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No. 8 Squadron
No. 1 Squadron
K. Munday 1986
Norman Harold Benton, 428755 (MIA / KIA, BR) Auckland, NZ
Navigator F/Sgt James Noel Cunneen, 432192 (MIA / KIA, BR) Wellington, NZ
Radio/Gunner F/Sgt Robert Hugh MacFarquhar Buchanan, 392012 (MIA / KIA, BR) Southland, NZ
Gunner W/O Christopher Charles William Jeffares, 4216543 (MIA / KIA, BR) Taranaki, NZ
Gunner F/Sgt James George Gardiner Mallett, 436918 (MIA / KIA, BR) Taranaki, NZ
Observer Sgt Norman Egerton Merfield, WX14946 AIF (MIA / KIA / BNR) Kojonup, WA
Crashed June 9, 1945
Built by Lockheed as model 237-27-01 in Burbank. Constructors number 6268. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PV-1 Ventura bureau number 49452. Disassembled and shipped to Oahu then to New Zealand as part of defense aid.
During April 1944 assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as PV-1 Ventura serial number NZ4613. On April 18, 1944 BoC with Unit 19 and assigned to No. 1 Squadron at Whenuapai Airfield. On August 15, 1944 flown to Guadalcanal. During January 1945 assigned to No. 8 Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.
On June 9, 1945 took off from Emirau Airfield piloted by F/O Norman Harold Benton on a mission to drop propaganda leaflets over New Ireland. Aboard was Australian Army Intelligence Corps, Far East Liaison Office (FELO) representative Sgt Norman E. Merfield to oversee the operation. When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). This aircraft was believed to have been hit by anti-aircraft fire over the target.
The next day while searching for this aircraft PV-1 Ventura NZ4609 crashed on New Ireland killing the entire crew.
In fact, this Ventura crashed near near Kimidan, inland from Lamerika on New Ireland. Another source lists the wreck as located between Namatanai and Silom. The entire crew was killed in the crash.
During September 1945 or October 1945 RNZAF MPIU [Missing Personnel Investigation Unit] were led by Japanese Prisoners Of War (POW) to the Ventura. At the crash site, they identified the aircraft by serial number NZ4612 and were shown the graves of the crew members nearby.
Recovery of Remains
After the crash, the Japanese visited the crash site and buried the remains of the crew nearby. Each grave was marked by a wooden marker written in Japanese and planted with flowers.
Postwar, the graves were shown to the RNZAF and the remains were exhumed and transported to New Caledonia for permanent burial. The remains of Merfield were not located and he remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
After the recovery of remains, the recovered crew members were buried at Bourail War Cemetery. Benton at 5. 32. Cunneen at 5.33. Buchanan at 5. 34. Jeffares at 5. 36 and Mallett at 5. 35.
Merfield was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) and is memorialized at Bitapaka War Cemetery (Rabaul War Cemetery) on the Rabaul Memorial, panel 1.
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PV-1 Ventura 49452
"49452 (MSN 237-6268) to New Zealand Apr 18, 1944 as NZ4613. Shot down Cape Narum, New Ireland, New Guinea Jun 9, 1945. Crashed into a mountain near Kimidam. The aircraft was dispatched on a leaflet dropping mission and failed to return. The wreckage was discovered in November 1945. Wreck still extant 1992."
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)
7795: [Fenced area and wreckage] and 7797: [Crash site on hillside]
ADF Serials - PV-1 Ventura NZ4613
WW2 Nominal Roll - Norman Egerton Merfield, WX14946
CWGC - Norman Harold Benton
CWGC - James Noel Cunneen
CWGC - Robert Hugh MacFarquhar Buchanan
CWGC - Christopher Charles William Jeffares
CWGC - James George Gardiner Mallett
CWGC - Norman Egerton Merfield
FindAGrave - James Noel Cunneen (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Christopher Charles William Jeffares
FindAGrave - Sergeant Norman Egerton Merfield (Rabaul Memorial photo)
"For Your Tomorrow Volume Two: Fates 1943-1998: A Record of New Zealanders Who Have Died While Serving with the RNZAF and Allied Air Services Since 1915 by Errol Martyn's Volplane Press Christchurch, 1999
The Wreck of NZ4613 by Chis Bittner includes photos of the wreck via WayBack Machine Sept 9, 2007
Thanks to K. Munday for additional information
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June 4, 2020
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