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  B-24D-20-CO "Big George" Serial Number 42-41155  
USAAF
13th AF
5th BG
72nd BS


USAAF c1943

Pilot  2nd James R. Wilson, O-670697 (MIA / KIA) Bay County, FL
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Charles M. Eagan, O-800045 (MIA / KIA) NY
Navigator  2nd Lt. Robert M. Pandzic, O-733583 (WIA, survived)
Bombardier  2nd Lt Anthony Kuhn, O-738645 (survived) Dickinson, ND
Engineer  TSgt Gerald Millar, 3328597 (survived)
Asst Engineer  SSgt Willis M. Cutway, 32489581 (MIA / KIA) Jefferson County, NY
Radio  TSgt Francesco Esposito, 32413399 (MIA / KIA) Kings County, NY
Asst Radio  SSgt Meredith McMillan, 38281871 (MIA / KIA) Stafford, KS
Gunner  SSgt Robert B. Carpenter, 32551200 (WIA, survived) Sinclairville, NY
Gunner  SSgt Donald E. Sullivan, 37451481 (MIA / KIA) Erie County, NY
Ditched  November 3, 1943
MACR  1176

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 2232. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-140-CO Liberator serial number 42-41155. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South Pacific.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 5th Bombardment Group, 72nd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Big George". Also known as "155", the last three digits of the serial number. This B-24 operated from Carney Field on Guadalcanal and later Munda Airfield on New Georgia.

When lost, engines R-1830-65 serial numbers 42-87755, 42-88072, 42-87642, 42-87746. Aboard were ten .50 caliber machine guns. None of the weapon serial numbers were noted in Missing Air Crew Report 1176 (MACR 1176).

Mission History

On November 3, 1943 took off from Munda Airfield (APO 717) piloted by 2nd James R. Wilson as one of nineteen B-24s on a mission to bomb a Japanese convoy roughly 150 miles southeast of Mussau Island (other sources list the convoy as off New Ireland). The bomber formation did not have any fighter escort. The weather hazy with scattered rain showers and a ceiling at 1,000'.

Despite the bad weather, the B-24s located the convoy and bombed claiming hits on three vessels. This B-24 was hit by an anti-aircraft shell that exploded between the no. 1 and no. 2 engines on the left wing and shrapnel hit the pilot, co-pilot and navigator and damaged the hydraulic lines, instrument panel and engine feathering controls. Also, the instruments for the no. 3. and no. 4 engines on the right wing went out. In addition, the oil pressure for all four engines, a supercharger and throttle were cut and the no. 2 engine ran away and caught fire. The no. 1 engine was unable to be feathered and the no. 4 engine was only delivering two-thirds power. Immediately, the crew jettisoned the radio and other equipment to reduce weight.

Damaged, the co-pilot managed to manually lower the flaps and deployed the life rafts before ditching into the sea at 4:04pm at roughly Lat 5° 30' S Long 155° 50' E to the north of Bougainville. On impact, the nose was crushed or broke off and the fuselage broke apart at the waist windows. Inside, the top turret collapsed into the floor and trapped the navigator's feet, but he was able to free himself.

Missing Air Crew Report 1176 page 6 "Eye Witness Account on the Water Landing of Airplane #42-41155"
"We were flying directly behind the plane, when the pilot called and said he was going to make a water landing. The pilot slowed the plane down and flew it just off the water for about one minute. I could see the ripples on the water caused by the plane; then it settled on to the water, traveled a short distance and then nosed over. The ship broke in two near the ball turret with both parts staying close together. I saw one many trying to climb up on the wing of the plane and one other in the water. The plane floated for six minutes. We then plotted their position and started for Munda Air Field."

Fates of the Crew
During the ditching, Kuhn was swept underwater and regained consciousness and untangled himself and reached the surface and got into one of the life rafts as did Millar. The other two Pandzic and Carpenter also surfaced and reached the other raft. They observed McMillan and Esposito some distance away but when they reached the spot both had disappeared. No other crew members were seen afterwards.

Aboard the life rafts, a sea anchor was secured to keep from drifting. Overnight, Pandzic and Kuhn vomited most of the night from the seawater ingested. Millar had a back injury and placed in a comfortable position. Carpenter had a chest injury. During the night it rained and the survivors collected rain water using canvas and observed sharks in their vicinity.

