CG visits bomber restoration at Pacific Aviation Museum

| February 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
Photo by Angela E. Kershner, U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks visits the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island to view the B-17 restoration underway. After receiving heavy fire during a strike on the Imperial Japanese Navy base on New Britain, the Army Air Forces bomber was forced to make an emergency landing on its way to Port Moresby, New Guinea. Pilot Capt. Frederick C. Eaton aimed for an open green field and set her down in what turned out to be the Agaiambo Swamp in five feet of water. There the "Swamp Ghost" sat until 2006 when efforts began to return her to U.S. soil. The Swamp Ghost arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum on April 10, 2013, and preservation efforts are ongoing.

Photo by Angela E. Kershner, U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs
Gen. Vincent K. Brooks looks into the fuselage of the Swamp Ghost at the Pacific Aviation Museum, Ford Island.

Angela E. Kershner
U.S. Army-Pacific

PEARL HARBOR — The wreckage of a Boeing B-17E heavy bomber recovered from the swamps of Papua, New Guinea, was visited at the Pacific Aviation Museum, Feb. 11, by Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander, U.S. Army-Pacific.

Museum director Kenneth DeHoff and docent Eric Pradel led Brooks through the wreckage as they recounted the history of the plane, its crew and the long journey to the museum.

“This B-17 sat in the swamps of Papua New Guinea for 60 years before making its way back to Hawaii where it started in December 1941,” said DeHoff. “Walking the general through the interior of the aircraft brought to life what it was like to be a World War II Army aviator.”

Following the Japanese invasion of Rabaul on New Britain, the 41-2446 was ordered to the 19th Bombing Group at Garbutt Field, Townsville, in Queensland, Australia. On Feb. 22, 1942, five B-17Es took flight on a raid targeting Japanese shipping in Rabaul’s Simpson Harbor.

The bomber, serial number 41-2446, was delivered to the Army the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It suffered heavy anti-aircraft fire during two runs over its target, including a flak round that punched a hole through the starboard wing (and did not detonate).

Despite the damage, the crew was uninjured. The flight headed to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where the B-17Es were directed to refuel before returning to Australia.

Without enough fuel to reach Port Moresby, Capt. Eaton was forced to make an emergency landing in what he believed to be a large wheat field. Instead, the 41-2446 was bogged down in five feet of water in the middle of Agaiambo Swamp.

After receiving heavy fire during a strike on the Imperial Japanese Navy base on New Britain, the Army Air Forces bomber was forced to make an emergency landing on its way to Port Moresby, New Guinea. Pilot Capt. Frederick C. Eaton aimed for an open green field and set her down in what turned out to be the Agaiambo Swamp in five feet of water. There the "Swamp Ghost" sat until 2006 when efforts began to return her to U.S. soil. The Swamp Ghost arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum on April 10, 2013, and preservation efforts are ongoing.

After receiving heavy fire during a strike on the Imperial Japanese Navy base on New Britain, the Army Air Forces bomber was forced to make an emergency landing on its way to Port Moresby, New Guinea. Pilot Capt. Frederick C. Eaton aimed for an open green field and set her down. Instead of a field, Eaton landed in five feet of water in what turned out to be the Agaiambo Swamp . There the Swamp Ghost sat until 2006, when efforts began to return her to U.S. soil. The B-17  arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum on April 10, 2013, and preservation efforts are ongoing.

Several days later, the crew was led by a local Papuan to his village where they stayed until being picked up by the Australian Resident Magistrate, 36 days after their initial takeoff. The crew was transported to Australia where they were treated for malaria for three months before they all returned to active status.

“Having visited Townsville where this flight originated, and having very recently visited Papua New Guinea where this mission terminated, it was fascinating to me to see the B-17 in such good condition,” said Brooks. “That speaks volumes to the skill of those Army airmen who flew the mission and successfully crash landed it after taking numerous bullet holes, pierced fuel tanks, broken windows in the cockpit … (and) the courage of the crew to hold their stations all the way through.”

Number 41-2446 was all but forgotten until 1972, when it was spotted by Australian soldiers on a training exercise, earning the nickname “Swamp Ghost.” Efforts to recover it began in 2006, and despite the exposure to water for almost 70 years, the aircraft is remarkably intact. A close look reveals 121 bullet and shrapnel strikes from ground fire and the dozens of Japanese fighters that contributed to her demise.

