron-54, Patrol Squadron-51, VB-101, PATSU 1-2, and CASU F-56
"The next day, February 14,1943, off the coast of Southern Bougainville Island. nine PB4Y-1 aircraft fully armed, bombs and ammunition, bombed and sank a large enemy transport and a destroyer from 22,000 feet altitude. After the flack came 50 to 60 enemy fighters from Kahili airfield to intercept the bombers and their cover. The top cover consisted of 4 Army P-38's and the lower cover consisting of Navy F6F's and Marine Corps Corsairs (F4U). The Marine Corsair was in combat for the first time in this mission. Two PB4Y-1 Bombers -- 101-B-3 and 101-B-4 and entire crews were shot down. The entire top cover was destroyed and six of the lower cover aircraft were destroyed. It was reported by observers that the enemy lost 26 aircraft in this fight. This 'skirmish' was named in most military history books as the 'Saint Valentines Day Massacre'. The losses for both sides were very heavy for the day."
We Flew Alone (2000) by Alan Carey pages 13-14
Thanks to Jim Sawruk for additional information

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Last Updated
March 3, 2021


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