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"Für Sie ist der Krieg vorbei!"
The Story of The White L for Love
by Michael D. Weber
copyright 2012 - 2019
for original text
(revised: March 8, 2019)
Insignia of the 15th Army Air Force
The two aircraft shown above are from the 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squad as is evident from the tail markings which designate the 460th Bomb Group, while the yellow fuselage letters and engine cowls indicate the 763rd Bomb Squad. All four bomb squads in this bomb group had the same yellow and black tail markings but used different color letters and engine cowls to differentiate their squad. The 760th used blue markings, the 761st used red markings, and the 762nd used white markings. These aircraft also bear the Black Panther insignia or nose art of the 460th Bomb Group. The B-24 to the left has the olive drab color scheme prevalent early in the war, while the B-24 to the right has the natural aluminum finish predominant later in the war and which became the standard after April 1944, although many olive drab bombers continued to be produced for night, Lone Wolf, and troop transport use. Note that the aircraft on the left also has a lighter color, scalloped underbelly paint scheme which is indicative of manufacture at Ford's Willow Run Facility.
I want to tell you about my dad’s experiences in World War II, because I think it’s important that they get passed along and recorded, and secondly because I am proud of his participation in that important part of our country's, and world's, history. He knew I felt that way because I told him so. All these years later, especially now that he's gone, that's one thing I'm so glad I did. I told him he was a hero. I remember that, incredulously, he asked me why I thought he was a hero. I told him because he had given everything that he had to give at the time to his country. It was, and is, the truth. Plain and simple, laid bare right then and there.
In his book The Wild Blue Stephen E. Ambrose included this poignant quote that has stayed with me as I researched and wrote this. It is attributed to P-51 fighter pilot Lt. Jefferson who provided his thoughts on bomber crews.
Bob Thompson tells another poignant story in his book Flying In Coffin Corner. A 97th Bomb Group airman had bailed out of his burning B-17 Flying Fortress after the aircraft had been attacked and was badly damaged by German Bf-109s from their nearby bases or Jagdgeschwaders. The Bf-109 was known more commonly by the Allies as ME-109. All the crew had bailed out and the aircraft was ablaze. One airman had jumped out the bomb bay and opened his chute too early. The chute hung up on the bomb racks or bay doors and he was left dangling in mid-air, flapping around in the slipstream. The burning plane flew on and the airman was doomed to a slow and agonizing death. Out of the fray came a German Messerschmitt, a dreaded Bf-109, known more commonly to the Allies as ME-109. The German fighter pilot dove directly into the formation weaving his way through the American heavy bombers. American gunners looked on stunned while the German maneuvered his plane into position near the doomed aircraft with its trapped and suffering airman. A short burst boomed from the German fighter's machine guns and the airman was mercifully put out of his suffering and certain horrid death. The German fighter peeled away. Time froze. All shooting had stopped, and the war was suspended briefly while the German flew out of the formation. The fighting then commenced in all its ferocity.
Staff Sergeant Richard Lee Weber Crew at Chatham Field, Georgia, August 8, 1944
The picture of dad (above, left) was taken several years after he returned from the war. He donned his old uniform for a professional photograph. The original crew (above, right) was comprised of: standing (officers), left to right - Sam Hamilton (Pilot), Joe Rudolph (Copilot), Emmett Warren "Bo" Barger, Jr. (Navigator), and John Murphy (Bombardier); and kneeling (enlisted men), left to right - Robert "Bob" Seidel (Nose Gunner), John Bills (Tail Gunner), Harold "Hal" Adams (Flight Engineer & Top Turret Gunner), Otto "Tex" Mattiza (Left Waist Gunner), Delbert "Dana" Satterfield (Ball Turret Gunner), and Richard "Dick" Weber (Right Waist Gunner).
My father, Richard Lee Weber, Sr., serial number 35216570, flew bombing missions as a waist gunner from a remote airstrip in
I suppose, all said and done, dad was like the thousands of other young men who came from every American city, town, and farmyard in answer to their country's call and spurred on by outrage over Pearl Harbor and reports of the growing atrocities by the mad man in Germany, but to me he was different - he was my dad. He was part of a much larger effort, one that united the country and mobilized its citizens and industry. Citizens turned soldiers in droves. The largely untapped pool of labor, the American women, gave their all to take seats at workbenches or to stand on the assembly line, some served more directly in the war effort and donned military uniforms in the various armed forces branches. Industry retooled entire factories or built new ones to meet the demands of the US and its allies for equipment and munitions to beat back the Axis forces sweeping across Europe and the Pacific. President Roosevelt established the War Production Board which evolved over the course of the war to regulate industrial production for the war effort. The nation was committed to the war effort and what was referred to at the time as "The Arsenal of Democracy". There was no other time like it in US history. Industries stepped up to meet the demands of war. Production of automobiles ceased on February 22, 1942, but the auto industry stayed as busy as ever. Ford equipped itself to become a massive manufacturer of bombers, other auto manufacturers made jeeps, tanks, and even torpedoes. Small companies that previously made trinkets were called upon to make components for more sophisticated equipment like bomb sights. Companies that used to produce stockings now churned out parachutes. Even Frigidaire began making .50 caliber machine guns instead of refrigerators. All these products and supplies made the trek across oceans to the war fronts, just as the soldiers did.
Manufacturing was not the only industry to undergo redirection as a result of the war. Legislation such as the early 1942 Emergency Price Control Act granted the Office of Price Administration the authorities needed to set price limits and impose rations on food and other commodities. The War Food Administration was established in 1943 to oversee agricultural production and establish quotas designed to regulate quantities of foodstuffs and crops to ensure war needs were met as the nation’s first priority. During the course of the war four series of various colored ration stamps were issued to address limited resources. Ration stamps became an aspect of every citizen’s life. The ability to purchase sugar, coffee, meat, cheese, fats, canned fish, canned milk, and even gasoline and rubber products, if and when those items were even available, depended on the use of limited ration points. Cash of course was still required as stamps had no real monetary value, so if you had cash but no stamps you could not purchase a rationed item. At one point, blue ration points were used for acquiring bottled and canned items, and dried foods, while red points were used for meat, fish, and some dairy products. Points required for a particular item varied over time depending on how scarce the item was. A black market evolved around ration stamps and it was not long before forged stamps were discovered.
Sugar and rubber products were highly controlled because the war in the Pacific theater significantly restricted their production and availability. Sugar production was further impacted by a poor sugar beet crop yield in the United States and would be continued to be rationed even after the war. Some sources indicate that one of the reasons gasoline was rationed was to reduce driving to minimize wear on rubber tires. Rationing hardships, victory gardens, conservation, recycling and war bonds drives, and redirection of manufacturing and agricultural efforts formed the backdrop of life on the homefront, while far away on various continents wartime activities were being formulated and implemented, made possible to a large extent by the preparations and sacrifices of the everyday citizens back home. Of course, military personnel and bases endured hardships and lack of resources both due to scarcity and the changing logistics involved in delivery.
The Spinazzola airbase where dad was ultimately stationed was located in the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani in the Apulia (Puglia in Italian) region and was part of the larger Foggia Airfield Complex, a series of nearly two dozen bases and numerous auxiliary fields within a 25 mile radius of Foggia, Italy. Dad was an airman in the 15th Army Air Force, 55th Bombardment Wing, 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squad and was part of the Samuel Marlin Hamilton crew. There was no separate Air Force branch at that time. Headquarters for the 15th Army Air Force was located in Bari, Italy. Foggia and Bari are both towns in the Puglia region and not too distant from Spinazzola. The 55th Air Wing was headquartered in Spinazzola and was comprised of the 460th Bomb Group located near Spinazzola, the 464th and 465th Bomb Groups both located near Panatella, and the 485th Bomb Group located near Venosa. These bomb groups flew B-24 Liberators, classified as heavy bombers, to targets in Nazi- and Axis-occupied Europe.
As for the bombing missions themselves, the American bombing campaigns differed significantly from those of its British allies - the Americans bombed in broad daylight, a practice known as daylight precision bombing, while the British bombed in the cover of darkness. The targets of the American air force were tactical and consisted of military, industrial, economic centers, and infrastructure, while the British targets were strategic and selected to impact the morale of the German people with the intent to demoralize the populace and pressure Axis leaders to bring the war to an end. However, the British did not begin the war bombing civilian population centers, in fact early in the war great care was taken to avoid bombing civilians. At one point bombing was even limited to harbors and ships at sea to ensure civilians were not bombed. Later in the war, the rationale became more of seeing little distinction between the factories, war machines, and supplies and the workers who manned the factories and produced the war materials. Consequently, America did bomb civilian population centers as not only designated targets but as targets of opportunity when primary and secondary targets were not viable. Civilians were also bombed inadvertently due to their proximity to tactical targets. Of course, the Germans bombed civilian centers and the debate will never be settled as to what side bombed civilians first. Since the British bombed at night, bombing accuracy was not as important when compared to the American bomber missions since the British targets were not tactical objectives like single point, discreet targets such as railroad marshalling yards, troop concentrations, oil production facilities, and aircraft and ball bearing factories. As a result, one source indicates the British bombsight looked like it cost about three dollars to manufacture and was entirely unlike the sophisticated and complex American Norden bombsight. The British targeted cities and towns and inflicted heavy casualties on the civilian population and workforce. Early on in the war the American philosophy of daylight precision bombing was under heavy scrutiny by top levels within the United States and British military organizations and at risk of being reversed due to high crew and aircraft losses. American General Ira Clarence Eaker was a vocal proponent of precision bombing in contrast to British Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris. Harris was known as "Bomber Harris" to his countrymen and as "Butcher Harris" to the Germans for his bombing of civilians. During one meeting Harris conceded to Eaker that the British saturation bombing did kill civilians but that while German targets hit by Americans would be rebuilt in a matter of weeks, it would take the Germans 21 years to replace one of his civilian targets. Eaker was attributed with his own great quote about his mission and strategy - "Gentlemen, you've been telling me my plan is impossible. The difficult we'll do immediately. The impossible will take a little longer".
One concept that bomber advocates Harris and Eaker certainly shared was what was referred to as "The Bomber Dream". Keep in mind that aircraft had not made their mark as a strategic or tactical power in any war prior to WWII. Aircraft were used in WWI, but the technology was in its infancy and not fully developed on a scale necessary to impact the course of a global war. The Bomber Dream envisioned an aerial force of such magnitude, range, and destructive capability that its deployment and application could not only end wars, but obsolete them. Harris and Eaker shared this vision, but disagreed vehemently on the application of the bomber fleets. Others of the day merely saw the bomber fleets as support to ground and sea forces, while some others even thought of the air resources as just flying artillery. The course of WWII would change many of the positions of the naysayers, but as we know technology would continue to advance to the point of obsoleting the massive bomber fleets themselves and relegating their span of influence to a handful of years and the diminishing memory of history. While the Bomber Dream in its original sense may not have been achieved, the bombers of WWII did shorten the war and change history and I believe President Franklin Delano Roosevelt summed it up best when he stated "Hitler built a fortress around Europe, but he forgot to put a roof on it".
Dad was an enlisted soldier from Columbus, Ohio and entered into active service on April 12, 1943 at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. As a new recruit and air cadet, dad underwent a variety of testing to determine his experience and mental abilities. He sat for general classification exams, tests for mechanical aptitude, and radio aptitude. At the beginning of the war the Army Air Force required that recruits were between the age of 18 to 30, had at least an 8th grade education, were no taller than 5 feet 10 inches, weighed no more than 170 pounds, and achieved a minimum classification score of 100. By the time dad enlisted, the physical requirements had be relaxed somewhat to allow those of up to six feet and weighing up to 180 pounds. This was done to broaden the selection pool.
While dad did not qualify as a pilot, bombardier, or navigator, his scores qualified him for combat crew training as an armorer and gunner. He attended basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi where the focus was on physical training, military regimen, drills, marching, bivouacking, and some weapons training.
He attended Aircraft Armament Schools at Lowry and Buckley Fields, both in Colorado. In armament training dad learned the workings and assembly/disassembly of all gun types, how to strip a .50 cal. blindfolded in one minute, how to accurately shoot pistols and .30 and .50 cal. machine guns. Some airmen tell of how they were required to assemble a .50 cal. blindfolded and wearing gloves. He learned the details of the workings of the various turret types he may encounter on the B-24 models still in service. As an armorer, he learned about the various types of bombs and fuzes, how bomb and fuze type selection varied based on target characteristics, how to load bombs, and how to fuze them. He learned how to maintain and repair any malfunctioning weapon.
After armament training, in early March 1944 he received orders to report to Flexible Gunnery School at Tyndall Field, Florida to be trained on all aspects for his waist gun position. Prior to March 1941 there was no separate school for flexible gunnery. However, the importance of the gunnery positions became more and more apparent since these were the airmen charged with protecting the aircraft and crew while under attack from enemy fights. Consequently, a five week flexible gunnery program was developed to provide customized training. He was a Private First Class at this time. Flexible Gunnery training differed from turret gunnery training because the gun was not fixed in relation to the gunner and the guns were attached by what came to be known as a flexible mount. The gunner swung the gun through its range of motion unlike the turret gunners whose guns rotated with them. At flexible gunnery school dad learned the workings and assembly/disassembly of his .50 caliber guns and how to operate various sights such as the basic steel ring and end of muzzle bead sight as well as the more sophisticated electronic sight which superimposed a lit ring on the target. The latter was quicker to use and lessened eye strain. He learned how to sight moving targets by shooting clay pigeons from a moving truck or jeep. The clay pigeons were launched from towers of various heights to present a wide variety of angles to simulate combat conditions. He learned how to lead and follow through when both the target and the gunner were moving. Although the .50 cal. machine gun could fire at a rate of around 1,800 rounds per minute, much attention was paid to ensure the gunner fired in short bursts to avoid overheating the gun and ruining the barrel. Eventually target practice entailed shooting from a moving aircraft at aerial targets and drogues pulled by another tow plane. Gunners were taught to recognize various aircraft, even if only a silhouette was presented.. He also learned how to troubleshoot and repair 17 different alignment and malfunction issues associated with a .50 caliber machine gun.
Final qualification required 20 hits out of 100 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition on a moving target. Interesting to note is that altitude chamber training where the enlisted men were tested on the ability to function and deal with high altitude conditions eliminated more men than did poor gunnery skills. Following completion of all his training he was classified as an Airplane Armorer Gunner and as such he was qualified to serve as a senior armorer, aerial photographer, and waist gunner, which was his primary role during combat with enemy fighter planes.
After Flexible Gunnery School, he received orders to report to Westover Field, near Springfield, Massachusetts for crew assignment. Here he learned what type of aircraft he would be assigned to. Likely options were the heavy bombers like the B-17 or B-24 to which about 90 percent of the airmen were assigned, but other alternatives included the medium bombers such as the B-25 or B-26. Dad was assigned the newest and most sophisticated bomber at the time, the B-24. He also learned who would be on their crew and met them for the first time. The crew was comprised of fellows from all walks of life across the United States. The officers were: Sam Hamilton, Pilot, from Alabama; Joe Rudolph, Copilot, originally from Rhode Island, but grew up in Massachusetts; Emmett Warren "Bo" Barger, Jr., Navigator, from Virginia; and John Murphy, Bombardier, from Massachusetts. The enlisted men were: Robert "Bob" Seidel, Nose Gunner, from Indiana; John Bills, Jr., Tail Gunner, from Tennessee; Harold "Hal" Adams, Flight Engineer & Top Turret Gunner, from California; Otto "Tex" Mattiza, Left Waist Gunner, from Texas; Delbert "Dana" Satterfield, Ball Turret Gunner, born in West Virginia, but grew up in Indiana; and Richard "Dick" Weber, Right Waist Gunner, from Ohio.
They were officially assigned crew positions and began to get to know one another. They were also given another physical since they were nearing the time to go overseas and into combat. The crew was given orders to report to Chatham Field, near Savannah, Georgia for Combat Ready/Overseas or Combat Crew training. Chatham Field was named after the Georgia county where it was located and at that time was a sub-base of Jackson AAF Base. The field was under the purview of the 1st Army Air Force whose mission was to train replacement crews.
The crew arrived at Chatham Field around June 15, 1944. This training usually lasted several weeks but varied based on need for replacement crews due to losses in the war theaters. Some sources indicate that the intensity or thoroughness of the training varied somewhat at times due to availability of aircraft, fuel, and ammunition. Here the crew began to function as a single, cohesive unit and started to learn to work effectively and to rely on each other's knowledge, training, and competence, the traits that might help them survive in a combat situation. While at Chatham they flew many hours, ran through their various check lists, and logged air time. They flew up and down the eastern coast, usually at altitudes less than 10,000 feet so that oxygen was not required. Once they flew to San Antonio, Cuba and spent a night. They flew low over the surf at the Bahamas. John Murphy was even able to arrange some bombsight simulator training for the crew in an airplane hangar. They were able to view a huge moving map through the bombsight and get a basic understanding of all the factors that went into calculating the bomb drop. They also flew at night, much to the consternation of some crew members. However, Sam Hamilton's and Joe Rudolph's abilities impressed the crew and built the needed confidence in their pilot and copilot. The also practiced formation flying that would be the normal procedure during a real combat mission entailing close flight with numerous other aircraft. Flying a B-24 was tough work, that was one downside of the design. Flying required constant physical exertion by the pilot while attention was paid to the myriad of gauges on the console. Like most pilots and copilots, Sam and Joe worked out an arrangement to share the flying, trading duties to give the other a break every so often. Many pilots and copilots switched responsibilities every half hour or so.
Overseas To War
They received orders in mid-August to report to Mitchell Field, NY to begin the journey overseas to join the war in Europe. They arrived at Mitchell Field on August 26, 1944. At Mitchell Field the crew was assigned a brand new B-24 bomber, serial number 42-50010. It was built in Fort Worth, Texas by North American, and the crew was very proud of the new aircraft. Pilot Sam Hamilton wrote home and told his family that the crew had decided to name their aircraft "The Opp Daily - Strictly Front Page" in honor of his Opp, AL hometown and local newspaper. This would have been an unofficial working name and probably never appeared as nose art on any aircraft the crew flew as the crew was not assigned a specific bomber once they were overseas. The crew had some leave time and got to visit New York and see the sights.
The enlisted men were all made corporals by mid-September and received orders to report to Grenier Field, New Hampshire. They were moving fast towards combat now and were only at Grenier Field briefly. The next stop was Gander Field, Gander, Newfoundland, the last destination on the North American continent before going overseas. They were at Gander Field for two or three days. While there, they learned they would be assigned to the 15th Army Air Force, although they did not know location or bomb group and squadron yet. They departed Gander in their new aircraft to fly to Lajes Field, Azores, off the coast of Spain, but some equipment malfunction caused them to return. Gander was experiencing bad weather so the landed at Goose Bay, Labrador. Their bomber was repaired and the next afternoon, they headed out for the Azores again. They were also loaded with cots to deliver overseas, so the crew got some sack time en route. Dad had somehow procured a mattress and slept in style compared to his crewmates. They arrived at Azores and stayed only briefly and departed to Marrakesh, Morocco. The war became much more real to the crew as they saw the wrecked German and Italian aircraft off the sides of the runway in Morocco. The detritus served as testament that this had been an active battle zone. I doubt the crew realized then that while the American crews counted their mission credits to achieve the required 35 or 50 missions to complete their tour, the German fighter pilots whose aircraft now littered the airfield had no such limits. They flew until they died in relentless pursuit of the Allied aircraft. The crew had about a day and a half of down time in Morocco and some of the crew made friends with the local ladies, exchanging American dollars, ballpoint pens, clothing, and just about anything else for the pleasure of their company.
Leaving Morocco, they were provided sealed orders to be opened an hour after takeoff. They opened the orders as directed and learned they were going to Tunis, Tunisia. Tunis was the former home of the 15th Army Air Force before it moved to Italy and headquartered at Bari, Foggia Province, Italy on December 1, 1943. The 15th Army Air Force was formed by splitting the 12th Army Air Force and was initially commanded by General James Harold "Jimmy" Doolitle, famous for his post-Pearl Harbor raid on Tokyo. In November 1943 General Nathan Farragut Twining took over command and Doolittle then commanded the 12th Army Air Force. General Twining would remain the commander of the 15 Army Air Force for the duration of the war in Europe and after the victory in Europe go on to briefly command B-29 bombing operations in the 20th Army Air Force in the Pacific Theater.
Dad and the rest of the crew of the Opp Daily - Strictly Confidential landed at a Tunisian airfield that had not long before been a Luftwaffe airbase and stayed the night in an adobe barracks. The next stop was Italy. By this time, the southern half of Italy was under Allied control. Patton beat Montgomery to Messina, Sicily on August 17, 1943 and that freed the way to the mainland. Italy was invaded by the Allies in Operation Avalanche via an amphibious landing beginning September 3, 1943 shortly after Sicily was fully Allied controlled and in a matter of days the situation changed quickly in southern Italy. The invasion was essentially a three-pronged attack in southern Italy with the third prong forces landing at Taranta, south of Bari. The British 1st Airborne Division easily occupied the important ports at Bari (on September 11, 1943) and Brindisi and British 8th Army troops scoured the area throughout September and into October 1943 and took control of the many airbases used by the Italians and Germans, including those around Foggia which was liberated on September 27, 1943.
Foggia had been a hub for the Germans due to the presence of the various airfields and the nearby Port of Bari. Foggia had been bombed nine times by the allies, lastly on September 15, 1943. The armistice with Italy had been signed earlier, on September 8, 1943, but the bombing after that date was to destroy and contain German troop concentrations. A brief but interesting article appeared in various newspapers, even in the distant newspaper called The Age in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on October 1, 1943. It talked about five unlucky Germans paratroopers who were engineers sent on a demolition mission to Foggia. They appropriated two cars and drove into Foggia intent on blowing up key buildings as the last step in the German withdrawal from the town. Unfortunately for them, they did not realize that the British had already occupied the town and were easily dispatch by riflemen before they could demolish their targets. The Australian newspaper referred to it as a "Wild West Shootout".
Those captured bases would all become part of the 15th Army Air Force operations and they were extremely important, in fact their acquisition marked a turning point in the air war. Air bases in Italy greatly increased the range of bomber and allowed a deep penetration into the German heartland. Bombers previously flying from North African bases flew 900 miles to reach Munich or Weiner Neustadt, targets near the maximum operating range of the bomber fleet. Now at about 500 miles distance, these new Italian bases put important industrial targets and strongholds such as Munich and Vienna within easy range of the heavy bombers. Another great advantage of the proximity of the Italian bases to key German targets was increased meteorological report accuracy. Targets with range of Italian bases could easily be reconnoitered by weather aircraft in advance of the mission. Weather data was extremely important in planning and executing a successful mission.
The US Army Corp of Engineers repaired and converted the airfields to ones suitable for heavy bombers. Soon, instead of German Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs, there would be Allied bombers and fighters made from good old American steel and aluminum, many constructed on Ford assembly lines, rising to the skies from those same airfields. Although the Italian forces in southern Italy signed the armistice on September 8, 1943 surrendering to the Allied forces, the fascist forces in the north loyal to Mussolini continued to support Germany and the Axis forces. This resulted in a sort of civil war in Italy when the southern Italian regular troops, former Allied enemies now called "co-belligerents" instead being considered full-fledged allies, joined causes with the Italian resistance fighters intent on destroying Germans and Italian fascists in aid of the Allied cause. An article of the time indicates that the co-belligerent status "does not confer on her [Italy] any special rights or status. On the contrary, it is taken to mean that Italy is being given a chance to 'work her passage' and the final enforcement of the armistice terms will depend on how the Italians co-operate with the Anglo-American forces". It goes on to indicate that the Allies' intent is to "attempt to solidify the loyalty of the Italians to King Emmanuel".
Londoners read about Italy's co-belligerent status in the newspapers in late September and early October about the same time they read, on September 30, 1943 that the fall of Naples was just hours away. The Axis forces had been steadily pushed northward since the invasion and Rome was liberated on June 4, 1944. By the time dad arrived in Italy the active front had been pushed as far north as Florence and Pisa. Florence was liberated on August 4, 1944 and Pisa on September 2, 1944. When dad arrived the war was still being fought in northern Italy and missions were actively flown there. The fall of Naples and Foggia was the official end of Operation Avalanche. Once established, the 15th Army Air Force aided in the ultimate conquest of Italy via its missions to northern Italy, but its primary efforts were focused on targets in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania. The 15th Army Air Force also flew missions in support of the invasion of southern France.
The crew of the Opp Daily landed at Gioia del Colle Airbase, about 35 miles north of Taranto. The airbase at Gioia had been captured earlier in the war by the British and now served in part as a supply depot and replacement center in support of the 15th Army Air Force. It was here that they learned they were assigned to the 460th Bomb Group. Sadly and to their dismay, they were relieved of the brand new plane they were so proud of and for which they had great hopes and plans. They learned they had merely shuttled the aircraft to the European Theater from the States. They had also learned the hard way the difference between replacement aircrews and the original or more tenured - new aircraft went to veteran crews, usually ones flying in lead position with radar navigation equipment and a Norden bombsight, not replacement crews. More lessons on this key difference would follow.
On September 29th, the crew departed Gioia del Colle Airbase and flew in another aircraft the 40 or 50 miles to the 460th Bomb Group base in Spinazzola, near what is referred to as the spur on the boot of Italy. Their new home in Spinazzola was the headquarters of the 460th Bomb Group, one of the four bomb groups of the 55th Bomb Wing of the 15th Army Air Force. The 460th Bomb Group consisted of the 760th, 761st, 762nd, and 763rd Bomb Squadrons. Each squadron was typically comprised of 18 crews or 10 men or 180 men total, and 12 aircraft. A full formation from a bomb group would entail 36 aircraft, nine from each squadron. Their new base was one of the many air bases either captured from the Germans or constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and which now comprised the Foggia air base complex. The wide flat agricultural plains in the Puglia and surrounding area were ideal for air bases and many of the nearby captured German and Italian bases had runways long enough for the heavy bombers. The 460th's base had an added advantage in that there was a small valley after the end of the runway. It was not uncommon to see heavily loaded bombers drop down into the valley and seemingly disappear after takeoff only to gain altitude and become visible once more.
The crew's path from the United States to Spinazzola was similar to, but somewhat different than, the route the original crews flew when the Bomb Group had been first established and deployed to the European Theater in the first couple of months of 1944. Their route took them from Chatham Field, GA to Mitchell Field, NY to Morrison Field, FL to Waller Field, Trinidad, then across the equator to Brazil, then across the Atlantic Ocean and the equator once again on an 11 hour or so flight to Dakar, Senegal. From there it was onward to Marrakesh, Morocco, then over North Africa to Oudna 1 Air Base about ten miles southeast of Tunis, Tunisia, and then on to Italy.
Spinazzola is a town in the Barletta-Andria-Trani province of the Puglia region. In English Puglia is known as Apulia and is the area that essentially encompasses the heel of the boot of Italy. The other provinces that comprise Puglia are Brindisi, Lecce, Taranto, and Foggia where the 15th Army Air Force headquarters was located. Some of these provinces also had towns or cities of the same name which added to the confusion for the new arrivals.
Upon enlistment, dad and the crew signed papers that obligated them to the war effort for its duration and for six months following or until otherwise officially discharged. Now, after arriving at their new 460th Bomb Group base in southern Italy in October 1944, their intention was to meet that obligation by flying bombing missions for which they were well-trained in support of the Allied European campaigns against Hitler and the Axis forces. . Somewhere along the way the enlisted crew members were promoted to Sergeants. Dad was ultimately promoted to a slightly higher rank and became the only Staff Sergeant on the crew. I suspect this was because of his added duties as Sr. Armorer and photographer. The fact that dad had worked for Curtiss-Wright Corp. as a final assembler in the Columbus, Ohio aircraft factory before the war may have given him an edge as well. I am sure dad's extra "rocker" stripe below his three upwardly pointing chevrons was in jeopardy at times due to his wild city-boy and volatile nature. I've seen stories about dad getting drunk with other crew members to the point of waving his Army-issued .45 caliber pistol around and having to be calmed down by his officers. Dad had been a Golden Gloves boxer before the war and was not afraid of confrontation or of throwing or taking a punch. On one occasion he and Hal Adams had to build an outdoor volleyball court as punishment for some of their disruptive antics. Somehow dad kept his stripes and served as the senior non-commissioned crew member. Crew member John Bill's mentions in his memoirs that even though dad had his faults (i.e., being somewhat narcissistic and often speaking of his sexual prowess) that "he was no coward". Of course, for an unmarried city-boy in a foreign land to be somewhat boastful of his abilities with the ladies might hardly be considered a fault at the age of 20. I believe the "no coward" remark foreshadows dad's conduct in combat under extremely tense situations and is the reason a high honor was later convey upon him. More on that later.
Descriptions of dad's aerial combat missions follow and the information used and often cited comes from many, sometimes conflicting, sources. I've done my best to present the most accurate depiction possible to document his missions and events until the end of the war in Europe. I've also included a significant amount of information about the events that followed dad's tenth mission, a milestone in my father's life, one that would become part of him the remainder of his years.
For the crew, newly arrived in Italy in late September, October at the 460th Bomb Group airbase near Spinazzola in southern Italy was a cold fall month full of rain and mud. It was nothing like the Mediterranean paradise or sunny Italy image they had in their minds back in the States. Sadly, it was a foreboding of worse weather to come. Their base was not like many of the other bases, and especially not like the comfy quarters and nearby town amenities many of the "Mighty 8th" Army Air Force airmen experienced in England. Instead of inhabiting a base that had already been established, albeit perhaps previously occupied by former Axis forces, their base was still under unfunded construction having only recently begun to be carved out of muddy agricultural wheat fields and pastures. There were no built quarters to house them, no facilities, and no heat, instead they sheltered in mud-floored tents to keep them from the wind, rain, and snow.
The enlisted crew had been provided living quarters that consisted of a canvas tent that measured about 20 feet by 20 feet. It had no heater, no lights, and no floor, unless mud was considered a flooring material. After one rain, they awoke to find their shoes, boots, and other items washed toward one end of the tent due to the storm water that had come through, creating a swale in the middle of their tent. They quickly dug a small culvert around the upstream side and along the sides of their tent to divert future flows. Still, there was much down time as a result of the weather and the newly arrived crews busied themselves working on heaters for their tents. Most designs were modeled after those built by the more veteran crews. The damp chill increased and heightened the awareness of an impending winter and punctuated the need to construct and perfect the operation of their own makeshift fuel oil or aviation fuel heater and to find other ways to keep the cold and weather out. They built a heater out of a steel drumbarrel and some incendiary bomb canisters they found and used for stove pipe. Another metal drum was kept outside on a stand at sufficient elevation to provide good gravity flow and was used to store aviation fuel for the heater. The aviation fuel was pilfered from fuel storage and early on came from a fuel pipeline that was locked, but fortunately had a leaky valve. At the early stages of first establishment of the base, many of the first crews scavenged cooking fuel oil used in the mess areas. One of the crew acquired some copper tubing usually used for hydraulic lines on the aircraft and a shutoff valve and they were then able to feed and regulate the fuel, which was a great improvement and significantly contributed to the safety of the apparatus. The heater worked well and kept the damp and cold out of the tent. Somewhere along the way, they figured out how to get 220V power and found an appropriate bulb for light, although one of the crew nearly electrocuted himself while working with that high voltage. Crews did find one advantage of freezing weather - even the mud froze and could more easily be walked on.
Even as sparse as accommodations were by the time dad and the crew arrived, conditions had been much worse for the original members of the 460th Bomb Group who arrived in December 1943 through February 1944. Steve Kuhn gives a little insight in a September 24, 2006 article in The North Platte Telegraph. Steve talks about finding his unerected tent dumped in the mud off the side of a rutted mud roadway in a pasture that looked more like a pond than the start of an airbase. He describes that he and the rest of the airmen first to arrive had three blankets apiece, but no cots and no beds. They gathered weeds and grass to spread over the mud so they could lay their blankets down. Kuhn mentions that the ship that was to deliver the bases' and headquarters' supplies had been sunk. Interestingly and somewhat humorous to note is that while basic equipment, facilities, and supplies were entirely lacking somehow the base had been delivered a vast supply of toilet paper. Now if only they had a latrine. Original crews had to straddle six inch wide deep trenches when nature called.
What Kuhn most likely referred to about supplies having been sunk was a raid on the Port of Bari by 105 bomb-laden German JU-88s on December 2, 1943 while scores of ships were waiting in the harbor at Bari to unload. Numerous supply ships had arrived at the Port of Bari and carried the supplies, equipment, and aviation fuel necessary for establishing the 15th Army Air Force headquarters in Bari and many of the surrounding bases. The port was under British jurisdiction at the time due to its critical role as a through-point of supplies for Montgomery's 8th Army. There was no Allied air cover because the military leaders did not think the Germans had sufficient air forces within range to amass a meaningful aerial attack, even though German reconnaissance flights were often observed. The flights were not taken seriously and after a while not even fired upon. They were considered nuisance flights and distractions caused by the Germans. Little did the Allies know that what the German pilots observed was being reported and the reports of a packed and bustling harbor were being noticed by German leadership and military planners.
The German fighter-bombers came in from their bases in northern Italy and Yugoslavia just as darkness was falling around 7:25 PM. They scattered chaff, which the Germans called "Duppel" to confuse Allied radar and although they had aerial flares for target illumination to aid in the bombing, they did not need them because the entire port was brightly lit as the dock workers were working all night to unload the backlog of ships lined up gunwale to gunwale in the harbor. The devastating attack was the German's way of welcoming the 15th Army Air Force to Italy and letting the Allies know they were watched. It was clearly also payback for having been chased out of southern Italy just months before. Many of the JU-88s were undoubtedly the same aircraft that had flown just weeks before from the bases now being occupied by the Allies. Many ships were bombed and others caught fire from the proximity of other burning ships, burning debris, oil, and fuel. The raid was so devastating that it was called the "Italian Pearl Harbor" or "Little Pearl Harbor", but this raid got very little press for one very dark reason. One ship that was not directly hit but caught fire in the harbor inferno was the SS John Harvey, hull number 878, one of many liberty ships in the port. It had been built by the North Carolina Ship Building Company and launched less than a year earlier on January 9, 1943. Liberty ships were rapidly constructed and mass produced versatile cargo and troop transport ships used extensively in the war. 2,751 liberty ships were produced to plow the seas in support of the war effort. The SS John Harvey had been waiting in the port for five days while other ships were being unloaded around the clock. While the SS John Harvey may have looked like all its brothers and sisters in the port that day, it was very different. It carried a secret cargo the United States preferred not to become public knowledge; consequently, little information of the raid was released and what was released was downplayed. While the SS John Harvey was harbored and awaiting its turn to be unloaded, few knew of its top-secret cargo. The secret cargo in its dark hold was a weapon - enough liquid sulfur mustard gas to manufacture about 2,000 M47A1 100 pound gas bombs. Some reports indicate that the SS John Harvey carried actual gas bombs, other reports indicate it carried the chemical and bomb shells separately because the shells would not be filled with the chemical until shortly before the bomb was needed for loading due to fear of leakage. The chemical was mustard gas, a blistering agent outlawed by virtually all civilized nations. Nations which employed it use would be considered pariahs in violation of the Geneva Convention.
Roosevelt had made clear his position on chemical weapons many times during the course of the war, even as early as December 1941 at the start of the war. On June 8, 1943 he stated quite clearly "Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind. This country has not used them, and I hope that we never will be compelled to use them. I state categorically that we shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies." Having the weapons available and deployed at fledgling air bases did not violate this position, but it certainly shows the readiness to employ such "outlawed" chemical force if provoked. It is both ironic and terrible that the weapons, while never used on the enemy, destroyed many Allied personnel and innocent civilians that day and over time due to the lingering effects of the concentrated chemical. Perhaps worse was the attempt, successful for many years, to cover up the entire event. Granted, the motive for cover up may have been to prevent the Axis forces from learning that the US had stockpiled chemical weapons in order that they would not do the same.
Once the SS John Harvey was ablaze the deadly garlic-scented chemical, a human pesticide, was released and began to spread in the water and air. Some volatized or evaporated and mixed with the smoke from the attack and spread with the breeze over the entire coastal and nearby inland area, wafting over villages and fertile fields that in the growing season would go on to produce olives and other foodstuffs consumed and distributed by the local farmers. The liquid form of the deadly chemical mixed with the oil and fuel in the water and coated the seamen and dock workers who had fallen or jumped into the water. There were significant casualties as a result of the raid itself and, further, as a result of the chemical weapon release. The release was kept secret and attending doctors were unaware of the affliction of the injured crews, workers, and civilians. Treatment that could have been administered to save lives was not provided because the cause of the affliction was not known. Simple measures such as removing chemical-laden clothing and bathing the patient were not performed. From a logistic perspective, the raid and aftermath delayed fully establishing and provisioning the bases for several months and the port was not reopened until February.
The SS John Harvey Burns and Emits Plumes of Smoke and Mustard Gas at Port of Bari
In total, during the course of the 25 minute raid, 28 ships were sunk or destroyed, three more were salvaged, and another 12 were damaged. Some sources indicate up to 1,000 military and merchant marine personnel and 1,000 civilians died as a result of the raid. Not one of the 105 German aircraft were downed. The results of the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack almost pale in comparison to the Bari utter devastation, especially when one considers that the Pearl Harbor attack was on an unsuspecting nation at peace while the attack at Bari was done by a known enemy intent on our destruction, one which had been regularly performing fly overs, in an active combat area, and on an armed and an otherwise battle-ready and war savvy foe. For many years afterwards, entire families were lost due to cancer, chronic and pernicious lung ailments, and other rare maladies perhaps attributable to the concentrated chemical exposure. I believe this is a case where the fast and furious victories over the past three months jaded military decision-making and sense of preparedness and created an environment of superiority and security.
The bombing of Bari had impacts on the establishment of the 460th Bomb Group. Ships laden with ground crew and support personnel and supplies that were originally destined for Bari had to be diverted to other ports as the Bari harbor and its facilities were being rebuilt and cleared of wreckage. As a result, the 760th Bomb Squadron docked at Taranto Italy on February 8, 1944, while the 761st, 762nd, and 763rd Bomb Squadrons docked at Naples on February 13, 1944.
