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Through the Window of Time: Three of 78,000
by Michael Moskow

Over half a century has passed since the end of the Second World War.  Slowly and inevitably, the events of those years are being transformed from the lives and memories of veterans and their families into the raw material…names, dates, and places…of history.  Yet, in some ways, World War Two is not over; not quite finished. For history does not end, it continues.   

The following document…an Interrogation Transcript of a Japanese Prisoner of War…is a case in point. 

This unnamed Japanese soldier was captured near Gali, New Guinea, early in 1944.  The POW described to his interrogators an encounter with three aviators, probably American B-25 crewmen, who were captured by Japanese forces somewhere in northeastern New Guinea during June of 1943.  Though this writer has been unable to identify these POWs, to the best of his knowledge, they did not survive the war.  They are almost certainly among the nearly 80,000 American WW II servicemen whose remains have not been recovered; whose fate remains unknown to this day.


SERIAL NO. 450

INTERROGATION REPORT NO. 311

PW JA (USA) 147016

  PW JA (USA) 147016, Superior Private of  First Company, 1st Battalion, 80th Infantry Regiment, was captured by US troops while foraging for supplies middle of January 1944, near Gali.

  Near Nambariwa, about June 1943, PW saw three Allied flyers, one of whom was wounded and carried on a litter.  [His rank is unknown but the other two were Lieuts., according to stories PW heard.]  About a month later, he heard the wounded man had died, and others had been taken to Japan.  [About a month later at Salamaua (July 1943) PW heard that the wounded man had died while the two officers were taken to Japan.]

  PW heard they were from a North American.  Date and location where bomber crashed or landed was unknown to PW.  [PW was quite certain that the three flyers had come from a two-engined "North American" bomber as he had heard others discuss it.]

First Allied POW: 
1st Lieutenant
Colour of Hair: 
Black
Height: 
Approx 5'11"
Weight: 
Approx 125 lbs.
Clothing: 
Fairly clean leather jacket over another button-type jacket, grey trousers, tan oxford shoes, no cap.
Condition: 
Very poor, emaciated so that cheek-bones were prominent.  However, had a clean-cut face, recently shaved, and seemed gentle in nature.

Second Allied POW: 
1st Lieutenant
Colour of Hair: 
Blonde
Height: 
5'11"
Weight: 
Approx 125 lbs.
Clothing: 
Similar to above PW
Condition: 
Cleanly shaved and looked very serious and military, but emaciated beyond description.  [No other description was remembered by the PW.] 

Third Allied POW: 
Unknown to PW
Colour of Hair: 
Blonde
Height: 
Approx 5'11"
Weight: 
Approx 125 lbs.
Clothing: 
Wore shorts and leather jacket over a shirt.  PW believed he wore no stockings or shoes.  No head cover.
Condition: 
Wounded in right thigh and was lying on litter.  Appeared to be very ill.  Very dirty in appearance and face covered by half-inch growth of beard.  He kept whispering for water, which, together with cooked rice was given to him by PW.

  PW also gave the group cigarettes and bananas which were gratefully received.  [When the wounded man was given water, PW approached the group and gave the officers cigarettes and bananas which were gratefully received.]   

  An English-speaking Jap NCO briefly questioned the two walking POWs.  They evaded direct questions and were defiant in their attitude and gestures.  [It was seen by the PW that they were evading direct questions put to them, and it was further seen by the PW that the two officers were defiant in their attitude and gestures.] 

   PW heard the three had been taken care of by a native chief named Kaasan in his village for approximately one month before being discovered by Japanese soldiers.  Kaasan was a well-known chieftain with a lame leg, who controlled villages as far north as Gali, including near Kiari.  PW believed Kaasan should know personal background of PWs.

  During December 1943 while PW was wandering northward, he came to a deserted village of five or six huts, southwest of Nambariwa.  While conversing with several Jap stragglers, he learned that the village chief once took care of three flyers eventually captured by Japs.  [Last December while the PW was wandering northward after the Allies has taken Finschhafen, he came to a deserted village 5-6 hours south-west of Nambariwa.  Upon conversing with several Japanese stragglers there, he learned that the village chief once took care of three flyers eventually captured by the Japanese.] 

                (Note: Presumably the same as above.)


This document was discovered in the United States National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  It’s found in RG (Records Group) 165, “Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Assistant Chief of Staff (G-2) Intelligence Library Project File, ATIS [Allied Translator Interpreter Section] Interrogation Reports”. 

