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Highest Group loss in Eighth Air Force history

 

(Extracts from a publication issued by the Kassel Mission Memorial Association)

 

On Wednesday 27th September 1944, thirty seven B-24’s belonging to the 445 BG (based at Tibbenham) were sent on a mission to bomb Kassel.  Thirty aircraft were lost on this single mission which is a record loss for any Eighth Air Force Group. 

 

Of the ten Liberators that made up the lead squadron (700 BS) one (J-5 FO 42-51547/E) made it back to Tibbenham, one (H-25 FO 42-95201/U ‘Bugs Bunny’) crashed in Belgium, two (H-20 42-9810/J ‘Terrible Terry’s Terror’ and J-5 FO 42-50784/D) crashed in France, the other six (J-5 FO 42-51541/H a 703 aircraft, J-35 CF-10497/P, J-125 CO 42-110022/F ‘Patches’, H-25 42-95078/G, J-105 CO 42-109789/A ‘Maizy Doats’ another 703 aircraft and H-25 FO 42-95128/R ‘Bonnie Vee’) were shot down over Germany. 

 

Of the ten B-24’s in the 702 BS (flying as high right squadron) none made it back to base.  One (J-90 CO 42-100331/U) crash landed at Manston (which had a special ‘lame duck’ runway) and the other nine (J-5 FO 42-50961, H-15 CF 41-29542/A ‘Roughhouse Kate’, H-20 CF 42-50321/V ‘Fort Worth Maid’, J-60 CF 44-10511/C, J-1 DT 42-51287/Y, H-25 CF 42-50383/X ‘King Kong’, H-20 CF 42-50340/H, J-90 CO 42-100308/Q ‘Our Gal’ and H-20 CF 42-50324/S ‘Eileen’) were shot down over Germany  

 

Of the ten Liberators of the 701 BS (flying as high-high right squadron) three (H-20 FO 42-94939/S ‘Heavenly Body’, J-155 CO 44-40294/C and H-20 FO 42-94921/B ‘Tahelenbak’) aborted, two (J-10 FO 42-51710/E and H-25 DT 42-51105/O ‘Sweetest rose of Texas’) made it back to Tibbenham, one (J-5 FO 42-50855/A ‘Wallet A-Abel’) crash landed at Manston and four (J-55 CF 44-10490/Z, H-20 FO 42-94863/T ‘Ole Baldy’, J-1 FO 42- 50579/R ‘Little Audrey’ and H-15 DT 41-28922/Q) were shot down over Germany. 

 

Of the nine Liberators of 703 BS (flying as low left squadron) one (J-155 CO 44-40250/O) aborted (while taxiing ran the starboard wheel off of the steel ramp into the mud which resulted in a cut tyre), one (J-5 FO 42-50811/E ‘Patty Girl’) returned to Tibbenham, one (J-5 FO 42-51549/G) crash landed at Manston and the other six (J-5 DT 42-51342/I ‘Fridget Bridget’, H-15 CF 41-29579/N, J-15 CF 42-51532/P ‘Hot Rock’, J-5 DT 42-51355/K, J-130 CO 42-110073/O and H-20 DT 42-51080/U) were shot down over Germany.   

 

Research by Walter Hasenpfug

 

Three hundred and fifteen B-24’s of the 2nd Bombardment Division were designated to bomb the Henschel engine and vehicle plant at Kassel.  The thirty five Liberators of the 44th BG deviated off course and dropped its bomb load on open fields a short distance from Goettingen into an area between the villages of Rosdorf, Gross-Ellershauven and Grone. 

 

 

 

 

After dropping their bombs the group returned on the same course as the other groups of the 2nd Division, on a route slightly further to the east.  At 11.10 (10.10 on the American watches) they were attacked by FW190s belonging to IV Sturm/JG3, II Sturm/JG4 and II Sturm/JG300 and Me109s belonging to I and III/JG4 and I/JG300.  The German fighters attacked at the moment the group was flying on a south-westerly course. 

 

By straying off course the 445th BG found itself between the rest of the returning division and the German fighters which were approaching from the east.  It is possible that the German Control Officers realized that the 445th was without fighter escort and directed all German fighters to attack them.  The FW190 assault fighters passed through the bomber formations.  The centre of aerial combat was located over the Werra valley.

 

Of the 35 planes in the formation twenty five were downed.  One hundred and seventeen American airmen lost their lives (21 from 700BS, 42 from 702BS, 15 from 701BS and 39 from 703BS).  Mustangs of the came to their aid, one P-51 was lost through a collision with a FW190, the pilot was killed.  The Luftwaffe lost 29 aircraft (four Me109s and twenty five FW190s) and eighteen pilots (seven from II/JG4, seven from II/JG300 and four from I/JG300).  One of the German pilots and possible another were shot coming down on parachutes.  The 376FS, 361FG claimed eighteen of the twenty nine German aircraft.  It is assumed the other eleven fighters were brought down by the B-24 gunners, ramming and/or mid-air collisions. 