Of course dad and the crew would have known little of this background. The raid itself may have been talked about by some of the more tenured ground and air crews, those who arrived when the base was first established, but the chemical release would not have been common knowledge until pertinent military records were declassified in 1959, long after the war's end and the damage done. This is even though the US Chiefs of Staff issued a little publicized joint statement in February 1944 admitting to possession of the gas and emphasizing that its use would only have been for retaliatory purposes. Britain took a different tact - Churchill insisted that mustard gas casualties be listed as “burns due to enemy action”. He feared Germany would gas English cities. Although records were declassified sixteen year after the raid, it wasn’t until Glenn B. Infield published his 1971 book entitled Disaster at Bari that British and American veterans, merchant marines, dock workers, and civilians who suffered exposure took note. Britain finally acknowledged the incident and ultimately compensated surviving veterans by increasing their pensions. American Lt. Col. Dr. Stewart Francis Alexander played a key role in the days following the raid and had determined that mustard gas was the cause of the burns and respiratory issues. This then allowed those afflicted to be properly treated. His actions saved lives and he could have saved more had there been full disclosure from the start. Remarkably, by drafting a map of ship locations in the harbor and by locating on the map casualties and severity of burned patients he was actually able to determine the source of the gas as the SS John Harvey. When fragments of mustard gas shell cases were found there could be no further denial. His actions were ultimately recognized in Washington with a certificate of appreciation by the Surgeon General of the US Army in May 1988. Dr. Alexander noted in one interview years after the raid that the Germans knew about the gassing at Bari even before he did. Axis Sally, who regularly broadcasted to Allied troops from Germany, commented two or three days after the raid “Well boys, how do you like being burned by your own mustard?” Some recalled hearing “I see you boys are getting gassed by your own poison gas.”
With all the bad weather that kept dad and the rest of the crew inside as much as possible and the fact that the crew had still not been cleared as eligible for combat missions, they had a lot of spare time on their hands, despite the time they spent improving the tent and learning about life at a working combat air base. The crew welcomed the opportunity to squeeze in some gunnery practice when they could or to pick up some other new or refresher training or just to get to know some of the other airmen. If they were lucky, as a special diversion, they might find a way to get to headquarters in Bari to visit the PX and see the American Red Cross girls who served hot coffee, soft, warm donuts, and, better still, lipsticked smiles served with a side of perfume.
Perhaps it was just the bad weather and the doldrums due to lack of activity that came with it, but the crew sensed there was no camaraderie, no esprit de corps in the Bomb Group. They felt that the veteran crews made no attempt to get to know them. There seemed to be no effort, even by the Group leadership, to build a team or to even share Squadron, Group, Wing, or 15th Army Air Force history, purpose, and accomplishments with the new arrivals. The sense that new arrivals were simply second class replacements pervaded the new arrivals and reinforced the feelings experienced upon having their original aircraft taken away and given to a veteran crew. This serious morale issue and the ever present Italian rain and mud were some of the things that the airmen remembered even after the war.
The new base life was different for some of the officers too. Sam Hamilton and Joe Rudolph spent a lot of time in formation training and learning the way things really got done in combat. Sometimes the crew would fly with them, but not always. Finally, they got the word that they passed their check-out flights making their crew available for combat missions. The weather was still bad and many missions were cancelled, but all knew that eventually the weather would break, as it always did, and a combat mission would be possible. Sure enough, on the evening of October 10th, the crew learned they were schedule for their first mission the next morning. The briefing was scheduled for 6:30 AM.
Mission No. 1
October 11, 1944, Wednesday
The crew was assigned "A for Able" in the lagging position referred to as "Tail-end Charlie" where the least experienced crews flew to pay their dues. "A for Able" was the working name of the aircraft in military parlance. 460th Bomb Group aircraft, like most other aircraft, had radio-call designation or aircraft identification letters painted on the fuselage for identification purpose. "A for Able" would have had a large yellow capital "A" painted on both sides of the aircraft, yellow because that was the color code for the 763rd Squadron. Their Tail-end Charlie position was the last aircraft in the formation or "box" or subset of the formation and considered by many to be the most vulnerable position since it did not have aircraft behind it for coverage. Aircraft assignments were determined by the Squadron's Operations Office. Contrary to popular belief that crews had dedicated aircraft, any given aircraft was not flown by a single crew since crews needed to be rotated for rest and recuperation while the aircraft would fly daily if it was in operable condition. A kind Operations Officer would try to pair a crew with their preferred aircraft when possible, otherwise crews flew what was available. Many aircraft, especially those aircraft often assigned to a given crew were named by that crew and many bombers had customized art and typically the aircraft name painted toward the front, or nose, of the aircraft. Such aircraft would often be referred to by their crew-given name. Later in history, this artwork would become to be known as "nose art".
A typical mission flight chart showing flight path from base to initial point to target and return. This chart is from the one of the 459th BG's missions to Bad Vöslau. Text boxes with arrow leaders were added by this author for clarity.Those 400 anti-aircraft guns the crew was warned about in briefing meant there would be a lot of flak. Flak, the acronym for the German word "Fliegerabwehrkanonen" (meaning "aeroplane defense cannons"), is the burst of an anti-aircraft shell and is marked by a red and orange blast ending up in a thick, black puff of smoke in the sky. Anti-aircraft guns were modern cannons which fired shells that typically had projectile noses which were timed fuses that could be set, given the known shell velocity, so that the shell would explode at a desired altitude, hopefully near an aircraft. There were various calibers of flak cannons ranging from 12.7mm to 150mm. Perhaps the most feared and common caliber for air defense was the 88mm cannon. Its shells were slightly over three feet long, and the projectile itself weighed just over 20 lbs. The cannons could fire to an altitude up to around 49,000 ft. The 88mm shell was believed to be able to inflict damage sufficient to destroy an aircraft within 30 yards of detonation, and still inflict serious damage to 200 yards. The rate of fire is often seen quoted as three rounds per minute, but other sources indicate a rate of 15 to 20 rounds per minute. Some variability was likely a result of the experience of the flak cannon crew, which varied between 8 and 10 men. The 88mm cannons could be fired from a wheel-mount platform, a stationary cruciform platform, or a stationary "V" mount platform. For air defense, the cruciform mount was common and allowed the cannon to be rotated in any direction, while the "V" mount did not allow full rotation. Early on, sighting was done visually by optical instruments to determine range and elevation, but later radar control was introduced. Flak batteries were located in long "flak belts" which were installations of flak cannons over a wide geographic area, typically between envisioned the Allied aircraft approach and industrial targets.
Early in the war, spotters would gauge the elevation, speed, and course of the American bombers or similar information was received from German fighters engaging or trailing the formation. Searchlights and sound locators would be used to spot bombers during nighttime raids. Ordnance men would set the timed fuses accordingly for the desired altitude; the Germans had not perfected an effective proximity fuse as had the Allies. Later in the war, radar control was widely used to control the fire. Wurzburg A radar provided accurate data on the bomber formation. The information was processed through apparatus collectively referred to as the "Predictor" by the Germans (because the system was intended to "predict" where the aircraft would be when the shell reached it) and the "Director" or "Fire Control Director" by the Allies. The information combined other data that could affect projectile motion as well, such as muzzle velocity, ambient air temperature, wind direction, etc., and thereby provided the settings needed to prepare the gun and shell for firing. Interesting to note is that even though radar and its system of control was available, many still preferred the use of optical instruments for fire control and believed the results were better. Another technique for directing anti-aircraft fire or at least for providing the anti-aircraft gunners a fixed aim point was the Germans use of what was referred to as a swarm of bees, not so jokingly referred to by aircrews as "S.O.B." Swarm of bees was the result of the use of a special shell that would burst at a desired altitude and resulted in a puff of metal strips that would gently float or seemingly hang in the air for a while. Some believed that the strips also provided a sort of radar marker. In any event, a properly placed swarm of bees burst, such as in the flight path of a bomber formation, provided a nearly fixed point of aim and greatly improved anti-aircraft gunner accuracy.
When the anti-shell exploded, hot, supersonic chunks and pieces of jagged, broken, and twisted metal shot off in all directions just like a fireworks shell, but with a steel burst instead of a beautiful aerial display. Some airmen called flak "iron clouds" or "black mushrooms". The sound was tremendous and could be heard as a sort of muffled "krumph" or crushing, crunching rumble sound even in the loud bombers. Some described the flak as being "so thick you could walk on it". The metal from a flak burst is called shrapnel. It is designed to destroy both planes and the people inside them. Sometimes the shrapnel penetrate one side of the aircraft and exit the other side, hitting nothing in between. Sometimes the shrapnel would pierce the thin skin of the aircraft and bounce around inside a bit. Sometimes, the worst of times, it would pierce one side and tear something inside apart. Maybe that something was mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, or human. Shrapnel was indifferent. The calculation was simple and intuitive - the more flak in the sky, the more metal there was whizzing around you.
460th Bomb Group B24s in Flak B-24 Waist Gunners In Action
The black puffs, in the picture on the left, are where the anti-aircraft shells exploded sending shrapnel in all directions. German shells had fuses that were set by ground crews to explode at a calculated altitude. Fortunately, the Germans did not have the well-guarded American proximity fuse technology that allowed shells to explode when they detected a nearby aircraft or other target.
A known area of intense anti-aircraft gun concentration through which the bombers must pass going to and coming from a mission was humorously (and ominously) called "Flak Alley" by the airmen. The German anti-aircraft guns were accurate to around 25,000 feet which is higher than the altitude from which the bombers could bomb with any reasonable amount of accuracy; consequently, there was no escape for the bombers and it was not unusual for fifty percent of the bomber formation to experience some amount of damage when flak was encountered on a mission.
After the briefings, the crews were trucked to their aircraft on the flight line where they donned their flight gear. Over their normal clothing they wore a very heavy and stiff leather fleece-lined flight suit, jokingly referred to as a “bunny suit”, which included coat, pants, boots, inner and outer gloves, and leather headgear referred to as a helmet. A separate steel helmet would be worn later. Next came their "Mae West" life preserver or flotation device followed by a parachute harness. A savvy airman would definitely have already checked at the equipment hut where they were issued their flight gear that the harness and parachute were compatible. Chest-mounted parachute pack and harness designs changed during the course of the war and the clips and rings used to attach the parachute to the harness were not always compatible. Some models of parachutes had D-rings that would fit into snap clips on the harness while other models had snap clips that would latch onto D-rings on the harness. Later in the war red and yellow color coding was added to the harnesses and parachute cases to more effectively ensure the harness and parachute were properly paired. A red coded parachute needed a red coded harness, yellow needed yellow. It was a sad airman indeed who discovered he could not attach his parachute to his harness in an emergency situation. Once over enemy airspace waist gunners also donned their steel helmets and three-piece flak suit - pieces for chest, back, and a sort of apron for the lower front. Flak suits provided some level of protection against smaller, lower velocity shrapnel but by no means bullet-proofed the airmen. Flak suits were heavy and cumbersome and would interfere with attaching a parachute pack. Fortunately, flak suits were designed with a quick release cord which allowed the suit to part at the shoulders and quickly drop off. Once clothed for battle the crew boarded with their the rest of their gear.
The crew busied themselves while waiting for the green flare that signaled the mission was a go. Some sources indicate flares were used instead of radio communication to prevent enemy monitoring the frequency from knowing the start of a mission. The green flare rose brightly in the sky and, about thirty seconds after the aircraft in front of them, the crew's turn came for the taxi down the runway to reach takeoff speed. The lag was to ensure that enough distance was between each aircraft to prevent crashes on takeoff due to prop wash (severe air turbulence from propellers) from the preceding plane. 30 seconds or so also ensured that the aircraft were not too far apart once airborne and reduced formation time. Depending on load the bomber would need to reach 100 to 130 miles per hour for a successful takeoff. Once airborne the bombers would maneuver into the defensive formation they would maintain to the target. Formation was dangerous and sometimes resulted in collisions. Formation might take an hour or more and once completed aircraft followed their predetermined heading toward the target. Once the bombers had reached the Initial Point (IP), the point where the bomb run to the target actually began, and the point where the bombardier would take control, the course as described during briefing was fixed and no evasive maneuvers could be performed. Until the IP was reached, the bombers could usually make wide "S" turns to evade or bypass tough areas. The IP was typically 18 to 20 miles from the target and the run to the target was around five minutes. The bombardier had two alternative methods for controlling the aircraft on the bomb run. He could either employ a system that allowed the pilot to be informed of necessary course changes through the Pilot Director Indicator (PDI), a large round indicator gauge located directly in front of the pilot above the Rate-of-Climb and Airspeed Indicators on the main console, or by making those course changes through the use of the Norden bombsight and the autopilot system. The second method did not involve the pilot who monitored controls while waiting for the bomb drop and return of control of the aircraft. Once over the target, the bombardier looked for the aim point described in the mission briefing that morning. For an industrial site, the aim point was typically some building or other identifiable point which was essentially the centroid of the complex or facility. The aim point was selected to maximize the concentration of the bombs on the target.
On this first mission, the sky was filled with flak so thick the pilot couldn't always see. There were supposed to be only 400 anti-aircraft guns, but there turned out to be 1,200 of them, all waiting for the American bombers to fly over. By this time in the war, Vienna was the second most heavily defended city in terms of numbers of anti-aircraft guns, the most heavily defended city being Berlin itself. Thomas Childers, in his book entitled Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II, indicates that by fall of 1944 the Germans had approximately one million personnel assigned to anti-aircraft defenses and that there were over 50,000 German anti-aircraft guns pointed skyward. He describes the rupturing shells and resultant flak as "sooty turbulence" and as bone-jarring concussions that could start in an instant from the sides, front, above or below, causing the plane to "bump", "shudder", and "stagger" just from the shock waves. One pilot mentioned that during flak barrages he, like many before him, soon found it possible to sweat even when the temperature in the aircraft was 30 degrees below zero.
Missions like this were tough and thoughts of what happened to 460th bomb group crews just the day before were fresh on the rookie crew's minds. The day before this first mission, one aircraft, the Sky Wolves, piloted by Gideon H. Jones from the 460th Bomb Group/760th Bomb Squad went down that day due to anti-aircraft fire. Their mission had been to the Piave/Susegan railroad bridge. The entire crew bailed out of their smoking and oil-covered bomber and were eventually captured although some evaded capture for several days and some were originally reported incorrectly as killed in action. Another aircraft from the 460th Bomb Group/762nd piloted by Harlan R. Logan had crew bail out over the Adriatic Sea when their ship iced up in a storm and went out of control. Subsequently, the pilot was able to regain control and land the craft safely, but the two crew members who jumped, navigator 2nd Lt. Wesley Olson and nose gunner/asst. engineer Cpl. Harold Ebe, were killed. Missing Air Crew Reports 9044 and 9202, respectively, document the losses of the Logan and Jones 460th BG B-24 crews that day.
As for dad and the rest of the crew on their jaunt to Vienna, they were able to drop their bombs on target, wheel around, and head for home. Later on the ground they counted at least 30 holes from flak in their bomber, including a large hole in John Bills's turret. Fortunately, John had crawled out just before the turret was hit when he realized he was not wearing his flak jacket or metal helmet. The shrapnel didn't find anyone on their crew that day. It just went in one side and out the other or bounced around until it wore itself out and lay smoldering on the floor. Some crew members kissed the ground when they landed. They had survived their first mission.
Mission No. 2
October 13, 1944
The crew was getting a feel for the normal routine of the start of a mission day. They quickly dressed and headed out to the mess tent for breakfast offerings of oatmeal, canned fruit, scrambled powdered eggs, spam, bread, jam, and the ever present and necessary coffee, an endless supply of coffee. After breakfast they headed to the mission briefing to learn what was in store for them. Access to the briefing was strictly controlled and no one not on the mission or directly involved in its planning or administration could enter. After all were present and settled down, a black cloth was pulled off the mission map and groans were heard once the destination registered with the more veteran airmen. Today's run would be a tough mission and credit the crews two points toward the required fifty to complete their tour. The crews heard details of the mission as presented on the huge map with the colored ribbons leading from their base to primary and secondary targets. Last resort and targets of opportunity were sometimes mentioned as well. Bombing accuracy was stressed to the crews both to maximize the percentage of bombs on the target area as well as to minimize civilian losses. Due to the proximity of towns and living quarters to the military targets, bombing errors in hundreds of yards could well translate to hundreds of civilian casualties. All crew members were keenly interested in learning where the flak guns were believed to be located. The map showed the various outbound and return legs of the trip, as well as course deflection points, the initial point for the start of the bomb run, and, of course, the target itself. The briefing was completed within 30 minutes and was followed by a prayer led by the chaplain. The airmen then left for a separate specialty briefing for information on course, mission lead, and bomb drop. Pilots might be briefed with Squadron Commanders, Navigators by other officers in the War Room, and gunners by the Armament Officers.
After briefings, they headed out for the Quonset hut near Dolly Tower to pick up their personal flight equipment which included their flight suits, parachutes, first aid kits, escape and evasion kits, flight boots, gloves, Mae West life vests, leather helmets, steel flak helmets, flak suits, and K-rations. The personnel issuing the parachutes often had sport with the aircrew. One ruse was to say that "if the 'chute doesn't work, bring it back for a replacement". Another good joke to pull was to question an airman's weight and say that the chute they were just issued was, say, only 24 feet in diameter and that they needed a 28 feet diameter chute. When the airman asked for the correct sized chute they were told there were none in Italy, but that they'd place an order. The crews had already made sure in the early morning that they carried no significant personal effects with them except for their dog tags and an identification card. Guys still carried pocket knives and such, but no sense giving the enemy any more information than necessary in the event of capture. The Stone crew hopped aboard 6X6 trucks for the ride to their assigned bomber.
Their bomber was fueled, equipped, and waiting for them out on the hardstand. Today, they would be flying in "K for King" in the tail-end Charlie slot. The ground crew chief stood waiting at the bomber for the turnover of the aircraft from ground crew to the air crew. He had the standard "Form One" with him which listed the repair, maintenance, and declared issues of the aircraft. The pilot would add any new items to it after the mission. Although there often wasn't much interaction between the aircrews and the ground crews, except for the ground crew chief who was there at the aircraft at the start and finish of each mission, the aircrews respected and relied upon the ground crew's work. The ground crews always did a great job making sure the bombers were in the best of shape possible for a mission and that as many planes as possible were ready to fly. Unlike crews who may not be assigned to a dedicated aircraft, ground crews were assigned to specific aircraft to familiarize themselves with the aircraft's maintenance and repair history, and its nuances. Consequently, ground crews often became very attached to aircraft for which they were responsible. Many aircraft were named and had what almost amounted to personalities. Ground crews took great pride in their work and considered the aircraft their own. The crews were grateful that the ground crews looked out for them. More than one ground crewman was known to break down upon hearing of the loss of his aircraft.
Air crew and ground crew members with 460th BG/761st BS aircraft No. 42-52381 "T. S. Express". Back, L-R: Jack Reid, Co-pilot; Harold Teitelbaum, Navigator; C. B. Long, Engineer/Gunner; William H. Bell, Pilot; Ray Huntsinger, Engineer/Gunner; A. E. W. Cicewoen, Tailgunner. Front, L-R: Unidentified ground crew member; Unidentified ground crew member; Unidentified ground crew member; Joseph William Slate, Engine Mechanic, ground crew member; Unidentified ground crew member; Ted Elias, Radio Operator/Nose Gunner; Peter Metaliac, Gunner.
The enlisted crew checked the bombs, guns, ammo, and other equipment while the officers ran through their own check lists. A mission ran on check lists, lots of them, from start to finish. Even though procedures became routine as lists were memorized by rote repetition, standard practice was to always use a physical list to ensure there were no oversights. Bombs were checked twice, once on the ground and again after the bomber was airborne. Finally, Sam Hamilton received the signal clearing him for takeoff and the huge bomber taxied northwest down the 6,000 foot long steel mat runway at a magnetic bearing of about 330 degrees and made its way into the air. The Marston perforated steel planking was loud under the wheels and the crew always knew when the wheels left the ground. Their bomber was about 30 seconds behind the aircraft that had just taken off. The bombers circled the base while they gained altitude and then entered the formation with the other aircraft.
About an hour or so away from enemy airspace, they lowered the ball turret. They usually waited to lower it to maximize airspeed, reduce drag, and conserve fuel. En route to the target, they encountered no air defenses and there were reportedly only four anti-aircraft guns. So far, so good. The hulking bomber made it to the initial point and the bomb run began. They thought it was nice that the designated target buildings were all lined up in a row. Nice and easy to bomb. However, the bombers came in low at about 17,000 feet and made easy targets on that sunny day for the anti-aircraft gunners over three miles below them. One aircraft was blown out of the sky with a direct flak hit per Bills's memoirs, but I have not found any record of that event. Again, their ship was hit with shrapnel, this time taking out one of the turrets. Still, they dropped their bombs and began their slow turn toward home, back along a pre-described route. On September 7, 1999 Bob Seidel was interviewed as part of the World War II Prisoners of War Oral History Project done by the University of North Texas. Bob indicated in that interview that the crew could feel the bombs explode, feel the concussion, even when their aircraft was as high as 22,000 feet.
Throughout most of a mission, the airmen were tied to their ship like an unborn child is to its mother's womb. Radio cords for communication, electrical cords for warmth, and oxygen hoses for the very breath they breathed linked the men to their mother ship which seemed to do what it could to keep the airmen safe and alive. Humans were not meant to live in that lofty environment. Besides the dangers presented by an enemy bent on killing the airmen, nature itself had designs on the crew's lives. Frostbite was an ever present danger. The basic ability to breathe was another. At elevations above 10,000 feet the air was thin and the crew wore oxygen masks. Without oxygen at high altitude a man would pass out within a few minutes and die a few minutes later. The thing is, they'd never feel it coming on. Oxygen was supplied to the crew at their stations from fixed tanks located on the aircraft. There were also available small portable tanks the crew could use to move from one compartment to the other. I took these pictures of stationary and portable oxygen tanks on my flight with the B-24 Liberator "Witchcraft". The small green tank is located at a waist gunner's position and the overhead yellow tanks are located aft of the bomb bay. The regulators and the flexible tubes feeding the oxygen were prone to freezing and crew members needed to be sure to squeeze the rubber components from time to time to ensure the oxygen was flowing and that there was no ice build-up. The pilot or copilot would typically establish check-ins with all crew members, often every 15 minutes, as a safety precaution. Checks were typically done in order of location in the aircraft, from front to back - nose turret, navigator, top turret, radio, waist positions, ball turret, and tail turret.
Left: 460th B-24s on a Mission to Salzburg - The Smoke is from the Bombing and Smudge Pots
the Germans Would Light for Smoke Cover. Right: A German Anti-Aircraft 88mm Flak Battery Fires at Night.
Mission No. 3
October 16, 1944
Another aircraft from dad's own group, the 460th Bomb Group/763 Bomb Squad's own "O for Oboe" named Ashcan Charlie and piloted by 2nd Lt. Roger B. Berry took a direct flak hit just after bombs were released. The plane "just disintegrated" as one nearby crew reported. Richard "Dick" Schneider, a 763rd Bomb Squad tail gunner, saw the explosion and said the aircraft disappeared into tiny pieces like a clay pigeon does when hit directly by a shotgun blast on the trap and skeet range. Witnesses reported two chutes opening and a third on fire and falling. Amazingly, somehow two crew members survived. Missing Air Crew Reports 9198 and 9303, respectively, document the losses of Pressler's and Berry's aircraft and crews over Austria. There was no hiding, no cover, and no running away for the bombers that day. All they could do is take whatever the enemy threw at them, feel the concussion of the nearby explosions, listen to the spray of shrapnel against their ship, watch daylight stream in through the holes, hold their course, and pray to almighty God it would pass soon. It was flaming hell in the sky that cold fall day over Austria, but dad and the rest of his crew returned safely to "Bomber City", their airbase home in Spinazzola, Italy, only to don their flight gear and climb back in their bomber the next day to do it all over again in a different part of Europe. Bomber City was a nickname given to the Spinazzola airbase. Spinazzola was the small city about seven miles to the slight northwest. During Col. Bertram Harrison's tenure as base commander, some referred to the base as Harrison's Flats. There was a closer town the crews would sometimes visit, Poggiorsini, about 2.5 miles southeast of the base. Generally speaking, however, the airmen were advised not to visit the Italian towns. There were still many fascist sympathizers in the country and in fact portions of mostly northern Italy were still occupied by Germans.
The look and feel of the base changed over time. Originally, the base was essentially a tent city and a quagmire of mud due to the frequent rains. Crews soon found out that with minimal shared cost, maybe $200 total, they could hire locals to build small walled huts out of the indigenous tufa stone quarried nearby, provided the crew supplied the materials. Some huts were more like homes and had fireplaces and tile roofs. When a crew who "owned" such a tufa block structure did not return from a mission, the hut could be sold to another crew and the base commander would ensure that the funds were divided and sent to the next of kin of the last owners. Dad's crew was actively working on their own hut in preparation for winter. They had pooled money and contracted with a local to construct a hut with windows, a door, and a tile roof. They did well on the price. The cost was $100 and 10 cartons of cigarettes. Somehow, the improvements taking place at the airbase did not go unnoticed by the Germans. Berlin Sally, the German equivalent of Tokyo Rose, noted in one of her broadcasts that the airmen's "pretty little white homes" would be "just piles of dust after the Luftwaffe is through with you".
Below is a picture taken of a 460th bomber on dad's October 16th mission. The engine cowls appear as if they could possibly be yellow making it a 763rd bomb squad aircraft, so perhaps dad or another airman he knew was in this aircraft.
Left, A B-24 During a Mission Dad was on, over Graz-Neudorf. Right, Dad and Crew Members During Training at Chatham Field, GA. Left to Right are: John Bills, Otto Mattiza, John Murphy, Dana Satterfield, and Dad.
Mission No. 4
October 17, 1944, Tuesday
Maribor was not the only target for the 460th that day. 2nd Lt. Samuel H. Northcross was piloting "N for Nan", aircraft number 44-41233 from the 460th Bomb Group/762nd Bomb Squad was on a mission that day to the Vienna south oil depot. The crew was in flak over the target and was hit and had to feather the number one engine. The aircraft was last seen under control, but losing altitude, and entering the undercast. The crew bailed out over Yugoslavia and were captured. One crew member, Leonard A. Siegfried, was interviewed by his local newspaper in 2015. He indicated it was his second time shot down, but that this time he was captured. Siegfried was imprisoned at Stalag IV and survived the death march after the Stalag was evacuated due to the Russian advance. More on that horrendous event later. As Siegfried noted this was the 2nd time that he and some of the Northcross crew were shot down. They were first shot down on August 27, 1944 on a mission to Blechhammer, Germany. Their ship on that mission the "A for Able", aircraft number 42-51292. Witnesses indicate the ship had all engines running and appeared under control but just veered out of formation. I received some information from the daughter of one of the crew members on that mission. She indicated her father, Sgt. Howard E. McClain, was able to bail out and broke his leg on landing. He was listed as missing in action for about six weeks. Local farmers hid him under their house in the crawl space. They provided him with food and water and he eventually found a donkey to ride back to friendly lines. Dad and his crew were luckier on their mission. They all made it back.
A 460th B-24 Dropping Fragmentation Bombs over the airdrome at Neuburg, Austria on March 26, 1945; Dad with Bomb During Training. The Neuburg airdrome Complex after Bombing. Note the numerous, concentrated bomb craters pockmarking the entire area.
Mission No. 5
October 20, 1944
Bernie Sturtz, the tail gunner in the 460th's aircraft Bottoms Up, saw the front half of the plane power straight down into the Adriatic Sea, driven hard by the four engines which were still running. Three men from Galarneau's crew bailed out over the sea and seven remained onboard. The three airmen who jumped - waist gunner Wayne C. Miller, airman Jack Benedetti, and airman Ivan A. Mechling, Jr. - were listed as killed in action.
The accident caused some of the aircraft in the formation to scatter. Some fell out of formation to avoid the collision and lost the formation in the clouds. Some lagged behind unable to rejoin the formation. One such aircraft piloted by John T. "Jack" Bilek opted to bomb Axis-controlled Trieste harbor as a target of opportunity.
After freeing flight engineer/nose gunner Frederick J. "Fred" Dusse who was trapped inside his nose turret gun position due to the collision, Galarneau had his crew vote on whether to continue on to Yugoslavia with two remaining engines, bail out, or try to make it back to base. Galarneau took the vote because he wanted buy-in from the remaining crew since they were on two engines, the bomb bay doors would not open, they had a full bomb load with which they may have to land, and the wheel hydraulics were not functioning. Going home would be at least as risky as continuing on. The crew voted on returning to base. En route home, they were able to release the bombs through the closed bomb bay doors and watched as the doors were demolished as the bombs crashed through them. They were later able to hand crank the landing gear down and land safely. It was probably not the smooth textbook landing referred to in the period's slang as a "grease job landing", but given the circumstances it was more than adequate. Later it was learned that some of the crew heard "Bail out!" as opposed to "Prepare to bail out" as Galarneau indicated he said.
Dennis R. Okerstrom's novel, The Final Mission of Bottoms Up: A World War II Pilot's Story, is about the last mission of Bottoms Up, the B-24 bomber referenced above from the 460th BG, 760th BS piloted by Randal Darden and copiloted by Lee Lamar. Okerstrom's novel contains a reference to a narrative report on the collision of Campbell's and Galarneau's bombers dated one day after the incident. It indicates the accident as occurring over the Gulf of Venice and that all crew of Campbell's aircraft were lost after it was chopped to pieces and crashed into the sea. The report further indicates that the three who jumped from Galarneau's bomber were lost as well. The names of those thirteen men (the ten who comprised the Campbell crew and the three from the Galarneau crew) are inscribed on the Wall of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery, where in total 1,409 names are recorded. In recognition of their service and sacrifice, I record the names of the Galarneau and Campbell crews here:
The Galarneau Crew: Francis Ellsworth Galarneau, Pilot; Edward S. Shemanski, Copilot; Morris Caust, Navigator; William Howard Crook, Bombardier; Jack Benedetti, Engineer/Gunner; Frederick J. Dusse, Asst. Engineer/Gunner; Ivan A. Mechling, Jr., Radio Operator/Gunner; Howard E. McCue (see the November 11, 1944 mission below for additional information about Howard McCue), Asst. Radio Operator/Gunner; Wayne C. Miller, Armorer/Gunner; and Raymond C. Weber, Asst. Armorer/Gunner. Benedetti, Mechling, and Miller were the three crew members lost that day.
The Campbell Crew: Seldon C. Campbell, Pilot; Lenfest B. Nason, Copilot; George J. Horacek, Bombardier; Albert N. Rizzetta, Navigator; Warren N. Burnett, Radio Operator/Gunner; Malcolm P. Robichaux, Asst. Armorer/Gunner; George F. Ijames, Engineer/Gunner; Richard P. Matticks, Asst. Engineer/Gunner; Bruno V. Franzoi, Armorer/Gunner; Jack M. Patterson, Asst. Radio Operator/Gunner. These crewmembers were all lost.
Missing Air Crew Reports 9333 and 9334 document the loss of Campbell's entire crew and Galarneau's three crew members, respectively, over the Mediterranean Sea. In correspondence with Francis E. Galarneau's daughter, Nancy Galarneau Kane, I learned that Francis had a long and successful career with the Air Force. He was one of a rare breed. He was what was referred to as a "Sergeant Pilot" and progressed through the ranks and served in the Korean and Viet Nam wars, ending his career as a Commander of a base in Japan. Ray Weber, one of Galarneau's crew members, never forgot his best friend and crewmate, Wayne Miller, who was one of the three who jumped from the Galarneau aircraft. One of Ray's sons, Jim Weber, informed me that his dad named one of Jim's brothers "Wayne" in remembrance of his old war pal.
Additionally, and more relevant to this story, my research indicates that Lt. Morris Caust, whom we will learn more of later, was also part of Galarneau's crew that October day and lived to fly another tragic mission as a radar navigator on November 16, 1944, as part of dad's crew on his tenth mission. Howard E. McCue, a member of the Galarneau crew on October 20th, was later lost in action on November 11, 1944 while part of the Walter C. Martin, Jr. crew due to another mid-air collision during an aborted mission dad was on. The November 11th mission and Walter C. Martin, Jr. crew losses were even more personally tragic for dad and the rest of the original crew as we will see in the mission description later.
Far above left, A B-24 from the 460th's 760th Bomb Squad Drops a Bomb; far above right, an earlier version B-24H named "Hangar Queen" of dad's own 460th BG/763rd BS. Above left, a 460th BG/760th BS B-24 with tail damage from a September 22, 1944 mission to the Oberweisenfeld BMW factory near Munich; above right, an unknown 460th BG B-24 in flight. Below are two aircraft from the 460th BG 761st BS - left, "Slick Chick With A Hot Lick", also known as "Red M for Mike"; and right, "T. S. Express".
Campbell's tragic formation mishap clearly shows the dangers crews encountered were not always from an enemy attack. Childer's also provides a story worthy of note in his nicely written and informative novel. He recounts one mission starting with a white-knuckled take-off in fog so heavy the pilot could not see past the nose of the bomber. Other missions had been postponed for lesser weather concerns and field conditions. Cloud cover continued over the target, a synthetic oil refinery in Bottrop on the northern fringe of the Ruhr, but radar provided confirmation that the target was down there beneath the clouds. It was bombs away and the bombardier successfully dropped his bombs on target. Upon return, the airfield was still in a thick, soupy fog and the harrowing landing was by instruments. The B-24 came in fast and high, overshooting the start of the runway, eating up the available distance required for stopping. A pass and retry was not possible because of the danger of collision in the dense fog. The plane left long patches of thick rubber on the landing strip all the way to the end of the runway. As the aircraft skidded toward the final stopping point, the crew feared their bomber would flip over or skitter off the runway and plow into tents and other buildings. Once the crew exited their Liberator, the ground crew greeted the shaking crew at the hatches and bomb bays, hooting and hollering to cheer the successful landing. While a major congratulated the shaking pilot on the bomb run and impossible landing, another nerve-wracked crew member vomited in the muddy snow on the other side of the plane, visibly trembling from the adrenaline rush and the intensity of the landing.
Crews were typically served coffee and some small snack, often doughnuts, by American Red Cross or Salvation Army girls after a mission. The ladies, affectionately referred to as "Doughnut Dollies" provided warm doughnuts prepared in the close quarters of their Clubmobiles to the grateful servicemen. Most crew members had been without food for hours, their last meal either being breakfast that morning or some cold K-rations in the air after re-entering safe airspace after the bomb run. Items like canned goods and chocolate from the K-rations were often kept inside a crew member's heavy or heated flight suit so they wouldn't freeze at altitude and were kept soft enough to be eaten. Sometimes after a tough mission the medical officer would give the crew two ounces of bourbon. Often, that bourbon was saved or hoarded for enjoyment or celebration later in greater volume. Some airmen found that the grapefruit juice served at the mess tent was best used by mixing it with the liquor. No doubt there were missions, like the one above, where those two ounces of bourbon were gratefully accepted and quaffed immediately. While the aircrews wound down from the mission, ground crews were already assessing the condition of the aircraft. Most would be repaired, but often a few were too badly damaged to be saved. Those less fortunate aircraft were hauled to "Hangar Queen Alley", the bomber bone yard located on the base. Salvageable parts would be eventually reused on other aircraft.
Left, a 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squad B-24 rests on a hardstand at the Spinazzola Airbase.
Note the bomb cart and crew; right, "Cuddles" of the 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squad.
Battle damage and mid-air collisions were not the only risks and causes of crashes on a mission. Heavy bombers were thirsty machines and consumed vast quantities of aviation fuel. Fuel management was critical especially on long flights deep into Germany or to another target approaching the range of the bomber. One of the responsibilities of the engineer was to monitor fuel consumption and keep the pilot apprised of fuel status and engine operation. It is a known fact that many aircraft crashed when they ran out of fuel. The sad reality is that some aircraft thought to be out of fuel actually had ample reserves. This could be as a result of a faulty fuel indicator or due to human error. B-24 variants had two different types of fuel transfer systems. The engineer used whatever system the aircraft was equipped with to transfer fuel from one tank to another either to balance the aircraft or to make the fuel available to engines which could not otherwise draw from auxiliary tanks. Unfortunately, due to training or lack thereof it was often the case that an engineer who had trained on one system was assigned to an aircraft equipped with a fuel transfer system on which he was not qualified or current. As a result, he would find himself unable to transfer auxiliary reserves to the tanks from which the engines drew fuel resulting in decreased range and the inability to return to base. More than one aircraft coming in allegedly out of fuel crashed at the start of the runway only to erupt in the telltale black smoke and roiling flames of burning fuel.
460th B-24s over Oswiecim, Poland on a Mission to an Oil Refinery in 1944; Dad on Jeep with Bob Seidel, Chatham Field, 1944.
Dolly Tower, shown below, was the control tower at the airfield in Spinazzola. I am sure that many an airman was glad to see Dolly Tower come into view after a long, arduous mission. Dolly Tower and the steel mat runways were a sign of home and safety. Dolly Tower also served to give the crews the final "go ahead" or "stand down" instruction while they waited on the airfield for takeoff. A green flare fired from Dolly Tower meant the mission was a "go", two red flares meant "stand down".
The Welcomed Site of Dolly Tower
Mission No. 6
October 23, 1944
Details of the mission are sparse. What is known is that the mission force was comprised of 79 bombers from the 460th and 485th bomb groups and the mission duration was recorded as eight and a half hours. In all, there were 83 sorties which resulted in 181.70 tons of bombs dropped. The mission was a long one, almost nine hours start to finish and the formation experienced flak at Brenner Pass through the Alps, at Innsbruck, and over the target itself.
The 15th Army Air Force as a whole had several missions on this day. Around 500 B-24s and B-17s bombed the Skoda armament works at Plzen, Czechoslovakia; in Germany, 32 B-24s bombed a marshalling yard at Rosenheim, 34 B-24s bomb an industrial area at Plauen, 67 B-24s bomb the BMW aircraft engine plant at Munich, 79 B-24s, including dad's crew, bomb the M.A.N. (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg) diesel submarine engine factory at Augsburg, and 63 B-24s bomb the Winterhafen oil storage depot at Regensburg; in northern Italy they hit communications targets, a marshalling yard at Bressanone, some bridges at or near Casarsa della Delizia, Pordenone, Santo Stino di Livenza, and Maniago, and a rail line running north to the Brenner area. Fighters escorted the missions to Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Dad (with Camera) & Some of the Crew Miss Fortune of the 460th BG,760th BS
In the picture above left are, from left to right, Harold Adams, Bob Seidel, John Bills, and Dick Weber. The other photo is of "Miss Fortune" a B-24H from their bomb group's 760th Bomb Squad. Miss Fortune was shot down on June 30, 1944 over Hungary and the body of tail gunner S/Sgt. Martin Francis Troy, the last missing crewman, was found 63 years later, in 2007, amongst the wreckage and returned home.
