Profile History: Gypsy Rose

This aircraft was assigned to the 19th Bomb Group and was flying with the 435th Reconnaissance Squadron by the second week of July 1942. Transferred to the 403rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on November 9, 1943, its first two flights with the 403rd were courier missions piloted by 1/Lt. Robert B. Irwin. It is unknown to what extent this aircraft was flown in combat by the 403rd. The bomber was transferred to the 65th Squadron in mid-January, after the 403rd relinquished their B-17s at the time of their move to Mareeba, Australia.


The bomber was flown regularly on combat missions by the 65th, including the follow-up raid the day after the big attack against Rabaul on February 14th, the largest raid the 43rd had conducted against the Japanese bastion up to that time. The B-17 received two holes in its vertical stabilizer. This aircraft also participated in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea when it was flown by Arthur A. Fletcher, Jr., who was a regular pilot of the aircraft. On March 2nd, Fletcher missed his target entirely, but on the afternoon of the 3rd, he watched his bombs score a near miss on the destroyer Asashio, which he claimed was responsible for immobilizing the ship.

The last combat mission for the bomber was a night raid against Rabaul on May 24, 1943. The plane was running low on fuel during the return flight, forcing the pilot, 1/Lt. Raymond S. Dau, to ditch it in the sea off Buna. No one was hurt in the water landing and everyone made it into the life rafts, from where they were picked up by a boat from the 41st Infantry Division the next day.

B-17 Gypsy Rose
B-17E #41-9193, GYPSY ROSE, was initially transferred to the 403rd Squadron as a transport plane after serving in the 19th Bomb Group but before it went to the 65th. While in the 65th Squadron, it acquired its nickname and nose art, a reference to Gypsy Rose Lee, a contemporary striptease performer. GYPSY ROSE was lost on May 24, 1943, when it ran out of fuel returning from Rabaul and was ditched near Buna. All of the crewmembers survived unhurt. (Charles Stenglein Collection)


The name of this aircraft, GYPSY ROSE, is a reference to Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous burlesque dancer, actor and author of the era. The nose art depicts her performing her famous striptease act. The name, written in red and outlined in orange, is reminiscent of brightly lit neon signs outside of theaters and clubs. The cursive script used in the lettering of the name is of the style seen on many early 65th Squadron aircraft, indicating #193 acquired its nickname while in the 65th. Also partially visible in our profile painting are the block letters U.S. ARMY painted on the underside of the wings. This identifier had been removed from the USAAF markings specifications before the 43rd began flying combat, but the bomber came out of the factory paint shop so marked, and this was never painted over.

The known combat missions this aircraft flew, all in 1943, were: Rabaul, 2/15 (Fletcher); Rabaul, 2/23 (Crawford); Battle of the Bismarck Sea, 3/3 (Fletcher); Rabaul, 3/23; and Rabaul, 5/24 (Dau).

Read more about the 43rd Bomb Group and see the color profile for this B-17 in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

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