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  B-25D-15 Mitchell Serial Number 41-30496  
5th AF
38th BG
71st BS

Pilot  1st Lt Ercoli Ducci, O-659959 (KIA, BR) Rochester, NY
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Harry D. Mack, O-797154 (KIA, BR) Kings County, NY
Navigator  1st Lt. William R. Shank, O-659595 (MIA / KIA, BNR) Dorchester, MA
Radio  S/Sgt Ellwood S. Norton 39083374 (MIA / KIA, BNR) Solano County, CA
Gunner  T/Sgt Albert A. Steele, 18053518 (KIA, BR) Oklahoma County, OK
Crashed  July 27, 1943
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by North American Aviation (NAA) in Inglewood. Constructors Number 87-8661. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-15 Mitchell serial number 41-30496. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 38th Bombardment Group (38th BG) "Sun Setters", 71st Bombardment Squadron (71st BS) "The Wolf Pack". No known nose art or nickname.

Mission History
On July 27, 1943 at 8:00am took off from 17 Mile Drome (Durand) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt Ercoli Ducci on a practice bombing mission against SS Pruth and returned to land safely at 10:58am.

At 1:36pm took off again with the same crew for another practice bombing against SS Pruth.  Over the wreck, a bomb skipped too high and knocked off the stabilizer which caused the aircraft to crash into shallow water atop a coral reef between Idihi Island and Bavo Island to the west of Port Moresby.

Recovery of Remains
On July 28, 1943 in the afternoon, O8 Type Crash Launch from RAAF Marine Section arrived at the crash site and recovered the bodies of three of the crew: Ducci, Mack, and Steele despite extremely difficult conditions.

On July 29, 1943 the same O8 Type Crash Launch from RAAF Marine Section with RAAF Sgt Ritchey and six Americans from the 71st Bombardment Squadron (71st BS) again motored to the crash site and recovered the bodies of the two remaining crew. When departing, for unknown reasons the launch exploded, caught fire and sank to the waterline with the two bodies aboard.

The stranded rescuers were dropped a life raft by a B-17 Flying Fortresses and swam to nearby Bavo Island to await rescue. Unaware they were on the island, B-17 Flying Fortresses commenced three hours of bombing runs against Bavo Island from 30,000'. As the bombs fell on the island, the rescuers took cover among the rocks but four of the Americans were wounded. Meanwhile, another rescue launch from 45 OBU Marine Section arrived at the scene with Ft. Lt. John Shelton aboard and spotted the men on Bavo Island.

Between bombing runs, Shelton reached the island to treat the wounded. Four were seriously wounded and required morphine. Finally, an orbiting B-25 spotted them and dropped another life raft and the bombing practice runs were aborted. Using the life raft, the group returned to the launch and were returned to Port Moresby. Afterwards, Shelton earned the Medal of Freedom from the U. S. Army and Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for this and other rescues he performed.

The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. Because the mission was a non-combat training flight, none of the crew earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.

Norton earned the Air Medal. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. Norton remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Shank earned the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for flying 34 combat missions. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. Shank remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Afterwards, the three crew recovered from the crash site were buried in New Guinea. Postwar, they were exhumed and transported to the United States for permanent burial.

Ducci was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, NY at section NO23, lot 24, grave 5L.

Mack is buried at Long Island National Cemetery at Plot: H grave 8412.

Steele is buried at Honolulu Memorial Cemetery' (Punchbowl) at Plot C Row 0 Grave 811.

This B-25 remains in situ on a sandy bottom to the west of Bavo Island. The wreckage is overgrown with marine growth including soft and hard coral and algae. The fuselage is broken from the crash and recovery efforts. The cockpit section remains and both engines and propellers. The top turret remains and the tips of the propeller blades are visible above the surface at low tide.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Ercoli Ducci
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Harry D. Mack
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William R. Shank
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Ellwood S. Norton
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Albert A. Steele
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-15 Mitchell 41-30496
Air Sea Rescues - Moresby Area extracts from No. 74 wing file 908/1/P1 taken a Port Moresby on 4th December 1944 page 1-2
Marine Section - Port Moresby Area notes on conversation with O. C. F/O J. Wilcox and FSgt A. Smelt at Moresby on December 7, 1944, pages 1-2 states bombing aircraft were B-24 Liberators
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25D Mitchell 41-30496
FindAGrave - 1LT Ercoli Ducci (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Harry D. Mack (grave photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William R. Shank
FindAGrave - 1Lt William R Shank (photo, tablets of the missing)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ellwood S. Norton
FindAGrave - SSgt Ellwood S Norton (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt Albert A Steele (grave photo)
Wrecks & Reefs (1994) pages 11 (map site 3d), 26, 126-127, 218

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Last Updated
December 5, 2020


Tech Info

10' / 3m

2 Missing
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