 

Walter (Hassenpflug), at the age of twelve, witnessed J-5 FO 42-51541 (Captain John H. Chilton crew) Liberator going down: 

 

‘That morning the sound of the alarm sirens had meant that the children were sent home from school.  It was a dreary day with clouds completely covering the sky.  We were outside and suddenly heard the sound of cannon fire.  Seconds later the debris of an exploding aircraft dropped through the clouds into a wooded area.  Because of the double rudder assembly we knew it was a B-24.  Several airman were floating to the ground.  I learned later that these were the crew members of J-5 FO 42-50961 (Lt Reginald R. Miner crew).  Five air men were captured in this area immediately after landing.  Three of them (Lt Omick, S/Sgt Kitchens and S/Sgt Thornton) were wounded and were taken to a field hospital.  I went to the crash site of J-5 FO 42-51541, the debris was scattered in the woods over an area of one kilometre.  Four bodies were recovered from the front section of the wreckage.  Another dead airman was found nearby.  The tail section with half of the fuselage was found 750 metres away.

 

The next day the area was again bombed and leaflets were dropped.  All local youths of the Hitler Youth, which included me, were hastily called together to pick up the leaflets and burn them immediately.  In the process we found an American airman who was hiding.  He was turned over to the police.  Later I learned he was Lt Frank J. Bertram (navigator on J-5 FO 42-50961).

 

Of the twenty five Liberators that crashed on German soil, twenty two crashed in our area

 

 

On the same day as the attack five airman were shot to death in the village of Nentershauven.  One of them was shot by a soldier on leave immediately after he had landed with his parachute, the other four were taken to a camp and shot around midnight.  After the war, the perpetrators, who were civilians, were tried and executed.  Three of the airmen (2nd Lt John W. Gowgill (navigator), 2nd Lt Hektor V. Scala (Bombadier) and T/Sgt James T. Fields( radio operator) were from H-25 CF 42-50383 (pilot Lt James C. Baynham), one was T/Sgt John J. Donahue from H-15 CF 41-29579 (pilot Lt Oliver B. Elder) and the other was 2nd Lt Newell W. Brainard co-pilot with J-125 CO 42-110022 (pilot Raphael E. Carrow). 

 

On the 6th October 2nd Lt Flickner from J-5 DT 42-51342 (pilot Lt Joseph E. Johnson) was captured in a small village some twenty miles from where he came to earth days earlier.  The next morning a policeman picked him up and on the way to the police station shot him.  After the war the policeman was apprehended and committed suicide whilst under arrest.’ 

 

The mission

 

Frank J. Bertram (navigator in B-24J-5 FO 42-50961, pilot Lt Reginald R. Miner. Liberator went down at Gnebeneau, thirteen miles south east of Bad Hersfeld some thirty four miles south of Kassel)

‘ .... I was lead navigator in the 702BS lead plane ... My job as dead reckoning navigator was to composite my figures with those received from the PFF ‘Mickey’ navigator ... Shortly after turning at the IP, the group leader veered off course to the left ... I immediately informed Miner, who passed the word on to the group leader.  Shortly thereafter we were advised to ‘keep it together’ and stay with our lead squadron ... Having left the bomber stream, we had now lost our fighter protection ... we made our drop on Gottingen ... we made the prescribed turns - one left turn, followed by three right turns - to bring us to (the prescribed) heading back to England.  At this point we were pretty well scattered due to the turns.  We were not back into a tight formation when someone called a dogfight to the rear of the group … The Germans had made excellent use of cover and had reached our formation, ready to attack, almost undetected.  More than a hundred German fighters pounced on our group, flying about ten abreast.  They rained destruction upon all our ships practically at once … Our gunners did what they could and many inflicted losses on their attackers but by then many of our ships were blowing up and roaring earthwards in flames.  American fighters finally appeared, but too late to save our group, although they managed to destroy a number of Luftwaffe fighters.  They finally drove the attackers off.  Our ship was hit and hit badly … Eventually I and the crew survivors managed to bale out … The co-pilot Virgil China and the radio operator, Joseph H. Guilfoil, were killed.  Several others on the crew were injured.’  (Guilfoil had been hit in the thigh by a 20mm shell.  His leg was almost shot off.  The crew in the back put a chute on him and threw him out, hoping that he would be given medical help by the Germans.  Guilfoil was one of those found dead)

 

James E. Dowling  (bombadier in J-5 DT 42-51342, pilot Lt Joseph E. Johnson.  Liberator went down 600 metres north west of  Forstgut Berlitzgrube)

‘ ... we were the deputy lead crew flying in ‘Fridget Bridget’ ... We made the IP and turned towards the target at Kassel.  As we went down the bomb run, the lead crew (J-5 FO 42-51541) radioed that they we going to turn left to the secondary target as they could not pick up the target due to 8/10 cloud cover.  I had picked up the target, a tank factory ... Johnson tried to tell the lead crew that we had the target ... the information was ignored ... When the fighters were reported sighted, I called the navigator, Herbert M. Bateman, to put on his chute, I already had mine on.  He acknowledged and stated that he was too busy at the time.  By this time the enemy fighters had made their first pass and both J-5 FO 42-51541 and the B-24 to our right had blown up.  German fighters closed in and the group, which had been badly hit on the first pass, started to split up.  On the second pass we were badly hit and the navigator was cut down by 20mm.  The nose doors were blown off and he fell out. 

