The Arrowhead Club

Wilfred Frank Miller, Update

Wilfred Frank Miller at Grafton Underwood
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Last year, the youngest son of Wilfred Frank Miller, Patrick Miller, and I connected after he found my articles online about his father and his father’s B-17 crew of World War II. Patrick has shared a lot of information about his dad and his family and has made some new discoveries regarding his father’s POW experience.

Wilfred Frank Miller was the tail gunner of the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII. He was aboard B-17 42‑31222 Lazy Daisy when it collided with the John Oliver Buslee crew’s B-17 43‑37822, with my father aboard, coming off the target at Magdeburg on 28 September 1944.

Today I want to share the new information I’ve learned about Wilfred Frank Miller, thanks to his son Patrick. To view my original post and other information about Wilfred Frank Miller, please see the links at the end of this post.

Wilfred Miller, Growing Up

Wilfred Frank Miller was born February 15, 1925, at Pigeon Lake, Wisconsin, son of Fred and Mary Sadkowski Miller. Wilfred had an older brother by two years named Leo Anton Miller. Leo was born on February 8, 1923.

The family farmed first in the township of Rhine, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, then later moved to Osman, an unincorporated community in the township of Meeme, Manitowoc CountyWisconsin. Both Miller boys would grow up to serve in World War II, Wilfred in the Army Air Forces and Leo in the Marines.

Left to right, brothers Wilfred Frank Miller and Leo Anton Miller
Photo courtesy of Alyssa Miller on Ancestry.com

The boys’ father, Fred Miller, died of a heart attack on April 6, 1943, two days short of his fifty-first birthday. Leo had registered for the draft in 1942, but then delayed his enlistment until June 30, 1944. Wilfred entered the service in October of 1943. The war years must have been especially difficult for Wilfred’s mother, Mary Miller, as a widow worrying about her two sons serving in a world war.

Entry into World War II Military Service

Although I cannot find an enlistment record for Wilfred Miller, I believe that he likely did enlist in order to get into the Army Air Forces. I did find a copy of his draft registration, however.

Wilfred Miller registered for the WWII draft on February 15, 1943, his eighteenth birthday. On his draft registration, he listed his father, Mr. Fred Miller of R #1, Newton, Wisconsin, as the person who would always know his address. But Fred Miller would die on April 6, 1943, less than two months after Wilfred registered for the draft.

On his draft registration form, Wilfred Miller noted he was eighteen years old, born on February 15, 1925 in Liberty County, Wisconsin. His employer was Matthias Cheese Factory, also known as Matthias Dairy or Cleveland Cheese Factory, located in the village of Cleveland in the township of Centerville, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.

He described himself as 6’1″ in height, 164 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy complexion. Topping six feet made him pretty tall for a B-17 airman and I imagine sitting on the bicycle-style seat in his position in the tail of a B-17 was a tight fit for him.

Wilfred Miller’s induction into the Army Air Forces was 28 September 1943, exactly one year before the Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision. I believe his induction date could represent his enlistment date. He entered into active service almost a month later on 23 October 1943 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

Wilfred Miller completed two months of basic training (MOS 521) at Jefferson Barracks. He then attended six weeks of Aerial Gunnery School at Las Vegas, Nevada, where he received his wings.

Wilfred Miller completed his crew training at Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he became a member of the James Joseph Brodie B-17 crew, and departed the U.S. for combat duty in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) on 1 July 1944, arriving in England on 5 July 1944, according to his honorable discharge record. However, he actually left Ardmore somewhere between 23 and 25 June, and was in transit at Goose Bay, Labrador on 1 July.

World War II Military Service at Grafton Underwood, England

Wilfred Frank Miller’s 384th Bomb Group Individual Sortie record indicates that his duty was tail gunner, one month’s pay was $140.40, and his home address was Mrs. Mary Miller, Newton, RFD #1, Wisconsin.

Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Wilfred Frank Miller:

  • On 26 JULY 1944, Corporal Wilfred Frank Miller was assigned to the 384th Bombardment Group, 545th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944 as a tail gunner (classification AAG, Airplane Armorer/Gunner, with the MOS, military operational specialty, of 611).
  • On 2 AUGUST 1944, Corporal Wilfred Frank Miller was promoted to Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #155.
  • On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany (Target was Industry, Steelworks), Wilfred Frank Miller, flying with the James Joseph Brodie crew, went from duty to MIA (Missing in Action). He was subsequently declared POW (Prisoner of War).

Prisoner of War

On April 14, 1988, Wilfred Miller filled out an application for a POW medal. On this form he noted (with corrections) that:

  • I was captured on September 28, 1944 at Magdeburg, Germany.
  • I was at Stalag Luft No 3 [correction: should read Stalag Luft IV; Luft IV was a sub-camp of Luft III] Baltic Sea Bay, (East Side) September 28, 1944 to Jan. 1945.
  • Then at Stalag Luft No 4 [correction: should read Stalag Luft I] Baltic Sea Bay (West Side) Jan 1945 to May 13, 1945.
  • I was released [as a POW] on May 13, 1945 at France.
  • Date of discharge [from WWII military service], November 4, 1945.

Wilfred’s son Patrick requested his father’s POW Records from the Red Cross in January this year and received a reply in March. The ICRC sent the following information: A capture card dated 13 October 1944 noted Wilfred Miller was a POW in German hands detained in Stalag Luft IV. His prisoner of war number at Stalag Luft IV (Gross Tychow) was 3916. He arrived at Stalag Luft I (Barth) on 7 February 1945 according to a list sent 1 March 1945.

Wilfred Miller was listed in a Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster on page 44. He is the second W.F. Miller listed on the page, POW 3916, ASN 36834864.

Wilfred Frank Miller on Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster

Note that Miller W.F. (POW 3916, ASN 36834864) on page 44 of the roster has a circle beside his name. At the top of page 8 of the same list is an asterisk with a notation, “Men moved to Barth 1-30-45.” I believe that an asterisk, or circle in Miller’s case, signifies that the POW was moved to Stalag Luft I (Barth) on Jan 30, 1945 before the general population of the camp was to begin the march.

I believe in his POW medal application, Wilfred Miller just confused the stalag numbers after forty-three years had gone by. Stalag Luft IV was a satellite camp of Stalag Luft III, so I can see the confusion in the camp numbers.

In the past, I believed that only sick and injured POWs who were unable to walk were selected to be transported to Stalag Luft I at Barth ahead of the march. However, now I understand that is not the case, thanks to Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler of the 92nd Bombardment Group of the 8th Army Air Forces.

Candy is author of the book “What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father.” John Kyler was also one of the POWs who was moved to Stalag Luft I at Barth.

In her book, Candy writes in Chapter 31 (Train Ride to Barth),

Many of the selected group were ill or injured, but prisoners who were fairly healthy were included in the draw.

The train ride to Barth and the subsequent imprisonment in a different POW camp was not as simple as it may appear on the surface. In fact, it was just a different slice of the same living hell the prisoners had endured in their previous captivity. I will share more information about their experience from the train ride to their liberation in a future post.

In Chapter 34 (Liberation) of her book, Candy notes that at the time of liberation of the camp, the sick and injured left Barth on May 12 and everyone else on May 13, 1945. Candy’s dad flew out from the POW camp at Barth on May 13. This is the same date Wilfred Miller notes on his POW application as the date he was released as a POW. He must have been in the same group to be liberated as John Kyler.

Candy Kyler Brown stands next to a display at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force of a vest her father, John Kyler, knitted during his time as a POW in WWII

Wilfred Miller’s POW record in the online National Archives notes his Last Report Date as 4 June 1945. This possibly could have been the date he departed Europe on his return to the US as no departure date was recorded on his honorable discharge separation document, but his date of arrival in the USA was noted as 21 June 1945. He likely returned on a slow moving service members’ transit ship.

Release from World War II Military Service

Wilfred Miller was honorably discharged from military service on 4 November 1945 (his Date of Separation). His Place of Separation was the Lincoln Army Air Field at Lincoln, Nebraska. Documents list his civilian occupation as farmer.

Separation documents note he received no wounds in action and he was not awarded a Purple Heart. These facts lead me to believe that he was not physically injured in the mid-air collision of 28 September 1944.

