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  B-17F-20-BO "Fighting Swede" Serial Number 41-24520  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

Click For Enlargement
1942

Click For Enlargement
1942

Click For Enlargement
1942 via R. Puzzo

Pilot  Major Robert N. Keatts, O-381156 (MIA / KIA) ID
Co-Pilot  1st Lt William E. Ward, O-725386 (MIA / KIA) CA
Navigator  2nd Lt John P. Murnane, O-790983 (MIA / KIA) NY
Bombardier  M/Sgt Richard G. Tennant, 15012411 (MIA / KIA) WV
Engineer  T/Sgt Charles Kachigian, 6718892 (MIA / KIA) PA
Asst Engineer  Sgt Dilman J. Beerwert, 15059026 (MIA / KIA) IN
Radio  Cpl John T. Mannion, 12021941 (MIA / KIA) NY
Asst Radio  S/Sgt Bernard E. Parker, 17030208 (MIA / KIA) KS
Tail Gunner  Sgt William S. Bates, 12031947 (MIA / KIA) NY
Photographer  Pfc Frank D. Goodwin, Jr., 14063639
(MIA / KIA) TN
MIA  May 8, 1943 at 9:13am
MACR  13689 (15689)

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Delivered to the US Army on July 24, 1942, and assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron. Next, assigned to the 63rd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Flying Swede" in honor of the pilot, Lt. Folmer J. Sogaard, who was Swedish.

This B-17 flew its first combat mission on September 14, 1942. On April 20 1943 flew a mission against Wewak, piloted by Sugared skip bombing a tanker which was "burning fiercely" and "definitely sunk", then bombed the airfield. Only other shipping damage claimed on that mission was Lt William O'Brien in B-17F "Talisman" claiming two "very near misses" on another ship.

Mission History
Took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby at 0640am on a armed reconnaissance mission to Madang and Saidor on the northern coast. Its last reported position was 50 miles north of Madang, when it reported Japanese shipping, at 0900 hours, then never reported again. Subsequent searches both at the time and after the war yielded no signs of the crew and plane.

Some members of the 63rd BS heard that Radio Tokyo reported an incident on the 8th of May in which a Japanese fighter pilot had rammed a B-17. This led to speculation that this was the cause of Keats otherwise unexplained loss.

It is reported that a US Army Lieutenant was also aboard this plane. He is not listed above, nor is there any mention of his presence in the MACR. It is unclear if there was an extra crew member aboard.

Japanese Side
In fact, at 9:13am this B-17 was intentionally rammed by an attacking Ki-43 Oscar, claiming his life.

"Wewak - The Early Days" by Richard Dunn adds:
"...nine Type 1 fighters of the 11th FR under Capt. Takashi Ninomiyo, commander of the 1st chutai. These encountered the B-17 while en route to cover the ships. Three Type 1 fighters under Lt. Junji Kobayashi broke off and attacked the B-17 initiating their first pass from slightly above and then completing additional head on passes. Though damaged, the B-17 headed for some of the clouds and rain squalls in the area. Unwilling to let the B-17 escape, Sgt. Tadao Oda commenced a head on pass that ended in a collision. Both the B-17 and the fighter fell into the sea in flames. There were no survivors. The Americans had no idea what happened to the B-17 flown by Lt. Robert Keats and his crew. Oda was lionized in the Japanese press for deliberately ramming and destroying the big bomber. He was promoted to Lieutenant posthumously."

Richard Dunn adds:
"One more bit of data. I found an account that states the ramming took place at 0813 (Tokyo time). That would be 0913 (US time). This leaves only about 13 minutes flying from the last B-17 contact report.

A possibility: At about 3 miles per minute (180 mph) that means the B-17 was probably less than 40 miles from its final contact report position. Moreover, since the B-17 probably maneuvered after sighting the Japanese fighters it was quite possibly not that far. While we don't know in which direction the closest cloud cover was, they were unlikely to head deeper into Japanese territory or much farther out to sea (my guess) so near the coast and not as far as 40 miles further NW is one possible location for their demise. Everything in the second paragraph is speculation but thought I'd throw it in for what it may be worth"

Memorials
The entire crew was officially declared dead on December 17, 1945 and are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Relatives
Regina Oldfield Puzzo (niece of Cpl. John T. Mannion):
"I am the niece Cpl. John T. Mannion. He arrived in the South Pacific in August of '42 as a crew member of one of a group of 11 B-17s that flew from San Francisco to Australia. My uncle was a radio operator and flew as a member of different crews over the ensuing months. He began flying with Capt. Robert Keatts in March of  1943.

References
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17F Flying Fortress 41-24520
Pride of Seattle page 11
"Wewak - The Early Days" by Richard Dunn (ARAWASI #3)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall and Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
August 27, 2014

 

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