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  A-20G-20-DO "Hell'N Pelican II" Serial Number 42-86786 Tail F
USAAF
5th AF
312th BG
388th BS

Former Assignments:
3rd BG
90th BS

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312th BG c1944

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25th LS April 17, 1944

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Nick Sayer 1984

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M Claringbould 1996

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Justin Taylan 2000

Pilot  2nd Lt. Charles Davidson (survived) Houma, LA
Gunner  Sgt John McKenna, 6644691 (WIA, survived)
Yongstown, OH
Force Landed  April 16, 1944 "Black Sunday" at 17:15
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built at Douglas at Long Beach, CA. Delivered to the U. S. Army on September 1, 1943. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassmbled in Melbourne During November or December 1943 flown northward to Port Moresby.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 3rd Bombardment Group, 90th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Louisiana Belle" with the nose art of a shark tooth marking on the nose. This A-20 operated at 17 Mile Drome near Port Moresby.

During February 1944, assigned to the 312th Bombardment Group, 388th Bombardment Squadron. Assigned to Lt. William Mathison, who renamed it "Gloria", but required additional repairs and servicing. On March 21, 1944 this aircraft was repaired and flown to Gusap Airfield.

Assigned to pilot Charles Davidson who nicknamed it "Hell'N Pelican II", after his previous aircraft P-40N "The Hell'N Pelican". Crew Chief "Fudgie" Figuerido choose Tail Code "F" (for the first letter of his surname). A white heart was added to the rear fuselage, the marking of the 388th Bombardment Squadron.

On March 29, 1944 flew its first combat mission on a low level strike over Bunabun Harbor, and continued flying missions based at Gusap Airfield.

Mission History
On April 16, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield on a low level mission against Hollandia. On the return flight, the formation ran into bad weather and "Hell'N Pelican" ran low on fuel to the west of Madang. Davidson offered McKenna the chance to bail out, but he responded "Lieutenant what are you going to do?" Davidson said "I'm going in with the ship." and McKenna said in reply "Let's go." This was one of 37 aircraft lost on "Black Sunday" when the 5th Air Force suffered its greatest operational loss of the war.

Lowering the flaps, this aircraft force landed into kunai grass near Amaimon. During the crash landing at 17:15, the propellers were bent back and the left wing leading edge was damaged from an impact with a small tree while skidding over 300 meters. Both were unhurt in the landing and spent the night with the aircraft, behind enemy lines.

Fates of the Crew
The next morning, the A-20 and crew were spotted by a P-47 Thunderbolt, which dropped them a message, but it landed too far away to retrieve. Later, a flight of six A-20 flew overhead and dropped notes, but again they were unable to be found. Later, a single A-20 dropped a note that read "Food on the way", plus a radio, rations, lifeboat and first aid kit. Everything was recovered except for the radio. Although both were alive, their families were notified they were missing in action.

At 16:00, a Stinson L-5 from the 25th Liaison Squadron photographed the intact A-20 from the air. Also, dropped a note to the crew with a map indicating their location and instructing them to to walk to the crash site of A-20 "Lady Constance". Both departed southward in the last afternoon with improvised backpacks made from their parachutes. Camping for the night, a rain storm flooded the area and fouled their weapons and ruined their compass.

During the morning of April 18, a Japanese patrol of ten soldiers passed nearby. After waiting for them to pass, they returned to the A-20, and camped at the edge of the jungle near the wreck. On April 19, a pair of Japanese aircraft strafed the wreck once and departed.

Dropped another note, they were instructed to clear a runway for an L-5 to land to rescue them. Working during the day in shifts. Again and the following day, a pair of Japanese aircraft returned to strafe the wreck. Trying to help clear the kunai grass, an L-5 dropped a incendiary bomb, but it failed to ignite and rains put out fires lit on the ground. Again on April 22, a P-40 dropped a incendiary, but the ground was too wet to burn.

