On January 5, 1943 Brigadier General Walker went Missing In Action (MIA) as an observer aboard B-17F “San Antonio Rose” 41-24458 on a bombing mission over Rabaul.
This B-17 took off at 8:48am off from 7 Mile Drome (Jackson) near Port Moresby on an unescorted daylight bombing mission against Japanese shipping at Rabaul, New Britain designated “Mission 4L” . A total of eleven were aboard, the regular crew of nine plus two observers: General Walker and Major Jack W. Bleasdale.
The formation consisted of twelve bombers including six B-17s from the 43rd Bombardment Group, 64th Bombardment Squadron plus six B-24 Liberators from the 90th Bombardment Group.
Around noon, the formation arrived over the target at an altitude of 8,500′ and bombed Japanese shipping in Blanche Bay between Rapopo and Kokopo then over flew Simpson Harbor which was crowded with vessels. The bombers experienced anti-aircrft fire and were intercepted by Japanese fighters including A6M2 Zeros plus Japanese Army Air Force Ki-43-I Oscars.
This B-17 was last seen east of Vunakanau Airfield at 5,000′ pursued “closely by four to five Zeros” [sic Oscars] with the left outboard engine temporarily smoking and never rejoined formation. When this bomber failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
For the Americans, the January 5, 1943 mission against Rabaul was an expensive mission. Two B-17s were lost and the Japanese convoy at Rabaul departed despite the air raid. Despite the bomber’s claims for damage inflicted, Japanese records confirm only one ship and a landing craft sunk by the bombing. As a result, the 5th Air Force would not attempt another daylight raid against Rabaul for more than nine months.
On January 6, 1943 Allied aircraft searched for any trace of the two B-17s lost on the mission and their crews. While searching over New Britain, B-24D 41-23773 failed to return and was also declared Missing In Action. Search aircraft did locate the other bomber lost on the January 5, 1943 mission: B-17F 41-24538 that ditched on the return flight and the entire crew was rescued later that day.
Fates of the Crew
After being hit, at least two members of the crew managed to bail out: Captain Benton H. Daniel and Major Jack W. Bleasdale. According to Allied intelligence intercepts of Japanese communications and Japanese press reports both parachuted onto land and were later captured by the Japanese Navy and became Prisoners Of War (POW). Neither survived captivity and both remain listed as Missing In Action. Likely both were executed or otherwise died as prisoners. Officially, the entire crew was declared dead on December 12, 1945. The entire crew remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
To this day, General Walker and his crew remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
January 5, 1943 by 5th Combat Camera Unit [5th CCU]
These photographs were taken by a photographer aboard one of the six B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 43rd Bombardment Group, 64th Bombardment Squadron during the inbound flight to the Rabaul area over the target area. One of the aircraft visible is B-17F “San Antonio Rose” 41-24458 with General Walker aboard as an observer. These images are the last photographs of the bomber before it went Missing In Action (MIA). The original photos are part of the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) collection. Citation: RG 342 Series FH Roll 3A31155-3A31881
“Mission To Rabaul New Britain” January 5, 1943
5th AAF Combat Camera Unit (5th CCU) NARA Identifier: 24237