|Pilot Major Ralph Cheli, O-399830 C.O. 405th BS (POW executed March 4-5, 1944, BR)
Co-Pilot F/O Don M. Yancey, T-186492 (MIA / KIA) TX
Navigator 1st Lt Vincent A. Raney, O-437474 (MIA / KIA) OH
Radio TSgt Raymond C. Warren, 15088088 (POW / MIA) WV
Gunner SSgt Clinton H. Murphree, 6282173 (POW / MIA) OK
Observer Captain John Holtham Hamon Massie NX42188, AIF (MIA / KIA) Bellevue Hill, NSW
Ditched August 18, 1943 at approximately 9:15am
Built by North American.
Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D Mitchell serial number 41-30117. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 38th Bombardment Group, 405th Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.
On August 18, 1943 took off from 17 Mile Drome near Port Moresby at 6:30am piloted by Major Ralph Cheli leading a flight of nine B-25 Mitchells from the 405th Bombardment Squadron on their first low level strafer mission against Dagua AIrfield to the west of Wewak. This B-25's call sign was KF24A. Aboard was observer was Australian Army Captain Massie from the 1st Australian Air Liaison Group.
Over the target, this B-25 was intercepted by enemy fighters and set on fire. Despite this damage, Cheli continued to lead the formation to the target. Afterwards at approximately 9:15am he successfully ditched into the sea roughly a mile offshore from Dagua AIrfield. For his actions this mission, Cheli later earned the Medal of Honor.
Statement from Capt Okada Takakazu:
"Aircraft [B-25D 41-30117] forced down on water near East But Aerodrome [Dagua Airfield] about 2 km out from the shore and opposite Dagua air strip. Plane blew up and sank."
Fates of the Crew
Two of the crew: Yancey and Massie were killed during the interception or died in the ditching and likely went down with the aircraft. They remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
The other three crew: Cheli, Warren and Murphree survived the ditching and were captured by the Japanese Army and became Prisoners Of War (POW).
The fates of Warren and Murphree are unknown, but presumed to have died of their wounds or were executed or otherwise died in captivity, possibly at Wewak POW Camp.
Cheli was photographed by the Japanese and reported as captured in the Japanese press. He was the highest ranking American aviator captured at Wewak. Later, Cheli was later transported to Rabaul and detained at the Rabaul POW Prison. During early March 1944 transported to Tunnell Hill POW Camp. On March 4-5, 1944 he was executed during the Talili Bay Massacre (Tunnel Hill Massacre) and buried.
Towards the end of the Pacific War, to cover up the executions and war crimes, the Japanese claimed that approximately forty Allied prisoners were killed by Allied bombing during an air raid while at Talili Bay after being evacuated from Tunnel Hill and their bodies were cremated and their bodies were cremated and the ashes placed into a single box. The Japanese rehearsed a story that the prisoners were killed in an Allied bombing when a bomb scored a direct hit on their shelter.
Recovery of Remains
In September 1945 when the Allies occupied the Rabaul area, they interrogated personnel from the 6th Kempei Tai who claimed the Allied prisoners who died during the Tunnell Hill Massacre (Talili Bay Massacre) were killed by an Allied bomb and turned over a box with their cremated remains. This was a lie to cover up their murder.
Afterwards, the cremated ashes the Japanese claimed were those killed at Talili Bay were divided proportionally based on the number of victims (23 Americans and 5 Australians) with 3/4 of the ashes to the Americans and 1/4 of the ashes to the Australians. The American ashes were transported to the United States for permanent burial.
Yancey and Raney were officially declared dead the day of the mission. Both are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. Raney also has a memorial marker at Calvary Cemetery in Youngstown, OH.
Warren and Murphree were officially declared dead on December 3, 1945. Both are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Australian Massie was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized at Lae War Cemetery on the Lae Memorial, panel 1.
Cheli was officially declared dead on March 6, 1944.
After his remains were recovered, he was buried on March 21, 1950 at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in a group burial at section 78, site 931-934. A marker at section 78 site 930 below the group burial with a gold inlaid relief of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the inscription: "Ralph Cheli Medal of Honor Maj Army Air Forces World War II Mar 6 1944"
Missing Air Crew Report 16528 (MACR 16528)
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Ralph Cheli
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Don M. Yancey
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Vincent A. Raney
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Raymond C. Warren
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)
- Clinton H. Murphree
CWGC - John Holtham Hamon Massie
FindAGrave - MAJ Ralph Cheli (grave photo)
FindAGrave - FltOff Don M. Yancey (tablets of the missing photo)
1Lt Vincent A Raney (photo, tablets of the missing photo)
Lieut Vincent A Raney (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - TSgt Raymond C Warren (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Clinton H Murphree (tablets of the missing)
ATIS 1146, 1259, 1451
AWM 479668 [War Crimes and Trials - Investigation of Atrocities:] Fate of Service Personnel - Report of Board of Inquiry - Subjects NX42138 Capt JH Massie; Major R Cheli; FO DM Yancey; 1st/Lt VA Ramey; F/Sgt RC Warren; S/Sgt CH Murphrce
RAAF Court of enquiry reports that aircraft was seen to make a good landing. The board considers that Massie, Yancey and Raney were killed in action; Warren and Murphree were taken prisoner and later died of wounds. Cheli was taken prisoner and evacuated to Rabaul.
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25D Mitchell 41-30117
Warpath Across the Pacific page 91
MacArthur's Eagles pages 71-72
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 19 (footnote 12 - Tunnel Hill Massacre), 93 (Rabaul's Military Prisoners - Cheli)
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
February 14, 2020