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  TBF-1C Avenger Bureau Number 24492  
1st MAW

Pilot  1st Lt. Lester Vernon Swenson, USMCR (MIA, rescued) Minneapolis, MN
Radio  Cpl F. E. Betz (MIA, rescued)
Gunner  SSgt James A. Brooks, 337509 (MIA, rescued) Seattle, WA

Ditched  January 14, 1944

Aircraft History
Built by Grumman. Assigned to the United States Navy (USN) to the USS Saratoga (CV-3) to squadron VT-8. No known nickname, nose art or squadron number.

Mission History
On January 14, 1944 one of eighteen Avengers that took off around 6:00am from Munda Airfield on New Georgia on a bombing mission against Rabaul armed with a single 2,000 lbs bomb. At 9:00am, the formation landed at Torokina Airfield on Bougainville to refuel and took off again bound for Rabaul, with their primary target Lakunai Airfield and shipping in Simpson Harbor as a secondary target. The formation proceeded northward following St. Georges Channel to Lombi then proceeded to the target area, but found Lakunai Airfield closed in with clouds, so looked for targets in the harbor instead.

Over the target, at 10,000' altitude, this Avenger was hit by anti-aircraft fire twice, causing large holes in the aircraft, possibly from a 4.7" Naval gun. The damage caused the controls to become ineffective, but Swenson managed to stay with the formation and successfully bombed a ship in the harbor and strafed other targets in the area before departing eastward towards Cape Gazelle and Mioko Island in the Duke of York Islands.

Departing, three A6M3 Zeros spotted this aircraft straggling behind the formation and attacked. Rear gunner Betz fired at two of the Zeros from nearly point blank range and claimed one of them shot down, seeing pieces fly from the wings. The third Zero attacked from below and set the Avenger on fire, likely hitting the center fuel tank, causing the cockpit to fill with smoke at an attitude of 200'.

Pilot Swenson made a perfect ditching in the center of St. Georges Channel roughly ten miles off Watpi and the entire crew successfully exited the Avenger and deployed their life raft before the Avenger sank. Two of the attacking Zeros circled them and the crew hid under the raft. Neither Zero strafed.

Afterwards, the crew rowed southward for 24 before reaching the shore at Karong village near Adler Bay on New Britain and were met by friendly natives who signaled to them and hid their raft and them in a cave for five days while the Japanese searched for them. Prewar, the natives mision boys at Vunapope and trustworthy.

Next, the natives told the crew to use their raft to paddle across Wide Bay. During the night, a Japanese barge passed nearby, but did not detect them. In total, the trip took 25 hours. Reaching Lublun village, several Allied aircraft were spotted including a PBY Catalina and fighters, but the crew lacked anything to signal them.

During late January 1944 Brooks visited the crash site what he believed to be a B-24 and observed the bodies of the eleven crew members and recovered a dog tag and three pistols. This crash site proved to be B-24D Liberator 42-41210. Based on his report, the remains of the crew were recovered.

Fates of the Crew
On March 26, 1944 Swenson and Brooks were rescued.

E&E Report No. 41 - Swenson / Brooks, 29th March 1944 pages 1-7

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Last Updated
June 29, 2019


Tech Info

3 Rescued

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