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USS Enterprise (CV-6)
|Pilot Ensign Harry W. Liffner, USNR (rescued) Yonkers, NY
Passenger AMM2c Wilbur T. Thompson, 2916095 (MIA / KIA) IN
Crashed April 2, 1942
Built by Douglas at El Segundo. Constructors Number 682. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as SBD-2 Dauntless bureau number 2136.
Assigned to USS Enterprise (CV-6) to Bombing Squadron 6 (VB-6). Side number B11.
On April 2, 1942 took off from USS Enterprise (CV-6) pilot Ensign Harry W. Liffner as one of nine planes on a patrol off Oahu. This aircraft was flying as the number three aircraft in the third section. During a side over maneuver, SBD 2136 collided with this aircraft impacting from slightly above and to the right rear. Pilot Liffner lost control but managed to bail out. Passenger AMM2c Thompson was unable to exit and died when the aircraft crashed into the sea. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially declared missing.
Afterwards, Liffner was rescued by destroyer and returned to duty.
Thompson was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He earned the Air Medal. Since the flight was not a combat mission, he did not earn the Purple Heart, posthumously. Thompson is memorialized at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on the tablets of the missing.
Liffner passed away on November 12, 2006 at age 87. He is buried at Locust Valley Cemetery in Locust Valley, NY.
Are you a relative of Liffner or Thompson? Contact us
Discovered south of Ewa Beach by Hawaii Undersea Research Lab (HURL) during March 2005. Revisited on October 1, 2010 by Pisces V and Pisces IV. Further survey to the east located an engine, then a wing root with one wing still attached, more smaller sections of fuselage and finally the wing root found on the ROV survey. So two wing roots and more wreckage than just one airplane were found.
Steve Price / Hawaii Undersea Research Lab (HURL) adds:
"Hawaii Undersea Research Lab was fortunate enough to be able to conduct a recent (October 1, 2010) "test and trial" dive at the site of a Dauntless tail section found in March of 2005. More recently a test dive with our ROV came across a wing root in the same vicinity (within 100m). We have always believed that this wreck was that of [SBD Dauntless 2159] Ens. Walter Willis and his Gunner Fred Ducolon which were shot down on December 7, 1941 while scouting from the USS Enterprise to Oahu. We believed this based on the historical record of the aircraft of this type lost in the area South of Ewa Beach. Although there were no other known Dauntlesses lost in this area, there were still candidates with their final fates unknown and a few others that were lost in flight but their details were unspecific as to location or even if they crashed at sea.
Although limited in our time at the site we were lucky enough to be able to decipher the bureau number from the side of the vertical stabilizer. The Willis Dauntless was BuNo 2159, this aircraft was BuNo 2136. Further survey to the east located an engine, then a wing root with one wing still attached, more smaller sections of fuselage and finally the wing root found on the ROV survey. So two wing roots and more wreckage than just one airplane were found. Going back to my records I found 2136 had collided in with SBD 2165 on April 2, 1942 "while on patrol from the Enterprise". I had these aircraft listed as "not likely" on my list because to me "on patrol" meant they were out to sea at the time, plus I believed this paint scheme was phased out by the Enterprise planes by this date because it's squadron commander had been nearly shot down by friendly fire. He wanted to get rid of the small star with meatball for a larger star. Perhaps the transition period was longer or the newer one washed off (which has apparently occurred before). What is most surprising is that the pilot of 2136, Ens. S.C. Hogan was listed as having survived the collision. He also turns up flying with the Enterprise Group in VB-6 two months later at the Battle of Midway. He flies the second day and returns. The Willis Family has been informed as to the outcome of this survey. Although, I'm sure they were disappointed, Walter's niece said she was glad to finally know for certain and that she had no regrets."
Note, some sources state three died in this collision (only the two passengers died)
Navy Serial Number Search Results - SBD-2 Dauntless 2165
"2165 (VS-6) in midair collision with 2136 during patrol off enterprise 4/2/1942. 3 killed [sic]"
Enterprise War Diary - April 2, 1942
PatWing 2 War Diary
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wilbur T. Thompson
FindAGrave - AMM2 Peter William Altman (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Harry Warren Liffner (grave photo)
Thanks to Steve Price / Hawaii Undersea Research Lab (HURL) Jim Sawruk and Craig Fuller for additional information
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Do you have photos or additional information to add?
April 1, 2021
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