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  B-17F-1-BO "Pluto" Serial Number 41-24384  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

Former Assignments
19th BG
93rd BS

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
USAAF c1943

Pilot  Brigadier General Howard K. Ramey, O-010874 C.O., 5th Bomber Command (MIA / KIA ) Waynesboro, MS
Co-Pilot  Lt Colonel Harold N. Chaffin, O-022469 (MIA / KIA) AR
Passenger  Captain Stanley A. "Stan" Loewenberg, O-0282379 HQ, V Bomber Command (MIA / KIA) Brooklyn, NY
Passenger  Lt. Commander. Ferdinand D. Mannoccir, II, O-131324 USN (MIA / KIA) USN CA
Passenger  Capt James R. Griffin, O-389636 (MIA / KIA) TX
Passenger  2nd Lt William Lief, O-726002 (MIA / KIA) NY
Passenger  M/Sgt James D. Collier Jr., 6920942 (MIA / KIA) LA
Passenger  T/Sgt Ortis L. Quaal, 6149056 (MIA / KIA) SD
Passenger  S/Sgt Robert R. Stith, 18004634 (MIA / KIA) OK
Passenger  S/Sgt Harry A. Johnson, 12031847 (MIA / KIA) NY
Passenger  Sgt Marvin Berkowitz, 6979447 (MIA / KIA) NY
Passenger  Pfc George T. Hopfield, 6668063 (MIA / KIA) OH

MIA  March 26, 1943
MACR  15499

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 3069. On June 22, 1942 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17F-1-BO Flying Fortress serial Number 41-24384. Flown to Sacramento Air Depot (SAD). While being equipped, nicknamed "Pluto" with the nose art of the Walt Disney character Pluto sniffing the ground on the right side of the nose.

Lt Nathan J. "Joe" Hirsh (43rd BG, navigator of "Pluto") recalls:
"While the plane was being equipped at McClellan Air Base. I was the one in charge of outfitting the bomber. Afterwards, they asked me what I wanted to call it. I liked dogs so I suggested 'Pluto' and that became the nickname."

Wartime History
This B-17 was flown overseas piloted by Captain James A. Barnett with co-pilot 1st Lt. James Dieffenderfer departing Hamilton Field on July 28, 1942 to Hickam Field then across the Pacific flying via Christmas Island Airfield, Canton Airfield, Fiji and New Caledonia before arriving at Brisbane on August 6, 1942. The flight included four new B-17Fs including B-17F 41-24355, B-17F 41-24357, B-17F 41-24381 and this bomber.

In Australia, briefly assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group at Charleville Airfield for training purposes for the crew to gain experience.

On August 14, 1943 assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd Bombardment Squadron to Captain John A. Barnett, who soon transfered to the 43rd Bombardment Group, operations section. Next, assigned to 1st Lt. Dieffenderfer until August 25, 1942 when he and his crew were assigned to B-17E 41-9234.

During late August 1942, this B-17 was transfered to the 19th Bombardment Group, 93rd Bombardment Squadron assigned to pilot Major Felix Hardison. This B-17 flew combat familiarization flights over northern Australia including operating from Mareeba Airfield in Queensland, Australia where it once became stuck in the clay soil on a taxiway and had to be towed. Next, flown to 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby in New Guinea.

On August 29, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Major Felix Hardison on a bombing mission over Rabaul.

Afterwards, returned to the 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd Bombardment. Crew Chief Woods. Assigned to pilot 1st Lt. James T. "Jimmy" Murphy with navigator Lt Nathan J. "Joe" Hirsh. This B-17 flew a total of seventeen combat missions.

Lt Nathan J. "Joe" Hirsh (43rd BG, former navigator of "Pluto") recalls:
"I was the Pluto's navigator from August 1942 through March 1943 and to my knowledge am the last surviving crew member. I was part of the crew that ferried her to Australia and I carved my name and initials under the navigator's table. Originally we had 30 caliber machine guns in the nose, we replaced them with 50 caliber. "

On November 13, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Lt. Murphy with navigator 2nd Lt. Nathan J. Hirsch as one of seven B-17s on a bombing mission against a Japanese convoy off Tonolei Harbor on southern Bougainville. Over the target, the formation descended to 2,000' were fired on by anti-aircraft fire. This B-17 was hit in the no. 4 engine before skip bombing a 10,000 ton transport. Afterwards, this B-17 made a second bomb run on a 8,000 ton transport and a nearby anti-aircraft shell broke the nose plexiglass. Departing the area, another engine was only operating at half power. Damaged, the B-17 overcame both bad weather and damage but manage to returned to 7-Mile Drome. Afterwards, the crew were recommended for the Silver Star for this mission and a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for prior reconnaissance flights.

