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  F4U-1A Corsair Bureau Number 17945  

Pilot  Major John S. Mac Laughlin, Jr., O-007466 C. O. VMF-422 (MIA / KIA) Collingswood, NJ
MIA  January 25, 1944

Aircraft History
Built by Chance-Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1A Corsair bureau number 17945. Disassembled and shipped to Oahu.

Wartime History
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC), Marine Air Group 22 (MAG-22), Marine Fighting Squadron 422 "Flying Buccaneers" VMF-422. No known squadron number, nickname or nose art. This Corsair was flown from Ewa Field to Ford Island Airfield. On January 16, 1944 one of twenty-four Corsairs from VMF-422 loaded aboard USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68).

On January 24, 1944 took off from USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) within sight of Tarawa (Betio) then landed at Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field).

Mission History
On January 25, 1944 took off at 9:45am from Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field) piloted by Major John S. Mac Laughlin, Jr. leading a ferry flight of twenty-three Corsairs from VMF-422 bound for Nanumea Airfield then the second phase of the flight would be to Funafuti Airfield for use during "Operation Flintlock" in the Marshall Islands. One Corsair did not take off due to starter trouble.

On take off, the weather was good with cumulus clouds at 1,500' and 3/10 overcast. The flight proceeded without a navigational escort. The formation flew in three flights wide spread and were scheduled to reach Nanumea Airfield after 2 hours 30 minutes at 12:25pm.

By 12:10pm the formation was flying at an altitude of 2,000' when they encountered a weather front that developed into a violent tropical storm. Visibility was so poor no forward visibility was possible and the formation descended to sea level.

When the rest of the formation exited the storm, five Corsairs were separated: F4U Corsair 18024 piloted by Captain John F. Rogers, F4U Corsair 18025 piloted by 1st Lt Earl C. Thompson, F4U Corsair 17833 1st Lt. Robert P. Moran, F4U piloted by W. A. Wilson and F4U piloted by J. E. Hansen were separated and radio contact was maintained with three including Moran.

At 12:18pm roughly seven minutes minutes from reaching their destination, the remainder of the flight encountered another severe weather front, possibly a continuation of the first. Confused and lost, the Corsairs flew at full throttle to maintain contact with the flight leaders and the storm prevented them from flying in formation properly and required violent maneuvering and changes in throttle.

At 12:45pm Mac Laughlin radioed the formation he made contact with the Funafuti radio beam and they were halfway between Nanumea and Funafuti. The storm's intensity again increased causing additional navigational difficult and interfered with radio communications and Captain C. R. Jeans flew in front of this aircraft to attract the Mac Laughlin's attention and informed him he would lead the flight back to Nui Island.

During the rain squalls, this Corsair was last observed flying in and out of rain squalls on a course at a tangent to the rest of the flight. His two wingmen, Lt. J. C. Flood and Lt. J. W. Lincoln climbed to 16,000' in an attempt to keep the Major in view and the formation but last observed him disappear into a thick overcast and he was never seen again. When this Corsair failed to arrive it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).

In total, twenty-two of the Corsairs in the formation ditched or went missing. Afterwards, it was deemed the flight was a failure because the flight proceeded with an outdated weather forecast and because Brigadier General Lewie G. Merritt failed to authorize an escort plane with a navigator nor did his staff alert the destination to about their intended arrival to provide radio assistance or aid in rescue efforts.

Mac Laughlin was officially declared dead on January 26, 1945. Posthumously, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He is memorialized at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on the courts of the missing, court 4.

Note wartime sources list pilot's name as Mac Laughlin
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1A Corsair 17945
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List January 1944 - F4U Corsair 17945
NARA "Marine Fighting Squadron Four Twenty Two - 1 January 1943 to 31 December 1944" page 33-40, appendix D, page 2
(Page 33) "Twenty-four (24) Corsairs were ferried to Ford Island from MCAS, Ewa, on 16 January [1944] and put aboard CVE USS Kalinin Bay. It was planned to fly them from the CVE to Tarawa, Gilbert Islands on approaching within fifty miles of that base and from there to a newly won airstrip in the Marshalls. On 17 January twenty seven pilots and three enlisted men boarded the Kalinin Bay, sailing the following day. On the morning of 24 January the aircraft were catapulted as planned almost within sight of Tarawa and landed shortly after on Hawkins Field.
On 25 January at 0945, twenty-three (23) of the Corsairs took off for Nanumea, the first of a two phase flight to Funafuti, Ellice Islands. One Corsair was left behind when it developed starter trouble. The planes took off in good weather with cumulus clouds at 1500 feet, 3/10 overcast,"
(Page 34) "without a navigational escort. Major MacLaughlin led a standard fighter formation with three flights wide spread. The ETA at Nanumea was 1225 and all check points were hit. An R4D [Dakota] heading in the opposite direction, was sighted by several pilots. At 1210 the squadron then at an altitude of 2,000 feet, encountered a severe weather front, the first of two."
(Page 35) "At 1245 Major MacLaughlin radioed to the remainder of the flight that he had made contact with the Funafuti [radio] beam and that they would proceed there. He also informed the pilots that they were between Nanumea and Funafuti. As the storm increased in violence the flight again reported...
(Page 36) "...navigational difficulty... Shortly after, as the flight circled in and out of rain squalls, Major MacLaughlin was observed to fly a course tangent to the rest of the flight. Lts. J. C. Flood and J. W. Lincoln, who had been flying wing on him, climbed to 16,000 feet in an effort to keep both the Major and the flight in view but he disappeared in the thick overcast and was not sighted again."
(Appendix A Commanding Officers, page 4) On January 25, 1944, as leader of the flight echelon enroute from Tarawa, Gilbert Islands to Funafuti, Ellice Islands, Major MacLaughlin was lost in a severe tropical hurricane and a the present time is listed as missing (1). It was ironic that the Major's main recreational interest, the sea, should claim him as its victim. His interest in the welfare and comfort of each officer and enlisted man knew no bounds. His loss was keenly felt by all hands (2)."
History of the Marine Corps Aviation in World War II pages 228-230, 433, 470
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John S. Mac Laughlin, Jr.
FindAGrave - LtCol John S. MacLaughlin, Jr (photo, courts of the missing photo)

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Last Updated
January 27, 2019


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