I spun round and grabbed him by the legs but due to the lack of oxygen and the tremendous tug of the slipstream, I was unable to pull him back into the ship.  He fell out without his chute.  I think he was already dead ... the nose turret had been badly shot away.  I fell out of the nose wheel opening ... ’

 

Howard L. Boldt (flight engineer in H-25 CF 42-59383, pilot Lt James C. Baynham.  Liberator went down 2km east of Braunhausen)

‘ At the time we first sighted the German fighters … we picked up a few bursts of flak … then we caught a direct hit between No 1 and No 2 engines in the centre of the wing.  It left a hole about nine inches in diameter .. We also lost the aileron from our left wing … when I turned around the fighters were upon us.  Several came in on our tail and although we were shooting at them, they took no evasive action.  We were bound to have hit some as they were so close … I ran well over a hundred rounds from each gun before they stopped … I looked at the window in the door to the bomb bay.  It was like looking into a furnace.  I dropped out of my turret and went up to the pilot and grabbed the inside of his helmet and told him that we were on fire - time to get out.  I motioned to the radio operator, James T. Field, and we grabbed for our chutes.  I opened the floor hatch and we dropped into the nose wheel compartment.  I hit the auxiliary bomb door lever and the doors opened partially.  This blew out all the flames.  It was at this time that I was hit, breaking both legs.  Out I went …’  

 

Leo L. Pouliot (co-pilot in J-5 FO 42-51549, pilot Jackson C. Mercer.  Liberator crashed landed at Manston, Kent.  This B-24 was repaired.)

‘ … the bomb run was much too long.  Finally … the smoke bombs from the lead ship were dropped.  We made a turn to the right and resumed our course out … After about ten minutes, things started to happen.  The tail gunner of Cecil J. Isom’s ship (J-5 FO 42-50811) to our right started to fire at something. 

Then I noticed that small white puffs were appearing throughout our formation, and realised that we were being jumped by enemy fighters.  I was on the Fighter Channel and started to call for some of the escort.  I called Balanc 3-1, 3-2 and 3-3 and was answered immediately.  I told them we were having trouble.  They inquired our position and I switched the jackbox to interphone to get our position from Milton Fandler, the navigator. 

Then our plane got several hits in the waist and the radio was knocked out.  Looking to the right, I saw just plain hell.  Planes were going down -some in flames others just exploding … The first pass that they made took most of the squadron with them.  In the 703rd only Isom’s ship and our ship was left … Our plane was shaking like a leaf in a good blizzard from the guns, all firing at the same time.  On the right a B-24 with its number three tank on fire blew up and three of the men got out of the waist.  The air was full of debris of burning planes and chutes … I saw a FW190 go down.  It flew into another in a death spin that crashed into yet a third … Meanwhile our nose gunner, Ted Hoite, was frantically busy keeping the fighters off Isom’s tail.  His plane was slightly higher than ours and a little to the right.  FW190s were coming up from beneath and trying to get him from the belly.  One of them stalled out in front of us and immediately Hoite was upon him with his guns blazing … The enemy plane just hung there trying to pump Isom’s ship with 20mm shells and Hoite keep firing his 50’s into the enemy fighter.  The FW190 caught on fire, fell over on its back and went down to disappear in the clouds.  Another fighter came up under the tail of Isom’s ship but could not get to him.  So he swung around hard to his left and came in at us at 2 o’clock, with all his guns going. 

It seemed that his whole wing was on fire … our top turret man, Kenneth Kribs, turned his turret around in a violent manoeuvre and took on the attacking plane .. The fighter kept on coming closer and closer and closer and Kribs still kept on firing.  The suddenly the enemy plane just disappeared in a cloud of debris. 

