Captain Lt(jg) Robert J. Williams, USNR (WIA , survived) Keyport, NJ
Crew GM2C Henry Paul O’Connell, USNR (WIA, survived) North Dighton, MA
Crew CM2C Forrest May, USNR (WIA, survived)
Crew S1C Raymond Theodore Juneau, USNR 6429223 (KIA, BR) NH
Coxwain Coxwain John Harry Dunner, USNR 6519413 (MIA , drowned) PA
Second Officer Lt(jg) Eugene G. Clayton, USNR
Third Officer Ensign Franklin L. Couch, Jr., USNR
Crew Q3C James D. Sizemore, USNR
Crew R2C Dean K. Whitmore, USNR
Torpedoman Robert Carpenter, USNR
Crew MMM3C Joseph A. Cubera, USNR
Crew S1C Bernard J. McGee, USNR
Crew TM2C Raymond A. Sequin, USNR
Crew S2C Robert J. Valentine, USNR
Gunner MMM3C William B. Larson, USNR
Sunk April 29, 1944 by friendly fire
Built by Electric Boat Co. (Elco) in Bayonne, NJ. Assigned to Squadron 25 (MTB-25). Assigned to captain Lt(jg) Robert J. Williams. Nicknamed "Zombie".
During the night of April 28-29, 1944 PT-347 and PT-350 participated in a night patrol off the northern coast of New Britain. After sunrise, both were three miles from the line of demarcation, still inside enemy territory.
This PT Boat became grounded on a coral reef near Cape Lambert. PT-350 came to her aid and made repeated attempts to get the stranded PT Boat off the reef.
On April 29, 1944 at 7:05am two F4U Corsairs from VMF-215 led by Major James K. Dill
spotted the boats in enemy territory, behind the demarcation line. Both climbed to 6000' and dived towards the boats. Major Dill in command later stated: "there was no recognition signals of any kind." From two miles away, both started strafing and then circled once. The two boats tried unsuccessfully to contact the unidentified planes using daytime frequency. PT-347 blinked "S" and "V" with searchlight during the whole attack. Both had a US Star painted on roof and were flying the American flag. Crews waved their arms frantically. When the strafing started, Captain Williams ordered his boat to return fire and PT-347's gunners shot down F4U Corsair 13307 piloted by 1st Lt. Edward B. Cochran (MIA). No one aboard PT-347 was hurt during the initial attack, but PT-350 suffered three dead and three wounded and departed the area.
The other aircraft F4U piloted by Dill returned to Green Island Airfield and reported the vessels as two enemy gunboats and ordered another attack against them.
Meanwhile, PT-346 was dispatched to assist PT-347 still stuck on the coral reef. Back at Green Island Airfield a force including eight SBD Dauntless dive bombers, six TBF Avengers and four F6F Hellcats from VF-34 made up the second strike force led by Lt. Knite with three F4U Corsiars from VMF-215 led by Dill circled above, and when the bombing was over, searched for 1st Lt. Edward B. Cochran downed that morning.
At 2:00pm, PT-347 sighted planes northeast at about ten miles, and notified PT-346's captain Lt. Thompson who replied "Those must be our air cover, so lets resume efforts to get the boat off the reef." PT-346 made several unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the planes. Two planes coming in on an apparent run, General Quarters was called. The planes began firing at the beginning of the run. Then, PT-347 fired several rounds at the attacking planes, trying to radio them. Captain Williams recalled: "Lt. Thompson and I unraveled a ten foot American flag that was held up on the day room, but they made their runs and fired just the same." The PT Boats returned fire, shooting down F6F Hellcat 09012 piloted by Knight.
Lt. Williams then orders all hands into the water. Juneau refused to abandon ship and was killed. Dunner drowned and his body was not recovered.
