Aviation History

The story of the PBY Catalina Blister Gunner who jumped into the waters off Rabaul to pick up a fellow Marine pilot

The identity of the Gunner has never been established.

The famous old black and white photo in this post, now colourised, was taken during World War II and was called the N***d Gunner. The interesting story behind appeared on Services Archaeology and Heritage Association Facebook Page.

PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944.

This young crewman of a U.S. Navy “Dumbo” PBY Catalina rescue mission has just jumped into the water of Rabaul Harbor to rescue a badly burned Marine pilot who was shot down while bombing the Japanese-held fortress of Rabaul.

This iconic photo taken by Horace Bristol (1908-1997). In 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, as one of six photographers under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, documenting World War II, he was attached to South African troops initially before being re-deployed to the Pacific theatre of operations.

He ended up being on the plane the gunner was serving on, which was used to rescue people from Rabaul Bay (New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea), when this occurred. In an article from a December 2002 issue of B&W magazine he remembers:

“…we got a call to pick up an airman who was down in the Bay. The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn’t have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there.

The n***d man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”

As of today the identity of the N***d Gunner has never been established.

Photo credit: Horace Bristol

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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