Could this B-24 Liberator, found in the Philippines, be the missing RAAF Aircraft A72-191?

Snake 23451

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The remains of a B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber was found by our Philippine based Australian team, Sea Scan Survey, off Northern Palawan, in August 2018 at a depth of 56 meters.

It was originally thought to be a USAAF aircraft, but new information has recently come to light indicating that it could be the RAAF B-24, A72-191 from 200 Flight SOA (Special Operations Australia), which went missing on March 25, 1945, with eleven crew and one jumpmaster on board.

Two other Australians, who are looking for the plane on behalf of the families of the missing crew, contacted us and furnished us with these new details after reading about the find on another forum.

A72-191, captained by Squadron Leader Harold ‘Graham’ Pockley, and A72-159, captained by Flight Lieutenant F. J. Ball, both late model B-24M-10-CO aircraft, were on a highly secret mission, Semut 1, to drop commandos and supplies from Z Special Unit behind enemy lines in Central Borneo. The commandos were led by Major Tom Harrison, who became known as ‘The Barefoot Anthropologist’ for his exploits in Borneo.

In the early hours of the morning on March 25, both planes took off from McGuire Field at San Jose, Mindoro, on a third attempt to carry out the mission which had previously been abandoned on the 21st and 22nd due to bad weather.

With the mission completed, both aircraft returned to Brunei Bay before parting company in cloud for the independent return flight to Mindoro. Although there had been clouds in the valleys between the mountains on Borneo, the weather over the ocean was clear and Ball's crew landed back at McGuire at 1235 hours. Nothing, however, was heard of Pockley's crew ever again.

The last sighting of A72-191 was made by a US Navy PB4Y Liberator about eight kilometers north of Kota Kinabalu at 0915 and both aircraft had rocked wings in mutual recognition.

The following day a search was conducted by A72-159 and A72-192 as far south as Brunei Bay but there were no sightings of 191. The crew of 192 did report seeing three “long streaks of oil” in the vicinity of Balambangan Island just off Borneo's northwest coast, but I believe this oil most likely came from the Japanese oil tanker Nisshin Maru which was sunk by Submarine USS Crevalle (SS-291) on May 6, 1944 in this location.

Another search was made on the 27th without success and after the war the RAAF vigorously set about trying to establish the fate of all its missing aircrews. Despite postwar interrogations of Japanese personnel, investigation of Japanese documents and extensive searches of Borneo and nearby islands, including investigating wreckage reports from natives, nothing further was ever heard of A72-191.

There was also an unsubstantiated report that Pockley had been seen attacking an enemy ship on the return flight and that the plane may have been shot down, but the origins of this report cannot be found.
I doubt very much that he would risk a brand new aircraft on a highly secret mission, equipped only with defensive armament, on such a risky enterprise. I also doubt that by this time of the war that there would be any enemy ships to be found between Northern Borneo and Mindoro. There are no records of any Japanese ships being sunk by any means in this region during this period.

The wreck that we found is not all there, the tail section and other parts of it are missing and the wing and forward fuselage structure have hit the water hard, indicating that the plane has fallen from a height after an in flight break up, scattering wreckage over a wide area and making it difficult to get a positive identification.

I reseached USAAF and USN B-24’s that went missing in the area and came up with a couple of possibilities, but A72-191 actually looks more promising.

It’s thought that as there was no distress signal from the plane that whatever happened to it was catastrophic. The wreck has also suffered from a catastrophic event of some kind. I’ve determined that it’s a late model B-24 (J, L or M) and it lies not far from a direct flight path from northwest Borneo to McGuire Field.

I’m sure that if we can find the tail section, we’ll be able to determine if it’s this aircraft or not as these were the only B-24’s to be modified for parachute drops.

We’re planning to make the search for the tail using multi beam sonar in November once the South West Monsoon is over.




Martin 250CE upper turret.


