For a short time in November 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group was flying missions to Ring Ring, a coconut plantation near Gasmata. Although these weren’t the most exciting missions, the area was being prepared for a December ground invasion, which made the mission necessary. It was observed in the 43rd’s Group History that, “Our combat crews don’t seem to think much of this type of target, preferring to hit something that will blow up with a loud noise and a satisfactory amount of flame and smoke, but the Army seems quite pleased with the results of our bombing and apparently considers the destruction of these targets essential.”
Flying from Port Moresby to Ring Ring on November 24th was 1/Lt. Henry J. Domagalski and his crew in their B-24 nicknamed ZOMBIE. Their mission was an armed reconnaissance to the area, with the crew running into no trouble as ZOMBIE’s bombs were unloaded over Garove Island. As the B-24 flew over the Dampier Strait, the crew encountered a formation of nine Japanese “Lily” bombers accompanied by 12 “Oscar” fighters returning to Wewak from a mission to Finschhafen.
While most of the Japanese planes continued on their way, seven Oscars attacked the lone B-24. An intense fight began as Domagalski performed evasive maneuvers while his crewmen did their best to fend off the attacking fighters. ZOMBIE’s hydraulic system was shot out, as well as trim tab wires and six cables that controlled the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. The fighter pilots also started two fires: one in the emergency radio compartment and the other in the cockpit. Both were extinguished by Lt. Cletus A. Bunsen and 2/Lt. Herbert J. Maxwell, respectively.
By this time, the Oscars broke off their attack and turned for Wewak. ZOMBIE was in bad shape and the pilot was unsure whether or not they would even make it back to base. After an examination of the parachutes, three were determined to be unusable and it was decided that instead of ditching the plane, they would try to make an emergency landing at Lae.
Somehow, the B-24 appeared over Lae and circled five times as the crew manually lowered the landing gear. It touched down, going 160mph, and without hydraulic breaks that worked, the crew hurried to stop the plane before it crashed into the trees at the end of the runway. While Domagalski used the auxiliary hand pump to work fluid into the brakes, the rest of the crew was piled in the back of the plane to keep the tail down. ZOMBIE stopped and the crew tumbled out to assess the damage. Fifty holes were counted and two crewmembers were injured. The next day, ZOMBIE was flown home to Port Moresby. This story quickly spread across the United States and each crew member was awarded the Air Medal for their actions during the mission.