|Pilot 2nd Lt John J. Durkin, O-7489321 (survived) Westfield, NJ
Force Landed November 16, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-5-LO Lightning serial number 42-66826. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 431st Fighter Squadron. Nose Number unknown something in the range of 110-140. Nicknamed "Hold Everything".
On November 16, 1943 took off from Dobodura Airfield No. 12 piloted by 2nd Lt John J. Durkin on a mission against Wewak. Inbound to the target, Durkin aborted the mission due to low fuel and returned to base. While returning alone he Returning, he was jumped by a pair of Japanese "Zeros" (Ki-43 Oscars) and took evasive action and lost them both in the clouds. Afterwards, his electric compass stopped working and he became lost and proceeded southward until he reached an unfamiliar coastline. With very little fuel remaining, one engine cut out, forcing him to force landed in what he thought was kunai grass but turned out to be a swamp. Durkin survived the landing unhurt. When he failed to return, Durkin was declared Missing In Action (MIA) by his squadron.
Fate of the Pilot
After landing, Durkin spent the night sleeping on the wing of his plane, the only part above the swamp. The next day, he proceeded towards a nearby village and was met by friendly natives and taken to their village roughly 10 miles away. With their help, he was taken to the coast two days later. Transported aboard a lakatoi to Daru Island where he was handed over to Australian forces while the lakatoi went to another location to radio
Later, a Catalina Port Moresby Flying Boat Base was sent to rescue him. Aboard was Associated Press (AP) photographer Thomas Shafer from the war pool correspondent who took several photos of Durkin being rescued wearing necklaces given to him by the local people and photographed him during the flight back to Port Moresby. On December 7, 1943 he returned to his squadron and was removed from the squadron's Missing In Action (MIA) list.
This P-38 force landed in the Bula Plains near Bensbach. This area is subjected to flooding. For at least half a year with a mix of brackish freshwater and seawater during the wet season which submerged the aircraft to the tips of the upper propeller blades. During the dry season, the aircraft is exposed.
On September 1, 1969 Dr. Eric Lindgren photographed the largely intact aircraft, which is the earliest known image of this wreckage. The tail had traces of the serial number with "26682?" (last digit is unclear), representing the complete serial number 42-6682?, a match to this aircraft. Although largely intact, many parts were removed including the nose section was deskinned plus spot corrosion on the booms and wings. The engine cowling and propeller hubs were missing. The left stub wing had fallen off or was removed.
Dr. Eric Lindgren recalls:
"My photo was a Kodachrome taken 1 September 1969, in the company of two of my assistants while we were doing research work on the Javan Rusa deer for the administration of TPNG. The two assistants are investigating the cockpit area in this picture. The aircraft was in reasonably good condition, and could probably have been restored if it was in a less remote area. It has progressively deteriorated since then. I have seen photographs taken about 10 years ago and there was just a heap of rubbish present. There is an indistinct serial number on the outer left tail fin and all I can make out is 2???2? - the first 2?? represent space enough to fit two numbers of the size of the 2 and 7, the second ? at the end might be 5, and there appears to be a half-sized 5 to the right of it. This is the best I can do at the moment."
Bruce Hoy adds:
The serial number is actually incomplete. From what I have tried to determine from my limited eyesight available to me, it reads 2668 and possibly a 2, making the number 42-6682-. If the last digit is a “2” the aircraft falls within the P-38H range of 42-66820 to 42-66829, all of which were assigned to the 5th Air Force. P-38H 42-66821 was lost on 2 November 1943 in the Rabaul area. P-38H "Hold Everything" 42-66826 [this aircraft] was also missing on 16 November 1943, P-38H 42-66828 was missing on 23 June 1944 in the Milne Bay area."
By the late 1970s, the annual submersion caused much of the aluminum to rapidly corrode. By 1980, only the wing section and portions of the tail booms remained at the site. What remains of the aircraft today is unknown.
Richard Leahy adds:
"In the 1980s, this
wreck today has all but disappeared, sunk into the soil and nothing
more than an outline from the air."
Previously, Durkin survived the ditching of P-38H Lightning off Porlock Harbor. Some sources incorrectly the rescue aircraft as a U. S. Navy (USN) PBY Catalina Patrol Squadron 101 (VP-101).
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records -
John J. Durkin
E&E Report No. 19 "Mission Date: 16 November, 1943. Narration of Lt. John J. Durkin"
The Courier-Mail "Lifetime of thrills in 6 weeks' flying" by J. E. Vine, Courier-Mail War Correspondent, Friday 10 December 1943
"NEW GUINEA, Dec. 9. — A Lightning pilot, Lieut. John J. Durkin, of Westfield, New Jersey, began his New Guinea flying in late October. He has packed enough excitement into the six weeks which have passed since then to last most folk a lifetime.
Eight days separated two crash landings — one into the sea, the other into a jungle swamp. For the first there was a naval craft conveniently at hand to rescue him from the water, but it took 18 days and a series of adventures to get him out of the second jam. Life proceeded smoothly for Lieut. Durkin. who is 23, until November 8. It was then that he made his Bismarck Sea landing off Cape Nelson, after his unit had been scattered by a vicious storm. Four days later he was flying, again. On November 16, high over Wewak, he had to signal to his formation leader that his gasolene [sic gasoline] was low and he was returning to his base. He reached his base 18 days later in a Catalina. On the lonely journey home he was jumped by two Zeros. He eluded them after playing hide and seek in the cumulus clouds For 10 minutes. But if the Zeros were gone, so was his electric compass. Probably it had been smashed by tracer from the Jap planes. Lieut. Durkin set a course for what he thought was home. One engine had coughed and stuttered to a stop and the other was just about to cut out for lack of fuel as he nosed his ship down on to what seemed a verdant level stretch. He landed in a six-foot deep swamp.
Lieut. Durkin spent that night on the wing of his plane, one of the few parts not submerged. Next day he started to pull himself through the slime and weeds toward a native village, and was picked up by natives in a crude native canoe. They took him to their village 10 miles away. Two days later with his native escort he reached the Dutch New Guinea coast. From then on he was passed from village to village. Natives fed him on bananas, coconuts, and fish, once on baked turtle. Finally he reached a village which boasted a seagoing lakatoi, and set out with his native crew for an island garrisoned by a small body of Australians. By day they were becalmed, but at night a storm arose and they ran aground on a reef. They reached the island next morning. Sig. Fred Turbit, of Sydney, and Sig. Ron. Burr, of N.S.W., made him at home. Meantime the lakatoi went to another island 50 miles away equipped with a radio transmitting set. A radio message went through and a Catalina picked up Lieut. Durkin. Tomorrow he will rejoin his unit."
475th FG, 431st FS History
J B lists: "66826 (475th FG, 432st FS, "Hold Everything") damaged by enemy fighters and ditched in swamp in New Guinea November 17, 1943. Pilot returned."
Flying Aces "War Flyers In The Headlines" April 1944 page 35
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38 Lightning 42-66826
John Stanaway adds: "Lt John J. Durkin is listed in the 432nd FS, and his prewar address was 1001 Cleveland Ave., Westfield, NJ."
Thanks to Eric Lindgren, Bruce Hoy, Richard Leahy, Edward Rogers and Keith Hopper for additional information.
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June 29, 2019