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  PBY-5 Catalina Bureau Number 08491  
"Black Cats"

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 1204. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PBY-5 Catalina bureau number 08491. Flown overseas to the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA).

Wartime History
Assigned to Patrol Squadron Thirty-Four "Black Cats" VP-34. No known nickname or nose art. Plane Number unknown (two digits).

Wartime History
On February 17, 1944 took off at 8:15am from Langemak Bay near Finschhafen under the command of Lt Orazio Simonelli on an air-sea rescue mission to rescue an air crew of B-25C "Stubborn Hellion" 42-32314 that ditched two days prior and was spotted the day before off Selapiu Island. Aboard was Captain Dougherty from the 345th Bombardment Group, 500th Bombardment Squadron who spotted the crew. The weather was clear with visibility of over thrity miles.

Command Pilot  Lt. Orazio Simonelli
First Pilot  Lt(jg) Ronald P. Solie
Second Pilot  Ensign William F. Fletcher
Plane Captain/First Mechanic  AMM1c Benjamin A. Hurley
Second Mechanic  AMM2c Alfred R. Spray
Third Mechanic  AMM3c Louis A. Erdelyan
First Radio  ARM2c Virgil F. Wolf
Second Radio  ARM2c William R. Schroer, 6634355 (Orland, CA)
Ordnanceman  AOM2c William J. Roach
Observer  Captain Keith E. Daugherty (USAAF, 5th AF, 345th BG, 500th BS)

This Cataliana flew to the Kavieng area without any fighter escort for the entire mission and returned to the area where the crew was spotted and circled at low altitude before the co-pilot spotted the men in a life raft and sucessfully landed nearby at 11:30am and kept the engines running.

Meanwhile, the five air crew: Hochella, Bright, Stephens, Lambert and Kella swam out in their single life raft with three wounded and were thrown a line from the Catalina. While attempting to grab the line, Bright fell overboard and was exhausted and unable to swim to them. Aboard, Schroer jumped overboard and swam to help him until the flying boat could circle around to retrieve them. By 12:10pm the rescue was completed and the Catalina successfully took off and returned to base. Aboard, Lambert was administered morphine due to his broken leg.

After landing at Finschhafen, the crew were treated by U. S. Navy doctor Lt. Mark Dodge then placed aboard U. S. Army ambulances and transported to the hospital.

Afterwards, Simonelli earned the Navy Cross. Schroer earned the Silver Star.

Simonelli retired from the U. S. Navy (USN) with the rank of Commander. He passed away February 10, 1996 and was buried at Shepherd Mausoleum in Rosewood Memorial Park.

Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBY-5 Catalina 08491

NARA "VP-34 War Diary February 1944" page 6
(Page 6) "2-17-44 Lieut Simonelli, in command of Patrol Squadron 34 PBY-5 aircraft, Bu. No. 08492, departed Langemak Bay, New Guinea at about 0815 L to pick up the crew of a B-25 which had been forced down by enemy gunfire during the strike on Kavieng, New Ireland, on the 15th of February. Fighter escort accompanied him to a position approximately thirty miles from Kavieng, where they were forced to leave him and return to base because of low fuel supply. No relief escort was provided but Lieut. Simonelli proceeded on his mission fully aware of the dangers he might encounter and the inadequate defenses of his own aircraft, and arrived in the straits between New Ireland and New Hanover. Captain K. E. Daugherty, USAAF [345th BG], who was embarked to help locate the position of the grounded air crew, indicated an island in the group located about ten miles southwest of Kavieng. Lieutenant Simonelli proceeded there, and while circling the island at low altitude his co-pilot observed a life raft upon the beach among some trees with several men near it. Upon sighting the Catalina they manned their raft and rowed out into deeper water. Lieut. Simonelli circled to observed the alighting area and then landed his plane hear the life raft at about 1130 L. He kept his engines idling to permit an expeditious take-off, and a line was thrown from the wing tip to the raft. In attempting to retrieve this line, Lieutenant Bright [2nd Lt. William H. Bright - co-pilot] USAAF, one of the men on the raft, fell overboard and was being left behind the plane. He was in an exhausted condition from the injuries he had received during the crash landing and was unable to assist himself. Schroer, aviation radioman second class, of the Catalina, jumped in immediately and swam to his assistance, keeping him afloat until the plane had picked up the other personnel and was able to circle to their position. At about 1210 L the rescue of two officers and three [enlisted] men was completed and the plane took off and returned to base, arriving at 1400 L. Fighter escort was repeatedly requested but none was provided and the entire flight in broad daylight past enemy-held territory was made without any air cover. On the return flight first air was administered and morphine given to the more seriously injured men, some of whom had broken legs and severe lacerations and bruises. Weather during the entire flight was bright and clear with visibility over thirty miles."
NARA "USS San Pablo - War Diary February 1944"
(Page ?) "17 February 1944 - 0815 PBY-5 airplane Bu. No. 08492 took off to rescue B-25 Army bomber crew which had crashed in the water on 15 February, in position 10 miles southwest of Kavieng, near Baudissin Island, New Ireland. Captain K.E. Doughtery, USAAF, accompanied the crew of the rescue PBY having seen the men on the beach at Baudissin Island the day before. 1412 PBY-5 airplane Bu. No. 08492 landed in Langemak Bay, having rescued 5 officers and men of the U.S. Army Air Corps (500th Bombardment Squadron, Dobodura, New Guinea) from Baudissin Island, New Guinea. The Army personnel were taken ashore after having received emergency medical attention from Lt. Mark Dodge (MC), USN, and placed in U.S. Army ambulances.
Award of the Silver Star ARM2c William R. Schroer (663 43 55) V6 USNR Route 3 Box 181 Orland, California
"For distinguishing himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action. On 17 February 1944, a PBY-5 aircraft of which Schroer was a crew member, proceeded with air-cover to a position close to the enemy stronghold of Kavieng, New Ireland, to recover the crew of a B-25 aircraft which had been forced down in that area during a strike two days previously. While the personnel were being recovered from a rubber boat, one officer fell overboard and was being left behind, and because of his condition weakened by physical injury could not assist himself to the plane. With disregard for his own safety and upon his own initiative Schroer immediately dove into the water and swam to the officer's assistance. His exceptionally gallant and intrepid act undoubtedly saved the officer from drowning and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Navy of the United States."
Warpath Across The Pacific page 133 (February 17, 1944 rescue)
FindAGrave - Ronald P Solie (grave photo)
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis.

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Last Updated
February 18, 2019


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