|Pilot 1st Lt. Francis K. Gundlach (KIA / BR)
Radio Sgt Gerald E. Duffie (KIA, BR) Ossining, NY
Gunner Sgt Charles M. Dunham (KIA, BR) Towanda, PA
Crashed February 10, 1944
Built by General Motors, Eastern Aircraft
Division as a model G-40. Delivered to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) to Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron 143 (VMTB-143). Squadron Number 217. No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engine number 24860.
On February 10, 1944 one of twenty-four Avengers that took off from Torokina Airfield on Bougainville Island at 7:00am piloted by Lt. Kenneth F. Gundlach armed with a single 2,000 pound bomb with a 1/10 second delay fuse on a bombing and strafing mission against Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul. The Avenger formation was led by Captain H. W. Wise. Also participating in the strike were 60 SBD Dauntless dive bombers and 72 fighters including F4U Corsairs and P-40 Warhawks.
Weather inbound was clear with a few scattered showers and thunderstorms in the vicinity of Cape Saint George. The formation flew over the Warangoi River on their approach to the target from 13,000' altitude then attacking Vunakanau Airfield from northwest to southeast.
Over the target, the Avenger formation experienced began their attack from 8,000' and was met by moderate anti-aircraft and machine gun fire was experienced that damaged five Avengers, two with substantial damage. Also, between 15-20 enemy aircraft intercepted and numerous phosphorous bombs dropped in an attempt to break up the formation.
On the bomb run, this Avenger was hit by anti-aircraft fire, but managed to release its bomb on the runway and claim a hit before catching fire and crashing to the west of Toma Plantation. When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
In the late early 1950s, the wreck of an Avenger was located on the north shore of the Warangoi River on New Britain. The aircraft was positively identified as TBM Avenger Bureau Number 25303 and numerous human remains were located at the site. Also, the identity disc for pilot Kenneth Gundlach was found at the site.
Recovery of Remains
After the remains of the crew were recovered and transported to the United States permanent burial.
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. The entire crew was buried in a group burial on February 14, 1950 at Arlington National Cemetery at Section 34 Site 4755.
NARA USMC Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron 143, Marine Aircraft Group 11 War Diary - 1 February 1944 to 29 February 1944
(Page 4) "Plane #217 was lost through AA fire. It caught fire and crashed just west of Toma Plantation, New Britain. It's pilot was Lt. F. K. Gundlach, USMC. Not withstanding the AA hit, Lt. Gundlach scored a direct hit on the r/w. His radioman was Sgt. G. E. Duffie, USMCR, and his turret gunner was Sgt C. M. Dunham, USMC."
(Pages 16-17) "COMAIRSOLS Strike Command TBF Intelligence - VMTB-143 10 February 1944
Damage to Own A/C: Plane #217 lost thru A-A fire. It caught fire on dive and crashed just W. of Toma Pltn. Not withstanding this the pilot secured a confirmed direct hit on the concrete strip.
Personnel Casualties: The crew of plane #217: The pilot was Lt. F. K. Gundlach, USMCR, the radioman was Sgt. G. E. Duffie, USMCR, and the turret gunner was Sgt C. M. Dunham USMC. The plane bureau number was 25303, its engine number 24860."
Navy Serial Number Search Results - TBM-1C Avenger 25303
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1944 - TBM-1C Avenger
Research for Missing Personnel SWPA Documents (NAA: A703, 614/1/25 PART 7)
FindAGrave - 1LT Francis K. Gundlach (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Gerald Edwin Duffie (grave photo)
FindAGrave - SGT Charles Myron Dunham (grave photo)
Thanks to Daniel Leahy for additional information.
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February 4, 2018