November came to southern Italy with a sodden vengeance - wet, cold, and loaded with rain, snow, and the ever-present mud that would suck your boots off your feet as you walked. Missions were few and far between as Europe began to ebb toward what would be a record breaking winter. Men continued to work on fortifying their living quarters against the wind and cold and sought what comforts they could. The Italian workers were making good progress on dad's crew's hut and the walls were about four feet high now. Just having half walls helped to break the wind, reduced tent flapping, and virtually eliminated the stormwater runoff from entering the tent. Endless hours were spent writing letters home to friends and relatives to stay busy and to prompt the return letters and boxes they so much appreciated. Reading and card games helped to pass the time. Ensuring the heater remained operational and fueled was a priority. A trip to Bari would have been a highlight for the respite from the bleak camp. A pass could often be had if you weren’t scheduled to fly the next morning. A chance to visit the PX and pick up some needed supplies would have been a blessing. Catching a USO show would have been the ultimate. One 460th airman noted that during his time at Spinazzola, Roy Rogers and Trigger, the Lone Ranger, and Joe Louis came to provide entertainment for the soldiers. Joe even did a little exhibition sparring in the summer of 1944 with one of the officers, Captain George Bishop, who entered the ring armed and armored with helmet and flak suit. The big name acts like Bob Hope, Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters, and the lovely pin-up favorite Betty Grable tended to go to bases near the larger cities or to locations with more troop concentration. Regardless of the act, the airmen loved the taste of home and the diversion from the routine of life at a combat base.
Missions seemed like a double-edged sword. They gave the crew something to do, something they had been trained to do, and were a break in the monotony of life at a base grounded due to weather, but with a mission came the ever present risk or injury, death, or the loss of a friend or crewmate. The missions did come and the crews stepped up to perform their duties.
Mission No. 7
November 5, 1944, Sunday. Target: Floridsdorf Oil Refinery, Vienna, Austria. Seven bombers from dad's group set off to bomb troop concentrations at Podgorica, Yugoslavia, but dad and a huge force headed for heavily fortified Vienna. Comprised of approximately 500 B-24s and B-17s, this was the largest air assault against a single target ever assembled during World War II at that point and dad was part of it. Oil and its products were the lifeblood of the German war machine. Missions like this were a staple of the Allied attack strategy. The fact that refineries had been previously bombarded was one reason why German air coverage of targets was not what it had been earlier in the war. Fuel, which could be synthesized, was precious and limited. Oil was perhaps even more precious because, unlike fuel which could be synthesized from coal or coke, lubricants had to be made from petroleum. Petroleum provided grease, lubricating oil, paraffin, kerosene, and other necessary products. The group would be able to bomb through the cloudy skies using radar in the lead ship. Bombardier John Murphy opened the bomb bay doors and watched for the lead ship's bomb drop. When the lead aircraft dropped its payload the other aircraft in the formation toggled their bombs. Murphy toggled his switch like all the others and felt the aircraft lift when it was shed of its deadly weight. Feeling the lift and recognizing it as confirmation of the drop Murphy radioed "Bombs away!" and activated the bomb bay door switch again to close the doors. When he had confirmation of its closure he interommed "Bomb bay doors closed". They had completed what they were paid to do. Again, Dad's crew was able to deliver its payload and return safely to the base at Spinazzola. One crew was not as lucky. I have found Missing Air Crew Report 9673 indicating aircraft number 42-52028 "Yellow W" piloted by 2nd Lt. Raymond H. Meadows from dad's own 460th BG, 763rd BS was lost that day over Austria. All contact with the Meadows B-24J aircraft was lost after last radio contact at 12:46 PM when Meadows, still over Vienna, had confirmed his bomb drop. The report is a brief five pages and there are no witness reports indicating what may have happened, but fortunately all crew are listed in the report as returned, although no indication is provided as to when or under what circumstances. By the way, Sam Hamilton was promoted to 1st Lt. two days after this mission. One picture, below, was taken on this November 5, 1944 mission and demonstrates the flak that was encountered.
Above, a 460th B-24 with an Engine on Fire over the Adriatic Sea after Being Hit by Flak; Dad on Jeep, Chatham Field, GA 1944. Below, 460th aircraft in flak on dad's November 5, 1944 mission to Vienna.
One overarching observation became obvious in my research. The crews had a very real sense of duty that I am sure was instilled at every opportunity during their training regimen. The focus was on the prime objective to get the bombs to the target. After the drop, there was some relief as they wheeled away. I suspect a large part of the intense effort or sense of duty was certainly incentivized by a mission credit possibly depending on the actual bomb drop. The crew learned quickly that the lift experienced in the aircraft once the weight of the bombs left the aircraft was the signal of a completed job allowing them to turn off the run and head home as quickly as possible. There was a common expression at the time, that the bomb run was for Uncle Sam but after the bombs dropped the crews "were flying for themselves". That is unless, of course, they were to take bomb target photos called "strike photos" for analysis of the accuracy of the bombing. Usually several aircraft on a mission were equipped with cameras to photo the target area. If their mission required post-bombing photographs they would have to hold their bomb run course for maybe 15 additional seconds or so, depending on bombing altitude, to photograph the exploding bombs for analysis of bombing accuracy and damage assessment later on. Those extra seconds of holding altitude, speed, and heading after feeling the lift seemed the longest of the mission. Interested crew members could view the photos later in the day or evening after the mission to see what percentage of bombs landed within the target area. Sometimes crews were dismayed to see that some of their bombs landed in civilian areas. Some would be haunted by this knowledge for many years after their service.
Mission No. 8
November 11, 1944, Saturday. Target: Linz, Austria. The mission began like other missions, but was aborted over Adriatic Sea near the coast of Yugoslavia due to weather conditions. In fact, for all of the 15th Army Air Force, bad weather grounded over 100 other heavy bombers, and more than 320 were recalled before reaching their target areas. Aborted missions were considered "non-combat sorties" and did not count toward the tally of required completed missions. They were tough on a crew due to the buildup of the mission, all the preparations, risking the harrowing taxiing and takeoff and the dread as the 60 ton warbird labored into the sky. It seems that the crew dropped their bombs over the Adriatic Sea in any event, to be rid of them for safe landing, which was a common practice. Similarly, crews who found a target obscured by impenetrable cloud cover essentially had three options available to them - find a target of opportunity, ditch the bombs, or risk landing with high explosives. The practice of jettisoning bombs over water earned the airmen the disparaging title of "fish killers". For whatever reason, crew member Murphy or Adams forgot to open the bomb bay doors and the 500 lb. bombs tore open the doors and created a good deal of damage to the aircraft as they were dropped. Crew member, Bob Seidel, thought that the doors jammed because of mud in the door runners. The flapping sheets and torn pieces of airplane skin needed to be tied down to prevent further damage to the aircraft and its crew. Accidents like that happened on those missions. Bob Seidel's memoirs describe his seeing a mid-air collision between two B-24s on one mission. He also describes how one of his crew members test fired his turret machine guns and almost took out another B-24 bomber. On one mission, dad was tossing out chaff from his bay window and had not activated the safety on his .50 caliber. He tripped and fell against the gun and his parachute harness hung up on the trigger and several .50 cal. rounds sheared of a good portion of the left vertical stabilizer and damaged the rudder. He caught hell for that one at the debriefing. The .50 caliber was a powerful weapon. When all guns were firing the sound even drowned out the roar of the four 1,200 horsepower engines. Okerstrom indicates that the pilot and copilot could feel the shock through their control columns of the big .50 calibers as they fired.
You might wonder how loud it was on a B-24, even without the guns roaring and the flak booming. During April 2013 I flew on the Collings Foundation's Commemorative Air Force's B-24 Witchcraft along with a few friends. I conducted an impromptu test during takeoff. I was sitting on the floor of the aircraft with my back against the bulkhead separating the waist from the bomb bay. My friend was seated immediately next to me, shoulder to shoulder. As we taxied down the runway I shouted as loud as I possibly could. My friend literally never heard a sound from me. The picture to the left is of me inflight aboard the Witchcraft at my dad's position as right waist gunner. I am wearing my dad's gunner wings in remembrance of him on this Liberator flight.
In regard to accidents, I've read one account of an accident involving the 461st bomb group. As the group was on its bomb run, the navigator in the formation's lead aircraft accidentally dropped his bombs prematurely when his heavy coat caught on the bomb toggle switch. The aircraft in the formation, following normal procedures, toggled their bombs as well. But sometimes accidents yielded positive results. On one mission, some of the crew had seen an odd, sand-colored, older model B-24D come into formation and thought it was strange, but figured it was a lost plane from another bomb group. They had heard that some groups were still flying those old warbirds. When it came time to drop bombs, the odd plane was bombed and totally destroyed by a B-24 above it. Dad's crew learned in debriefing after the mission that the odd plane was a B-24 that had been recovered by the Germans who flew it into the formation so they could radio back the formation's altitude, speed, and bearing information to the anti-aircraft batteries. To counter this strategy, on some missions, the rear of the fuselage or tail would be painted with special identification stripes or other markings (other than the normal markings) to prevent such enemy infiltration.
A B-24 Captured by the Germans and Remarked for Their Use; Dad, Probably on Leave in Columbus, OH in 1943 or 1944 Before Going Overseas
Even though dad's mission this day was aborted, it still proved to be a tragic one. On this mission original crew member Emmett "Bo" Barger, shown in the crew photo at the top of this page and below, was flying with another crew of the 763rd. His plane, piloted by Walter C. Martin, Jr., was lost and never found. There were no witnesses to what happened because of heavy cloud cover, but per Missing Air Crew Report No. 9749 his ship, serial no. 42-51737, was last seen near the Yugoslavian coast. The body of one crew member, Radio Operator Lawrence F. Logan, was later found about 15 miles south of St. Andrea, a Yugoslavian island also known as Andrija or Sveti Andrija (Croatian for Saint Andrew), by the crew of a fishing boat. A search was conducted of the area and coastline near where the body was found, but no other bodies were recovered.
Andrija is an island located about 14 nautical miles west of a larger then British- and Yugoslavian-controlled island, Vis, on which the bomber crews would land during emergency situations if they could not make it across the Adriatic Sea on their route back to their home base. Vis was about 150 miles due sourth of their base. Vis had seen many changes throughout the war. At one time it had been the headquarters of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslavian resistance leader, and had been occupied by the Italians and the Germans as well. We'll learn more of Josip Broz Tito later.
It is believed that once the Martin aircraft entered the clouds it collided with another B-24 on the aborted mission, the 460th Bomb Group, 762nd Bomb Squad's "White P for Peter" B-24 piloted by Horace W. Rhodes and that both planes went down in the Adriatic Sea. The White P was last seen under control and entering the clouds and the collision likely occurred around 23,000 feet. Missing Air Crew Report No. 9747 for the Rhodes B-24 documents the loss of that aircraft. All crew were lost and no bodies were recovered from the Rhodes crew. My research also indicates that Horace Rhodes was involved in a landing accident on September 15, 1944 while piloting aircraft no. 42-52421.
Bo Barger's name, along with the names of the other crew members of both Liberators, is on the Wall of the Missing at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. In all, there are 3,095 names of missing United States military personnel engraved on the white Carrara marble walls of the cool, windowless chapel where you can sit on the walnut pews and contemplate the loss of so many young lives whose remains were never found. Former 460th BG/760th BS Pilot Keith Mason records in his memoirs entitled My War In Italy that there are 30 460th airmen buried at the cemetery and another 27 whose names are inscribed on the walls. An inscription over one alcove reads:
"Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves".
Bo Barger's parents established a scholarship fund in his name at the Washington & Lee University. It exists to this day. The website describing it reads "Emmett Warren Barger, Jr., Class of 1945. Established by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Emmett Warren Barger, Waynesboro, Virginia, and friends." My research indicates that Bo's father was a veteran of WWI and, at the age of 54, went to the enlistment office and registered for the WWII draft.
I include the names of the Martin and Rhodes crew here in their memory:
The Walter C. Martin, Jr. Crew: Walter C. Martin, Jr., 1st Lt.; George C. Nicoll, 2nd Lt.; Emmet Warren Barger, Jr., 2nd Lt.; Howard C. Petterson, 2nd Lt.; Howard E. McCue, SSgt.; Lawrence F. Logan, TSgt.; Dean C. Trippler, SSgt.; Guy Heberling, Jr., Sgt; Eugene A. Pfohl, TSgt.; and Walter S. Burson, Pvt. All crewmembers were lost.
The Horace W. Rhodes Crew: 2nd Lt. Horace W. Rhodes, Pilot; 2nd Lt. James E. Roll, Copilot; 2nd Lt Bernard N. Glogas, Navigator; 2nd Lt. John L. Huber, Bombardier; SSgt. Robert D. Riordan, Engineer/Gunner; SSgt. Archie F. Smith, Radio Operator/Gunner; SSgt Clifton Scott, Asst. Engineer/Gunner; SSgt. Robert A. Raymond, Asst. Radio Operator/Gunner; SSgt. Buford E. Parks, Gunner; and SSgt. John M. Schneider, Gunner. All crewmembers were lost.
A B-24 From Dad's Own 460th BG, 763rd BS on Fire over Vienna June 16, 1944
After Attack by a German ME-109. Crewman Herbert A. Wilson climbs out the Escape Hatch behind
the Cockpit. [The aircraft later broke in half. Herbert Wilson survived and became a POW. He endured the Death March from Stalag IV, and later lived his life in Niles, OH with his wife and family.] Right, dad at Chatham Field, GA.
Mission No. 9
November 15, 1944, Wednesday. Target: Linz Benzol Plant; Linz, Austria. This was a bombing run on a chemical facility. Benzol was used as a motor fuel substitute and these factories and refineries augmented the traditional German fuel supplies made from crude oil. It was foggy at the airfield and navigation was by dead reckoning for a while. Dad's aircraft was one of only five aircraft from his bomb group on this mission, although records show that the four bomb groups of the 55th Bomb Wing overall provided 18 aircraft for the mission. This small force was equipped with radar capability and was considered a "Lone Wolf" mission. I discuss radar and other technological advancements in the following mission. Of those 18 55th Bomb Wing aircraft, nine bombed the primary target, two bombed an alternate target of opportunity due to issues with their H2X radar (aka pathfinder) equipment, and seven aircraft aborted the mission. Of those aircraft which aborted, two did so due to pathfinder equipment issues, two due to mechanical issues, and three for other reasons. Lone Wolf missions were flown by small groups of unescorted aircraft under non-visual conditions by day or night. Their primary targets were high priority. The 15th Army Air Force officially began Lone Wolf missions on an experimental basis on October 25, 1944. The Lone Wolf concept stemmed from experience gained during nighttime reconnaissance flights and long-distance missions that required take off during early morning dark conditions. One such early morning take off was in support of the D-Day invasion in June 1944 during which the 15th Army Air Force provided troop support. The Army Air Force recognized from these experiences that qualified crews in aircraft equipped with pathfinder devices could effectively operate in low visibility (i.e., dark and/or cloud cover) conditions and realize advantages not offered during daytime raids. Initially, in June and July of 1944, and as further prelude to evaluating the concept of nighttime and low visibility mission capability using small forces of specially equipped aircraft, the 15th Army Air Force equipped two B-17s and one B-24 with pathfinder equipment to be used as reconnaissance aircraft for nighttime operation in enemy airspace. Collectively, these experiences demonstrated to the 15th Army Air Force leadership the viability and feasibility of the Lone Wolf concept. As a result, the 15th Army Air Force's Lone Wolf operations were established to achieve four distinct objectives: 1) destroy enemy targets assigned as priority commitments; 2) adversely affect the level of enemy morale; 3) interrupt the usual wartime activities of the enemy by forcing his population to take refuge in air-raid shelters; and 4) maintain the pressure of attack on Southern Germany.
In December 1944 General Nathan F. Twining, Commander of the 15th Army Air Force, had this to say in reference to Lone Wolf missions and the technology that made them possible:
"It is the continuing commitment of the 15th Air Force to destroy the enemy whenever and wherever he can be attacked. His industries must be demolished, his communications disrupted, his resources depleted, his mode of living must be made so utterly hopeless that his nation will collapse in a total defeat. For more than a year the Axis has felt the oppressive weight of daylight visual attacks by formations of the 15th Air Force. Since the middle summer months the Hun has experienced ever-increasing daylight non-visual as well as visual bombings delivered by this Air Force. Now, because of recent technical and tactical developments, and through the courageous efforts and perseverance of our air and ground crews, the enemy is being subjected to attacks both by night and by day, and fair weather and foul. Our pressure upon him is crushing. No longer at any time is he secured from the might of our operations. To the maximum limit of its capabilities the 15th Air Force continues to fulfill its commitment toward ultimate Allied victory."
In regard to impacting enemy morale not just by the Lone Wolf operations but by the relentless daytime precision bombing there was definitely an effect of 15th Army Airforce missions and strategy on the civilian population, the Wehrmacht, and the German leadership. Hitler's Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer had this to recount in his memoir after the war. "I could see the omens of the war's end almost every day in the blue southern sky when, flying provocatively low, the bombers of the American 15th Air Force crossed the Alps from their Italian bases to attack German industrial targets".
The early radar, or pathfinder equipment, allowed the bombers to identify and bomb targets through undercast. Nighttime Lone Wolf raids offered additional security due to the reduced size of the formation, usually one, two, or no more than six aircraft on a mission or wave. Nighttime missions significantly reduced the likelihood of fighter attack. While the Germans possessed technology to direct fighter aircraft to the proximity of Lone Wolf bombers, actually firing upon a bomber still required visual identification, target acquisition, and sighting.
Lone Wolf aircraft differed from normal aircraft, even from those non-Lone Wolf aircraft that were already equipped with the pathfinder equipment. Lone Wolf aircraft had other additional modifications. They had been fitted with flame suppression or dampener kits to reduce engine exhaust flames to reduce nighttime visibility, the pathfinder equipment was provided some heating and pressurization enhancements, and the aircraft was painted a dark dull gray color as camouflage. Perhaps most important is that the crews were provided specialized training on nighttime and low visibility flying. Lone Wolf missions were cancelled if visibility was good. The last thing a Lone Wolf crew wanted was for conditions to be considered "CAVU", the acronym for "Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited". In fact, one source indicates that if visibility was any better than 10/10 (indicating full cloud coverage) the mission would be cancelled. Lone Wolf missions allowed constant pressure via fear of attack to be put on the enemy. No longer could a cloudy day provide the enemy assurance that they would not be bombed. Previously, it had been noted that factory production and repair efforts were increased on cloudy days. Lone Wolf missions served other purposes too. James F. Allen, a 460th Bomb Group/760th Bomb Squad airman describes one Lone Wolf mission in a May 7, 2004 interview done the National Mall in Washington, DC. He notes that the objective of one Lone Wolf mission he was on was to drop off by parachute a British communications officer into Germany. He notes that the officer was oddly in full dress uniform and supposedly he was to establish a communications outpost.
The above image shows the operational area and range of the 15th Army Air Force as of December 1944 as well as the targets of the Lone Wolf missions from October 25th to December.
Also on this mission was the aircraft Princess Carole piloted by Walter Mattson and the subject of his book entitled Lone Wolf In Enemy Skies. Two of the aircraft turned back, one because of radar equipment problems and the other due to engine problems. The remaining three aircraft dropped six tons of 500 lb. bombs on target. For the entire mission force, time over target was from 11:20 AM until 11:40 AM. There was flak that day, and it was exploding at their altitude, but it trailed the formation. On the return, over the Adriatic Sea, two of the aircraft encountered storms on the way back complete with hail and snow. The 460th field was too foggy for landing, so the aircraft landed at the 485th field, in Venosa, Italy, west of Spinazzola, where the crew spent the night. One crewman noted that the breakfast there was not nearly as good as the 460th's.
A 460th BG B-24 with Massive Tail Damage; Dad with Top Turret Guns
One source provides this recount of the overall 15th Army Air Force missions that day. In Austria, 80 B-17s and B-24s attack a benzol plant at Linz, marshalling yard at Innsbruck, and troop concentrations at Novi Pazar, Yugoslavia (all primary targets), and make single bomber attacks on Wolfsburg, Salzburg, Hieflau, the Kapfenberg steel works, Schwaz, Ybbs, and airfields near Linz, and Passau, and Traunstein, Germany; fighters escort the Novi Pazar, Yugoslavia raid.
Dad was awarded the Air Medal on this day, the day before his tenth and last mission.
The Black Panther
Proud Insignia of the 460th Bomb Group
At the Start of the War ... ... and after 50 Missions ... and as Nose Art on a B-24An interesting aside about the black panther insignia is that Col. Robert T. Crowder put Clifford Stone, then a Lt., in charge of a 460th Bomb Group competition for a group insignia featuring a black panther. The fierce black panther shown above on the left was the winning entry. The black panther signifies swift, iron-clawed revenge. The motto of the 460th Bomb Group was "Seek and Destroy". We will learn more of Cliff Stone in this following mission. By the way, Col. Crowder, Commanding Officer of the 460th Bomb Group from August 1943 to April 1944, was killed in action when his aircraft crashed after being attacked and fired upon with machine guns and cannons by an ME-109 on April 15, 1944 on a mission to Romania.
Left, the venerable Old Black Panther as fuselage art. Note the more standard version at
bottom right of the picture; center, the traditional Black Panther patch on 460th radioman, Cpl. Sheehan;
right, Cmdr. Robert T. Crowder (left) and Dep. Cmdr. Bertram C. Harrison (right) in front of a bomber with the new Black Panther emblem. In addition to the nose art, other markings were often placed by the ground crew assigned to the aircraft. Bomb symbols were added to indicate the aircraft completed a mission; swastikas indicated a downed German fighter.
Mission No. 10
November 16, 1944, Thursday. Target: Munich, Germany - Munich West Marshalling Yards. A chronology of the 15th Army Air Force's overall missions that day indicates, on a macro-level, that this day was a busy one for the entire 15th Army Air Force. It indicates that "550+ B-17s and B-24s attack Munich, Germany west marshalling yard and troop concentrations at Visegrad, Yugoslavia as well as an alternate target of Innsbruck, Austria marshalling yard, and scattered targets of opportunity; 250+ P-51s and P-38s support the attack on Munich; 26 other P-38s strafe transport targets on roads between Sarajevo and Novi Pazar, Yugoslavia."
Far above left, a 460th Bomb Group B-24 with "K" markings; far above right, a 460th Bomb Group B-24 over Nis, Yugoslavia, September 1944; above, left and right, tail sections from two unidentified 460th B-24s.
The 460th bomb group airmen were part of two of the above 15th Army Air Force missions - the attacks on Munich and troop concentrations in Yugoslavia. The bomb group was split into two separate attack forces or echelons, named Red Force and Blue Force. There were a lot of aircraft available, partly because maintenance crews were able to ready so many of the aircraft in for repair during the several previous days when no missions were flown. Red Force was assigned the primary mission of bombing the west marshalling yards in Munich and all four bomb groups (460th, 464th, 465th, and the 485th) of the 55th Army Air Force wing were represented. In fact, this mission was represented by all Bomb Wings of the 15th Army Air Force. In total there were 101 B-17s from the 2nd, 97th, and 99th Bomb Groups and 348 B-24s from the 47th, dad's 55th, and the 304th Bomb Wings with most of the groups using Pathfinders to bomb the target. Aircraft not assigned to the maximum strength Red Force were assigned to Blue Force. Blue Force had the mission to bomb troop concentrations in Yugoslavia and three of the four bomb groups (460th, 464th, and the 465th) were represented on this mission.
Dad and the crew were part of Red Force and they were going to Munich, deep in the German heartland 543 miles northwest of Spinazzola. The marshalling yards in Munich were strategic and often targeted because much of the fuel and synthetic oil produced in the Balkans moved through Munich on the way to factories and the war fronts. Munich was a frequent target and would be bombed 74 times during the course of the war. Munich was targeted so often by the US and the RAF not only because it was a target-rich city serving as a railway hub for southern Germany, as a critical air hub for the war effort, and being the industrial home for key armament factories such as BMW, Daimler, and Dornier, but because it was the capital city of Bavaria (Bayern in German) and the fourth largest city in Germany at the time. Munich was likely also a desirable target because of the significance it held for the Nazi regime - Munich was the birthplace and spiritual center of the Nazi party and many important party buildings were located there.
The Red Force mission would entail two separate attack units. The first attack unit would be led by Colonel John Price and the second would be led by the pilot on dad's ship. The 460th would be well represented that day with 31 aircraft on Red Force. If all went well, this would be an eight hour mission based on the logs of those who returned. Their B-24 Liberator was equipped differently this time and consequently was called a Pathfinder or a PFF for Pathfinder Force or a Mickey by some. The PFF or Mickey designation meant their B-24 was equipped with an H2X radar assembly where the ball turret was usually located, as shown on this 460th BG aircraft in the foreground of the formation en route to Oswiecim, Poland in 1944. The operator of the pathfinder equipment was called a "Mickey Man" and they were in high demand due to a shortage of trained operators. This is the same equipment used on the Lone Wolf aircraft discussed in more detail in the prior mission, although this was not a Lone Wolf mission. The hemispherical dome enclosed and shielded a rotating H2X radar dish. In American formations Pathfinders led the formation to the target and dropped their bombs first. The British used their Pathfinders in a different way, partly because they bombed at night. A British Pathfinder would find the target in advance of the formation and drop a flare or incendiary bombs to mark the target for the formation which followed some time behind the Pathfinder. H2X radar, also known as Bomb Through Overcast or "BTO", was an American improvement over an earlier version of ground searching radar invented by the British.
Navigational aids were not new. The German-invented and widely used Lorentz navigation and landing system had been in existence since pre-war days to assist with directing and landing aircraft when visibility was hindered. The Lorentz system used two signals similar to Morse code. One signal was a transmission of dots, the other of dashes. If an aircraft was centered on a runway on its approach the two signals effectively combined or overlapped and resulted in a constant tone letting the pilot know he was on course. In the early stages of the war the Germans further developed this system with the intent of guiding their bombers to a target. The improved system was called Knickebein. This system was easily countered or "jammed" by the British by superimposing another signal over the Knickebein signal. The British countermeasure was effective and was codenamed "Aspirin".
After Knickebein the Germans developed an enhanced system called X-gerät which used four beams or signals, one, a coarse or broad beam, for "approach" or direction to enable the bombers to stay on a general course to the target, and three beams sent from a single or multiple ground sites directed across the directional beam. Graphically, this arrangement is often likened to the cross hairs on a telescopic sight. The directional beam was broad since too narrow a beam would be easily lost if a bomber veered off couse slightly. However, use of a broad directional beam introduced error. The cross-beams would provide signals when the bomber was so many miles or kilometers from the target, similar to mile markers for the navigator. The first two of the cross-beams were considered coarse beams as they provided rough estimates of distance from targets, while the last of the three cross-beams was consider a fine beam and came when the bomber was exactly a predetermined distance from the target, say 5 or 15 kilometers. X-gerät provided accuracy of 100 yards over a range of 200 miles. True to form, the British quickly developed a countermeasure codenamed "Bromide". It blocked the coarse signals effectively and even the tougher to block fine signals.
Since X-gerät had been rendered useless, the Germans invented Y-gerät or Wotan as it was called. Wotan appeared around December 1940 and used a single beam. This system relied on communication between the aircraft and ground stations. The bomber would receive the signal and then resend or reradiate it back to the ground station. This system allowed the aircraft to actually turn control over to the automatic pilot system which would guide the aircraft to the target and automatically drop bombs. The British defeated Y-gerät by receiving and sending back to the aircraft its own reradiated signal.
Unfortunately these systems would not be very useful to the British at the time due to range limitations. The British were very interested in developing navigational aids since they typically flew night missions and did not have the benefit of geographical landmarks. The British would require much longer range capabilities to reach the Axis targets. To this end, the British developed a system called "Gee" which used one master and two slave ground stations to essentially provide the aircraft location information using signals or beams. Gee did a good job getting aircraft to the general target area, but not to the precise target. It was unable to provide that level of resolution. Gee remained useful for about a year until the Germans discovered and jammed it. Gee had a range of 450 miles, but its accuracy was limited.
For the British, next came Oboe which was designed to guide the bombers to the city, pinpoint the target even at night and with undercast. It was a kind of early transponder technology and used two ground stations at Norfolk and Kent. The Norfolk location was codenamed "Cat" and Kent was "Mouse". Accuracy was 100 yards at 250 miles, which allowed the British to use the system on targets along the Ruhr. There were other versions of Oboe that were developed over time to stay ahead of the German jamming capabilities.
Finally, the British invented a true ground searching radar which was the earlier version of that on dad's bomber. This early radar system was called H2S and used a longer wavelength than subsequent systems. H2S was a significant improvement over ground station based navigational systems. H2S had its beginning in existing air interception equipment design to locate enemy fighters. Fighters noticed that when pointed groundward their aircraft intercept devices produced a decipherable image of the ground. The system was refined and dubbed H2S, an early ground search radar system. The aircraft dad was on for this mission was equipped with the improved version of H2S. The US version was called H2X and used a shorter wavelength which provided much greater penetration and resolution and allowed better discernment of the target. While the Germans did have radar detection capability, it is believed that the shorter wavelengths generated by H2X were never detected. This process of one side developing a technology followed closely by the enemy's development of a counter-technology was called the "Battle of the Beams".Because the H2X radar equipment displaced the bottom or ball turret on dad's bomber this day it was equipped with two fewer machine guns, only eight .50 caliber machine guns instead of ten, otherwise it was basically the same. Interestingly, while their aircraft was a 460th Bomb Group bomber, it was not one of their own 763rd Bomb Squad aircraft, but one from the 762nd Bomb Squad. Their own plane from the 763rd Bomb Squad did not pass a pre-flight inspection and was grounded. They were flying aircraft no. 42-52011, which bore a white letter "L" on its side. The plane was therefore called "White L for Love" or just "White L". Reports from that day refer to it simply as "L". Group historian Sparky Bohnstedt informed me that the new plane was not given a thorough pre-flight check because things were rushed since changing planes and moving all the gear and equipment put the crew behind schedule. Bob Seidel indicated that the new aircraft had never been properly "slow-timed", the engines had not been broken in slowly and had not had its power settings optimized for various altitudes.
The official Missing Air Crew Report varies slightly regarding crew duty assignments as compared to Bills's memoir. Bills indicates the pilot of the White L was Captain Clifford William "Cliff" Stone ("Stoney" to his war buddies) who was also given the honor of leading the Red Force's second attack unit because it would be his last of his 50 required missions. Other officers, in addition to Captain Stone were: original crew member 1st Lt. Samuel Marlin Hamilton, usually pilot, now copilot on this mission (aside, Sam had been promoted to 1st Lt. just one week prior, on November 7th); 1st Lt. Robert David Kuhne, bombardier; 1st Lt. Arthur Godar, navigator; and 1st Lt. Morris "Maury" Caust (whom we learned a little bit about above on dad's fifth mission) and 1st Lt. John Marshall Alcorn, both radar navigators. The Missing Air Crew Report lists Caust and Alcorn as navigators, Kuhne as radar navigator, and Godar as bombardier. I am inclined to believe the report is correct because I have corresponded with one of Robert Kuhne's sons who indicates his dad was a navigator. Robert Kuhne's obituary indicates he was a navigator as well. Aircraft equipped with radar apparatus typically did have a navigator to operate and monitor the equipment and another traditional navigator to aid the pilot in course direction and adjustments. Kuhne's Caterpillar Club application essay provided to me by his grandson, Christopher Howell, indicates he was the "Radar Observer Bombardier". As for the enlisted men, they were all original crew members: Sgt. Otto Ernest “Tex” Mattiza; Sgt. John Ewing Bills, Jr.; Sgt. Robert Sherman "Bob" Seidel; Staff Sgt. Harold Franklin "Hal" Adams; and my dad, Staff Sgt. Richard Lee "Dick" Weber. Bob Seidel was not originally scheduled for this flight, but he had volunteered and was allowed to go as an extra crew member. He was eager to get missions under his belt. Just days earlier this mission would have earned the crew two points since it was a tough one to Munich, but the rules had changed on November 9th. The required mission count for a complete tour of duty was reduced from 50 back to 35, but tough missions such as those to Munich, Vienna, Ploesti, Bucharest, and Budapest would no longer count double. Interestingly, as a result of this change many airmen unexpectedly found that they had suddenly met the newly instituted 35 mission requirement and earned their trip home. As an aside, crews that had racked up a lot of missions were provided a week of rest and relaxation, or "R&R", on the Isle of Capri. At one point the required mission count for the R&R trip was 25, or halfway through the then current full mission count. Some pilots and copilots were provided de facto combat breaks by serving as a shuttle service for embarking and disembarking crews. All crews had their eye on a week at Capri.
Dana Satterfield was not on this mission because his ball turret was occupied by the radar raydome equipment. Original crew members John Murphy and Joe Rudolph were not on the crew either. Joe was not needed because Sam was flying copilot (Joe's usual role) and John because Arthur Godar was serving as bombardier, likely because of the presence of the Mickey apparatus. Navigators and bombardiers skilled in the use of the high tech radar and bombsight equipment were in high demand and often served with a variety of crews of lead aircraft. John Bills John Bills indicates in his memoirs that Joe would go on to become a pilot and finish all of his missions by the end of the war; he was one of the lucky ones. I was able to contact John's daughter, Sandra Murphy Conley, who informed me that John did fly the mission that day as part of another crew and was a lead or deputy lead bombardier, perhaps of another wave or formation box. Like Joe, John went on to finish his mission as well. As previously noted, one of the original crew officers, Emmett Warren "Bo" Barger, Jr. had died on his November 11th mission as part of another crew. There were a total of 11 men on this crew (six officers and five enlisted men), along with ten 500 lb. bombs, and the newly installed radar equipment. Sam Hamilton indicated in a taped interview the bomb load consisted of ten 1,000 lb. bombs. The typical Liberator crew carried only ten men and no radar equipment.
The White L was a brand new B-24-J15 model manufactured by the Ford Motor Co. at the expansive 80-acre Willow Run B-24 bomber plant in Michigan. Willow Run was constructed beginning in April 1941 when the country knew war was in its future. Willow Run, at its peak, employed 42,000 employees who built 8,685 bombers from 1,255,000 separate parts per bomber, and produced at peak rate one bomber every 55 minutes. All the experts said it couldn't be done, that producing a bomber in several hours, let alone a bomber an hour as Ford promised, was impossible, but Henry and his son Edsel proved them wrong.
B-24 designs changed over the course of the war to accommodate changes needs, improve performance and protection, and to incorporate rapidly changing technology. B-24s were referred to by a letter or letter and number combination appended to the B-24 designation, in this case "J15". The "J" series cost around $300,000 and was the most current variant of the heavy bomber at that time and had some improvements over previous versions, such as having been equipped with the Emerson electric rotating nose turret (designed to provide more responsive head-on frontal attack protection than the earlier hydraulic turret) and some other enhancements. Some B-24Js built at factories other than Willow Run did not receive the electric turret due to a supply shortage and were equipped with hydraulic turrets of earlier models. Prior to the design of early "C" variants and subsequent "D" variants, B-24s had neither hydraulic nor electric nose turrets but rather glazed domes that were reminiscent of multi-paned garden hot houses with fixed machine gun mounts. The "C" variant was also the first variant to feature the distinguishing oval engine nacelle so closely associated with the B-24. Oval nacelles were a result of a design change resulting from the addition of turbochargers to improve performance at high altitude. All subsequent models featured oval nacelles which, along with the dual rudders, were the B-24's distinctive trademarks.
The White L was so new and factory-fresh it had never even been on a combat mission yet. There has been some speculation regarding the color of the White L as aircraft of the time could be provided in either what was referred to as "natural metal" (i.e., shiny aluminum) or painted olive drab. Of course aircraft could also be painted by crew in-theater. When I began this research I assumed that the White L was natural metal given the fact that it was newly manufactured and assigned relatively late in the war, but have become convinced it was likely olive drab. Robert Kuhne's Caterpillar Club essay indicates the aircraft had been freshly painted as a "Lone Wolf", an aircraft that could be sent out on single aircraft missions. Further, an aircraft inventory list based on Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) data I have included as an appendix and update from time-to-time does indicate the White L was olive drab. The single White L for Love crash site picture I have is inconclusive as to color and I cannot tell if the aircraft had been painted or not. Pieces of the aircraft that have been provided to me are also inconclusive as some parts are painted and some are not. In December of 1943 the US War Department made the decision to cease having most of the US aircraft painted, except for those specialty aircraft to be used for night mission and troop transport. The rationale was that the olive drab or camouflage paint schemes added little to safety or stealth especially due to the altitudes the aircraft normally flew over enemy territory and eliminating painting would save cost, production time, and per some sources potentially improve performance somewhat by reducing weight. For example, the olive drab paint job on a B-17 added about 300 lbs to the aircraft. Of course aircraft would still bear US markings, and customary group and squadron designations, along with aircraft number. Lone Wolf paint schemes were not standardized. Some Lone Wolf aircraft, like those for the 885th Bomb Squad of the 2641st Special Group, were painted black and some Lone Wolves were painted a dull gray.
One crew member remembered that the White L even smelled new and that he liked that smell. So, for this mission there was a crack crew that for the most part had worked together before, a new plane, and the best high tech gadgetry available at the time, the Pathfinder radar equipment, that would even allow navigation and bombing through overcast. Some of the crew felt that having a battle-seasoned pilot like Captain Cliff Stone with 49 missions under his belt was almost a good luck charm. This had all the makings for a good mission even if it were to fortified Munich, deep within Germany.
Left, a B-24 Equipped as a Pathfinder. Note the Raydome Protruding the Underside. Right, 460th B-24, "Pretty Baby", Showing Early Tail Markings over Capri. Below Left, B-24 S/N 42-52380 Being Searched by Germans after a Crash on April 13, 1944; Below Right, an Early 460th Aircraft.
Bombs were loaded and secured in their racks, the hurried pre-flight inspection was completed by each crew member, and final checks were performed. Clifford Stone and Sam Hamilton were busy performing their checks and start-up procedures. I can picture both of them in their crusher caps minding the details of readying a heavy bomber for flight. Crusher caps were the officers' billed caps that had been altered by removing the wire that held the cap in shape. They did this so that the headsets they wore would fit better. The practice also had the effect to distinguish them from regular army, the "ground pounders" as they were referred to by the Army Air Force. It was a popular look and eventually officers and enlisted men alike, even those who had never flown a combat mission, could be seen sporting a crusher. A well-worn crusher cap was called a "fifty mission crusher", and no doubt Clifford's had the legitimate look and feel of a true fifty mission crusher. The men waited for the start engine and takeoff signals. Once received, the White L taxied to and then accelerated down the runway and began its lumbering climb into the sky. All the aircraft on the mission formed on the White L's lead and began the long flight toward Germany and enemy skies. After the formation had tightened-up, Captain Stone informed the crew and the other aircraft pilots that he was going to drop out of formation to lighten the load by releasing one of the bombs. Sam Hamilton indicated in a taped interview many years later that he dropped two bombs. Robert Kuhne's Caterpillar Club essay indicates two bombs were dropped over the Adriatic Sea. Clifford Stone also indicates in his September 2008 video-taped oral history interview with the Obamakansasheritage.org that two bombs were dropped. Captain Stone felt the radar equipment, along with the full complement of bombs, and the extra crew member, made the plane sluggish. Some reports indicate the plane was dodging from side-to-side and that the captain had to struggle to maintain it, so maybe that prompted ridding the aircraft of a bomb. Generally speaking, the B-24 was noted as a tough craft to fly, especially when compared to the B-17 Flying Fortress, but this sort of lurching behavior was not normal. There was almost a collision with another plane as the White L rejoined the formation; whose fault that was no one will ever know for sure. Sam Hamilton indicated in a taped interview many years later that Captain Stone exited and re-entered the formation correctly and that the near miss was the fault of the No. 3 aircraft, flying off the White L's left wing. Bob Seidel indicated he thought the plane was flying a little better after it dropped one of its bombs, but that the power settings were still too high and the aircraft was burning fuel fast. He indicates that the airspeed, and consequently the airspeed of the entire formation, was greater than normal. He said he kept saying "I don't know what Stone is trying to do". The ship proceeded up the Adriatic Sea and skirted Venice.
