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USS Philadelphia - CL-41
This article was written by Jan Bos, WWII Researcher

Shot Down Near Scoglitti

In the early morning of Friday 9 July 1943 the USS Philadelphia launched two scout observation floatplanes, Curtiss SOC-3 Seagulls. The airplane was a single engine scout biplane aircraft. This type of aircraft served on U.S. Navy’s battleships and cruisers and could be launched by catapult off the ship’s fantail. After her mission, the pilot landed the seaplane near the ships, that hoisted the plane on board. The wings could be folded for storage inside the ship’s small hangar. The plane was equipped with a Pratt&Whitney R-1340 nine cylinder air-cooled radial engine, giving 550 hp. The seaplane was equipped with two light .30 caliber machineguns. The plane could be armed with two small bombs. The planes were also used for naval gunfire guiding and aerial spotting.

Church service on board of the USS Philadelphia.
Chaplain Burke leading the service. Courtesy: Eileen Backofen


Courtesy: US Navy photograph [National Archives]

At 06:35 measures were taken on board of the cruiser in steaming on various courses at various speeds for launching the aircraft. Seventeen minutes later Flight Quarters were sounded. Both pilot and radioman/observer sped to their plane. The first seaplane was catapulted at 07:20 hrs. Pilot of this plane, was Lieutenant Mishanec, observer/gunner was Arm2C Douglas W. Pierson (Aviation Radioman 2nd Class). The plane had markings 8-CS-4. Another Seagull was launched one minute later. The men were given the order to scout the area for German and/or Italian submarines. The planes returned to the cruiser and were recovered at 08:24.

In the meantime the USS Philadelphia was subjected to enemy air attacks. On 10 July at 04:26 hrs the ship was attacked by a JU-87 Stuka dive bomber, the ship’s anti-aircraft guns opened up. The Stuka dropped a bomb some 35 yards off the port bow. Again the ship’s anti-aircraft guns opened up, now on incoming unidentified planes.

On 10 July 1943 Douglas Pierson was airborne again. It was 06:01 hrs. Again the plane was piloted by Lieutenant Mishanec, two more planes were launched. Tow hours later Mishanec and Pierson were on board of the Philadelphia again. Lieutenant Commander Richard D. Stephenson (from New York) took off in 8-CS-1 at 10:02, his observer was Douglas Pierson. The plane was scouting CENT area, off shore the coast of Scoglitti. It would be the men’s last flight. Nearing the coastline of Scoglitti at an altitude of some 1,000 feet the vulnerable seaplane was suddenly attacked by two Messerschmitt Bf109’s. The Seagull was beyond the range of the ship’s anti aircraft guns. At 13:13 hrs the Seagull crashed into the waterline of the Mediterranean Sea some three miles east of Gela, 3 miles northwest of Scoglitti and some 100 yards offshore. The plane sank immediately.


Both men were buried by the infantry in a field grave on the side of the Via Riviera Gela, near the corner with the Strada Baia Donca. The Via Riviera Gela is situated along the beach and connects Scoglitti and Gela. When the temporary cemetery at Gela was opened and circumstances permitted, the remains of both men were exhumed and reburied at Gela. The other SOC-3, launched by the USS Philadelphia, was piloted by Lieutenant P.E. Coughlin; he survived an attack by a Messerschmitt Bf109. The fighter planes were drive away by gunfire from a 5” battery from the Philadelphia.

The Seagull was no match for the heavily armed Messerschmitt. German fighter planes also attacked the seaplane, piloted by Lieutenant Paul E. Coughlin. The Philadelphia’s anti-aircraft guns succeeded in driving them away

Courtesy: US Navy photograph [National Archives]


When circumstances permitted, Lieutenant Commander Richard D. Stephenson, ASN 75050, was exhumed from the field grave and transported to the temporary American cemetery Gela, where he was buried in plot/grave C-28-325.

Armd2C Douglas Whitney Pierson, ASN 4037240, was born on 15 May 1919 in Newark, New Jersey. He was buried in plot/grave H-86-1024 at Gela. Date of his burial was 29 August 1943 at 09:00 hrs. He was buried by Sergeant Norman D. Hastings from the 46th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company. One of the so-called “dogtags” remained with the body [On the Report of Reburial at Gela, a mistake was made. While the date of burial was given 29 August 1943, the date that the report was filled in was 28 August 1943].

Radioman Simpson remembers: “Pierson lost his life during the invasion of south Sicily about 9 July 1943. He was in a SOC plane that had been to seaward on a 4-hour anti-sub patrol. The plane had just returned to the coastline and headed for the Philadelphia. Suddenly the plane was attacked by a Messerschmitt ME-109. Pierson’s plane crashed in shallow water and the army advised the ship that they had recovered the bodies. The pilot was the Division Senior Aviator Lieutenant Commander Stephenson. Pierson was RM1, a terrible loss of two sharp aviators”.