Wilbur Larson still firing his 20mm was the last off, and noticed Forrest May standing on the reef shouting at Wilbur that he couldn't swim, and that he had been shot in the hand. After going over the side, Seaman Larson then took off his web belt and wrapped it around Forrest's wrist and hand to hold on his severed thumb. Holding onto him and swimming during the whole attack, and pulling Forrest under water with him during the strafing. (Williams recommend that Larson be decorated for this. He would later receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery (Read Citation).
The ship was bombed for 3 minutes and a direct hit on PT-347 that blew her apart. PT-346 was also burning furiously. Then, the Corsairs began strafing the men in the water for approximately 45 minutes, causing many of the casualties. From the water, they could see the pilot's faces as they flew low. The attack ended at about 3:30pm. Two were KIA, three WIA aboard PT-347.
At about 4:50 a PBY was sighted with fighter cover heading in their direction. The fighters showed up flying wagging their wings. The Catalina flew over and dropped an inflated life raft. The survivors clung to the bow of PT-347 and the raft which they tied up to a reef marker. On April 30, 1944 in the early morning, PT-351 and PT-355 picked up the survivors and transported them to USS Hilo (AGP-2). Out of the three boats involved (PT-350, PT-347, PT-346) 24 were KIA or MIA. 25 were WIA.
Due to the rivalry between the commands of General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz and when MacArthur leaked a small mention of the incident to the American press, Nimitz decided no Marine pilot would be prosecuted or penalized due to the accident.
Afterwards, Captain Dill retired as a Colonel. About a year after the incident, Captain Lt(jg) Williams was retired from the Navy at the age of 26, about a for being 50% mentally disabled by post traumatic syndrome. Gunner Wilbur B. Larson Navy and Marine Corps Medal Citation for heroic conduct on April 29, 1944
During March 1999, Peter Leggett was asked to find the wreckage of the PT Boats, and located the wreckage
of PT-347, and found it three miles from Cape
Lambert. Not much of the boat remains. The hulls of PT boats were wooden,
and since have rotted away on the reef. The engines, guns and mounts
and other bits of metal fixtures remain where the war left them.
Juneau is buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot D, row 8, grave 148. Dunner was not recovered and is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Dan Williams (son of Captain Robert Williams)
"I have PT-347's flag with battle damage. It sat in my father's closet for almost 50 years. After he passed away I had it, his hat band and few pictures of his crew mounted and framed. One of the sailors from my father's boat swam to the smoldering hull and cut the flag off, then gave it to the Skipper while they were spending the night in a raft."
Nathan Couch, Jr. (nephew of Ensign Franklin L. Couch)
"I am the nephew of Ensign Franklin L. Couch USNR and just had to tell you thanks for writing down the history of this event. I cannot imagine what the crewmen felt during that time. The frustration and terror at being attacked by your own side. I have not talked with Uncle Frank about this event, and likely will not since I am sure it holds some serious memories for him. I am thankful that he survived this adventure, wounds and all." Seeing as he is in his 80’s now I do not wish to cause him to relive those hours. I am simply thankful that he is alive [Couch passed away on 9/11/11.]"
Herb O'Connell (brother of Henry Paul O'Connell)
"Henry was called "Harry" by family members and friends, "Okie" by athletic team members and "Hank" by PT Boat crew members. Harry was reluctant to talk about the tragic incident of April 29, 1944. But the story that we did get out of Harry closely resembled this official report. Harry enjoyed survivor's leave after the incident, and then returned to his PT Squadron in the South Pacific until the end of the War. Harry died suddenly on March 19, 1989 at age 67.
At Close Quarters PT Boats in the United States Navy pages 231, 233, 472, 488
NavSource - PT-347
Enemy in the Mirror by Jo Frkovich with Daniel and Thomas Williams
Tragedy at Sea - The Untold Story of PT-347, PT350 & PT 346 by Dan Williams
Thanks to Dan Williams, Nathan Couch, Jr. and Herb O'Connell for additional information
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
December 27, 2018