CRASH OF A B-17F FLYING FORTRESS
POSSIBLY 55KMS SOUTH OF ALBANY PASSAGE
AND 74KMS SOUTH OF CAPE YORK
ON 26 MARCH 1943

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visits since 1 April 2007

 

B-17F Flying Fortress #41-24384, "Pluto", left Port Moresby at 9.15am, on 26 March 1943 to carry out a scheduled seven hour reconnaissance flight to Merauke and Horn Island and return to Port Moresby. The B-17 had sufficient fuel for a twelve hour flight. Twenty minutes after take-off, the radio operator on "Pluto" radioed in to the ground station. This was the last radio contact with the B-17.

When it was realised that the aircraft had gone missing, extensive searches were carried out over land and sea however no trace of the B-17 or its crew was ever found. The aircraft's scheduled path was about 150 miles distant from the nearest enemy territory which was across the Owen Stanley Mountain Range in New Guinea.

Those lost and presumed dead on this tragic flight were as follows:-

Brigadier General Howard K Ramey (0-10874)
Lt Colonel Harold N Chaffin (0-22469)
Captain Stanley A Loewenberg (0-282379)
Captain James R Griffin (0-389636)
2nd Lt William Lief (0-726002)
M/Sgt James D Collier Jr (6920942)
T/Sgt Ortis L Quaal (6149056)
S/Sgt Robert R Stith (18004634)
S/Sgt Harry A Johnson (12031847)
Sgt Marvin Berkowitz (6979447)
Pfc George T Hopfield (6668063)
Lt Commander Ferdinand D Mannoccir II (131324) (US Navy)

General Ramey was the second general of the Fifth Bomber Command to disappear following the earlier disappearance of General Kenneth Walker, the Commanding Officer of Fifth Bomber Command who went missing  on an operational mission to Rabaul on 5 January 1943. Their B-17 Flying Fortress #41-24453 from the 64th Squadron of the 43rd Bomb Group, was shot down by Japanese fighter aircraft.

General Howard K. Ramey was succeeded by another Ramey, Roger M. Ramey, no relation. The second Ramey was a young man, a colonel who later became a general.

General Douglas MacArthur became concerned that Brigadier General Ramey and Lt. Commander Mannoccir may have been captured by the Japanese.

 


Photo:- via Bruce Hoy

B-17F Flying Fortress #41-24384, "Pluto"

 


Photo:- Don Mitchell, Photo Section, initially in the
22nd Bomb Group, later in the 38th Bomb Group

General Ramey, Lt. Col. O'Neill and Lt. Col. Dutton in New Guinea, circa 1943

 


Photo:- via David Shulman

Lieutenant Stan Loewenberg possibly in New York

 


Photo:- via David Shulman

Lieutenant Stan Loewenberg (left) and his brother Colonel Jerome "Jerry" Loewenberg

 

Diary of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group

26 March 1943

543 Staley
455 Dieffenderfer
554 Murphy
574 Derr
537 O'Brien
358Denault
417 Trigg

Departed Jackson at 0130. Target: shipping Wewak Harbor. Bomb load; 4 ships with 8 X 500# inst demo, 3 with 4X 100# inst demo.

554  Murphy didn't take off on account of engine trouble. Nothing was sighted by the remaining crews.

358, Denault, 537 O'Brien, 574 Derr dropped their bombs on harbor installations.

455 Diffenderfer, 543 Staley, 417  Trigg dropped theirs on the town and runway.

543 Staley landed at Dobodura on the way back because of lack of gas. Search party  consisting of Lt Murphy and Capt Thompson's crew were organized and were about to take off when 543 landed. Squadron on readiness at 1500.

27 March 1943

Thompson, Denault, Scott, Murphy, and O'Brien off at 0645 on search mission for Gen. Ramey who has gone down somewhere in the area Moresby- Murauka-Horn Island, Looked all day but party wasn't found. Sgt Quaal, Sgt. Berkewitz, Sgt.H.A.Johnson formerly of the 63rd were on the ship whose number was 384.