On January 21, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by 1st Lt. James Murphy on an overnight bombing mission against Rabaul. Over the target, this B-17 skip bombed a 2,000 ton vessel and was observed to pitch violently then spill an oil slick. Afterwards, the formation bombed from medium altitude without result then bombed Rapopo Airfield on the way home.

On March 2, 1943 took off from from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Lt. Herbert Derr on a mission to shadow a Japanese convoy traveling from Rabaul bound for Lae. During the eleven hour mission, this B-17 radioed reports about the position and weather to 5th Bomber Command. This convoy was attacked March 2-4, 1943 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Steve Birdsall adds:
"A bit more about 41-24384, mostly from notes I made when I met Ephron James at a 43rd reunion: 'Jimmy Murphy was the only 2nd Lieutenant aircraft commander in the group, outranked by 1st Lt. Neill Kirby, his co-pilot", so 'they were usually last over the target'. Murphy flew the plane on the first 63rd Bombardment Squadron mission and very regularly up to and including the big February 14, 1943 mission. Ephron James told me, 'Pluto was taken away from us and set up for long range photo missions'. The aircraft doesn't appear in 63rd Squadron again and is not shown as a March loss in their accounting."

On February 14, 1943 took off from from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Murphy on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Afterwards, this B-17 was set up for long range photographic reconnaissance missions.

On March 2, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Herbert Derr on an 11 hours and 20 minute reconnaissance mission over the Bismarck Sea.

On March 3, 1943 took off 7-Mile Drome piloted by James DeWolf on a 8 hours 15 minutes reconnaissance mission.

Lt Nathan J. "Joe" Hirsh (43rd BG, former navigator of "Pluto") recalls:
"We had flown a night bombing mission just prior to the crash [aboard B-17F "The Mustang" 41-24554] and were scheduled to fly another in the next few days. The crew aboard at the time of crash was another crew. We did not know that General Ramey would be using "Pluto", and some of my gear remained aboard at the time of the crash, including my Naval sextant.

Mission History
On March 26, 1943 took off at 9:15am from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby on a reconnaissance / administrative flight to Merauke and Horn Island, then was scheduled to return to 7-Mile Drome.

The entire crew and passengers were from Headquarters Squadron, 5th Bomber Command. Lt. Commander Mannoccir was a U. S. Navy (USN) observer. It is unclear who was piloting this B-17, likely Brigadier General Howard K. Ramey, Lt Colonel Harold N. Chaffin or another member of the crew. Although the Missing Air Crew Report 15499 (MACR 15499) lists the pilot as Brigadier General Howard K. Ramey (Commanding Officer, 5th Bomber Command, Headquarters), it is possible he was listed as pilot since he was the ranking officer.

Twenty minutes after take off, the radio operator "checked in" with the ground station. Afterwards, there was no further communication with the aircraft. Afterwards, this B-17 was declared Missing In Action (MIA).

What happened to this B-17 is unknown. The crew was experienced and no definitive reason for the loss has ever been proven. Possibly, the bomber encountered bad weather or suffered a mechanical failure.

After the loss, General Douglas MacArthur was concerned that Brigadier General Ramey might have fallen into Japanese hands, as well as Lt. Commander Mannoccir, but there is no evidence that a Japanese aircraft intercepted this B-17 or any of the crew became Prisoner Of War (POW).

Search
On March 27, 1943, five B-17s from the 63rd Bomb Squadron piloted by Thompson, Denault, Scott, Murphy, and O'Brien took off from 7-Mile Drome at 6:45am on an all day search mission for this aircraft, searching from Port Moresby to Merauke to Horn Island. This was the only search mission the 63rd Bombardment Squadron flew for this bomber.

Lt Nathan J. "Joe" Hirsh (43rd BG, former navigator of "Pluto") recalls:
"[On March 27, 1943] I participated in several of the subsequent search mission [aboard B-17F "The Mustang" 41-24554 that took off at 0645] and at the time we all suspected that they had been shot down by Japanese float planes that routinely patrolled that area. The search for "Pluto" was was due west [from Port Moresby] and returned due east. I sat in the co-pilot seat and we flew at 100-200', the water and sky were clear. I used Pan American maps at the time. Around the latitude of the Admiralty Islands due west, we saw a school of white sharks on the surface and a pool of oil. The second day visibility was 60% clouds, and we could not see the oil slick nearly as well as the first day."

In the days following the crash, several search missions were flown, but found no definitive evidence of wreckage or any survivors were found.

Justin Taylan adds:
"Searching Japanese Kodochosho, there are no claims of an interception or shoot down of a B-17 anywhere in this region by any fighter, bomber or reconnaissance Kokutai [Air Group].

Memorials
The entire crew (with the exception of Mannoccir) were officially declared dead on November 19, 1945. Mannoccir was officially declared dead on March 27, 1944. The entire crew earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. All remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

The entire crew is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.

