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405th BS Aug 5, 1943
Peter Maynard 1986
Walt Brenner 1989
Rich Taylor 1997
Walt Deas 2001
Pilot Major Williston M. Cox, O-426370 C. O. 405th BS (POW, survived) Knox County, TN
Pilot Captain Robert L. Herry, O-421090 (POW, executed August 31, 1943, BR) TX
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Robert J. "Moose" Koscelnak, O-732556 (POW, executed August 31, 1943, BR) Orange, CA
Navigator 1st Lt Louis J. Ritacco, O-660907 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) Port Chester, NY
Engineer SSgt Raymond J. Zimmerman, 39304264 (MIA / KIA) Clackamas County, OR
Radio T/Sgt Hugh W. Anderson, 38069521 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) Aspermont, TX
Ditched August 5, 1943
Built by North American Aviation (NAA). Constructors Number 87-8283. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-5 Mitchell serial number 41-30118. Ferried overseas by pilot 2nd Lt. Charles D. George and his crew flying via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
On April 17, 1943 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 38th Bombardment Group (38th BG) "Sun Setters", 405th Bombardment Squadron (405th BS) "The Green Dragons". Assigned to pilot Captain Holland Legg with crew chief Marchebanks. Nicknamed "Elusive Lizzie". Later, renamed "Miss America", then both nicknames were then completely covered by 405th Bombardment Squadron's "Green Dragon" motif painted on the nose.
On May 12, 1943 this B-25 flew its first combat mission as one of seven bombers on a strike against Finschafen Airfield. In total, this aircraft flew at least fifteen combat missions before lost on August 5, 1943. When lost, engine and weapon serial number were not noted in Missing Air Crew Report 16113 (MACR 16113).
On August 5, 1943 at 8:00am took off from 17-Mile Drome (Durand) near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Robert L. Herry as one of one of twelve B-25s on mission 216-D to search for and destroy Japanese barge traffic north of Madang off the north coast of New Guinea. Also aboard as command pilot was Major Williston M. Cox. The formation also included B-25 Mitchells from 71st Bombardment Squadron (71st BS) targeting shipping off Alexishafen. After rendezvousing with escorting P-38 Lightnings over Mount Yule then proceeded to the north coast of New Guinea.
Over the target, the formation broke into pairs of B-25s and dove to minimum altitude and began bombing and strafing targets. Over the target, there was intense anti-aircraft fire from Japanese guns in the area. While approaching Madang, this B-25 was hit by a shell in the right engine. Pilot Herry was able to control the damaged bomber to ditch into the sea landing off Wongat Island roughly roughly three quarters of a mile from Madang.
The bomber landed intact and briefly remained afloat before sinking. Another B-25 in the formation photographed the ditched bomber floating on the surface before it sank. Another photograph was taken of a column of smoke rising from the site of the ditching. Tail gunner Zimmerman was killed in the landing. His body either went down with the aircraft or floated away and remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA). The rest of the crew survived the ditching with only minor injuries.
Fates of the Crew
The surviving crew swam to Wongat Island. Locals paddled canoes out to the island and searched for the crew and detained them. Ritacco managed to evade capture momentarily by hiding in a tree.
Soon afterwards, a Japanese search party led by 1st Lt. Binsho Tejima, commander of a medical supply detachment at Madang arrived. When they reached the crew 1st Lt. Tejima knocked over Cox and the crew became Prisoners Of War (POW).
The crew were transported to the Kempei Tai Headquarters at Amron and along the way were beaten by Japanese soldiers they passed. Initially, Major Cox was separated from the crew and questioned. Initially, Cox refused to cooperate because there was no Japanese officer present at his interrogations, and was struck in the face knocking one of his teeth out while two others beat him. Afterwards, Cox was placed in captivity with the rest of his crew.
For the next twelve days, at Amron, the crew were bound, handcuffed and placed into two cells: Major Cox and Captain Herry in one with Lt. Koscelnak and SSgt Anderson in the other. The crew was interrogated and beaten on a daily basis. Each day, the prisoners were questioned about their unit, bomber, base and aircraft strength in New Guinea. Major Cox refused to answer these question, citing the Geneva convention and because he had attended pre-law at the University of Tennessee and was familiar with the rights of prisoners. The other crew members were similarly questioned and refused to cooperate.
Two days into their captivity on August 7, 1943 a Japanese interpreter arrived to question them further. Major Cox requested to be taken to the commanding officer at Madang but was told he was not available. He also requested food and water for his crew, which was provided.
Meanwhile, Ritacco managed to evade capture. After several days without food and unable to swim, he gave himself up to the Japanese and was also taken to Kempei Tai Headquarters at Amron. When Ritacco joined the rest of the crew, the Japanese demanded one of the natives beat Major Cox for not revealing that Ritacco was hiding on the island. Around that same time, Cox witnessed Herry beaten with a bamboo pole 8-10 times for not answering questions. After five days of interrogations and beatings, the crew were neglected for two days and rested.
The next day, Cox and Herry (the most senior officers) were told they would be separated and taken to Rabaul and were transported to Madang. During the trip, other Japanese soldiers met them and took Herry back to Amron instead. This was the last time Cox saw any of his crew, or Herry.
