Sad story of B-25 “Elusive Lizzie / Miss America”

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Built by North American as a model D-5 and initially nicknamed “Elusive Lizzie” she was later renamed “Miss America” (before both nicknames were then covered by 38th Bombardment Group’s Green Dagon nose-art insignia).

On August 5, 1943 B-25 “Miss America” (Serial no. 41-30118), assigned to the 5th Air Force, 38th Bombardment Group, 405th Bombardment Squadron, took off from 17-Mile (Durand) near Port Moresby piloted by Major Williston M. Cox on a barge sweep off Madang and a strike against Madang Airfield. Damaged by anti-aircraft fire, the B-25 ditched between Wongat Island and the coast of New Guinea. Engineer S/Sgt Raymond J. Zimmerman drowned in the aircraft after it crashed into the sea.

Afterward, the rest of the crew swam to Wongat Island and were captured by the Japanese and became Prisoners Of War (POW). Together, they were transported to the Kempei Tai Headquarters at Amron where they were repeatedly beaten and interrogated over twelve days.

Around August 17, 1943 Major Cox was separated and flown to Rabaul, and then transported aboard ship to Japan. He survived the war at Omori POW Camp in Tokyo.

B-25 #41-30118, Miss America, sinks off the coast of Madang after being hit by antiaircraft fire on August 5, 1943. The crew was taken captive by the Japanese. (Credits: International Historical Research Associates)

B-25 #41-30118, Miss America, sinks off the coast of Madang after being hit by antiaircraft fire on August 5, 1943. The crew was taken captive by the Japanese. (Credits: International Historical Research Associates)

The B-25D-5 "Elusive Lizzie/Miss America". (Credits: Rod Pearce)

The B-25D-5 “Elusive Lizzie/Miss America”. (Credits: Rod Pearce)

Execution

Major Williston M. Cox, Jr. was the only member of his crew to survive as a POW. (Credits: International Historical Research Associates)

Major Williston M. Cox, Jr. was the only member of his crew to survive as a POW. (Credits: International Historical Research Associates)

On August 31, 1943, the other four crew members: Robert J. Koscelnak, Louis J. Rittaco and Hugh W. Anderson, were blindfolded and escorted down from Amron to an execution ground. Each was bayoneted then beheaded. Lastly, Robert L. Herry was tied between two posts and bayoneted to death. The same day, Owen H. Salvage, the sole survivor of B-25D (Serial no. 41-30221) was also executed.

Post war affidavit L/Cpl Yasukuni Tani. (clerk, Kempei Tai Amron) states:

“The actual execution was to be three prisoners by Kempei Tai and two by headquarters Sentry Guard Unit”. However, 1st Lt. Matsumoto’s Kempei Tai members said, “We will execute the three prisoners for the revenge of the death of our comrade, Cpl Nakano.” This Matsumoto’s Unit had a conflict several weeks ago at Kesa village, which is located at the head of the Ramu River. The three prisoners were blindfolded and escorted down the mountain to the execution ground by the Kempei Tai members and Sgt Major Kawawa, Cpl Ishikawa and S.Pvt Ozawa. After about 20 minutes had elapsed, Matsumoto’s Kempei Tai group came back and said, “The execution is over now, we will proceed back immediately” and walked towards Kempei Tai Headquarters.”

The last prisoner (Pilot Robert L. Herry) I believe was a captain. After hearing the bayonet charge yell, he said to the Interpreter Shimizu, “I am going to be bayoneted, isn’t that so? I don’t want to be bayoneted; tell the commander I want to be shot.” After 10 minutes, this last prisoner was led to the execution ground and I followed with the group. After this last prisoner had been tied I could hear the Sentry Guard Unit squad leader commanding his men to fix bayonets. At that moment the prisoner said, “Do not bayonet me, shoot me instead.” Then at first the squad leader jabbed his bayonet into the prisoner’s chest. After he jabbed the first bayonet approximately 12 or 13 of the squad took turns bayoneting.

B-25D-5 (Serial no. 41-30118) Crew on August 5, 1943.
Command Pilot Major Williston M. Cox, O-426370 (POW, survived) TN
Pilot Captain Robert L. Herry, O-421090 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) TX
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Robert J. Koscelnak, O-732556 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) Orange, CA
Navigator 1st Lt Louis J. Rittaco, O-660907 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) NJ
Engineer S/Sgt Raymond J. Zimmerman, 39304264 (MIA / KIA) OR
Radio T/Sgt Hugh W. Anderson, 38069521 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) Aspermont TX

Recovery of Remains

After World war II ended, New Guinea natives assisted US Army AGRS to locate and recover the remains of at least two members of the crew from the graves where they were buried at Amron. These remains were buried at Finschhafen Cemetery as unknowns.

On March 15, 1948, that dental charts for unknowns X-17 and X-14 compared favorably with those of Herry and Koscelneck, but awaited further medical evidence before making an identification. Later, these remains were positively identified.

On September 5, 1979, this B-25 was located by David Pennefather. He added:

“I was a keen diver and lived in Madang at that time. I was snorkeling off Wongat looking for a reported sunken aircraft said to have crashed there. After hours in the water, I dived down for the last time and there on the seabed lay the B-25. 

I returned to Madang grabbed some scuba gear and with another diver headed back to explore and photograph the aircraft. Within a few days of the discovery, vandals removed the side guns and other artifacts.”

Since then, this wreck has become a popular dive site. It is fully intact except for the port engine which is missing (torn off during the ditching). The port wing tip is at 12-15 meters and the starboard wing is at 25 meters.

The main body of the plane is at about 18 meters depth. The four machine guns are visible through the damaged nose section and ammunition hoppers visible. There is still a considerable number of .50 caliber rounds inside but they are cemented into place by sea life. Both cockpit hatches are open. Large sponges and fans cover the wreck.

Zimmerman was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. After the identification of the recovered remains, Koscelnak was buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot C row 16 grave 59. Anderson was buried in 1950 at Aspermont Cemetery in Aspermont, TX at block N.




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About Author

Pierre is a journalist, fully certified scuba diver, Media Relations and Media Operations specialist, based in Athens, Greece, with a keen interest in World War 2 History, with a focus on the events as they unfolded in Greece. He is the author of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles related to WW2 and is currently in the process of preparing his websites.

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