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  B-26 "Imogene VII" Serial Number 40-1474  
USAAF
5th AF
22nd BG
408th BS

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5th AF March 6, 1943

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AWM March 25, 1943

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November 10, 2010

Pilot  2nd Lt Harold L. Massie, O-421276 (MIA / KIA) IL
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt Eugene D. "Gene" Wallace, (survived) Los Angeles, CA
Navigator  2nd Lt Marvin C. Hughes (survived) Baird, TX
Bombardier  2nd Lt Arthur C. King, O-432982 (MIA / KIA) OH
Engineer  Cpl Stanley A. Wolenski, 6909325 (MIA / KIA) PA
Radio  Cpl Dale E. Bordner (survived) OH
Photographer  S/Sgt Jack D. Swan, 6976748 (WIA, KIA) NY
Gunner  Pvt Joseph C. Dukes, 33129192 (MIA / KIA) PA

Ditched  May 24, 1942 at 10:54am
MACR  None

Aircraft History
Built by Martin. Delivered to the U.S. Army.

Wartime History
During April 1942, assigned to the 22nd Bombardment Group, 408th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Imogene VII". Assigned to pilot 1st Lt. Marvin C. Hughes who ferried this B-26 overseas to Australia arriving on April 22, 1942 at Amberley Field near Brisbane. This B-26 flew a total of two combat missions. The first combat mission was May 13, 1942 against Rabaul. Lost on its second mission.

Mission History
On May 23, 1942, one of six B-26 that took off from Garbutt Field near Townsville. Three aborted due to mechanical difficulties and only three reached 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby.

On May 24, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome during the morning on a bombing mission against Rabaul. This was Massie's first combat mission and his co-pilot had only flown one mission prior.

The formation encountered an overcast inbound to the target, but found a hole in the weather and dove down to 1,500' over Rabaul before bombing Vunakanau Airfield at low level, dropping 100lbs bombs over the target. Their bombs did heavily damage one G4M1 and fragments hit three others, plus burned down the headquarters of the Genzan Kokutai.

During the attack, anti-aircraft fire damaged this B-26's right engine, requiring it to be feathered and the crew jettisoned equipment. Massie made a final radio message reporting their position over Wide Bay, then nothing was heard afterwards and the bomber was presumed lost and the crew Missing In Action (MIA).

Fates of the Crew
In fact, Massie ditched roughly a mile off shore from Wide Bay. Two of the crew: Wolenski and Dukes were not seen after the ditching and were presumed to have gone down with the bomber. The rest of the crew sustained injuries: Swan suffered a broken shoulder, Hughes had a badly gashed leg and cut feet. Bordner had a puncture wound below the knee and King was bashed up. All had cuts on their faces and heads. Massie and Wallace were the least wounded and Massie swam ashore to Sampun village which roughly 3/4 of a mile away.

Fortunately for the survivors, it was Sunday and a church service was being held in the village. As the survivors neared the beach villagers came out in a canoe and helped them ashore. They were fed stewed bananas and chicken and blankets and cloth supplied for bandages. The two watches they possessed had stopped at 10:54am the moment the plane ditched. Bordner, Hughes and Swan were not able to stand up.

On the fourth day Massie departed to find help and was gone fourteen days and returned on June 10, having found New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) Pvt John Leslie Stokie, 239 who provided him a mosquito net, twist for trade, three razor blades and scissors so that they could keep clean and shaved to keep the respect of the villagers.

In mid June Massie, Wallace and King were able to bathe and shave and on the 21st Swan was able to walk about. Food was running short in the village so Massie, Wallace and King left the village. Because of their wretched physical condition Hughes, Bordner and Swan were allowed to stay.

Next, the crew was escorted to Pvt James A. Stokie, VX27259 of the Australian Army 2/21 Infantry Battalion with a hideout who had evaded captured.

During the trek, Massie collapsed on the trail, unable to eat and his leg wounds were ulcerous and he had to carried on a blanket litter. Moving inland by the end of July, the crew found the natives less friendly and at the next village they were ordered to leave. On July 27 Massie and King left a village and that was the last time they were ever seen again. In fact, both had been betrayed to the Japanese by natives.

