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USN June 1, 1945
|Pilot Commander Howard F. Mears, O-146555 (MIA / KIA) Norfolk, VA
Co-Pilot Ensign Robert H. Decker, O-363688 USNR (MIA / KIA) Rochester, NY
Crew Ensign Vernon H. Carlson, O-363909 USNR (MIA / KIA) Irene, SD
Crew AMM1c Raymond B. McCabe, 2240862 USNR (MIA / KIA) NJ
Crew AMM1c Joseph J. Reiter, 2440210 (MIA / KIA) PA
Crew AR2c Paul Davis Jr., 6192215 USNR (MIA / KIA) CO
Crew AMM2c Arthur J. George, 8323093 USNR (MIA / KIA) GA
Crew AO2c Ernest L. Kitchen, 8747745 USNR (MIA / KIA) IN
Crew AR3c Harold E. Capen Jr., 6097157 (MIA / KIA) Buffalo, NY
Crew Doyle T. Morgan, 8445270 USNR (MIA / KIA) AR
Crew FC1c Roy H. Blanton Jr., 5568651 USNR (MIA / KIA) Clearwater, FL
Tail Gunner S1c Beauran R. O'Kane, 5657451 USNR (MIA / KIA) CA
Crashed June 1, 1945 at 10:10am
Built by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at San Diego as Model 32. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PB4Y-2 Privateer bureau number 59563.
Assigned to Patrol Bombing Squadron 106 "Wolverators" (VPB-106). No known nickname or nose art.
On June 1, 1945 at 2:37am took off from Puerto Princesa Airfield on Palawan Island piloted by Commander Howard F. Mears with "Crew no. 3 (Crew III)" on a routine patrol, photographic reconnaissance mission with PB4Y-1 Liberator piloted by Lt(jg) Heyler over Singapore to photograph any of any Japanese Naval vessels in Singapore Harbor. This was to be Commander "Pappy" Mears last combat mission.
The formation was led by this Privateer with PB4Y-1 Liberator 38917 from VPB-111 to perform the photographic reconnaissance with the Privateer providing increased defensive firepower in case of fighter interception.
Inbound to the target, the Liberators and Privateer would approach the target area separately and rendezvous over the Singapore Strait then circle Singapore counter clockwise for the photographic run at 10,000'. By dawn, the formation reached Anambas Islands and joined two Liberators to perform the photo reconnaissance on a parallel course about 15 miles apart and joined in a loose formation.
As they crossed the Malay coastline, they closed into a tight formation with this Privateer leading and reached Cape Punggai at 9:15am. At roughly the same time, two Ki-43 Oscars were spotted a distance away but made no effort to come closer. Flying at an altitude of 11,000' the formation was over Kong Kong and the western side of the Johore River when heavy anti-aircraft guns in the Navy yard and from aboard a cruiser at anchor opened fire on the formation with accurate altitude but did not have the correct deflection the closest round exploding 150 yards away. It was believed the Ki-43 Oscars might have been relaying altitude information and the formation changed altitude by 500' to spoil the gunner's aim.
Two more Ki-43 Oscars were spotted above in front and the gunners manned their guns for 20 minutes and at 9:40am one of them made an attack run, opening fire out of gun range with his 20mm cannons from 1 o'clock and scored hits on the no. 3 engine of this Privateer. The Oscar was fired on by the formation as it passed below. This attack caused the Privateer's no. 3 engine to catch fire over Johore and began to loose altitude with the PB4Y-1 Liberator descended to continue escorting the damaged Privateer as both turned towards the southwest to finish their orbit around Singapore Island.
A dozen Oscars and a Hamp made at least three more fighter attacks but repelled by defensive gunfire. One Oscar attacked from 1 o'clock high but broke off at 200' diving away. Another made a feint then a snap roll and attempted a low port side run that was repelled. Another Oscar was shot down that was believed to be the one that had made the initial attack that damaged the engine when it made an attack from 1 o'clock, broke of trailing smoke, pulled up in a stall, flipped over and dove into the sea. A photograph showed this Oscar in a dive at 300' before it crashed into the sea. All the while, anti-aircraft fire from vessels in Singapore Harbor were firing at the bombers.
At 3,000' the no. 3 engine flames appear to go out and the engine was feathered, but flames broke out again and Mears radioed Heyler stating: "I'm sorry but I am going to have to ditch. Thank you for the way you stuck with me." At the same moment, the no. 4 engine cut out and the glide increased rapidly at an altitude of roughly 1,000' then the right wing broke off between the two engines at about 300' and then flipped upside down, did a split-s and crashed into the Singapore Strait upside down at roughly Lat 1.11' N Long 103.39 E at 10:10am. After the crash, there was no fire or explosion and debris was seen on the surface of the sea. When this aircraft failed to return, the entire crew was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
In total, the air combat lasted an hour and five minutes starting at 11,000' and continuing down to 1,000'. The Japanese fighters claimed this PB4Y-2 as shot down by Flight Pilot Sergeant Okubayashi over the sea of Muantan on the East Coast of the Malay Peninsula and also claimed a "B-24" (PB4Y-1) shot down, erroneously.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on June 2, 1946. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Mears earned the Navy Cross (posthumously), Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with Gold Star, Air Medal with two Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at lmwood Cemetery in Norfolk, VA at plot ext 16-L14.
Commander Howard F. Mears Navy Cross Citation:
"The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander Howard Foster Mears (NSN: 0-146555), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Commander of a Navy Patrol Bomber Airplane in Patrol-Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED SIX (VPB-106), and as Leader of a two-plane section of Navy Search Bombers during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Singapore area, on 1 June 1945. Undertaking a vital observation and photographic mission to secure intelligence concerning hostile shipping, airfields and ground installations with particular regard to the location and condition of enemy heavy cruisers known to be at Singapore, Lieutenant Commander Mears coolly persisted in his mission until the desired information was obtained despite intense and continuous opposition from the enemy's powerful ship and shore batteries and impending attack from a vastly superior and rapidly increasing number of Japanese fighter planes. By skillfully coordinating the maneuvers of his two planes, he avoided damage from the concentrated anti-aircraft barrage and enabled both planes to continue their observation and photography until a hostile fighter scored a hit from extreme range, causing his number three engine to burst into flames and the plane to lose altitude. Undaunted by incessant attacks upon his crippled plane, Lieutenant Commander Mears successfully repulsed the enemy onslaught by skillfully directing the combined fire of his two bombers and, although losing altitude constantly, continued to hold his course until flames from the temporarily feathered engine fanned out again and the starboard wing broke off, forcing him into the water from the perilously low altitude of three hundred feet. By his brilliant combat tactics and superb airmanship, Lieutenant Commander Mears made possible the collection of information which was of inestimable value to the Allied forces and his inspiring leadership and unwavering devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
Decker earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with Gold Star, Air Medal with three Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Carlson earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with Gold Star, Air Medal with three Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, SD.
McCabe earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Reiter earned no awards (entitled to the Purple Heart, posthumously).
Davis earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
George earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, GA.
Kitchen earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Gold Stars (entitled to the Purple Heart, posthumously). He also has a memorial marker at Decatur Cemetery in Decatur, IN.
Capen earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
Morgan earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Pine Log Cemetery in Barber, AR.
Blanton earned the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal with four Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously.
O'Kane earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Gold Stars and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery at section MK, site 119.
Jeff O'Kane (great nephew of O'Kane):
"My entire family just submitted DNA to DPAA, hoping our family members remains from WW2 will someday be found. I am so happy for these families."
Map June 1, 1945
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