|Pilot 2nd Lt. Ernest R. Ness, O-799618 (MIA / KIA) Susquehanna, PA
MIA October 22, 1943
Built by Republic at Farmingdale, NY. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force as P-47D-16-RE Thunderbolt serial number 42-8145. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 348th Fighter Group, 342nd Fighter Squadron. Assigned to pilot Neel Kearby who nicknamed this aircraft "Fiery Ginger". When lost, engine serial number 42-124256, .50 caliber machine gun serial numbers not noted in Missing Air Crew Report 4361 (MACR 4361).
Three other P-47D Thunderbolts were also nicknamed "Fiery Ginger" including "Fiery Ginger II" serial number and fate unknown, P-47D "Fiery Ginger III" 42-75908 transfered to 58th Fighter Group fate unknown and P-47D "Fiery Ginger IV" 42-22668 pilot Col. Neel E. Kearby MIA March 5, 1944.
On October 22, 1943 one of fifteen P-47s that took off Tsili-Tsili Airfield on a mission to escort B-25 Mitchells over Wewak. Weather was slight overcast with scattered cumulus clouds up to 8,000' with fair visibility.
Over the target, this P-47 was last seen by element leader Lt. Whistler with a "Zeke" (sic, likely a Ki-43 Oscar) on his tail near Kairiru Island. It was believed Ness may have parachuted out of his aircraft. When he failed to return, he was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
North of Kairiru Island, the P-47s circled at 8,000' waiting for the B-25s to arrive and were intercepted by Zeros (actually Ki-43 Oscars) that dove down from 3,000'. Last observed with a "Zero" [Ki-43 Oscar] on its tail by his leader P-47D piloted by 1st Lt. Charles F. Whistler. It was believed the Ness might have bailed. Also, a "Zero" was shot down and the pilot was also observed to bail out and might have been the parachute observed. When this aircraft failed to return, Ness was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
1st Lt. Charles Whistler statement on February 21, 1944 via Missing Air Crew Report 4361 (MACR 4361) page 3
"I was with 15 other ships over Kairiru Island off the coast of Wewak at 8,000 feet. We were waiting for the bombers to make their run. I was leading the last element in the flight. Capt. Benz, flight leader, called, "Watch your tail!", and I saw three planes that looked like Zekes [sic, Ki-43 Oscar] about 3,000 feet above. Then they started down on us. The first plane went by me as I turned into the attack. The second plane turned into me and started firing. I could see the smoke from his guns as he fired, but I could see that he wasn't leading me enough. I racked it in so tight, I hit a high speed stall and popped the stick forward. The plane firing at me was going too fast to turn with me and went past my tail and out of sight. I reversed my turn as I dived to about 3,000 feet, turning to the right at the same time. I looked to the right and saw Lt. Ness, my wing man turning to the left with a Zeke on his tail. I started climbing and the next time I looked that way, I saw what I believed to be a P-47 going down and the pilots' chute was first opening. I looked around the other way and saw a P-47 firing on what I believed to be a Zeke. The Zero half rolled as the P-47 pulled away and the pilot of the Zeke bailed out as the smoking plane dove 3,000 feet into the water, just north of Kairiru Island. I kept looking for the Zekes that were attacking me before, but they were no where in sight. I joined another P-47 and returned to my base."
Fate of the Pilot
Although Ness was believed to have parachuted out safely, his ultimate fate is unknown. In fact, he was captured by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Kairiru Island, who claimed he died of his injuries. Ness was never officially reported as a Prisoner Of War (POW).
Ness was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Diane Ness (relative of Ernest R. Ness):
"Ernest R. Ness was a fighter Pilot in South Pacific. POW in Japanese camp in New Guinea. Died there of injuries."
Missing Air Crew Report 4361 (MACR 4361)
WWII Memorial Page - Ernest R. Ness
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-47 Thunderbolt 42-8145
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ernest R. Ness
FindAGrave - 2Lt Ernest R Ness (photo, tablets of the missing)
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional research and analysis.
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January 5, 2018