Coincidentally, the report can also be seen on United States Air Force / Historical Records Center Microfilm Roll A1315, which is available from the USAF/HRC at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.  While the text of the microfilm and print versions differs slightly (the bracketed text in the above account is from the microfilm version) the two are basically consistent with each other.

Some Speculations...
Due to the vagueness of the descriptions of the POWs, it may never be possible to definitively establish their identities.  However, assuming that the information within the account is correct, this author believes that at least three conclusions can be drawn from it.  First, the Japanese POW mentioned that the aviators were the crewmen of, “…a two-engined “North American” bomber as he had heard others discuss it.”  Based on this, the POWs would most likely have been B-25 crewmen. 

Second, the POW saw the men during June of 1943.  He reported that they’d been taken care of by, “a native chief named Kaasan,” for roughly a month prior to their discovery.  This would suggest that their aircraft was lost in May of that year, or perhaps earlier. 

Third, though this author has been unable to locate the villages of Nambariwa or Kiari, Gali is visible on large-scale maps of northern New Guinea.  It lies on the northern coast of that island, north-northwest of Lae, and about halfway between Saidor and Singoraki, along the southern shore of the Vitiaz Strait.  Inland lies the Saruwaged Mountain Range, and farther south, the Markham River Valley.  Might this suggest that the B-25 was lost on a mission somewhere along the northeastern coast of New Guinea? 

What Unit were the POWs Members of?
Bearing all this in mind, what Army Air Force unit could these three men have been members of? 

The Fifth Air Force Groups equipped with B-25s during this time period were the 3rd Bomb Group (8th, 13th, 89th, and 90th Bomb Squadrons), 22nd Bomb Group (2nd, 33rd, and 408th Bomb Squadrons), and 38th Bomb Group (71st, 405th, 822nd, and 823rd Bomb Squadrons).  The 42nd Bomb Group of the Thirteenth Air Force (composed of the 69th, 70th, 75th, and 390th Bomb Squadrons)* flew B-25s at this time and throughout the war, as did No. 18 Squadron of the Netherlands East Indies Air Force. 

The possible unit can be narrowed a little further.  Cyril Klimesh’s excellent web-site for the 22nd Bomb Group carries a list of the Group’s Mitchells, and (at one time?) stated that no “Red Raiders” B-25s were lost on actual combat missions.  Similarly, Garrett Middlebrook’s powerful book “Air Combat at Twenty Feet” includes a list of 71st Bomb Squadron personnel lost in combat missions between Oct. 16, 1942 and Sept. 27, 1943.  Garrett’s list reveals that no 71st Bomb Squadron aircrews were lost in the area of New Guinea specified by the Japanese POW during this time period, though two Mitchells were lost on missions to Lae in November and December of 1942.  Finally, Bas Kreuger, curator of the RNLAF Museum, has informed this author that two B-25s of No. 18 Squadron NEIAF were shot near Dobo and Kaap van den Bosch, and Saumlaki, (on Tanimbar Island, Indonesia), on April 28 and May 20 of 1943, respectively, with no possibility of survivors from either plane.  Finally, to the best of my knowledge, the 42nd BG did not conduct operations in the area where these men were lost.

So, based on the available…albeit vague…evidence, these men most likely were members one of the four squadrons of the 3rd Bomb Group, or, the 405th, 822nd, or 823rd Bomb Squadrons of the 38th Bomb Group.

Did They Return?
The most haunting aspect of this report is the Japanese POW’s comment that the two officers were sent to Japan, while the wounded man died.  Did the two officers actually survive?  After checking rosters of surviving American POWs of the Japanese (in the United States National Archives) I discovered that, sadly, no American B-25 crewmen captured in this area of New Guinea during this time period survived captivity.  These three men, sadly, never returned.

The only American B-25 crewman captured by the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific known to this writer to have survived as a POW was Major Williston M. Cox, of the 405th Bomb Squadron of the 38th Bomb Group, who ditched his Mitchell [B-25D "Green Dragon" 41-30118] off the southeastern shore of Wongat Island, during a strike against the airstrip at Madang, New Guinea, on August 5, 1943.  All but one of Major Cox’s crew were captured with him that same day; his flight engineer drowned during the ditching.  Major Cox was separated from his crew and sent to Rabaul on August 17, 1943, and from Rabaul, by ship to Japan on Nov. 13, 1943.  His four surviving crewmen were last seen by him before he was taken by plane, to New Britain.  They never returned. 

