|Pilot 1st Lt. Robert B. Widener, O-791744 (MIA / KIA) MA
Co-Pilot 2/Lt Bernard Lazarus, O-795411 (MIA / KIA) NY
Gunner Sgt James W. Lefler, 16019155 (MIA / KIA) IL
Crashed August 28, 1943
Built by North American. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 3rd Bombardment Group, 8th Bombardment Squadron. Possibly nicknamed "Reluctant Dragon". When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers were not noted.
On August 28, 1943 took off from Dobodura Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Robert B. Widener on a mission to bomb and strafe enemy shipping in the Hansa
Bay area. Over the target, the formation attacked a 500-ton "Sugar Charlie" in the southeast corner of Hansa
During the bombing run, this B-25 was too close to the preceding plane's bomb blast and the explosion knocked off the right wing and tail near the eastern side of Hansa
Bay. Streaming smoke, the damaged B-25 crashed into Hansa
Bay among the ships it was attacking. The
entire crew was instantly killed in the crash.
This B-25's crash was documented in
three photos from the proceeding B-25 that captured its final moments and were later published in a series of photos captioned "Death of a Grim
Bill Swain also explains:
"Per Mike Kischkum, one of the [B-25] gunners on a plane directly
behind Widener's [this aircraft], Widener got too close to the plane in front of him and ran into the
the bomb blast of that plane, which knocked off the right wing and tail, causing the
crash. This is also stated in the 3rd Bomb Group's photo album "The Reapers Harvest"
Veteran Jack Hyen recalls
from his diary:
"An extraordinary shot, or I should say series of shots. I'm
sure they'd make a wonderful feature news story in any
newspapers, but they will probably never get close to a news press. It is an
Sq ship on a mission at [Hansa Bay] where it caught
some small shipping. It was knocked down by the bombs from the ship which took
In the top picture he is coming over on his pass and
the bomb that got him has just began its explosion. In the center the ship has
tail section and right wing blown clean off and dives to the water.
The last one shows the ship enveloped in smoke as it
hit the water and exploded. I imagine the Japs got a big bang out of this incident
but I'm sure they didn't enjoy the thorough going over they got from
the rest of the ships in the formation, cause as you
plainly see there was plenty of close fireworks for them."
The wreckage of this B-25 remains on the sandy bottom of Hansa
Bay. Nearby are several small Japanese shipwrecks, possibly the same ones attacked that same day.
Justin Taylan adds:
November 2003 while visiting Hansa Bay with John Douglas, we visited the beach pictured
in the foreground of the second photo in the sequence. This
a place of violence sixty years ago. In the sea is the wreckage of the B-25 and several
Japanese shipwrecks. I snorkeled the
water, in hopes of finding the wreckage, but the water quality was too murky that day. On the beach is the base of a Japanese 75mm anti-aircraft
gun, partially buried in the
sand. Earlier that year, storms revealed Japanese bones around the
gun. According to locals, a Japanese delegation recently preformed
a memorial service at the gun, and candles and incense were still
present. We posed for a group photo, with the site
of the B-25 crash behind us. One of our friends used a Japanese
bayonet as a machete, even to this day!"
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. Lefler also has a memorial marker at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery at section M1 Site 64
8th Bombardment Squadron History frame 1968
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert B. Widener
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Bernard Lazarus
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James W. Lefler
FindAGrave - 1Lt Robert B Widener (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Bernard Lazarus (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt James W Lefler (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - James W. Lefler (photo, memorial marker photo)
The Reaper's Harvest Yearbook
"Death of a Grim Reaper. At Hansa Bay the hazards of low level
bombing are graphically illustrated. An overanxious Grim Reaper
follows too close on the path of the plane that preceded him and receives
the full blast of his bombs. Part of the wing is ripped off and
the plane tossed over on its back. In the final photograph of this tragic
sequence, the stricken craft strikes the water and is dashed
to pieces. The entire crew was instantly killed."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25D Mitchell pilot Widener
Thanks to Bill Swain and Jack Heyn for additional information
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January 5, 2018