Wilfred’s Separation Qualification Record notes his Summary of Military Occupations as,

Aerial Gunner (611). Flew on a B-17 as tail gunner in the E.T.O. for 19 missions. Was shot down and bailed out over Germany. Was taken prisoner of war and interned for 7 months. Was returned to U.S. control 13 May 1945.

Also noted in separation documents, Miller’s continental (U.S.) service was reported as 1 year, 22 days. His foreign service was reported as 11 months, 20 days as an Aerial Gunner (MOS 611).

A departure date for his return from Europe was not recorded, but his date of arrival in the USA was noted as 21 June 1945. He returned home to his mother Mrs. Mary Miller of Route 1, Newton, Wisconsin, where he would run their 80 acre dairy farm.

During his World War II military service, Wilfred Miller earned the Air Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal, American Theater EAME Theater Ribbon with 3 battle stars, Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, one Overseas Bar, and the Prisoner of War medal.

Post-World War II

On October 25, 1947, Wilfred Frank Miller married June Holfeltz at St. Isidore Catholic Church in Osman, Wisconsin.

Wilfred and June Miller Wedding
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

In the wedding photo are Wilfred’s brother, Leo Miller, and June’s brother, Edsel Holfeltz.

Son Patrick Miller notes that after the war, his parents farmed in the town of Osman, Wisconsin, a small town with a population of around 75. Wilfred was also a carpenter. Wilfred and June had six children, five sons and one daughter.

Wilfred and June Miller enjoyed traveling together and traveling with friends and neighbors, visiting relatives, and seeing sights in the US. But for the rest of his life, Wilfred kept his feet, or tires, on the ground. He never again flew in a plane after the war.

In the early 1960’s, Wilfred and June sold the cows and Wilfred went into carpentry as a profession. He worked with a few builders in Manitowoc and Sheboygan.

In the 1960’s, Wilfred purchased a nearby abandoned schoolhouse in Osman. He and his oldest sons tore it down, and built a new house on the site. Patrick Miller mostly grew up in this house. Wilfred and June lived in that house until the early 1990’s when they sold the house to build another.

They purchased land in Cleveland, Wisconsin to build the new house. Wilfred was now retired as a carpenter, but was going to do the finish work in the house himself. While temporarily living in Cleveland, and in the process of building the new house, Wilfred died in his sleep of a heart attack on June 29, 1991 at the age of 66. June had the house finished and lived there for several years before selling it. Wilfred’s brother Leo died less than three months after Wilfred, on September 10, 1991, at the age of 68.

Patrick Miller said that his dad never talked about the war, not to his kids, and not even to his wife, June. The only things Wilfred’s family were aware of were that he was shot down and became a POW in Germany. They were unaware of the mid-air collision and Wilfred Miller’s terrifying freefall toward earth in the severed tail of his B-17 until he was able to bail out and save his life with his parachute.

Brodie crew navigator George Hawkins calmly described the scene following the mid-air collision in a post-war narrative as,

The following evening (after the mid-air collision and his capture) I met two members of the crew…the waist gunner, Sgt. Liniger, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Liniger said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.

A terrifying experience for all three, I’m sure, regardless of how matter-of-factly Hawkins described the events of the explosion and how the tail simply “left the ship” with Wilfred Miller still in it plummeting toward the ground.

Wilfred’s wife June still lives in Wisconsin. Her first airplane trip was not until after Wilfred had passed away. Wilfred and June’s children Frederick, Nancy, John, Joseph, and Patrick all currently reside in Wisconsin, and Ronald resides in Florida.

In the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, Wilfred and June Miller took a trip to visit two of Wilfred’s Brodie crewmates, both also World War II prisoners of war, George Hawkins (navigator) and Bill (William) Taylor (radio operator). Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor were both held in D Lager of Stalag Luft IV. While Wilfred Miller was taken to Stalag Luft I (Barth) in late January of 1945, I believe Bill Taylor participated in the same march out of Stalag Luft IV on February 6, 1945 as my father, George Edwin Farrar, and Brodie crew waist gunner Harry Liniger.