Alone, Cox was marched to Alexishafen Airfield and tied to a coconut palm for three days and beaten on a regular basis by both Japanese and natives. He was given water but no food and remained at this location for a total of five days. On August 17, 1943 Cox was flown aboard a Japanese bomber from Alexishafen Airfield to Rabaul where he was transported aboard a Japanese ship to Japan and interned at Omori POW Camp in Tokyo and survived captivity until the end of the Pacific War.
On August 31, 1943, the other four crew members: Koscelnak, Ritacco and Anderson were blindfolded and escorted from Amron to a nearby execution ground. Each was bayoneted then beheaded. Afterwards, Owen Salvage, the sole survivor of B-25D 41-30221 was also executed. Lastly, Herry was tied between two posts and bayoneted to death.
Post war affidavit L/Cpl Yasukuni Tani. (Kempeitai clerk at Amron) states:
“The actual execution was to be three prisoners by Kempei Tai and two by headquarters Sentry Guard Unit. However, 1st Lt. Matsumoto’s Kempei Tai members said, “We will execute the three prisoners for the revenge of the death of our comrade, Cpl Nakano. This Matsumoto’s Unit had a conflict several weeks ago at Kesa village, which is located at the head of the Ramu River. The three prisoners were blindfolded and escorted down the mountain to the execution ground by the Kempei Tai members and Sgt Major Kawawa, Cpl Ishikawa and S.Pvt Ozawa. After about 20 minutes had elapsed, Matsumoto’s Kempei Tai group came back and said, “The execution is over now, we will proceed back immediately” and walked towards Kempei Tai Headquarters."
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, New Guinea natives assisted American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) to locate and recover the remains of at least three of the crew from graves at Amron. Their remains were exhumed and reburied at Finschhafen Cemetery as unknowns X-17 and X-14.
On March 15, 1948, that dental charts for unknowns X-17 and X-14 compared favorably with those of Herry and Koscelneck, but awaited further medical evidence before making an identification. Later, these remains were positively identified as Herry and Koscelneck.
After the identification of the remains of the crew, Koscelnak, Ritacco, Anderson and Herry were transported to the Philippines and United States for permanent burial.
On September 5, 1979, this B-25 was found and identified by David Pennefather underwater at a depth of 60'.
David Pennefather adds:
"I was a keen diver and lived in Madang at that time. I was snorkeling off Wongat Island looking for a reported sunken aircraft said to have crashed there. After hours in the water, I dived down for the last time and there on the seabed lay the B-25. I returned to Madang grabbed some scuba gear and with another diver headed back to explore and photograph the aircraft. Within a few days of the discovery, vandals removed the side guns and other artifacts."
The B-25 is fully intact except for the left engine which is missing (torn off during the ditching). The left wing tip is at 12-15 meters and the starboard wing is at 25 meters. The main body of the plane is at about 18 meters depth. The four machine guns are visible through the damaged nose section and ammunition hoppers visible. There is still a considerable number of .50 caliber rounds inside but they are cemented into place by sea life. Both cockpit hatches are open. Large sponges and fans cover the wreck.
Since discovery, this bomber has become a popular SCUBA diving attraction for anyone diving in Madang and is frequently dived by several dive operators.
Zimmerman was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Koscelnak, Ritacco and Anderson and Herry were officially declared dead on August 31, 1943 the day they were executed.
Koscelnak was buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot C row 16 grave 59.
Anderson was buried in 1950 at Aspermont Cemetery in Aspermont, TX at block N.
Herry was buried at Guadalupe Valley Memorial Park in New Braunfels, TX.
Ritacco was buried at Saint Marys Cemetery in Port Chester, NY at plot AA2-F2-6-9.
Cox passed away on January 4, 1980. He was buried at Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, TN at section 20.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Williston M. Cox
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert L. Herry
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert J. Koscelnak
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Louis J. Ritacco
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Raymond J. Zimmerman
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Hugh W. Anderson
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-5 Mitchell 41-30118
"crashed Aug 4, 1942 off Wangat [sic] Island. One crew KIA, rest captured by Japanese. All but one were murdered."
Missing Air Crew Report 16113 (MACR 16113) was created retroactively circa 1945-1946
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Williston M. Cox
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File does not list Herry, Koscelnak, Ritacco or Anderson as official prisoners of the Japanese. This is not uncommon for prisoners captured in forward areas who were executed.
FindAGrave - Williston Madison Cox (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Robert Lee Herry (grave photo)
FindAGrave - 1Lt Robert J Koscelnak
FindAGrave - Lieut Louis James Ritacco (grave photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Raymond J. Zimmerman
FindAGrave - SSgt Raymond J Zimmerman (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Hugh W. Anderson, Jr (photo, obituary, grave photo)
Abilene Reporter News "Rites Monday for Aspermont Airman Executed by Japs" October 12, 1950
RAAF Status Card - B-25D Mitchell 41-30118
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25D Mitchell 41-30118
National Geographic April 1988 page 436
The Bomber Reef a DVD by Walt Deas tells the complete history of this aircraft, crew and wreck underwater.
Death At Amron by Walt Deas
Madang page 147
Sun Setters of the Southwest Pacific Area pages 156 (map), 179, 180 (photos), 181, 190, 579-580 (photo), appendixes AI-1, AII-4, AIII-15, AV-4, AV-12, AV-16, AV-32, index ix-3
Thanks to David Pennefather, Walt Deas, Larry Hickey for additional information
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60' / 18m
POW / MIA
The Bomber Reef
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