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  B-17F-20-BO "Black Jack / The Joker's Wild" Serial Number 41-24521  
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

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Cy Peabody, 1981
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via Pride of Seattle
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July 1943
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Ian Williams 1998
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Rod Pearce 2000

Pilot  Lt. Ralph K. De Loach, O-440981 St. Petersburg, FL
Co-Pilot Lt Joseph H. Moore, O-426411 Aliquippa, PA
Navigator  Lt Charles H. Shaver, O-797085 Lee, MA
Bombardier  2nd Lt. Herman J. Dias, O-729959 San Francisco, CA
Engineer  SSgt Delbert C. Smith, 39166314 Anahiem, CA (WIA)
Radio  TSgt George Prezioso, 12009388 Belleville, NJ
Ball Turret  Joseph F. Wilson, 13052496 Philadelphia, PA
Waist Gunner Private Daniel Clinton, 11037309 Brockton, MA
Waist Gunner  Cpl Jim Peterson, 17043264 Mason City, IA
Tail Gunner  SSgt Paul J. Blasewitz, 12028587 AR

Ditched  July 11, 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Delivered to the US Army on July 23, 1943 at the cost of $314,109. Outfitted at the Lowry Modification Center then ferried to Hamilton Field. Ferried to Australia by Lt. William O'Brien, departing on August 30, 1942. Assigned to 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd Bombardment Squadron on September 7, 1943.

Assigned to Captain Kenneth D. McCullar who nicknamed the bomber "Black Jack" because the serial number ended in "21". The right side of the nose had the nose art of two playing cards: Jack and Ace making 21 in blackjack. McCullar had an extra 50 caliber machine gun rigged into the nose to fire forward triggered from the pilot's control column.

On November 24, 1942 "Black Jack"took off on a mission against destroyers in Huon Gulf piloted by McCullar. Over Japanese ships, the B-17 performed a skip bombing attack from 200', with bombs impacting off the stern of the destroyer. Anti-aircraft fire hit ammunition and started a fire in the tail section that was successfully extinguished. On the second bombing run the B-17 was hit again and three crew were injured. On the third run the left outboard engine was hit and the engine did not feather and controls damaged. McCullar made two more attacks from higher altitude and the right outboard engine failed due to a hit in the fuel system. Out of bombs, they departed. On the return flight the damaged left engine's propeller broke off and spun off. Loosing altitude, the crew jettisoned all equipment possible and managed to restart the right engine and managed to climb over the Owen Stanley Mountains back to Port Moresby. Later that night, RAAF Beaufort crews reported a destroyer sinking. During B-17s attacks, Hayashio was hit and later scuttled by the Japanese.

Damaged on a night bombing attack against Japanese destroyers on . After being repaired it was flown by McCullar's co-pilot Lt. Harry Staley, until he completed his tour of duty. Staley added to the nose art, adding "The Joker's Wild" to the left side of the nose.

On February 14, 1943, this B-17 was damaged on a bombing mission over Rabaul. Afterwards, under repair until April 1943, then completed fourteen more combat missions.

Mission History
On July 11, 1943 took off after midnight from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Lt. Ralph K. De Loach and an ad-hoc crew. Private Clinton was flying his first combat mission that night. Their mission was to bomb Rabaul. Over the target, problems developed with the right wing's no. 3 and no. 4 engines, but the bombs were successfully dropped over the target.

Returning, the bomber was caught in a violent storm, with the two engines on the right wing malfunctioning. The pilots could not hold a straight course and got lost and ran low on fuel. Since co-pilot Moore had previously ditched a B-17, DeLoach handed the controls over to him.

The B-17 ditched off Kakau and the Makau Mission near Boga Boga off Cape Vogel. During the ditching, three of the crew were injured. The worst injury was engineer Smith who had been seated between the two pilots and suffered a broken back. The entire crew escaped the aircraft, deployed their life rafts an were aided ashore by friendly villagers who gave them food and shelter in their village.

Notified of the ditching, Australian Coastwatcher Eric Foster notified air-sea rescue and a RAAF seaplane later evacuated the wounded crewmen. Two days later, a PT boat rescued the rest of the crew, taking them to Goodenough Island where they were flown from Vivigani Airfield back to 7-Mile Drome. The unhurt crew members got two weeks leave in Sydney, then returned to combat.

Afterwards, the crew were awarded several awards for the mission: DeLoach and Moore earned the Silver Star. Smith, Wilison and Prezioso earned the Bronze Star, Oak Leaf Cluster.

Steve Birdsall adds:
"As part of the 'Black Jack" research we found Fifth Air Force General Orders No 197, containing the Air Medal citations for Blasewitz, Clinton, Dias, Peterson, Prezioso, Shaver, Smith and Wilson. The citations state the following: 'after leaving the target, and flying through turbulent storms and rain for four hours and with fuel running low, the aircraft made a crash-landing on a beach'."

The B-17 settled into 45m of sea, off a coral reef, narrowly missing deeper water where it might never have been found. The nose section was crushed from either landing, or impacting the bottom when it sank.

After hearing stories from the locals about a large aircraft the diched off their village, Rodney Pearce, David Pennefather and Bruce Johnson

On December 27, 1986 discovered by SCUBA diver Rodney Pearce. also present were David Pennefather and Bruce Johnson.  Nearly intact, the nose is torn and crumpled from impacting the seafloor nose first. Aside from the two waist guns and radio transmitters, jettisoned prior to ditching, all other weapons and gear were still aboard.

Rod Pearce recalls:
"We were very excited when we found it. We had found the serial number, but did not know the history initially. I sent the serial number to to my friend Richard Leahy and informed us the history of the bomber, the most famous B-17 in the SWPA and contacted historian Steve Birdsall, who was very excited. At a later date, he proposed the idea of making the documentary Black Jack's Last Mission. I corresponded with the tail gunner, Paul Blasewitz who wrote me a lovely letter after we found the bomber. He told me when he saw the postmark of 'Lae' he just stared at the letter for days. He told me he had a Thompson Sub-machine gun aboard, but we could never find it. When the bomber ditched, he was in the radio compartment with a parachute against his back, and the Thompson on his lap. They hit the water hard and skipped once or twice, then came to rest. Water started to fill the plane he lost, then exited through the radio hatch. Also, he told me about a "Bowie" survival knife in the tail, which we found. The blade was rusted away, but the guard was there. We also found some 30 caliber ammunition in boxes in the nose. Waist gunner Jim Peterson lived in Miami, Florida when it was found. He read an article about a bomber being discovered in New Guinea. He remembered being seated next to Blasewitz when they ditched. He recalled worrying what was going to be outside - if they would be shot or eaten by locals."

Fifth Air Force General Orders No 197, containing the Air Medal citations for Blasewitz, Clinton, Dias, Peterson, Prezioso, Shaver, Smith and Wilson
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17F Flying Fortress 41-24521
Black Jack's Last Mission (DVD) by Steve Birdsall
Warbirds "Black Jack's Last Mission" by Steve Birdsall Sept / Oct 1989
National Geographic "Ghosts of War" page 426-427
Winged Ghosts of the Pacific includes dive footage of the wreck
Pride of Seattle pages 10-11, 15
Thanks to Rod Pearce and Steve Birdsall for additional information

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Last Updated
May 26, 2016


Tech Info


George Prezioso

Paul Blasewitz Account

Black Jack's Last Mission

Photo Archive

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