|Pilot 1st Lt. Hugh L. Cornelius, 014783 (POW, died April 29, 1944, BR) Aztec, NM
Radio Pfc Edwin D. St Germain, 498645 (POW, died February 15, 1944, BR) Elgin, IL
Gunner SSgt Edward M. Slipkas, 323548 (POW, died April 29, 1944, BNR) Lawrence, MA
MIA February 14, 1944
Built by Grumman in Bethpage, New York as a model G-40. Constructors Number 4838. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 47506. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific.
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) 10. No known nickname or nose art.
On February 14, 1944 three groups of Avengers took off from Piva Uncle Airfield on Bougainville at 1:30am piloted by 1st Lt. Hugh L. Cornelius 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 B", the second to take off and second over the target. The formation also included "Group A" with nine Avengers plus "Group C" with eleven Avengers (two aborted the mission).
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 25327 (MIA), TBF
It is believed this Avenger crashed into Simpson
Fate of the crew
St. Germain likely died in the crash and was not taken prisoner. At least two of the crew: Cornelius and Slipkas were captured by the Japanese and became Prisoners Of War (POW) and were detained at the Tunnel
Hill POW Camp near Rabaul.
Cornelius died of malaria April 29, 1944 and was buried in the vicinity of Tunnel
Hill Road. Slipkas was reported as a POW as of April 12, 1944, but died in captivity and was buried in the vicinity of Tunnel
Phil White adds:
"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 three from the third group of eight. Captain Bartholf [TBF Avenger 06311]
and Lt. Cornelius [this aircraft] 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
Hill 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 POW cemeteries in the Rabaul area.” This
would suggest that actually five were shot down and one plane “escaped” from
the harbor but did not return to base."
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) located and recovered the remains of Cornelius and St. Germain's
Hill Road and recovered. Both were transported to the USAF Cemetery Finschafen No. 2 (Finschaffen Cemetery) and buried at grave 0006 and 0030. Later, they were exhumed and transported to the United States and Manila for permanent internment. Slipkas' remains were never recovered.
Cornelius was officially declared dead on April 29, 1944. He is buried at Glen Abbey Memorial Park in Bonita, CA.
St Germain was officially declared dead on February 15, 1945. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart with Gold Star, posthumously. He is buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot D row 8 grave 254.
Slipkas was officially declared dead on April 12, 1944. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart with Gold Star, posthumously. He remains Missing In Action (MIA) and is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Fold3 NARA USMC 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.
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. 10, Pilot Cornelius, Passengers St. Germain, Slipkas (did not return)"
USMC Casualty Card - Hugh L. Cornelius
USMC Casualty Card - Edwin D. St Germain
USMC Casualty Card - Edward M. Slipkas
NARA "World War II Prisoners of War Data File" Slipkas Edward M report date April 12, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoners of War Data File" Cornelius Hugh L report date April 29, 1944
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Edwin D. St Germain
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Edward M. Slipkas
FindAGrave - Capt Hugh Lonea Cornelius (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - SSgt Edward M Slipkas (tablets of the missing)
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1944 list TBF-1 47506 piloted by Cornelius
Navy Serial Number Search Results TBF-1 Avenger 47506
Target Rabaul pages 311-312
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May 22, 2017