Munich, or München in German, was extremely heavily defended at this point in the war, anti-aircraft batteries having been brought in from outlying areas to concentrate and strengthen its defenses. Pulling a mission to Munich was far from the milk run everyone wanted.
As the bomber formation approached the Munich area the crew readied themselves for the bomb run. Just as the crew prepared for bombing, so did the German populace far below and there was great activity throughout the area on the ground even before the bombers could be heard or seen. By this point in the war, bombing had become commonplace for the German citizen. Even at the very start of the war, just after Germany invaded Poland and Britain entered the war days later, German citizens had been provided a protocol and directions for air raid response. Each household had been provided gas masks for possible chemical attack and hand-powered water pumps for fire control. They had already been provided instructions to extinguish lights at nighttime and were taught how to prepare a basement room as a makeshift bomb shelter. They were instructed to stack sandbags around basement windows as further fortification of the home. Wardens were organized to aid people during air raids and to ensure the general population made it to designated air raid shelters in an orderly fashion as possible. On that mid-November day in Munich the initial air raid sirens sounded the Voralarm, the pre-warning blasts that consisted of three long tones followed by a brief silence and then repeated, when the bombers were detected in the territory. This pre-warning siren alerted the people to get ready to make their way to shelter. More cautious people headed for the shelters when this pre-alarm sounded. The very cautious individuals never ventured far from the shelters. Some citizens found it preferable to sleep in the shelters at night. In Munich that day, no doubt there was significant activity in the streets as the Voralarm sounded due to the frequent bombing of the important and target-rich city of Munich. While some Munich residents were already hunkered in the shelters, the second alarm sounded when the bombers were minutes away from Munich. This second alarm was taken seriously by all the townspeople and those who had not already found shelter did so then. Only the foolhardy took no response. The second alarm was a continuous wail that lasted for around a minute. The townspeople would remain in the shelters until they first heard the Vorentwarnung indicating the immediate threat was over. The Vorentwarnung was the same repeating three blasts used for the pre-warning. Some braver souls made their way out at that time; others waited for the end of air raid signal, the Entwarnung, which was a sustained uniform tone. Air raids warnings could also be broadcast over a dedicated radio frequency to reach more distant citizens at risk. At some points in the war three alarms sounded - one preliminary alarm, one "to shelters" alarm, and one "Hoechstalarm" indicating the attack imminent. Some sources indicate that late in the war only one alarm was sounded which served as a signal to find shelter.
Meanwhile as a result of the increasingly dense ground-based air defenses due to a shrinking German territory, at almost four miles over Munich, the White L encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire en route to the target. The number four engine had either been hit or had developed other mechanical problems, but even so Captain Stone with the assistance of the Pathfinder radar navigators Maury Caust and Robert Kuhne was able to lead the formation to the IP, the initial point or start of the bomb run. The original plan had been to attack the marshalling yard from the south, but Captain Stone opted to veer around Munich and come in from a more northwestern direction. He did this for two reasons - to take advantage of tail winds and to try to avoid an area of especially intense anti-aircraft fire. Captain Stone turned the control of the White L over to Bombardier Godar who took control of the aircraft using the highly secret Norden M-9 bombsight linked to the Sperry C-1 autopilot. He used the sight and the data provided to him by the Pathfinder navigator to make minute adjustments to the course of the aircraft and dialed the sight to the calculated aim point to center the bomb drop on the marshalling yard. The picture here is of a prior bombing of the marshalling yard on October 4, 1944 by the 461st Bomb Group. At 1:02 PM from an altitude of 27,200 feet with an outside temperature of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the White L dropped its bombs on target, attacking Munich from the north-northwest. Since the White L and the Captain Stone crew were leading this attack unit, when Bombardier Godar toggled the White L's bomb drop the rest of the formation toggled on their drop. All bombs in the formation were away! Tons of high explosives and incendiaries rained down on Munich. Bombardier Godar turned control back to Captain Stone, who wheeled away, turning the formation toward home. Interestingly, Sam Hamilton indicated in a taped interview done by former crewmate John Bills that he (Sam) released the bombs on his own decision after the ship pulled out of its first dive, still three minutes from the target. He indicated all the other aircraft dropped immediately after he did. Robert Kuhne's Caterpillar Club essay supports the early release of the bombs after the aircraft had begun the bomb run. A report of the mission indicates that the mission caused damage to repair shops, locomotive sheds, tracks, and rolling stock.
Flak was moderate and below the formation at that time. The plane had been sort of jumping from side-to-side and lurched left when the bombs were dropped. The number four engine was in serious shape (some crew members recall the engine being hit, some thought it was mechanical in nature), and then the number three engine was hit and burst into flames. Co-pilot Hamilton would have tried to kill the engine fire by activating the fire extinguisher valves to his right, sending the extinguishing agent directly to the engine nacelles through a network of delicate tubing that ultimately snaked its way to the cylinder heads. John Bills indicated that the number four engine was running away, which meant that it was running at full power usually with its propeller blades flat and not biting the air and out-of-control. My father’s writings on this event indicate that after the number three engine was knocked out, the number two engine was “feathered”, but this may not be accurate when compared to the official Missing Air Crew Report No. 9940. Feathering was a procedure which entailed rotating the propeller blades so that the narrow profile of the blades faced into the wind to reduce drag and conserve altitude. Feathering an engine's propellers was achieved by activating one of four switches above the main instrument console above the clock, remote indicating compass, and the magnetic compass. Inadvertently activating a feathering switch could be catastrophic and consequently the four switches were located behind a protective bar or guard that had to be manually lifted to access the switches.
Bob Seidel did indicate, like dad did, that the plane was running on only the two outboard engines, the number one and number four, and that the two inboard engines, numbers two and three, were out. Sam Hamilton indicated in a taped interview that the No. 3 and No. 4 engines (right side) were out, and the No. 2 was running away. Robert Kuhne indicated that the two port (right side) engines were out - one feathered due to mechanical problems over the Alps and the other hit. The hit engine was windmilling, unable to be feathered because the hydraulics had been hit as well. Clifford Stone was video interviewed in September 2008 as part of an oral history project by the Obamakansasheritage.org organization. In that interview Clifford indicates that three engines were out by the time the ship was abandoned.
It just shows there was confusion and a lot of speculation going on at the time. One crew member, Bob Seidel who was the nose gunner, recalled the heavy flak and shrapnel they were taking and how it bounced around the inside of the plane or sprayed against the side of the ship. Some old veterans likened the sound of shrapnel hitting their bomber to someone throwing handfuls of gravel at a metal trashcan. Shortly after their plane had taken a hit that knocked out an engine Otto Mattiza recalled seeing a flak burst to the right side of their aircraft which took out another B-24. That aircraft rolled over on its back, cut across the front of their aircraft and began its long descent downward, nose first. Bob Seidel saw that too. He remembered looking at the waist gunners on that doomed plane as it went by. Falling aircraft were difficult to escape from and once an aircraft began to spin, it was nearly impossible to bail out.
Their damaged plane began to drop out of formation, making it extremely vulnerable to enemy fighter attack. Two American fighters escorted them for a while, radioing back their tail numbers and location and generally keeping the enemy fighters at bay. Bob Seidel indicates in his 1999 interview that the now famous Tuskegee 332nd Fighter Group, or Red Tails, flying out of Ramitelli, Italy had at times escorted their group, so maybe those airmen were there for dad's crew on this mission. My research indicates that the 332nd did fly this mission and provide escort cover, but it appears they were assigned to cover another group. The mission record for the Tuskegee Red Tails confirms that the group did escort mission bombers that day. A mission summary notes that the Tuskegee fighters were charged with aiding in penetration, target cover, and withdrawal. It also notes that the Tuskegee fighter group reported that many ME-109s were encountered and that the group scored two victories in the aerial combat that ensued.
Sam Hamilton indicated that he felt the White L "sink". He indicated that the normal speed was 180 to 190 miles per hour, but that the speed had dropped to 145 to 150 miles per hour. He said at that time the aircraft had entered into a side slip with its left wing down. He gave it full forward stick with right rudder. The White L entered into its first dive and rapidly dropped from around 28,000 feet to about 19,000 feet, almost a two mile dive before it could pull out. Sam Hamilton knew he had never flown so fast and could not understand how the ship could take those stresses and hold together. Bob Seidel indicates that it was all that Captain Stone and Lt. Hamilton could do to pull out. Crew members were pinned against walls and seats as their aircraft accelerated downward under the force of gravity and the thrust of the two remaining engines. Captain Stone told Lt. Hamilton to "get on the controls", knowing he would need help to pull out. Bob indicates it took Hamilton and Stone "both, with their feet on the rudder pedals, and they pulled back on the steering yoke -- it took both of them to pull it back -- before it finally took" on the second attempt. Control surfaces such as the rudder, aileron, elevators, and tabs could be controlled by both the pilot and co-pilot separately, but these control systems were not truly independent. Gears, pulleys, and cables that drove the surfaces were themselves actuated by a common drive shaft that connected the pilot's and co-pilot's pedals and yoke. Having Hamilton aid Stone directly added force necessary overcome the forces caused by the extreme speed and angle of the aircraft. The additional force was necessary to move the flight surfaces in order to come out of the dive. During the dive and the intense struggle to regain control, the crew in the back would have been initially tossed around and then pinned to a wall or bulkhead of the bomber due to the G-forces experienced in the powered dive.
The White L was out of formation and was obviously struggling to keep up by this time. Bob Seidel indicates they were continuing to lose altitude at about 500 feet per minute. Robert Kuhne indicated that the right wing with the two lost engines was "flapping" and the side of the aircraft was "shaping madly" and causing the aircraft to bounce so much his radar set was actually jumping around. By "shaping" Kuhne meant that he could see the side of the aircraft actually cyclically deforming to the point where the aircraft structure and siding could either crumple or fail due to fatigue. The aircraft formation that had been following the White L saw the dire condition of their lead and began to scatter. It was about at this time that the captain issued the order to salvo equipment. The White L's nose wheel door opened and the crew began to jettison all loose equipment. The highly secret Norden bombsight would have been destroyed and pitched at this time as well. Bob Seidel was ordered to leave the nose and help the crew unbolt and drop the pathfinder H2X raydome, reportedly around 2,000 pounds, to further lighten the load. In a non-PFF aircraft, the ball turret, instead of the raydome, would have been unbolted and dropped as excess weight. The following picture is of an actual ball turret dropping into the sea from a B-17 Flying Fortress.
Captain Stone asked his navigator for a course to Vienna and the Russian lines. Flying on the White L's left wing was Lt. Edward Shemanski in Yellow D. You may recall that Lt. Shemanski was the copilot on the Galarneau crew during the October 20th mid-air collision. Shemanski tried to contact Captain Stone on a VH frequency to no avail. Shortly afterwards, somewhere between Munich and Salzburg, the White L went into a second dive and eventually leveled out at about 15,000 feet (Bob Seidel indicates he thought the plane pulled out of the dive around 14,000 feet), just a few thousand feet above the undercast, the altitude at which the aircraft would penetrate the clouds from above and become visible to the German anti-aircraft batteries below; soon there would be no protective cloud cover and anti-aircraft cannon sighting would be by visual means. Around this time Captain Stone sent out a call. His actual words as recalled by Shemanski and recorded in the missing air crew report were "Any ship in the Yellow Squadron, this is White L, please acknowledge". Lt. Shemanski acknowledged the call, identifying his aircraft as Yellow D now on Stone's left wing, and gave Stone the "Go ahead". Captain Stone said "I have two engines out, can't hold altitude and am going down, but want to get as far as possible". Yellow D took the lead. Lt. Shemanski had one of his crew check the position of White L. White L was at about 13,000 feet, entering the clouds, and making a right turn. Lt. Shemanski and his crew thought White L was probably making a run for Switzerland. Switzerland was only about 130 miles away from Munich on a magnetic heading about 260 degrees. If the bomber could limp its way to neutral Switzerland, the crew could ride out the remainder of the war there, no longer classified as combatants, still interned, but almost certainly treated more kindly than at an enemy prisoner of war camp. Switzerland made a distinction between Allied soldier who walked across the border for sanctuary and those who came from the skies. Airmen were considered "internees" and treated as prisoners subject to the rules of war with officers going to nicer internment area like hotels and lodges and enlisted men going to traditional prison camps. Other Allied and Axis soldiers were considered "evadees". Evadees generally were not imprisoned and were free men among the Swiss populace in accordance with old laws dating back to the middle ages. Although considered neutral, Switzerland had been bombed by the Allied forces, only perhaps by mistake, and was known to have shot down or caused forced landings of both Axis and Allied aircraft. Allied aircraft also shot down Swiss fighters. Switzerland had a strong Nazi influence and continued to manufacture war products for the Germans during the war years. Although many internment camps were in places like former ski lodges, some were severe work or punishment camps, such as Wauwilermoos, typically reserved for prisoners who had previously attempted escaped from more lenient camps. Prisoners in such places were often worked to death performing hard labor such as hauling stone from quarries. Beatings, rape, and other abuses of Allied soldiers were ignored by the Swiss guards and the Captain in charge of the prison, while the German prisoners were protected. Wauwilermoos was run by a sadistic Swiss pro-Nazi, some claim actual Nazi, Captain André Henri Béguin. After the war, on February 20, 1946, Béguin was charged with thirteen violations of Swiss military penal code by the Swiss government and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. His charges included suppression of a prisoner's complaint.
At one point in the war, the US advised Switzerland to cease its mistreatment of US airmen or US bombers might begin to experience "navigation errors" resulting in bombings in Switzerland. Overshooting Switzerland could put the White L crew in occupied France where the best hope would be to be picked up by the French resistance fighters, the Maquis, and perhaps be helped back to Allied-controlled territory. The missing air crew report indicates that the last recorded coordinates for the White L were 47 degrees 30 minutes North, 13 degrees 00 minutes East at its final sighting at 1:35 PM.
Remarkable photographs taken on dad's final Munich West Marshalling Yard Mission, November 16, 1944 - two photos of a B-24 shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The Aircraft is identified as a 465th Bomb Group bomber from dad's 55th Bomb Wing.
At some point after the White L began lagging and dropping out of what was left of any sort of formation, they were attacked by at least two waves of German fighter planes, the single engine ME-109s and the twin engine JU-88s, and fought them off, but by that time their plane was crippled, helpless, and doomed. Bob Seidel indicated one wing was on fire probably due to oil or hydraulic fluid, not fuel. In order to minimize altitude loss as well as the rate of loss, equipment and personal gear had been jettisoned. Crew members had even thrown out their flak jackets, guns, and ammunition in their desperate attempt to stay airborne. Captain Stone and Lt. Hamilton began considering where to ditch the aircraft and Captain Stone again asked his navigator for a course, this time to Switzerland. In his 2008 video-taped interview, Clifford Stone indicated that his first preference would have been to make it to Yugoslavia because he thought that would "get him home" more quickly due to the active and established resistance organizations. As it turned out, that conversation was moot because they had dropped too low and were at risk of running into the mountainous area around Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s summer retreat. Copilot Hamilton saw the mountains ahead and some small lakes he called tarns and knew that if they were to bail, it had better be soon. He told Captain Stone that now would be the time to get out. Captain Stone or Copilot Hamilton reached over to the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) Radio Destroyer Switch located high on the console in front of and on the left side of the copilot's position and hit the two buttons to detonate small charges, called squibs, destroying the radio so the automated challenge and response technology would not fall into German hands. The internal communication system, called the interphone, had been knocked out shortly after the crew had jettisoned equipment and gear (Kuhne's Caterpillar essay indicates the interphone went out much earlier, about 15 minutes after takeoff), but the bail out alert had already been passed along. The crew would have donned their parachutes long before this point. Pilot Stone and Co-pilot Hamilton would have already been attached from the start of the mission to their seat-style parachutes that also served as the cushions in their steel chair frames and the rest of the crew would have attached their chest parachutes to their harnesses when things even began to look dire. Some ball turret gunners, especially the very small framed ones, preferred the backpack parachutes, but most used the chest parachutes most of the crew used. Unlike the rest of the crew, ball turret gunners did not have their parachutes readily accessible while they were in the ball turret as there simply was not enough room. Instead they kept them stored near the retracted ball turret so that they could attach the parachute immediately after exiting the turret. The bottom hatch was jettisoned in preparation of bailing out, but the bell signaling the bail out had not sounded. Bob Seidel was held back from jumping immediately because he did not realize the jump bell had not sounded. Sam Hamilton recalled the altitude was around 7,500 feet when the bail out order was given. Robert Kuhne recalled that Captain Stone said something to the effect of "Well, this is it. Let's go boys".
They were over Austria by this time. Austria had been annexed into Germany on March 12, 1938 through a process called Anschluss. Austria existed as a federal state of Germany until the end of World War II, when the Allied powers declared the Anschluss void, freed the former Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg from prison, and reestablished Austria once again as a proud and independent nation. Schuschnigg had been imprisoned on trumped up charges, but in reality it was for his opposition to the German takeover. But on that cold November day, Germany or Austria, take over by force or by bloodless Anschluss, for the crew in the doomed bomber descending against its will it was all the same - enemy territory and far too far from home.
The crew in the back certainly never heard Captain Stone's words to his officers, but waited for the bell instead. Once Captain Stone actuated the button on the center console near his right knee to sound the bail out bell, Bob Seidel was first in the rear to go out, then Tex Mattiza, and then John Bills. This was somewhere near the small town of Lamprechtshausen, Austria. John Bills recounted in his wartime memoirs that his son, John Bills III, shared with me that my father was the last to jump, having maneuvered through the bomb bay to the cockpit at the last moment to see if any of the pilots had remained in hopes of getting the plane home or to Switzerland. Dad’s writings confirm this as well, as does Sam Hamilton's taped interview. John Bills indicates that had dad stayed on board for just another minute longer, he would have crashed into the mountains north of Salzburg.
The Often Encountered Junker JU-88 The Deadly Messerschmitt ME-109
Meanwhile, on the ground, German military personnel, paramilitary groups, and civilians had seen the faltering bomber flying low over Lamprechtshausen (translated German records indicate at a height of only 800 meters) and had watched as the parachutes blossomed. German records indicate that notification was sent to neighboring police posts, SA-guards, home guards, and "other male population". Two search parties were immediately formed with the smaller party directed to the area of Wildermann and the larger party to that of Fuerth-Weitmoos. The search for the fallen American airmen began. German records indicate that "the swamp and forest were roamed all over in a broad line" and that parachutes were soon discovered.
Copilot Sam Hamilton was the second to last off the doomed aircraft. He had looked at the instrument panel just before he jumped and saw the altitude read only about 1,500 feet. After saluting farewell to the sole crewman left onboard, he jumped through the bomb bay. He got tangled in his cords on the way down and was upside down for a while, but was able to free himself. He had strapped on a lot of gear and while he was trying to get free from his parachute cords, the gear swung around and hit him hard in the face causing him to see stars. He landed hard on his heels, fell backwards on his rear, and banged his head and needed time for his head to clear. He had landed near some spruce trees in the midst of several startled deer and hid under one of the trees after seeing some movement. It turns out the movement was John Bills. The two hid together, were passed by three times by the search patrol and a man pushing his way through the snow on a bicycle. They were soon captured. Later, when Sam saw dad he asked dad why he had not jumped earlier. Sam said dad's response was that dad figured if the plane was going back to Italy, he was going with it.
Sam tells an amusing anecdote about the jump. He said that he had stood up in preparation of jumping sometime prior to when he finally did jump and that as he stood he bumped one of the other officers and caused a domino effect causing (probably) Godar to be pushed out the bomb bay. Others, seeing Godar jump, followed him out! Sam sat back down and worked the controls for a time longer.
Captain Clifford Stone had to work his chute to avoid power lines and damaged his ankle upon hitting the ground. He says in his 2008 video-taped interview that he bailed out around 1,500 feet and that on landing he hurt his ankle but that fortunately he did not fracture it. He tried to crawl into the woods but couldn’t get away. He was captured and had tense moments when the Germans thought the case he wore on his belt for his glasses was some sort of holster. He was administered first aid by some of the other crew members when they were brought together at a farmhouse.
Lt. John M. Alcorn and radar navigator Lt. Morris "Maury" Caust both bailed out over a small village called Innerfürt and hit the ground safely, but in different locations near Lamprechtshausen, Austria, about 3.5 kilometers south of Innerfürt. Important to note is that Hal Adams must have bailed out around the same time as Morris Caust because he land not far away. His location proximate to Caust would have some bearing on events that would soon follow. Researchers should be aware that Innerfürt appears on many records of this event as "Innerfurth", and should not be confused with Innerfurth in upper Austria about 135 miles to the east.
Shortly after the airmen jumped, a young Austrian girl watched as one of the airmen descended to earth. The young girl sought out an adult to tell what she had seen. She found Josef Hangöbl (“Hangobl” in English) and told him that a flyer had parachuted from a plane in the neighborhood of Innerfürt and was close by. Josef had recently returned home after helping some others to search for airmen. When he had been first called upon to aid in the search effort he and others met with the local police chief who discussed the search plan and advised them that the airmen were armed and dangerous and that they were “terrorist pilots”. They were advised that if an airman attempted to flee they should use their weapon for their own defense as necessary. Letting an airman escape could result in problems for the searchers and no searcher wanted to incur the unnecessary attention of the police, military, or Nazi party.
This was Josef’s first search for downed airmen because the area north of Salzburg had not had any bailouts or bomber crashes. Residents in the area of course had seen many flyovers of Allied aircraft but overall the area was generally spared from bombings, exempt for the fairly recent bombing of Salzburg on October 16th. Josef was farmer, not a German soldier, but an admitted Nazi and a member of the local civilian defense group called the Gauwehrmannschaft (Gau). As members of the Gau he and many of his friends and neighbors were responsible for organizing search parties for downed airmen when necessary. This group, referred to as the District Defense Group, was a paramilitary organization, but wore neither uniforms nor insignias. They did have standing orders to capture enemy fliers and hand them over to the police. By this time in the war the Gau had actually transitioned to the Volkssturm (“Peoples’ Storm” in English), a paramilitary organization established by the Nazi party, not the military. Important to note is that Josef's documented involvement in this known paramilitary organization would have some effect on his standing in military legal proceedings that took place after the war ended and likely made a significant difference in the way Josef spent the remainder of his life. That distinction is that his involvement in the Gau and Volkssturm classified him as a "lawful belligerent".
Josef was born in 1905 in Eggelsburg, Austria. He owned his farm, having inherited it from his uncle after helping to work it from 1921 to 1938. Josef was a devout Nazi and had been involved with the party since it early days. Rocords indicate he was a NSDAP and the SA as early as 1933. He participated in the July Putsch (July Plot) in 1934 when Austrian Nazis attempted a coupe from July 25th through July 30th. Josef was arrested on July 28, 1934 for his involvement and served two years in prison at Garsten where he developed serious stomach issues. As a result of his support of the Nazi party, his imprisonment, and his stomach affliction (considered a “wound”) he was awarded the Blutorden (“Blood Order” in English) medal by the Nazi party in 1939.
After talking with the girl, Josef grabbed his hunting rifle and took off by foot in the direction indicated by the girl. Josef soon saw the downed airman on the ground, standing, but still attached to his parachute near the farmhouse of Peter Niederreiter. It was Lt. Morris Caust. John Alcorn with whom Morris had jumped landed elsewhere and was captured. Josef indicated that from a distance of about 70 meters he called to the airman five times in German "Halt! Hände hoch!" telling him to raise his hands or, literally, "Stop! Hands high!". Josef indicated that the airman did not raise his hands but moved his hands to his chest (in one account Josef indicates that he thought that Lt. Caust was going to put his hands into his jacket and in another statement Josef indicated that Lt. Caust put his hands in his pockets). Fearing that the American soldier, whom Josef referred to as a "pilot", was going to produce a gun, Josef fired his rifle. He indicated that Lt. Caust turned away from him and began to run. Josef fired a second shot and Lt. Caust fell face forward onto the ground and "squirmed around" as Josef was to say later. Josef said he feared that Lt. Caust was going to get into a position to shoot him, so he decided to leave in order to seek help both to capture and aid Lt. Caust. Josef confessed that at no time did he actually see Lt. Caust produce a weapon.
Hal Adams had landed nearby and was hiding in the snow. He heard the shots and then Caust screaming in pain. From his vantage he saw Caust fall to the ground on, and still attached to, his parachute. Knowing that an armed search party member was close and willing to shoot Adams ran away to distance himself from Josef Hangöbl. His eyewitness account would become important after the war.
When Josef was asked later why he left Caust he said he was going to seek the aid of a nearby farmer Peter Niedermuller, but that when he saw Niedermuller he was busy helping to work in one of Niederreiter's fields so Josef decided not to bother him. Josef was seen walking away from the area in a direction which the distance to the nearest house would have been about two kilometers. Josef said he was later called by another searcher in the forest to help locate other downed airmen and went off to aid in that search. Josef did continue his search for other downed airmen but at no time during the search did he mention to anyone he had shot and left wounded an American airman.
After Niedermuller and some other farmers had finished their field work, they had gone to Niedermuller's house to eat. They had previously seen search party members working the area. While in the house, they heard someone calling "Help me!" in English. Niedermuller told one of his fellow farmers, Johann Spitzhauer, "That's an Englishman calling, let's go and look". They went to the area of the calls for help and caught a glimpse of Josef running away. They quickly found Lt. Caust and approached to within 20 meters of him. Caust was on the ground, and Niedermuller told him in English to raise his hands. Lt. Caust indicated he was wounded and could not raise his hands, but he made an effort and did raise his right hand a little. Niedermuller and Spitzhauer approached Lt. Caust and saw he was sprawled on his parachute and that he was out of his harness. They searched him and found no gun on him and none in the area. They carried him on his parachute to Niedermuller's house, only about 70 or 80 meters away. They must have notified others of the wounded airman because records indicate they were assisted in carrying Caust by French prisoners-of-war and Polish forced laborers. Niedermuller cut Lt. Caust's left sleeve, exposed his arm, and extracted a bullet from his left shoulder. The bullet had passed through his left arm below the elbow and lodged near his left shoulder. They bandaged that wound and another on his right upper leg at the hip. Lt. Caust said he had pains in his abdomen and chest and Niedermuller bandaged a wound in that area and on Lt. Caust's back. Niedermuller sent for Dr. Huber in Lamprechtshausen, about two miles away.
At about 3:30 PM that afternoon, three more American airmen were brought to the farmhouse. They were Lt. John Marshall Alcorn and two enlisted men from dad's aircraft, all of whom had bailed out along with Lt. Caust around the same time. Lt. Alcorn entered the house and spoke to Lt. Caust asking him if he had been shot on the ground or in the air. Lt. Caust responded he had been shot on the ground while taking off his parachute. Alcorn asked if Caust could describe who had shot him. Caust indicated he did not know. Josef Hangöbl was also there at the Niedermuller farmhouse along with around 20 to 30 others, all of whom who had gathered due to the local excitement and to see the American fliers. Some were part of search parties. Josef said, "Yes, I shot him. He was running away." Tex Mattiza gave Caust morphine to help with the pain. A Casualty Interrogation Report for the Adjutant General's Office dated November 8, 1945 by 1st Lt. Burt D. Bream adds a new element. Bream had been a prisoner at Stalag Luft 1 along with many of the White L crew members. Coincidentally, he was also a New Yorker like Morris Caust. 2nd Lt. Bream a navigator with the 8th Army Airforce, 398th BG, 601st BS was downed on September 8, 1944 in his B-17 "Shady Lady", aircraft number 42-97385 on a mission from Northampstead, England to Ludwigshafen, Germany. The Pilot, 2nd Lt. Warren J. Wade, was able to land the damaged plane in French enemy territory and Allied bombers destroyed it after the crew had evacuated so it would not fall into enemy hands. All were captured and three were killed when they foolishly tried to overpower their German SS captors. The three killed were the pilot, waist gunner Sgt. Wilbert Y. Burns, and tail gunner Sgt. Eugene Gamba. Bream indicated in the missing air crew report that while imprisoned fellow prisoner John Alcorn of the White L crew told him about Caust being shot. Per Bream, Alcorn was at the farmhouse while Caust was there. Caust was in very bad shape and appeared to be paralyzed from the neck down. Alcorn requested medical services for Caust. One German present responded "This man does not need a doctor - he is a Jew". My research indicates that despite this anti-Semitic comment from one German or Austrian present medical care was not delayed.
Other captured crewmembers were eventually brought to the farmhouse. Sam Hamilton was there and years later indicated that Josef Hangöbl was a kid of maybe 14 years old who was telling people a story about Caust attacking him. My research indicates that Josef Hangöbl was born in 1905 and would have been about 39 years old. Fellow Austrian researcher Hans Hietl, with whom I have corresponded, had met with the son of Josef Hangöbl. The son was about 72 or 73 years old in 2013, so he would have been around four or five years old when his father was imprisoned. Robert Kuhne indicated that he had heard that Josef was saying that Caust had a gun and claimed self-defense in the killing. Kuhne also indicated that to his knowledge the crew did not have guns on the aircraft.
Dr. Huber arrived and applied some treatment to Caust and ordered Herman Mayer, a local cafe owner and barber, and Ludwig Wimmar to take Caust to the hospital in Oberndorf. Wimmar had a car and had driven to Niedermuller's house along with his friend Mayer since no ambulance was available. Caust was helped into the vehicle and Wimmar drove him south about three and a half miles to the Oberndorf Hospital where Dr. Wendt evaluated Caust. Dr. Wendt identified a large bullet wound on the right side of the back passing through to the left side of the stomach and a bullet wound in the elbow. Caust was x-rayed and provided additional treatment by Dr. Wendt. Dr. Wendt made arrangements by phone to have surgery done in Laufen, a town immediately adjacent to Oberndorf. Dr. Wendt accompanied Caust to Laufen where Dr. Rudolph Ortbauer and he performed surgery. Later, Dr. Wendt would indicate that the wounds he observed led him to believe Lt. Caust had been shot while standing with his left arm raised to his chin. He also believed that another shot had entered Lt. Caust's abdomen while he was still standing. Medical records were later signed by a Dr. Metzler (appears to be Dr. Netzler on the Missing Air Crew Report).
1st Lt. Morris Caust, a Bronx, New York boy and son of Samuel and widowed mother Bella Caust, died immediately after surgery due to internal bleeding as a result of two rifle shots by Josef Hangöbl. Morris Caust was buried in the Oberndorf cemetery. The crew of the White L for Love ensured that after the war ended, neither Lt. Morris Caust nor Josef Hangöbl were forgotten and that there would be an accounting for their lost crew mate, as we shall see later.
Robert Kuhne had bailed out the front port bomb bay and figured he fell for around 1,000 feet before pulling the ring. He wanted to be sure he was well clear of the doomed aircraft. He was swinging wildly a good part of the way down, but the chute corrected itself and things calmed down. He began to hear a ripping and popping sound and realized his harness was pulling apart and felt some regret for having done an earlier repair on it himself as the harness began to slip off his body. He was dealing with this issue when he hit the ground and heard his left foot pop upon impact. He was unconscious for a very short time, came to, and freed himself from his chute, harness, and life vest or "Mae West" as it was called. He hid out for about three hours in some brush until he was captured.
Bob Seidel, first in the waist section of the aircraft to jump, landed hard on a woodpile and dislocated his hip and was bleeding from one eye where he had taken a thumb when he covered his face to ready for impact. That same thumb also had a compound fracture. He administered morphine to himself to help with the pain. The airmen's survival kits had small, single dose ampoules of morphine called "monoject" for just such an occasion. One source indicates that parachute harnesses had small kits attached to them which contained morphine. The morphine ampoules were made for ease of use. To administer the dose, the end cap was removed exposing the hypodermic needle which had pre-inserted into it a fine wire with an exposed wire loop end for grasping. The wire would be pushed further into the needle and ampoule assembly to break the metal seal on the ampoule. Having served its purpose, the wire was pulled out of the needle and discarded. The morphine could then be injected by inserting the needle into flesh and muscle and squeezing the collapsible ampoule tube. Some morphine kits has small labels that were to be attached to the clothing of the soldier indicating dose, date and time administered, and by whom. Another practice was to pin the used ampoules to the collar of the soldier so those administering aid later would be aware of the prior medication. Morphine was and is a powerful narcotic drug, capable of slowing heart and respiration rates.
Bob remembered that once on the ground, he saw that the shiny, reflective strips of foil called chaff, codenamed "window", that the Americans had thrown out of their planes as a countermeasure to confuse enemy radar were hanging from snow-covered fir trees and that the place had a look of Christmas about it. Chaff was scattered across Europe. How odd and surreal that scene must have been, even without the morphine. Bob hid out in an abandoned church and after a while another flier from a different crew showed up there too. The other fellow was in pretty bad shape, having hid out in a stream under a bridge. The flier was soaked and was suffering from hypothermia. Remember that is was mid-November in snow-covered northern Austria. Bob gave him a pair of dry socks as that was all he could do.
They both passed in and out of consciousness until they were captured. Bob, somewhat known amongst his crew for his tall tales, may have taken some liberties in his interview years later at the University of Texas as part of the Oral History Project. Bob indicates his first mission was to Ploesti, that he was a flight engineer (he did assist the flight engineer), that he bailed out into a blizzard, that he evaded capture in the Alps until November 29, 1944, and that he was eventually captured by a German ski patrol. None of this is supported by known records and Missing Air Crew Report 9940 indicates Bob was captured along with the rest of the crew on November 16th. German records dated November 23, 1944 confirm Bob was already in captivity and was captured November 16th. Dad's writings indicate all the crew members were captured and were later at Salzburg at the same time. While Ploesti had been attacked numerous times from 1942 to 1944, my research indicates that the 55th Bombardment Wing did not bomb Ploesti after dad's crew arrived in Italy, although the Wing had bombed Ploesti several times before their arrival, the last time on August 18, 1944. Bob's interview story differs in other regards than the recount he provided which was incorporated into John Bills's memoirs. In his interview he indicates he landed in a tree, had to cut himself free, and had no interactions with anyone until he was captured, but the description above indicates he landed on the ground and was with another airman until capture. Bob would have been about 74 years old when he interviewed in 1999, so perhaps his mind recalled things a little differently than the way they really happened. Unfortunately, I've have found other incorrect or exaggerated information about Bob Seidel. For example the Texas Air Force Association website (www.afadallas.org/about.htm) incorrectly indicates Bob served on 32 missions beginning in July 1944. This is clearly incorrect as Bob did not even arrive at the base in Italy until September 1944 and I have several pictures of Bob at Chatham Field, GA in August of 1944. Two such pictures can seen earlier in this document, namely the crew photo and the photo of Bob in the jeep. Bob may have served on, or been credited for, more than the 10 actual missions many of his original crewmates served (he did volunteer for his final mission on which he was not required and tougher missions could credit more than one point at one time in the war), but 32 missions or credits would seem to be a stretch. However, Bob indicated in his interview the reason for having completed so many more missions than the other crewmembers was that he filled in on other missions because the base was short of engineers and top-turret gunners. Who knows?
On the doomed White L, John Bills recalled dad coming back to him and telling him that the ship was in trouble and that they'd have to bail soon. John had climbed out of his turret in anticipation. He remembered that after he followed Bob Seidel and then Tex Mattiza out of the ship he pulled his parachute release too early while still in the slip stream or prop wash and the jerk was so tremendous he was knocked unconscious. I've read about this happening to many other fliers as well. He regained consciousness on the way down and realized it was snowing. He noticed that the shoes he had tied to his parachute harness were gone and recalled not looking forward to walking around in his heavy and clumsy flight boots. He remembered how very quiet his descent was and recalled seeing a 70 foot tall blue spruce tree approaching rapidly from below, so he crossed his legs and braced himself for whatever might come next. He broke a two inch diameter branch with his chin as he rattled down through that tall fir tree and was unconscious again when he hit the ground. He awoke in a sitting position, his head between his legs, dripping blood all over himself. His silk chute was strung up in the tree overhead and he was unable to pull it down, so he just stepped out of his harness and left the chute where it was. Fliers always tried to hide their parachutes when they could so the Germans would not see them as a clue to a nearby American airman. Germans soldiers and civilians alike valued the parachutes as the material could be used or sold to make clothing. Many wedding gowns during the war were made from the parachutes of downed airmen. John buried his wallet and his escape kit, less some rations and money. He, and Sam Hamilton who was with him later, had planned to hide out until dark but were captured around 2:30 PM by two civilians tracking the airmen with bird dogs. One of the searchers, a man in his forties, had a wooden leg and carried a shotgun, and the other was a man in his thirties wielding a rifle. The man with the wooden leg later told some of the crew he lost his leg fighting in the war in France. John Bills spent a good deal of his time during imprisonment in the infirmary or inside his barracks. You see, he had broken bones in both his feet, but that painful fact was not discovered for quite some time. Those old military parachutes were nothing like the recreational chutes we are familiar with today. I've parachuted twice over the desert in southern Arizona and the landing with a modern and very controllable parachute, if properly planned, can be made on foot, upright, and with little shock on landing.
After the others in the waist area had jumped, Dad winded his way across the narrow catwalk through the bomb bay to look in the cockpit in hope of finding the pilot or copilot still at the controls, maybe trying to limp the aircraft over the border to Switzerland and relative freedom. Copilot Sam Hamilton was still there and dad stayed with him until Sam put the aircraft on automatic pilot. Sam saluted dad farewell and bailed out the bomb bay. Sam would later say he had previously ordered dad off the ship, and had thought he had jumped until Sam saw him still there in the rear of the ship. Now, there was no one at the controls and no one left on the plane except dad. Dad's writings indicate that he stayed with the "Pilot" until the pilot jumped. Sam Hamilton's taped interview indicated that he was with dad and that Pilot Stone had already jumped. Dad wrote, "It was then that I had to decide whether I would remain in the ship or throw my body into space and let the will of God and the man-made parachute guide me to earth". Dad decided on the latter and jumped out the bomb bay. He was the last off the brand new B-24J. Dad had taken some shrapnel and received other wounds. Dad thought some of his cuts may have come from the parachute cords or pull wire and not just shrapnel. On his way down in the cold air and under the canopy of the silk parachute, dad heard his brand new bomber, the first misssion White L for Love, plow into the hillside, ending its maiden mission. It was the end of too short a life for a fine piece of Ford technology. Dad and the White L for Love were both mid-western products far out of their element - dad a city boy from Columbus, Franklin Co., Ohio, the only child of James Leo and Helen Leona (Creaglow) Weber and the aluminum White L for Love born in the mind-boggling Willow Run bomber factory near Ypsilanti and Belleville, Michigan conceived by Henry Ford himself.
