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  B-17E Flying Fortress Serial Number 41-2446 (aka "Swamp Ghost") 
19th BG

Former Assignments
7th BG
22nd BS
US Navy Task Force

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USAAF June 1942

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USAAF 1942

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Aust Army October 1972

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Charles Darby 1974

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J. Mierzejewski 1976

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Bill Thompson 1980

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Bruce Hoy 1986

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John Douglas 1996

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Justin Taylan 2003

The Swamp Ghost DVD
The Swamp Ghost DVD

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May 2006

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Richard Leahy 2006

Pilot  Captain Frederick 'Fred' C. Eaton, Jr., 0395142 (survived)
Co-Pilot  Captain Henry M. "Hotfoot" Harlow, 0398714 (survived)
Navigator  1st Lt. George B. Munroe, Jr., 0412187 (survived)
Bombardier  Sgt Richard E. Oliver, 6578837 (survived)
Engineer  T/Sgt. Clarence A. LeMieux, 6558901 (survived)
Radio/Gunner  Sgt . Howard A. Sorensen, 6581180 (survived)
Waist Gunner  Sgt William E. Schwartz, 6913702 (survived)
Waist Gunner  T/Sgt Russell Crawford, 6851455 (survived)
Tail Gunner  SSgt. John V. Hall, 671016 (survived)
Force Landed  February 23, 1942
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors number 2257. Delivered by the U. S. Army on December 6, 1941 and flown to Fort Douglas Airfield by Lt. John Haig. Next, flown to Sacramento Air Depot for armament installation. Assigned to the 7th Bombardment Group, 22nd Bombardment Squadron. Assigned to pilot Frederick 'Fred' Eaton, it was flown from California to Hawaii on December 17, 1942 and landed at Hickam Field, then flown to Wheeler Field. Attached to the U. S . Navy (USN), this B-17 flew search missions around Hawaii. The original bombardier, Sgt. J. J. Trelia had become sick and Richard Oliver joined the crew instead.

On February 11, 1942 departed Hawaii on a ferry flight across the Pacific bound for Australia as part of "A flight" led by Major Richard H. Carmichael. The flight departed Hickam Field and first flew to Christmas Airfield. The next day, they flew eight hours to Canton Airfield, then landed at Nadi Airfield on Fiji and were delayed one day while the loyalties of the Vichy French in New Caledonia were ascertained.  Once considered safe, they transited through Plaine Des Gaiacs Airfield, and flew to Australia, arriving at Garbutt Field on February 20, 1942.

Garbutt was considered an easy target for Japanese bombers, so this B-17 was dispersed to Cloncurry Airfield. In Australia, this B-17 joined the 19th Bombardment Group. The next day, recalled to Garbutt Field to participate in the U. S. Army Air Force's first bombing mission mission in the South Pacific. This would be this bomber's first and only combat mission.

Mission History
On February 22, 1942 during the late evening, one of nine that took off from Garbutt Field near Townsville on a bombing mission against Rabaul. The plan was to bomb Japanese shipping in Simpson Harbor at dawn and land at 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby to refuel them return to Garbutt Airfield. Only five B-17s managed to reach Rabaul, the others aborted.

Over the target, Eaton had to make a second pass, due to a mechanical problem with the bomb bay, but finally dropped onto a freighter of 10,000 tons. Reportedly, on the second bomb run, an anti-aircraft shell that passed through the right wing without exploding, creating a visible hole. Results of the bombing were hard to observe due to clouds.

Off the target, this B-17 was intercepted by fighters over Rabaul, and maneuvered to escape them. The tail gunner claimed one Zero, shot down at 24,000 feet after firing burst of 400 rounds from a range of 200-300 yards. Waist gunner Crawford, claimed two more. In fact, none of the intercepting Japanese fighters were lost or damaged. The B-17's tail section was hit by Japanese 7.7mm machine gun and 20mm cannon fire.

