|Pilot 1st Lt. William G. Schauffler, III, O-660593 (MIA / KIA) Ocean County, NJ
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Alexander R. Lukich, O-729350 (MIA / KIA) Cuyahoga County, OH
Bombardier-Navigator 2nd Lt. Jerome M. Deutsch, O-733029 (MIA / KIA) Cuyahoga County, OH
Engineer-Gunner SSgt John R. Mitchell, 16028649 (rescued) Kings County, NY
Radio-Gunner SSgt Allen G. Mason, Jr., 17029066 (rescued) Wapello County, IA
Armour-Gunner SSgt Denzil G. Nicholas, 17024134 (rescued) Albany County, WY
Crashed July 20, 1943
Built by North American in Inglewood, California. Constructors Number 82-5788. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25C-1 Mitchell serial number 41-13153. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to the South Pacific.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 42nd Bombardment Group, 390th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "The Worry Bird". When lost, engines R-2600-13 serial number 42-29059 and 42-77215. Aboard were ten .50 caliber machine guns, make and serial numbers are not listed in Missing Air Crew Report 205 (MACR 205).
On July 20, 1943 took off from Carney Field on Guadalcanal piloted by 1st Lt. William G Schauffler, III at 7:20am as one of eight B-25s from the 390th Bombardment Squadron on a mission to search for enemy shipping around Vella Lavella Island then return. Weather was fair with visibility approximately 20 miles with calm seas.
The B-25s located and made bombing attacks against a "cruiser". In fact, Japanese destroyer Kiyonami. Although damaged, the enemy ship put up a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. This B-25 claimed a bomb hit on the magazine that caused an explosion and the ship to sink roughly two minutes later.
On the return flight, four B-25s led by B-25C 41-13148 piloted by 1st Lt. Oscar E. Vordahl and this bomber spotted three vessels south of the Ferguson Passage heading towards the southern tip of Rendova Island and initiated a strafing attack. In fact, they were PT-168, PT-166 and PT-164 patrolled to the south of Ferguson Passage. PT-168 held its fire, the other two might have returned fire at the bombers. PT-166 was hit and exploded off Munda Point on New Georgia. Also, PT-164 and PT-168 were damaged. Aboard the PT Boats, one officer and ten enlisted men were wounded.
This B-25's left engine and left wing were on fire before crashing into the sea at 8:03am roughly five miles away from the PT Boats off Wanawana Island (Vonavona Island). On impact, the bomber cartwheeled and the flames were extinguished. The wreckage remained afloat with the right wing and tail section above water until sinking approximately five minutes later.
1st Lt. Oscar E. Vordahl, pilot B-25C 41-13148 via MACR 205 page 4:
"Lt. Schauffler made a beautiful run on the MTB’s [Motor Torpedo Boat, in fact U. S. Navy PT Boats] and when I got there immediately after, one MTB was already burning [PT-166]. I noticed Schauffler’s left engine smoking pretty badly and it seems to quite momentarily and then burst into flames. The whole left engine nacelle and left wing appeared to be in flames. I assumed he had been hard hit by the MTB’s. We then hit the water pretty fast, skipped and hit the water again with his left wing striking the water. His ship then cartwheeled fairly slow. The flames went out at once and the aircraft appeared intact with the right wing and tail section protruding from the water for about 5 minutes.
When I got over the crashed plane I saw a life raft with 3 men in it and what I thought to be one man clinging to the side. I did not see any other crew members. I circled the plane for about 10 minutes during which I saw an AK [transport] either at Wanawana or Gizo Island, and also saw the MTB burning furiously with another MTB standing by. The third MTB seemed to be heading in the general direction of Lt. Schauffler’s plane as my gas was getting low, I started for home. At that time an SBD came over and circled the crashed plane, when I left the SBD was still circling.”
2nd Lt. Rex L. Workman, co-pilot B-25C 41-13148 via MACR 205 page 4:
"We had just finished our run on the P.T. Boats when I heard someone say they [B-25C 41-13153, this bomber] were on fire. Then I saw their plane in the distance and it was smoking. They were at about 1,500 feet. I called them and told them to get down on the water. The plane was put in a steep dive. When they were getting close to the water, I called and told him to level off. He leveled the plane and in doing so seemed to loose control momentarily. By this time the plane was burning quite bad and hit the water hard. The plane cartwheeled as it hit the water. The fire was put out by the water immediately."