B-17F Flying Fortress #41-24384 "Pluto" was delivered on 22 June 1942. It left Hamilton Field, California, USA on 28 July 1942 and arrived at Amberley airfield west of Brisbane in Australia on 6 August 1942 piloted by Captain James A. Barnett. "Pluto" flew combat indoctrination missions with the 19th Bomb Group and was later piloted by Major Felix Hardison on a mission to Rabaul on 29 August 1942. "Pluto" was reassigned to the 63rd Bomb Squadron, of the 43rd Bomb Group with Lt. James T. Murphy as its regular pilot. "Pluto" was modified for long range reconnaissance missions in February 1943.

 


 

The following information is from the American Battle Monuments Commission web page:-

Howard K. Ramey
Brigadier General, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-010874
Headquarters, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: Mississippi
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart

Harold N. Chaffin
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-022469
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: Arkansas
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart

Stanley A. Loewenberg
Captain, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-282379
Headquarters, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: New York
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

James R. Griffin
Captain, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-389636
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: Texas
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

William Lief
First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-726002
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: New York
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

James D. Collier, Jr.
Master Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 6920942
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: Louisiana
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

Ortis L. Quaal
Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 6149056
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: South Dakota
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart

Robert R. Stith
Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 18004634
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: Oklahoma
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

Harry A. Johnson
Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 12031847
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: New York
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

Marvin Berkowitz
Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 6979447
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: New York
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart

George T. Hopfield
Private First Class, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 6668063
Headquarters Squadron, V Bomber Command
Entered the Service from: Ohio
Died: 19-Nov-45
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

Ferdinand D. Mannoccir, II
Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy
Service # 0-131324
United States Naval Reserve
Entered the Service from: California
Died: 27-Mar-44
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards:

 


 

BEN CROPP BELIEVES HE HAS FOUND "PLUTO"

In February 2007 Newspaper articles appeared stating that the former shark hunter and now cinematographer, Ben Cropp, had located some wreckage of a B-17 Flying Fortress. He had located a wing and two engines in 2005 in the sea about 55kms south of Albany Passage and 74km south of Cape York.

Ben Cropp believes that this wreckage is part of B-17F Flying Fortress #41-24384, "Pluto" which was lost on 26 March 1943 with the loss of life of Brigadier General Howard K. Ramey and 11 others service personnel. One article stated that experts had been unable to determine whether the wreckage was General Ramey's B-17 or a B-24 Liberator named "Punjab" which had vanished without a trace on 16 November 1942. "Punjab" was piloted by the Commanding Officer of the 320th Bomb Squadron, 90th Bomb Group Major Raymond S. Morse. Also on board "Punjab" was the Group Commander, Colonel Arthur W. Meehan, who was co-pilot.

Cropp returned to the crash site armed with new information on how to identify the aircraft. He stated "The tyre and landing gear was up inside behind the engine, showing that it was a B-17. If it was a B-24, it (the landing gear) would have been up under the wing."

Cropp and his crew were able to flip an engine over to examine it. He indicated that they found the round-shaped engine cowling and nine cylinders which he said belonged to a B-17.

The wreckage is located in five to six metres of water on the edge of a coral reef. Cropp indicated that the propellers are turned inwards, which he indicated usually means that the engines were stopped at the time of the crash.

Cropp indicated that the wing was not just torn off the plane, but right through the fuselage. Ben Cropp said that as the fuselage was not part of the wreckage hence the wreckage he has found is not a war grave.

Margaret Ramey Watkins, 83 years old, of San Antonio, Texas, General Ramey's daughter, has heard of the possible discovery of the B-17 in which her father was killed. She said that an end to the mystery would mean a lot to her family.

NOTE:- Until a name plate can be recovered from an engine or wing or fuselage and be positively identified, we can not be totally certain that this is actually the wreckage of B-17F Flying Fortress #41-24384, "Pluto".


Photo:- Ben Cropp

Ben Cropp inspecting the engine as found

 


Photo:- Ben Cropp

Ben's son, Dean Cropp, inspecting the same engine after it had been turned over

 


 

NOTE:- A David Shulman has been in contact with me. David is the grandson of Captain Stanley A Loewenberg.
 

NOTE:- B-17F Flying Fortress #41-24543 was also called "Pluto".  It crashed on 30 June 1943 near Kulit, New Britain piloted by 1st Lt. Harold S. Barnett.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Pride of Seattle, The Story of the First 300 B-17Fs"
by Steve Birdsall

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Bruce Hoy, and Peter Murray for their assistance with this web page.

I'd like to thank Ben Cropp for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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