|Pilot 1st Lt. Harold Rudolph Tuck, O-023078 (MIA / KIA) Lynchburg, VA
Gunner Pfc Paul F. Mc Cleaf, 486913 (POW, died March 5, 1944, BR)
Crashed January 14, 1944
Built by Douglas at El Segundo, California. Constructors Number 4869. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as SBD-5 Dauntless bureau number 36230. Disassembled and shipped to the South Pacific and reassembled.
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC), Marine Air Wing 2 (MAW-2), Marine Air Group 21 (MAG-21), Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 341 "Torrid Turtles" VMSB-341. Plane number 27. No known nickname or nose art.
On January 14, 1944 took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia piloted by 1st Lt. Harold Rudolph Tuck as one of thirteen SBDs from VMSB-341 on a dive bombing mission against Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul. The formation included 36 SBD Dauntless dive bombers, 18 TBF Avengers escorted by 73 fighters. This was the first full scale attack by land based light bombers against Rabaul.
Over the target,
Lakunai Airfield was closed in by weather so the bombers switched to the secondary target, Japanese shipping. The dive bombers were credited with 9 direct hits on 7 transports and a direct hit on a possible light cruiser and possible destroyer. Also, 20 near misses that likely caused damage. The formation encountered anti-aircraft fire and fighter interception.
This SBD wend down roughly 2.5 miles north of Tavui Point into Saint Georges Channel. When this aircraft failed to return, this aircraft was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
At first it was believed that Tuck had been involved in a mid-air collision. However no other plane in the flight was involved in any collision. It is possible this SBD may have been hit by one of the fuel tanks released by escorting F6F Hellcats that fell through the formation of SBDs. Also lost was SBD Dauntless 35971 (pilot MIA / gunner POW, died).
Afterwards, a PBY Catalina unsucessfully searched for the air crews lost on this mission.
Fates of the Crew
In fact, both crew either ditched or bailed out safely. The next day, both were captured by the Japanese and became Prisoners Of War (POW) and were transported to Rabaul and detained at Tunnel Hill POW Camp.
On March 3-4, 1944 Mc Cleaf was one of the Allied prisoners removed and executed at Talili Bay in a killing that later became known as the "Tunnel Hill Massacre" or "Tunnel Hill Incident" or "Talili Bay Massacre". Afterwards the remains of the victims were buried then towards the end of the Pacific War they were exhumed, cremated and placed into a single box. Postwar, the Japanese erroneously claimed that approximately forty Allied prisoners were killed during an air raid while at Talili Bay. This was a lie to cover up their murder.
On November 12, 1944 Tuck
died of malaria in while in captivity.
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, the cremated ashes the Japanese claimed were those killed at Talili Bay including Mc Cleaf were divided the ashed proportionally based on the number of victims (23 Americans and 5 Australians): 3/4 of the ashes went to the Americans and 1/4 of the ashes went to the Australians. The American ashes were transported aboard USAT Albert M. Boe as part of shipment SF-167-R to the United States.
The remains of Tuck were neer located and he remains listed as
Missing In Action (MIA).
Tuck was officially declared dead on November 12, 1944. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Mc Cleaf was officially declared dead on January 14, 1944 (this is in error, the date of the mission not the actual day of his death). On March 21, 1950 the American ashes were buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at group burial section 78 grave 980-934. Mc Cleaf also has a memorial marker at Harbaugh Church Cemetery in Rouzerville, PA.
Note gunner Mc Cleaf surname sometimes listed as "McCleaf" (one word)
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Harold R Tuck date of report January 15, 1944, died as POW
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Paul F Mc Cleaf
Navy Serial Number Search Results - SBD-5 Dauntless 36230
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List January 1944 - SBD-5 36230
NARA "Marine Scout Bombing Squadron Two Thirty Six War Diary January 1944" page 3
(Page 3) "14 January ... Shortly before Ramsey [SBD Dauntless 35971] was shot down Lt. Tuck (VMSB-341) lost his tail and spun in. At first it was believed that Tuck had been involved in a mid-air collision. However no other plane in the flight was involved in any collision so far as it is possible to determine. It is believed that Tuck may have been hit by one of the belly tanks which the F6Fs dropped through the formation of SBDs. With Tuck was his gunner, Pfc P. E. Mc Cleaf."
NARA "Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 341 War Diary January 1944" pages 4-5
(Page 4) "14 January 1944: Thirteen (13) pilots and their gunners were assigned to a strike on Lakunai Airfield, Rabaul. Because of the primary target being closed in by weather, the secondary target (shipping) was attacked with effective results. Lt. H. R. Tuck was involved in a mid-air collision and went down about 2 1/2 miles north of Tawui Point [sic Tavui Point], New Britain, in the St. George...
"...Channel. Another plane in the formation was seen to cut his plane's tail off, but the other plane was never identified [this was due to enemy action, SBD 35971]. One other plane did not return from the strike [SBD 35971]. A Dumbo made searches in the area with negative results. Lt. Tuck's plane was No. 27, BuNo. 36230 and his gunner was PFC Paul F. McCleaft, USMCR, Ser. No. 486913."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Harold Rudolph Tuck
FindAGrave - 1Lt Harold Rudolph Tuck (obituary, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - PFC Paul F McCleaf (group burial photo)
PFC Paul F. McCleaf (memorial marker photo)
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 95 (Rabaul's Military Prisoners - McCleaf), 96 (Rabaul's Military Prisoners - Tuck)
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January 26, 2019