11th BG c1942
11th BG c1942
|Pilot 1st Lt. Rex A. Eckles, O-725136 (MIA / KIA) Porterville, CA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. David C. Jones, O-677516 (MIA / KIA) Dallas, TX
Navigator 2nd Lt. William H. Fox, O-797301 (MIA / KIA) NY
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Richard H. Knop, O-735878 (MIA / KIA) Rochester, NY
Engineer Sgt Herbert J. Kelly, 6931788 (MIA / KIA) Detroit, MI
Asst Engineer SSgt Raymond H. Greene, 6980165 (MIA / KIA) South Hempstead, NY
Radio Sgt Charles D. Savedge, 13016224 (MIA / KIA) VA
Asst Radio Cpl William T. Davis, 15070934 (MIA / KIA) Cleveland, OH
Tail Gunner Cpl Edmund O. Hill, 6981117 (MIA / KIA) Bronx, NY
Passenger Sgt Paul L. Hensley, 6894195 (MIA / KIA) WV
MIA July 19, 1943 at 2:30am
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress serial number 41-9153. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to the South Pacific.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 11th Bombardment Group, 431st Bombardment Squadron until November 1942. Nicknamed "Tokyo Taxi". Next, assigned to the 5th Bombardment Group, 23rd Bombardment Squadron on Guadalcanal.
When lost, this B-17 had engines R-1820-65 serial numbers 41-24230, 41-23163, 41-22821 and 41-24194. The B-17 was armed with four 30 caliber machine guns in the nose and 50 caliber machine guns at the other gun positions.
On July 19, 1943 took off from Carney Field on Guadalcanal around midnight as one of nine B-17s on a night bombing mission against Kahili Airfield (Buin) on Bougainville.
Over the target, this B-17 took the lead position, and was targeted by searchlights on the ground and shot down by a Japanese night fighter. Last sighted by Captain Sabin at 2:30am 8-10 miles north of Kahili Airfield. Captain Anthony Dean Lucas aboard B-17E "Li'll Nell" 41-9222 observed this bomber shot down in flames.
Diary of Captain Anthony Dean Lucas July 19, 1943 who was pilot of B-17E "Li'll Nell" 41-9222:
"July 19, 1943:
Nine ships of our squadron took off around midnight to bomb Kahili airfield. All my bombs hit on the target from 14,000 feet. While on the beginning of my bombing run I saw one of my best friends go down in flames. Shot down by Jap night fighters. He was Lt., soon to be Capt., Eckles, of Santa Barbara. We had been together for the past year in the 23rd [Bombardment Squadron]. We were both [flight school class] 42E men. His was a real crew, with some swell men, co-pilot, Lt. Jones, a classmate of my co-pilot, Bomb. Lt. Knop, Nav. Lt. Fox, Enj., Sgt. Kelly, Ass. Enj., Sgt. Greene, Radio, Sgt. Davis, Hill and a couple of other men. I'm going to ask if I can take Rex's personal things home to his folks, and one day wife in Santa Barbara."
In fact, this B-17 was shot down by Japanese J1N1 Irving night fighter. Justin Taylan adds:
"I researched the Japanese side of this mission in Japan at the Tokyo Defense Archives. According to Japanese records, a J1N1 piloted by Tokumoto took off from Ballale Airfield at 10:40pm. At 11:15pm sighted a B-24 and made three attacks and claiming it shot down. Next, at 2:15 local time sighted a B-17 and made three attacks, claiming it shot down. Damaged in both engines, the J1N1 ditched into the sea and sank, killing the observer in the crash. Confirmed by Lucas' diary entry, the claim for the B-17 at 2:15 is most certainly this bomber."
This B-17 was due back at base by 6:00am, with a maximum endurance of 9:00am. When it failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Two aircraft unsuccessfully searched for the B-17, taking off at 10:15am and returning at 15:15. They reported unlimited visibility over Santa Isabel and Choiseul, as far north as the straights between Choiseul and Fauro. At Long 156 degrees 25' west and Lat 6 degrees 35' South, what was thought to be a CO2 bottle was spotted, but nothing further was sighted.
Officially, the entire crew was declared dead on January 11, 1946. Eckles, Savedge, Hensley, Greene, Hill, Davis and Kelly are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Jones, Knop and Fox are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Hawaii Cemetery (Punchbowl).
Gwendolyn Waters adds:
"My father was a B-17 pilot stationed on Guadalcanal in 1942-43 and his best friend, Rex Eckles, was shot down right in front of him as they prepared to bomb Kahili Airfield on the island of Bougainville on July 19, 1943. After many years of searching, in July of this year we finally located Lt. Eckles' brother and were able to share with him the last photos taken of Rex and the story of how he died. He had never known. He also knows now that his brother has a namesake - my brother Rex."
Howard Eckles (brother of Rex Eckles)
Other published sources state this B-17 was lost due to anti-aircraft fire, but that is not listed on the MACR 87, simply cause of loss 'unknown'.
Missing Air Crew Report 87 (MACR 87)
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, July 19, 1943 thanks to Minoru Kamada
Grey Geese Calling - Pacific air war history of the 11th Bombardment Group page 15, 115
Fortress Against The Sun page 374, 389 (lists shot down by AA)
Quest for Rex Eckles and B-17E Tokyo Taxi by Gwendolyn Waters
A History of IJN's Night-Fighters page 78
"A few hours before the dawn of July 19th, a Gekko (PO2 Yamauchi, Iwao + CPO Iwayama, Takashi) chased a B-17 which just finished bombing Buin. The Gekko shot B-17 by firing 260 rounds of 20mm. 60-80 rounds for 20mm were expended on the average to shoot an enemy plane, however, Iwayama consumed 260 rounds during this interception. It is too much. [Author Watanabe] suspects that PO2 Yamauchi was not an expert pilot yet so he wasted to much ammunition. He probably pulled the trigger before his plane got enough closer to the hostile bomber within the range."
Diary of Captain Anthony Dean Lucas July 19, 1943 via Gwendolyn Waters
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June 15, 2018