After the battle, this B-17 reached the north coast of New Guinea, before running short on fuel. Spotting an open field, Eaton successfully force landed wheels up. From the air, he thought it was dry ground, but actually it was a swamp covered with kunai grass. As the bomber touched down, it turned slightly, pointing the nose of the bomber to the southeast at a heading of 183 degrees.

Fate of the Crew
Before departing, Sgt Richard E. Oliver removed the top secret Norden bomb sight, shot it with his pistol and threw it into the swamp. The rest of the B-17 was left intact and undisturbed. The entire crew departed away from the crash site together, initially towing one of the life rafts with equipment, but soon abandoned it due to the swamp and thick kunai grass.

Lost, the crew pushed ahead for days and at one point suffering from heat exhaustion and fatigue they considered splitting up, but decided to stay together. Finally, they spotted a native and were taken to his village where they were fed and spent the night.

After the crash, Australian Resident Magistrate, Alan Champion at Buna had been told a B-17 went down in his area and was told to search for the crew. Departed from Gona in a mission launch, he searched the area near Oro Bay and the Musa River. Unable to find them, he called into a village and found the crew in their care. The crew of nine were too numerous for his boat and required him to borrow a canoe from the village, to tow everyone back to Buna.

At Buna, the crew waited for two weeks until MV Matoma arrived and transported them from Oro Bay bound for Port Moresby. During their journey, the vessel called into Samari Island and Abau Island before arriving at Fairfax Harbor at Port Moresby on April 1, 1942. In total, it was thirty-six days since their crash landing. Afterwards, the crew was send to Australia and recovered in the hospital, then returned to flying duty.

This B-17 remained in the swamp where it force landed. During the war, the bomber was known and sometimes overflown by by Allied air crews, including Eaton. Gradually, the B-17 was forgotten and overgrown with kunai grass.

During 1972, the bomber was rediscovered during an RAAF helicopter exercise. The B-17 was found to be in remarkable condition and fully intact. Aboard all the interior equipment was prewar U. S. Army Air Corps issue. Even the belted .50 caliber ammunition was manufactured in 1933, 1935 and some during 1938. Airframe corrosion was negligible and no damage aside from bent propellers from the crash landing, and some broken perspex glass.

On October 22, 1974 Charles Darby visited the bomber by helicopter. Photographs from his visit were the first publish in his book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks. His photos show the radios, compass and flight yokes still in place.

After rediscovery, visitors to the wreck removed the instruments, guns and ammunition. The machine guns were removed by Australians during the 1972 visit.  One 50 cal machine gun was later donated to the PNG Museum where it was displayed until 2006.

"Swamp Ghost" nickname and International Icon
The "Swamp Ghost" nickname was coined by articles and visitors to the wreck. It is not the aircraft's wartime nickname.  The plane is nearly impossible to locate during the 'wet season', due to the high kunai grass and swamp around, and is half submerged in swamp water. Few visitors and no grass fires have have kept the plane in excellent condition. The wreck appeared in National Geographic Magazine (March 1992, page 68-69). Also, in many books and magazine articles, and has been visited by people by foot and helicopter.

Salvage Proposal: Travis Air Force Base
During 1985-1987 a group from Travis Air Force Base wanted to recover the wreck and bring it back to the United States for restoration to flying status (but the plane would be permanently grounded). They presented a plan that included restoring several planes for the PNG Museum. Their plan was eventually rejected by the museum and their effort stalled.

Salvage Proposal: Tallichet / Hagen
Later, in the 1990s, Alfred Hagen began negotiating on behalf of David Tallichet / MARC for the right to salvage the wreck in exchange for $100,000 USD. The museum issued a permit in 1999 that expired in five years. Tallichet lost interest in the project after more stalls and delays. Alone, Hagen continued with the proposal No action was taken on the permit, and it expired without any salvage undertaken.