An attack came in from the left waist and I could feel several hits, which destroyed our controls, shot off our rudder, hit our hydraulic reservoir and hit several of the oxygen bottles in the waist.  Jack (the pilot) switched on the C-1 automatic pilot and we got in with what was left of the formation.  There were only four of us.  We waited for another attack, none came … We let down below a layer of cloud and saw England in front of us and the emergency field ahead.  It was really a beautiful job of navigation.  We had to use all the emergency procedures to get the wheels down and to lower the flaps.  We made a normal approach.  Jack using the ailerons and I using the C-1 with which we had to control the rudders.  The landing came up very smoothly and we taxied up to a waiting jeep … ’

 

Paul M. Dickerson (flying in J-5 FO 42-50811, pilot Lt Cecil J. Isom.  This Liberator made it back to Tibbenham)

‘ … We proceeded to the target.  Our navigator, Art Shay, advised that we were not on course, but we were flying squadron lead, not group lead.  The base navigator, a major, was flying with the group lead crew and he was in charge of the navigation.  Everything seemed to go as briefed until bombs away plus about fifteen minutes. 

We made our final turn and were headed for home.  Raymond Phillips, our tail gunner, called out fighters at six  o’clock high … In waves of ten and fifteen, FW190s poured in on us.  Machine guns were firing … everywhere B-24s, Me109s and FW190s were falling.  Some were blazing, some were smoking and some were blown to bits … A German with a black parachute drifted by our right waist window.  Bill Wagner took a bead on him, then looked at me.  I said “no” and Wagner let him drift by.  An Me109 drifted up on our left wing.  I could see the pilot plainly.  He was that close.  One burst I had him. 

Ray Phillips, the tail gunner got one FW190, as did Shay (riding in the nose turret) and Wagner.  Kyle Bailey, top turret gunner, got two FW190s.  Then all was quiet.  We waited for the kill … By now there remained only about seven of the original formation … the Germans did not come back …

When we returned to our base we found the plane in front of us firing red flares for an emergency landing.  There were injured aboard.  The tower wanted to know where the rest of the group was.  They asked to know why we were alone and asking for landing instruction.  We told them that we were the group.  By the time we landed and were getting our gear from the plane, we were surrounded by MPs.  We were told not to talk to anyone.  They whisked us off to a de-briefing room and locked us up … Colonel Jimmy Stewart (the film star) arrived from Wing and took charge of the meeting.  Since he was a veteran of many combats missions and had led us on missions, he was aware of what could happen and seemed to understand as he calmed the meeting and listened intently … On the 28th the 445th put up ten planes on a return trip to Kassel.  Our plane, ‘Patsy girl’, was the only aircraft from the previous day’s mission to Kassel that was airborne for this mission.  We did not fly her … ’

(Additional note:  In his book ‘Bomber pilot’, Phillips Ardery, wrote the following about Major Jimmy Stewart; ‘Jim was an excellent combat officer by any standards.  He was most, quiet and so deadly serious that it sometimes made me ache to see him grieve over situations for which he felt responsible but which he could do nothing about … I recall one long mission he led that was destined for a target deep in Germany … because of appalling weather he failed to hit the target … there were losses  … I drove down to Jim’s field when I heard the ships were returning early.  I got to the tower in time to see his ship land and drove to the hard stand where his aircraft was taxied for parking.  The B-24 came to a halt, the rotating propellers stopped, the bomb bay doors slid open and Jim, wrapped in his altitude paraphernalia got out … I never saw a sadder face … “Cheer up Jim” I said “If you’d led some of the missions I’ve led, you’d be proud of this one today.  What can you expect when the weather is like this?”  “I know” he drawled.  “Wouldn’t be so bad if this weren’t about the third one in a row.  If I get one more like this they’re going to arrest me as a German spy.”) 

 

William R. Linke (453rd BG)

‘As lead navigator in the 733BS I had been assigned to a number of lead crews.  On the 27th September 1944, I was assigned to the deputy lead crew, piloted by a new arrival.  Riding in the right hand seat (command pilot) was another new arrival, a personable young major … On board were a navigator and a Mickey navigator (radar scope) …

first time we ever carried three navigators.  My task was to supervise the DR man and the Mickey man … The mission was going well and we were on track … As we neared the point where we had to turn for the IP, I called the Major to advise him that we had to execute a right turn in three minutes.  He replied “OK” and called the 2BD Commander, Major Don W. McCoy, flying in John H. Chilton’s plane (J-5 FO 42-51541).  The Major strongly stated his disagreement and then my Major was on my ear, yelling “Linke, get your head out and check it again.”  This I did, carefully scanning the DR paperwork.  “All’s well” I reported.  Then I half crawled, half ran, through the nose well to the bomb bay, up to the radar deck and asked to see the radar map which I rapidly checked with the scope. 