George Hawkins was seriously wounded in the mid-air collision and was held POW in a hospital until his own liberation at the end of the war. I’ll be sharing more information about George Hawkins and his POW experience at a later date, too, thanks to 384th Bomb Group NexGen member Paul Furiga, son of bombardier Frank Furiga, who was held POW in the same hospital as Hawkins.

Photo: Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor, date unknown

Left to right, likely Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Photo: Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor, circa late 1970’s or early 1980’s

Left to right, Brodie crew mates Wilfred Miller (tail gunner) and Bill Taylor (radio operator)
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Photo: Wilfred and June Miller, and Barbara and Bill Taylor, circa late 1970’s or early 1980’s

Left to right, Wilfred and June Miller, and Barbara and Bill Taylor.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Photo: George Hawkins and Wilfred Miller, circa late 1970’s or early 1980’s

Left to right, Brodie crew mates George Marshall Hawkins, Jr (navigator) and Wilfred Frank Miller (tail gunner)
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Thank you to Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son, for sharing so many wonderful stories and photographs of his father.

Notes

Previous post, Wilfred Frank Miller

Wilfred Frank Miller’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Wilfred Miller’s POW record in the online National Archives

Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster – see page 44

MOS means Military Occupational Specialty

Previous post, Assigned Military Operational Specialties of the Buslee and Brodie Crews

Previous post, Timeline for Brodie Crewmembers and Substitutes, 545th Bomb Squadron

Previous post, ICRC POW Records Request

Missing Air Crew Report 9366 for the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944 courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Missing Air Crew Report 9753 for the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Wilfred Frank Miller on Find a Grave

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father” by Candy Kyler Brown

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

WWII Combat Chronology – 26 September 1944

I am continuing my series of articles based on the entries from Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces. Both combat chronologies are excellent sources of information regarding combat missions in World War II and I thank the authors for sharing them online.

These articles are concentrated on the operations of the 8th Army Air Forces on the missions on which the John Oliver Buslee crew and James Joseph Brodie crew of the 384th Bomb Group participated. The statistics of other dates and missions and of other branches of the American Air Forces and theaters of operation of World War II are available through the links provided in this article to these two sources for those interested.

Today’s installment is the 26 September 1944 mission in which the Brodie crew participated.


WWII Combat Chronology – Tuesday, 26 September 1944

384th BG Mission 199/8th AF Mission 648 to Osnabrück, Germany.

Target: Industry, Steelworks.

The James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron participated in this mission.

Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 entry:

400 B-17’s bomb 2 M/Ys, 2 aircraft plants, a steel works, and 2 A/Fs at Osnabruck, Hamm, Bremen, Rheine, and Hesepe, plus 3 T/Os in NW Germany. 9 P-51 gps fly escort. 8 ftr gps, including 2 attached from Ninth AF, spt First Allied Airborne Army, claiming 32 ftrs destroyed in combat. Over 160 B-24’s fly fuel to France.

Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces entry:

EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (ETO)

STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force):  Two missions are flown:

  1. Mission 648 to rail targets and armored vehicle factories in W Germany. The Brodie crew participated in this mission.
  2. Mission 649, a leaflet drop in France, the Netherlands, and Germany during the night.

Also, P-38s (from the Ninth AF), P-47s and P-51s support the First Allied Airborne Army in the Netherlands. B-24s fly a TRUCKIN’ mission carrying fuel to France. HQ 361st Fighter Group moves from Bottisham to Little Walden, England.

Mission 648: 1,159 bombers and 432 fighters are dispatched to hit rail targets and armored vehicle factories in W Germany; 9 bombers and 2 fighters are lost.

  1. 422 B-17s are dispatched to hit the marshalling yard and steel industry at Osnabruck (383); other targets hit are Rheine Airfield (10), Hesepe Airfield (3) and others (4): 2 B-17s are lost and 101 damaged; 2 airmen are KIA, 2 WIA and 18 MIA. Escort is provided by 134 of 144 P-51s; they claim 2-0-3 aircraft on the ground; 1 P-51 is damaged beyond repair.

  2. 274 of 317 hit the marshalling yard at Hamm and 1 hits Liesborn; 3 B-24s are lost and 53 damaged; 31 airmen are MIA. Escort is provided by 138 of 146 P-51s; 1 P-51 is lost (pilot MIA).