The remains of the cockpit, the pilots control wheel is behind the large piece of debris at the bottom.
 

ngatimozart

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@Snake 23451 Welcome aboard. Are you part of the research / dive team? Certainly looks like a very interesting project. If you could find the data plate that would solve your mystery, but that would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Have you located any of the engines yet? If so would it be possible to try to find an engine serial number on one of the engines? I know that it could be difficult to impossible but maybe one avenue. IIRC some of the aircraft instruments have serial numbers and can be tracked back to individual aircraft or units. It may be possible to narrow the field down that way. A radio would be a classic example, or if you could get a serial number one of the guns.

Anyway please keep us informed and like I said this is very interesting. I have looked at Sea Scan Survey site and notice that you have found an Oscar, Sky Raider and a Savage all who have joined the submarine service.
 

Snake 23451

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@Snake 23451 Welcome aboard. Are you part of the research / dive team? Certainly looks like a very interesting project. If you could find the data plate that would solve your mystery, but that would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Have you located any of the engines yet? If so would it be possible to try to find an engine serial number on one of the engines? I know that it could be difficult to impossible but maybe one avenue. IIRC some of the aircraft instruments have serial numbers and can be tracked back to individual aircraft or units. It may be possible to narrow the field down that way. A radio would be a classic example, or if you could get a serial number one of the guns.

Anyway please keep us informed and like I said this is very interesting. I have looked at Sea Scan Survey site and notice that you have found an Oscar, Sky Raider and a Savage all who have joined the submarine service.
Yes, I'm the researcher on the team as well as a diver.
We haven't found the engines yet, numbers 2 and 3 have been torn off at the nacelles, and 1 and 4 have come off at the wing. If we can find one or more, there may be a chance of getting some details off an engine data plate. Finding either the airframe or call sign data plates would require a lot of luck but you never know, we'll have a look for them anyway. There's also a chance, although slim, of exposing the serial number on the left hand .50 cal machine gun in the turret. There's not much room but it's worth a try. I did find a couple of instruments in the cockpit rubble last time we dived it but left them there. Next time I'll bring them up and see if we can find a number.

I believe our best chance is to find the tail section, if it's relatively intact it will only take one look to say yes or no by seeing if the parachute slide and camera hatch are there.

The Sea Scan Survey site is currently being redesigned and updated and will include the B-24 and our latest find, the USS Robalo (SS-273), which we discovered off Southern Palawan last May.


Number 3 engine nacelle.

 

Snake 23451

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@ngatimozart Sea Scan Survey and our work platform, the liveaboard dive boat, Caribbean Tigress, are on Facebook.
We spent the first week of December diving on the wreck and brought up a number of items such as instruments from the cockpit and other bits and pieces, and one of the GE B-22 type turbo chargers which was lying on the bottom nearby, knowing that it would be serial numbered. We found four serial No/data plates altogether but they were all made of aluminium and badly corroded, so no joy there. The turbo being a large and heavy item was returned to the site after it was examined and photographed. We also made a small airlift (vacuum) to excavate around the cockpit area but found nothing conclusive there either.
If we did find an engine we'd still be in the dark as I'd say the data plate would also be made of aluminium.

The only thing that does stand out on the wreck is that it has an escape hatch above the Command Deck below the ADF Loop Antenna, but it's on the RHS. Most drawings I've seen, show it on the LHS.


Escape Hatch looking aft.


Escape Hatch and ADF Loop Antenna.
In the 380th Bomb Group drawings attached, it's showing the hatch on the RHS of the B-24M-CO (Consolidated, San Diego) but it's not fitted to the B-24M-FO (Ford, Willow Run) or the B-24L in the drawings.


A72-191 (Ex USAAF 44-41984) was also a B-24M-10-CO and was modified with some extra electronic equipment for the special missions so this hatch may be the key to identifying the wreck.

I've been in touch with Paul Rourke, David Miller and Graeme Hore at Werribee and they've been very helpful as they're restoring a B-24M-10-CO but it doesn't have this escape hatch.

