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  B-17E "Tugboat Annie" Serial Number 41-2599  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
65th BS

Former Assignments
19th BG
28rd BS

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Boeing c1942

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USAAF c1942

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USAAF c1943

Pilot  2nd Lt Harris N. Lien, O-726270 (survived)
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Albert L. Fair, O-661822 (survived)
Navigator  2nd Lt Ruby E. Johnston, O-790247 (survived)
Bombardier  2nd Lt Alfred Retzhy, O-728513 (survived)
Engineer  Sgt J. Shapuras (survived)
Radio  Pvt Minor C. Smith, 6960170 (survived) TX
Gunner  S/Sgt Russel E. Owens, 36199496 (survived)
Assist Engineer  Pvt Wendell D. Revers, 36336232 (survived)
Assist Radio  Claude W. Robinson, 35376879
(survived)
Ditched  January 17, 1943 at 3:35am
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. This B-17 was funded by donations from residents of Portland, Oregon. Nicknamed "Tugboat Annie" after the film Tugboat Annie (1933) that was based on the life of Thea Foss of Tacoma, Washington. Delivered to the U. S. Army. This bomber was flown on a photographic shoot over Mount Rainier in the Cascade Range.

Wartime History
During June 1942, flown overseas by pilot 1st Lt Bruce A. Gibson via Hickam Field and Fiji before arriving in Australia. Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 19th Bombardment Group, 28th Bombardment Squadron.

On August 12, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt Richard T. Hernlund on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Forty minutes short of the target, jettisoned bombs and aborted the mission.

On August 19, 1942 took off piloted by Captain Richard F. Ezzard on a bombing mission against Rabaul.

On August 25, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt Coleman on a mission to bomb Japanese shipping off Milne Bay but failed to find any targets.

On August 26, 1942 one of eight B-17s that took off from Mareeba Airfield at 4:00am on a bombing mission against a Japanese convoy off Milne Bay. Inbound to the target was bad weather with a ceiling of only 2,000' or less. Between 6:30am to 7:45am, the formation bombed from roughly 1,500' and experienced accurate anti-aircraft fire from the ships.

On August 28, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Gilbert Erb with co-pilot Capitan Beck on an official check-off flight.

On August 29, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by 1st Lt Walter F. Nyblade on a bombing mission, nil results or aborted the mission.

On August 30, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by 1st Lt Walter F. Nyblade on a mission to search the Milne Bay area but found no enemy activity.

On September 9, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Jack P. Thompson mission details unknown.

On September 11, 1942 one of five B-17s from the 28th Bomb Squadron that took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Jack P. Thompson with co-pilot Crawford on a bombing mission against two Japanese destroyers twenty miles east of Normanby Island. One of the B-17s scored a direct hit on the stern of Yayoi, which later sank.

On October 5, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Arthur A. Fletcher on a bombing mission against Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.

On October 17, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Jack P. Thompson on a bombing mission against Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.

On October 18, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield piloted by Captain Jack P. Thompson on a bombing mission against shipping off Rabaul.

On October 21, 1942 took off from Mareeba Airfield on a mission, details unknown.

During November 1942 transferred to 43rd Bombardment Group, 65th Bombardment Squadron.

On November 1, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt. James G. Ellis on a bombing mission against Japanese shipping off Buin-Faisi.

When lost, engines R-1820-65-97 serial numbers No. 1: 41-22371, No 2: 41-24372, No. 3: 41-22645, Mo 4: 42-79590. Weapon serial numbers unknown. Officially condemned on January 18, 1943.

Mission History
On January 17, 1943 one of eight B-17s that took off on January 16, 1943 from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby armed with four 1,000 lbs demolition bombs on a mission to bomb shore installations at Simpson Harbor near Rabaul. While taxing to the runway, a red alert was sounded on the ground and the engines cut and restarted, delaying take off until 8:15pm.

In flight, the fuse for the instrument panel kept tripping, requiring the navigator and radio operator to perform their duties using flashlights. Inbound to the target, the weather was bad but not rough.

Arriving over the target at roughly 11:50pm, the bombers dropped their bombs individually. This B-17 made a good bomb run and experienced anti-aircraft and machine gun fire the holed the tail section.

Returning, the No. 3 engine began running rough and the weather became worse and the pilots attempted to fly above and around the storm.

This B-17 ran low on fuel over the north coast of New Guinea. Believing they were near Milne Bay and radioed, but got no response. All the machine guns and ammunition were jettisoned to lighten the bomber. The pilots elected to ditch along the coast and circled a calm area while the crew took crash positions in the radio compartment.

A final S.O.S. message was transmitted before the B-17 ditched January 17, 1943 at 3:35am close to shore to the north of Buna into shallow water with a sandy bottom, roughly 200 miles north of Milne Bay. Immediately the bomber began to fill with water. None of the crew were hurt and the life rafts were successfully deployed and used to reach the shore.

Fates of the Crew
After hiding their rafts, the crew slept near the beach. The next day, the crew explored the area and attempted to find a path though the jungle eventually finding an abandoned native hut and managed to build a fire. The next day the crew's supply of water and food was nearly exhausted. Pvt Smith and Lt. Fair were unable to walk due to blisters on their feet, and stayed behind with Lt. Johnson. The rest of the crew continued onward and found native people who took them to Benroda village and fetched the three left behind. In the village, all were fed and rested for the night. That evening, a native police officer arrived from Buna who had been dispatched to look for them.

The next morning, the crew were transported aboard native canoes to another village. There, Lt. Lein and the native police officer departed to get help while the rest of the crew waited in the village. At noon the next day, Lt. Lein arrived aboard an Australian launch with canned bully-beef and marmalade, and the crew departed for Aqua village where they spent the night.

Next, the crew boarded a Liberty Ship returning from Buna and were transported two days and a night before arriving at Milne Bay where the ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft. Waiting ashore, the crew waited for two days, but no aircraft arrived. Instead, the crew boarded another transport and after eight days arrived at Port Moresby and returned to their unit. For this mission, the entire crew were recommended for a Silver Star, but the award was never approved.

Memorials
Lien retired as a U. S. Air Force (USAF) Major. He passed away on September 27, 1996 and was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery at plot 2, grave 989.

Smith retired as a Staff Sergeant and passed away on June 19, 1959. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Paris, TX.

References
USAAF Status Card B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2599
Gilbert E. Erb Flight Log - August 1942
43rd BG, 65th BS Mission No. I B-17E 12599 "Tugboat Anne" January 16-17, 1943 via Steve Birdsall
Chicago Daily Tribune "Diary of 'Tugboat Annie'; the Japs Knew Her Well" May 14, 1943
"Diary compiled by Corp. Buell W. Rolens, Murphysboro, Ill... Jan 16–Rabaul is the objective for today. Lt. Lien reports: 'It is easy flying until we reach the target, where all hell breaks loose. Annie's tail looks like a sieve after the ack ack strikes her. The wings are damaged, one engine shot out and another damaged. We leave the target and head for home, as huge fires are left behind at Rabaul. After an hour we run into a storm. We look for a beach to land on, hoping to salvage Annie but fate is against us. With the fuel deduced to five minutes' flying time, I resolve to keep Annie's record clean for never having had a man hurt while flying her. I set her down in the water and, fortunately, not a man is scratched. We wade to shore as the plane is engulfed in the Pacific."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2599
Fortress Against The Sun pages 241, 316, 387 lists 93rd BS incorrectly, 430 footnote 51
FindAGrave - Harris N Lien (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Minor Caldwell Smith (grave photo)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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