  3. 420 B-17s are dispatched to hit armored vehicle factories at Bremen (381); other targets hit are Bremerhaven (13) and other (1); 4 B-17s are lost and 208 damaged; 10 airmen are WIA and 21 MIA. Escort is provided by 133 of 142 P-51s; 1 P-51 is lost (pilot MIA) and 2 damaged beyond repair.

Links/Sources

Except for entries from Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 2

A continuation of my previous post, What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 1


A recap of the mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews on 28 September 1944…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was MACR9753. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) was MACR9366. Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.

In my father’s response to the Army Air Force’s request for information about the mid-air collision, which is included in MACR9753, he concluded his narrative with,

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.


My father died on November 5, 1982, never knowing the details of what happened to his crewmates on board B-17 43-37822 in the mid-air collision of 28 September 1944. Nor would he know what happened to the airmen of B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy, the ship with which his B-17 collided.

Dad died of cardiac arrest at the age of 61, still wearing the Air Force ring he wore on his left ring finger beginning sometime after he returned home from World War II, but before marrying my mother in 1949. He did not replace the ring with a wedding band or move it to another finger upon his marriage.

Dad’s United States Air Force Ring

Dad’s Air Force ring was clearly his personal memorial to his lost crewmates, a symbol which could not easily be set aside even when he took the vows of marriage to my mother, a ring he only parted with upon his death.

On the day he died, Dad finally joined his crewmates as one of the men who, I believe, were all lost on that day. In the mid-air collision, I believe my father was fatally wounded in heart, mind, and spirit, even though he remained physically tethered to this earth and his family for another thirty-eight years.

I need to finish his unfinished business, to answer his question that remained unanswered and disturbed him so deeply, “what did happen to the boys?”

George Edwin Farrar’s complete narrative of the mid-air collision, included in MACR9753, is as follows:

Am very sorry I can’t give more information, but our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group. The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship. Never saw any of the other boys. I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was.

Any information you can find out about the boys I would appreciate hearing very much.

Please pardon this not being typed, but am out of my town, and have tried, with no luck to obtain one (typewriter), but can’t.

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.

George E. Farrar

All of the documents of Missing Air Crew Report 9753 and 9366 are now declassified and available for perusal by anyone who cares to review them. And peruse I have, over and over, studying them as if some new secret may emerge upon repeated inspections. It’s not uncommon for me to notice something I hadn’t noticed before or maybe something that just hadn’t sunk in with past readings.

For example, this go-round, I noticed something in George Hawkins’ narrative of Missing Air Crew Report 9366 (the MACR for the Brodie crew involved in the collision) that previously slipped past me. Hawkins stated in the first paragraph of his narrative, “At the time of the accident [the collision], our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.”

George Hawkins, as navigator, was seated in the nose of Brodie’s B-17, so he would not be able to see from his seat the cockpit, top turret, radio room, ball turret, waist, or tail. He would not be able to know for certain from a visual standpoint the condition of the other areas of the aircraft or its occupants.

However, all of the airmen of the crew would have been in interphone radio contact with each other, and I believe if the aircraft had suffered a major flak hit or mechanical failure or if any of his crewmates had suffered an injury before the collision, he would have heard of it over the interphone. If there had been time.

Regardless of what he could see or hear or know otherwise of what was happening in his ship, I imagine from the nose of Lazy Daisy, George Hawkins had a front row seat to view their slide out of formation on the path to collision, to feel the quickly changing course of destruction in the pit of his stomach. And to quickly comprehend that he could do nothing about it.

I have researched in detail (see links below to previous posts, What Happened in the Skies over Magdeburg Parts 1 and 2, and Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins Parts 1, 2, and 3) what might have happened to B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy, to cause it to veer off course into B-17 43-37822.

I have considered that George Hawkins may have had the answer. If he did, he did not share the information in his Missing Air Crew Report narrative. If the ship had suffered major damage from flak as my father believed and I, therefore, have supposed, I don’t think Hawkins would have described it as “light flak damage.”