Dad hit the ground hard and was unconscious, knocked out cold. When he came to, he was already "surrounded by a group of farmers, who were part of the German land army", he indicates in his Caterpillar Club application narrative. Last to jump, he was the first captured, probably because he bailed out closer to the ground. He recalled that after he was captured by the armed German civilians, he was marched at gunpoint to an awaiting truck. As he stepped up to get on, he slipped on the snow and ice on the step. A German soldier stabbed a machine gun in his back and screamed something at him thinking he was about to make a dash for it. Dad thought it was all over for him then, but he was allowed to get on the truck. Fallen airmen had been killed for much less than that. Poor Maury Caust had been killed for allegedly not raising his arms fast enough just moments before. Dad was only 20 years old when all this happened, just a kid by today's standards and comparison. It is hard for me to grasp. It had been four generations since a Weber in our line had stepped foot on German soil. It was a frightening welcome home to a now foreign and hostile land.
All the airmen were found in their hiding places, unarmed by the time of their capture if any of them were ever even armed, and none offered resistance. The record indicates all eleven men were captured. The surviving crew were now in the hands of the German government and would spend the balance of the war in prisoner-of-war camps, called Stalags.
As for that brand new, fine smelling B-24-J15 bomber, the White L for Love, well, the crew later learned from German war records that their plane had crashed on hill number 618, about 20 km north of Salzburg near the small and remote town of Sprunged (sometimes seen as Springedt), near the town Seeham, Austria which is on the shore of Lake Obertrumer. Bob Seidel indicates in his interview record that, like dad, Sam Hamilton and John Bills actually heard the crash. The Germans searched the crashed aircraft and surrounding area, salvaged some items, and found some maps and "cards" which they sent to a computing station for processing on December 6, 1944.
The White L for Love Crash Site from Luftwaffe Records; a Newspaper Article about Dad's Imprisonment
Hans Hietl, an Austrian resident who lives near the crash site, emailed me a few pictures of some parts and pieces of the wreckage he has recovered over the years and provided the coordinates as latitude 47.97196756, longitude 13.05756211. Later, Hans was kind enough to mail me, all the way from Austria, actual pieces he recovered from the site and these have become cherished relics. Hans told me that for years there had been a propeller from the White L for Love around the village, but that it has long since vanished. I sent pieces to my brothers and one to Johns Bills III so that he would have an artifact from his dad's plane too. John let me know he planned to have his piece encased in Lucite and affixed with an engraved plate to identify and preserve it over time. In the picture below are pieces of aluminum aircraft skin, some with portions of the word "Pureclad" indicating aluminum sheeting with an aluminum alloy core clad in pure aluminum. Also seen are riveted metal strapping and reinforcement pieces, what appears to be a ceramic switch base, a piece of pulley or cable guide, and fragments of the scale from a hand-held dead reckoning calculator made by the General Luminescent Corporation.
Hans Hietl at the White L Crash Site Along with
(parts provided by Hans Hietl)
It was not a good day for the 460th Bomb Group by any standard. In addition to the White L, at least three other B-24s or crews from the 460th BG were lost that day, as documented in Missing Air Crew Reports 9875 and 9954. One of the aircraft was from dad's 763rd BS and was piloted by Cecil J. Curnutt; the other was from the 760th BS and was piloted by Chester A. Howard. Another aircraft was from dad's 763rd BS and was piloted by Lewis Kesterson.
The Curnutt aircraft ditched or crash landed in the Adriatic Sea about 15 to 20 miles south of Ancona, Italy and about six miles off shore. They had had problems with two of their engines, the number 1 and number 4 engines, since take off, one had been smoking and the other throwing off some oil, both were running hot. When their No. 2 engine was hit during the attack, the engine could only be partially feathered and continued to windmill slowly, adding drag and robbing them of altitude. It became unfeathered and began to windmill rapidly. Engine number three died over the Adriatic Sea and could not be restarted. They could not maintain altitude and fell out of formation. All hopes of making it to the auxiliary field at Ancona were gone. Pilot 2lt. Cecil Curnutt told the crew to brace themselves for the impact of hitting the sea and he glided low over the waves trying for as soft a crash landing as possible. The co-pilot, Flight Officer Robert Schubert, reported later the front of the ship filled with water immediately and he swam to the escape hatch, felt someone's legs there, and push him through the hatch and followed immediately thereafter. The aircraft had broken into two or three sections after it hit the water and some sections sank in minutes. Curnutt died in the ditching and his body was never found, but the rest of the crew made it into half-inflated life rafts from the aircraft and one dropped by a passing aircraft rendering aid. They were rescued at sea by two Italians and a Brit in a row boat who dropped them on land where British soldiers took them by truck to a hospital. Cecil Curnutt was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts that cost his life but that saved the lives of his crew. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing, Florence American Cemetery, Impruneta, Italy.
The Chester A. Howard crew of the 760th BS had a fate similar to dad's. They were flying in an old warbird nicknamed "Jane". The B-24G, aircraft number 42-78413 and call letter the Blue I for Item, was in the number six position of the high box of the aircraft formation's second attack wave. One engine developed problems and was feathered while over the alps en route to the target. The Jane carried on with three engines, dropping behind. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Howard, had made the decision to continue toward the target because he had aborted the previous two missions due to aircraft problems. Turning back once was understandable, but twice and especially twice in a row often raised questions and cast doubt on the pilot. Howard had been chewed out after his second abort and he was not looking forward to another meeting with the Commanding Officer, so he decided to plow ahead on three engines and hope for the best. Heavy flak was encountered on the approach to the target and on the bomb run itself. A second engine was knocked out. The bomber was lagging and made it to the target a few minutes after the rest of the wave and dropped its bombs. Running on two engines, Jane maintained altitude for a while but began to drop and trail farther and farther behind the protective formation. Equipment and unnecessary items were jettisoned to lighten the aircraft. Flak suits, guns, and ammo all were tossed. It soon became clear that they would not be able to make it over the Alps. The bail out signal was sounded and the crew jumped out over the alps, some going out the nose wheel door, some out the bomb bays, and others out the escape hatch. They bailed out near Sprunged very near where dad and some of the others had jumped. In fact, the wet and freezing airman who hid out with Bob Seidel in the old church was almost certainly from the Howard crew. The Howard crew's bombardier and four gunners were able to evade capture for a couple of weeks by hiding in a closed inn in the mountains. They found cans of food and plenty of wine, which they rationed. They had been talking amongst themselves and realized their position was not sustainable and had decided to surrender. It turns out they weren't given the chance to surrender because one morning a local game warden arrived to check on the inn. The crew woke up to the game warden's rifle pointed at them. They were captured, but that was fine with them by that time. They convinced the game warden to let them eat before making the strenuous trek down the mountain. He agreed and they ate and drank heartily and hiked down the mountainside where the game warden turned them over to German soldiers. Pilot 2nd Lt. Chester Howard may also have evaded capture for a day. He is mentioned in a translated German report dated November 28, 1944 found in dad's MACR. It indicates "Police high-mountain post Flachau, County Bischofshofen, reported the capture of Lt. Chester Howard on 17 November 1944. He had bailed out from the aircraft by parachute". For those captured, it was on to interrogation and a prisoner of war camp after that.
The Kesterson aircraft was badly damaged and many of its systems were non-functional. The crew bailed out over Yugoslavia and were picked up by the Partisans, delivered to the British, and returned to Bari on November 23rd.
That was how the mission went for the Red Force dad was on. Remember the Blue Force? Let's not forget the other mission flown that day. As for the Blue Force, whose mission it was to bomb troop concentrations in Yugoslavia, well, they experienced no flak, no fighters, and they missed the IP due to weather. They swung back around and found the target covered in clouds. So all aircraft turned for home, jettisoned their bombs in the Adriatic Sea along the way, and safely landed. Sometimes life depends on what straw you choose.
I have a copy of Major Roger Warner's post-mission narrative report dated November 17, 1944 to the Commanding General of the 55th Bombardment Wing relating the statistics for the 460th bomb group. The major indicates that of the 31 aircraft from the 460th bomb group, 28 made it to the target and dropped 41.25 tons of 500-lb RDX (general high explosive) bombs on the target. My research indicates that, overall, all the aircraft from the four bomb groups on the Munich mission dropped a total of 143.25 tons of bombs. Three 460th bomb group aircraft aborted the mission and returned home, one due to engine failure, one with supercharger problems, and another with an oil leak; five had to land at other friendly fields after the mission; one ditched in the Adriatic Sea; and only 18 returned to their home base, four of which had flak damage. At the time of his writing the report four aircraft were listed as lost. As for those four, he indicates that aircraft "2011", dad's plane, radioed at 1:12 PM that two engines were out and that they were trying to make it across the Alps. Aircraft "8462" was last seen near Treviso under attack by three enemy fighters, "8413" (Chester Howard's bomber) was last seen at 2:00 PM struggling near Udine, and aircraft "8506" was last seen at 1:02 PM with one engine feathered immediately after the target was bombed. I have not found missing air crew reports for two of the aircraft Major Warner mentions, i.e., aircraft 8462 and 8506.
You may recall that original crew members Satterfield, Murphy, and Rudolph were not on the White L for Love for various reasons previously described. I've wondered for quite some time how Dana Satterfield, John Murphy, and Joe Rudolph felt when they learned their crewmates had been shot down. I got some small insight from John's daughter, Sandra Murphy Conley, who indicates that her dad was not given time to dwell on the loss much and was assigned to fly a mission the following day to keep his mind off things.
Caterpillar Club Membership Card and Pin
As an aside, dad's jump that day qualified him to become a member of the famous Caterpillar Club (Switlik Parachute Company's branch). Organized in 1922 in Dayton, Ohio, membership was comprised solely of individuals who had used a parachute in an emergency situation. Some of the more well-known Caterpillar Club members were former President George Bush, General Doolittle, and Colonel Charles Lindbergh. Dad's essay he wrote as part of his membership application served as an important source of information for this webpage. It is interesting to note that in addition to the Caterpillar Club there were at least two other clubs that were comprised of servicemen. The Gold Fish Club's members were aviators who had been rescued at sea and the Guinea Pig Club restricted its membership to RAF aircrew who were severely disfigured in service and who underwent medical reconstructive surgery.
Judith M. Heimann mentions the Caterpillar Club in her factual novel entitled The Airmen And The Headhunters which is about a B-24 aircrew downed on November 16, 1944 over the jungles of Borneo and the efforts of the local natives to hide them for months from the brutal Japanese soldiers. Crew members referred to their jungle hideout as the Polecat Gulch or the Club Borneo branch of the Caterpillar Club. Coincidentally, Heimann's story is about a crew shot down the same day my dad was shot down and also in a brand new, first mission B-24J.
"Für Sie ist der Krieg vorbei!" That's what many American airmen were told, often in English, by their German captors or at Dulag Luft where most of the Allied airmen who fell from the German sky were first held and processed before being sent on to more permanent prisoner-of-war camps. In English, this simply means “For you the war is over!” It was a common expression of the Germans both for use on captured enemy and for use among themselves when captured or seriously wounded. But it was a beginning just as much as it was an ending. The capture by German forces was the start of an entirely new chapter and experience for the crew and their families back home who might be waiting months for word on their loved ones, painfully aching to know if they were dead or alive.
The captured crew were first taken to a farmhouse outside Lamprechtshausen, Austria. They saw Captain Cliff Stone there. His ankle, and possibly his leg, was broken and his leg was turning black. Tex Mattiza had John Bills help him splint Captain Stone's leg. Not only could Tex splint a leg, the crew soon found out he could speak and understand German, which was a skill that got them out of a lot of trouble at times. One crew member thought Tex deserved some sort of medal for all the good his knowledge of German served the captured crew.
Sam Hamilton indicated that of the eleven man crew, six were injured and one was dead. Kuhne, who indicates the crew were gathered together in Traustein, Austria, mentions that the pilot had a back injury, one of the gunners had a hip injury, and that he himself had a badly sprained ankle and torn ligaments. He also indicates that Lt. Morris "Maury" Caust was mortally wounded. Some recall seeing Caust or his body at the farmhouse, others did not. Next, they were taken to Gestapo HQ in Salzburg for holding and some initial interrogation. Dad indicates in his August 20, 1945 testimony given to Special Agent Kevin D. Kelley who was investigating war crimes committed against American soldiers in advance of the Dachau war crimes trials that he and the other captured airmen were taken to Salzburg within a few hours after capture. The History of the 460th Bomb Group indicates the crew were held at "Mirabella Castle" [sic], which I believe is actually Mirabell Palace. John Bills's memoirs refer to being held at Salzburg, Austria in a tunnel in an abbey. Clifford Stone refers to it as "Mirabelle Palace" and indicates they were held in the basement. Stone also indicates that while the crew was in Salzburg during a bombing, they were taken to a cave in the side of a hill. The cave had tracks leading into it. This is very important and reminded me of a story my mother told me about dad's capture. She said she was told by one of dad's war buddies that they were held in a cave while Salzburg was bombed. She said he told her that dad and some other prisoners dug to try to escape. They dug through to an adjoining cave where they found 150 dead American sergeants. Somehow they learned that the soldiers were killed because they could not be fed. I do not know if this is true, but it appears to reconcile with Stone's recollection of being held captive in a Salzburg cave.
The town of Salzburg, including the German inhabitants and prisoners alike, was bombed twice by B-24s while dad was there. Things turned bad quickly when the prisoners encountered the local people not long after the bombings while being forced to help clear streets of rubble and other debris. German Sergeant Schulmann protected the prisoners from the angry mob and went so far as to order his men to fix bayonets on their rifles. An SS officer came by and gave Sgt. Schulmann hell for taking this attitude toward German citizens and made Schulmann order the bayonets removed. As soon as the SS officer was out of sight, the bayonets were put back on the rifles. The sergeant had already confided to some of the prisoners that he had been at the Russian front and was hoping for an American victory, and soon, as he greatly preferred Americans to Russians. Many downed airmen would later recount their capture experiences and credit German soldiers as saving them from angry civilians.
Dad recalls during this time they received no hospital care, although virtually all the prisoners were wounded. As for those bombs that were dropped, some had delayed fuzes and exploded days after initial impact. A couple sources I have read describe yet another surreal site the prisoners saw in Salzburg. A bicycle, seemingly undamaged, hung by one wheel from a banner pole on the side of a building a couple stories above the rubble-strewn street, blown there by a bomb blast. Early in my research I ran across a picture of that scene in a book I skimmed in a bookstore, but cannot re-locate it.
Next the captured airmen were taken to Dulag Luft 1 interrogation center at Oberursel, about 30 miles northwest of Frankfurt, for official questioning and evaluation. Dulag was the shortened form of Durchgangslager or entrance camp in English and became synonymous with interrogation center. Along the way they passed through the marshalling yards at Rosenheim, Germany which was the target of their fifth mission on October 20th. It looked like their bombs may have missed the target because the yards seemed to be in good shape. While there a German soldier offered John Bills some tea and bread and tried to talk to him. The soldier's friends got angry with the friendly soldier for showing this small kindness.
The interrogation at Dulag Luft 1 was around November 22. Some crew think that they stayed there about three days. Dulag Luft was not a single location, but rather consisted of three separate installations - the interrogation center located at Oberursel, a hospital at Hohemark, and a transit camp, which by the time dad was captured was located at Wetzlar. Prisoners were first taken to the interrogation center and placed in solitary confinement. Generally speaking, there was no systematic physical abuse practiced at the interrogation center, but the process of treatment during processing and confinement did have a psychological toll. Prisoners were stripped, sometimes issued coveralls or sometimes given their clothes back. They were held in isolation typically four or five days, although some would be held up to a month or so. During that time they were denied cigarettes, toiletries, and Red Cross parcels. They were interrogated once or twice a day. Slapping was not uncommon and threatening death was a common practice, usually in combination with accusing the fallen airmen as spies while demanding technical information from the prisoners as proof that they were in fact airmen.
A typical ploy the German interrogator would use would be to ask a question and when the airman responded that in accordance with the Geneva convention all he was required to provide, as he had already done, was his name, rank, and serial number, the interrogator would inform the airman that the Geneva convention had been entered into long ago in 1929, many years following World War I, and that warfare and circumstances had changed much since then. The interrogator would explain that without additional information, such as group number, bomb squadron, base location, mission details, etc., actually tying the prisoner to the downed aircraft or to the Allied forces there was little choice left except to consider the prisoner a spy subject to execution. The interrogator would stress that the prisoner would have to be turned over to the Gestapo and that his treatment there would not be as kind as it had been so far. The interrogator would assure the prisoner that providing additional information was strictly in the prisoner's best interest to avoid execution. The interrogator would often divulge some fact such as the airman's bomb group, base location, or group commander's name in order to convince the prisoner that whatever information the prisoner would provide was most likely already known by the Germans and would neither be beneficial to the Germans nor harmful to the Allied effort. It was about saving the prisoner from mistreatment or even death at the hands of the Gestapo. Sometimes the prisoner would be told that without the additional information no notice could be sent back home to let parents, spouse, and loved ones know that the prisoner had been captured and was still alive. Sharing the information would provide hope and relief to those loved ones back home desperate for information. I think dad must have fallen for that one because it appears from the German records that dad gave his birth date and home town. At times, as a psychological ploy, the mock shooting of a fellow airman would be staged to reinforce the threat of death for non-cooperation. Eventually, the Germans found kind persuasion more effective.
Meals at Dulag Luft typically consisted of two slices of bread and jam for breakfast and some sort of coffee substitute, lunch was a watery soup, and dinner was two more slices of bread. Drinking water had to be requested from the guards. Medical care was reserved for only the seriously wounded. Most injuries went untreated.
The interrogation itself was systematic with information needed summarized on a kind of arrival form that the interrogator would complete as the prisoner was being questioned. The information sought varied from benign personal information to specific unit, combat tactics, organizational structure, mission, and location information
After interrogation dad and other prisoners were then taken to the transit camp, Wetzlar, where they were issued clothing. They left there about November 27. After that, for the enlisted men, it was off to Stalag Luft IV about 400 miles to the northeast. Stalag Luft IV was west and slightly north of Tychowo, Pomerania, Poland (Gross Tychow in German). At one of these stops along the way to the Stalag they were beaten up a bit, and some were beaten badly by angry civialians. The trip from Wetzlar to Stalag Luft IV took five days. It is unclear if all the crew were jammed into train boxcars or if just the sick and wounded prisoners got to ride. Some may have marched some of the way. The officers were sent to an officers' prison camp called Stalag I in Barth, Germany. Sam Hamilton recounted his post-capture trip to Stalag I in a July 1985 VFW newsletter. He indicates that his trip after capture entailed stops at Salzburg, then on a winding trek to Stuttgart, Frankfurt, then to Dulag Luft for interrogation, and finally to Stalag I. He indicated the journey was by crowded cattle cars and by forced march. We will learn more of Stalag I later.
Stalag Luft IV
Dad indicates in his 1945 testimony that he was taken to Stalag Luft IV on December 5th. For dad and the enlisted men, the march from the last train stop at Kiefheide (now Podborski in northwest Poland) to Stalag IV to the northeast was almost a mile (3 kilometers) journey by foot. There are records that on some occasions the guards forced the airmen to run the entire way and those who would not, or could not, keep up were tormented along the way with bayonets in their backs and buttocks, guard dogs let loose to bite their legs and thighs, and by clubbing. Protest by Allied leadership at the camp was pointless with the German command indicating that the treatment was provoked or that injuries, even the bayonet wounds, were due to “sunstroke”. One prisoner recounted his journey from the train station at Kiefheide to Stalag Luft IV. He said the prisoners were gathered at the station in preparation of the march. A German soldier announced he had good news for the prisoners. He let them know that they were very lucky that day and that each prisoner was being given not one, but two Red Cross parcels. The prisoners were ecstatic; many had never even received a full parcel, let alone two complete ones. The parcels were distributed to each prisoner. The march began, and soon the guards ordered the prisoners to run. It was not possible for the prisoners to run with a parcel under each arms and most of the parcels were dropped on the road. Some prisoners were able to retain one parcel, some had to drop both. It was an evil trick by the German guards to demoralize the prisoners. I also suspect it was a way to have the prisoners transport, at least part of the way, the shipment of Red Cross parcels.
Stalag Luft IV was rapidly constructed and commissioned in May 1944 and its condition was bad from the onset. In fact German military records of their own inspection indicate that the stalag was deficient as early as July 1944 and a Red Cross inspection in October that same year rates the condition as generally bad. There were not bunks for all prisoners, barracks were not heated, and there were only a few cooking stoves in the entire camp. Many prisoners had to sleep in overcrowded barracks on the floor. While at Stalag IV dad was assigned to Block D, roughly the southeastern quarter of the prison camp. The other Blocks were A, B, and C, all separated by barbed wire. The prisoner population in dad’s block was comprised of American and British airmen. My research indicates that all of the crew was at Stalag IV, except for the officers, who were at Stalag Luft I.
It was at this camp that dad and his fellow non-commissioned crewmates began to learn camp routine and prisoner etiquette. This late in the year the prisoners were locked in their barracks a good portion of the time since darkness came early that far north. Lock-up would have begun about 4:00 PM and lasted until about 7:00 AM the next morning. Barracks were overcrowded and there was little to do but play cards, read, or write. Food was already poor and lacking. Most of the time all there was to eat was prisoner bread and a variety of weak, watery vegetable soups, usually cabbage, potato, dehydrated sauerkraut, or dried greens. They learned to be wary of guards and to endure long and frequent roll calls. Rain or snow, the Germans insisted on accurate counts and if there was a prisoner unaccounted for the prisoners would stand in place until the issue was resolved. This could take hours. Woe to the prisoner who overslept and caused his fellow prisoners to stand waiting, especially in foul weather.
They learned from prisoners who had been there longer the dangers of interacting with the Germans. All would have been told the story of the American airman, Aubry Teague, who just several months prior to their arrival had been shot and killed by a German guard. Aubry was shot on June 21st and died of his wounds the following day. Aubry was shot while standing outside his barracks window and the guard would later indicate that Aubry had spit in his direction. The bullet entered Aubry’s right shoulder and exited his left. History is sadly forgetful and soon Aubry Teague may be a footnote in a buried manuscript.
Many of the German guards at this camp were extremely brutal and after the war some were arrested and initially charged with a variety of war crimes for their brutality, possible murder as in the case of Aubry Teague, theft of American supplies, and miscellaneous violations of the Geneva Convention. While it appears that none were tried and sentenced due to a variety of reasons including a lack of positive evidence, the fact that war crimes efforts were being focused on more egregious crimes, and that the standard for pursuing prosecution had become one of needing to show that an alleged war crime was of “reasonable importance”, it is believed that at least one of the cruelest guards met his deserved fate at the hands of freed prisoners. At 6’-7” in stature, Feldwebel (Sergeant) Schmidt was an oaf of a guard known by a variety of nicknames such as “Big Stoop”, “Ham Hands”, and “Slap Ears”, though his name is often cited as Hans. One of Big Stoop’s favorite pranks was to rupture prisoner’s eardrums by cuffing them with his beefy hands. He would often force a prisoner to sit in a chair in front of him and then slap the prisoner’s ears. He often carried a whip and liked to beat prisoners and to steal or simply destroy their meager possessions. He especially despised the Jewish prisoners and would go out of his way to brutalize them whenever possible. Big Stoop may likely have been killed in retribution for his treatment of prisoners. After liberation, a headless corpse of about his remarkable size was found alongside the road outside one of the stalags and a former Stalag IV prisoner, Robert Scalley, asserted he was almost certain it was Big Stoop. Another prisoner tells the story of seeing some prisoners with Big Stoop’s head in a bushel basket.
Not all prisoner deaths came at the hands of the Germans. Four British prisoners in Block B died when their barracks was hit by lightening. Allied airmen were not the only ones who died at the stalags. One source indicates that at least some of the outer fences at Stalag IV were electrified. On one occasion a German guard was working on a fence repair and while he was up on a power pole a loud crackling sound was heard throughout the camp. The guard had electrocuted himself in his climbing gear up a power pole. Cheers from the prisoners and calls for his body to drop from the pole were met with machine gun and rifle fire from some guards, but fortunately none of the prisoners were hit.
During the time at Stalag IV, prisoners saw a change in attitude of the German guards. Spirits were high amongst the German captors while the German offensive was ongoing at the Battle of the Bulge and while the Germans felt there was still hope. One former 460th BG POW, Richard Burt, would later describe the new attitude in his November 19, 2005 interview as "snooty". After the defeat at that battle, their spirit was crushed. Some of the crew stayed at that camp until about January 28, 1945 and were then moved west to Stalag Luft I near Barth, Germany on the Baltic Sea, which is the camp the officers of their crew had been sent to after their capture. This last move was because the Russian forces were advancing deeper into German-held territory. By this time, prisoners and guards alike could hear artillery booming in the west and at night could see the flashes on the horizon. Soviet guns were getting closer.
Bob Seidel indicates in his 1999 interview that he was transported to Stalag Luft I by train beginning January 6 and arrived at Barth on January 14, 1945. One brief memoir by Fred Weiner on the Stalagluft4.org website indicates that the January trip to Stalag I at Barth began with a march from Stalag Luft IV to waiting 40/8 boxcars into which the prisoners were packed. 40/8 meant that the stubby boxcars were intended to carry 40 men or 8 horses. After being loaded in, it was an eight day trip in those overcrowded boxcars to Barth. If you fell asleep, which the men had to do in shifts because there was not enough room for everyone to sleep at once, other prisoners fell asleep on top of you. Weiner notes that there were so many prisoners on him, he lost the circulation in his legs which swelled to the point where his boots had to be cut off his feet. There was a doctor with a southern accent on his boxcar and he watched while the doctor performed surgery on a prisoner's leg to remove shrapnel. All the doctor had to use was a straight razor and a candle with which to sterilize it. Weiner recounts that during those eight days of travel, the Germans stopped the train only once to let the prisoners off to relieve themselves outside. Many men were made sick by the unsanitary conditions and the foul water available during the trip.
Shortly after dad had been transferred to Stalag Luft I (his written record indicates he was "assigned" to Stalag Luft I on December 5, 1944 - I am not sure if that is when he was notified, departed, or arrived), the remaining prisoners at Stalag IV began the process to move deeper into Germany via a much grimmer itinerary. Stalag Luft IV was totally evacuated on February 6, 1945 in what is now called the Black March, an 86 day, 500 to 600 mile march across the Polish and German countryside through blizzards, ice, rain, and muck, spanning winter and early spring. The route taken from Stalag Luft IV is referred to as the Northern route which generally entailed marching to Stettin, and onward to Stalags XI-B and 357. Some continued on toward Lubeck. Some appropriately called this disorganized march the "Death March" as prisoners who could not keep up were shot and others simply died due to exhaustion. Others referred to it as the “March to Nowhere”.
One report by Army doctors indicates that by the time Stalag IV was evacuated the average airman had already lost 15 to 20 pounds. By the end of the Death March, most had lost 1/3 of their body weight and weighed less than 100 pounds. These poor fellows were not in good shape to begin with and were further tormented along the way and endured severe brutality. Many suffered from dysentery which they treated as best they could by eating ashes. The prisoners were often left to forage for their own food and many died of hardship and disease. Snow was eaten for water. Adding to the sadness of the march is the fact that there was never an actual destination for those poor souls. They were simply set out from Stalag IV and forced to march for months. They marched until they heard artillery and then veered off in another direction until the big guns were heard again. Rats and geese were captured and eaten raw, some prisoners actually grazed on grass at the side of the road, others ate tree bark and leaves. Slop was stolen from pigs troughs and if a prisoner were lucky he may have stolen a handful of livestock grain from a barn he had stayed in the night before and eaten it raw, while marching the next day. Two prisoners were shot for stealing food from the Germans. It has been estimated that up to 1,600 American airmen died on that pointless and destinationless march. Some Americans were killed when strafed by their own P-38s. What remained of the 8,000 or so prisoners reached Stalag 357 near Fallingbostel around April 3, 1945 and remained there about a week before marching on. Liberation for these poor souls was by the British and/or Canadians as the prisoners were all found sitting in a drainage ditch near the banks of the Elbe River, Lauenburg, Germany on May 2, 1945. As noted earlier, Cpl. Leonard Siegfried of the 460th Bomb Group, 762nd Bomb Squad had been shot down on October 17th and was on the death march. He recorded the event in his journal and notes that they met the British 2nd Army at 12:29 PM at Boizenburg, near the Elbe River. Like other sources, Siegfried indicates the now ex-prisoners did not receive much help and were simply told to march west to friendly lines. Siegfried indicates that the prisoners were told they'd meet a food truck within two days and they did. It provided them doughnuts and pea soup. Sadly, the doughnuts were gone by the time he reached the food truck.
John L. Lenburg, an airman from dad's own 460th Bomb Group, but from the 760th Bomb Squad, provides a great amount of detail in his book Kriegsgefangenen #6410: Prisoner of War. Lenburg was shot down in the fairly well-known aircraft Miss Fortune on June 30, 1944 and survived the Death March. I have included a picture of Miss Fortune above at the bottom of the description of dad's sixth mission.
Plaque at the Stalag Luft IV Site Commemorating the Death March
Ominously, not long before the evacuation of the camp, the Germans had begun excavating a huge pit near the southeast corner of the camp. The Germans indicated it was a potato storage pit, but many of the prisoners thought that there was a much more sinister intended use. The camp was evacuated and abandoned before the pit was put to whatever use for which it was designed.
Stalag Luft I
Fortunately, dad had been moved from Stalag IV earlier, before the Death March, although travel by any means was risky. Trains and columns of men, American or German, were subject to being bombed or strafed. Dad indicates in his 1945 testimony that he was held at Stalag IV until January 30. 1945. I have often thought that crewmember Harold Adams may have been on the Death March. The National Archives indicate he was at Stalag IV, but he does not subsequently appear on any roster I've seen for Stalag I, where all the other crew members spent the balance of the war. However, John Bills's memoirs do indicate that Harold was at Stalag I. Stalag I was referred to by some prisoners affectionately (and jokingly) as "The Rest Haven of the Baltic" or later as "Hitler's Hilton".
The town of Barth on the southern flank of the Baltic Sea was the closest town to Stalag Luft I. In fact it was close enough that the prisoners could see the tall steeple of beautiful and ancient St. Marien Kirche (St. Mary's Church) in the distance, a landmark dating back to 1250. In close proximity to the prison camp was an important Luftwaffe airbase at which fighter and bomber squadrons were stationed (Hindenburg 152, Lehrgeschwader I (Stuka), LG 1 with Messerschmitt 29 Bf 109 single-engine fighters, among others). Co-located with these facilities was a "Flakschool" or anti-aircraft gunnery training school, and, beginning in 1943, a branch plant of the Heinkel aircraft works, manned by forced laborers from several nearby concentration camps. The location of the flak school, shown in this picture taken from the stalag, so close to the prison camp was in violation of the 1929 Geneva Agreement on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Geneva Convention). Article 9 of the agreement states that a prisoner-of-war may never be brought to an area where he would be exposed to the fire of the combat area or be used through his presence there to protect certain points or areas from bombardment/shooting. This second picture is taken from the Flak school and shows the stalag in the background.
Stalag was a term used for prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag is an abbreviation for "Stammlager", itself a short form of the full name "Mannschaftsstamm und straflager". As previously noted, I have a record that dad spent some amount of time at Stalag IV, then transferred to Stalag I at Barth, Germany on December 5, 1944 where he remained along with approximately 9,000 other primarily American and British prisoners-of-war, or "Kriegies", until the advancing Russian forces liberated the camp on May 1, 1945. Dad's prisoner barracks was located in the West compound of the camp. Crewmate John Bills and the others were also there, but in other compounds. The Commandant of Stalag Luft I during the time dad was a prisoner was Oberst (Colonel) Von Warnstedt. He had recently replaced Col. Willibald Scherer who, rumor had it, was relieved of his duties for being too lenient. Supposedly he faced charges in Berlin.
I have one record from the National Archives, Prisoner of War Data File, 12/7/1941 - 11/19/1946 that notes dad's "Camp" as Dulag Luft Gross-Tychow, Dulag 12. Perhaps this is where he was processed into or out of Stalag IV. Dulag derives from the German Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe (Transit Camp - Air Force). Perhaps the American prisoners were moved there at some point or perhaps it is just a poor transcription of Stalag IV, Gross Tychow, Poland the first stalag where dad was held prisoner; I am not sure. I am also not sure why the telegram (far above, right) indicates in handwritten notes internment at Stalag XVII-B, a Stalag located in Krems, Austria. Perhaps dad passed through or otherwise spent some time there as well, but I've never seen any record of that. Note, however, the incorrect spelling of his handwritten name, so maybe that note is a mistake as well. Dad never spoke much about his time as a prisoner, or even about the war itself, just a few stories here and there. One old veteran of that war, George Fielder of Green Valley, Arizona, whom I was honored to know while working in southern Arizona, told me that they all were ordered not to talk about what happened there, to forget all about it, and leave it behind them. George had served with the 8th Army Air Force, 303rd Bomb Group, 358th Bomb Squad, known as the Hell's Angels, and was at one time a wing commander, I believe.
The stalag was divided into several separate and isolated compounds. Compounds housed the barracks and facilities used by the prisoners. In the yard where the prisoners could roam outside their barracks a warning wire was mounted on stakes about two feet off the ground. Prioners could not cross the warning wire as guards were authorized to shoot without question. Beyond the security wire was a high barbed wire fence, then a wide area with coiled barbed wire on the ground, and finally the outer barbed wire fence. Beyond that fence were the woods or in some areas a bullrush swamp about 100 yards away at the nearest point.
The size and structure of the stalag changed over time to meet the increasing influx of prisoners, especially the great and increasing numbers of American prisoners. Click HERE or click the picture to see an enlarged aerial view of Stalag Luft I. Eventually, in April of 1942, the American soldiers were separated from their British counterparts. This meant that the Americans no longer had as easy an access to the news from the secret radio the British had created and kept hidden in one of their barracks. The radio was referred to as "Canary" and was one of the primary ways the prisoners kept abreast of the war's progress. It took some time to gather all the necessary parts, but the Americans were eventually able to build their own radio set. However, structure, housing arrangement, and size of the stalag were not the only changes that occurred.
Another change involved the leadership of the stalag system and the mindset of those who were in charge of the actual stalags. The control of the stalags for airmen was under the purview of the Luftwaffe, but high level oversight was given to Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, who headed many organizations, including the Schutzstaffel, or SS as it was better known. This occurred on September 25, 1944 when Hitler ordered that office of the Generalinspekteur des Kriegsgefangenenwesens (KGW or Office of General Inspector of the Prisoner of War Administration) was handed over to Himmler. It is believed that this change was due to Hitler's lack of trust in the military leadership after the July 20, 1944 failed bombing assassination attempt on his life involving high level Wehrmacht officers. Heinrich Himmler himself visited many of the stalags, including Stalag I on April 27th, 1945. In February 1945, all Jewish prisoners were taken from their barracks or sorted out during Appell (roll call) and segregated. They were still allowed to dine at the mess building with the other allied soldiers, at least until the mess building burned down, but for most of the time, the Jewish soldiers were kept separate. It was an ominous situation and naturally caused a great deal of concern among the prisoners, especially those who had arrived from Stalag IV and who remembered the "potato storage" pits that had been dug there.
Heinrich Himmler visits Shirokaya Street POW Camp in Minsk, Russia
The official inventory of prisoners at Stalag I by the Swiss Protecting Power in February 1945 indicated the prisoner count by nationality as: 7,202 American; 1,144 British; 260 Canadians; 59 Australians; 49 South Africans; 30 New Zealanders; 5 Rhodesians; 1 Liberian; and 34 unclassified new arrivals. Earlier, in a July 15, 1944 report, the American Military Intelligence Service reported to the War Department that the German government in all its POW camps held 16,593 American airmen, including both officers and enlisted men. In total the report indicates that including ground forces 28,867 Americans were held prisoners. Note that the Army Air Force POW count was well more than half the total at that time. As the war progressed those numbers would change. A report dated November 1, 1945 indicates that Germany had held a total of 92,965 American POWS, comprised of 32,730 Army Air Force and 60,235 ground force personnel.
The prisoners and their leadership maintained a military decorum to the extent practicable under the circumstances. The Senior Allied Office during my dad's time there was Colonel Hubert A. "Hub" Zemke, the American fighter ace from the 56th Fighter Group. Hub had recently taken charge there himself after his arrival in December 1945 and continued the previously established structure already in place. The American prisoner command structure was called Provisional X Wing (the "Provisional" portion was dropped after liberation) and the compounds - West (sometimes referred to as South), North 1, North 2, and North 3 - were referred to as Groups. Each barracks with every compound was assigned a Squadron name. Officers were assigned to each Group and Squadron. This arrangement provided some order and familiarity to the prisoners who were use to such a formal military structure. Leaders were assigned to various duties and committees and orders were issued through the established command structure. This arrangement had the added benefit of giving a single voice and sole contact point between the Germans Stalag command and the prisoner of war population.
I do recall a few things dad mentioned over the years, though. He told me about his interrogation at Dulag Luft. The interrogator wanted to know why a good German boy (ein Weber, after all!) would turn on the Fatherland. Dad recalled how getting Red Cross packages was a blessing and how the Americans would trade their white bread for the German’s black bread. The Germans thought our bread was like cake, and the Americans thought the heavy and dense German black bread was the better deal. Of course, the trade was for the real German black bread that the Germans made for themselves, not for the prisoner-of-war black bread, "kriegsbrot", or "goon bread" as the prisoners called it, served to the Americans by the Germans. That bread contained 50% bruised rye grain, 20% sliced sugar beets, 20% tree flour (i.e., saw dust!), and 10% minced leaves and straw, per the captured official German recipe for prisoner-of-war bread from the Food Providing Ministry in Berlin - the recipe must have varied somewhat because some prisoners found sand, glass, and large splinters in their prisoner-of-war bread. One Special Order dated February 26, 1945 issued at the Stalag by Lt. Col. Greening who was a ranking POW in charge of one of the compounds, informs the POWs that the South compound had reported finding ground glass in their bread, and that the men should slice their bread thin and report any glass findings to headquarters.
