Runway view from Torokina Control Tower on December 19
Corsairs ready for takeoff
RNZAF P40 Kittyhawks refueling at Torokina
On the Sunday morning of December 19th, Torokina had become a swarm of activity with P40 Kittyhawks's from RNZAF Squadrons No. 16 and 17 and VF-33 F6F Hellcats landing to refuel in preparation for the day's rescheduled bomber escort mission. The previous day's weather had provided too dense a cloud cover over the Rabaul target areas which would have rendered bombing mission ineffective at best. The 216 squadron would provide two divisions of high cover with Major Morrell leading the first division and Captain Faulkner leading the second. Morrell's division would be comprised of Lts. Barton, Dempster, and Means, and Faulkner's would be Lts. Kemper, Marshall, and Hancock.
Looking back at Torokina strip after takeoff
Both divisions took off at 1045 and once positioning was set, the bombers with escorts were on course by 1135. Shortly after their departure, Lt. Barton's plane experienced engine trouble and he had no choice but to return his aircraft to base. Lt. Hancock joined Morrell's division to replace Lt. Barton leaving Faulkner's division one plane short. For the most part, the mission for the 216 divisions would prove to be rather mundane and uneventful. Morrell's division provided the lead bomber cover with Faulkner's division following the bombers.
A Pilot's Fate Rests on the Toss of a Coin
A February letter from Bob Martin's parents to Guy's parents related, "On Dec. 19th when ordered out to combat, it simmered down to one plane and two pilots, Bob and your son. A piece of silver was flipped, heads or tails and Guy won the toss and the plane, and that has troubled Bob ever since, and if you will notice that Flight was one short on that date. I don't know whether there is a shortage of planes there or what..".
Lt. Robert Martin
Sometime after 1300, the B24's had delivered their payloads and proceeded to return to their home base to the South over St. George's Channel. At this juncture, the fighter escorts began breaking off to also return to their base at Torokina. As Faulkner's division was yet some distance behind Morrell's, Captain Faulkner either heard radio chatter about some harassing Zekes or he had spotted Zekes harrassing New Zealand Kittyhawks. Since some Allied support was apparently present, it could have appeared this would be an opportunity to disperse the Zekes and maybe even score a hit. Faulkner and the two wing men, Kemper and Marshall, proceeded to the area and dove in among the planes.
An ample cloud presence still lingered over South Pacific skies from the previous day's critical weather. Because of this, the three diving Corsairs may not have immediately spotted the 20 to 30 Zekes hanging above them in the sun awaiting an opportunity for any strays that might break from their ranks.
Within moments, swarming Zeros seemed to be everywhere at once.
The three Corsairs were recovering altitude when Marshall saw one F4U diving again with Zekes close behind. Immediately, Marshall dove in to help, but picked up some Zekes on his tail. Swerving left and right to dodge their lines of fire, Marshall, recovered into the sun, fixed his sights on a Hamp and took it out but didn't linger to see the result. All the while his plane took repeated hits. His last sight of Faulkner and Kemper was as their two planes also made a rapid upward recovery heading into the sun to shake or outrun the intense Zero onslaught enough to make altitude and gain a tactical advantage..
Heading into a nearby cumulus cloud for cover and a possible escape, Marshall then proceeded to pilot his barely flyable bullet-ridden plane without instruments or radio southward across a long expanse of ocean to Torokina.
The highlighted area represents the probable location where Cpt. Faulkner and Lt. Kemper were last seen.