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  TBF-1C Avenger Bureau Number 25327 Plane Number 115
1st MAW

Pilot  1st Lt. James L. Fowler, O-023232 USMCR (MIA / KIA) Santa Barbara, CA
Gunner Pvt Cecil Marvin White, 818218 USMCR (MIA / KIA) Culdesac, ID
Radio  Pfc John Joseph Pudil, 813818 USMCR (MIA / KIA) St. Paul, MN

MIA  February 14, 1944

Aircraft History
Built under license by Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors Corporation as a model G-40. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as TBF-1C Avenger Bureau Number 25327. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific.

Wartime History
Delivered to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to 1st Marine Air Wing (1st MAW), Marine Air Group 11 (MAG-11) to squadron VMTB-233 "Bulldogs/Rainbow". Squadron number (Plane Number) 115. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On February 14, 1944 three groups of Avengers took off from Piva Uncle Airfield on Bougainville at 1:30am piloted by 1st Lt. James L. Fowler on a mission to to drop aerial mines into the northern half of Simpson Harbor near Rabaul. Each Avenger was armed with one Mark 12-1 aerial mine per plane.

This aircraft took off as one of eight Avengers in "Group C", the last to take off and last over the target. The formation also included "Group A" with nine Avengers plus "Group B" with eight Avengers.

Over the target, each aircraft attacked from less than 600' altitude, flying at a slow speed speed of less than 180 knots. During the attack, the Avengers were targeted by searchlights and intense anti-aircraft fire. One plane was lost from "Group A" (attacking east to west), two planes, including this aircraft were lost from "Group B" (attacking west to east) and three were lost from "Group C" (attacking east to west).

When this Avenger failed to return from the mission, the crew was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). A total of six Avengers went down that day, including this aircraft plus TBF 06311 (MIA), TBF 24264 (MIA), TBF 24340 (MIA), TBF 24340 (POW/MIA), TBF 25316 (MIA).

The entire crew was officially declared dead on February 15, 1945. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. White also has a memorial marker at Lewis-Clark Memorial Gardens in Lewiston, ID at plot Good Shepherd. Pudil also has a memorial marker at Fort Snelling National Cemetery at section MB, site.

Phil White (nephew of White):
"A separate report states that Lt. Fowler was heard requesting his bearings over the radio after the attack had ended. Perhaps it was Lt. Fowler’s plane which escaped from the harbor, perhaps damaged and unable to ascertain which direction to fly back to Bougainville and did not return." [ Read complete comments ]

Jim Chase (nephew of Fowler):
"Lt. Fowler received the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously for his action from Jan 26th to Feb 14th 1944. Also, a road in Santa Barbara was named after him. Santa Barbara pilots lost in WWII received the honor of streets named after them, most were in remote locations at the time. Ironically, the road named after Lt. James L. Fowler became the address of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, 500 Fowler Road."

NARA "War Diary VMTB-233 1 February 1944 Through 29 February 1944" pages 53, 80-82
(Page 53) " 14 February 1944
1. Orders Received.
Mining operations in north half of Simpson Harbor. Diversion support will be provided by PV-1 aircraft on Vunakanau Airfield. Mines will be laid from the east to west.
2. Operations.
Three groups of planes each took off from Piva U strip at one hour intervals starting at 0030 carrying one Mk. 12-1 mine per plane. Group A and C made attack from East to West, retiring down St. Georges Channel. Group B made attack from West to East and retired across Talili Bay and neck of Crater Peninsula. All mines had to be dropped from less than 600' at a speed of less than 180 knots. One plane failed to catch up and returned to Piva U strip.
3. Special Action Report.
The planes were picked up by searchlights followed by intense AA fire throughout the attack. One plane was lost from the 1st. division, two from the second division and three from the last division ["Group C"]. As a result 16 miles were accounted for as dropped, one hung, six were unaccounted for and two were not dropped.
Lt. Bartholf and Cornelius and crews were believed shot down in flames. Lts. Boyden, Sherman, Fowler and Hathway failed to return."
(Page 80-81) COMAIRSOLS Strike Command TBF Intelligence Struck 14, February, 1944
(Page 82) "Plane No. 115, Pilot Fowler, Passengers Pudil, White (did not return)"
USMC Casualty Card - James L. Fowler
USMC Casualty Card - Cecil Marvin White
USMC Casualty Card - John Joseph Pudil
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James L. Fowler
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Cecil Marvin White
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John Joseph Pudil
FindAGrave - 1LT James L Fowler (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Pvt Cecil Marvin White (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Cecil Marvin White (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - PFC John Joseph Pudil (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - PFC John J Pudil (memorial marker photo)
Target Rabaul pages 311-312
Thanks to Phil White and Jim Chase for additional information

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Last Updated
February 14, 2019


Tech Info

3 Missing

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