Bread and Red Cross Parcel Deliveries at Stalag Luft I
Putting glass in bread was one of the dirty tricks the Germans played, but the POWs had their own tricks too. One great story former Stalag I prisoner John Vietor recounts in his memoirs published in 1951 and entitled Time Out is about one of the guards and his huge and fierce Alsatian guard dog. The Alsatian, or German Shepperd, was used by the Germans to help guard the compounds and control the prisoners. The dogs bred, selected, and trained for use by the Germans were the fiercest and largest of their breed. Vietor claims that the huge dogs could snap a man's wrist in two and that the dogs were actually known to jump through a barrack's windows to attack a prisoner without cause. Well, evidently, one guard was a notorious slacker and would frequently nap near one of the barracks. Over a period of weeks, the prisoners befriended the dog by giving it scraps of food and talking kindly to it. Finally, when the time was right, one of the prisoners ordered the dog to attack the guard and it did! It ripped the guard up pretty good even while he beat it off with the butt of his rifle. The guard survived but was never allowed to have a dog for his watch again. By the way, the war did not end well for the Stalag I dogs, as I note later.
Another trick was done when the prisoners knew the German guards were in the crawl space under the barrack's floor eavesdropping for military intelligence and for escape plans. The prisoners would talk about secret weapons and all sorts of imaginary plans entirely for the benefit of the eavesdropping guards. On at least one occasion when the prisoners had had enough storytelling they poured boiling water through the floor boards onto the guards below. The angry ferret actually burst up through the floor boards to see who had doused him. This action resulted in some backlash for the prisoners. Commandant Warnstedt issued a written warning about the "impetuous trampling on the floor and pouring of hot water" dated June 24, 1944 in which he recounted the occurrence and said that "... the Ps.o.W. will risk their lives wantonly if this undisciplined attitude will not be altered". Not all guards were despised by the prisoners. In fact, one guard, nicknamed Joe Bananas, was hid from the Russians by prisoners in one barracks until he could surrender to American forces.
[Note: On the German dog tag (above, left) the abbreviation "kgf" stands for "Kriegsgefangenen" or "Prisoner-of-war". "lgr 4 d lw" stands for "lager 4d luftwaffe" or "camp 4d, air force". "4909" was dad's prisoner-of-war number. Note the perforations running across the center. That's where the tag could be broken in half if you died. One half stayed with the body, the other half was for German records. The other picture (above, right) was one I found online. It is a picture of my dad, on the right, after liberation but still at Stalag I near Barth, Germany. After the German guards fled, the American soldiers confiscated the camera equipment (and everything else!) the Germans left behind and took pictures. Thankfully, dad appeared in this one.]
Aside from the poor rations and tainted food, a 1985 VFW newsletter in which Sam Hamilton describes his months of captivity notes that most stalags, such as Stalag I, were lice-ridden and that a rare treat would be a three-minute bath in the icy waters of the North Sea.
Dad said the German people hated the Americans at that time, especially the airmen for bombing their cities. Many Germans had been displaced from their homes due to the bombings, some had lost friends and family members either as a result of the bombings or elsewhere in the war. Urban dwellers were constantly harassed by air raid sirens at all hours of the day and night. Some of their children regularly slept in air raid shelters so that they would not have to be waken and taken to the shelters at night. Many children played in the rubble of what had been their neighborhoods and many adopted a new wartime hobby - collecting and trading bomb shrapnel. Dad said that the prisoners-of-war were sometimes forced to clear streets and carry wounded after bombings and that the citizens and farmers would sometimes spit on them and attack them. He said getting captured by the civilian forces (as he was) was more dangerous and less desirable than getting captured by the official German military. The civilian forces were known for taking out their anger on captured prisoners in retribution for the repeated and prolonged bombings and their hatred was spurred on by Josef Goebbels’ propaganda broadcasts. In fact Goebbels called for the the execution of several thousand Allied airmen following the destruction of Dresden. The civilian forces were generally not punished for hurting or even killing the downed airmen. At least when captured by the regular military, you stood a better chance of surviving the initial capture if you cooperated. Middlebrook writes a bit about bailing out and capture versus escape chances in his book about the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission. He indicates that early on in the war the civilians, especially the rural Germans, were actually fairly friendly and would not typically harm an allied airman, but later into the war they, especially the urban civilians, were apt to be more hostile, having suffered more and perhaps having lost relatives, friends, possessions, and livelihoods. Middlebrook mentions the informal, prevailing bail out philosophy - if you were bailing out over Germany, especially near built-up or developed areas where escape chances were minimal, it was considered best to pull your ripcord early so that you'd be more apt to be spotted and captured by the German military and not risk suffering at the hands of the civilians, but if you were bailing out over occupied territories known to have working escape organizations or networks it was best to wait as long as possible to pull your ripcord to maximize your chance of meeting allied sympathizers who would help with escape and evasion. Even so, resistance forces approached downed airman cautiously and with good cause. The Germans were known to have infiltrated resistance organizations by posing as downed Allied airmen. There were often very tense moments when resistance forces or sympathetic locals and downed airman first came into contact. So, for many downed airmen the effort became one to find a way to be captured safely and to survive the capture.
Many survival kits contained small amounts of foreign currency or small gifts such as a sewing kit that could be used for barter or to reward locals for their aid in helping a downed airman return to friendly forces. Some fliers had "blood chits" in their kits or sewn onto the inside of their flight jackets. The chits were notices in many different languages explaining that the airman was American, that he did not speak their language, an enemy of the Germans, and that every assistance should be offered to the airman in affecting his safe return. The chits often indicated that a reward would be paid. At one point the reward paid by the US military was $500 per airman. At times, the Germans also offered a reward for downed Allied airmen. Airmen were warned that in places such as North Africa and the Middle East where allegiances were sketchy to begin with seemingly friendly locals would often turn a downed Allied airman over to the Germans who happened to be paying a higher reward at the time. Which side an airman might be turned over to sometimes depended less on the locals' allegiance or political views and more on the basic finances. At one Middle Eastern base on the route to Italy crewman saw a sign indicating that any Arab seen on base should be shot. When asked why they were told that local Arabs had delivered Allied airman to the Germans.
One other source makes a further distinction regarding capture by the German military. Evidently, some felt that getting captured by troops near an active war front may have been only slightly preferable to being captured by civilians. Being captured by German military not actively engaged in recent combat appears to be the most desirable scenario when bailing out over Germany. The following is an actual picture of an airman from dad's own 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squad. The airman has been identified as Richard C. Theis of the Joseph F. Semradek crew (Missing Air Crew Report No. 6952). Theis is descending in a parachute after bailing out of his B-24H Liberator on July 19, 1944. Two German soldiers can be seen rushing toward the airman in preparation of his capture. Four of the crew died before bail out in the blazing bomber, named Big Time Operator, and the six other crew members were all captured after bailing out near a German flak battery. The picture below was taken by a 17 year old German soldier from the flak installation. The commanding officer of the flak installation ordered his soldiers to protect the American airmen from the "crazy town folk". July 17th was a very bad day for the 460th Bomb Group as their are seven Missing Air Crew Reports on file for that date. German historian Susanne Meinl informed me that she believes dad and his crew were the replacement crew for either of two 763rd Bomb Squad crews lost that day - the Semradek and Rhodabarger crews.
A 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squad Airman Descends
To Meet His Captors in Germany July 19, 1944
Gregory Freeman details the remarkable rescue of Allied airmen from the mountainous region of Yugoslavia with the aid of Draza Mihailovich and his army in his novel entitled The Forgotten 500. Allied airmen shot down over Yugoslavia were cared for and protected for months by the mountain villagers and eventually brought together in Pranjane under the protection of Mihailovich's guerilla soldiers. Operation Halyard was organized by the American OSS in Bari, Italy and entailed the construction of an impromptu, makeshift airstrip on a mountain slope barely large enough for 15th Army Air Force C-47s from Italy to safely land. With German forces in several locations within a fifty mile radius, the airfield was constructed by the airmen, Yugoslavian soldiers, and villagers in preparation of the evacuation. Finally on August 9, 1944 in the dark of night the sound of C-47s was heard overhead, hay bales marking the general boundaries of the cleared field were lit, and one by one three aircraft landed. A great celebration ensued as the airmen and Yugoslavian soldiers all rejoiced in knowledge that they had not been forgotten after all by the Allies. Each of the three aircraft carried away only 12 airmen, the numbers being limited due to the night conditions, the short length of the runway, and the location of trees at the runway's end. Many airmen had shed their shoes, coats, and other clothing as a thank you for the Serbian friends who marched in the winter, shoeless or in felt boots or slippers.
The night landings were deemed too dangerous and word went out that there would be no further night rescue attempts. The airmen were surprised the next morning when the sky over Pranjane filled with C-47s and their fighter plane escorts there to rescue even more of the downed American, British, French, Italian, and Russian airmen. In those two days 272 airmen were rescued. The airstrip continued to serve as a debarkation point for other airmen who could find their way to Pranjane. Through December 27, 1944 a total of 512 airmen were returned to friendly bases. The missions would not be possible except for the aid and sacrifice of Mihailovich's guerillas and village supporters, some of whom gave their lives protecting the airmen in their care.
Sadly, for a variety of reasons and to the shame of the Allies, politics turned on Mihailovich and that staunch, faithful Allied supporter was abandoned by the US and British in favor of Josip Broz Tito. Tito's forces prevailed in the war and Yugoslavia, under Tito's leadership, became a communist nation, furthering the spread of Stalinism into eastern Europe. Winston Churchill once said one of his greatest mistakes was his handling of Yugoslavia during the war. As for brave Mihailovich, he was arrested by Tito's forces in March of 1946, suffered through a trial in June, found guilty, executed by firing squad on July 17, 1946, and buried in an unmarked grave. Draza Mihailovich's last words were "I have strived for much, I undertook much, but the gales of the world have carried away both me and my work". All of this in spite of the pleas and demonstrations of hundreds of freed airmen and OSS officials to be heard that Mihailovich was not the German collaborator as accused by Tito, but rather an ally of the Allied cause and savior of hundreds of airmen. Finally, on April 9, 1948 the US government recognized its fault and awarded Draza Mihailovich the Legion of Merit. The award was issued personally by President Truman. However, politics were such that a public recognition of Mihailovich could not be made for fear of escalating tense relations with the Soviet bloc nations and the award was not publically known of until 1967. It took almost another 40 years before the award would be presented. On May 9, 2005 the award was finally presented to his daughter, seventy-eight year old Dr. Gordana Mihailovich by surviving airmen and OSS officers. Gordana kissed a picture of her father and wept.
In an entirely different setting than that of the European theater of operations, Heimann's novel provides a detailed recount of the aid one very unusual group provided to a B-24 crew in helping them evade capture by the Japanese in Borneo. Several tribes of natives worked together to hide the downed airmen for months while the Japanese actively searched for them in the dense jungle. In the process of protecting and hiding the airmen, the tribes returned to the practice of headhunting with local Japanese soldiers providing the trophies they sought. As I noted earlier in my discussion of the Caterpillar Club, the subject aircraft was coincidentally a brand new B-24J also shot down on November 16, 1944.
Dad told me how the Gestapo would visit the camp sometimes and at night the Gestapo officers would come into the prisoner barracks and kick them while they slept. He said the Germans called the American airmen “Luftgangsters” or “air gangsters”, but thought this had a lot to do with the .45 caliber semi-auto pistols the airmen wore in vests equipped with holsters under their arms. Those guns were one of the perks for being an airman (in other branches, only the officers received such weapons); slightly better pay and the comparatively rapid advancement in rank were other benefits of being an airman at the time. The airmen always disposed of their pistols if capture was imminent to avoid being shot as an armed combatant. Some would pitch them as they floated down in their parachutes and some would bury them upon landing. Sometimes the airmen were called "Terror-fleigers" or "terror fliers" or just plain "Swine" or "Swine-hundt". The last one is my personal favorite; it means "pig-dog". I have a December 10, 2002 interview transcript of Charles Diedling, a former 460th airman who was shot down on August 7, 1944 during a raid to Blechhammer oil refinery. Charles was captured and spent the balance of the war at Stalag IV until it was evacuated and he was forced to march on the Death March described in the previous section. Charles recalled being called "Kinder Killers" as they went through various towns. Growing up, I remember my dad using a bit of German at times. When he needed us to hurry he would say "Schnell!" ("Hurry!") and when we had to get out of bed or out of the house he would order "Raus!" ("Out!"), orders often shouted by the German guards.
The prisoners had nicknames for guards as well. Guards were referred to as "Goons" by the prisoners. The prisoners explained to their German captors that "Goon" stood for "German Officer Or Non-commissioned". Really, it just meant they were goons. The prisoners took great delight when the guards would refer to themselves as goons. Prisoners were put on watch in front of barracks when escape plans were being discussed and when prisoners were listening to their hidden radio for updates on the war progress. When a guard would approach, the prisoner on watch would issue the alert "Goon Up!". By the end of the war the prisoners had two secret radios in the camp as well as a telegraph key and a camera. Prison guards who were assigned the task of searching for escape tunnels or crawling under the barracks to eavesdrop on the prisoners were called "Ferrets". They were on the constant search for contraband items, especially the radio sets, which they knew existed based on the knowledge the prisoners had about how the war was going.
In regard to escape plans, there was an active escape committee that would conceive, evaluate, coordinate, and approve escape plans, even those proposals that came from non-committee members prisoners. Hub Zemke explains in his very informative book about his time as the Senior Allied Officer at Stalag I entitled Zemke's Stalag - The Final Days of World War II that late in the war escapes were generally not proposed or attempted since all knew the end of the war was coming. He also notes that while tunnels were common attempts at escaping, the Germans usually found the tunnels. In fact, the Germans had actually installed seismographic detectors to alert them of a tunneling effort. However, Major August von Miller-Aichholtz, the head of Stalag I's Abwehr (military intelligence) and former Oberursel Dulag Luft interrogator, would usually wait until the tunnel was significantly completed prior to taking action to expose it and its builders. Von Miller lived and worked in Santa Barbara, California before the war and claimed to still own a home there. He supposedly lived in Vienna after the war until his death in 1969. Hub mentions that one thought was that having the prisoners expend such an effort prior to crushing their hopes was a tactic designed to demoralize the prisoners. Hub also noted that tunnels were difficult prospects at Stalag I due to soil conditions and a very high water table.
Tunnels were even more complicated by the fact that once outside the outermost barbed wire fence, it was still approximately 100 yards to the nearby woods. Being detected in the open after exiting a tunnel was a real possibility and guards had orders to shoot without question. However, there were very creative attempts at alternative methods of escape. One prisoner had himself wrapped in burlap to which numerous tin cans had been sewn. He was placed in the refuse bin, carried outside the outer fences by prisoners on a garbage detail, and dumped in the nearby trash heap. He waited, still wrapped, until dark. Unfortunately a German guard happened to decide he needed a tin can for some reason and made his way to the heap. He tried to pick up one of the cans that had been affixed to the prisoner's disguise and the ruse was up.
Another group of prisoners attempted escape by posing as a work detail being led by other prisoners disguised as German escorts. The party made it as far as the last gate, but all were discovered by an alert German guard who showed no outside work details on his roster for that day.
Left, B-24 from 460th Bomb Group; Center, 460th Bomb Group B-24s; Right, Lone B-24 over Spinazzola Airstrip
Hungry March & Roof Rabbits
Dad once said that after liberation somewhere he was given the largest steak he had ever seen in his life. It was so huge in fact it didn't really even fit on his plate. I have read that a Russian Colonel had his men herd into the Stalag a bunch of dairy cows they had confiscated from the local farmers and shot them all with a machine gun. Airman Art Starratt of the 8th Army Air Force described in his memoirs the almost comical scene he observed. He indicated that some prisoners were bent on milking the cows while others were actually attempting to kill and then butcher the animals. Eventually the prisoners did butcher the cows and had a great feast of beef and confiscated schnapps, so maybe that's where dad got that big steak, but I seem to recall him saying it was given to him elsewhere, maybe by the Red Cross. Wherever he got that steak, he never forgot about it in contrast to the starvation months of late winter 1944/45 when enlisted men and officers alike fought over potato peels from the garbage, were forced by starvation to eat cats, and licked their empty metal bowls in search of just a taste of a meal long gone.
One source reports that the German food ration until October 1, 1944 provided from 1,200 to 1,800 calories daily per man and would be augmented by Red Cross packages. The German ration was gradually cut to 800 calories per day. In September, October, and November of 1944, Red Cross supplies became so low that they too were reduced and the prisoners were put on half-parcels each week. A Red Cross shipment was received in November and the prisoners were then able to draw the normal parcel each week during December in addition to a special Christmas parcel. In January 1945 the parcel supply again reduced and the men received a meager half parcel per week. Lt. Col. Greenings February 26, 1945 Special Order to his compound informs the men that breakfast is discontinued until further notice, only dinner of German soup ("no potatoes") will be served, Red Cross parcels will run out Sunday and no more are expected, coal rations are reduced another 20%, water may be turned off at any time and a reserve should be maintained, and there will be no lights for an indefinite period, possibly the duration of the war. That same order also requests that the men stop taking garbage from the mess hall garbage cans and that personnel who received bones from the mess hall for the purposes of making soup will return the bones for reuse even though they had already been cooked twice.
An additional instruction on the order came from the German command and warns the prisoners that "Any prisoner of war found outside his barracks or looking out of windows during an Air Raid will be fired upon without warning". German guards made doubly good this warning on March 18, 1945. During an air raid to the Berlin area by bombers from the 8th AAF two prisoners were shot by German guards. South African Air Force Lt. George V. Whitehouse had not heard the siren and had stepped outside his barracks to spread kitchen refuse on his garden. He was in the process of tending his garden when a German guard shouted and fired simultaneously from about 40 yards away hitting Whitehouse in the torso. Whitehouse sustained serious injury, lost a kidney, but survived surgery at the Stalag by fellow prisoner Dr. W. Martin Nichols, spending the remainder of the war in the infirmary. Not so fortunate was American 2nd Lt. Elroy Frank Wyman who also had not heard the distant air raid siren. He had been visiting friends in another barracks and had left to return to his own. Once outside, he realized an air raid must have been sounded because there was no one around. He quickly turned to return to the barracks and at the doorway was shot through the head by German guard Obegefreiter (essentially a Corporal) Emil Buhler who was outside the wire and about 100 yards away.
The death of Wyman and the near death of Whitehouse further stressed relationships with the Germans and compounded the problems associated with the growing food shortage. Sam Hamilton indicated in a 1985 VFW newsletter, that at one point rations had been cut to 1,100 calories per day and that prior to capture the soldiers were receiving 3,300 calories per day. He indicates that often the meal was a "soupy substance concocted of cabbage and potatoes and other unidentifiable ingredients, and this culinary masterpiece was wormy".
Another source indicates that from March 3, 1945, until the last of the month, no parcels were distributed at all, and German rations were reduced to an extent that toward the end of the month men became so weak that many would fall down while attempting to rise from their bunks or drop to the ground while in formation. American "MPs" were placed around garbage cans to prevent the starving prisoners from eating out of the cans. A Special Order from Lt. Col. Greening dated March 31, 1945 would indicate that by late March things may have improved somewhat, although coal was still in shortage, as breakfast is then noted as "American cereal" and dinner was noted as fried Spam (1/4 [slice? can?] per man), mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and gravy. This meal may have been from a Red Cross shipment that one source reports as having been received "about April 1, 1945". That shipment was received from Lubeck via Sweden and from that time until the evacuation of the camp the men obtained sufficient nourishment. Zemke indicates in his book that Red Cross parcels were received March 26th. Until this starvation period, the normal daily menu would consist of about six potatoes, one-fifth of a loaf of bread, margarine, marmalade, a small piece of meat (usually horsemeat), two vegetables (cabbage, parsnips, beets, or turnips) tea and coffee, and some amount of sugar. In addition, a thin barley soup was frequently served. [source: http://www.b24.net/pow/stalag1.htm]
Vietor noted in his excellent memoir of his time spent at Stalag I that many of the barracks had cats as pets. The cat in his barracks had kittens during the hard winter months of starvation and he and his barracks mates raffled off the kittens. The raffle was apparently rigged so that Vietor's barracks would win one kitten. The kittens were fattened on scraps and later eaten. The cat in Vietor's room was originally named "Joe", but its name was later changed to something more ominous of its intended fate - "Stew". Vietor points out that much talk went into how a small cat could be equally divided into eight portions, but for Vietor and his mates it was a moot discussion because their cat was stolen one night, its head bashed in by prisoners in an adjoining room, its more meaty portions rapidly cooked, and eaten. Vietor indicates that the smell of burnt cat fur pervaded many a barrack for quite some time as other cats suffered the same demise. An order was issued by the ranking Allied officer, Col. Zemke, banning the eating of cats, but it didn't matter - all the cats were long gone, not one to be found in all the camp. With the loss of the cats, the rat population flourished. To Vietor's knowledge, however, no one resorted to eating rats, but had the starvation continued, who knows to what depths the prisoners and others may have descended. March 1945 of that cold winter, one of the coldest on record, was called "Hungry March" by the prisoners, but guards and civilians in town went hungry too. The Germans citizens ate cats as well and began referring to them as "Dachhasen", German for "roof rabbits" or "roof hares". Skinned and presented without head, feet, and tail, a cat and an hare are very similar.
We always had a cat growing up and I still do. I remember as a child that dad use to tease us about wanting to eat our cat. He would say they ate them in the prison camp, but I never really put much faith in that until I started this research. Dad use to briefly hold the cat up by the tail and say all you needed to do was give them a chop on the back of the neck. The cat didn't know what to think about that and neither did I.
Cats weren't the only animal eaten in a POW camp. Former POW Vincent Lisanti told an interesting story in an October 24, 2016 video-recorded oral interview about his time in the 460th Bomb Group. He was a pilot of a B-24 and was shot down twice, lastly over Hungary on his thirteenth mission. Using skills he learned becoming an Eagle Scout, he evaded capture for four or five days, but was eventually captured just outside a small village by a local policeman who held him at shaky gunpoint. He was taken to Budapest for initial holding and processing. He spent 13 months as a prisoner, first at Stalag III in Sagan, Germany (now Żagań, Poland), the prison camp made famous in the movie The Great Escape, and later at Stalag VII-A north of Moosburg, Germany, moved there because of advancing Russian troops. While at Stalag VII-A he witnessed an interesting event. Knowing that the Russian POWs endured tough conditions due to the Germans' hatred of them, the American POWs would often toss some contents of their Red Cross parcels over to the Russian who were kept in a separate compound. Prunes were an item that were frequently given away. The Russians made a high-octane liquor from the prunes. I suspect that some of that liquor made its way back to the British and American side. On one occasion the Russians got especially drunk and a sort of riot ensued. Russians in one barracks refused to come out when ordered. The Germans, trying to resolve the situation without deadly force, sent in three huge German Shepherds to roust out the Russians. There was a huge commotion and then nothing. A short while later, three beautiful furry pelts were tossed out the barrack's windows. It was not long before the aroma of fried German Shepherd wafted across the compound.
The war did progress, but even with such distractions as guard-baiting and other efforts to occupy time, it wore on the airmen and seemed only barely to ebb toward a conclusion. The American prisoners learned of the passing of their President shortly after his death on April 12th via BBC broadcast received on their secret radios. Even the British and other prisoners felt the loss of the respected man and commiserated with their allies. Many prisoners wore black armbands at the Appel the morning to commemorate the loss of the President. The Germans saw the armbands and inquired about their meaning and were told of the passing of America's President. The Germans had not heard the news yet via the Deutsch Rundfunk (German broadcasting station) and took this as further confirmation that the prisoners had access to a radio communications. Back at the 460th Bomb Group base in Spinazzola, Dick Schneider indicates in his wartime memoirs that the death did not come as a surprise. He noted that while they felt the loss, they did not dwell on it. He says further that they had become accustomed to death.
Towards the end of April 1945, however, prisoners and goons alike could hear, first only at night when it was quiet, then both night and day, the not so distant sound of Russian artillery shelling the Germans. At night, the light from the cannons could be seen flashing in the east. By early April air raids were frequent, sometimes several during the day and night. The hidden radio in one barracks and the reports from the broadcasts that were shared throughout the camp generally kept the prisoners apprised of war developments. Everyone at the prison camp knew it would not be long now and an anticipation, thick and tangible, was felt throughout the camp by prisoners and guards alike. A common saying was on the lips of the prisoners - "Home alive in '45".
The uneasiness began to become more apparent in the faces and actions of the Germans. Zemke writes that on one occasion he was actually approached by an Abwehr officer Hauptman (Captain) Rath. The Abwehr was the intelligence branch of the German military and, as compared to the other German soldiers at a stalag, were generally the most severe and most aligned with the Nazi doctrine. In the stalags the Abwehr conducted searches and served as the ferrets who eavesdropped on the prisoners in hope of overhearing escape plans and military intelligence. The Abwehr at Stalag I also monitored the seismographic instruments monitoring for tunneling activities. Hauptmann Rath intercepted Zemke in his rounds and attempted to strike a deal with him. Hauptmann offered to personally take Zemke to the Allied front lines provided that once there, Rath would then become Zemke's prisoner and that Zemke would ensure that Rath was turned over to the United States authorities. As a show of good faith, Rath removed his pistol from his holster and gave it to Zemke. Zemke had no intention of leaving the camp with the almost certain knowledge that liberation was imminent, so he declined Rath's offer and returned his pistol saying Rath's offer was too late and that Rath might need the gun himself.
A diary kept by 2nd Lt. Norman Arthur Edward Quast details the changes taking place in and around the camp as the Russians advanced. He talks about one interesting visitor on April 3, 1945. Max Schmeling, the great German champion heavyweight boxer, who had at one time defeated Joe Louis by knockout, paid a goodwill visit to the Stalag. I've seen other former prisoner accounts which indicate that Max also visited the Stalag in March 1945 and introduced the boxers in a prisoner of war boxing match. Max had served as a German paratrooper in the war until he was wounded and was now a sort of public relations ambassador for the Germans. Although Max had met Hitler on numerous occasions, had been photographed with him, and had also been photographed giving the Nazi salute, Max was never a Nazi and, in fact, in 1989 it was learned that he had actually worked to get Jewish children out of Germany. Max and Joe Louis both served their respective countries, ultimately serving roles in support of troop morale. They remained friends for the rest of their lives. Max even paid the funeral costs of the nearly destitute Joe Louis. Max lived a long life, passing away on February 2, 2005, a multi-millionaire. When Max arrived at Stalag I, many prisoners visited with him and received autographs. Some prisoners were told not to pay him any attention, he was a German after all and his visit was viewed by some as a propaganda stunt, perhaps designed to garner goodwill now that the Germans knew the end was near. Airman Clint Gruber remembered that Max was accompanied by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring who at one time had been in charge of German forces in Italy. Evidently, Max and the Field Marshal were very cordial, answered questions about the Joe Louis fight and even about Germany's recent poor performance in the war. Max met with Zemke and a large crowd of prisoners formed outside Zemke’s barracks, all excited to see the boxing champion. Max made an appearance and waived to all the men. Later Zemke issued a note to the prisoners chastising them for acting like “school kids”. One of those guys in the crowd may have been dad. I remember dad saying he had met Max and that Max had the biggest hands he had ever seen.
My research indicates one additional reason Max Schmeling may have visited Stalag I. In 1961, Max, then a successful Coca-Cola distributor in Hamburg, was interviewed by newspaper writer Bill McCormick for a two article series that ran in the Victoria (Texas) Advocate on Tuesday, January 10, 1961, page 10 and January 12, 1961, page 20 to address negativity towards him by some people believing he had been a Nazi. Max wanted to set the record straight. During the interview as demonstration of some of his good deeds during the war he told of a visit to a Stalag near Berlin where he made friends with Colonel Delmar Spivey. He received permission for Spivey and two other American officers to have dinner with him in Berlin, provided they were returned to camp that evening, which they later were.
During the evening which included dinner and drinks, Max shared information with the Americans, briefing them on war news and location of Allied and Axis troops. He explained he was doing this so that the prisoners would know which way to go if they were freed or escaped. Col. Spivey informed Max that at another Stalag, Stalag I near Barth, there was an American Colonel, Colonel Henry Russell Spicer, being held and who was sentenced to death for anti-German speeches. Hub Zemke noted in his novel that Spicer was a bit of a rabble-rouser in the camp and was indeed known for his hatred of Germans and his inflammatory speeches to his men. He was a flamboyant character and against regulations wore a bushy moustache like those sported by the British. His speeches were generally slandering and insulting to the Germans and were often intentionally delivered within earshot of German guards and Stalag officers. His anti-German speeches had gotten him tried by the Germans, sentenced to death pending an execution date for the charges of inciting a riot and mutiny. Except for the few days of his trial and the travel to and from the trial venue in a nearby town he had been in solitary confinement since the end of October 1944. As for his twenty minute trial, he was not allowed to call any witnesses, had no other Americans or Allied representatives present, had not been allowed to contact any neutral representatives, and was only provided a five minute briefing with his German defense attorney immediately prior to the start of his trial. He indicated his legal representative appeared to have no prior knowledge of the case about to be heard. He noted in an interview later that his verdict was read from a typewritten sheet of paper that he felt had been prepared in advance of the trial.
Some precedents were already in place demonstrating the German’s willingness to mete out capital punishment. By this time the secret Kugel-Erlass (also known as Aktion Kugel) or “Bullet Decree” of March 3, 1944 was in effect which allowed certain Allied airmen (i.e., those who were captured while attempting escape) to be transported to the concentration camp located at Maulthausen, Austria for either death by execution or by being worked to death in a quarry. While the decree provided some potentially citable authorities and precedents for dealing most stringently with Allied airmen it may not have been directly applicable in Spicer’s case, the fact is that the German’s did not need such a decree to sentence Spicer as they saw fit.
Col. Spivey asked if Max could help in any way. Max agreed and later visited Stalag I. During his visit, Max asked permission to see Col. Spicer. He assured Spicer that the next day his death sentence would be lifted. As a result of Max Schmeling's visit, Spicer was not executed, but was kept in solitary confinement in a 6 feet by 8 feet cell for six months until the Germans fled the camp. For three of those months he was denied Red Cross parcels.
During the McCormick interview, Max produced a letter from a Munich businessman who had known Col. Spivey later in life after Spivey had become a General and the Superintendent of Culver Military Academy in Indiana. The businessman, who had visited Spivey in America, confirmed Max's story and his role in helping to save Spicer's life. Reporter McCormick was able to verify Max's claims and presented his findings in the second part of his two part series.
The morning after the Germans left the camp, some of Spicer's friends went to get him out of his 6' by 8' cell at the cooler. They opened the door, found him asleep and entirely unaware of what had transpired in the camp. They let him know he was free and that the Germans were gone. He let them know that that was indeed good news, told them to leave the door unlocked, and went back to sleep. Spicer and Spivey both ended their careers as Generals.
The prisoners heard of Dictator Benito Mussolini's, Il Duce's, capture and execution on April 28th, 1945. His body had been hung upside down outside a gas station for all to witness. Before long the crowd began to abuse his corpse, repeatedly dropping the body on its head. The Axis was foundering and the end was eminent.
Quast also recorded in his diary increased activity by the Germans at the Flak school, more aircraft seen flying near and above the camp, and even an April 27 - 29 visit by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the German SS, and his staff. Even so, scheduled events continued in the camp. For example, during the week of April 21 - 28 he cites a birthday party for one of his friends, a football throwing contest, and a craft exhibit being held. On the 20th he notes he was awakened by an artillery barrage and experienced air raids during the day. Things were falling apart quickly.
Dad’s written account of that last mission and the time as a prisoner-of-war is brief, but chilling. I have his dress uniform jacket in my closet and it bears a Russian star, a red-lacquered pin with a sickle and hammer, like the one to the left, that dad said a Russian Colonel gave him. Why? I can only speculate from the hint he provides in his writings about time spent with the Russians hunting down German guards and "rectifying justice". The 2nd White Russian Front of the Red Army liberated the prison camp on May 1, 1945, but the German guards had fled around midnight the night before. Bob Seidel indicated that before the Germans left, a German sergeant came into his barracks and gave the men a white canvas bag full of the prisoners' high school and Air Corp class rings that had been taken away from them. He wanted to make sure they were returned to the prisoners. Bob says all the rings were returned to their rightful owners, even his own, which he was glad to have back.
Commandant Oberst Von Warnstedt had previously met with ranking Allied officer Col. Hubert "Hub" Zemke and informed him that the camp was going to be abandoned in advance of the Russian arrival and that all the prisoners were going to be marched 150 miles to a location near Hamburg. Zemke objected but took the proposition to his leaders. He allowed a vote - march or refuse to go. Zemke returned to the Commandant and let him know the outcome, they would not go. He informed the commandant that the prisoners had a secret commando unit, that they could storm his guards and take over the camp by force, and that the prisoners far outnumbered the German guards and there would be unnecessary bloodshed on both sides. Vietor's published memoirs confirm this as well. Vietor indicates that the prisoners had fashioned a sort of Molotov cocktail out of benzene obtained by barter with the guards and that the prisoners also had several heavy iron bars they could use as weapons, as well as an ample supply of rocks. Zemke indicates in his own book that in addition to a supply of Molotov cocktails, some prisoners had brass knuckles, clubs, and knives as well. Zemke was able to convince the Commandant that leaving the prisoners behind would be the best alternative this late in the war. Bob Seidel summed it up more concisely. He said "Zemke said we weren't going, and we didn't". In the days before the German abandonment of the stalag, the prisoners were allowed to dig foxholes for protection from the approaching active war zone. Digging was tough since the ground was cold. There were still remnants of ice and snow even into late April. The wartime diary of 2nd Lt. Norman Arthur Edward Quast confirms the conversation between Warnstedt and Zemke as well. Lt. Quast indicated that the date was April 30, 1945. The day before the Germans left the stalag, Colonel Von Warnstedt met with Hub Zemke and informed him of the German's plans to abandon the camp that evening. The Colonel wanted assurances that the Germans could leave without any sort of confrontation. Hub assured the colonel that no sort of demonstration or hindrance would take place. Hub, who spoke German, cites Colonel Von Warnstedt as beginning this conversation with the following words "Der Krieg ist jetzt über für uns", which means "The war is over for us now". The German personnel and guards turned off the camp's perimeter and street lights around 10:00 PM on April 30, 1945 and were observed exiting the camp, leaving gates unlocked behind them. Interesting to note is that the Germans killed all their guard dogs before they left. Hearing the sounds of the exiting Germans, some of the prisoners realized what was happening, but most of them found out the next morning at Appell that the stalag had been abandoned by the Germans during the night. Zemke's handpicked men, called the Field Force, were put in charge to ensure order in the camp now that the soldiers were prisoners no longer. Field Force men manned the guard towers as lookouts for a while.
The prisoners first put up a white flag and later an American flag, some say a British flag flew as well. Pandemonium was breaking out in Barth because the Russians were coming. News of the Russian presence and the death of Hitler the day before was heard on a radio the Germans had left behind and on the subsequent announcement by fellow prisoners over the stalag's PA system. The situation was changing quickly and frequently now. The German fear of the approaching Russians was palpable. One crew member recalls finding the bodies of a grandmother, young mother, her infant, and another woman not far from the camp. They found out later the group of them were not locals but had been staying at the local hotel since their house had been destroyed. The grandmother was a rabid Nazi and took the lead in the murder/suicide pact. They would rather be dead instead of risking their fates at the hands of the Russians. There were many such suicides as the Russians approached. The Mayor of Barth shot himself (Zemke mentions the Barth Burgermeister as having poisoned himself and his family) as it was common knowledge that municipal leaders were frequently executed by the Russians. Col. Zemke first ordered at risk of court martial, then later merely urged, all prisoners to stay in camp after the Germans fled so that the Americans would not be in danger roaming the countryside in an active war zone. You see, for those prisoners and all the rest, the war was not really over at all. They were still soldiers and the Germans had not surrendered yet.
Dad said the Russians, and the Mongols who travelled with them, were a rough lot and that they could be extremely brutal. One American soldier was supposedly killed by a Mongolian soldier in a dispute over a cigarette lighter. One source indicates that Russians would point their guns at a prisoner's wristwatch and the prisoner would simply hand it over. Other sources indicate that there was active bartering ongoing between the Americans and their liberators. Both sorts of exchanges certainly occurred. Airman Art Starratt's memoirs state that at least ten Americans were killed by the Russians as a result of arguments and fights.
Dad and John Bills, after Liberation at Stalag I, Barth, Germany
The town of Barth was officially surrendered on May 1st or 2nd, 1945 to the Russians and the surrender was witnessed by American and British officers.
The following two images are of the Barth Hard Times newspaper a couple of the prisoners issued on May 5, 1945 after liberation and prior to their departure from the camp. One source indicates this was actually printed at a press in Barth, not at the prison camp. Another source indicates the actual printing was done by the Russians for the newly freed prisoners. I have not personally verified where or by whom it was printed. For the cost of one candy bar, it provided a good summary of the prisoners' liberation, early communications with the Russians, and what was going on in Barth and with the townspeople as the Russians approached and eventually took control.
A Newspaper Issued by the Prisoners at LiberationBack home, an equally exuberant, and entirely unverified, article was printed on May 10, 1945 in The Globe Gazette, Mason City, Cerro Gordo Co., IA and gives an entirely different spin on the post-liberation activities at Stalag I as compared to the Bard Hard Times article which indicates prisoners were given a "stay put" order. The Globe Gazette article, by International New Service correspondent and freed Stalag I prisoner Lowell Bennett, indicates some Mason City hometown soldiers were liberated from Stalag I and that in 12 hours time the 9,000 freed prisoners took control of over 200 square miles of German territory, including several towns and an "important airfield", and captured 2,000 Germans. These are just some of the accomplishments cited in the article. I've not found any similar information substantiating this report.
(click on images for full-size picture)
I've read a couple of amusing stories about the Russians and their arrival at the camp. One of the early arrivals on May 1st was a drunken Russian on a white farm horse. He claimed he was a Russian colonel. He was offended that the prisoners weren't more exuberant at their soon to be realized liberation by the Russians. He didn't think the prisoners were grateful enough to the Russians. He thought that the prisoners would burn the camp down in celebration of the arrival of the Russians. Col. Zemke had the prisoners burn one guard tower. He also ordered the barbed wire torn down and the prisoners complied with that wish as well. That seemed to make the Russian happy, but the encounter became tense when the Russian shot his long-barreled pistol into the air and Zemke tried to quiet him down. The Russian put the pistol against Zemke's head and cocked the hammer. Fortunately, the drunken Russian did not fire, possibly due to the reaction of the prisoners in the camp's yard - they went crazy. Days later it was found out that the Russian on horseback was just a drunken ex-prisoner who had been held by the Germans and recently liberated. He had pieced together a uniform and stolen a horse and wondered into camp claiming to be a Colonel. This episode was reported to the Russians who were then on the lookout for the rogue imposter.