The other two possibilities I researched are a B-24L-15-FO, 44-49860, "DADDY OF 'EM ALL" from the 380th Bomb Group which ran out of fuel returning to McGuire Field after a raid at Balikpapan on July 1, 1945 (D-Day, the Australian - British Invasion of Balikpapan). All crew bailed out safely over the Sulu Sea and were rescued by two Catalina's and a PT Boat. The other is VPB-117's PB4Y-1, 38978, (Ex USAAF 44-41567), a B-24L-10-CO that went missing on a mission to French Indo-China (Vietnam) on June 14, 1945.

I also contacted Bob Livingstone who is a WWII historian and lives outside of Brisbane.
Here's his email back to me:

Pavel Turk has got back to me with the following:

According to the Parts Catalogs the escape exit on the RIGHT side of the Command Deck was installed on the production line on the following aircraft,:

CO: s / n 44-42049 (beginning of block M-15) to s / n 44-42722 (end of block M-45)
FO: s / n 44-49752 (beginning of block L-15) to s / n 44-51928 (end of block M-30) *

* aircraft from later blocks had a window in the exit door (eg B-24M-20-FO s / n 44-51228)

Note: By Ford, as in many other cases, the specific parts were installed on the production line some number of aircraft earlier/later than stated in Parts Catalog.

In October 1943, at a meeting at Langford Lodge, the problem of how to increase the chances of the crews to survive an emergency landing on the water was solved. One of the suggested modifications was the installation of another escape exit on the Command Deck. Prototype installation designed by Lockheed Overseas Corp. was completed at Langford Lodge on B-24H-1-CF 41-29179 in early February 1944. At STA 5.3, an emergency exit of 30in x 26in was installed. The same problem at that time also addressed Scottish Aviation Ltd., Prestwick. Their 24in x 20in escape exit, also located at STA 5.3, was found to be sufficient for the purpose and installation less time consuming. Technical Instruction CTI-1689 issued by the Headquarters of Materiel Command AAF on 19 April 1944 ordered the installation of all B-24 Command Deck escape exit of the same design as the Flight Deck. As follows from the report of the headquarters of BADA (Base Air Depot Area) sent on 18 8th 1944 Commanding General 8th AF, was revised adjustment B24112. The Command Deck escape exit installation has been moved from left side between STA 5.2 and 5.3 to right side between STA 5.3 and 5.4 to match the location of the new B-24 arriving from the US (eg B-24J-1-DT s / n 42-51229 delivered to the UK in June 1944). The telegram dated December 4, 1944 and signed by General J. H. Doolittle shows that the modification kits for installing the Command Deck escape exit were manufactured both in the US and the United Kingdom, and that there were enough on that date. Prior to commissioning, Command Deck emergency exits were installed in Modification Centers in the United States.
The Parts Catalog does not indicate that the Fort Worth aircraft had an escape exit installed on Command Deck, but RAF Liberator photographs show that starting with the B-24 made in the B-24J-85-CF block (eg s / n 44 -44052 had no Escape Exit, s / n 44-44089 had) Escape exits were installed on the left side of the Command Deck (it was most likely a post-production modification).

From available photographs of RAF Liberators, it is evident that the aircraft from blocks B-24L-1-FO and B-24L-5-FO had an emergency exit installed on the left side of the Command Deck. In this case, too, it was very likely that there were post-production modification.

Summary: On the production line the Escape hatch on the RIGHT hand side of Command deck was installed as stated on the very top of this page. The rest (either left or right side) were post production modifications.

So, RAAF A72-191 was 44-41984 (M-10-CO) which means that it pre-dates the production line installation of the right side hatch, but because ‘191 was a specialized 200 Flight electronic aircraft, the installation of a right side hatch as part of the modification cannot be ruled out.

Photos of 200 Flt aircraft are rare, and despite good coverage of A72-183/NX-R MEDDLESOME MAGGIE, all photographs are taken from angles which mask the ADF loop area.

This means that the hatch is not going to be a way to identify the aircraft positively as, or not as, A72-191.

When I have time later today, I will review all the aircraft in the –CO and –FO serial ranges quoted above and see if any ‘jump out’ as possibles.

Bob.

