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  B-24D-20-CO Liberator Serial Number 41-24101  
USAAF
5th AF
90th BG
321st BS

Click For Enlargement
September 1945

Pilot  1st Lt. James A. McMurria, O-372644 (POW, survived) Columbus, GA
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Robert R. Martindale, O-72562 (POW, survived) TX
Bombardier  2nd Lt. Thomas F. Doyle, O-726885 (POW, executed March 3, 1944)
Navigator  2nd Lt. Alston F. Sugden, O-791006 (POW, executed March 3, 1944)
Engineer  T/Sgt Leslie H. Burnette, 34179416 (POW, survived) NC
Radio  S/Sgt Fred Stephen Engel, 16036143 (POW, survived) IL
Gunner  Sgt Raymond J. Farnell Jr., 1906177 (POW, executed March 3, 1944)
Gunner  Pfc Walter R. Erskine, 39169737 (MIA / KIA January 20, 1943) OR
Waist Gunner  Pfc Patsy F. Grandolfo, 35301880 (MIA / KIA January 20, 1943) OH
Tail Gunner S/Sgt Frank O. Wynne, Jr., 14016975 (POW, survived) Merigold, MS

Ditched  January 20, 1943
MACR  15066

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 90th Bombardment Group, 321st Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers were not noted in the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 15066.

Mission History
On January 20, 1943 took off from 5-Mile Drome near Port Moresby at 5:40am on a patrol and reconnaissance mission over the Madang-Wewak-Manus-Vitiaz Straight area.

During take off, the runway was poorly lit with smudge pots and the bomber lost airspeed on patches of sand and mud washed onto the runway, forcing the pilots to abort takeoff, stopping 50 yards beyond the runway with the nose stuck in barbed wire. Taxing backwards, the debris was cleared and the B-24 was able to takeoff.

Due to thunderstorms over the Owen Stanley Mountains, McMurria flew up the south side of New Guinea to cross the mountains after daybreak.

Over Wewak at 9:00am flying at 14,000' they reported three transports in Wewak Harbor and observed twenty-two fighters parked at Wewak Airfield (Wirui) taking off to intercept them. These were A6M2 Zeros from the Junyō Detachment temporarily land based at the airfield. The B-24 salvoed their bomb load and turned to depart as the ships opened fire with their anti-aircraft fire that hit the no. 3 engine.

At 9:20am flying at roughly 16,000' they radioed they were being attacked by fighters while the damaged no. 3 engine began to smoke and was feathered. The fighter attacks damaged the bomber's control surfaces causing the B-24 to become sluggish and unresponsive. A cannon shell tore a hole in the nose and wounded Doyle in his left shoulder and left leg.

Heavily damaged, the B-24 ditched into the sea southwest of Wewak, the first American aircraft shot down by the Japanese during the Wewak campaign.

On impact, the bomber broke into half and the nose section immediately sank. The rear section remained afloat for a few minutes. During the ditching, two of the crew were killed and went down with the bomber: Erskine and Grandolfo. Co-pilot Martindale was trapped in the cockpit before being swimming to the surface. Only one life raft deployed.

Fates of the Crew
The eight survivors spent two and a half days clinging to a small four-man life raft until reaching Wageo Island, where they encountered friendly natives who cared for them for nearly two months.

Attempting to return to friendly lines, the crew taken by canoe along the chain of island including Wei Island then across to the New Guinea mainland, near the mouth of the Sepik River.

On March 13, 1943 while sleeping on the beach the entire crew was captured by a Japanese Army patrol, then taken by barge to Wewak then Kairiru Island. Afterwards, the crew was transported to Rabaul and imprisoned in cells at the Rabaul Prisoner Compound (Rabaul POW Prison).

On November 13, 1943 nine prisoners including Wynne, Engel, Burnette and Martindale were transported aboard a ship from Rabaul to Japan. They were interned at Omori POW Camp near Tokyo and liberated at the end of the war.

After the bombing of Rabaul, the prisoners were moved to Tunnel Hill POW Camp. On March 3-4, 1944 Doyle, Sugden and Farnell were taken away and executed during the "Tunnel Hill Massacre".

McMurria was one of only seven Allied POWs that survived until the end of the war at Rabaul. He died on August 5, 2003.

Memorials
Grandolfo and Erskine were officially declared dead the day of the mission and are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Postwar, the remains of Doyle, Sugden and Farnell were located and exhumed. On March 21, 1950 they were buried in a group burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at section 78, graves 930-934.

References
Missing Air Crew Report 15066 (MACR 15066) was generated retroactively
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 41-24101
The 13th Mission by Robert R. Martindale
Trial and Triumph by James McMurria
Fight For Survival by James McMurria
Perpetuation of Testimony of Former 1st Lieut. James A. McMurria, O-373644
NARA Prisoner of War Data File - Frank O. Wynne
NARA Prisoner of War Data File - Fred S. Engel
NARA Prisoner of War Data File - Leslie H. Burnette
NARA Prisoner of War Data File - Robert R. Martindale

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

Tech Information
B-24

MIA
MIA/ POW
2 Missing
8 Prisoners

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