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|Pilot 2nd Lt. William H. Melville, O-742880 (MIA / KIA) Minneapolis, MN
Crashed October 28, 1943
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-39Q-5-BE Airacobra serial number 42-19959. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 8th Fighter Group (8th FG) "Cyclone's Flying Circus", 36th Fighter Squadron (36th FS) "The Flying Fiends". No known nose art or nickname. This aircraft had a white painted tail and U. S. star and bar markings. When lost, engine V1710-85 serial number 42-98044. Armed with .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers 659092, 661109, 507518, 507410 and 37mm cannon serial number 5946.
On October 28, 1943 at 3:10pm took off from 5 Mile Drome (Wards) near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt. William H. Melville as one of four Airacobras led by 1st Lt John J. Perkins on an armed patrol bound for the Nadzab area of New Guinea. During the flight, the formation experienced a violent weather front with 100% overcast with visibility above overcast of twenty miles, and flew along the coast at 20,000' to avoid the weather.
At approximately 4:10pm, the other three Airacobtas in the flight were last seen by 1st Lt John J. Perkins roughly 25 miles north of Bulldog. Returning to base alone, P-39Q piloted by 1st Lt. Perkins periodically attempted to reach his flight by radio without result. At 5:05pm, he landed safely at 5 Mile Drome. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost was P-39Q 42-19987 (MIA) and P-39Q 42-20031 (MIA) and this aircraft.
The next day, two P-39s searched for 2.5 hours for the missing aircraft along the coast from Port Moresby to "Kermina" sic Kerema and inland to the mountain range. That same day, four other P-39s patrolling the Bulldog area also looked for the lost planes. On October 30, an A-24 searched the mountains beyond Bulldog and Kokoda Pass area. Also, a PBY also searched for the missing planes along the coast to the Fly River but failed to find anything. On October 31, one A-24 and two P-39s continued to search, but found nothing.
Postwar, the wreckage of this Airacobra was reportedly located near Okavai (Otamai, Okavail) in an impact crater filled with a foot of water.
During April 2019, a team from DPAA was scheduled to visit the crash site and search for the remains of the pilot.
Melville was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Melville is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. On July 3, 2020 the Department of Defense (DoD) announced Melville was accounted for.
During late September 2014, Michael Claringbould claimed to visit the crash site of a Airacobra reported to be this aircraft and photographed the tail painted white with traces of "219" visible on both sides and a yellow and red horizontal stripe at the tip of the tail. Also, one of the cockpit doors. In fact, was the crash site of P-39N Airacobra 42-19041.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records William H. Melville
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-39Q-5-BE Airacobra serial number 42-19959
"19959 (8th FG) lost Oct 28, 1943, New Guinea. MACR 1006"
Missing Air Crew Report 1006 (MACR 1006) created October 30, 1943
USAAF Overseas Accident Reports - October 1943
News "Missing Flier Listed Dead Lieutenant Lost in New Guinea" November 8, 1944 page 17
News "City Fighter Pilot Missing in Guinea" 1943
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William H. Melville
FindAGrave - 2Lt William Henry Melville (news, photo, tablets of the missing)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-39Q Airacobra 42-19959
Attack & Conquer page 313 notes this aircraft incorrectly as "42-19955"
Flightpath Magazine "Cobra in the Clouds" by Michael Claringbould May-June 2015 Volume 26, No. 4 pages 32-36 details the loss of William H. Melville [sic crash site associated with P-39N Airacobra 42-19041]
Facebook - William Henry Melville (tribute page)
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Personnel Profile - 2d Lt William H Melville (photo)
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Release No: 20-090 "Pilot Accounted For From World War II (Melville, W.) July 7, 2020
"2nd Lt. William H. Melville, 20, killed during World War II, was accounted for July 3, 2020."
Thanks to David C. Daniels for additional information
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