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  TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 06311 Plane Number 14
USMC
1st MAW
MAG-11
VMTB-233

Pilot  1st Lt. John F. Bartholf, Jr., O-014325 USMCR (POW / MIA / KIA) Jacksonville, FL
Radio  Pfc Raymond Paul Lagro, 801179 USMC (MIA / KIA) Chicago, IL
Gunner  SSgt Joseph A. Sullivan Jr., 359657 USMC (MIA / KIA) Meriden, CT

MIA  February 14, 1944


Aircraft History
Built by Grumman in Bethpage, New York as a model G-40. Constructors Number 4719. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 06311. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific.

Wartime History
Delivered to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to 1st Marine Air Wing (1st MAW), Marine Air Group 11 (MAG-11) to squadron VMTB-233 "Bulldogs/Rainbow". Squadron number (Plane Number) 14. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On February 14, 1944 took off from Piva Uncle Airfield on Bougainville at 2:30am piloted by 1st Lt. John F. Bartholf, Jr. on a mission to drop aerial mines into the northern half of Simpson Harbor near Rabaul. Each Avenger was armed with one Mark 12-1 aerial parachute mine.

This Avenger was a spare aircraft held in reserve until TBF Avenger plane number 210 piloted by Aaronson, radio operator Sombati and gunner Webb was unable to take off and did not participate in the mission. Instead, this aircraft took off as one of nine Avengers in "Group A" the first to take off and first over the target. The formation also included "Group B" with eight Avengers (one aborted the mission) plus "Group C" with eleven Avengers (two aborted the mission).

Over the target, each aircraft attacked from less than 600' altitude at a slow speed of less than 180 knots. During the attack, the Avengers were targeted by searchlights and intense anti-aircraft fire. One plane [this aircraft] was lost from "Group A" (attacking east to west at 2:00am), two planes were lost from "Group B" (attacking west to east at 3:10am) and three were lost from "Group C" (attacking east to west at 4:15am).

When this Avenger failed to return from the mission, the crew was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). A total of six Avengers went down that day, including this aircraft plus TBF 47506 (POW/MIA), TBF 24264 (MIA), TBF 24340 (POW/MIA), TBF 25327 (MIA), TBF 25316 (MIA).

It is believed this Avenger crashed into Simpson Harbor.

Phil White adds:
"There were, according to other sources, several planes shot down in Simpson Harbor that night, one plane from the first wave of eight, two from the second, and three from the third group of eight. Captain Bartholf [this aircraft] and Lt. Cornelius [TBF Avenger 47506] planes were observed by others to be shot down inside the harbor; “The planes piloted by Lieutenants Boyden, Sherman, Fowler, and Hathway (also) failed to return to base.”

Fates of the Crew
Although Bartholf is officially listed as Missing In Action, there is a possibility he was captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW) and was executed at Rabaul at an unknown date.

Henry Sakaidia adds:
"A "1/Lt Bartoff, USMC" was executed at Rabaul, date unknown."

Memorials
Bartholf was officially declared dead on April 15, 1945. He was promoted to Captain, posthumously. Lagro was officially declared dead on February 15, 1945. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. All three are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

References
Fold3 NARA USMC War Diary VMTB-233 1 February 1944 Through 29 February 1944 pages 53, 80-82
(Page 53) " 14 February 1944
1. Orders Received.
Mining operations in north half of Simpson Harbor. Diversion support will be provided by PV-1 aircraft on Vunakanau Airfield. Mines will be laid from the east to west.
2. Operations.
Three groups of planes each took off from Piva U strip at one hour intervals starting at 0030 carrying one Mk. 12-1 mine per plane. Group A and C made attack from East to West, retiring down St. Georges Channel. Group B made attack from West to East and retired across Talili Bay and neck of Crater Peninsula. All mines had to be dropped from less than 600' at a speed of less than 180 knots. One plane failed to catch up and returned to Piva U strip.
3. Special Action Report.
The planes were picked up by searchlights followed by intense AA fire throughout the attack. One plane was lost from the 1st. division, two from the second division and three from the last division ["Group C"]. As a result 16 miles were accounted for as dropped, one hung, six were unaccounted for and two were not dropped.
Lt. Bartholf and Cornelius and crews were believed shot down in flames. Lts. Boyden, Sherman, Fowler and Hathway failed to return."
(Page 80-81) COMAIRSOLS Strike Command TBF Intelligence Struck 14, February, 1944
(Page 82) "Plane No. 14, Pilot Bartholf, Passengers Lagro, Sullivan (did not return)"
USMC Casualty Card - John F. Bartholf, Jr.
USMC Casualty Card - Raymond Paul Lagro
USMC Casualty Card - Joseph A. Sullivan Jr.
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File does not list 1st Lt. John F. Bartholf
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1944 list TBF-1 06311 piloted by Barthorf [sic, Bartholf]
Navy Serial Number Search Results TBF-1 Avenger 06311
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John F. Bartholf Jr
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Raymond Paul Lagro
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Joseph A. Sullivan Jr.
FindAGrave - Capt John F Bartholf, Jr (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Raymond Paul Lagro (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Joseph A Sullivan, Jr (tablets of the missing)
Thanks to Phil White and Henry Sakaidia for additional information.

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Last Updated
April 8, 2017

 

Tech Info
Avenger

MIA
MIA
3 Missing

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