Regarding B-25 POWs at Rabaul, five B-25 crewmen from the 345th Bomb Group of the Fifth Air Force (Lieutenants Donald L. Stookey and Herschel D. Evans of the 500th Bomb Squadron, and Sergeants Michael H. Kicera, John N. Barron, and William C. Harris of the 501st Bomb Squadron) were also POWs of the Sixth Field Kempei Tai at Rabaul, but all were almost certainly “executed” during what is sometimes dubbed the "Tunnel Hill Incident" on March 3 and/or 4, 1944. 

Three crewmen from the 75th Bomb Squadron of the 42nd Bomb Group were also imprisoned at Rabaul.  They were John A. Bailey, a co-pilot, whose Mitchell [B-25C 42-3225] was shot down on a mission to Matchin Bay, Bouganville, on November 23, 1943, and Thomas O. Thompson and Carl C. Clemons, pilot and co-pilot, whose Mitchell [B-25C 42-32319] was shot down during a strike against Tobera Airfield on January 22, 1944.  Held captive by the 81st Naval Guard Unit, these three men did not survive the war.  Presumably, they too, were “executed”, but the date and place are unknown. 

  Besides Major Cox, one other B-25 crewmen captured in the Southwest Pacific in 1943…a member of the NEIAF…survived the war as a POW.  He was Sergeant Vd Burg, a crewman on No. 18 Squadron B-25 N5-136, piloted by Sgt. Visser.  Sgt. Visser’s plane was shot down during a reconnaissance mission over Sumba Island, Indonesia, on Oct. 7, 1943.  Though all crewmen except Sgt. Visser survived the immediate crash, Sgt. Vd Burg would eventually be the sole survivor of his crew.           

  Stepping back, some day we may learn more about aircraft losses in the South and Southwest Pacific early in WW II, an area covered far less extensively than Europe.  Yet, the question, “Who were these three POWs?” may be much harder to answer.  Whoever they were, they stand for the innumerable Allied servicemen who are still Missing in Action, over half a century after the end of the Second World War.       

* The 69th and 70th Bomb Squadrons flew B-26s through March of 1943. 

References

Books

Bell, Dana.  Air Force Colors: Volume 3 - Pacific and Home Front, 1942-1947, Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Tx., 1997

Middlebrook, Garrett. Air Combat at 20 Feet: Selected Missions From a Strafer Pilot's Diary, Published By Garrett Middlebrook, Fort Worth, Tx., 1989

Rust, Kenn C. Fifth Air Force Story, Historical Aviation Album, Temple City, Ca., 1973

Rust, Kenn C. Thirteenth Air Force Story, Historical Aviation Album, Temple City, Ca., 1981

Missing Air Crew Reports

MACR 935 (Pilot Donald L. Stookey; 345th BG, 500th BS; B-25D 41-30561 lost 10/16/43)

MACR 1219 (Pilot Orbry H. Moore; 345th BG, 501st BS; B-25D 41-30094 lost 11/2/43)

MACR 1217 (Pilot Richard Schaffner; 42nd BG, 75th BS; B-25C 42-32255 lost 11/23/43)

MACR 1801 (Pilot Thomas O. Thompson; 42nd BG, 75th BS; B-25C 42-32319 lost 1/22/44)

MACR 16113 (Pilot Williston M. Cox; 38th BG, 405th BS; B-25D 41-30118 lost 8/5/43)

Other Documents

Deposition by Williston M. Cox to Special Agent Everett B. White, CIC, concerning the capture and mistreatment of Major Cox’s crew.  (US National Archives, RG 153, Box 1373, Case File 51-90)

Statement by Charles K. Taylor to 1 Lt. Josiah B. Gathright, War Crimes Investigation Detachment, concerning Lieutenant John A. Bailey.  (US National Archives, RG 331, Box 943, Folder 19 (J-88), File NG-51)

(No author): Statement that Clemons and Osborn were last seen alive at Rabaul on April 10, 1944  (US National Archives, RG 331, Box 943, Folder 19 (J-88), File NG-51)

Newspaper Articles

(No author) “Missing of WW II are not Forgotten: Search Continues for Bodies of 78,000” (Associated Press) August 16, 1985 (Appeared in Atlanta Journal and Constitution)

E-mails, and Messages on the Pacific Wrecks Discussion Board

Hitt, Earl J. - B-25 Pilot, 5th Air Force, 345th Bomb Group, 498th Bomb Squadron- (Thanks for the suggestion about the missing B-25. )

Kreuger, Bas  - Curator of RNLAF Museum – (Thanks for your highly informative e-mails, Bas.)

Last Updated
March 26, 2012

 

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