Looking at this, the escape hatch would not have been installed on 38978 on the production line and the aircraft was most likely shot down over the mission area which is where the search for it was carried out, so this one's off the list.

38978 PB4Y-1 VPB-117
14/06/45 lost Mindoro; Lt J P Dougan
USN Card 29/08/44 ACP; 19-OCT FAW-14 20-OCT;20-OCT HDN-1 FAW-14 OCT;HDN-1 FAW-14 NOV;VPB-197 DEC;
VPB-200 JAN-to-MAR;VPB-117 APR-to-MAY;VPB-117, Stricken 31 JUL 1945,(1.1.A.) combat- enemy aircraft
gunfire


"DADDY" on the other hand would have had the right hand escape hatch fitted on the production line whereas '191 would't have, although it may have been fitted post production for the special missions, but this is starting to look unlikely.

More from Bob:

I have the RAAF aircraft cards for all A72 aircraft and digitized them years ago into my B-24 database. ‘191 is very sparse and does not suggest that it was ever held anywhere for serious modification.

And from Paul Baker:

Based on the info in the RAAF Command file re the Js, I'm sure there's prob a minute or something in Part 2 of the file about the mods.... and if there was a mod, based on the RAAF Command file it would definitely have been done States-side prior to delivery...

At the moment it's looking like the wreck is 44-49860 but I still have some doubts. The distance from McGuire to the bail out of '860 is about right, but the wreck is actually amongst a group of islands which aren't part of the Sulu Sea and not mentioned in the crew's account of the incident, but rather indicates that it went down in open water and that it hit the sea intact.

Crew member Robert C. Wason's account of the bail out.

The other factor is that there are many parts of the aircraft missing, such as the nose turret, all four engines an the tail which has come away just aft of the ADF Loop Antenna. The wreck lies at 56 meters and if it hit the water intact, I would expect to find more of it in the immediate vicinity, but to date we've found nothing. Unfortunately on the last visit we had technical problems with some of our equipment so were unable to make a thorough search further out in the surrounding area, but it's still in the planning.

There have been a number of people involved in this investigation including the two Australians that first contacted us, Paul Baker and Tony Gridley, and a considerable amount of information has been gathered to date, too much to mention here, but it seems the more we find on the wreck, the less we know about this plane.
Only finding more of it, the tail in particular, will give us an answer as to which one it is. The only other identifying feature on these aircraft is the navigators window which is different on both aircraft, but unfortunately this area has been destroyed in the crash.


44-49860's Nose Art.
 
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ngatimozart

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G'day @Snake 23451 Thanks for the very interesting post. Its great. It's a shame about the aluminium plates, but I hope that after you clean one of the plates you might be able to get some high quality images of them because sometimes details can be "lifted" from the images using advanced computerised photogrammetry & photoprocessing techniques. You should ask the guys down at Werribee if the engine data plates are aluminium; they probably are but no harm in asking. I can't think offhand who has experience with salvaging / recovering aviation wrecks found in the oceans, because they would be good people to talk too. I think there are a couple of UK organisiations who have pulled aircraft out of salt water environments who maybe able to help, but can't remember who they are.
 

Snake 23451

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G'day @Snake 23451 Thanks for the very interesting post. Its great. It's a shame about the aluminium plates, but I hope that after you clean one of the plates you might be able to get some high quality images of them because sometimes details can be "lifted" from the images using advanced computerised photogrammetry & photoprocessing techniques. You should ask the guys down at Werribee if the engine data plates are aluminium; they probably are but no harm in asking. I can't think offhand who has experience with salvaging / recovering aviation wrecks found in the oceans, because they would be good people to talk too. I think there are a couple of UK organisiations who have pulled aircraft out of salt water environments who maybe able to help, but can't remember who they are.
The plates were too badly damaged or exfoliated and were beyond cleaning but I will ask the Werribee guys in case we find an engine.

Here's some more bits of interest.

Among some of the items brought to the surface apart from the turbocharger were a couple of interesting pieces, a pair of indicator lights and a perspex switch guard which I found in the cockpit area with the airlift. Bob says the indicator lights were probably an off the shelf item and fitted to many B-24's as apart of a modification but they were also fitted to 200 Flight aircraft as part of their mods. No proof of identity but still interesting.

