|Pilot 2nd Lt. Harold Ralph Stewart, O-011447 (MIA / KIA) AZ
MIA February 14, 1943 "Saint Valentines Day Massacre"
Built by Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1 Corsair Bureau Number 02249. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South Pacific.
Delivered to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to squadron VMF-124 "Whistling Death/Wild Aces". No known nickname, nose art or squadron number.
On February 14, 1943 took off from Guadalcanal piloted by 2nd Lt. Harold Ralph Stewart as one of twelve F4U Corsairs flying close escort for nine PB4Y-1 Liberators from VB-101 on a daylight mission against Japanese shipping off southern Bougainville. Also escorting were ten P-38G Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron. The weather was clear with scattered clouds.
After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by Japanese Zeros and floatplane fighters and engaged in air combat with the U. S. formation.
Justin Taylan adds:
"I researched this mission at the Tokyo Defense archives. A total of 42 Japanese aircraft intercepted including 18 Zeros from 252 Kōkūtai, 13 Zeros from 204 Kōkūtai and 11 A6M2-N Rufes from 802 Kōkūtai."
During the air combat, this Corsair was damaged by machine gun fire that holed the fuel tank, causing the gas to drain out. Pilot Stewart dove down from 20,000' while pursued by Zeros and ditched into the sea. Enemy fighters strafed the plane and the life raft he deployed.
When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Due to the severe American losses, this mission was dubbed the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
Stewart was officially declared dead on January 10, 1945. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1 Corsair 02249
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1943 - F4U Corsair 02249 lists pilot as "Harold B. [sic] Stewart'
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Harold Ralph Stewart
2Lt Harold Ralph Stewart (photo, tablets of the missing)
History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (1952) by Robert Sherrod page 135
"On 14 February, their third day in the combat area, the F4U pilots learned that Japanese flyers had not lost their skill or aggressiveness. About 50 well-alerted Zeros were waiting from the raid on Kahili Field in southern Bougainville. The Japanese shot down two F4U's, two Navy PB4Y's, two P-40's [sic, those were lost February 13, 1943] and the entire top cover of four P-38's, with a loss to themselves of only three Zeros, [sic only one was lost], one of which collided with a F4U. This 'Saint Valentine's Day massacre' was a painful blow to the Guadalcanal-based flyers of all services."
Corsair page 30
"Two F4U's were also lost with their pilots, Lieutenants Lyon and Stewart.... only 3 Zekes were downed and one of them had collided with Lyon's Corsair... Stewart's element leader, First Lieutenant Lloyd B. Pearson reported what happened... 'Stewart's plane was racked with machine-gun fire diagonally across the main fuel cell. When Stewart rejoined me after the melee, I could see the gasoline spraying out of the numerous bullet holes. He appeared to be okay. After approximately ten minutes with us his fuel gave out, he waved goodbye and nosed down to the water from about 20,000 feet. The zero's then followed him down, shooting at him all the while. He made a successful water landing and I thought I could see a yellow spot (his life raft) beside the cockpit. However, the zero's continued to strafe him. We never heard from Stewart again."
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June 29, 2019