We were right on!  The red outline map configurations were exactly what the screen showed.  Next I stopped at the mike station in the bomb bay and called the Major to tell him that we were flawless and that he had to make the turn!  The Major had great courage and trust, calling the 2BD lead and telling him we were going to turn … our decision was not met with soft words.  We made the turn.  Shortly, the teenage tail gunner screamed into the mike that there were fires in the skies … I switched to the fighter channel, heard screams, looked overhead and saw the  whole GAF (German Air Force) and cursed.  We kept going and kept busy and found later that we had clobbered the assigned target … The two navigators were most capable.  Our command pilot, the major, had a lot of guts to believe in me, and to decide to turn, in the face of the 2BD Commander’s disagreement.  It turned out that the rest of the 2BD followed us, leaving the 445BG alone on the wrong track … ’ 

(NB:  William Linke recalls that the initial navigation error was made in failing to turn towards the IP (which was just south of Osnabruck) while Frank Bertrum remembers the error was made after leaving the IP)

 

William R. Dewey (pilot in J-5 FO 42-50855.  This B-24 crash landed at Manston and was never to fly again)

‘We reached the Group IP … turned in squadron single file and dropped our bombs on the squadron leader’s salvo.  We were attempting to rally into group formation when all hell broke loose … the entire plane began to shudder and shake with the guns in the rear of the plane firing simultaneously and from the impact of 20mm and 30mm enemy shells … B-24’s in the other squadrons were going down on fire, and enemy fighters were exploding .  Our intercom went out to the waist and tail within seconds.  Our top turret gunner, Charley Craig, reported that there were five enemy fighters on our tail for a few moments … Then, as suddenly as it all started, it was all over …. Only seven planes remained at that moment to form on the one surviving PFF plane, so our squadron leader became the group leader.  Our nose gunner, Les Medlock, reported more fighters coming at us from 11 o’clock low!  Thank God they were ours.  Since the intercom was out I sent the co-pilot to the waist to report on damage … Both waist gunners and the tail gunner were wounded and bloody.  There was a huge hole in the right waist ahead of the window and the left waist window was shattered.  Control cables to the tail were partially damaged and the twin vertical rudders were frayed and appearing to be disintegrating …

there was a three foot hole in the upper surface of the wing behind the No 3 engine, where 100 octane fuel was splashing out … there was no oxygen and the electric flying suits were inoperative at the waist positions … our VHF radio performed perfectly.  I made several calls to the new group leader, asking him to slow down to 160 mph because our ship was shaking and shuddering like it was about to break apart.  It finally became apparent that we’d have to drop out of formation and slow down.  Also we had to drop down to a level where we wouldn’t need our depleted oxygen supply.  We switched to the air-sea rescue channel and called ‘Colgate’.  After we identified our plane and described the problem, Colgate had me give a long count so that they could get a RDX fix on us.  He gave me a heading and ordered me to report back every ten minutes.  About an hour later we dropped through the clouds to see the white cliffs of Dover and the super long runways of Manston directly ahead …The landing gear went down and locked perfectly.  The flaps went down all the way and the tyres were fully inflated.  The landing was one of the best I ever made in a B-24 … ’  

 

Theodore J. Myers (engineer in J-15 CF 42-51532, pilot Lt William J. Mowat.  This B-24 went down one and a half kilometres north of Honebach.)

‘We were on our way home after having bombed Kassel.  I flew in the top turret and  about 10.15 I was the first in our crew to see them, I reported them to the crew.  They were lined up, wing tip to wing tip and were coming in low at 5 o’clock … we were one of the first four or five ships of the group to go down … I fired  my guns until they kept jamming until I finally couldn’t charge them anymore.  A shell exploded near the top of my turret and it looked like one of my guns was bent.  The smoke of the shell got on the glass and I couldn’t see out,  I pressed the intercom to call the pilot and found that it wasn’t working.

When my feet touched the flight deck I felt a heavy vibration in the plane.  I looked forward and saw the pilot and co-pilot … The radio operator was sitting on the floor with his flak suit and helmet on.  They all seemed alright at the time.  I looked into the bomb bay and saw several large streams of gasoline shooting down the bomb bay doors.  A mist of gasoline was floating forward onto the flight deck … I climbed down into the bomb bay to look at the holes in the gasoline tanks … The holes were too large to seal up. So I decided to open the bomb bay doors to let the slipstream blow it out of the ship … During that time I got soaked from head to foot with gas.  The slipstream started to clear up the inside.  I turned round to get on the flight deck to talk to the pilot.  Before I could move one or more 20mm shells went off under my feet, wounding me in the right foot and both legs.  The blow lifted me up … I fell on my back on the catwalk.  Then I saw a blinding flash and I was in fire from head to foot … lost consciousness and awoke to find myself hanging in my parachute … I saw a streaming mass of fire go by me about 200 or 300 feet away.  I am sure the ship exploded about that time.  I met the tail gunner, Frank T. Plesa, who was badly wounded and burned, five or six hours later in a German hospital.  He had been blown out of his turret … ’  

 

 

(NB: Myers and Plesa were the only survivors of the nine man crew of ‘Hot Rock’.  The Kassel mission report text also stated that the pilot of ‘Bonnie Vee’, 2nd Lt William S. Bruce and his radio operator Peter Pogovich, were the only survivors of the nine men crew of H-25 FO 42-95128.  This B-24 went down 750 metres west of Richelsdorf.  The co-pilot was John P. Willett)