After Australian trips captured Madang, the crew were instead instructed to walk to the Gogol River, 1.5km away. Before departing, Davidson removed the Douglas logo from the control yoke. It took them two days to reach the river through difficult vegetation, then floated down the Gogol River in a life raft, passing many crocodiles and monitored from above by an L-5.

On May 1, they spotted the HMAS Matafele and were taken aboard and transported to Madang Airfield. An L-5 arrived to transport both to Gusap Airfield, returning both to duty. Davidson had a beard after two weeks in the jungle.

Afterwards, Davidson was assigned another A-20 which he never named. On October 11, 1944 McKenna died as a passenger aboard B-25D 41-30525.

Wreckage
The wreckage remained in situ and was visible from the air during 1944 and used as a navigation reference by pilots of the squadron. By the 1950, jungle growth had overgrown the wreck. Known only to villagers. During the 1960's, Chinese youths from Madang removed several of the nose machine guns, one of the top turrets machine guns and cockpit instruments. The nose art faded off, revealing the prior names "Gloria", "Louisiana Belle" and the shark tooth markings.

During August 1979, Michael Claringbould learned about the wreck from a kiap (patrol officer) at Bogia. Trekking to Amaimon with two locals, Claringbould walked to the crash site and noted the serial number.

Writing to the USAF Historical Section at Maxwell AFB, the details of the crash were confirmed. With the help of Russell Sturzebecker, he was put into contact with former pilot, Charles Davidson, who he met in 1985 at the 312th Bombardment Group reunion in Niagara Falls, NY.

Salvage
The RAAF planned a training exercise "Operation Venture One" to salvage an A-20 wreck as a training exercise, using a CH-47 Chinook from 12 Squadron with assistance from Michael Claringbould. Assembling at Amberley Airfield on September 11, 1984 the team departed for PNG. 1 Air Depot (1 AD) C. O. Tom Kelly was tasked with disassembly of the wreck. Departing on September 14, the team flew to Daru Airfield and then onward to Jackson Airport.

The CH-47 departed on September 17 to relocate the crash site, included passengers S/L Rick Lunburg, Michael Claringbould and Bruce Hoy, curator of modern history at the PNG Museum. They surveyed the area from the air to locate the wreck. On September 18, five team members were landed to disassemble the aircraft. When it proved too heavy to lift, the engines were removed and finally air lifted the fuselage to Madang Airport on October 1 and made a second trip for the ground crew and engines.

Loaded aboard the HMAS Tarakan, the aircraft was transported to Brisbane arriving in November 1984. Afterwards, transported to Amberley Airfield for storage and restoration.

Restoration
Restored by the RAAF at at Amberley Restoration Facility by a team led by Denis Doggett during 1984-1996, using parts salvaged from other New Guinea A-20s. The aircraft was meticulously restored to static condition.

At the 1985 312th Bombardment Group Association reunion, Claringbould presented Davidson the original flight yoke from the aircraft as a gift.

During a ceremony on September 12, 1996, the A-20 was officially handed back to the Papua New Guinea government. In attendance was former pilot Charles Davidson, and his wife Thelma Davidson.

Since restoration to this day, the A-20 is in storage at Amberley Airfield pending the completion of display facilities for the PNG Museum in Port Moresby. It is viewable by appointment.

Memorials
McKenna passed away in 1975. He is buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery in Lockbourne, OH at Saint Teresa. Davidson passed away on July 7, 2011. He was buried at Saint Francis de Sales Cemetery #2 in Houma, LA.

References
Black Sunday pages 7, 32, 54, 77-78, 91, 96
Rampage of the Roarin' 20's pages 106-108. 201, 361, 382-383
Helluva Pelican covers the history of this aircraft, rediscovery and restoration
Pacific Ghosts CD-ROM covers the history of this aircraft
RAAF Amberley Aviation Heritage Centre - Bostom Bomber (USAF)
FindAGrave - Charles Henry Davidson (photo)
FindAGrave - John L McKenna (grave photo)

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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A-20

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