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  B-17E "Bessie The Jap Basher" Serial Number 41-2420  
USAAF
SOPAC
11th BG
42nd BS

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McFadyen 1998

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Jeff Johnson 1999

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Justin Taylan 2003

Pilot  1st Lt Charles E. Norton, O-416333 (POW, executed) ME
Co-Pilot  1st Lt. Bruce S. Barker, O-428793 (MIA / KIA) CA
Navigator  1st Lt. Leo M. Eminger, O-388557 Upton, NM (MIA / KIA) NM
Bombardier  Sgt James "Buster" R. Mathewson, 16028061 (MIA / KIA) IL
Radio  S/Sgt Peter F. Novak, 6897614 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner  S/Sgt William L. Hotard, 6296361 (MIA / KIA) TX
Lower Turret Gunner  S/Sgt Fred S. Croyle, 6845914 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner  Sgt Bruce W. Osborne, 7082892 (MIA / KIA / BR)
Gunner  Pfc Edward A. Carroll, 6979511 (MIA / KIA)
Brooklyn, NY
Ditched  September 24, 1942
MACR  unknown

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle completed on November 17, 1941. Constructors Number 2231. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Flown to Salt Lake City and three days later to Sacramento Air Depot.

Wartime History
On December 15, 1941 assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group, 42nd Bombardment Squadron. On July 22, 1942 flown to Hickam Field. During September 1942 ferried overseas to the South Pacific. Nicknamed "Bessie, Jap Basher" or "Bessie the Jap Basher". This B-17 was officially condemned on October 8, 1944.

Mission History
On September 24, 1942 one of four B-17s that took off from Henderson Field on a bombing mission against Japanese shipping off Shortland Island and Tonolei Harbor. Over the target area, approximately twenty Japanese Zeros made determined attacks against the formation from the front and both beams. Two of the attackers were claimed as shot down and another probably damaged. Despite the attacks, this B-17 dropped its bombs on a cargo vessel, which they claimed "took on a decided list" indicating it might have been hit. Damaged this B-17 was last seen descending smoking with fighters pursuing it. Flying at sea level, this B-17 managed to reach the north coast of Guadalcanal and ditched into Domo Cove occupied by Japanese forces.

Fates of the Crew
At least two of the crew Norton and Osborne survived the ditching and managed to swim ashore. On September 30, Norton was captured by the Japanese Army, Aoba Battalion, Takeda Unit commanded by 1st Lt Yoshi Takeda. They claimed the prisoner "died as [he] reached the place" (possibly meaning he was executed near Battalion headquarters).

During January 1944, the skeletal remains of Osborne were found near the shore of Domo Cove by U. S. Navy Seabees. It is unclear if he reached shore and died or was also captured and executed. The fates of the other crew are unknown, each is listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Salvage
On January 29, 1944 the 61st US Navy Seabees located the B-17 on its belly. Two days later, divers explored the wreckage and found no indication of a fire aboard, but noted bullet holes in the fuselage, and discovered four parachutes inside. The tail gunner's section was badly burnt. An explosion rear of the wings had broken the fuselage. The right wing was broken off at the body with only a small fragment intact. The engines were intact but between No.1 and No. 2 engines on the left wing was a large hole. Their search discovered no bones inside.

Captain George Sagli was present on the morning of January 31, 1944 when divers recovered the fuselage and tail assembly of the B-17. The wreckage had bullet holes in the fuselage and barnacles from being underwater for 16 months. The tail serial number "12420" was still clearly visible. No human remains or clothing were found aboard.

Inside the fuselage was a canteen with initials 'L.B' on the bottom. 50 caliber machine gun (from the waist) loaded, belted 50 caliber ammunition in an aluminum box, 50 caliber shell cases on the floor of the fuselage, fired, five parachutes (two numbered 39224 and 38165), frame less gold rimmed spectacles, Eveready flashlight, 8" wrench, 6" screw driver, hunting knife in a scabbard, a Colt 45 caliber M1911 pistol serial number 7797 in a holster with a knife, Mae West life vests, three with the CO2 containers unopened and a 30 caliber shell fired into the plane.