 

Edgar N. Walther  (pilot of J-55 CF 44-10490.  This B-24 went down at Lauchroden)

‘ … I awoke in a German prison hospital and discovered that I had received a bullet in my right elbow and torn ligaments in my right knee. To this day I have no knowledge of the accident.  My opinion is that the ship blew up and I was thrown clear.  I had a back pack parachute on.  This is absolutely all I can honestly recall about this mission or the fate of my fellow crewmen … ’

 

Jack Laswell (armourer gunner on J-10 FO 42-51710, pilot Lt D. Smith.  This Liberator returned to Tibbenham)

‘ … I was flying in the left waist position … I looked out the other side and saw what appeared to be P-51s barrel rolling up from our rear.  On looking closer, I could see that they were Me109s with enlarged scoops underneath.  At the same time, we saw red balls exploding in front of the attacking fighters.  Then all hell broke loose.  Following the Me109s were a large number of FW190s.  They were coming in from our rear and below.

It just happened that the ball turrets had recently been removed from our planes.  The fighters would come in, fire, roll over and then head for another target.  One FW190 came up on the left , between out tail and our wing, so close I could see his face.  I fired until he dropped from view.  I’m sure I didn’t miss- his windshield was completely shattered … The rear guns were firing and Lonnie Davis, in the upper turret, kept asking where the fighters were.  I don’t believe that any got high enough for him to see … planes were going down everywhere and the only thing that we could do was to protect our plane … Our wing ship … stuck close to us during the fight and this is probably why we got back in one piece.  During the fight I saw a flight of four P-51s dive in to about 25 FW190s … ’

 

James T. Engelman (flight engineer on J-1 FO 42-50579, pilot 2nd Lt Donald N. Reynolds.  This B-24 crash landed two and a half kilometres east of Polich, seven kilometres east of Mayen and eighteen kilometres west of Koblenz)

‘Moments after the tail gunner, Harry G.Twigg, shouted into the interphone, “Fighters, six o’clock”, exploding shells were hitting the plane while others exploded in close proximity.  We were badly damaged. 

 

The left inboard engine spewed flames reaching back to the left rudder.  There was a fire inside the plane on the command deck, over the bomb bays.  The oxygen and hydraulic systems were shot out, as were our radio and intercom.  The right rudder was flapping wildly as it clung to the stabilizer by the middle hinge.  The upper surfaces of the wings and fuselage were riddled with bullet and shell holes.  The top of the tail turret was open like a tin can.  Two feet of wing and flap were missing off of engine number two.

The attack was over in about five minutes or so.  From the top of ‘Little Audrey’ I could see no other aircraft, friend or foe.  We were now alone.  The pilots were working to shut down engine number two.  It would not feather.  The fuel valve was closed off and the fire died out.  Twigg, wounded in several places put out a small fire.  The waist gunners were severely wounded.  There was a strong odor of gasoline on the flight deck.  The bomb bay doors were opened to reduce the hazard.

After losing some altitude (we had no oxygen), with diminishing power, we flew westward hoping we might reach an area held by advancing Allied forces.  About fifteen minutes after the attack ended, I saw a single engine fighter coming upon our rear.  As it was in a position to attack, I prepared to shoot.  The pilot changed course, showing his AFF insignia.  It was a P-51.  He came abreast our left side and motioned to his ear phone.  I shook my head.  As there was nothing he could do for us, our little friend departed.

We crossed the Rhine river at about 800 feet and encountered 20mm ground fire.  The pilot, Donald N. Reynolds, dropped lower to escape the fire - to no avail.  To prepare for the crash the crew took their ditching positions.  Shells were hitting almost until we crash landed.  Our pilots did a great job.  The point of landing was near the railway station in Polich, twelve miles SW of Koblenz, at about noon, local time.

Within a few minutes armed soldiers arrived by truck.  They sought to make an opening to the flight deck to permit the radio operator, Bob Sheehan, the navigator, Jim Withey and me to get free from the wreck.  In the rear, the waist gunner, Lars Larsen, was dead.  The nose gunner, Bob Long, was mortally wounded.  The waist gunner, Maynard Danner, was seriously wounded.  Twigg was less seriously wounded.  All four men had been hit two or three times in the last hour.

