Consolidated B-24D serial 41-24253 Green Hornet of the 372nd Bomb Squadron in early November 1942 at Kahuku, Hawaii. Zamperini maintained it was this aircraft in which he crashed while on a search mission in May 1943 - but was it?
LEFT An extremely rare photograph of the "Super Man" nose art of B-24D serial 41-23938, in which Louis Zamperini flew on the mission to Wake on the night of December 23-24, 1942.
RIGHT Although Zamperini recalled flying in Super Man on the Nauru mission of April 20, 1943, he actually flew it in Take Off!, serial 41-24149.
The crew of B-24D 42-40073 Thumper boards the "bus" to the tented accommodation outside the village soon after their arrival on Funafuti in April 1943. The Japanese had intended to occupy Funafuti as part of their defensive perimeter but losses at Midway in June 1942 delayed the plan and the Americans arrived in October.
Some confusion has arisen about which aircraft Zamperini flew in for the ill-fated search mission of May 27, 1943. Was it Green Hornet, serial 41-24253 (TOP seen before the fitting of the nose turret) or The Green Hornet, serial 42-40101 (BOTTOM)? The Mission Report reveals it was neither.
Covering only eight square miles (21km2), Nauru is rich in phosphate and was thus of interest to the Japanese, who occupied the tiny island on August 25, 1942. Here, Seventh Air Force B-24 Sad Sack (serial unknown) flies over the burning phosphate works and airfield during the raid of April 20, on which Zamperini flew.
Serial 41-23893, Daisy Mae, also participated in the search mission of May 27, but - unlike Four Roses - it managed to return. It is seen here damaged at Midway after a raid on Wake on July 22, 1943.
The first B-24 to be fitted with a modification designed by the Hawaiian Air Depot to support a nose turret was B-24D serial 41-23657. It is seen here being refuelled on Midway for its ill-fated reconnaissance flight to Wake on December 28, 1942, to assess bomb damage following the 307th BG’s raid on the atoll four days previously.
General Willis H. Hale (far left), commander of the Seventh Air Force, who masterminded the Funafuti missions in April 1943, points out the message scrawled on a 1,000lb (450kg) bomb - “From Nimitz to Hale to Tojo” - to some of the airmen he expects to deliver it. Hale’s resources were limited, and the press back home labelled the Seventh “Hale’s Handful”.
Take Off!, the B-24 in which Zamperini flew the Nauru mission, is refuelled at Funafuti in April 1943. Note the nose turret, which was removed from its original position in the tail by the Hawaiian Air Depot and relocated in the nose. The tail position was replaced by a pair of hand-held 0-50in machineguns and a cupola.
Louis Zamperini inspects just one of the many holes in Take Off! after the Nauru raid, the result of anti-aircraft cannon fire. Other photographs taken at this time prove that it was Take Off! and not Super Man that Zamperini and his crewmates flew in for the April 20 raid on Nauru. Super Man was almost certainly still in Hawaii being fitted with its nose turret at this point.
On the night of April 21-22 the Japanese retaliated for the attack on Nauru, a force of 14 bombers destroying two B-24s, including 42-40089, named Flying 8 Ball Jr, the wreckage of which is seen here the morning after.