During September Hughes, Wallace and Bordner left the village with Swan now being carried by natives in a blanket stretcher. During October, Wallace found a doctor boy at Ubili who agreed to let him build a hut and gave him space to plant a garden. In about a month a native boy brought Wallace a verbal message that Swan had died in his sleep on October 23. The three remaining airmen survived for the remained of 1942 eating caterpillars, grubs, toads, snakes and lizards.

A message arrived from Pvt Stokie inviting them to his hideout, and were taken by canoe on February 10, 1943 to a nearby village and then walked to his location. Twice, Japanese patrols passed nearby and sometimes American aircraft were seen overhead, and the crew attempted to signal them unsuccessfully.

On March 6, 1943 a B-24 Liberator flew low over their hideout and their signals were seen. Next day another B-24 dropped food, atabrine tablets, cigarettes, matches, a gallon of black paint, a brush and four white sheets with instructions to paint on the sheets the serial number of the ranking airman and the name of their squadron commander. On March 17, a B-17 buzzed them at low level and photographed the group on the beach. Three days later another B-24 dropped flashlights, batteries and instructions to use a secret code that a Catalina flying boat would come to pick them up from Open Bay.

Rescue
On March 25, 1943 at 1:15am, the three survivors plus Pvt Stokie and three loyal natives were by a RAAF 11 Squadron Catalina piloted by F/L Reginald Burrage that landed in Open Bay and transported them to Port Moresby, where their arrival was photographed and filmed.

Several days later, the crew was flown to Australia and reunited with their unit at Reid River Airfield. The entire crew earned the Purple Heart and Silver Star. In addition Massie and Wallace were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Massie, Wallace, Hughes, King and Bordner were also awarded The Soldiers Medal. Afterwards, Wallace went on a War Bond Tour in the United States, telling his survival story. Their story was featured in an issue of LIFE magazine on June 28, 1943.

Wallace retired from the USAF with the rank of Colonel. In 1997, he revisited New Britain and also met RAAF pilot Burrage in New Zealand.

Hughes died on May 18, 1994 and is buried at Mount Evergreen Cemetery in Pecos, TX.

Memorials
Wolenski and Dukes were officially declared dead the day of the mission. Massie and King were officially declared dead on December 15, 1945. Swan is officially declared dead on October 23, 1942. All five are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Postwar, his remains were recovered and were buried at Honolulu Cemetery (Punchbowl) Plot P Row 0 Grave 621.

References
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-26 40-1474
LIFE Magazine "Jungle Adventure: Three survivors of a ten month ordeal in the wilds of New Britain tell their story" by Sidney James June 28, 1943 page 86-101
Impact June 1943 issue includes the story of this crew
E&E Report No. 41 - Swenson / Brooks, 29th March 1944 pages 5
"[Circa January 25-31, 1944] Traces of Allied Soldiers: A new house was made for us, and we stayed at this new location about three weeks. While there, I noticed that one of our natives, Topenki, had an Australian-style billfold. I asked him where he had got it, and he said that Father Mayrhofer, a German Catholic missionary had told him to hide it and give it to an American. He let me examine it and It contained letters written by Australians and American soldiers to their folks at home, dated May, 1942. The letters stated that the writers had been in the bush for two months, were disgusted and sick and intended to give themselves up as prisoners of war to the Japanese at Rabaul. Some of the Americans were from the 18th Photo Recon. Group. There were letters from at least five persons, Australian and American.
I did not keep these letters because I did not know whether or not we would be captured. When we were rescued, this information was passed on to Sgt. Gilmore and Capt. Bates, both of AIB (who promised to pick up the letters). We later learned that the luluai [chief of village] of this place had his throat cut by the Japs for befriending us. From native sources we also heard that Father Mayrhofer had been captured by the Japs and taken to Rabaul for befriending Allied personnel."
World War II Nominal Roll - Pvt James A. Stokie, VX27259
Revenge of the Red Raiders pages 96-97, 177, 178 (photos), 179, 473
AWM "Rescued airmen from New Britain" film footage 1:16 F01815
OC Register "WWII vet survived 10 months on enemy island" November 10, 2010
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) lists Massie and King as 1st Lt.
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-26 40-1474
FindAGrave - Marvin Crawford Hughes (grave photo, photos)
Thanks to Edward Rogers and Larry Hickey for additional information

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Last Updated
May 11, 2018

 

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B-26

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