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  PBY-5 Catalina Bureau Number 08436  
USN
FAW-17
VP-34

Pilot  Lt(jg) Aljah W. Wright, Jr., O-114662 "Buck" (POW / MIA, KIA) Dewitt, AK
Crew  Ensign Paul J. Malatesta, O-283995 (POW / MIA, KIA) Medford, MA
Crew  Ensign Isaac J. Osborn, O-251308 USNR (POW / MIA, KIA) Lavalette, NJ
Crew  ARM3c Robert W. Henderson, 6333461 (MIA, KIA) Los Angeles, CA
Crew  AOM2c James Knight, Jr., 6024803 (POW / MIA, KIA) Cookeville, TN
Crew  AMM2c Jack B. Posey, 6327727 (POW / MIA, KIA) Richfield, KS
Crew  AMM2c Lowell I. Snow, 6262833 (MIA / KIA) Kokomo, IN
Crew  ACMMA Alfred W. Sommerfeldt, Jr., 3002011 (MIA / KIA) Milwaukee, WI
Crew  ACRMA George L. Spear, 4013925 (MIA / KIA) Norfolk, VA
MIA  January 9, 1944


Pilot History
Wright was born in Olena, Arkansas (a town that no longer exists). His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Aljah Wolford and Nina (Coffield) Wright He graduated in 1939 from Arkansas State Technical College (ASTC), today the University of Central Arkansas.

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PBY-5 Catalina bureau number 08436. No known squadron number, nickname or nose art.

Wartime History
Assigned to Fleet Air Wing Seventeen (FAW-17) to Patrol Squadron 34 (VP-34). No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On January 9, 1944 took off from Samarai Seaplane Base at Samarai Island piloted by Lt(jg) Aljah W. Wright, Jr. on a mission to attack a Japanese convoy off Dyaul Island (Djaul) off the southern coast of New Ireland.

Over the convoy or enemy territory, this Catalina was likely damaged and ditched.

The aircraft's last known location was approximately 100-200 miles north of New Ireland at roughly Lat 2.38 Long 150.45. Another source lists it as crashed at Nago Island off the northwest tip of New Ireland. When this Catalina failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Fates of the Crew
Two of the crew: Henderson and Snow were likely killed in the crash. Both earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Both were officially declared dead on January 14, 1946 and remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

The other seven crew members: Wright, Malatesta, Osborn, Knight, Posey, Sommerfeldt and Spear were captured by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), likely from the sea and were transported to Rabaul.

The seven were detained by the Japanese Navy 81st Naval Guard Unit as Prisoners Of War (POW) and first reported on January 10, 1944 and detained at the Tunnel Hill POW Camp.

Five of the crew were seen by POW Lt. John M. Arbuckle pilot PBY Catalina 08428 shot down November 22, 1943 and who survived captivity) he remembered meeting Wright, Malatesta and "another Ensign" [Osborn].

Also, Father Joseph Lemarre who was detainee said he remembered Spear, Sommerfeldt, Posey and Wright as prisoners at Rabaul. He also said that two of the crew had been killed [in the crash].

During the middle of March 1944 Osborn was reported as dead. Two surviving Prisoners Of War (POW) Jose Holquin and James McMurria saw Osborn escorted out of the camp blindfolded, handcuffed and was never seen again. Holquin said this was March 19, 1944. McMurria stated it was on March 10, 1944. Likely, he was executed by the Japanese. Officially, Osborn was declared dead on April 12, 1944.

The fates of the other six members of the crew: Wright, Malatesta, Knight, Posey, Sommerfeldt and Spear are unknown. Likely, all six were executed or died sometime in February 1944 prior to the Tunnel Hill Massacre / Talili Bay Massacre during March 3-4, 1944.

Postwar

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Searcher Teams indicated the seven of the crew (Wright, Malatesta, Osborn, Knight, Spear, Sommerfeldt and Posey) all died at  Rabaul.  Japanese records falsely claim Malatesta and Knight were aboard Kokai Maru and were killed by U. S. air attack on February 20, 1944. They Osborn was killed by Allied bombing on March 12, 1944.

Memorials
The entire crew (with the execption of Osborn) were officially declared dead on January 14, 1946 and are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Posey also has a memorial marker at Richfield Cemetery in Richfield, KS.

References Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBY-5 Catalina 08436
"08436 (VJ-2) undershot landing 5/3/1943, SOC." [incorrect]
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List January 1944 PBY-5 Catalina 08436 Lt(jg) Wright
NARA - "War Diary of Patrol Squadron Thirty-Four Fleet Air Wing Seventeen for January 1944 (War Diary)"
(Page 2) "1-9-44... Lt(jg) Michel (#08495) on patrol of the southwest coast of New Ireland attacked a 10-ship convoy 30 miles southeast of Dyaul Island, scoring one hit with a 500 lb. bomb on a destroyer. (See Patrol Squadron Thirty-Four Action Report #11). Lt(jg) Wright (#08436) on patrol of the same area failed to return and was presumed shot down over the same convoy as that attacked by Lt(jg) Michel. Plane and crew are missing."
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Aljah Wolford Wright, Jr.  report date: January 10, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Paul James Malatesta  report date: January 10, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Isaac John Osborn  report date: January 10, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - James Knight, Jr  report date: January 10, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Jack B. Posey  report date: January 10, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Alfred W. Sommerfeldt, Jr  report date: January 10, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - George L. Spear  report date: January 10, 1944
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Aljah W. Wright Jr.
date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Paul J. Malatesta date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Isaac J. Osborn date of death April 12, 1944
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert W. Henderson date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James Knight date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Jack B. Posey date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lowell I. Snow date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Alfred W. Sommerfeldt date of death January 14, 1946
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - George L. Spear date of death January 14, 1946
FindAGrave - LtJG Aljah W Wright, Jr
FindAGrave - Ens Paul J Malatesta
FindAGrave - Ens Isaac J Osborn
FindAGrave - ARM3 Robert W Henderson

FindAGrave - AMM2 Jack Blair Posey
FindAGrave - Jack Blair Posey (photo, memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - AMM2 Lowell Isaac Snow (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - ACMM Alfred W Sommerfeldt, Jr
FindAGrave - ACRM George Lorne Spear
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - PBY Catalina Bureau Number 8428 [sic 08436]
Bless 'Em All: The Adventures of a Navy "Black Cat" Squadron in World War II
VP-34 Mishap Summary Page references by Michael Moskow related to 08436
Thanks to Michael Moskow and David Forrester for additional information

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Last Updated
February 18, 2019

 

Tech InfoPBY

Map
Lat 2.38
Long 150.45

MIA
MIA / POW
7 Prisoners
9 Missing
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