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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218231
Last updated: 28 December 2019
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Type:Silhouette image of generic CORS model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Vought F4U-1 Corsair
Owner/operator:VMF-215 USMC
Registration: 55927
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Aircraft missing
Location:Rabaul area, New Britain -   Papua New Guinea
Phase: Combat
Departure airport:
Destination airport:
On 30 January 1944, 26 B-25s and 18 B-24S, both with large fighter cover, bombed in the morning airfields near Rabaul, respectively Lakunai and Vunakanau. Twenty or thirty Zekes were intercepted on this strike, with two being destroyed and another four reported as being probably destroyed by VF-17. On this mission one of the F4U’s was damaged by fire from a Zeke, but no bombers were lost to enemy aircraft. A pilot of VMF-217 was lost due to mechanical failure and of VMF-215 was reported missing for an unknown reason (this unit had no contact with enemy).

But the big battle of the day over Rabaul was in late afternoon. A carrier was reported in Rabaul port and a strike was hastily arranged involving all readily available torpedo-bombers and dive bombers, ie 18 TBM of VMTB-233 and 20 SBDs, escorted by 50 fighters from the two Piva airstrips and Torokina. No carrier was present but the American airmen sank the water supply ship Iwata Maru and damaged auxiliary vessel Juzan Maru. Fifty to sixty Japanese fighters were reported by the Allied airmen and 22, identified as Ki-44s, Ki-61s and A6Ms, were claimed shot down while one F4U-1 of VF-17 was shot down in the air battle and one TBF of VMTB-233 was downed by AA fire. Real Japanese losses for the day are not known, but between 26 and 31 January 1944 American pilots claimed 134 enemy fighters shot down in the area, while Japanese real losses were 36 planes missing or written off, almost a four-to-one overclaiming ratio. The Zero pilots of the 2nd Carrier Division, who were then based at Ra
baul, flew 29 sorties in the morning and 26 in the afternoon, claiming 2 Corsairs and one Avenger shot down in the latter battle. Two of them were shot down and killed, Nito Hiko Heiso (PO2c) Hideo Kishita of the Junyo in the morning and Nito Hiko Heiso (PO2c) Hirochi Arai of the Ryuho in the afternoon.

This time the planes had to return to base at 1930 hrs, which meant making a night landing. The heavy concentration of planes caused considerable congestion in the air around the Cape Torokina air strips. Two pilots of VF-17 and VMF-211 were killed in an air collision as they were coming in for landing. Another pilot of VF-17 ditched his Corsair off Cape Torokina and two other aircraft of the same unit were wrecked in crash-landings at Piva. All three had been damaged by Japanese fighters in the air battle.

20 Corsairs of VMF-215 took off at 0900 hrs to cover B-25s. They rendezvoused with the bombers at 1000 hrs and were over target at 1115 hrs. The target was hit in a north to south pass. The pilots of VMF-215 reported no interception by Japanese fighters and only slight anti-aircraft fire, but one of them, 2nd Lt John Joseph Fitzgerald, a former cabdriver from New York City, did not return with his F4U-1 Buno 55927. All other planes returned by 1240 hrs.

Nothing more is known of why and how Fitzgerald went down, but he survived, was captured by the Japanese and brought to Rabaul, probably on 12 February. Conditions of captivity here were really bad and he died from beri-beri on 27 August 1944 according to one of the prisoners that survived until the end of the war, Capt Joe Holguin of 65th BS, 43rd BG.
Two anecdotes are known about Fitzgerald’s captivity. On 2 March 1944, during a period of heavy Allied air raids, all the Allied prisoners in Rabaul were crammed together into a narrow, unventilated cave where they had no place to lie down. Without ventilation, the temperature and humidity inside the cave quickly became unbearable, and the single wooden bucket left to the prisoners to relieve themselves was soon filled, after which no one could use it. Fitzgerald could do a mean cockney imitation. During a lull in the coughing and groaning, he chirped that they had all landed in the "fookin’ black ’ol o’ Calcutta." But no one laughed. Later, in April 1944, Fitzgerald was knocked unconscious by a Japanese interpreter called Yamaguchi, who used his fists in response to a request for a cigarette.


VF-17 War Diary, January 1944 (available online at
VMF-211 War Diary, January 1944 (available online at
VMF-215 War Diary, January 1944 (available online at
VMF-217 War Diary, January 1944 (available online at
VMTB-233 War Diary, January 1944 (available online at
"Air War Pacific: Chronology: America’s Air War Against Japan in East Asia and the Pacific, 1941 – 1945", by Eric Hammel. ISBN: 978-0-93555-326-0
"Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943 - August 1945", by Bruce Gamble. ISBN: 978-0-76034-407-1
"Samouraï sur porte-avions. Les groupes embarqués japonais et leurs porte-avions. 1922-1944", by Michel Ledet. ISBN 2-914017-32-4

Revision history:

21-Nov-2018 09:19 Laurent Rizzotti Added
21-Nov-2018 09:27 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Aircraft type]
28-Dec-2019 18:01 stehlik49 Updated [Operator, Operator]

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