447th Pilot Lt. Albert Duke

447th Pilot Lt. Albert Duke.
Albert Duke was one of the original 48 pilots of the 321st Bombardment Group to fly over to North Africa in February, 1943 via the southern route and Ascension Island with Group Commander Colonel Robert D. Knapp leading the formation. Duke's copilot at the time was Lt. Daniel R. McDuff who later became a pilot of his own plane. McDuff's wartime diary is a very interesting, descriptive account of the 447th BS/321st BG in 1943.

This is Lt. Albert Duke standing beside his B-25 "Trigger.".

Newspaper Article.
This newspaper article (above) describes the mission on which Duke and his crew were shot down.

Please click on each of the six pages shown below to read the actual story of the mission as written down by the pilot, Lt. Albert Duke, after he returned to his base.

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Below I have written out another account of the mission as related by the copilot, Lt. James Ackley:

"Duke went down at sea---and miraculously lived to tell about it. In fact, all but one member of his crew (the engineer) escaped with minor injuries. This is what happened according to Lt. James H. Ackley, the copilot, as best as I can gather.

They were flying No. 4 position of a flight of four ships and were flying it close. Oil was leaking out of the right engine and going back over the wing. They had a little trouble with it during the attack, but it was working O.K. on the trip home.

But the oil on their wing was their ruin. Enemy fighters (ME-109s--yellow nose jobs, indicating Goering's prize squadron) picked Duke's ship as a possible cripple, and concentrated their attack on them. They were doing O.K. in holding off their attackers. Sgt. Noble, the turret gunner shot down one ME-109 and Sgt. Drogosch the radio operator on the waist guns shot down another. One Nazi however, paid no attention whatever to the fire power concentrated on him and came boring in, in spite of it. He did a good job. His fire raked the ship from one end to the other---a 20mm shell exploding in the navigator's compartment, tearing things up, generally. But other than a few cuts on their hands and faces, did little damage to Duke and Ackley. A string of 20mm shells hit the right engine, going back across the wing towards the fuselage and the tail section. That was the burst that did the dirty work. The engine caught fire and quit. The wheel assembly came down and fell off. The right wing itself was badly shot up and weakened. The tail section was riddled, and Sgt. Govoni, the engineer on the tail gun, was killed. He never knew what hit him.

Duke had no choice but to set it down---and that was a job! His ship just wouldn't fly, dropping fast. He tried to slow it down by closing the throttles but it was falling so fast it kept its speed. Nothing to do but hit and hang on.

They hit---and what a wallop it must have been. The ship broke into three pieces---the right wing came off and the fuselage broke just aft of the turret. The radio operator had hold of the life raft release when they hit, and falling, released the raft. Duke for some reason, had his safety belt off and bounced around in the cockpit doing various and sundry damage to his ribs, head and hands. Ackley got a nice cut from his hair line down over his forehead, but isn't sure just where or when he got it. Doug Orr, the bombardier, got out O.K. with minor scratches.

When they hit, Orr was back in the navigator's compartment and when the forward motion of the ship ceased, water came gushing up into it with such force that Orr, Ackley, and Duke were washed out through the pilot's escape hatch. They don't know who got out first, but Ackley claims they all went out together.

The radio operator got out safely with only slight bruises and scratches but Sgt. Noble was knocked unconscious in the crash. The ship sank in 20 to 25 seconds so there was no time to try and reach him. However, as the ship went down, Noble was revived by the cold water and swam out the only hole he could see over the riddled body of Sgt. Govoni.

After he was clear of the ship, Ackley discovered himself in trouble. His parachute harness was still fastened across his chest and he had inflated one side of his Mae West life jacket. The inflated side, in expanding, had tightened the chute harness so that he couldn't unfasten it---and the heavy pack kept pulling him down under the water. It was all he could do to hang on to the raft while the others unfastened his harness. Finally free of it, he crawled into the raft and then, he said, he promptly got mad! While it was on him and he couldn't get it off, his chute pack dragged him under---but when he got free, the damned thing began to float!

His little experience taught us never to inflate our Mae Wests under our chute harness.

As the ship sank one ME-109 returned, circled low over them, and headed back toward Tunisia. Taking stock of their situation, they decided they were about 10 or 15 miles off Cape Serrat----enemy territory! But it was land, and land being their main interest, they began to paddle for it. They paddled with everything they had as fast as they could---arriving on the mainland at about 1 or 2 in the morning---or about 12 hours of paddling!

They landed in enemy territory and it took them 3 1/2 days of walking to get back inside our lines. They walked mostly in the hills---the coast was generally too rocky---and they found it easier to dodge enemy patrols by staying in wooded country. Duke was the only one anywhere seriously injured---the bouncing around in the cockpit when they hit the water gave him a pretty good beating. He was in pain quite a bit of the time---going sort of out of his head at times. They gave him morphine on several occasions until they ran out.

They had a time getting food, and most of the time they did without. Doug Orr can speak a little French and succeeded in getting a little food from Arabs.

They hired one Arab to guide them safely to the Allied lines, but after careful checking on their compasses, decided he was taking them to an enemy outpost. They thought they might kill him, but decided against it as it could rouse the Arabs against them. So they gave him the slip.

They waded rivers, climbed hills and rocks, and somehow got through to the British. Somewhere along the line they met a Frenchman who had escaped the Nazis and who knew the country pretty well. They all admit he was a big help--especially in dealing with Arabs.

The British treated them royally---gave them new clothes, fed them well and often, treated their injuries, and after a few days, sent them back to us.

Duke kept complaining of headaches and is now in a hospital somewhere. The rest of them are in either Oran or Algiers for a rest cure."

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