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  SBD-5 "Prune's Progrss" Serial Number NZ5050  
RNZAF
25 Squadron

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
1944 via Aliastar Pearce

Pilot  Pilot Officer Geoffrey Haughton Cray, 4213648 (MIA / KIA) Napier, NZ
Gunner  F/SGT Frank Desmond Bell, 413244 (MIA / KIA) Woolston, NZ

MIA  April 17, 1944


Crew Background
Geoffrey Cray was called up for territorial training in June 1940. Geoff went to Australia for five months with a special force. However when one of his brothers went to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme he became interested in the Air Force. Geoffs borther, Wireless Operator air gunner Trevor Haughton Cray was kill in action as a crew member aboard a Wellington bomber, lost during the night of July 29, 1942 over Schleswig Germany. Geoff gained his flying badge on August 30, 1943 and was commissioned as Pilot Officer on October 23. On November 1, Cray was posted to 25 Squadron, Seagrove for training as a pilot on torpedo dive bombers. Next moved with the Squadron to Espiritu Santo on February 1, 1944. After further training he went on to Guadalcanal and Piva Airfield on Bougainville, where he flew combat missions against Vunapopo, Rabaul, Lakunai Airfield, Vunakanau Airfield, Talili Bay and Buka.

Aircraft History
Built by Douglas in El Segundo, California. Constructors Number 5526. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) bureau number 36898. Disassembled and shipped across the Pacific to New Zealand.

Wartime History
On February 24, 1944 assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as Douglas Dauntless serial number NZ5050. Reassembled by 25 Servicing Unit. This aircraft was ferried from Espiritu Santo to Piva North Airfield on Bougainville. On March 24, 1944 assigned to 25 Squadron. Nicknamed "Prune's Progrss". On the right side of the cockpit was the 25 Squadron motif, a diving bird with their motto "Kia Kaha" (Māori: "Stay Strong").

Mission History
On April 17, 1944 took off from Piva Airfield on an eleven SBD strike mission against Lakunai Airfield. Over the target, the formation experienced heavy anti-aircraft fire. This bomber failed to return and both crew members were reported as Missing In Action (MIA).

Memorials
Both crew were officially declared dead the day of the mission. Both are memorialized on the Bourail Memorial on panel 5.

Relatives
Alisdair Pearce (nephew):
"My own belief that the plane that was referenced in the NZ Operations Room Log is not No.5050 after all (this new thinking is based on information sourced from a US intelligence report which came in after my NZ report was sourced. It states that a Dumbo did fly the area as stated in the Ops Room Log (25 Squadron), but unlike the NZ report, the U. S. report states that they did pick up a crew from TBF Avenger 25541 piloted by Lt Lee - which leads me to believe that the plane that went down in the water was never in fact No. 5050 to begin with). Source: U. S. COMAIRSOLS STRIKE COMMAND SBD INTELLGENCE and TBF INTELLIGENCE for Strike 17 April 1944. There is a possibility this aircraft actually crashed near Tobera Airfield in a ravine from interviews with former squadron mates."

References
25 Squadron Operations Room Log: April 17, 1944:
"SBD Operations advised that all aircraft had returned from strike with the exception of one of ours 5050. SBD operations asked AACS to signal Green Island and enquire whether 5050 had landed there. Flight control were asked whether any information had been received regarding 5050. They said that this aircraft had not landed at Green Island and that a Dumbo had searched for two hours in the vicinity of a position given to them by a Major Todd without result. An aircraft gave this position over the radio intending to make a water landing."
COMAIRSOLS STRIKE COMMAND SBD INTELLGENCE and TBF INTELLIGENCE for Strike 17 April 1944
CWGC - Geoffrey Haughton Cray
CWGC - Frank Desmond Bell
ADF Serials / NZ Serials - Douglas Dauntless NZ5050
Kiwi Aircraft Images - Douglas Dauntless NZ5050

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Last Updated
May 22, 2017

 

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