Hub himself tells the above story somewhat differently in his own book. He indicates that the Russian was extremely drunk, was travelling with another Russian soldier and a woman who appeared to be one of their girlfriends. The Russians were admitted into the camp after demanding entrance (I am sure Hub gave the Allied guard heck for that). One was taken to see Hub in his office, the abandoned German administrative offices. There the drunken Russian soldier waived his gun and threatened Hub and others. Hub and some of his officers offered to let the Russian declare the prisoners liberated in a ploy to diffuse the situation. In the meanwhile, Hub also had some men secretly get a blanket. Outside after "liberating" the prisoners, the drunk Russians were captured and tossed in the air over and over using the blanket. All three became violently ill, were subdued, disarmed, and placed in the cooler, the stalag's jail cell, until sober. Hub indicates that the soldier was in fact a Russian Major. All three were turned over to the Russians. Hub later met with the Senior Russian officer, Colonel Zhovanik (Hub had already met with him in and around Barth and had enjoyed a drunken feast with him in a German household the Russian Colonel commandeered) and explained what happened with the drunken Russian soldiers. Colonel Zhovanik wondered why Zemke had not simply shot the drunken Russians. Hub also indicates that the evening prior to the abandonment of the camp by the Germans, bribes were made that allowed three groups of two prisoners each to exit the camp. Each had a separate but similar mission - to make contact with the US, British, and Russian forces. Hub indicates that this is how first contact was made with the Russians and that the first Russian brought back to the stalag was a Russian lieutenant.
Another good story is how the Russians liked to drink with the Americans. A typical toast by the Russians would be to "Stalin! Roosevelt! and Studebaker!" It turns out the Russians were crazy about Studebaker jeeps. Go figure. Shouts by the Russians of "Amerikanski Free!" or "Tovarich!" (meaning "friend" in Russian) resounded throughout the camp early on. On May 7th the Russians even put on a dance program for the prisoners featuring a genuine Russian dance troupe (complete with beautiful Russian women, not the Russian women soldiers they had with them). Some sources indicate that the troupe travelled with the Russian army, others indicate it was essentially the Russian equivalent to the USO. I've wondered if this troupe was part of the famous Alexandrov Ensemble of the Red Army that stills performs today.
I bet those pretty Russian girls drove the soldiers wild. Unlike these dancers, the Russian soldier women were described as not much different looking than the men, even rougher sometimes. The Russians must have been an interesting lot. I've read stories of this 2nd White Russian Front and it seems that not only a dance troupe traveled with them, but some of the soldiers had their entire families with them. Lots of other "hangers-on" from various nationalities trailed them as well.
I've read terrible things about the Russians who arrived in Barth, as well as the Serbians, Mongolians, and Ukrainians who traveled with them. One author talks about the many murders, rapes, and other crimes that took place in and around Barth once the Russian forces moved in. German women and children began to appear at the stalag and begged to be allowed to stay so that they could be safer from the Russians. There are accounts of German fathers having American soldiers stay in their houses with their daughters so that the Russians would hopefully leave them all alone. One guard actually shot himself in the head as he was distraught over what the Russians may have done to his wife whom he had not heard from for several months. Ironically, two days after he killed himself a package arrived for him containing 56 letters from her. Evidently she was alive and well and her letters were delayed due to the war and bureaucracy.
Eventually, all the barbed wire fences and gates were knocked down making it difficult to contain the now free Allied soldiers. Some prisoners ventured into Barth and the outlying areas and returned with food, rabbits, sheep, liquor, and everything else they could get their hands on. I read one account of a prisoner having had so much to drink in Barth that his fellow prisoners had to carry him back on a window shutter. I read one sad story of excess involving three American prisoners who also had too much to drink in Barth and wrecked the jeep they were driving, killing all three of them. What a tragic, wasteful loss to survive being shot down, captured, imprisoned, exposed to all sorts of hardship, and then to be freed, only to die senselessly like that. Another sad loss is the death of a freed prisoner who was wandering around the grounds near the stalag when he stepped on a mine.
Prison rules had prohibited the storage of the Red Cross parcels at the stalag itself, so they were stored at the Flak school. Hub had ordered that the storage area be guarded. He and a couple of pals went to the flak school to explore. During their visit Hub saw about 50 German civilians attempting to break into the parcel storage area. He had one of his men run back to the stalag and get help. The civilians, the leader of who Hub thought he recognized as a former guard, had managed to enter the storage area by this time and many were in to process of walking off with parcels. Hub's armed men arrived and fired shots into the air. Many of the civilians dropped their parcels and all fled. Later, the former prisoners who had been assigned the responsibility of guarding the storage area were severely reprimanded by Hub. Many of the parcels were quickly loaded and distributed to the prisoners, the rest were guarded until evacuation. 45,000 parcels remained by the time the POWs were evacuated and were turned over to the Russians.
Red Cross parcels weren't the only sustenance by this time. Some of the liberated prisoners found crates of good liquor at the shipping yards and brought bottles back for their friends in camp. Prisoners celebrated their new freedom in various other ways too. One way was especially unusual. John Bills recalled in his memoirs that one guy he knew and had at times talked to him about escaping, a pilot named Bob Hoover, left camp and went to the Luftwaffe's flak training school immediately adjacent to the prison camp. Hoover found a German fighter plane, a Focke Wulf of some sort, probably an FW-190 (there is a post-liberation picture of an FW-190 there), and was last seen taking off in it, heading toward friendly lines. Bob Hoover did what he knew how to do - he just flew away and left that camp behind him, eventually landing in Holland. Bob Hoover later wrote an autobiography entitled Forever Flying about his time at Stalag I and his career afterwards as a test pilot, a colleague of Chuck Yeager. Bob's autobiography verifies that it was in fact an FW-190 that he flew away in. Bob, however, leads the reader to believe that he actually escaped from the Germans and is silent on actual dates. After much searching I did finally find one interview transcript in which Bob admits the Germans had already abandoned the camp. In it Bob indicates, "People made it sound like a great escape, but the guards had deserted us". Subsequent to finding the interview transcript, John Bills, III provided me a copy of a November 25, 1945 newspaper article detailing Bob's flight from the airfield after liberation. I think Bob's autobiography continues to add to the myth of the great escape, but even so, it was a great way to leave regardless of who was actually in control of the camp. Hoover wasn't the only prisoner who went on to earn a name for himselve. The actor Donald Pleasence, an RAF navigator, was imprisoned at Stalag I, and so was Bernard Leon Barker, one of the Watergate burglars. Bob was not alone in those who departed the camp early and in unusual ways. Four other soldiers loaded a small two-cylinder car with Red Cross parcels, pasted a sign to the window that said in Russian "Press - Pass Freely" and began a 400 mile drive toward what they hoped would be freedom. Sadly, some prisoners just walked away toward friendly lines and were never heard from again, forever lost in the final, desperate chaos and death spasms of a dying war.
The collapse of the once mighty German war machine came like dominos falling. On April 29th German forces remaining in Italy surrendered. The prisoners heard of Hitler's suicide on April 30th. He had married Eva Braun after midnight in the wee hours of April 29th. They honeymooned in a bomb shelter and celebrated their marriage with a breakfast on the morning of April 29th. They were married for about 40 hours before they committed suicide, Eva by cyanide capsule, Hitler by gunshot to the right side of his head. Hitler was true to his word, he had given the people a new Germany they would not recognize. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz succeeded Hitler as Head of State. Berlin was surrendered on May 2nd, to be followed quickly thereafter on May 4th with the surrenders of German forces in Northwest Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, and Bavaria. May 6th brought the personal surrender of Hermann Göring himself and all of Breslau. Göring stood trial at Nuremburg and was sentenced to be hanged like a common criminal. He had wanted to be shot by a firing squad. On October 14, 1946, on the eve of his hanging, he committed suicide in his cell by biting a cyanide capsule instead.
On May 7th, General Alfred Jodl did his best to negotiate terms of the official surrender in Reims, northwestern France. He hoped for a surrender to Eisenhower that entailed the cessation of war between Germany and the Allied forces, but allowing Germany to continue to war with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower indicated that the surrender was to be complete and unconditional, that if that were not the case, Eisenhower would order the sealing off of German retreats in the face of advancing Russians, leaving the fate of Germans solely to the Russians, a certain death for remaining German forces. Jodl contacted Dönitz who authorized the complete surrender. Jodl followed those instructions at 2:41 AM. The war in Europe was over. The official end of the war was agreed upon as 11:01 PM on May 8th. Some German forces were stragglers and surrendered a few day later. By this time Himmler had assumed a false identity and disguised himself as a "Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger" complete with an eye patch. He was captured at a checkpoint on May 11th by former Soviet prisoners of war who, not knowing who he was, turned him over to the British. Under British charge, Himmler divulged his true identity and shortly thereafter committed suicide by biting a cyanide capsule. It seems there was no shortage of cyanide in Germany at the end.
Like Göring, Dönitz and Jodl stood trial at Nuremburg for their actions during the war. Jodl was hanged on October 16, 1945. He was pardoned posthumously in February 1953, but the pardon was reversed later in September that same year. Karl Dönitz received ten years in prison. After his release he remained unrepentant of any actions during the war and wrote two books. He died of natural causes on December 24, 1980 and passed into history.
As for the former prisoners of Stalag I, now soldiers again, well, they eventually were gathered up and transported home at different times and through different routes. Dad turned 21 years old in the prison camp on May 9th. His birthday present from Uncle Sam came three days later when on May 12, 1945 at 2:30 PM B-17 Flying Fortresses were spotted overhead, circling the airfield adjacent to the Stalag. Those old warbirds had been stripped of their armament and would be the start of the way home for the prisoners as part of Operation Revival - the evacuation of Allied prisoners from the camp and their return to Allied control. The British prisoners were evacuated that first day because for the most part they had all been prisoners the longest. The next day, 6,250 American ex-prisoners were flown out in those B-17s that landed continuously, one to two minutes apart. Each B-17 could evacuate only 30 former prisoners; even so, the Stalag was fully evacuated by May 15, 1945. There was always a rivalry between crews of the B-24 Liberators and the B-17 Flying Fortresses, each side believing their aircraft was better designed, better performing, or generally more capable of performing its intended duties, but I'll bet dad didn't mind one bit climbing aboard a 91st Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force B-17 to begin his journey home.
B-17s at Barth Evacuate Prisoners
Dad's route back was via B-17 transport from the airfield adjacent to Stalag I (once it was cleared of mines and booby traps the Germans left behind), through an evacuation route or corridor agreed upon with the Russians through Russian-controlled northeastern German airspace over the towns of Ruhl and Rhineland, to an airfield in Rhiems, France, then by truck or train (Bob Seidel indicates it was by "4-by-4s" to Camp Lucky Strike at St. Vallerie, close to Le Havre. Camp Lucky Strike was one of many staging area camps officially called Recovered Military Allied Personnel or RAMP camps and generally referred to as "Cigarette Camps", so called because they were named after American cigarette brands. Other such camps were camps Old Gold, Herbert Tareyton, Home Run, Chesterfield, Philip Morris, Pall Mall, Twenty Grand, and Wings. The soldiers were assigned areas of the camp based on their home state.
Allowing the Americans to evacuate their personnel in this manner had been agreed upon secretly just days before in negotiations with the Russians on the Elbe River. As part of that agreement, the Americans turned over to the Russians a former Russian soldier that the Germans had been holding and working with, Commander Andrei Vlasov, who had worked with the Germans after his capture to train other captured Russians as a force that fought against their former comrades to supposedly free Russia from Stalinism. I grimace to think what happened to that fellow once he was in the hands of his former countrymen.
Important to note in this discussion of liberation of prisoners of war by Russian forces is the Yalta Agreement with Russia which the United States entered into on February 11, 1945. The British had entered into a separate similar agreement with Russia. All sides knew that as the end of the war approached forces advancing into Germany and German-held territories would encounter prisoner of war camps. The agreement was entered into to ensure a systematic process was in place prior to those encounters. The United States-Russia agreement specified the terms that would be followed when United States prisoners of war were liberated by Russian forces and visa-versa. Those terms provided that liberating forces would maintain prisoners of war in camps or at other concentration points and immediately notify the home governments that the prisoners of war had been discovered and liberated, that representatives of the governments of the liberated prisoners would have immediate access to the places where the freed prisoners of war were held, that the liberating country would be responsible for external protection of the camps with internal administration under control of officials from the country of those liberated, that the liberating country would provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention, and that each country could use its own means to transport its prisoners of war.
In practice, however, Russia was either unwilling or unable to follow the terms of the agreement, which caused delays in repatriating liberated prisoners of war and resulted in the need for further discussions, concessions, and agreements such as the arrangement discussed above. The United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs during its 1991 to 1993 investigation noted that it "found evidence that some U.S. POWs were held in the former Soviet Union after WW II, the Korean War and Cold War incidents" and that the Committee "cannot, based on its investigation to date, rule out the possibility that one or more U.S. POWs from past wars or incidents are still being held somewhere within the borders of the former Soviet Union". Today, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Accounting Office, 73,515 American WWII servicemen remain unaccounted for. Many of those were known prisoners of war.
The unwillingness to cooperate in access to and transportation of the POWs in Russian-controlled airspace and territory later in the war is somewhat in contrast to the early phases of joint operations of June through September 1944 during which Allied bombers were allowed to use three bases in the Ukraine as part of Operation Frantic which employed what was termed shuttle bombing to extend the range of allied bombers flying out of England and southern Italy. Shuttle bombing was an operational approach to bombing runs that did not require the bombers to return to their home bases after a mission, but provided for continuing on to a closer participating base such as the Soviet bases in the Ukraine. A subsequent mission from the Soviet base would then allow another mission to be completed on the return flight to the home base. However, even this mutually beneficial operation began to sour sometime in August 1944 as the Soviets became much more difficult to work with and even fired on some Allied aircraft.
In any event, despite the failed Yalta Agreement, the Stalag I prisoners arrived at Camp Lucky Strike where the men were deloused, showered, had their hair cut, reissued uniforms, shoes, and rain coats, had medical exams, were debriefed, and readied for the trip home or at least readied for the wait for the trip home. The men were, for the most part, malnourished and care had to be taken in returning the men to normal diets. Upon arrival at the camp they received a Surgeon's Bulletin which was essentially a memo to the arriving former prisoners of war. It told them of the physiological changes that had taken place in their bodies as a result of having been on a starvation diet consisting primarily of bread and watery soup for months. It went into detail how their stomach lining changed, the shrinking of their stomachs, and how many of their organs may not be functioning properly yet, and how vitamin deficient they were, how their stomach linings were inflamed, irritated, and delicate. They were instructed to take only what the servers provided them in the mess hall and not to go back for seconds. They were told not to eat candy, peanuts, doughnuts, frankfurters, pork, rich gravies, liquor, and spicy foods while they adjusted to their new diets and their body and systems became stronger. The memo indicates "It is up to you now to liberate yourselves from your new enemy - your appetite and your digestive system". Many followed the instructions and many did not. Many former prisoners had stomach and digestive problems the rest of their lives.
There was down time while they waited for their ship assignments home. The servicemen socialized, ate to put weight back on, watched USO shows and outdoor movies, and met many of the high level military leaders and politicians that stopped to tour the camp. General Eisenhower himself paid a visit at Camp Lucky Strike in late May and assured the men that all efforts were being made to get them home as soon as possible. Many men visited the countryside and even made it to Paris and other cities. Dad brought back to the US some French coins he picked up while at Camp Lucky Strike. Others had all sorts of souvenirs they had picked up during the war, including German weapons, helmets, silver, art, watches, bayonets, and many other things. Orders went out that all souvenirs that the soldiers wished to take back home were to be inspected and approved. An inspection was done and some items were disallowed due to their danger. Of course, the inspection results depended on how forthcoming the soldiers were with what they had collected, so many contraband items made it to the US. Dad had picked up a German Luger somewhere are brought it home and raffled it off at some time for extra cash. He had a pull handle with a short length of wire cable that he said came from a parachute pack. It was around the house in various drawers for years before it disappeared at some point. He also said he had a very nice German or Swiss watch, but that it got stolen while he was showering either in Barth or Camp Lucky Strike. When I was a kid, I remember seeing his old heavy leather and fleece flight coat and pants. They had been hanging in the basement for years and unfortunately were dry-rotted and crumbling, actually crispy to the touch. In my research I ran across an amusing story about a ship heading out from one of the cigarette camps and en route to the US. At one point the Captain stopped the ship when an unexploded mine was spotted. He ordered his crew to shoot the mine to explode it. His crew shot at the mine but it would not explode. The next thing the Captain knew was that there were scores of former prisoners standing at the rails shooting at the mine with their smuggled weapons alongside his crew. The mine never exploded, but it did sink.
Finally dad received his orders home. On June 6, 1945 from Le Havre, France (which came to be known as the "Gateway to America" because so many US troops and former prisoners passed through there on their way home), dad boarded his assigned ship for the voyage home. From Le Havre it was on to New York's 86th Street pier aboard the transport ship USS General J. R. Brooke, AP132. The USS General J. R. Brooke was a troop transport ship and ultimately made 12 trips shuttling American soldiers back from Europe. At almost 500 feet long and 72 feet wide, it had the capacity to carry 3,444 passengers. Earlier in the war it braved the Atlantic to transport German prisoners to be held in the United States.
Do you believe that some things that happen are more than mere coincidence? I do, and here's one of them. Our Weber ancestors, after having left Germany, stepped off a boat in New York harbor on June 17, 1853. On June 17, 1945, my father, after having left Germany, stepped off a boat there as well, exactly 92 years later to the day.
While all the rest of the former White L for Love crew returned to Allied control and their lives afterwards, 1st Lt. Morris Caust was not forgotten by his friends, crewmates, and the US Army Air Force. He had been shot after safely landing by parachute near Lamprechtshausen, Austria. He was unarmed and non-combative. His death was a war crime and it was not long before the Nazi farmer and member of the Gau who shot him was arrested, charged, and held for trial thanks to the statements of his crewmates and the exemplary German record keeping. Josef Hangöbl, shown here on trial and under guard, was tried by a general military court on October 17th and 18th, 1945 at a courtroom established at the Dachau Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany for the killing of 1st Lt. Morris Caust. Unlike the well-known Nuremberg trials which were conducted by an international tribunal of Allied military personnel due to the broad geographical range and scope of those crimes, the war crimes trials in the courtroom set up at the former Dachau concentration camp were conducted only by a US military tribunal which focused on the prosecution of crimes committed within US zones in Germany and Austria and crimes committed against US citizens and military personnel. While the trials were already underway at Dachau, the arrangements for the high profile trials at Nuremberg were being finalized with the selection of the international military tribunal president on October 14th and the issuance of indictments on October 19th, allowing the Nuremberg trials to begin on November 20th.
Dachau had been liberated by the 7th Army, 45th Infantry Division on April 29, 1945. Metrics vary by source and ssome indicate that in all between November 1945 through August 1948, the court at Dachau issued 426 death sentences, 256 acquitals, 199 life sentences, 530 sentences of five years or less, and 261 sentences from six to 50 years. 200 of the cases heard at Dachau involved 600 defendants and were referred to as "flyer cases" or cases involving crimes against airmen.
Josef Hangöbl was officially charged with Violations of the Laws of War, in particular that he, "an enemy national, did, at or near Lamprechtshausen, Austria, on or about 16 November 1944, willfully, deliberately and wrongfully kill Morris Caust, a member of the United States Army, who was then unarmed and in the act of surrendering, by shooting him with a rifle". Josef Hangöbl had made at least three official written statements by that time (June 2, 1945, June 3, 1945, and October 5, 1945) and all essentially told the same story - that he was approached by a young girl, found and shot the airman twice after calling to Caust five times to raise his hands and getting no response, and that he left Caust after shooting him to seek help.
The findings of the trial were that Lt. Caust had not seen Josef Hangöbl or heard his calls in German to raise his hands. Lt. Caust was in the process of removing his parachute harness when Josef's first shot hit near his elbow, passed through, and lodged in his shoulder. That shot spun Lt. Caust around and Josef's second shot hit him in the back and passed through his abdominal area. The court concluded that Lt. Caust had not tried to run away as indicated by Josef Hangöbl because Lt. Caust was found where he had landed, still on and attached to his own parachute. The court further concluded that after Josef left Caust, Josef was not seeking help but was leaving the area. They found his statement that he did not approach Niedermuller in his field because he did not want to interrupt his field work absurd. It was proven that Hangöbl interacted with other searchers after the shooting but made no mention of the wounded airman and sought no assistance for him. The prosecution in its closing comments referred to Josef Hangöbl as "a hard-boiled little Nazi". The judge instructed the jury to disregard that comment.
German records indicate Lt. Caust was shot because he hadn't raised his hands "at once" and that he died in surgery at 10:00 PM the night of November 16, 1944. He was reported by the Germans as buried in Oberndorf Cemetery, Field D, Row 602 on November 20, 1944 at 9:00 AM. The German death report and death notification were signed by a Dr. Nezler. Foreign soil would not be Morris's final resting place, though it would take me a long time to positively confirm that, ultimately with the kind assistance of surviving Caust family members. The "Life Afterwards" chapter provides additional information about Morris Caust and my search for his remains.
Interestingly, although the evidence presented at the war crimes trial supported that Lt. Caust did receive medical treatment, some crew members recalled seeing his body at the farmhouse. It is possible that those crew members did not actually speak with Caust and merely thought he had died. Dad indicates in his 1945 written testimony he gave in Ohio as part of the war crimes investigation that he did not see Morris's body, but that he heard of Morris's death from Tex Mattiza who had seen the body and felt Maury had been killed by the Germans after landing safely.
In light of the findings of the trial, the original charge was slightly amended to reflect that Lt. Caust was not in the process of surrendering because the court believed Caust was never aware of Josef Hangöbl's presence and never heard his calls to raise his hands, consequently the laws that govern treatment of POWs did not apply as Lt. Caust was neither a POW nor in the process of becoming one. Josef Hangöbl was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor. As noted earlier, Hangöbl had previously served two years in prison in the 1930s because of his involvement with the Nazi party in Austria and it would be back to prison once again. Two jury members filed a petition for review of the sentence on the grounds that the accused was a lawful belligerent and that he acted in self-defense. While the self-defense argument may not have resonated with the tribunal in its consideration of the review request based on the facts, the status of Josef as a lawful belligerent did. Although the prosecution argued that Hangöbl was not a lawful belligerent because he and his paramilitary group did not meet the four criteria test of Article 1 of the 1907 Hague Regulations which stipulated that "The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to the army but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling all the following conditions: 1) They must be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; 2) They must have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; 3) They must carry arms openly; and 4) They must conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war". Prosecution pointed out to no avail that the members were not issued arms but only given them when needed, otherwise the weapons were locked up in a shed. They pointed out that Hangöbl and his fellow Gau or Volkssturm members did not have any uniform or other sign or designation of their military authority. Nevertheless, the sentence was reduced to ten years with hard labor. The court recommended that Josef Hangöbl serve out his ten year sentence at Zuchthaus und Sicherungsanstalt Straubing (a prison and detention center in Straubing, Germany). Many newspapers in the United States followed the war crimes trials with keen interest and I've found the announcement of Josef Hangöbl's conviction in The Times Recorder, Zanesville Signal, on October 21, 1945 and in other publications as well. It is worthwhile to note that the fact Hangöbl’s trial for murdering an airman was one of the first war crime trials had some bearing on his initial life sentence and subsequent reduced sentence. Early war crime trials tended to have more severe sentences than those that occurred much later after the war. Many more death sentences and extended sentences were issued in early trials as compared to later trials. Had Hangöbl been trialed a few years later he may well have been initially sentenced to a less stringent duration of imprisonment. This is largely due to the softening of juries and a desire to put the deeds of the past behind. This same trend was observed for sentences issued for Pacific theater war crimes.
We will never know why Josef shot Morris Caust. Did he do it because, as he maintained, he thought Morris was reaching for a weapon? Did he do it out of fright caused by this new situation he had been thrust into without training? Did he set out on foot to take the life of an airman? Was it in anger and revenge for the continued bombings and possible loss of friends, relatives, or countrymen? Did he do it because he wanted his own piece of the war? Was it because he was in fact the "hard-boiled little Nazi" the prosecutor said he was and that is what such a Nazi might do? Had there been more interaction between Josef and Morris before the shooting and did Josef kill Morris because he was a Jew as the Caust family has believed these many years? I don’t believe so. I think it was an act born from a foul mixture of many of these and other reasons, a destructive brew of hate, anger, frustration, fear, ignorance, poor or no training, and Nazi party programming. It was the war itself reduced to a micro scale at the edge of a farmer's snowy, fallow field on a cold Austrian fall day.
In addition to some other medals, decorations, and a unit citation that dad received at different times, on September 4, 1945 he received a purple heart for his wounds received during battle on his last mission. I kept that purple heart on my bookshelf in my business office for many years. I remember taking that to school for show-and-tell when I was a kid in early elementary school. My oldest son did the same years later and told his class about his grandfather, the former prisoner-of-war.
Many of dad's original medals have gone to various family members over the years, but I have found replacements for the ones I did not have. I now have the purple heart and the rest of his medals displayed where I can see them every day in a shadow box, seen above, along with his various uniform insignias, patches, badges, and a small B-24 Liberator I painted in his Bomb Group/Bomb Squad color schematic. The 460th Bomb Group patch was donated to me by a kind gentleman, Robert Farwell, who had been selling it online. Robert is the son of Richard D. "Diz" Farwell who served as copilot on the Arthur "Art" Gigax crew in the 460th BG, 760th BS. Diz was known as "Red" to his crew because of the color of his hair. Once Robert learned of my father's role in the bomb group and my intended use for the patch, he sent it to me without charge. Below are larger images of the medals.
w/ 3 Oak Leaf Clusters
Medal Campaign Medal East Theater Medal Medal
w/ 3 Bronze Stars
For practical reasons, ribbons are typically worn on a uniform instead of the heavy, full-size medals. Here are dad's ribbons presented in the proper order of precedence. The three oak leaf clusters represent additional awards of the Air Medal and the three stars on the EAME medal represent the major campaigns in which dad participated, namely the Balkans, Northern Apennines, and Rhineland campaigns.
In some pictures, like the one at the top of this page, you can see scars over dad’s left eye and nose. He received those on his last mission. He said that he also took shrapnel in his left leg and that he had a plate in his head. I think he was kidding about the plate, but who knows? His old uniform jacket also now bears a prisoner-of-war medal awarded to him posthumously on November 26, 2003. I had applied for it on his behalf during April of that year. I think that he would like that medal. In January 2010, on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, a friend and I went to dad's gravesite at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio. We swept deep snow from hundreds of gravestones before we found my father's. There was no 21 gun salute booming out sharp and clear on that cold morning like there was years before at his military memorial service where I now stood. Nor was there anyone there to hand my mother a folded American flag like the soldier did on that windy day in April. There were no taps playing in the background, drawing tears from our eyes. This time, it was quiet and peaceful and my footprints in the snow and the swept gravestones were all that showed that life still moved on in the world dad left behind. My friend and I had a toast to dad. Cold whiskey from a colder steel flask in a lonely place. It stung my throat the way the cold wind stung my face and brought tears of a different kind to the corners of my eyes. My friend left me to my thoughts then and walked amongst the distant stones, thinking his own thoughts. Strangely, mortality hangs heavy in a cemetery, heavy as the stones that mark the graves of its inhabitants. I told dad about his new medal and placed it on his gravestone and had a long chat with him about it and some other things too. I knelt and blessed myself and said a prayer. I saw that someone had left a small artificial potted plant and an American flag on either side of dad's gravestone. It made me glad to know that someone else had been thinking about dad. I later found out that they had been left there by my half-brother, Rick, and his mother, Susan. Bells tolled at the little chapel near dad's grave and they reminded me that this desolate cemetery was not my place and that the time had come to leave this cold, snow-covered quiet place to the resting souls. So I left my father there again, like I had done long ago. I told myself that next time it would not be so terribly long. His father and his father before him are buried there, so he rests easy amongst his ancestors.
War Buddies Unite
Dad and John Bills horsing around about 1958 or 1959
when the Bills family came to visit the Webers
Dad never once mentioned this next fact to me or to anyone else that I know of. I found this piece of information on his discharge papers. Only recently have I come to know what an amazing and humble man he was. My father was awarded a high honor by his country, the Distinguished Flying Cross. This medal is awarded for individual achievement and is our nation's fourth highest-ranked medal awarded for valor, surpassed in his branch of service only by the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star. A simple Google search provides the significance of this individual award, as quoted below.
Dad's Distinguished Flying Cross
"The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, distinguished himself or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The performance of the act of heroism must be evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty. The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from his or her comrades or from other persons in similar circumstances. Awards will be made only to recognize single acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement and will not be made in recognition of sustained operational activities against an armed enemy."
In late 2012 I sent a letter to the United States National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO responsible for military records retention in an attempt to learn more about the circumstances for which dad's flying cross had been issued. Some weeks later a nice gentleman called to discuss my records request and informed me the records had been lost in a fire on July 12th and 13th, 1973 which burnt a significant portion of all WWII records maintained there. Our government does many things very well. It especially exceeds at letting our valuable records burn. As an amateur genealogist, I regret the loss of nearly the entire 1890 census due to another fire in 1921. To date, the only other crew members I have been able to verify as having received the Distinguished Flying Cross are Sam Hamilton (per his 2015 Opp Hall of Fame inductee summary), Clifford Stone, and John Murphy. Of the several medals dad was awarded the majority of them are classified as Medals of Valor and include his Distinguished Flying Cross, Air, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Prisoner-of-war medals. I think dad would say he didn’t deserve medals for "doing his job" or just for being a prisoner-of-war, even though his country believes he does. That’s just the kind of guys fellows from that generation were. They had a job to do and they stepped up to do it halfway around the world. They were boys, mostly aged 18 through 20, who willingly enlisted into a branch of the military that experienced about a 50 percent mortality rate. Their country required up to 50 missions of them, and not many could go the distance through no fault of their own. They took their knocks and moved on, never expecting too much in the way of reward or recognition. The lucky ones returned to their homes, their heads bloodied but unbowed.
Flier Returns to United States[Note: An undated article from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Note the incorrect information in the article, "... prisoner of the Germans until March, 1945" should be "... prisoner of the Germans until May, 1945". Additionally, his Air Medal has three oak leaf clusters.]
The above article indicates that dad returned home on a ship with the 86th Blackhawk Division. My research indicates that the Blackhawk Division returned to New York's 86th St. Pier on June 17, 1945 aboard the USS General J. R. Brooke after having helped in the processing of German prisoners-of-war. Dad's discharge papers confirm his return to the United States on June 17th after leaving Europe on June 11th. Dad was discharged from service on October 31, 1945 at Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio. He was later awarded the Victory Medal on September 19, 1947.
Click HERE for a list of the 460th Bomb Group Missions.
Major General N. F. Twining issued an undated letter to all members of the 15th Army Air Force following the victory in Europe. In it he congratulates all his soldiers and support personnel and wishes them well in their new assignments "in the Pacific, in the United States, or with the Occupational Air Force ...". His nine page letter notes specific achievements in Counter-oil Operations, Counter-air Operations, Communications, Ground Cooperation, Ground Armament And Ammunition, Recovery of Airmen, and Service Command Achievements. A summary of some of the accomplishments and metrics achieved by the airmen in the 18 month existence of the 15th Air Force includes: destruction of all gasoline production within its range in Southern Europe; 6,286 enemy aircraft destroyed; destruction of all major aircraft production factories in its sphere; crippling of the enemy's transportation system; and the provision of aid and support to ground troops. He goes on to note that 309,126 tons of bombs were dropped on 12 countries including eight capitol cities, 151,029 bomber and 89,397 fighter sorties were completed, 3,379 aircraft were lost, and an untold number of lives.
"Not In Vain"
The physical damage done by all those bombs that were dropped by the Americans, British, Germans, Russians, and all the rest who flew bombing missions has been repaired, built over, and mostly forgotten. But a small percentage of the bombs that fell still haunt the new generations and remind us of the horrors man wrought upon man on a massive and epic scale. Even today, unexploded bombs are found and must be dealt with since they still hold the destructive power they had the day they fell from the sky. Over 2.7 million tons of bombs were dropped in Europe during the war. One source indicates there are still thousands of tons of unexploded bombs left to discover. In Germany, where over 2,000 tons of unexploded ordnance are discovered every year, before excavation can begin for any construction project, the area must be certified as clear of bombs. Some of the bombs that are found still explode, the ones that don't still result in the evacuation of sometimes tens of thousands of citizens while the bomb can be diffused or intentionally exploded. An industry now exists that specializes in the identification of unexploded bombs by evaluating archived WWII era aerial photos for likely candidate dormant bomb sites. Instruments are used to detect the presence of an old bomb and a fearless explosive ordnance disposal team is brought in to deal with the deadly ghosts from the past. In an interview of one bomb disposal team member the interviewee comments that the bombs are still deadly because of the high quality construction by both the British and Americans of the trigger or fuze mechanism. He cites that the British used brass components while the Americans used alloyed aluminum, both of which resist corrosion and still function as designed.
The war wound down for the 460th Bombardment Group. It had flown its last combat mission on April 26, 1945 and transitioned to end-of-war endeavors. The Bomb Group participated in "Green Project" which was the effort to transport troops back from Europe to the United States via the South Atlantic Transport Route. Many of the B-24s were demilitarized, had their bomb bays permanently sealed, and were equipped as troop transports capable of carrying 30 servicemen on the trip back home. On June 6, 1945 the 460th BG moved from Italy to Waller Field, Trinidad. On June 30th, it moved from Trinidad to Natal, Brazil. The 460th BG served in the transport capacity through most of September 1945.
The 460th Bomb Group was officially inactivated on September 26, 1945 under orders from the War Department. The Bomb Group's service is recorded on the commemorative bronze plaque, shown above, along a pleasant walkway at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. My research disclosed one interesting fact about dad's 460th Bomb Group/763rd Bomb Squad that is not pertinent to this story, but bears mentioning in closing. Author Peter Hoffman indicates in his novel Hitler's Personal Security that "In mid-June 1944, six B-24 bomber crews of the American 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squadron, at the Spinazzola airbase in Italy were instructed to bomb a point where Hitler was thought to be in a villa some sixty miles south of Berlin. The briefings, however, ended in a stand-down twice because of bad weather over the Alps, and then the mission was abandoned." The recorded voice memoirs of 460th BG, 761st BS Pilot Thorton L. Carlough corroborates this information. Carlough indicates that there was a briefing by Col. Bertram Cowgill Harrison for a June 19th mission to bomb a group of houses where Adolph Hitler was believed to be staying per intelligence reports. An American Heritage magazine article entitled Your Mission: Kill Hitler by the 460th's Leroy W. Newby mentions that the Colonel began his briefing with the words "Today your mission is to kill Hitler" and that he also indicated "The target is beyond your fuel range, so you will not make it back to friendly territory. The planned mission entailed a diversionary bombing north of Berlin by the 8th Air Force. The 15th Air Force aircraft, with the exception of the 460th BG, were to bomb Romania to pull German fighter aircraft in from the Balkans. The 460th BG aircraft were to split off from the main group at a point over the Adriatic Sea and proceed to the reported location of Hitler. The 460th was to fly in low and after the bombing, understanding that fuel would be low, would proceed to northern Italy, ditching in the Adriatic Sea if necessary. The mission was cancelled that day, and the next. Carlough indicates that security measures were increased during the preparations for the anticipated mission. Italian civilian workers were either not permitted on base or not permitted to leave the base for fear of leak of mission details. Carlough also indicates that the 460th BG was chosen for this mission due to its outstanding record.
The airbase at Spinazzola that once heard the thunderous roar of hundreds of powerful 1,200 horsepower engines preparing for takeoff and, in stark contrast, the quiet murmur of crews reciting prayers and pre- and post-flight checklists no longer exists; a calm and stillness has fallen over the rural area. The tents, buildings, and towers were all removed. Flags no longer flap in the Italian breeze and windsocks no longer turn on their poles, telling the airmen how and where to land. All were folded and sent away. Operations ceased in August 1945. Many years later, even the remaining tufa block structures the airmen had paid the local workers and Italian prisoners-of-war to construct as upgrades to their canvas tents were torn down, the blocks hauled away for use elsewhere. What remained was bladed down, back to earth. Most buildings had been scavenged for local building materials even earlier. Dad's was bladed down or scavenged along with the rest of them. The walls of dad's hut had risen to five feet by the time they got shot down. Dana Satterfield, who was not on that November 16th mission, was assigned to another crew that already had its own hut. Dana sold his old crew's hut to a new crew for $75.
The perforated steel mats that served as the runway surface were removed and salvaged. Some of that runway matting can still be seen in nearby towns, incorporated into street scenes and residential and commercial areas as fencing, gates, and other creative uses. Swords into plowshares. Bright green and red flares would never again rise, sputtering into the sky, and Dolly Tower, that welcoming landmark, that sign of home to the wounded and battle-weary airmen, no longer casts its cool shadow over the airstrip. The land was restored and returned to the Lorusso family who owned it. Many of the family's original buildings still stand and are actively used. One room in the farmhouse where mission briefings were conducted has a memorial to the bomb group. On the wall is an American flag signed by many former 460th bomb group members who had returned to Spinazzola to remember their time in the war. The land itself would eventually, for the most part, heal its own wounds, shedding the scars caused by soldiers and their war machines and go on to serve the more peaceful endeavor of farming. Wheat would once again grow where the bombers used to rumble down the runway. Faint scars are still visible at coordinates 40° 56' 40" N 16° 13' 42" E. The land is now a patchwork quilt of farmland and solar arrays for power.
In a post-war world, there was no role for the huge numbers of old warbirds and technological changes would have made them obsolete in any event. Still, I can't help but feel those trusty ships deserved a better ending than they received. While some of the old B-24s continued for a time as cargo and transport ships, and a few dozen found a role in India's military service for a while, the vast majority of the bombers were stripped of armament and battle gear, outfitted with long-range fuel tanks, and flown back to the US loaded with returning soldiers. Many more were consolidated in salvage yards around the world. In Arizona where I live, there is a city called Kingman. Kingman was the site of one large salvage operation which function was to chop aircraft deemed obsolete into manageable pieces that could be fed to the smelter, ultimately reducing the old bombers to huge ingots of shiny aluminum. The Wunderlich Contracting Co. of Jefferson City, MO won a bid to operate the salvage process in Kingman and processed 5,482 aircraft of various types over 18 months of operation. They recovered 10,341 lbs of aluminum per aircraft on average, all types combined. One sources indicates that a B-24J had an empty weight of up to 38,000 lbs. An informational video of the period about Ford's Willow Run factory indicates that of that weight about 85% was aluminum. This yields about 32,300 lbs of aluminum per B-24J. The aluminum re-entered the consumer markets as pots, pans, and parts of automobiles in 1948. Other aircraft types, such as the B-29 Superfortress, the A-6 Intruder, and the C-47 Skytrain were believed to have a future role in military service and stored at places like the deserts near Tucson, AZ. So ended the existence of the battle-weary aluminum veterans of the skies. Today, there are only two flying B-24s left in the US and several non-airworthy B-24s on static display around the world.
Transforming B-24s to Aluminum Ingots - a guillotine is dropped by crane to chop the old bombers, a smelter consumes the pieces, and aluminum ingots are stacked as testimony of the efficiency of the operation.
