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|Pilot 1st Lt. Lester Vernon Swenson, USMCR (MIA, rescued) Minneapolis, MN
Radio Cpl F. E. Betz (MIA, rescued)
Gunner SSgt James A. Brooks, 337509 (MIA, rescued) Seattle, WA
Ditched January 14, 1944
Over the target, at 10,000' altitude, this Avenger was hit by anti-aircraft fire twice, causing large holes in the aircraft, possibly from a 4.7" Naval gun. The damage caused the controls to become ineffective, but Swenson managed to stay with the formation and successfully bombed a ship in the harbor and strafed other targets in the area before departing eastward towards Cape Gazelle and Mioko Island in the Duke of York Islands.
Departing, three A6M3 Zeros spotted this aircraft straggling behind the formation and attacked. Rear gunner Betz fired at two of the Zeros from nearly point blank range and claimed one of them shot down, seeing pieces fly from the wings. The third Zero attacked from below and set the Avenger on fire, likely hitting the center fuel tank, causing the cockpit to fill with smoke at an attitude of 200'.
Pilot Swenson made a perfect ditching in the center of St. Georges Channel roughly ten miles off Watpi and the entire crew successfully exited the Avenger and deployed their life raft before the Avenger sank. Two of the attacking Zeros circled them and the crew hid under the raft. Neither Zero strafed.
Afterwards, the crew rowed southward for 24 before reaching the shore at Karong village near Adler Bay on New Britain and were met by friendly natives who signaled to them and hid their raft and them in a cave for five days while the Japanese searched for them. Prewar, the natives mision boys at Vunapope and trustworthy.
Next, the natives told the crew to use their raft to paddle across Wide Bay. During the night, a Japanese barge passed nearby, but did not detect them. In total, the trip took 25 hours. Reaching Lublun village, several Allied aircraft were spotted including a PBY Catalina and fighters, but the crew lacked anything to signal them.
During late January 1944 Brooks visited the crash site what he believed to be a B-24 and observed the bodies of the eleven crew members and recovered a dog tag and three pistols. This crash site proved to be B-24D Liberator 42-41210. Based on his report, the remains of the crew were recovered.
Fates of the Crew
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