1st Lt. Otto F. Kuhl, pilot B-25C-1 42-53436 via MACR 205 page 6:
"I was the last airplane of four to attack the three P.T. Boats. I strafed the boats form the S.W. and then made a 150 degree turn to return in formation. The other free planes were about four miles away in the direction of Rendova. As I completed my turn, Lt. Wattenbarger, my co-pilot pointed at what I though was the ball of a white flare. About five (5) seconds later I recognized it as an airplane [B-25C 41-13153, this bomber] with its left engine on fire. The plane was about 700 feet high and turning to the right in a descending attitude about four miles from my position. I then saw it strike the water, skip into the air, hit the water again and then cartwheel. It took me about 30-45 seconds to reach the location of the crash. I saw about 5 feet of the wing sticking out of the water and the rest of the airplane was under the water. I saw what appeared to be 6 people swimming, but as I approached the second time I identified three oxygen tanks which I thought had been men. As I flew over, I could see someone clinging to a deflated life raft. I told my co-pilot to drop our two man life raft thru the bombay when I signaled with my arm. This was accomplished and the raft struck the water about 40 feet from the swimmers."
Fate of the Crew
During the crash, three of the crew likely went down with the bomber: Schauffler, Lukich and Deutsch. The other three were wounded but survived the impact: Mitchell, Mason and Nicholas. The crash was observed by B-25C 41-13148 pilot 1st Lt. Oscar E. Vordahl and co-pilot 2nd Lt. Rex L. Workman plus B-25C-5 42-53436 piloted by 1st Lt. Otto F. Kuhl who dropped a life raft to the survivors. Also, a U. S. Navy (USN) aircraft observed the combat circled the crash site.
After the crash, the three surviving crew deployed a life raft and waited to be rescued. Soon afterwards, PT-168 arrived at the scene of the crash and rescued the three surviving crew and transported them to Rendova Island for medical treatment.
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Schauffler earned the Silver Star, Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Lukich earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Nicholas passed away on March 5, 1978. He is buried at Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie, WY at Block 78 Lot 27 Space 1.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William G. Schauffler, III
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Alexander R. Lukich
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Jerome M. Deutsch
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John R. Mitchell
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Allen G. Mason, Jr.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Denzil G. Nicholas
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25CC-1 Mitchell 41-13153
"13153 (390th BS, 42nd BG) lost 7/20/1943, Solomons. MACR 20"
Missing Air Crew Report 205 (MACR 205) created July 23, 1943
History of the 42nd Bomb Group Chapter 7
""At 0720L eight Mitchells of the 390th Squadron found the cruiser damaged in the previous night's action creeping to friendly waters at a speed of 2 knots. Although sorely wounded, her defense was still vicious, pouring anti-aircraft fire from at least 30 stations. Feints at various quarters divided the fire and allowed individual planes to launch masthead attacks. Lieut. Schauffler ended the fray when one of his bombs exploded in the ship's magazine. Two minutes later she slipped into the depths, carrying with her at least 75% of her crew. Lt. Otto Kuhl made the first run from stern to bow, followed by Capt. Joe Wheeler. He was followed by Lieut. Laird, and Lieut. Holstein came boring in from the starboard beam, raking the ship in a daring, screaming, skidding run. Lieut. Schauffler followed Holstein.
Misfortune overtook this flight, however, for on the return to the 'Canal, three torpedo boats were discovered heading towards the southern tip of Rendova. In an attack that followed, Lieut. Schauffler was shot down, carrying with him in death Lieut. Lukich and Lieut. Deutsch. The three enlisted men were saved by a friendly vessel, after being covered from the air by Lieut. Vordahl and Lieut. Morrison and a flight of SBD's who relieved them."
Impact "Moral: Don't be Trigger Happy" volume 2 no. 5 May 1944 pages 36-37
[Page 36] Artwork "Double Tragedy off Munda Point" by A. Deydenfrost
[Page 37] Double Tragedy off Munda Point last year [July 20, 1943] is reconstructed from the narrative of a pilot back from the S. W. Pacific. A B-25 crew, on patrol, failed to identify two [three] U.S. torpedo boats [PT-166, PT-168 and PT-164]. The boats possibly had opened fire on him. The B-25 came down and strafed, sinking a boat [PT-166]. Then a Navy fighter pilot capped the tragedy of errors. He may have made a mistake in identification or might have thought the B-25 [B-25C Mitchell 41-13153] to be Jap-operated. At any rate he shot it down."
At Close Quarters PT Boats in the United States Navy pages 119-120
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William G. Schauffler III
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Alexander R. Lukich
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Jerome M. Deutsch
FindAGrave - 1Lt William G Schauffler (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 1Lt Alexander R Lukich (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Jerome M Deutsch (tablets of the missing)
Denzil Gene Nicholas (grave photo)
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional research and analysis.
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February 4, 2018