SF1C S. C. Kelly, 61st Seabees reported:
"On the morning of 31 January 1944 we searched in Domo Bay and found a B17 number 12420 on its belly offshore about 100 yards in 55 feet of water. There were innumerable small holes in the tail and the tail gun section had been burned badly. An explosion after of the wings had broken the fuselage from the main section of the pane although laying as it was it was impossible to get into that part of the plane.

The right wing was broken off at the body with the exception of a small fragment holding it on. The motors were intact but between the two motors on the left wing was a large hole as if it had collided with something. I hooked on to the tail skid and that section with par of the fuselage up to the wings was pulled ashore. The water was so riled it was impossible to see into the main section of the plane to examine further. To the best of my knowledge there were no bodied in that part of the plane that I could get into at that time."

On February 19, 1944 T/4 Robert W. Cannon, HQ Forward Area plus a CPO, three enlisted men and an officer of the 27th Seabees to examine the wreckage of the B-17 for bodies. They found several person effects, including the pilot's brief case with 'C.E. Norton' on it, but no bones.

Wreckage
On January 31, 1944 the rear fuselage and tail were salvaged by U. S. Navy Seebees and dragged ashore. The fate of this wreckage is unknown. Possibly, it was transported elsewhere during the war, scrapped or otherwise disappeared.

The wreckage of this B-17 rests in about 60' of water on a sandy bottom off Domo Cove (Ndomo). All the engines are intact on the plane, the nose section is collapsed, but cockpit still in good condition with the pilot's seat and top turret intact. Other wreckage is scattered in the vicinity. The fuselage from the bomb bay to the tail was salvaged on January 31, 1944. The ball turret rests in the sand behind the fuselage.

Jeff Johnson dove the wreck in 1999:
"I dove the wreck 3 times and it is relatively intact. Talking with the local dive master, he said that the locals witnessed the crash and the Japanese captured two survivors who they later executed. Another thing I noticed is that two out of the four engines had been feathered."

Memorials
The entire crew was officially declared dead on January 7, 1946. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Bruce Osborne's local VFW post is named after him in his home town.

After the recovery of remains, Osborne is buried at Osborne Memorial Cemetery in Sparta, NC.

Mathewson has a memorial marker at Caledonia Cemetery in Sparta, IL.

Relatives
David Tanner (great nephew of Eminger)
"Leo Eminger was part of the 38th Recon Sq. from Albuquerque, NM. Eminger was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. Eminger were both with the 88th Recon Squadron from Albuquerque Army Air Field. Eminger was with Crew No. 4 aboard B-17C 40-2063 one of the the B-17 flying from Hamilton Field bound for Hickam Field and arrived during the attack on December 7, 1941. Charles Norton was with Crew No. 6 which had to return to Hamilton Army Air Field due to engine trouble. I have also discovered, through many publications and personal contacts with crew families, photos of the pilot (Charles E. Norton), the co-pilot (Bruce B. S. Barker), and the bottom turret gunner (Fred S. Croyle). I am working on a photo of Bruce W. Osborne who is the only crew member listed as KIA because they found his bones."

References
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) number unknown was created retroactively
Fortress Against the Sun, pages 269-270
Flight Journal Magazine, by Franklin and Kathy Viola who photographed wreck (Dec. 2000)
FindAGrave - Sgt James R Mathewson (memorial photo)
FindAGrave - Bruce Wayne Osborne (memorial photo)
Some sources state this B-17's nickname as "Bessie the Jap Smasher" incorrectly
Thanks to David Tanner for additional photos, news articles and crew photographs.
Thanks to William Bartsch for details on U. S. Navy Seabee salvage

Contribute Information
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?

Last Updated
May 22, 2017

 

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  Pacific Wrecks Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to bringing home those Missing In Action (MIA) and leveraging new technologies in the study of World War II Pacific and the Korean War.  
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