Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Delivered U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-25-CO Liberator serial number 41-24053.
Assigned to U. S. Navy (USN) as PB4Y-1 Liberator bureau number 31950. Assigned to squadron VP-101, later redesignated VP-51. No known nickname or nose art. Squadron number 51-P-? (last digit unknown, possibly 3 or 4).
On February 14, 1943 "Saint Valentines Day Massacre" one of nine PB4Y-1 Liberators that took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal armed with a single 1,000 pound bomb on a daylight mission against enemy shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area. The bombers were escorted by ten P-38s Lightnings from the 347th Fighter Group, 339th Fighter Squadron plus twelve F4U Corsairs from VMF-124.
Aboard this Liberator was a crew of eleven. Although the crew lists of both bombers are know, it is unclear which aircraft each was flying aboard: PB4Y-1 pilot Lt. Jay D, Bacon, Jr. or PB4Y-1 Liberator piloted by Lt. Stuart T. Cooper. Over the target, the PB4Y-1s bombed Hatachi Maru and damaging another ship.
After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by roughly thirty A6M Zeros and fifteen A6M2-N Rufe floatplanes from Shortland. During the combat, two Liberators were shot down, PB4Y-1 pilot Lt. Jay D, Bacon, Jr. or PB4Y-1 Liberator piloted by Lt. Stuart T. Cooper. One was shot down by head-on attack by enemy fighters over the target and crashed. The other crash landed or ditched off New Georgia. When this Liberator failed to return, the entire crew was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
The entire crew of eleven was officially declared dead December 10, 1945. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. The crew was also memorialized on memorial to Patrol Squadron VP 11/54/51, VB 101, PATSU 1-2 at Bomber 2 Airfield on Espiritu Santo.
Notes on PB4Y-1 Liberator crew list for February 14, 1943
Note, many published sources and some wartime records incorrectly give the date of losses as March 3, 1943 or March 5, 1943.
USAF Serial Number Search Results B-24D-15-CO Liberator 41-24053 to US Navy as PB4Y-1 BuNo 31950
Navy Serial Number Search Results PB4Y-1 Liberator 31950 (ex USAAF B-24D 41-24053)
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1943 for February 14, 1943 does not listed either PB4Y-1 loss
U. S. Navy Patrol Squadrons - VP-51 History
History of Patrol Squadron-11F, Patrol Squadron-54, Patrol Squadron-51, VB-101, PATSU 1-2, and CASU F-56
"The next day, February 14,1943, off the coast of Southern Bougainville Island. nine PB4Y-1 aircraft fully armed, bombs and ammunition, bombed and sank a large enemy transport and a destroyer from 22,000 feet altitude. After the flack came 50 to 60 enemy fighters from Kahili airfield to intercept the bombers and their cover. The top cover consisted of 4 Army P-38's and the lower cover consisting of Navy F6F's and Marine Corps Corsairs (F4U). The Marine Corsair was in combat for the first time in this mission. Two PB4Y-1 Bombers -- 101-B-3 and 101-B-4 and entire crews were shot down. The entire top cover was destroyed and six of the lower cover aircraft were destroyed. It was reported by observers that the enemy lost 26 aircraft in this fight. This 'skirmish' was named in most military history books as the 'Saint Valentines Day Massacre'. The losses for both sides were very heavy for the day."
Guadalcanal and the Origins of the 13th Air Force page 182
We Flew Alone pages 13-14
Thanks to Jim Sawruk for additional information
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December 22, 2018