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  P-39F-1-BE Airacobra Serial Number 41-7204  
USAAF
5th AF
35th FG
39th FS

Former Assignment
8th FG

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Rehrer June 23, 1942

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Justin Taylan 2006

Pilot  2nd Lt. Harvey Eugene Rehrer, O-426867 (survived) Reading, PA
Crashed  June 16, 1942
MACR  none

Pilot History
Born 1916, Rehrer joined the US Army in 1939. He served with the 39th Fighter Squadron. Earned the Purple Heart for the wounds sustained on the June 16, 1942 mission. Later Rehrer flew C-47s with the 374th Troop Carrier Group, 6th Troop Carrier Squadron.

Aircraft History
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. Delivered to the U.S. Army on January 15, 1942. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia arriving on February 2, 1942 and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 8th Fighter Group, operating from Port Moresby. No known nose art or nickname. Next, assigned to the 35th Fighter Group, 39th Fighter Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.

Mission History
On June 16, 1942 Rehrer had the day off, but volunteered to fly for a sick pilot. One of four Airacobras that took off from 14 Mile Drome near Port Moresby led by Lt. Francis Royal. In flight, they were joined by two other Airacobras from 12 Mile Drome and together the formation climbed to 22,000' to patrol the Rigo area for enemy aircraft.

Rehrer was flying 'tail end charlie' in the formation, and was experiencing power problems with his engine. A a fill in pilot, Rehrer was not flying his regular aircraft or formation position. A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai were sighted directly above at 25,000' proceeding in a southwesterly course.  

Zeros broke away from the main formation and maneuvered to attack.  Without being observed, a Zero maneuvered behind Rehrer's tail and open fired from the rear. Rehrer observed tracer bullets from behind him, and before he could react, his aircraft was hit, drop tank set on fire. Fellow pilots observed him going down in flames and did not see him bail out.

Damaged, on fire and descending In an inverted spin, Rehrer managed to kick off the right cockpit door and bail out. When his parachute opened, his shoulder was dislocated. Wartime records say this aircraft was shot down near Rigo, but this was proved incorrect after the discovery of his wreck in 2006.

Fate of the Pilot
Rehrer landed in the vicinity of his crashed fighter and remembered hearing the machine gun ammunition exploding in the flames. He began walking, located the Brown River and began climbing over ridges. After six days, he came to a native village where he was given food, clothing and rested for the night. The next day, the villagers took him back to his squadron. He had been lost for seven days and afterwards was hospitalized at the 12th Station Hospital at Townsville.

Wreckage
Crashed in the Brown River area. The aircraft crashed into a ravine, the tail section broke off and landed elsewhere.

During 2001, wreck tec Wilkinson Egimbari photographed this aircraft for John Douglas. The photos showed a Airacobra type aircraft, but were unable to be identified. Egimbari claimed to have found a shoe in the cockpit.

On September 21, 2006 this aircraft was identified by Keith Hopper and Justin Taylan.

Justin Taylan adds:
"There was rumors of a plane in this area, and we decided to trek there to find out for sure. The wreckage is on a slope at the base of a ridge, near a stream. The Serial Number was confirmed from the stencil on the left side of the cockpit. There was a lot of cooked off 30 caliber ammunition in the wreckage, no 50 caliber or 37mm rounds were found. The tail was separated and located on another ridge, 875m away in a straight line. Likely the tail separated before the crash. We did not locate the engine, which likely fell down the slope into the stream. Along the stream bed, we found other pieces of smaller wreckage that had been swept down by erosion into the stream. In December, I visited with Harvey Rehrer and his wife to learn the rest of the story from him."

References
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - P-39F Airacobra Serial Number 41-7204
RAAF Casualty Card - P-39 Airacobra 41-7204
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-39 Airacobra 41-7204
SSgt Donald Thomas of the 39th FS diary, June 16, 1942 via John Stanaway
Samurai! by Saburo Sakai pages127-128 Dogfight Over Port Moresby June 16, 1942
Sacramento Bee "WWII pilot gets surprise 60 years after being shot down, he is 'reunited' with fighter plane" December 21, 2006
Eagles of the Southern Sky pages 185-186, 334
Thanks to John Douglas, Edward Rogers and Keith Hopper for additional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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P-39

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