Ramey has a memorial marker at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Section MA Site 59 in San Antonio, TX. Borinquen Army Air Field at Aguadilla, Puerto Rico was renamed Ramey Air Force Base (Ramey AFB) In honor of Brigadier General Howard K. Ramey.

In April 26, 2013, Loewenberg had a service and a memorial marker dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery at section MK site 17 due to the efforts of his daughter and grandson. He is also memorialized on a World War II memorial in Sea Cliff, NY.

Griffin has a memorial marker at Rose Hill Cemetery in Blooming Grove, TX.

Wreckage
No trace of this bomber has been found. All twelve aboard remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

During February 2007 Australian news reported erroneously reported the discovery of an aircraft wreck off Cape York by Ben Cropp, claimed it to be this bomber. This claim was unsupported with serial number evidence, and Photo and video of the wreck points to an identity of a C-47 or derivative instead.

Relatives
Are you a relative of a crew member of this bomber? Contact Us
Margaret Watkins (daughter of Howard Ramey)
Wayne Patterson (brother-in-law of uncle Harold N. Chaffin)
"He was the brother-in-law of my uncle. In other words, his sister, Inodine, was married to my father's brother (my uncle). He was also a school teacher before his military service and in fact was my father's 1st grade teacher in addition to being connected to the family by marriage. I am in the process of contacting other family members to see if they have any information and photos of him during his military service, especially photos of him with his plane."
Susie Shulman (daughter of Loewenberg)
David Shulman (grandson of Loewenberg)

References

Note, after the loss of this aircraft, B-17F 41-24543 became known as "Pluto" but had different nose artwork.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17F-1-BO Flying Fortress 41-24384
"24384 (to 19th BG. To 63rd BS, 43rd BG). Disappeared in a storm Mar 26, 1943 in a flight from Papua New Guinea to Brisbane with Gen Howard Ramey and 9 others on board."
Missing Air Crew Report 15499 (MACR 15499) was created retroactively (circa 1945-1946) engine and weapon serial numbers fields are left blank.
Diary of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group
"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[sp]-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."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Howard K. Ramey
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Harold N. Chaffin
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Stanley A. Loewenberg
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ferdinand D. Mannoccir II
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James R. Griffin
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William Lief
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James D. Collier Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ortis L. Quaal
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert R. Stith
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Harry A. Johnson
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Marvin Berkowitz
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - George T. Hopfield
FindAGrave - BrGen Howard Knox Ramey (photos, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Gen Howard Knox Ramey (photos, memorial marker photos)
FindAGrave - Capt Stanley Arthur "Stan" Loewenberg (photos, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Capt Stanley Arthur "Stan" Loewenberg (photos, memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - LTC Harold N Chaffin (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - LTC Harold Newt Chaffin (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - LCDR Ferdinand D Mannoccir, II (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - CPT James Richard Griffin (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - CPT James Richard Griffin (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - William Lief (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - MSgt James D Collier, Jr (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - TSgt Ortis L Quaal (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Robert R Stith (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Harry A Johnson (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Marvin Berkowitz (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - PFC George T Hopfield (tablets of the missing photo)
Pride of Seattle pages 7, 17
Fortress Against The Sun pages 235 (ferry flight arriving August 6, 1942), 391, 430 (footnote 29, ferry flight arriving August 6, 1942)
Air Force Print News - Memories of father stay strong, even after 63 years by Annette Crawford June 15, 2006
Pacific Wrecks Forum - B-17 "Pluto" notes about B-17 41-24543 vs B-17F 41-24384
Cape York Aircraft Wreck Discovery by Ben Cropp February 2007
Oz@War Crash of B-17F Flying Fortress 23 March 1943
Flightpath Magazine "Claimed discovery of General Ramey B-17 "Pluto" by M. Claringbould
Mark Styling - B-17 Flying Fortresses in the Pacific, page 3 artwork of B-17F 41-24384 "Pluto" incorrectly puts B-17F 41-24543 nose art and nose glass onto B-17F 41-24384
B-17 Flying Fortress Story - incorrectly notes the nickname of this B-17 as "Snoopy"
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-24384
Townsville Bulletin "A quixotic quest" by Ian Frazer March 25, 2006 page 33
Associated Press "Missing WWII soldier finally honored" by Matthew Barakat April 25 2013
Brooklyn Daily Eagle "Honoring a Fallen Hero - Brooklyn MIA Honored at Arlington After Long Effort" April 29, 2013
Ken's Men Against The Empire Volume 1 pages 55, 57, 61 (photo), 66 (photo), 77-78, 80, 118, 158-159, 324, 337-338, 386 (index Barnett, Capt James A.), 401 (index Pluto)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall, Michael Claringbould, Nathan J. Hirsh and David Shulman for additional information

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Last Updated
October 22, 2018

 

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