Scoglitti beach: a downed German Bf109G-6
from 4. Staffel [Squadron] /JG 53

On 10 July 1943 the USS Savannah also launched two Curtiss SOC-3 seaplanes. One of them was piloted by Lieutenant Charles A. Anderson. His plane was also shot down by Messerschmitts. The SOC crashed into the sea and Lieutenant Anderson was killed. His observer survived the attack. Lieutenant Anderson was buried at Gela in grave A-5-59. To-day he rests in a cemetery in Illinois. Seems that the USS Boise also lost two SOC-3 planes on 10 July 1943 due to enemy fighter fire, the crewmembers survived.

One of the German fighter planes was piloted by Leutnant Wilhelm Esser from Jagdgeschwader 53 [Fighter Group]. He shot down one of the Seagulls. Later that afternoon Leutnant Esser, stationed at the airfield at Catania, shot down a Spitfire near Syracuse in eastern Sicily.
Leutnant Wilhelm Esser Picture Jagdgeschwader 53


When time permitted, Father Daniel J. Burke, Chaplain of the USS Philadelphia, was able to visit the cemetery, he went to the graves of Lieutenant Commander Stephensen and Radioman Pierson, paid respects the said the following prayer:

“Dear God, most merciful Father in this hallowed ground rest the earthly remains of two gallant heroes whom we are privileged to call our shipmates. It was Thy most merciful will that they should be gathered to Thy loving bosom and that we be preserved to carry on the fight. Yet we know that this separation from them is not forever. For Thou who art eternal truth hast clearly promised that every one that liveth an believeth in Thee shall no die forever. And we look forward to that reunion when sadness and sorrow be no more, when Thou shalt wipe away all tears and give true peace to our restless hearts. Bless then O heavenly Father this grave. It is now truly a little bit of our native soil of America. Grant that the deaths of our gallant shipmates may give a rebirth to the world. May the weeping of their loved one move Thy Heart to hasten the days of peace. May the sight of us assembled on this foreign soil be a witness to Thee that we covet no earth but that wherein our honored dead lie buried. And may the moments we pass here be an instruction to us how swift is life, how conclusive is death , how foolish is our conceit-our pride-our vanity. Make us worth of our ship, our Navy, our country even as these men were worthy. And when in loving mercy Thou dost send Thine angel to summon us to Thee, may He find us ready, willing and reconciled. May He find us even as He discovered them-doing their duty, obeying and sacrificing that the souls of all men might struggle out of the depths to the light of freedom. This is our humble prayer. This our supplication. May the Angles lead

them to paradise; may the apostles who loved the sea great souls who have made their last crossing, and reached their home port. May He who calmed the restless waves saying Peace be still – May he who walked upon the waters grant them eternal rest in their heavenly anchorage. And when the great captain calls us for His final inspection may it be our blesses privilege also to hear Christ’s own words – “Well done”.

In the years 1946-1947 the remains of both men were exhumed from the Gela cemetery and transported to another temporary American cemetery Mount Soprano/Paestum, now on the Italian mainland, south of Rome. Both men were buried there in plot/grave TGC-28-325 and TGH-86-1024 respectively. Arm2C Pierson was buried at Mount Soprano on 14 April 1947 at 09:55 hrs. From the moment of first burial in the Gela cemetery, correspondence ensued between the US government and both families. The decision was made by the next of kin of Richard D. Stephenson to have him buried in the Sicily Rome cemetery south of Rome, where he was buried with full military honors in grave J-15-39.

Courtesy: American Battle Monuments Commission, Sicily Rome Cemetery

On 8 June 1948 the remains of Douglas W. Pierson were prepared for repatriation. His body was embalmed and taken by truck to the Naples Port Morgue [Italy], awaiting transport to the States.

As soon as the USAT Carroll Victory [Victory ship] docked in Naples, the coffin carrying the Pierson’s remains [plus many other] were carried on board of the ship for his last voyage home. The Carroll Victory left Naples on 6 July 1948. After the docking in New York Harbor, his remains were transported by motor vehicle and arrived in Newark on Wednesday 11 August 1948. Douglas Pierson was buried in the Fairmount Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey. The burial was carried out by Haeberle & Barth Funeral Company.

Douglas Pierson was buried in the cemetery on 14 August 1948. His record gives his age at death as 24 years, Sicily as the place of death, and “killed in action” as the cause. He is buried in Section 10, Lot 147, Plot 3 Front.