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|Pilot Lt(jg) Kenneth L. Marlin (survived)
Crew Lt(jg) Robert G. Courter (WIA, survived)
Crew AMM1c Keith Brunell Force, USNR (survived)
Sunk January 5, 1944
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PBY-5 Catalina Bureau Number 08377.
Assigned to Patrol Squadron Fourteen (VP-14). No known nickname or nose art.
On January 5, 1944 took off at 10:10am from Empress Augusta Bay off Bougainville piloted by Lt(jg) Kenneth L. Marlin on a search mission for downed airmen reported on Antarara Island.
Over Antarara Island, the crew spotted a life raft and what appeared to be unconscious person or dead body wearing green beside it. At 11:10am this Catalina landed and sent a search party in a life raft ashore to investigate.
The search party located the life raft and found a rolled up piece of canvas that was mistaken as a body. They also found a .45 caliber Colt Automatic pistol. The search party took the pistol and dragged the life raft with emergency rations inside into the trees to avoid it being mistaken again and for any other crews to use then returned to the Catalina. Likely, this raft was assoicated with USN Ensign Louis A. Shepard and AMM2c Charles D. Nesbitt crew of SBD-5 Dauntless 35935 that ditched January 2, 1944 and were sucessfully rescued earlier that morning by PBY Catalina piloted by Lt. McAllister from VP-14.
At 11:50am, this Catalina attempted to take off from Antarara Island in heavy swells roughly 6' to 8' and a 15 to 17 knot winds. During take off, the PBY plunged into a swell that temporarily submerged the bow and cockpit. The nose emerged and smashed into a second swell, causing the bow to lift into the air, then crashed down into a third swell, that caused the PBY to bounce into the air at 45 knots, not sufficient speed to remain airborne, and it fell back into the sea, striking a swell on the starboard side and causing a right skid. The pilots attempted to recover, but settled into the sea, with the port wing tip and float to sheer off causing the Catalina to rotate then the starboard wingtip and float were sheered off.
Damaged, the Catalina took on water and sank at 12:50pm into what the crew deemed to be deep water. Later, the loss was deemed to be cause by either unusual sea conditions or faulty pilot technique, or both.
Fates of the Crew
The entire crew exited the Catalina before it sank and successfully deployed their life rafts and paddled to Antarara Island. During the sinking, one crew member sustained a superficial head injury. Afterwards, a PT Boat rescued the crew and transported them to USS Coos Bay (AVP-25) in Blanche Harbor off Stirling Island PT Boat Base. Afterwards, returned to duty with the squadron.
Courer passed away on June 28, 2014. He is buried at Kirk in the Hills Columbarium in Bloomfield Hills, MI.
Force passed away on January 2, 1999. He is buried at Evergreen Memorial Park Cemetery in Omaha, NB.
Note, some sources incorrectly list pilot's name as "Lt(jg) K. L. Marlin".
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBY-5 Catalina 08377
"08377 (VP-14) crashed on takeoff 1/5/1944 Treasury Island [sic]"
NARA "War Diary Patrol Squadron Fourteen (From January 1 to 31, 1944) pages 2-3
(Page 1) "4. On 5 January , Lieut. R. E. McAllister, in a PBY-5 of this command, while standing-by at Torokina, received instructions from the Fighter Command to proceed to the Shortland Islands and there search for two SBD pilots [sic, SBD-5 35935 pilot and gunner lost January 2, 1944] who had been sighted the previous afternoon [January 4, 1944]. Take-off was made at 0800 (L) and course set for the reported sighting. Four F4U's escorted the Dumbo plane at the start of the mission but, due to bad weather, two were compelled to return to base. At 0820 (L) on Antarara Island, just northwest of Shortland, the two downed fliers were located and, after dragging the area, the Dumbo plane landed. The sea was extremely rough with large swells and the rescue was further complicated by a tropical downpour. The two survivors, Ensign [Shepard] Shepherd and Nesbitt, ARM1c, were taken aboard..."
(Page 2) "... in good condition and the plane was airborne at 0835 (L) arriving at Torokina at 0900 (L). Further difficulty accompanied the landing at Torokina where a front had kept the area closed-in during the morning. Three LST's and numerous barges in the only protected landing area necessitated the Dumbo plane again making an open-sea landing outside the protected area under conditions similar to those at Antarara. The rescue plane suffered considerable structural damage although a safe landing was made.
5. On 5 January, Lt(jg) K. L. Marlin in a PBY-5 of this command bureau number 08377 took off at 1010 (L) to rescue two survivors of a plane crash at Antarara Island (bearing 275° - 22 miles from Komaliai Pt., Shortland Islands). Lt(jg) K. L. Marlin flew directly to Antarara Island and there sighted a life raft and what appeared to be an unconscious person or dead body in a green uniform beside it on the beach. He landed 1110 (L) and a search party was sent ashore. They found the life raft on the beach with a piece of rolled up green canvas beside it (which resembled a man in uniform from the air) and a .45 cal Colt automatic, loaded and on 'fire' position nearby. The search party too the pistol and dragged the raft and canvas inshore under the trees, so that it could not be seen from the air, and left emergency rations and supplies in the raft, for the benefit of any survivors still in the vicinity. Take off was then attempted at 1150 (L), into an 18-20 knot skid, first shearing-off the port flat, then the starboard float and then smashing in the bow. Water began pouring in at a dangerous rate and the plane was abandoned in a sinking condition, the crew making their way to Antarara Island in life rafts. The plane sank at 1250 (L). The crew was picked up by a PT boat and brought back to the USS Coos Bay at Treasury Island. The only injures sustained was a superficial head injury to an enlisted crew member. All confidential gear was recovered but the bomb sight, radar and IFF equipment sank with the plane in about 300 fathoms of water."
USN "Claim for cash reimbursement for personal property lost by Military Personnel in a Marine or Aircraft disaster or due to operations of War – Kieth Brunell Force, AMM1c" via Josh Leasure
USN Accident Report - PBY-5 Catalina 08377
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List January 1944 - PBY Catalina 08377 pilot Lt(jg) K. L. Marlin Shortlands
FindAGrave - Lieut Robert Grenfall Courter (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Keith B. Force
Thanks to Josh Leasure and Jim Sawruk for additional information
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