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Fate of TBF Avenger 25327
by Phil White

What actually happened? Who can say? Anyway, I appreciate your perspective on this, as you obviously have a much better background than I. I’m still trying to “crunch” the numbers I’m getting from different sources to come up with something that makes sense, and I’m wondering how you arrived with the number of 6 MIA’s lost on that mission. There were, according to other sources, several planes shot down in Simpson Harbor that night, one plane from the first wave of eight, two from the second, and from the third group of eight, it is less clear. Captain John Foster says “only three planes escaped.” The data I have from military records state that six planes did not return to base, which would suggest only two escaped: Captain Bartholf’s and Lt. Cornelius’ planes were observed by others to be shot down inside the harbor; “The planes piloted by Lieutenants Boyden, Sherman, Fowler, and Hathway (also) failed to return to base.” The report in my possession also states that the remains of Lt. Cornelius and Lt. Sherman were found buried among the unknowns recovered from Prisoner of War cemeteries in the Tunnel Road vicinity of Rabaul. An additional identified person’s remains, those of PFC Duane St. Germain, were also found, suggesting to the report’s author that “perhaps more of the personnel in the above flight may have reached shore safely and have been buried among the unknown recovered from Prisoner of War cemeteries in the Rabaul area.” Apparently PFC Germain was not among the crews of Lt’s Cornelius or Sherman.

At any rate, the discrepancy between Cpt. Foster’s account (that three planes escaped) and the account I received from military records, that six planes did not return (including two known shot down), is that one plane escaped from the harbor but did not return to base. Am I correct in that deduction? This would suggest that actually five were shot down, two returned to base, and one plane “escaped” from the harbor but did not return to base. This would correlate with a separate report 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. Perhaps the plain was attacked by Japanese fighters and shot down, or whatever.

At any rate, trying to tie up the lose ends, so to speak, to which six MIA’s does your reference on the Torokina page refer? I’m sorry about putting you “on the spot” like this, but I’m curious as to how you reached the number “six.” Actually, there were, according to the reports I have in my possession, four planes in addition to the two known shot down which did not make it back to base. That would make 12 MIA’s (not counting the two planes known shot down). This would mean that possibly five planes were shot down in the harbor, three got away, but that one of them did not make it back. So don’t see how you arrived at the number “six.” Do you see my dilemma? I hope you can help me to understand this better, as I seem to be hopelessly confused.

Thank you so much for any assistance you can give me with this “riddle.” Is there any specific information, for instance, as to how many TBF’s were actually shot down that day inside the harbor? I’m very curious about these details and welcome any information anyone can send me.

By the way, I am attaching a photo you requested of my Uncle, Cecil Marvin White, who turned 21 years of age on February 13, 1944, which was the actual date of his death, here in the US (it was already February 14th in New Britain, where he was lost.) He was the gunner on Lt. Fowler’s TBF Avenger in the VMTB 233 unit. He was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 153 pounds, with blue eyes and medium brown hair. He was my father’s only sibling, and his loss was something rarely spoken of by our family over the past 61 years, but it affected us all tremendously. His parents passed away in 1991, but only now, after my father’s death in April of this year, am I able to pursue the details of his brother’s death in earnest. I remember, as a grammar school child, putting together plastic models of my Uncles’ Avenger, and I still have one on my bookshelf. I appreciate any assistance you or others can give me in obtaining the information I seek.

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