After years of legal issues, the aircraft was transported to California, where it was displayed in various locations until the Pacific Aviation Museum entered into negotiations to obtain the wreckage. It arrived back in Honolulu on April 2, 2013, and is currently undergoing preservation and restoration at the museum.

“What a fitting final resting place for this Army Air Corps B-17, on Ford Island, where Army aviation in the Pacific began in 1917,” said Brooks.

Some of the original oil still slowly seeps from one of the engines.

Photo by Angela E. Kershner, U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks visits the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island to view the B-17 restoration underway. After receiving heavy fire during a strike on the Imperial Japanese Navy base on New Britain, the Army Air Forces bomber was forced to make an emergency landing on its way to Port Moresby, New Guinea. Pilot Capt. Frederick C. Eaton aimed for an open green field and set her down in what turned out to be the Agaiambo Swamp in five feet of water. There the "Swamp Ghost" sat until 2006 when efforts began to return her to U.S. soil. The Swamp Ghost arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum on April 10, 2013, and preservation efforts are ongoing.

“This aircraft … is a historic artifact preserved in the museum, so all can see it and experience the story it tells,” said DeHoff. “Today’s Army, with leaders like Gen. Brooks taking time to honor those who sacrificed so much in another war, is a better Army because we remember the past.”

During his time in command, Brooks’ engagements in the region have taken him to many countries. Among them are the Philippines, China, Australia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Attu (Alaska), Wake Island, Guam, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia – places where the Army has earned campaign streamers over the last 117 years of continuous presence in the Asia-Pacific region and where our presence and relationships are still important today.

In January, Brooks visited the Philippines, American Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, all of which played an integral role in the Army’s involvement in World War II. Brooks visited war memorials, battlegrounds and local cemeteries between meetings with senior political and military leaders.

Prior to his visit to Papua New Guinea, Brooks toured the battlefield where the 25th Infantry Division and Americal Division landed and seized ridge upon ridge at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Ultimately, a joint team that included 2nd Marine Division formed under an Army Corps to expel the Japanese ground forces – the first ground victory, which began the rolling back of the Japanese empire.

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Army Air Corps B-17E support to Australian ground troops during the war was pivotal in the defense of Australia and in the island campaign through several islands in Southeast Asia. Papua New Guinea is less than 100 miles from Australia, and control of the airfields on the south side of the island would have enabled the Japanese to directly bomb the allied sanctuary.

Under the leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Brisbane, Australia, the Allies ultimately prevailed on the ground while the Army Air Corps bombed Japanese ships, ports, airfields, supplies and ground forces.

Brooks and the Australian senior defense official in Papua New Guinea visited the Bomana Commonwealth Cemetery, Papua New Guinea, Jan. 13, to lay a wreath in memory of the Soldiers interned there during World War II. The Allies suffered 8,500 casualties in the campaign.

The U.S. Army’s long, shared history with Papua New Guinea continues today. USARPAC support to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force ranges from medical capabilities, engineering and civil affairs. USARPAC’s annual Oceania Disaster Relief Exercise and Exchange was held in Papua New Guinea last May to improve disaster readiness in the wake of major natural disasters.

Brooks also met with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill during his visit to discuss the strengthening relationship between the two nation’s armies and preparations for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leader’s summit, which will be held in Port Moresby in 2018.

 

Flight of the Swamp Ghost

Members of the B-17 flight crew follow:

  • Tech. Sgt. Russell Crawford, waist gunner;
  • Capt. Fred Eaton;
  • Staff Sgt. John V. Hall, tail gunner;
  • Capt. Henry M. “Hotfoot” Harlow, co-pilot;
  • Tech. Sgt. Clarence A. LeMieux, flight engineer;
  • 1st Lt. George B. Munroe Jr., navigator;
  • Sgt. Richard Oliver, bombardier;
  • Sgt. William E. Schwartz, waist gunner; and
  • Sgt. Howard A. Sorensen, radio operator/gunner;

The crew arrived at Wheeler Army Airfield, Dec. 17, 1941.

For more information on the Swamp Ghost’s history, recovery and restoration, visit www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/boeing-b-17e-flying-fortress-swamp-ghost2.

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