Shortly after getting free of the plane, the six of us, who were able to walk, were led under guard … ’

(German records show that Robert M. Long died in the Bendorf-Rhein hospital at 23.00.  he was buried in the town cemetary)

 

Ernest Schroeder - II.Sturm/JG 300

‘Our group took off from Finsterwalde in FW190s at 10.00 … we were led to the bombers by Y-Command of the fighter division … After a short time we saw a large group of B-24 Liberator bombers, at our altitude …

Suddenly several of these big ships began to burn and to plunge down with fire and smoke - even before we had fired a single shot.  A fighter unit flying ahead of us had begun the attack.  Immediately the sky was full of parachutes and wreckage, and we were flying right into it … I attacked a B-24 and before I had covered the distance to my bomber it already stood in flame as a result of my six machine guns.  Both left engines of the bomber were burning.  The aircraft turned on its side and plunged.  Also the neighbouring machine was already smoking from a previous attack.  I only needed to change aim to shoot again … The explosive effect of my shells in the poorly armoured bomber fuselage was horrible …  Then this one stood in bright flames … fascinated I flew alongside my victim and stared at the metre high flames which were pouring out of the Liberator all the way back beyond the elevators.  Then this great machine clumsily laid itself over on its back and went down … I wanted to know precisely where my two opponents would fall … a double shootdown of two four engine bombers (they were also my only ones) was for us in 1944 something exceptional … I circled the wreckage of my two adversaries in large downward running spirals … the entire sky was filled with fliers in parachutes and small and large chunks of aircraft debris … I flew 1000 metres above the ground.  Below me lay a valley with forest covered mountainside … where had the two bombers fallen? … I could clearly see the crewmen who had bailed out running through the fields … suddenly diagonally from the front an aeroplane. with a yellow nose, shot towards me - an American fighter, unmistakably a P-51.  In a wink of an eye we had raced closely by each other on an opposite course and hurried both of our machines again on an opposite course so that we flew towards one another … Both of us opened fire simultaneously … the American immediately made a hit on my tail section.  My weapons, on the other hand, failed after a few seconds … After we had played this game for five or six times, there was only the possibility to fly low over the ground immediately after his flight over me and to rush off immediately … the camouflage paint on the top of my plane made it difficult for the American to find my machine against the dappled ground … My plane was a FW-190A8 powered by a 1800 hp double star engine and had four MG 151/20 guns with 2cm calibre as well as two heavy MG131 with 13mm calibre.’    

Oskar Romm - IV Sturm/JG3

‘The combat formation was led towards the enemy formation by the ground radio stations.  After visual contact was established in the air, the leader of the combat formation was given clearance to attack ... I attacked a formation of three B-24s ... I first fired into the fuselage to hit the machine gun positions, then hit the pilot’s compartment and finally hit and set on fire two engines on one wing ... I did this to the bomber on the left position of the flight, then to the Liberator on the right and lastly to the leading B-24 of the flight.  I then pulled up in a steep turn and, while flying over them, observed them going down ... ’

Werner Vorberg - Squadron Captain II Strum/JG4

‘ ... The storm group of the 4th fighter squadron had suffered devastating losses during their first engagements of the 11th and 13th September 1944 with more than thirty fold superiority of the Americans.  We had already loss 38 of the original 44 pilots, including the commander ... with great effort we had finally scratched together twenty fighters that took off in two squadrons from Welzow (south of Berlin) ...

The two units formed two spearheads with the flight captains in the middle.  This way all members of the unit got a B-24 in his sights ... the storm fighters broke through the attacking formation of B-24s with no consideration of the seemingly impenetrable hail of fire from the bombers ... from an attack distance of 650 to 1000 feet, and only after the four engines filled the target circle of the reflex sight, did we fire ... a miss of the giant monster was almost impossible at this short distance ... Whoever was not shot down had success by shooting down a bomber or by ramming … the exploding bombers led to collision losses on our side …

The aircraft (FW190 A 8/R2) we were flying had an armoured oil cooler, bullet proof windscreen, 6mm fire proof plates and cabin sides together with 9mm armour plate behind the pilot’s seat  With the complement of standard weaponry - gun type 151/20, 2MK108 calibre 3cm - the fourteen cylinder BMW 801 double star engine had double the fuel consumption.  With the fuel load raised to 960 litres through a 300 litre ejectable auxiliary tank and a 110 litre auxiliary tank behind the pilot’s seat, we could be airborne for three hours …

Within minutes the bombers stood in bright flame, ablaze, burning, bursting apart, losing wings, debris and entire engines with which some of our fighters collided … then the American P-51 escort fighters appeared … Our losses included ten machines, one squadron captain and six other pilots.  Three pilots were wounded, one of whom had rammed  … from the crash sites of the downed storm fighters the greater part of them were lost due to the defensive fire of the B-24s, which also the numerous engine hits on the returning machines proved.  Only individual pilots were wiped out by the American escort fighters on the flight home … anybody who has experienced how, literally, everything from mouse to man was irradicated in the residential section of the inner cities of Germany and seen the militarily nonsensical shooting by the host of superior escort fighters at everything that showed itself below, will understand the reason for our rush into deadly engagement …’

(Heinz Papenberg, a former pilot on the Polar sea front in Russia volunteered for the ‘Assault Groups’, of which the 3, 4 and 300 were the only three the Luftwaffe had.  On the 27th he flew his first mission for this unit.  Since he aircraft weapons failed he rammed the tail unit of a B-24.  In doing so he suffered severe injuries to both knees)  

