A Green Island Tragedy: April 28-29, 1944
VMB-213 Corsairs Lead 2 Deadly Attacks on 3 US PT Boats
Twenty-four PT crew members were either killed or missing and 25 wounded in
a tragic case of mistaken identity at the end of April 1944.
In the early morning of April 29, PT 347 became stuck on a reef, a common and dangerous menace in the uncharted seas. At 7 am as the crew of PT 350 struggled to free their companions, two Corsairs from Green Island's VMF 215 mistook them for Japanese vessels. They attacked and PT 350 shot down one. The damaged 350 returned to its base where PT 346 was dispatched to the aid of 347.
Meanwhile, the remaining pilot returned to Green where an entire squadron of 21 planes (four Corsair F4U fighters, six Avenger dive-bombers, four Hellcat F6F fighters, and eight Dauntless dive-bombers) was diverted from Rabaul to the PTs.
At 2 pm, the PT commander spotted US planes and expected their assistance. Instead, the planes destroyed both boats which shot down another Corsair. The planes continued to bombard the men in the water for nearly an hour.
It wasn't until nearly 5 pm when a Black Cat arrived to drop a life raft
which sustained the survivors until the following morning when 2 PT boats
picked them up.
It is impossible to sufficiently emphasize the challenges facing island combatants who traveled mostly by night without radar, radio, in uncharted waters. Planes and boats were small, without distinguishing features, and fast moving. Giving benefit of doubt or attempting to get close enough to identify craft could be fatal.
But in fact this entire tragedy occurred in daylight. The PT crews frantically waved US identifying flags and codes.
This case involved air and sea outfits from different bases, but tragically failing to "pass silently in the night." There had been efforts to establish "areas of demarcation" and to set "curfews" for PT boats amidst the hundreds of islands scattered through US and Japanese enclaves But the war front was moving rapidly northward, leaving in its wake a vast area of "mopping up" and quarantine operations. The flexible small craft based on islands such as Green were subject to a wide range of missions and they were also the starting point for new personnel.
Most tragic is the implication of top Service jurisdictional conflicts and jealousies which certainly jeopardized lives far beyond those chronicled here. HOPEFULLY, lessons were well learned and integrated into subsequent military science.
Links for more details:
PT BOATS 346, 347, & 350: VICTIMS OF FRIENDLY FIRE
Excellent Hyperwar account of PT Squadrons and of this
incident. Chapter 3 includes Green Islands story.