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  B-17F-10-BO "My Lovin' Dove" Serial Number 41-24450  
USAAF
13th AF
5th BG
72nd BS

Click For Enlargement
USAAF Feb 28, 1943

Click For Enlargement
USAAF Feb 28, 1943

Pilot  Captain Thomas J. Classen, O-404042 (survived) Stevens Point, WI
Navigator  1st Lt. Balfour C. Gibson (survived) Alameda County, CA
Crew  1st Lt. Robert J. Dorwart
(survived) Seattle, WA
Crew  1st Lt. Ernest Ruiz (survived)
Crew  Sgt James "Jim" Hunt (survived)
Crew  Sgt. Don Martin (survived)
Crew  Cpl Ted Edwards (survived)
Crew  Cpl William Nichols (survived)
Crew  Sgt Bob Turnbull
(survived)
Ditched  February 9, 1943


Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. On July 6, 1942 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress serial number 41-24450. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field to the South Pacific.

Wartime History
This B-17 was used by Lt. General Milard F. Harmon as his personal transport. Next, assigned to the 5th Bombardment Group, 72nd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "My Lovin' Dove".

Mission History
On February 9, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal on a reconnaissance mission over Nauru Island. Over the target, intercepted by eight A6M Zeros and attacked for ten minutes, until some of the B-17's guns jammed. The guns still operative claimed two Zeros and probables for two more. The Zeros circled the crippled bomber, raking it with machine gun fire for an hour and a half, wounding all nine of her crew. When the Zeros ran low on fuel, they departed.

The B-17 had its no. 1 engine frozen from damage. Then, a second engine went out. Then a third, causing it to ditch over 450 miles from the nearest island. The B-17 hit a wave, nosed into another and sank within sixty seconds. The crew found themselves in the water, clinging to an inflated life boat and pumping another and managed to tie the two boats together and drifted away from the oil slick from the sunken bomber.

Rescue
The crew spent sixteen days in a life raft, until making landfall on an island off Buka Island. Spotted by friendly natives, the crew was divided among several villages. There, they met U. S. Navy radio operator, RM3c Delmar D. Wiley who was the sole survivor of TBF Avenger 00418 lost on August 24, 1942 during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (Second Battle of the Solomon Sea). He too had drifted in a raft for 15 days before landing at these same islands.

In an attempt to move closer to the Allied lines, the group attempted to buy a canoe from locals, but it failed to be seaworthy with only four aboard. Later, they hired another native and his canoe to sailed down the coast for four days and met another group of natives, who had been sent by a pair of coastwatchers to find them. Escorted over a jungle trail to the coastwatchers mountain observation post, they met the coastwatchers and arranged their rescue by radio.

More than fifty days after their ditching, a U. S. Navy PBY Catalina piloted by Robert B. Hays from VP-44, escorted by two PB4Y-1 Liberators from VB-101. During the flight, Hays spotted a group in an outrigger and landed to rescue then rescued the remaining crew. Afterwards, the crew returned to duty.

Afterwards, Classen and Gibson earned the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for their actions.

Memorials
Afterwards, Classen was assigned as the deputy commander of the 509th Composite Group at Wendover Field and later assigned to North Field on Tinian to support the atomic bomb missions. Postwar, he continued his service in the U. S. Air Force (USAF) and retired from the with the rank of Colonel. In retirement, he piloted a Cessna 185 with floats in Alaska. He passed away May 15, 2009. He is buried at Saint Stephen Cemetery in Stevens Point, WI.

Gibson passed away on December 19, 1993 in Napa, CA.

Dorwart passed away on June 1, 2007.