In 2003, Robert Greinert advised the PNG Museum's Board of Trustees that the wreck was falling apart and needed to be salvaged. Hagen did not have input or involvement with the reports production, but did fund the visit to the aircraft by Greinert and others on November 21, 2003. The 1999 export permit had expired, but this permit had an automatic renewal clause in the contract.

Hagen and Greinert, along with a salvage team from America and Australia began the salvage of the wreck in late April until early May 2006. Salvagers cut off the wings, engines and tail stabilizers. With a hired MI-8 helicopter, the parts were flown to the coast, and loaded aboard a barge, then shipped to Lae.

Impounded at Lae
By the time the barge arrived at Bismarck Shipping at Lae, new of the salvage had spread. The controversy about its salvage and plans were made public in PNG's newspaper coverage. At Lae, the export was hauled. Two 50 Caliber machine guns in the Bendix turret, still present when the wreck was salvaged, were seized. The B-17 remained impounded at Lae from May 2006 until late January 2010.

PNG Government Investigation by Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
Investigated by the PNG Government's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) during May-September 2006, They found the salvage to be illegal.

Despite declaring the salvage and sale illegal, the salvagers continue to exert pressure on the PNG government and museum to allow them to export the wreck. During April 2008, the presented virtually the same proposal as originally offered, roughly $100,000 USD, but added the intention to donate a 'display facility' to the museum.

According to PNG newspaper article on September 10, 2008, a vote by the National Executive Council (NEC) has apparently reversed their decision, and accepted the offer for 300,000 Kina (roughly $115,000 USD) plus "display facility, recreation playground and barbecue area". The precise details of this deal, or copies of letters or executive orders have never been published to the public.

During January 2010, salvager Hagen traveled back to PNG visiting Lae and Port Moresby. Suddenly, the B-17 was moved from Bismarck Shipping to the Lae dock and loaded aboard three 40' flat rack containers and loaded aboard Tasman Pathfinder and departed on January 27, 2010. Shipped via Auckland, New Zealand then on another ship bound for the United States. Around May 2010, the containers arrived at the Port of Long Beach, California.

Unveiling and Display
On June 11, 2010 an unveiling ceremony was held at the Reef Restaurant at Long Beach, displaying the fuselage of the B-17. The event was attended by the children of three of the crew plus John Talichet (son of David Talichet) and Alfred Hagen. Afterwards, the B-17 went into storage at Chino Airport.

On December 8, 2010, the fuselage went on display outdoors ringed by a fence at Planes of Fame Museum at Chino Airport. On April 2, 2011 salvager Alfred Hagen gave a lecture "Recovering Lost Aircraft - B-17E Swamp Ghost" at the museum. During this period, the rear fuselage, tail and wings were stored outdoors at AeroTrader also located at Chino Airport.

During January 2013, the fuselage was removed from public display and moved to AeroTrader, where the bomber was readied for shipment to Hawaii. According to Flightpath Magazine July 2012, the B-17 was bound for the Pacific Aviation Museum (Ford Island Museum). When asked on February 25, 2013, executive director Ken DeHoff stated "no comment" when asked if Swamp Ghost was bound for the museum and declined to answer any questions.

Since 2013, B-17E 41-2446 was displayed at the Pacific Aviation Museum outdoors adjacent to Hanger 79. The bomber is displayed behind a perimeter fence with signs at the front of the aircraft. During 2015, the aircraft was moved inside Hanger 79.

Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2446
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks page 7, 56 (middle and lower photos)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2446
National Geographic Magazine March 1992, page 68-69
Fortress Against The Sun pages 61, 153-154, 400, 385 details this bomber, the crew, resources and photo archive
Swamp Ghost DVD video documentary detailing the aircraft and crew
PNG Government Public Accounts Committee Reports about Swamp Ghost May-Sept 2006
Flightpath Magazine "Swamp Ghost to Hawaii" by Mike Shreeve July 2012, page 8
Are you a relative of Howard Sorensen and J. J. Trelia?

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Last Updated
November 15, 2018


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Swamp Ghost
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