|Pilot 1st Lt Ercoli Ducci, O-659959 (KIA, BR) NY
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Harry D. Mack, O-797154 (KIA, BR)
Navigator 1st Lt. William R. Shank, O-659595 (MIA / KIA) MA
Radio S/Sgt Ellwood S. Norton 39083374 (MIA / KIA) CA
Gunner T/Sgt Albert A. Steele, 18053518 (KIA, BR) OK
Crashed July 27, 1943
Built by North American. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 38th Bombardment Group, 71st Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.
On July 27, 1943 took off from 17 Mile Drome (Durand) near Port Moresby at 8:00am on a morning practice bombing mission against SS
Pruth and returned safely at 10:58. In the afternoon, the same crew and aircraft took off again at 1:36pm 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 onto a coral reef between Idihi Island and Bavo Island.
Recovery of Remains
On July 28, 1943 a launch from RAAF Marine Section Air-Sea Rescue arrived during the afternoon and recovered the bodies of three of the crew: Ducci, Mack, and Steele despite extremely difficult conditions.
On July 29, 1943 the same launch from RAAF Marine Section with RAAF Sgt Ritchey and six Americans from the 71st Bombardment Squadron motored to the crash site and recovered the bodies of the two remaining crew. Departing, for reasons unknown 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. Norton and Shank both remain Missing In Action (MIA). Both memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Postwar, the five recovered crew were 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.
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
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ellwood S. Norton
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William R. Shank
FindAGrave - 1LT Ercoli Ducci (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Harry D. Mack (grave photo)
1Lt William R Shank (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Ellwood S Norton (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt Albert A Steele (grave photo)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25D Mitchell 41-30496
Wrecks & Reefs pages 11 (map), 26, 126-127, 218
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February 4, 2018