Marc Montocchio 2001
|Pilot Captain Michael F. Hochella (survived) Northampton County, PA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. William H. Bright (survived) Los Angeles, CA
Navigator 1st Lt. John J. "Jack" Howard, O-664772 (MIA / KIA) Pryor, OK
Engineer S/Sgt Elmore C. Stephens, 38164241 (WIA, survived)
Gunner S/Sgt Samuel "Sam" Kellar, Jr., 13052942 (WIA, survived) PA
Radio Pvt Clyde R. Lambert, 13033301 (WIA, survived) Latcher County, KY
Ditched February 15, 1944
Built by North American. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force as B-25C-10 Mitchell serial number 42-32314. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field across the Pacific to Australia.
On October 22, 1943 assigned to the 5th Air Force, 345th Bombardment Group, 500th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Snafu" (II). Assigned to pilot Captain Michael F. Hochella with crew chief Bigari. During late 1943, converted to a model C-1 strafer variant by the 4th Air Depot at Garbutt Field near Townsville.
On December 22, 1943 took off from 17 Mile Drome (Durand) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt. George I. Davis on a low level strike against Wewak and shipping in Wewak Harbor. This B-25 was part of the second flight. Over the target just before releasing their bombs, a shell burst in front of this bomber causing a 3/4" piece of shrapnel to shatter the pilot's side of the cockpit windscreen. The impact knocked pilot Davis unconscious for a moment and he was injured from plexiglas shards.
The piece of shrapnel hit co-pilot 2nd Lt. Orrin V. Cook, slicing off the tips two of his fingers, cutting across the bridge of bridge of his nose and cheek and jaw before exiting the co-pilot's window and embedding in the engine nacelle. Injured, Cook wanted to continue flying but was ordered out of his seat to allow his wounds to be treated.
Later, this B-25 was renamed
"Stubborn Hellion" with the nose art of a white mustang that spanned the entire nose.
On February 3, 1944 took off from Dobodura Airfield piloted by Captain Michael F. Hochella on a low level strike against Dagua Airfield.
On February 15, 1944 took off from Dobodura Airfield piloted by Captain Michael F. Hochella on a low level strike against Kavieng. While leading a three plane flight over the main wharf and Chinatown areas, this B-25 was hit by anti-aircraft fire that damaged one engine and resulted in shrapnel holes down the left side of the fuselage. Leaving the target, Hochella unsuccessfully attempted to feather the propeller and dove down to sea level, lagging behind the formation.
The damaged engine caught fire and this B-25 ditched into the sea roughly 75 yards off Selapiu Island near New Hanover at roughly Lat 2.21° Long 150.37°. During the ditching, the B-25 spun 180 degrees before sinking.
On impact, pilot Hochella was thrown through the cockpit windshield strapped to his seat and armor plate and briefly passed out before inflating his life jacket and releasing his seat belt and floating to the surface and climbed onto the right wing.
As the B-25 sank, the left wing submerged first, raising the right wing upward. As the bomber sank, the rear life raft compartment released and the life raft popped to the surface and inflated automatically.
As the right wing sank, Hochella rolled into the life raft.
Navigator Howard was never seen again and presumed to have gone down with the bomber and remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA). The rest of the crew realized he was missing, they dove underwater to search for him to no avail.
Fates of the Crew
After the ditching, five crew also floated to the surface: Hochella, Bright, Stephens, Lambert and Kellar.
Three enlisted men sustained injuries in the ditching.
Stephens had a broken ankle and nose. Lambert had a broken leg above the knee with the bone sticking out of the flesh. Kellar was the least injured an took charge of them. The three wounded men clung to the life raft as Hochella and Bright paddled towards the nearest island.
When they reached the island, it was covered in impenatrable mangroves and waist deep water. They could see and hear PBY-5 "Arkansas Traveler" 08139 piloted by Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon making several landings and take offs to the east and espected the flying boat would next rescue them. Instead, it departed unaware they had gone down at this location.
Roughly ten miles from Kavieng, they could hear explosions from fires into the afternoon. Expecting the Japanese to search for them, the two officers swam out to the site of the ditching and attempted to remove floating debris then returned to the enlisted men and made a shelter in the mangroves and rested into the evening to the light of fires in the distance. In the darkness, they saw surf breaking on another island roughly three miles away and decided to paddle to that location so the injured men could rest of flat ground.
On February 16, 1944 at dawn, they reached the nearby island that proved to be a submerged reef but found another small island nearby and hid their raft and the injured men. In the morning, an outrigger canoe with two natives passed, and the two officers drew their .45 caliber pistols to fire at them but both guns were rusty and failed to fire. An hour later, another canoe passed with two natives that did not seem to spot them.
