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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218232
Last updated: 14 May 2020
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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-217 USMC
Registration: 55827
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Solomon Sea, west of Bougainville Island -   Papua New Guinea
Phase: En route
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 Rabaul, 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.

VMF-217 dispatched two divisions of four Corsairs each for the morning raid. They went over Vunakanau as low cover for B-24s but three pilots turned back before reaching the target area. The other encountered no enemy aircraft, but on the way back Lt Robert M Ranagan made a water landing when the engine of his F4U-1 Buno 55827 failed. Another pilot of the formation, Lt J T Scripture, reported the position of the ditching as about 30 miles off the coast of Bougainville on course and saw Ranagan get out of his plane and on the life raft.

When the other pilots returned to Piva, four took off again to search Lt Ranagan, as did a Dumbo floatplane, but they did not find it. Captain Hench, however, observed what he thought to be a dye marker. Later another two pilots of VMF-217 also searched with negative results.

Actually Ranagan had survived and returned to his squadron on 1 February, giving the following account of his experience that was recorded in VMF-217 war diary:
"While over the target of Vunakanau, Lt R.M. Ranagan’s motor cut out several times. These power failures became more frequent as the flight returned home and he could no longer maintain sufficient speed to hold his position. Finally, at a point 60 miles off shore on a bearing of 300° from Torokina, his engine stopped permanently and he was forced to make a water landing.
This maneuver was effectively executed and Lt. Hangan was not injured except for a slightly bruised wrist. He was able to extricate himself from the cockpit in approximately 30 seconds which left him ample time to climb out on the wing and inflate his life raft and his life jacket. His plane remained afloat three or four minutes and then sank nose fist. It was then 1215 hrs and he saw Lt Scripture, who had remained with him, leave the area to report the position.
Lt Ranagan did not see another lane until 1630 hrs when two F4U’s flying at an altitude of 50 to 100 feet passed almost directly over him. He relaxed, confident that he had been seen. It is interesting to note that these planes were almost certainly those flown by Capt. J.D. Hench and Lt. W.P. White (of VMF-217 too) and that they did not see the life raft or dye marker in spite of their close proximity.
Lt. Ranagan, who was by now thirsty, drank most of his water since he no longer saw any need to conserve it. He also tested his pistol by firing at two low flying birds and found it to be in good working order. His issue watch had likewise been unaffected by the landing.
By dragging his parachute in addition to the sea anchor, he was able to stay within the area of the dye marker, although this necessitated some paddling.
At 1730 an SBD with the number either 37 or 87 flew over his raft at an extremely low altitude. This time the plane circled him for an hour and then left when darkness came. Again, Lt. Ranagan was positive he had been seen.
He assumed that a crash boat was on the way to pick him up and after a while he fired two flares to mark his position. A few minutes later he was startled to see a huge hulk loom out of the darkness close by.
It was the destroyer USS Guest and he was put aboard immediately without any difficulty. The ship was enroute to Green Island to participate in a raid and aboard here were three hundred New Zealanders.
In the morning at 1100 hrs Lt Ranagan was transferred to a PT boat and brought back to the PT base on Puriata Island."

From then another PT boat brought him back to Piva the next day.

The DD-472 Guest was part of of the Task Group 31.8 that had left Vella Gulf this morning towards Green Islands. Her war diary reports that Lt Ranagan was sighted in a rubber life raft at 1925 hrs and was taken abord at 1932 hrs. The precise location of the rescue is not given, but at 2000 hrs the ship was by 5° 40’ S 154° 17’ E.


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
VMF-217 War Diary, February 1944 (available online at
USS DD-472 Guest War Diary, January 1944 (available online at

Revision history:

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

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