I suspect that with time and third-party perspective all things heal. In my research I corresponded briefly with German historian Dr. Susanne Meinl, who at the time was working on a book and documentary of two aircraft and crew from dad's 763rd Bomb Squadron downed near Munich. July 19, 1944 was a very bad day for the 460th Bomb Group. The Joseph F. Semradek and Bill D. Rhodabarger crews from dad's squadron were shot down along with five other crews from the bomb group. Dr. Meinl wrote to me in April 2017 and expressed an historian's balanced perspective. "So, after more than 70 years, History has not only tears and sadness to offer but hope, peace and mutual understanding".
Dad in a Work Newsletter; May 1979
Stalag Luft IV was abandoned and ultimately raised. The area is now a dense young new forest and little signs of its existence remain. Those who stroll through the forest will hear nothing but the sounds of birds in the trees and the rustle of detritus underfoot. Some may stumble upon a building foundation or a bit of rubble and briefly ponder what structure could possibly have been in such a beautiful and serene place.
As for Stalag Luft I after the victory in Europe, for a short while after evacuation it served as a field hospital operated by the 1st Medical Battalion. It also provided some use to the Soviet troops and to the Soviet Secret Service, NKWD, who used the site from approximately May to October 1945 for interrogation and processing of Russian forced laborers who had been held by the Germans.
Stalag I as 1st Medical Battalion Hospital
Today, not much remains of Stalag Luft I, the adjacent forced-labor airplane factory where emaciated workers were found too far gone to even stand, or the Flak training facility. There is a memorial that has been constructed to remind passersby of what once stood on the site during the turbulent time of global upheaval. The memorial is beautifully landscaped with a large granite boulder sitting amidst a maintained flower garden. On the boulder are two bronze plaques, one in German, the other in English. To one side of the boulder are four flag poles flying British, American, Russian, and the POW/MIA flags. Forming the apexes of a triangle are stands of three types of trees - American pine, British oak, and Russian birch. This triangle can easily be distinguished in Google Earth at coordinates 54°22'40.73" N 12°41'53.65" E. The memorial plaque reads:
"This plaque is dedicated by the citizens of Barth and the Royal Air Force Ex-prisoner of War Association on 28 September 1996 to commemorate all those held prisoner at Stalag Luft I. Sited here from July 1940 to May 1945:
Members of the British Commonwealth and United States of America Air Forces and their Allies from the occupied countries and Soviet Union.
Nothing has been forgotten."
"NICHTS IST VERGESSEN"
The Stalag I Memorial Plaques (German & English Versions)
Hub Zemke, the leader of the prisoners at Stalag Luft I, continued on in the Air Force and had an illustrious career. He stayed in Germany for quite some time in various command roles including that to help organize and oversee the Berlin airlift. He eventually returned to the United States, served in various high level command positions, and ultimately retired in 1966 after 30 years of service to his country. Hub died on August 30, 1994 in Oroville, CA, but he would not be forgotten. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2002.
It is not known what became of Commandant Von Warnstedt. Even his first name is not known. His predecessor, Col. Willibald Karl Scherer who had been relieved of his duties and assigned to the Army likely for his leniency towards the prisoners survived the war and lived a long life. He died in 1969.
The White L for Love flew one official combat mission on a cold November day in 1944, but that flight changed the lives of its crew. The loss of the White L for Love and its crew is officially documented in the Army Air Force's Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) No. 9940 on file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Life AfterwardsAs I wrote this, some thought kept resurfacing from time-to-time. It had to do with these men and their time in the war. I still can't quite quantify it sufficiently, but it is bounded by two facts: the fact that just a small portion of their lives, relatively speaking, was spent in the war effort and, for some of the men listed below, the same applies for their time in the prison camps; and secondly, the fact that, I think for dad and maybe some of his mates, it truly was a defining, shaping period in their lives. It was a time, the remembrances of which they carried with them and in a way made them who they are. It seems like that period in our world's history was condensed, almost as if a lifetime of experiences were compressed into a handful of years.
"Nichts Ist Vergessen" - "Nothing has been Forgotten"
Upon enlistment, the young airmen made the commitment to their county to serve "for the duration of the war or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law". All of dad's original crew and those on his last mission met that obligation, some, like Bo Barger and Maury Caust, giving their lives in the process. In 440 B.C., an age so long ago it's almost forgotten, Herodotus wrote "In peace sons bury their fathers and in war fathers bury their sons". Almost two and a half millennia later, it's true as it ever was. Wars do end, and soldiers, for the most part, return home. Rubble is cleared, bricks are stacked and re-used to repair damage in the years of rebuilding that follow. It's an age-old formula, one that applies to the World War II soldiers and the devastation they left behind. The early war years in America saw industry and production turned to military focus. Car makers turned out bombers and tanks, appliance manufacturers made machine guns. It is ironic and perhaps fitting in some sense that the mirror image of this transformation took place in Germany in the post-war years. BMW produced luxury cars instead of aircraft engines, Messerschmitt produced sewing machines and looms instead of fighters.
The 460th Bomb Group airmen and all the others who survived returned home and to their lives after the war. As for dad's original crew members and the crew of the first and only mission of the White L for Love, some stayed with the military, some picked up where their lives had left off before enlistment, and some embarked on new paths. The following is what I have been able to determine became of the ten original crew members and the others on dad's last mission.
Harold Franklin Adams (8/14/1923, Long Beach, CA; 11/24/1991, CA)
Serial No. 19175959
John Marshall "Budge" Alcorn (10/19/1923, Pontiac, IL; 11/8/1978, San Francisco, CA)
Serial No. O-722969
John Marshall Alcorn was the son of Dr. Clare Alexander and Hazel Beatrice (Brown) Alcorn. John's father was a dentist in Pontiac, IL and his mother was an accomplished local artist. John's sister was Elizabeth Jane (Alcorn) Keiser (wife of Howard Eugene Keiser) who preceded him in death. John was known as Marshall in his younger years and had the nickname of "Budge". Articles in his local newspaper, The Pantograph of Bloomington, IL, announcing his missing in action and ultimate status as a POW on December 2, 1944 and January 9, 1945, respectively, still referred to him as "Budge". He was what would be called a super-achiever today. As a young man, he had distinguished himself to the point of receiving an invitation to the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt, old horse face herself. He was actually invited to spend the night in the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt also mentioned him in one of her "My Day" articles. John enlisted in the Air Corps on November 11, 1942 in Boston, MA and completed his Navigator training in Mississippi in May 1944. John was not part of dad's original crew, but was on the last mission. John was attending Harvard University before enlistment and he returned to Harvard after the war and completed his degree. He was awarded the Augustus Clifford Tower Fellowship in June 1948 to study abroad in France and he chose the Sorbonne. John continued in his studies and became an author and English professor and taught at Harvard, Fordham, and lastly at San Francisco State University. An article about John indicates he had written, produced, and narrated 30 educational programs for the NBC, CBS, and ABC television networks. He also served as a staff writer for The Stanford Daily newspaper. The San Francisco State University ethnic studies webpage memorializes him to this day for his involvement in the campus's civil rights movement. He is specifically mentioned as a supporter of the November 6, 1968 through March 21, 1969 strike at the then San Francisco State College, now San Francisco State University, led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front. That strike, the associated demonstrations, and building occupation captured the nation's interest and was the longest strike by students at an academic institution in history.
Emmett Warren Barger (1924, Augusta Co., VA; 11/11/1944, Adriatic Sea)
Emmett Warren Barger, son of Emmett Warren and Katherine (Coyner) Barger, enlisted February 18, 1943 in New Cumberland, PA. He was lost over the Adriatic Sea as described in the November 11, 1944 mission description above. His name appears on the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Memorial in Nettuno, Lazio, Italy. A scholarship was established by his parents in his name at Washington and Lee University and still exists to this day.
John Ewing Bills, Jr. (10/22/1925, Nashville, TN; 4/12/1996, Nashville, TN)
Serial No. 14200293
Morris Caust (about 1924, New York; 11/16/1944, Austria)
Serial No. O-723579
Morris was the son of Samuel and Bella Caust. Samuel and Bella (Biele Namowetzky) Caust were born in Russia (Samuel in Kiev and Bella in Harkove) and had immigrated to America aboard the same ship arriving in America on August 1st or 2nd, 1911, depending of what records you believe. They married on April 1, 1917 in New York. Early on, Samuel was an apron maker and he later became a tailor. He was naturalized on February 15, 1926. He passed away on October 16, 1938. Their children were Daniel, Robert, Morris, and Leonora. After Samuel died Bella applied for naturalization on October 7, 1939 and shortly thereafter became a citizen. Bella did a fine job raising her family and passed away on January 12, 1962.
Morris Caust enlisted in the Air Corps on November 2, 1942 in New York, NY. He was not part of dad's original crew, but was on the last mission. He was killed by an Austrian farmer after safely bailing out of the White L for Love on November 16, 1944 for allegedly "not raising his hands at once". Morris was initially buried in the Oberndorf Cemetery in Austria. His death was a war crime and the man who killed him was tried, found guilty, and served ten years in prison for the crime.
As I began my search for Morris's remains, I found that his parents are both buried in the Montefiore Cemetery, Springfield Gardens, Queens Co., NY. Also buried in the same section was a Morris Caust shown on the cemetery's online records with a death date of January 23, 1949. A researcher I had corresponded with in Austria was unable to find Morris's grave at the Oberndorf Cemetery where German military records showed him buried. For quite some time, I had suspected his remains had been exhumed and reinterred in his home state of New York and that the 1949 date represented the reinterment date. I had not seen the gravestone at this time even though I had made requests online to obtain photos from volunteers. In telephone conversations, Montefiore Cemetery staff confirmed their records as showing a death date of January 23, 1949. They did not have gravestone inscription information and consequently were unaware of the actual death date as correctly shown on the gravestone. They were unable to confirm that the 1949 date was a reinterment date or whether if this Morris Caust was the one I was searching for. They did indicate that at one point the cemetery had received a request from a Robert Caust for a grave site clean-up. I suspected that this was Morris's brother based on census records I had seen. Additionally, I spoke to a very pleasant and helpful woman at the Army office responsible for recovery of the remains of US soldiers. While she was unable to confirm recovery of Morris's remains, she indicated that his remains are not listed as missing which typically means the remains have been found and recovered. She further indicated that since Morris had a known burial site (Oberndorf cemetery) his remains would have been looked for, exhumed, and returned to the US, that is of course if they were found.
The Montefiore cemetery records listed a Dr. K. Gasworth as next of kin, but had no contact information for him. After researching further I was able to establish a connection between the Causts and Gasworths based on a 1955 social page article in a Rockaway Beach, NY newspaper and believed I had identified the correct individual listed as next of kin. In my efforts to recognize Morris's service and ultimate sacrifice to his country, in August 2016 I sent Dr. Gasworth a letter and also emailed his son and hoped for a reply. At that same time, I had also found contact information for the Robert Caust I believed to be the surviving brother of Morris Caust and had sent him a letter after not getting an answer on his phone. I called these attempts at contact "message in a bottle" inquiries and had sent out many others on aspects of this research project. Most go unanswered. I had also sent a form to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri hoping publically available military records would shed some light on Morris's final resting place. The Records Center responded promptly and indicated no records could be found.
On an overcast and rainy day later in August as the monsoon season here in Arizona was drawing to a close I was reading a novel on my day off. My cell phone rang and I could see it was a long distance call which I first thought was a marketing call or some service simply gathering active phone numbers. I remembered my recent flurry of letters, voicemails, and emails, my messages in bottles, so I answered. There was a small and pleasant woman's voice on the other end - "Is this Mike Weber? I received your letter". My book, reading light, trusty ASU bookmark, and reading glasses scattered across the room as I leapt up and ran toward my notepad and pencil in the other room. I was so happy to receive a call from Pauline Caust, wife of Morris's brother Robert. She had found my message in a bottle. She spoke on behalf of her husband Robert who I could hear in the background chiming in from time-to-time. She wanted to let me know that Morris was a kind and bright young man and a "mensch", which made me smile. I could hear Robert telling Pauline to let me know I was welcome in their home and to come visit them. We spoke for some time and it was easy to see that Morris came from a loving family which feels his loss to this day. The Caust family history is that Morris was killed by a Nazi who had seen the "H" for Hebrew on his dog tags and killed him because he was a Jew. Pauline was sorry that such a time of hate and wholesale murder existed. She also said that Morris's brothers, Daniel and Robert, both served in the Army Air Force and returned safely. She confirmed that it is Morris who is buried in the Montefiore Cemetery and believes the date is the reinterment date. I let her know I would send her information about Morris that I have gathered over the years, which I have since done. She said she would send me a picture of their lost but not forgotten Morris Caust. Sadly, I never received a picture and have opted not to press the Causts for one any further.
It was a different kind of telephone call for me. Most of my contacts have been with agencies, cemeteries, fellow researchers, or sons, daughters, or grandchildren of servicemen, all removed from having lived the actual events of the time. Pauline's passion, raw sense of loss, and total incomprehension for understanding of global-scale genocide had an effect on me. It was first-hand knowledge and emotion of a time I had dredged for her and her husband from a past that simultaneously should and should never be forgotten. The Caust family has lived these many years believing that Morris was murdered by a Nazi because he was a Jew. I shared with her my knowledge of Morris's death and that while the man who killed him was indeed a Nazi he did not kill Morris because he was a Jew. Josef Hangöbl shot Morris because Josef was a scared and possibly hateful man who decided to shoot an unknown and unarmed enemy soldier from a distance without any prior interaction or personal knowledge. I let her know that the Austrian doctors tried to save Morris's life, but that Morris died after surgery. I apologized if my contact had brought back memories that caused her pain. Ever the elegant lady, she thanked me for contacting her and for talking about Morris and for my wanting to know more of who he was and what happened to him. I told her I would do my best to ensure his sacrifice is not forgotten. Many months later, after this conversation had settled properly on my mind amongst all the other facts and data, I thought about Dr. Suzanne Meinl and the comments she wrote me regarding how history offers not only tears and sadness but hope, peace, and mutual understanding. I hoped that my recount of what happened to Morris Caust that day somehow helped the Caust family.
In January 2018, I was able to obtain photos of Morris's gravestone. It is a tall, beautiful, gray stone four-sided obelisk standing tightly in the midst of other many other gravestones in an old and expansive cemetery of 150,000 or so grave sites. Those pictures, two of which I have included above, were taken by my son Matthew as a wonderful gift to me while he was on a business trip to New York. The portion of the inscription in Hebrew reads "Here lies Moshe, son of Shmuel", using the Hebrew names for Morris and his father Samuel. Morris rests peacefully with his parents after giving the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Arthur Raymond Godar (1/8/1924, Milwaukee, WI; 2/6/2011, Ft. Myers, FL)
Serial No. O-772165
Samuel Marlin Hamilton (9/15/1922, Wiggins, AL; 3/3/1987, Opp, AL)
Serial No. O-827804
Robert David Kuhne (12/27/1921, NY; 12/8/1990, New Haven, Allen Co., IN)
Serial No. O-706318
Robert David Kuhne, son of William Joseph Werner Kuhne and Anna Kuhne, was born in New York. He enlisted June 29, 1942 in New York, NY. He was not part of dad's original crew, but was on the last mission. He married Thelma Helena Parsons. He remained in the Air Force after liberation, attained the rank of Major, and served as an instructor in electronic countermeasures and electronic warfare at many bases including those in San Antonio, Houston, Biloxi, Tampa, Tucson, Chicago, and El Paso. He retired in 1962. He, his wife, and three children (all three born in Texas) then moved to New Haven, IN. He worked in the food processing industry, retiring from Beatrice Foods in 1985. Thelma preceded him in death in December 1980. He remarried perhaps twice, first to Dorothy Alexander, lastly to Denise Emmanuelle Augustine (Peau) Kimmel. He died in New Haven of a heart attack in 1990. He was survived by his wife Denise; his two sons, Eric Robert Kuhne and Wes Parsons Kuhne; daughter, Dawn Elyse Howell; and seven grandchildren. His wife Denise died December 11, 2003. His obituary mentions his service during World War II as a navigator and his time as a prisoner in Germany.
Otto Ernest Mattiza (10/6/1924, Bastrop Co., TX; 12/26/2003, Weimar, TX)
Serial No. 38461152
Otto Ernest Mattiza was the son of Ernst (Ernest) Robert and Emily Bertha (Ruhrmund) Mattiza. He married Anna Pauline Vollette on July 13, 1943. She preceded him in death on November 15, 1990. Later in life, on December 14, 1991, he married his second wife Virginia Neil Hagood in Weimar, Colorado Co., TX. Virginia was the daughter of Perry Allen and Christina Hagood. He was a deacon at his church and a member of the VFW. At the time of his death he was survived by two daughters and two stepsons, eight grandchildren, and eleven great grandchildren. Otto is buried in the Weimar Masonic Cemetery, Weimar, Colorado Co., TX. Otto's name appears on the Weimar Veterans Memorial plaque located at N. Mechanic St. and E. Main St., Weimar, Colorado Co., TX.
The 1930 census gives good insight as to how and why Tex could speak German. In his parents' house are both of his grandmothers, Julia Ruhrmund and Hannah Mattiza, both born in Germany. The Stalag Luft IV roster provides his wartime address as 93 San Jacinto Dr., Austin, TX.
John Edward Murphy (8/28/1921, Greenfield, MA; 9/27/2007, Lake Worth, FL)
John Murphy was the son of John Patrick and Ethel Pearl (Markle) Murphy. John Murphy was not on dad's last mission. He continued on in the war and military life and eventually retired from the Air Force Reserves with the rank of Major. John worked at the Greenfield Tap & Die for 20 years and also established a rubbish removal company from which he retired in 1981. He married his hometown sweetheart Marjorie L. Bassett, raised two sons, Peter J. and Michael O., and two daughters, Sandra L. Conley and Jacqueline M. Murphy-Gordon, had a good life, and spent his final years in Florida. Daughter Sandra provided me the pictures above of her father.
At the time of his death he was survived by his wife, all of his children, three grandsons, and three great-grandsons. His grave marker indicates he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters. His obituary mentions his time as a bombardier with the 460th Bomb Group, 763rd Bomb Squadron. John Murphy never forgot. John's ashes are entombed at the Green River Cemetery, Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA.
Joseph Stephen Rudolph (12/25/1920, Newport, Rhode Island; 2/6/2015 Greensburg, PA)
Joe was the last surving member of the original crew. Joe Rudolph was born in Newport, Rhode Island, but grew up in Massachusetts, the son of James Eugene Francis and Ida M. (Clark) Rudolph. He enlisted in the Air Corps on October 7, 1942 in Providence, RI and was a 2nd Lt. at the end of the war. Joe was not part of the crew on dad's last mission. After the crew losses, Joe was assigned to another crew and finished the war with 32 missions (his obituary indicates over 35 missions). By the end of the war, Joe had become a pilot. After his return to the states, he went to college at the University of Pittsburgh, earned a BS in Chemistry in 1948, and worked for DuPont and Westinghouse until retirement. He last lived in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Joe, along with his wife Pauline (daughter of Lawrence B. and Antonia [Ciotoli] Spinelli) and son Joseph Philip Rudolph, made the trip back to Spinazzola around 2003. An online memorial for him submitted by his son Joe as part of the National WWII Memorial in Washington, DC lists Joe as "Pilot, B-24 Bomber, Spinazzola, Italy" and provides his hometown as Turners Falls, Massachusetts. Joe was survived by his wife, three sons, James, Dr. Joseph Philip (wife Barbara), and Dr. Lawrence Eugene (wife Bianca), eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Joe is buried at Saint Clair Cemetery, Greensburg, Westmoreland Co., PA.
In 2013, I wote a letter to Joe's son, Joseph, and he was kind enough to forward my letter to his father. I received a nice handwritten letter from him on November 26 of that same year. He remembered my dad as a courageous gunner and a great soldier. He asked that I not send him any information about the 460th as he was inundated with literature and was in the process of getting rid of things.
Delbert Dana Satterfield (7/28/1921, Arden, WV; 10/26/2010, Indianapolis, IN)
Serial No. 35900812
Robert Sherman Seidel (7/20/1925, Elkhart, IN; 5/23/2007, Dallas, TX)
Serial No. 15343907
Serial No. O-803893
Richard Lee Weber (5/9/1924, Columbus, OH; 3/31/1981, Columbus, OH)
Serial No. 35216570
The following links are to the Appendices of this document and provide additional related information:
APPENDIX A - B-24 Liberator & Its Crew
APPENDIX B - 460th Bomb Group Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) List
APPENDIX C - 460th Bomb Group Mission List
APPENDIX D - 460th Bomb Group Personnel Roster
APPENDIX E - 460th Bomb Group Known Aircraft Names
APPENDIX F - 460th Bomb Group Aircraft Inventory List
APPENDIX G - 460th Bomb Group Unrecovered Airmen List
Chronology & Decorations
World War II Service Chronology of Richard Lee Weber
April 4, 1943 - Inducted, Columbus, OH
April 12, 1943 Entry into Active Service, Fort Thomas, KY
ACFT Armament School, Lowry Field, CO
ACFT Armament School, Buckley Field, CO
January 14, 1944 - Immunized for cholera
March 1, 1944 - Orders Received at HQ. Tech. School and Basic Training Center, Army Air Forces Technical Training Command, Keesler Field, MS ordered him to AAFFGS (Army Air Force Flexible Gunnery School), Panama City, FL, 54th Training Group.
March 4, 1944 - Typhoid Immunization
March 5, 1944 - Smallpox Immunization
Air Force Flexible Gunnery School Tyndall Field, FL
May 24, 1944 - Yellow Fever Immunization
About June 15, 1944 - Overseas Combat Training, Chatham Field, GA (The original crew arrived at Chatham Field from Westover Field in Massachusetts where the crew was assembled.)
June 16, 1944 - Typhus Immunization
August 1944 - Completed Overseas Training
August 8, 1944 - Crew Photo taken at Chatham Field, GA
About August 24, 1944 - Departed Chatham Field to go to Mitchell Field, NY by Pullman Train to stage their new aircraft for the overseas flight
August 26, 1944 - Arrived at Mitchell Field, NY
August 27/28, 1944 - Assigned a new B-24 J, serial no. 42-50010, built by North American in Ft. Worth, TX
September 8, 1944 - Departed for European-African-Middle Eastern (EAME) Theater, the first stop was Gander, Newfoundland
September 18, 1944 - Departed to Azores
September 20, 1944 - Arrived European-African-Middle Eastern (EAME) Theater
September, 1944 - Departed to Tunis
September, 1944 - Departed to Gioia, Italy
September 24, 1944 - Assigned to the 460th Bomb Group. Aircraft 42-50010 was taken away from crew.
September 29, 1944 - Departed to Spinazzola, assigned to the 763rd Bomb Group
October 10, 1944 - Mission No. 1, Sauerwork Ordnance Depot, Vienna, Austria
October 13, 1944 Mission No. 2, Warehouses, Banhida, Hungary
October 16, 1944 Mission No. 3, Neudorf Aircraft Engine Factory, Graz, Austria
October 17, 1944 Mission No. 4, Railroad Marshalling Yards, Maribor, Yugoslavia
October 20, 1944 Mission No. 5, Railroad Marshalling yards, Rosenheim, Germany
October 23, 1944 Mission No. 6, Aircraft Engine Factory, Augsburg, Germany
November 5, 1944 Mission No. 7, Floridsdorf Oil Refinery, Vienna, Austria.
November 11, 1944 Mission No. 8, Linz, Austria.
November 15, 1944 Mission No. 9, Linz Benzol Plant, Linz, Austria.
November 15, 1944 - Awarded Air Medal
November 16, 1944 - Mission No. 10, Marshalling Yards, Munich, Germany.
November 16, 1944 - Captured.
December 5, 1944 to January 30, 1945 - Prisoner-of-War, Stalag Luft IV
February 1945 to April 30, 1945 - Prisoner-of-war, Stalag Luft I
May 1, 1945 - Liberated by the 2nd White Russian Front of the Red Army
About May 12 to May 15 - Evacuated from Stalag I and transported to Camp Lucky Strike, near Le Havre, France
June 11, 1945 - Departed France aboard the USS General J. R. Brooke
June 17, 1945 - Arrived New York Harbor, 86th Street Pier
August 20, 1945 - Provided testimony for war crimes investigation pertaining to the death of Lt. Morris Caust
September 4, 1945 - Awarded Purple Heart
October 31, 1945 Discharged at Patterson Field, OH
April 15, 1946 - Admitted to Caterpillar Club
September 19, 1947 - Awarded Victory Medal
November 26, 2003 - Awarded Prisoner-of-War Medal (posthumously)
Medals & Decorations
Medals/Ribbons of Valor (in order of precedence)
Distinguished Flying Cross Medal
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart Medal
Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters
Other Medals/Ribbons (in order of precedence) & Decorations
Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal with Three Bronze Campaign Stars
Veterans of Foreign Wars Membership Ribbon
Lapel Button (per discharge papers)
Air Crew Member Badge (Gunner's Badge or Wings)
Aviation Advanced Cadet Patch (on Right Sleeve)
Marksman Badge with Expert Bar
Staff Sgt. Chevron Rank Insignia Patch
Technician Badge with AP Armorer Bar
Presidential Unit Citation issued November 8, 1944
Honorable Discharge Insignia Patch (a.k.a. "Ruptured Duck")
Russian Red Lacquer Star with Sickle and Hammer
Writings, records, and photographs of Richard Lee Weber
Personal family remembrances
Missing Air Crew Report No. 9940, National Archives
A History of Georgia Forts, Georgia's Lonely Outposts, (Alejandro M. de Quesada, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, NC, 2011)
9,000 FREED AIRMEN WERE "IN on KILL" IN GERMANY, (Lowell Bennett, The Globe Gazette, Mason City, Cerro Gordo Co., IA, May 10, 1945, page 10)
A Higher Call, (Adam Makos with Larry Alexander, Berkley Caliber, New York, January 2013)
Air Disaster Threatens Nazis as Foggia Falls, (The War Illustrated, October 29, 1943)
Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society, (Turner Publishing Co., Paducah, KY, 1992)
American Prisoners of War in Germany, Prepared by Military Intelligence Service, War Department, 1 November 1945
An Airman's Story, (Unpublished wartime memoirs of Sergeant John E. Bills, Jr.) provided by his son, John Bills, III
Announcement of Josef Hangöbl's conviction (Untitled), (The Times Recorder, Zanesville Signal, Zanesville, OH, October 21, 1945, p. 8)
B-24 Liberator Legend: The Plane - The People, (Philip A. St. John, Turner Publishing, 1990)
B-24 Liberator Units of the 15th Air Force, (Robert Dorr, Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2000)
Barbed Boredom: A Souvenir Book of Stalag Luft IV, (Charles G, Janis, Self Published, 1950)
Barbed Wire Interlude, (Robert W. Ludden, 166 South Pitt St., Alexandria, VA, Self Published, 1945)
Beyond Glory, Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling And A World On The Brink, (David Margolick, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York, 2005)
Caterpillar Club Association of the United States, (Turner Publishing Co., The Front Line Military History Books, Paducah, KY, 1993)
Consolidated B-24 Liberator, Vol 1, Warbird Tech Series, (Frederick A. Johnsen, Specialty Press Publishers and Wholesalers, North Branch, MN, 1996)
Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of 104th Congress, First Session, Vol. 141, Washington, Monday, May 8, 1995, No. 75 - Senate Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Forced March of American Prisoners of War from Stalag Luft IV
Disaster at Bari, (Glenn D. Infield, McMillan Co., New York, NY, 1971)
Ex-POW Bulletin, American Ex-Prisoners of War, (Vol. 49, No. 8, August 1992)
Flak Bait, (Aviation History Magazine, Terry M. Mays, pp. 22-28, March 2005)
Fliegerlynchjustiz - Gewalt gegen abgeschossene alliierte Flugzeugbesatzungen 1943 – 1945, (Georg Hoffman, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2016)
Flying In Coffin Corner, (Robert L. "Bob" Thompson, McAlister Press, Sahuaria, AZ, 1995)
Footprints In The Sands Of Time: RAF Bomber Command Prisoners-Of-War In Germany 1939-1945, (Oliver Clutton-Brock, Grub Street, London, England, 2003)
Forever Flying, (R. A. "Bob" Hoover, Pocket Books, 1996)
Gunner - An Illustrated History of World War II Aircraft Turrets and Gun Positions, (Donald Nibjoer, The Boston Mills Press, 2001)
Harrison's Flats - A Legacy For Italy, (E. J. Devrey, Cleveland, OH)
History of the 460th Bomb Group, (Duane L. and Betty J. Bohnstedt, Taylor Publishing, 1996)
Hitler's Personal Security: Protecting the Führer, 1921 - 1945, (Peter Hoffman, Da Capo Press, 1979)
Kriegsgefangenen #6410: Prisoner of War, (John L. Lenburg, iUniverse, Lincoln, NE, 2002)
Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Vol. XIV, (Selected and Prepared by The United Nations War Crimes Commission, London, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1949)
Leonard A. Siegfried Interview, The Morning Call, David Venditta, Allentown, PA, November 11, 2015
Life's Picture History of World War II, (Arthur B. Tourellot, Editor, Time Incorporated, 1950)
Log of the Liberators, (Steve Birdsall, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973)
Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, (Donald L. Miller, 2006)
My War In Italy - On The Ground And In The Air With The 15th Air Force, (Keith W. Mason, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 2016)
Operational Employment Of Lone Wolf Tactics, (15th Army Air Force, December 12, 1944)
Pictorial Highlights From The History Of The 460th Bombardment Group (H), (Edward James Devney, 1946, Cleveland Heights, Ohio)
Richard Wight Burt Interview, (Becky B. Lloyd, University of Utah, American West Center, November 19, 2005)
Story of Bomb Group Lies In A Box Filled With Photos, (The North Platte Telegraph, Teresa Wickens, September 24, 2006)
The Airmen And The Headhunters, (Judith M. Heimann, Hartcourt, Inc., Orlando, FL, 2007)
The Bomber War, The Allied Air Offensive Against Nazi Germany, (Robin Neillands, Barnes & Noble, New York, 2005)
The Final Mission of The Bottoms Up: A World War II Pilot's Story, (Dennis R. Okerstrom, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 2011)
The Forgotten 500, (Gregory A. Freeman, New American Library, New York, NY, 2007)
The Other Capri, (Kelly F. Cook, Tennessee Valley Publishing, Knoxville, TN, 1992)
The Radio Operator-Gunner Enlisted Crewmember During WWII, (SMSgt. R. W. Holley, Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, File No. 100.14, February 19, 1992)
The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission, (Martin Middlebrook, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1983)
The Tale of a Tail Gunner from Beginning to ..., (Wartime Memoirs of Richard F. "Dick" Schneider, June 2000, Brewerton, NY,(unpublished)
There Are Still Thousands Of Tons Of Unexploded Bombs In Germany, Left Over From World War II, (Adam Higginbotham, Smithsonian Magazine, January 2016)
Tucson Senior Helps Retired Doctor Receive Military Honor, (Mohave Daily Miner, May 20, 1988, page B8)
Time Out (John A. Vietor, Richard R. Smith Publisher, Inc. New York, 1951)
Untold Valor: Forgotten Stories of American Bomber Crews Over Europe in World War II, (Rob Morris, Potomac Books, Inc., Lincoln, NE, 2006)
Valor, Guts, And Glory: A B-17 Tailgunner’s Survival Story During WWII, (William L. Smallwood, Potomac Books, University of Nebraska, 2014)
Veterans History Project - James F. Allen Interview, (National Mall, Washington, DC, 5/7/2004)
Veterans History Project - Charles L. Diedling Interview, (Jack Sigler, 12/10/2002)
Vincent G. Lisanti Oral Interview, The West Point Center For Oral History, Interviewer David Siry, October 24, 2016.
Welcome To POW Camp Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, (Flight Sgt. R. F. Budgen & Sqdrn. Leader Bohdan Arct, Edwards & Broughton Company, Raleigh, NC)
Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bombers Shot Down over Germany in World War II, (Thomas Childers, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1995)
Zemke's Stalag: The Final Days of World War II, (Hubert Zemke as told to Roger A. Freeman, The Smithsonian Institution, 1991)
The VFW News (VFW Newsletter), article entitled "Behind Barbed Wire", July 1985, page 5 (believed to be from the Alabama state organization or from a Post 6622 newsletter)
Art Starratt Memoirs (http://www.awspow.net/6th.html)
Research Leads to Story of Flier's Death, (The Daily Record, Ellensburg, WA; March 8, 1988; page 18.) Newspaper article describing the October 20, 1944 mid-air collision of two 460th Bomb Group B-24s.
Letter of Gratitude, Congratulations, and Operational Summary, Major General N. F. Twining, Fifteenth Air Force, Office of the Commanding General (post-Europe victory, undated)
Wartime diary of 2nd Lt. Norman Arthur Edward Quast (prisoner at Stalag I) available at http://nae.quast.co.uk/stalagluft1.html
WW II Prisoners of War Oral History Project, Interview No. 1409, (University of North Texas, 1999) (Robert Sherman Seidel's interview)
Recorded wartime memoirs of Thorton L. Carlough, 460th BG, 763rd BS
Recorded conversations between John Bills, Jr. and Samuel Hamilton, 1984 or 1985 and November 28, 1992 provided by John Bills, III
Video-taped interview of Richard F. "Dick" Schneider, January 16, 2003, Syracuse, NY, by Michael Russerts and Wayne Clark
Video-taped interview of Clifford Stone, September 2008, El Dorado, KS, by Obamakansaseritage.org interviewer Steve Cless
August 20, 1945 war crimes testimony transcript of Richard Lee Weber, Columbus, Ohio, given to Special Agent Kevin D. Kelley, SIC, 5th SvC (provided to me by research assistant Georg (sic) Hoffman, Karl-Franzens University, Graz, Austria)
Email exchanges with Chandy Adams Andre, daughter of original crewman Harold Franklin Adams
Email exchanges with John Bills, III
Email exchanges with Duane L. "Sparky" Bohnstedt, historian for the 460th Bomb Group
Email exchanges with Sandra Murphy Conley, daughter of original crewman John Edward Murphy
Email exchanges and phone conversations with Emilee Gage, Opp and Covington Co., AL Area Chamber of Commerce
Email exchanges with (and memoirs provided by) Richard Hannigan, son-in-law of John T. "Jack" Bilek, 460th BG airman
Email exchanges with Hans Hietl, current resident near White L for Love crash site
Email exchanges and phone conversation with Christopher Howell, grandson of crewmember Robert David Kuhne
Email exchanges with Nancy Galarneau Kane, daughter of 460th crewman Francis E. Galarneau
Email exchanges with Eric Kuhne, son of crewmember Robert David Kuhne on dad's last mission
Email exchanges with Dr. Suzanne Meinl, German Historian and Researcher, Munich, Germany
Email exchanges with (and photographs, notes, and correspondence provide by) Gordon Rasmussen, Jr., son of Gordon Rasmussen, Sr., a 460th BG, 763rd BS airman
Email exchanges with Jim Weber, son of 460th crewman Roy Weber
Facebook Messenger exchanges (and T. S. Express photograph and information provided by) with Mike Slate, son of 460th ground crew member Joseph William Slate
Miscellaneous internet research
The information for the 15th Army Air Forces overall mission description and statistics comes from:
Combat Chronology US Army Air Forces, Mediterranean-1944 available at http://www.milhist.net/usaaf/mto44b.html and from 55th Bombardment Wing (H) Assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force, U. S. Army Air Corps Mission History (19 March 1944-26 April 1944) transcribed from microfilm, Army Air Force Documents 1945, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB available at http://www.zplace2b.com/1945project/images/papers/55thWing_BGMissions_WW2_Eng-1.pdf.
Many thanks go to my fellow Findagrave.com volunteers for their time and effort in locating the gravestones and providing me photos. I especially thank Sara Campbell (John Edward Murphy photo), Joe Cimino (John Ewing Bills, Jr. photo), David McInturff (Arthur Raymond Godar photo), Amy Thompson (Samuel Marlin Hamilton photo), Jimmy Stacks (Harold Franklin Adams photo), and "Franny" of Westmoreland Co., PA (Joseph Stephen Rudolph photo).
Also, a special thanks to Emilee Gage of the Opp and Coventry Co., AL area, Chamber of Commerce for the photos and information regarding Samuel Marlin Hamilton.
A very special thanks goes to John Bills III who provided me his father's memoirs, compiled as An Airman's Story, which provided much of the ten mission information and inspired me to write this account in remembrance of my father.
Special thanks also go to Iris Wallace for translating excerpts of text from books written in German.
Locations Where This Work Is Cited
Following are references and citations to my research I have found:
Uses my definition of flak. "[Michael D. Weber, writing about his father, a B-24 crew member, describes it as “a red and orange blast ending up in a thick, black puff of smoke in the sky.”
“[Flak],” says Weber, “is designed to destroy both planes and the people inside them. Sometimes the shrapnel would go in one side of the aircraft and out the other side, hitting nothing in between. Sometimes it would pierce the thin skin of the aircraft and bounce around inside a bit. Other times, the worst of times, it would go in one side and tear something inside apart. Maybe that something was mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, or human. Shrapnel was indifferent.”]
Joe Newman references my description of the Rhodes and Martin crew mid-air collision in his very well done and thoughtful Findagrave.com entry for the Rhodes crew at https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=vcsr&GSvcid=729867&FGstate=1000100&.
The Ghosts of Hero Street: How One Small Mexican-American Community Gave So Much In WW II and Korea; Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Carlos Harrison; Penguin; 2013
Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields - Spinazzola
West Virginia Division of Culture And History - West Virginia Veterans Memorial
"Writing for Ancestry.com, the son of a B-24 Liberator crew member provides a brief summary of the craft’s design and engagements in World War II, noting that many crew members believed their chances of survival were small, a belief confirmed by the fact that about one fourth of Liberator crew members did lose their lives. [Source: “B-24 Liberator,” accessed April 1, 2013, http://freepages.family.rootsweb.com/~webermd1/Liberator-Info.html.]
Memorial for Anthony J. Iurato, former B-24 top-turret gunner
Wikipedia Reference - Talk:Consolidated B-24 Liberator:
"There is a diagram of B-24 escape routes towards the bottom of this page: http://freepages.family.rootsweb.com/~webermd1/Liberator-Info.html (as well as some other very interesting stuff)."
Transcript of the B-24 American Bomber
The following links are to the Appendices of this document and provide additional related information:
APPENDIX A - The B-24 Liberator & Its Crew
APPENDIX B - 460th Bomb Group Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) List
APPENDIX C - 460th Bomb Group Mission List
APPENDIX D - 460th Bomb Group Personnel Roster
APPENDIX E - 460th Bomb Group Known Aircraft Names
APPENDIX F - 460th Bomb Group Aircraft Inventory List
APPENDIX G - 460th Bomb Group Unrecovered Airmen List