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Balfour C Gibson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Ernest C. Ruiz
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17F-10-BO Fortress 41-24450
"24450 (5th BG, 72nd BS, "My Lovin' Dove") damaged over Nauru and ditched Feb 9, 1943. Crew spent 16 days on lift raft to Buka and rescued 50 more days later."
Fortress Against The Sun pages 337, 338, 339, 391, 434
Pride of Seattle page 9
Fate of the Crew of B-17F "My Lovin' Dove" 41-24450
Wiley's Island by Delmar D. Wiley tells his story about escape and survival
A wartime ACME photo depicts the crew after their rescue:
"Back from the land of the missing, the crew of the "Lovin' Dove" pose with Lt. Gen. Millard F. Harmon at their South Pacific base. Front row, left to right: Sgt. Jim Hunt, Sgt. Don Martin, Corp. Ted Edwards, Corp. William Nichols, Sgt. Bob Turnbull. Back row, left to right: Lt. Balfour Gibson, Lt. Robert Dorwart, General Harmon, Lt. Ernest Ruiz, Capt. Thomas Classen."
FindAGrave - Thomas John Classen (photos, grave photo)
FindAGrave - COL Thomas J Classen (grave photo)
Military Hall of Honor - Col Thomas J. Classen (photo, DSC citation)
"General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, General Orders No. 105: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain (Air Corps) Thomas J. Classen, United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a B-17 Heavy Bomber in the 72d Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group (H), THIRTEENTH Air Force, while engaged in a search mission over enemy territory on 9 February 1943, in the South Pacific Area. During this search Captain Classen's airplane was attacked by eight enemy Zero fighters. The enemy circled at maximum gun range, executing a series of direct assaults. Two of the enemy fighters were shot down and two more were probably destroyed during the initial phase of the air battle, although one engine of the bomber was silenced, ten guns were damaged beyond usefulness, and all members of the crew wounded. Captain Classen, blood streaming through a handkerchief gripped in his teeth, directed his crew in the long running flight which continued. After attacking for an hour and a half, the fighters finally gave up the chase, leaving two motors of the bomber silenced and a third damaged. By this time the airplane was flying at an altitude of barely 20 feet above the water. Ordering the removal of all possible gear, Captain Classen, by unshakeable tenacity and consummate skill was able, after approximately an hour's effort to gain an altitude of 800 feet. When a water landing of the disabled airplane was necessitated, he directed preparations with such ability that all of his crew escaped from the wreckage. The group of airmen paddled and drifted in two inflated life rafts through torrid sun and tropical storms for more than 600 miles, until on the sixteenth day they made their way through a difficult coral passage to a group of little-known islands in enemy territory where, upon being recognized as Americans, they received what rest and comforts the war starved native settlement could offer. More than two months after the encounter with the enemy fighters the air crew reached an island occupied by friendly personnel and were returned to their base. Captain Classen's extraordinary determination and skill contributed greatly to the escape and safe return of his entire crew. The personal courage and zealous devotion to duty displayed by Captain Classen throughout this period have upheld the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 13th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces."
FindAGrave - Balfour C. Gibson (photo, DSC citation)
Military Hall of Honor - 1LT Balfour C. Gibson
"General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, General Orders No. 105:
First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Balfour C. Gibson, United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Navigator on a B-17 Heavy Bomber in the 72d Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group (H), THIRTEENTH Air Force, while engaged in a search mission over enemy territory on 9 February 1943, in the South Pacific Area. During this search First Lieutenant Gibson's airplane was attacked by eight enemy Zero fighters. The enemy circled at maximum gun range, executing a series of direct assaults. Two of the enemy fighters were shot down and two more were probably destroyed during the initial phase of the air battle, although one engine of the bomber was silenced, ten guns were damaged beyond usefulness, and all members of the crew wounded. After attacking for an hour and a half, the fighters finally gave up the chase, leaving two motors of the bomber silenced and a third damaged. By this time the airplane was flying at an altitude of barely 20 feet above the water. The Pilot ordered the removal of all possible gear and was able, after approximately an hour's effort, to gain an altitude of 800 feet. When a water landing of the disabled airplane was necessitated, all of the crew escaped from the wreckage. The group of airmen paddled and drifted in two inflated life rafts through torrid sun and tropical storms for more than 600 miles, until on the sixteenth day they made their way through a difficult coral passage to a group of little-known islands in enemy territory where, upon being recognized as Americans, they received what rest and comforts the war starved native settlement could offer. More than two months after the encounter with the enemy fighters the air crew reached an island occupied by friendly personnel and were returned to their base. First Lieutenant Gibson's extraordinary determination and skill contributed greatly to the escape and safe return of his entire crew. The personal courage and zealous devotion to duty displayed by First Lieutenant Gibson throughout this period have upheld the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 13th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces."
FindAGrave - Robert Jason Dorwart (photo)
Military Hall of Honor -
"General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, General Orders No. 105:
First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Robert J. Dorwart, United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as an Officer on a B-17 Heavy Bomber in the 72d Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group (H), THIRTEENTH Air Force, while engaged in a search mission over enemy territory on 9 February 1943, in the South Pacific Area. During this search First Lieutenant Dorwart's airplane was attacked by eight enemy Zero fighters. The enemy circled at maximum gun range, executing a series of direct assaults. Two of the enemy fighters were shot down and two more were probably destroyed during the initial phase of the air battle, although one engine of the bomber was silenced, ten guns were damaged beyond usefulness, and all members of the crew wounded. After attacking for an hour and a half, the fighters finally gave up the chase, leaving two motors of the bomber silenced and a third damaged. By this time the airplane was flying at an altitude of barely 20 feet above the water. The Pilot ordered the removal of all possible gear and the pilot, after approximately an hour's effort, was able to gain an altitude of 800 feet. When a water landing of the disabled airplane was necessitated, all of the crew escaped from the wreckage. The group of airmen paddled and drifted in two inflated life rafts through torrid sun and tropical storms for more than 600 miles, until on the sixteenth day they made their way through a difficult coral passage to a group of little-known islands in enemy territory where, upon being recognized as Americans, they received what rest and comforts the war starved native settlement could offer. More than two months after the encounter with the enemy fighters the air crew reached an island occupied by friendly personnel and were returned to their base. Second Lieutenant Dorwart's extraordinary determination and skill contributed greatly to the escape and safe return of his entire crew. The personal courage and zealous devotion to duty displayed by Second Lieutenant Dorwart throughout this period have upheld the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 13th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces."

Scootin' Thunder page 99 (photo incorrectly captioned as "Eight crew of the Pretty Prairie Special found on the beach on December 1943" [sic, this photo is Classen's crew on the beach of an island off Buka Island]
Thank to Jim Sawruk for additional information

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Last Updated
August 18, 2018

 

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