High above recently captured Rabaul, New Britain, and piloting a fully loaded B-17E Flying Fortress, Capt. Frederick “Fred” C. Eaton, Jr. had just spotted his target – a 10,000-ton enemy freighter. As he lined up to unleash his payload, the bomb bay doors malfunctioned. The crew worked feverishly to open the doors as he circled for a second attempt. Japanese anti-aircraft batteries zeroed in on the lone bomber’s altitude and unleashed a hellish barrage, damaging the wings. Lining up the target once more, he went in. This time, the doors opened and the bombs fell toward their target. As if on cue, Japanese fighters swooped in, guns blazing. Eaton and his crew were in a fight for their lives.
The aerial battle raged, bullets and cannon shells riddling the Flying Fortress as it ran for cover. In the skirmish, tail gunner John Hall claimed an enemy aircraft while waist gunners William Schwartz and Russell Crawford added two more claims to the tally. In the aftermath, Eaton believed the port wing was bleeding fuel from an unexploded flak round. Knowing he wouldn’t reach the safety of the refueling field at Port Moresby, New Guinea, he flew as far southwest as the fumes could carry them. Salvation revealed itself just as the crew determined the stricken bomber couldn’t climb over the towering Owen Stanley mountains — an isolated swamp in the foothills of the New Guinea mountain range. Eaton slid the heavy aircraft into the swamp water for a wheels-up landing. The B-17 slewed sideways and settled in the deep kunai grass without breaking up. Despite the running battle and the crash landing, there were zero casualties. Six weeks and dozens of malaria-infested miles later, Eaton and crew finally reached safety. They were assigned another B-17 and continued to fly for the rest of the war.
For more than seven decades, that lucky Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, serial 41-2446, lay intact and virtually undisturbed, all but forgotten. In 1972 it was spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force helicopter and local press dubbed it the “Swamp Ghost.” It is not the historical name of the bomber, but it is the name history has given it.
Thanks to Museum supporter David Tallichet, working with aircraft archaeologist Fred Hagen, the B-17E now has a chance at a new lease on life. Now housed at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, Swamp Ghost is arguably the world’s only intact and unretired World War II-era B-17E bomber, a one-of-a-kind example of an aircraft that played an indispensable role in winning WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars.
To properly exhibit this national treasure, an interpretative display of Swamp Ghost is being developed. Your financial support is requested and most welcome. Mahalo