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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218228
Last updated: 28 April 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: 17684
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Piva airfield, Bougainville -   Papua New Guinea
Phase: Landing
Departure airport:Piva
Destination airport:Piva
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.

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. The F4U-1 Buno 17668 of Lt Shelton R Beacham was so badly damaged by fire from a Zero that he was forced to make a water landing off Cape Torokina. He broke his nose, was picked up by a crash boast and hospitalized. The F4U-1 Buno 17684 of Lt.(jg) Ira C Kopford and Buno 17686 of Ens Wilbert P Popp were also damaged by Zeroes and both pilots ground looped on landing at base. Both pilots were uninjured but the planes were destroyed.


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 09:11 Laurent Rizzotti Added

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