Robert R. Volkman Sr - P-51 pilot with 376FS of the 361FG (based at Bottisham)

‘ ... I was flying No 4 in a flight of four Mustangs with Vic Bocquin leading.  After we spotted the German fighters, I remember dropping external wing tanks and diving through the clouds ... below the clouds it was P-51s and FW190s going in all directions.  I joined with Bill Beyer, as his wingman, as he was chasing and firing on a FW190 a few hundred feet above the ground.  The German pilot must have been well experienced ... He first tried flying under some transmission lines ... Next he dumped full flaps hoping we would overshoot ... Beyer and I dumped flaps and stayed on his tail ... he then tried to belly-in at very high speed.  He skidded across a field and into a small farmhouse and exploded into a big fireball.  Beyer than fired on three other FW190s as they popped through the cloud layer, the pilots took to their parachutes ... another FW190 dropped out of the clouds and started a steep turn to come on our tail. 

 

I racked my ship around in a steep wingover and, with a short burst, got hits on the wing and canopy.  The pilot bailed out ... I saw several P-51s chasing a lone FW190 and joined in the chase with Beyer now flying as my wingman.  The German pilot bailed out and we headed for home ... ’

David P. Overholt - P-51 pilot with 376FS of the 361FG

‘On the 27th September 1944 I was flying Titus Blue, No 3 position, with Leo H. Lamb on my wing, flying No 4 position ... I looked at the bombers and saw about six FW190s go through the Liberators and head for the deck.  I saw One B-24 explode and two others catch fire and fall out of the formation.  I called in the bandits and broke (at 18000 feet) to the right and down.  Lamb broke with me and Blue 1 and 2 followed me ... We went through the overcast with tops at 7000 feet ... When I broke out of the clear, I could see only one of the bandits and nothing of Lamb.  Over the R/T I heard someone calling for help.  I believe it was Lamb.  He said he had more than he could handle.  While he was calling, I could hear his guns firing over the R/T ...’  (Leo H. Lamb was the sole Mustang pilot lost during the Kassel mission) 

 

Ira P. Weinstein (bombadier in J-1 DT 42-51297, pilot Lt Myron H. Donald.  This Liberator went down one kilometre north east of Nesselroden)

After I bailed out and was captured the Krauts took me around to several of the planes that had been shot down the day we were.  I came across one plane and the crew members that died (engineer: Anthony Kislar, waist gunner James McEntee and tail gunner Lawrence A. Modlin) were still in it in a badly burned condition.  I removed their bodies from the plane and laid them out in the nearby woods.  That was the last I saw of them.  I came across our pilot’s body in a ravine about one to two miles from the plane.  His chute had been cut off him and his was stripped of all his flying apparel.  His body and face were in a badly mauled condition as though he had been clubbed or beaten … ’ 

George M. Collar (bombadier in J-60 CF 44-10511, pilot James W. Schaen.  This B-24 went down 800 metres south of Forstgut Berlitzgrube)

Since I came down closest to the village, I was the first one captured and the whole village turned out to line the streets to get a close look at the ‘American Terrorflieger’ … They marched me into the courtyard of the Burgomeister’s house … an ugly looking farmer with big fists planted his fist right between my eyes.  He broke my nose.  Both eyes were black for two weeks.  He started swinging again and I dodged out of his way … I had a feeling that if I went down the whole crowd would jump on me … he finally broke away and picked up a long handled, square-nosed spade.  He swung at me … I knew at that moment that I was fighting for my life … the Burgomesiter and the village cop came to me aid … Later they marched George S. Eppley our engineer, Lt Sommers a navigator in the lead squadron and me into the street where they had two horse drawn wagons … We proceeded out to the edge of the village and stopped.  They motioned us into an orchard and there, lying on the ground, was the body of one of our fliers … the victim (Herbert H. Bateman, navigator on J-5 DT 42-51432) had obviously been blown out of his plane as he landed without a chute, every bone in his body was broken …

In the middle of an open field we came across the body of Joseph H. Gilfoil (radio operator on j-5 FO 42-50961), he was lying in a pool of blood.  We travelled up and down the hills and forest all day … we picked up approximately a dozen bodies … ’ 

 

 

Memorial

 

In the wooded area where J-5 FO 42-51541 (Captain John H. Chilton crew) Liberator crashed, the State of Hesse Forest has set aside a property of over 4000 square feet for the Kassel Mission Memorial..  Bushes and shrubs were removed, the ground was levelled and upon concrete foundations was set a central monument stone of Nordic granite.  Heather was planted in the foreground.  All costs were from donations made by local people.  A bronze plaque, mounted on the granite stone, describes the air battle.  Stones on either side bear plaques listing the names of all the American and German airmen killed.  The plaques were fabricated in Germany and funded by Americans.    

 

 

 

 

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