Anthony Kuhn letter to his parents November 30, 1943 via Dale Anderson
"We had a lot of sharks for company all night and we took turns trying to hit them with the little oars we had to scare them off. They're almost human or at least it seemed that way to us cause at first they'd swim right under the rafts and we could feel their fins as they passed underneath. We were afraid they might puncture the rafts. When that didn't work, they started using 'airplane' tactics. They would swim right by us real fast, make a sharp turn and splash a lot of water in the rafts with their tails. So we were kept busy soaking up the water with our socks and wringing them out."

Rescue
On November 4, 1943 the four survivors: Kuhn, Pandzic, Millar and Carpenter were rescued by a PBY Catalina commanded by Lt(jg) E. E. Perkey from VP-71 from Halavo Seaplane Base escorted by four Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-40 Kittyhawks. Returning, this PBY Catalina was low on fuel and landed at Rendova Harbor to drop off the four rescued.

Memorials

The six missing crew: Wilson, Eagan, Cutway, McMillan, Esposito and Sullivan members were officially declared dead the day of the mission. All six are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. All six earned the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart, posthumously.

Wilson also has a memorial marker at Millville Cemetery in Panama City, FL.
Cutway also has a memorial marker at Maynard Cemetery Augusta, in Leeds and Grenville, Ontario, Canada.
Esposito also has a memorial marker at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY at section C, Row: 6, Plot 22.
Sullivan also has a memorial marker at Saint James Cemetery in Cortland, NB.

On December 30 1943, 1st Lt Anthony Kuhn was bombardier aboard B-24D "Pretty Prairie Special" 41-24186 and bailed out over southern New Ireland. By December 31, 1943 nine survivors were together a native village on the coast. At 10:30am they survivors were spotted by two B-24s. Sometime after December 31, 1943 the eight survivors were ambushed at night by Japanese forces that opened fire on the hut they were sleeping inside. After the ambush, six of the crew including Kuhn were captured and taken to Cape Saint George then transported to Rabaul and became Prisoners Of War (POW) of the Japanese Army Kempei-Tai. On March 5, 1944 Kuhn was removed from Tunnel Hill POW Camp as part of group of twenty-one Allied prisoners and executed at Talili Bay. Postwar, his remains were recovered were recovered and transported to the United Sates for permanent burial. On March 21, 1950 Kuhn was buried in a group burial with others executed at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at section 78 sites 930-934. The grave lists the date of death as March 5, 1944 for Kuhn. He is also memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.

Millar passed away June 20, 2015 and was cremated. His remains are held by his family.

Pandzic retired to Venice, CA and passed away in August 2000 and was cremated. His remains are held by his son.

Carpenter passed away January 18, 2011. He is buried at Charlotte Memorial Gardens in Punta Gorda, FL.

Relatives
Dale Anderson (nephew of Anthony Kuhn)

References
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24D-140-CO Liberator Liberator 42-41155
Missing Air Crew Report 1176 (MACR 1176) created November 5, 1943
Anthony Kuhn letter to his parents November 30, 1943 via Dale Anderson
Beatrice Daily Sun "War Department Lists Sgt D. Sullivan Killed" December 1, 1943 page 1
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle "Joyous Mother Finds Army Made Mistake" December 13, 1943 page 8
Beatrice Daily Sun "Awarded Air Medal... Sgt Donald E. Sullivan" May 3, 1944 page 1
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James R. Wilson
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Charles M. Eagan
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Willis M Cutway
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Francesco Esposito
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Meredith M. McMillan

American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Donald E. Sullivan
FindAGrave - 2Lt James Robert Wilson (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Lieut James Robert Wilson (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Charles M Eagan (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Willis Mervin Cutway (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Willis Mervin Cutway (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - TSgt Francesco Esposito (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Francesco Esposito (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - SSgt Meredith Morton McMillan (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSGT Meredith Morton McMillan (photo, memorial marker)
FindAGrave - Sgt Donald E Sullivan (tablet of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt Donald E. Sullivan (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Anthony Kuhn (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Robert B Carpenter (photo)
Thanks to Dale Anderson, James Sawruk and Donna Esposito for additional research and analysis.

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Last Updated
December 10, 2018

 

Tech Info
B-24

MIA
MIA
6 Missing

Map
5° 30' S 155° 50' E

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