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Ric Gillespie

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Public Assistance
« on: August 22, 2018, 01:06:58 PM »

Whenever possible, TIGHAR responds to requests from the public for assistance in questions involving historic aircraft.  Often times these questions involve the wartime experience of relatives.  One such question came our way from Erin Corkery in an email to  We, of course, have Erin's permission to reproduce the correspondence here.

To whom it may concern,

I have recently obtained many photos from World War 2 in the Pacific Theater.  My Grandfather was part of the 441st CIC and never once spoke of his time as a spy in the war. However, he left behind a box we have never seen before with many remnants and photos from the war.  I have obtained a collection of blurry photos of a plane being burned on Papua New Guinea and/or the surrounding islands in the later part of the war. I am reaching out to you to see if anyone could identify the plane or as to why it may have been burned. I will forward the photos if interested.

Thank you,

Ric replied:

Hi Erin,

Fascinating.  I’ll be happy to help if I can.  Please forward the photos.
 I found this about the 441st CIC at

"On 20 November 1944 the 441st Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment was reassigned to the New Guinea campaign with the following missions: Cryptographic and disaffection investigations, ship paneling and allied port security measures including the checking of native craft moving along the coast, investigation of incidents and sabotage cases, and provisions for the general security of installations. The detachment inaugurated a highly effective native police-boy system in cooperation with the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration. These youths contacted village chiefs, led reconnaissance patrols, helped interrogate native suspects, and assisted in special investigations and in maintaining an informant net.”

Whether I can identify the plane being burned depends, of course, upon how much of the plane is visible in the photo.


Erin responded and included the photos pictured below:
Thanks for the information, I find it fascinating.  We know very little about my grandfather’s war time so I don’t want to create a false account just because it would be an intriguing story. My grandfather was Gerard J. Corkery. In the box, he has a lot of peculiar items and photos with many natives and military personnel(one photo is believed to be with admiral Nimitz). There are documents from the pacific theater, and a license to obtain and drive any military vehicle. In all his photos he is extremely well dressed in all white, and is well groomed for being in the jungle. Whether these photos mean anything I would greatly appreciate your insight!
Thank you,


Ric replied:


The aircraft is a Lockheed P-38 “Lightning,”  a common fighter used by the USAAF in the New Guinea.  This was not a crash.  The fire was intense but very localized to the center section of the structure that included the cockpit and fuel tanks.  The aircraft appears to be on a prepared surface.  My guess is that this was a takeoff accident, perhaps due to an engine failure or over-loaded condition.  The airplane went off the end of the runway, the landing gear collapsed, the plane slid on its belly causing the fuel tanks in the inboard wing sections and perhaps an additional belly tank to rupture and BOOM!  The pilot probably didn’t get out.

There’s part of a tail number visible on left rudder.  The rest of the number might be discernible in a high-resolution copy of the photo.  If we had the full tail number we could find out exactly what airplane it is and possibly even get a copy of the accident report.


Erin replied,

Wow thank you very much for your insight on these photos! I have been very curious as to why they would have burned the plane, but your assumption seems perfectly accurate. I have been trying to decipher it for some time now so I can’t thank you enough for your help! I’m going to try and see if I can convert the photo into a high resolution form or see if there are any reports of an accident in the box.


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