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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 77779
Last updated: 28 July 2020
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Type:Silhouette image of generic CORS model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Vought F4U-1A Corsair
Owner/operator:VF-17, US Navy
Registration: 18070
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Piva Uncle, Bougainville -   Papua New Guinea
Phase: Landing
Departure airport:Piva Yoke
Destination airport:Piva Uncle
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.

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.

In the afternoon 15 pilots of VF-17 escorted the TBFs. They reported that between 20 and 30 Zekes intercepted at 1640 hrs (Allied time). Lt-Cdr J Thomas Blackburn claimed two Zekes destroyed and three probables, Lt.(jg) Ira C Kepford claimed one Tony and one Zeke shot down, Lt. Merl W Davenport claimed two Zekes destroyed, Lt Oscar I Chenoweth claimed two Zekes and a third shared with Ens James C Dixon and Lt.(jg) Mills Schanuel claimed one Zeke destroyed.

But it was not an one-side affair and Lt.(jg) Thomas F Kropf did not return and was presumed to have been shot down in his F4U-1 Buno 17666. He was never seen again alive and was declared dead on 14 January 1946. Three other Corsairs of VF-17 were heavily damaged by Japanese fighters and lost in ditchings or forced landing on return.

Two Corsairs from VF-17 were unable to join the landing pattern at their base and diverted to the bomber strip, Piva Uncle. Because of the confusion in the traffic circle, four planes of VMF-211 landed at the Torokina air strip, three landed at the bomber strip, and two went to Piva Yoke. On the final approach to the runway (depending of sources, of Piva Uncle or Piva Yoke), the F4U-1 Buno 18070 flown by Lt.(jg) Douglas Hugo Gutenkunst of VF-17 collided with the FG-1 Buno 13215 from VMF-211 being flown by Maj. Robert Lee Hopkins. According to one source Hopkins had been seriously wounded and was making a straight in approach. Both Corsairs were destroyed in the resulting crash and both pilots died.

Hopkins, born on 13 March 1917, had started to flow missions over Rabaul on 3 January 1944 and claimed two Zeke shot down and another probable.

According to the U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms for 1928-1962, Hopkins’ remains were buried in the USAF Cemetery Finschhafen #4 in New Guinea, but were returned to the States and re-interred at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California on 8 February 1949 some five years later. After the war the remains of U.S. service men buried in the Finschhafen cemeteries in Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea were exhumed and either reburied in U.S. cemeteries in the Philippines or Hawaii, or returned to the states and reburied at the request of next of kin. According to the WWII Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualties for 1941-1945, Robert’s next of kin was listed as Mrs. Robert L Hopkins, of 4329 Hilldale Road, San Diego, California.

Lt. Gutenkunst’s remains were buried in a grave on Bougainville, and his remains were returned to the States on 3 June 1948 for final burial at the request of his next of kin, which would have been his widowed mother, in the Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, which was the home of Douglas and his mother when he entered the Navy. He the son of Hugh Arthur Gutenkunst of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Gertrude Agnes Douglas Gutenkunst of Montreal, Canada. The family was living in Owen Sound, Ontario when Doug was born, where his father was a manufacturer.


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:

15-Sep-2010 18:00 angels one five Added
13-Apr-2013 09:34 Uli Elch Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Operator, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Narrative]
19-Aug-2013 22:11 angels one five Updated [Operator]
29-Mar-2014 23:18 Nepa Updated [Operator]
07-Sep-2014 10:01 angels one five Updated [Narrative]
21-Nov-2018 08:44 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Source, Narrative]

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