25 SEPTEMBER 1942
CRASH OF A P-39 AIRACOBRA
FROM 36TH FIGHTER SQUADRON
8TH FIGHTER GROUP
BETWEEN TOWNSVILLE AND MAREEBA
A P-39D-1-BE Airacobra #41-38339 (c/n 14A-270) from the 36th Fighter Squadron (or was it the 35th Fighter Squadron?) of the 8th Fighter Group disappeared on a flight from Garbutt airfield to Mareeba on 25 September 1942. The P-39 was piloted by Captain Paul G. Brown (0-417000), who was a very well respected pilot from the 36th Squadron. He claimed some of the Squadron's first victories in New Guinea. He had been due to stop at Mareeba but never arrived. Captain Paul Brown's eventual mission was to cover two schooners that left Wedau for GiliGili. Captain Paul Brown had been awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. The American Battle Monuments Commission web site shows Captain Brown dying on 25 September 1942.
P-39 #41-38339 (Sumac SS Stephen Fields USAAF 15-Aug-42) had only just been assembled and air tested and was being delivered to the unit that was just replacing 76 Squadron RAAF at Milne Bay.
The following is from the History of the 36th Fighter Squadron:-
The first of the Cobras landed, after flight from Port Moresby, on the 24th. The balance of the ships remained at Moresby, with a few scattered at fields on the mainland. Captain Paul G. Brown was at Mareeba, Queensland, and he was reported missing after a flight from Townsville to Mareeba. He had remained behind on a special mission, and was to have rejoined the Squadron at Gili Gili. Mareeba is forty miles northwest of Cairns, a two hour flight for a cobra from Townsville. A direct route is over very wild, rugged country over virgin territory that is marked on the maps as unchartered. The air route, accepted as his line of flight, led along the coast. Captain Brown was marked as missing, after an intensive search had failed to locate any trace of his ship.
He possessed one of the most brilliant combat records of the Squadron. He had been on the first strafing mission over Lae, and had gained one probable Zero before his own gas tank was hit, forcing him down onto the beach. He returned to the Squadron after five days, and went back into action immediately. On May 8th he gained a second probable, shot down a Zero on the 13th, destroyed a fourth enemy ship by collision on the 14th before his luck ran low and he was forced to make a forced landing during combat on the 17th, after his ship had been seriously damaged. He sent a bomber down burning on the 18th of May to complete a record that was very great, made during eight combats. Like Captain Bevlock, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Like Bevlock, he had been with the 36th Squadron since the early summer of 1941, and was regarded by the men and the officers as one of the veteran fighter pilots, - and ranked high with everyone as a man.
Bob Piper of Military Aviation Research Services in Canberra, told me that Brown had a mid-air collision with a Zero over Moresby on 14 May 1942. Brown's left wing carried away the top half of the Zero's rudder, and vertical fin and right elevator. Brown had been in a 250 mph dive. The Zero pilot has been identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Tooru Oshima. The wreckage of his fighter was later examined 25 miles north of Port Moresby. Brown later needed two feet replacing on his left wingtip.
Paul Grude's mother who had been married to Paul Brown at the time of his tragic disappearance, mentioned the incident of the above mid-air collision victory many times when Paul was growing up. She also mentioned an incident where Paul Brown exploded a "Betty" with a full bomb load that started a chain reaction of explosions in a "Betty" V formation that took down several of the other bombers. Paul has also read of this exploit in a copy of "The Bell Ringer" which was a company magazine for the Bell Aircraft Corporation. Paul has never been successful in finding a source for these magazines and Bell Corporation did not keep a library of them. Does anyone have copies?
Subject: Here's My Story
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 00:25:40 -0500
From: Craig Grude email@example.com
My name is Craig Grude. I'm from Chicago, Illinois. My father was in the 44th Depot Repair Squadron that was stationed for a time near Brisbane, and took liberty there. He spent most of his time in an area of New Guinea called Finchaven. My mother, who passed away this last Christmas, was a war widow. Her husband's name was Lt. Paul G. Brown of the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group. I have been doing some research on him because of a story my mother always told. He and his wingman were on a mission. The wingman was forced down on some island and Paul landed to check on him. They found mechanical problems with his plane, a P-39 Airacobra and Paul made several runs back to the base to obtain parts. Paul took off after they repaired the plane and when the wingman returned, Paul had not. He was never heard from again.
I have been able to obtain from the USAF archives, that Capt. Paul Brown left on a sortie from Garbutt Field on 28 September 1942, to cover two schooners leaving Wedau for Gili Gili via the East Cape. He was never heard from again and listed as MIA. No record of a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) was located in the archives.
Paul Brown and my mother were both from a suburb of Chicago and Paul was from a prominent family of that suburb, Oak Park. When he was reported MIA, it was picked up by a number of Chicago Newspapers. My father received one of those papers. the Chicago Herald-Tribune, during the war at his base in Finchaven. Along with the article was a picture of my mother. When my father read the article he announced to several members of his unit that he was going back to Chicago and marrying that girl. They met at a USO dance in late 1945 and were married on 1 September 1946.
That's my story. I'm looking for any and all information I can obtain on Paul, his missing plane or anything else that can get me a handle on his story and possible resting place. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Subject: Re: Here's My Story
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 02:17:06 -0500
From: Craig Grude firstname.lastname@example.org
I don't know the name of the island that the wingman landed on, for that matter I can't find out the name of the wingman. I've been attempting to find a group that does a reunion for this squadron, but have not been successful. The only 36th fighter squadron reunion I can find is from a unit that was/is stationed in Korea. I'm going to keep looking. If you find anything, please send it my way.
During my search I did find a guy that served with my Dad in World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines, and we have been sending notes back and forth on the NET ever since. By the way, my father's unit assembled aircraft as they were shipped from the States into the Pacific Theater. He worked on P-47's, A20's, B-25's, but mostly P38's. His unit assembled the first 1,000 P38's in the Pacific Theater. I have a picture of him and his unit standing on it in Finchaven, New Guinea. Possibly the one that crashed near Townsville was one of them.
Well, in my best Chicago accent, "Chubetcha, tanks a bunch...lader." Translated its, You bet you, thanks a lot, see you later. By the way, if you ever get to watch a TV program called NYPD Blue, the actor Dennis Franz grew up very near to my neighbourhood and his accent is not from New York, it is pure Chicago. Another TV oops.
I'd like to thank Bob Piper, Craig Grude and Gordon Birkett for their assistance with this web page.
Was Captain Paul Brown's Airacobra ever found?
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
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© Peter Dunn 2007
This page first produced 26 April 1999
This page last updated 29 March 2013