That same day, the B-25s from the 345th BG again attacked New Hanover. Afterwards, B-25 pilot by Keith E. Daugherty from the 500th BS detoured to search for Hochella's crew which had not been observed to go down. Flying around the small islands and reefs and overflew the north shore of Selapiu Island and spotted a figure waving on the beach and two others dragging a life raft into the water.
Spotting the B-25, Hochella and Bright paddled into the sea to be sure they were spotted and were buzzed at 200' then dropped rations that landed 50' from then. The B-25 departed and reported thier position ane early the next morning flew to Finschafen to guide a flying boat to their location. That afternoon, there was rain and heavy seas.
On February 17, 1944 an air-sea rescue PBY-5 Catalina 08491 piloted by Lt Orazio Simonelli from VP-34 with Captain Dougherty to guide them to the location. They were escorted by fighters but they ran low on fuel and departed 30 minutes before reaching the Kavieng area. On Selapiu Island, the survivors heard the engines and loaded the injuired men into the life raft and paddled into the sea as the flying boat circled at 200' before landing outside the reef at 11:30am and shut off one engine and circled slowly as they paddled towards it.
As they neared, a line was tossed to them and were pulled alongside the right blister and were taken aboard. One of the enlisted men fell overboard while getting aboard and was helped inside by one of the crew. Aboard, they were given medical treatment and Lambert was administered morphine. After landing at Langemak Bay near Finschhafen, the crew were treated by U.S. Navy doctor Lt. Mark Dodge then placed aboard U.S. Army ambulances and transported to the hospital where Lambert's leg was amputated. Hochella had completed 45 combat missions and was sent back to the United States.
Howard was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Howard is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. he also has a memorial marker at Fairview Cemetery in Pryor, OK.
Hochella earned the Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with oak leaf cluster and the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster. He attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring from the military. He passed away September 13, 2005 and is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery (Bethlehem Memorial Park) in Bethlehem, PA in section B.
Kellar passed away
March 27, 2005 at age 87. He is buried at Mount Zion Cemetery and Mausoleum in North Coventry Township, PA.
This B-25 remains underwater in excellent
condition, but water visibility is poor. During the ditching, both engines were torn off on impact and rest prop down
in the mud about 100' from the fuselage.
Don Fetterly adds:
"The plane is an excellent
dive. It is laying slightly on its starboard side with its starboard
wing into the mud. and the other wing raised so
you can swim under it. The fuselage is bent at the waist
gun position although the tail plane to be at a angle of
some 20 degree to port. The top of the cockpit is missing
and the cockpit section is bent backwards towards and is
laying along side the leading edge of the port wing about
where the engine was. Water visibility is often poor, but the
wreckage is still in excellent condition. Both engines were
torn off on impact and rest prop down in the mud about 100
feet from the fuselage. The nose section is completely gone
and as of this date could not find it . The top turret is
bent sideways slightly, but all in all the plane is there
just as it went down. There are lots of flack holes in the
wing and main body. the machine guns are still there in
the tail and starboard waist gun both 30 caliber the port gun seem
to have be torn out."
Marc Montocchio adds:
"The wreck which is very difficult to shoot due to the viability which is
not more than 10'. The engines are missing from the wreck and her nose cone was
snapped off on impact and is lying against her left wing. The left front seat
is loose, "legend" has it that pilot was thrown clear of the aircraft
on impact and the seat has since been returned by divers to it's correct position.
Inside the fuselage the radio gear is very clear as well as what I presume is
an oxygen cylinder. The tail gun is on the tail plane along side an number of
ammunition belts with the turret guns pointing to the bottom no covered by an
anemone and clown fish. One of the engine is to be found fifty or so meters from
the plane with the prop covered by the silt and mud. The rest of the aircraft
we found in clearer water."
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Michael F. Hochella
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William H. Bright
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John J. Howard
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Elmore C. Stephens
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Samuel Kellar
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Clyde R. Lambert
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25C-10 Mitchell 42-32314
"32314 (345th BG, 500th BS, *Stubborn Hellion*) shot down by AAA in attack on Kavieng, New Britain Feb 15, 1944. 1 of 6 crew killed."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John J. Howard
FindAGrave - Lieut John Joseph "Jack" Howard (photo, grave photo)
LTC Michael F. Hochella (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Elmore Calvin Stephens, Sr (obituary, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Samuel L Kellar, Jr (grave photo)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25C Mitchell 42-32314
Warpath Across The Pacific pages 99 (December 22, 1943 mission), 118-119 (February 3, 1944 mission), 122 (February 15, 1944 mission), 127 (photos), 127-129 (ditching and evasion), 133 (February 16, 1944 spotted and February 17, 1944 rescue), 368, 392, 447 (index Snafu II / Stubborn Hellion)
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis.
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February 18, 2020