I was surprised to find the Propeller Feathering Switch Guard with only one mounting point broken after the destruction of the cockpit.


General Electric B-22 Type Turbocharger.



Possibly Radio Turret Indicator Lights.




Some 200 Flight cockpit mods showing the indicator lights.


Propeller Feathering Switch Guard.



Read more: B-24 Liberator Wreck discovered off Northern Palawan | Heritage Bn.

Read more: B-24 Liberator Wreck discovered off Northern Palawan | Heritage Bn.
 

Snake 23451

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The plates were too badly damaged or exfoliated and were beyond cleaning but I will ask the Werribee guys in case we find an engine.

Here's some more bits of interest.

Among some of the items brought to the surface apart from the turbocharger were a couple of interesting pieces, a pair of indicator lights and a perspex switch guard which I found in the cockpit area with the airlift. Bob says the indicator lights were probably an off the shelf item and fitted to many B-24's as apart of a modification but they were also fitted to 200 Flight aircraft as part of their mods. No proof of identity but still interesting.

I was surprised to find the Propeller Feathering Switch Guard with only one mounting point broken after the destruction of the cockpit.


General Electric B-22 Type Turbocharger.



Possibly Radio Turret Indicator Lights.




Some 200 Flight cockpit mods showing the indicator lights.


Propeller Feathering Switch Guard.



Read more: B-24 Liberator Wreck discovered off Northern Palawan | Heritage Bn.

Read more: B-24 Liberator Wreck discovered off Northern Palawan | Heritage Bn.
The plates were too badly damaged or exfoliated and were beyond cleaning but I will ask the Werribee guys in case we find an engine.

Here's some more bits of interest.

Among some of the items brought to the surface apart from the turbocharger were a couple of interesting pieces, a pair of indicator lights and a perspex switch guard which I found in the cockpit area with the airlift. Bob says the indicator lights were probably an off the shelf item and fitted to many B-24's as apart of a modification but they were also fitted to 200 Flight aircraft as part of their mods. No proof of identity but still interesting.

I was surprised to find the Propeller Feathering Switch Guard with only one mounting point broken after the destruction of the cockpit.


General Electric B-22 Type Turbocharger.



Possibly Radio Turret Indicator Lights.




Some 200 Flight cockpit mods showing the indicator lights.


Propeller Feathering Switch Guard.



Read more: B-24 Liberator Wreck discovered off Northern Palawan | Heritage Bn.

Read more: B-24 Liberator Wreck discovered off Northern Palawan | Heritage Bn.
Unfortunately, due to the global crisis, we’ve been unable to return to the wreck site, but the research is still ongoing.
After our last visit in December, it was looking like the plane was most likely “DADDY OF ‘EM ALL” but thanks to Paul Baker and his in depth research in the PDF below, it shows that there’s still a chance that it’s A72-191.
Personally. due to the location of the wreck and the absence of debris around it, I'm keeping my hopes up.
It’s a pity that all the identifying features of the plane have either been destroyed or are missing, but we’ll continue the search for the tail once this pandemic is over, and hopefully get a result.
 

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At lakes

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G'day @Snake 23451 Thanks for the very interesting post. Its great. It's a shame about the aluminium plates, but I hope that after you clean one of the plates you might be able to get some high quality images of them because sometimes details can be "lifted" from the images using advanced computerised photogrammetry & photoprocessing techniques. You should ask the guys down at Werribee if the engine data plates are aluminium; they probably are but no harm in asking. I can't think offhand who has experience with salvaging / recovering aviation wrecks found in the oceans, because they would be good people to talk too. I think there are a couple of UK organisiations who have pulled aircraft out of salt water environments who maybe able to help, but can't remember who they are.
You could try the RAF Museum at Cosford they pulled a Dornier Do17 pencil bomber out of the water after 70years and they are in the process of restoring same. Jim Warburton I think his name was
 
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