However, if what Hawkins believed to be light flak damage was more injurious to the pilots than it was destructive to the aircraft, Hawkins may not have been aware of it.

From eye-witness reports, here’s what I do know, or think I know, just from the two missing air crew reports, MACR9753 and MACR9366:

The Buslee crew’s B-17 43-37822

  • Broke in half near the center of the ship, either at the waist or at the radio room
  • The ball turret of this ship and the tail of the other ship hit, tearing off both
  • The wings folded up
  • Pieces of the tail and wings fell off. Plane was in flames from the engine.
  • Was going down in flames spinning into the clouds.

The Brodie crew’s B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy

  • The left wing of this ship hit the other ship’s tail and cut part of a wing off
  • The aircraft broke up near the tail assembly (in collision with ball turret of other ship) and went down in flames.
  • The aircraft was burning and slowly spiraling down until it disappeared into the clouds.
  • George Hawkins noted:  “The front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner S/Sgt. Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.”
  • George Hawkins added:  “Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.”

In the collision, six men left the two planes, possibly in this order, but only four survived to become prisoners of war. Two were knocked from their respective aircraft but were not able to save themselves with their parachutes.

  • Brodie crew nose gunner Byron Atkins was knocked from 42-31222, but his parachute failed, was not hooked up properly, or he was not conscious to properly deploy it
  • Buslee crew ball turret gunner George McMann, while still inside the ball turret, was knocked from 43-37822, likely without a parachute as was customary in those tight quarters, unable to save himself in his fall
  • Buslee crew waist gunner George Farrar was thrown from 43-37822 when it broke in half, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans
  • Brodie crew waist gunner Harry Liniger was thrown from 42-31222 in an explosion, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans
  • Brodie crew tail gunner Wilfred Miller, while still inside the tail of 42-31222, rode the tail down before bailing out after an explosion, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans
  • Brodie crew navigator George Hawkins, while still inside the nose of 42-31222, broke out behind the right nose gun to bail out, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans

Of the remaining twelve airmen who were still on board the two B-17’s when they crashed, they were likely severely injured, or killed in the collision or ensuing explosion and fire, or if uninjured, unable to exit the planes due to centrifugal force trapping them in the spinning planes as they plummeted to earth.

These diagrams are of the B-17’s of the two crews, with different colored notations to represent the groupings and order of identification. Each individual is circled upon identification, not recovery. See the descriptions following the diagrams for details.

Diagram of BUSLEE CREW aboard 43-37822

B-17 43-37822, Buslee crew, 28 September 1944

Diagram of BRODIE CREW aboard 42-31222

B-17 42-31222, aka Lazy Daisy, Brodie crew, 28 September 1944

Circled in PURPLE in the Diagrams

Of the first eight airmen recovered from the two crashed B-17’s, only two from each crew were identified.

  • William Henson (Navigator) and Robert Stearns (Bombardier) were in position in the nose of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822
  • Robert Crumpton (Engineer) in the top turret and Gordon Hetu (Ball Turret Gunner) in the ball turret were in position in Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222
  • Four unidentified, crew unknown, not circled at this time

Circled in BLUE in the Diagrams

Of the next five airmen recovered, two from the Buslee crew and one from the Brodie crew were identified.

  • Gerald Andersen (Tail Gunner, name misspelled Anderson on the diagram) was in position in the tail, and George McMann (Ball Turret Gunner) was in position in the ball turret of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822, when the ball turret was knocked from the ship during the collision.
  • Donald Dooley was in position in the radio room of Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222
  • Two unidentified, crew unknown, not circled at this time

Circled in GREEN in the Diagrams

Four airmen captured by the Germans were identified.

  • George Farrar (Waist Gunner) was thrown from his position in the waist of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822
  • Harry Liniger (Waist Gunner) was thrown from the waist door and Wilfred Miller (Tail Gunner) bailed out of the severed tail following an explosion in Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222, and George Hawkins (Navigator) bailed out of the nose.

At this point, seventeen of the eighteen airmen of the two crews of nine each had been found, with eleven identified and six unidentified. One was still missing. I think the Germans may have believed three airmen from the two crews were still missing, as I think they were assuming each crew had ten airmen rather than nine, for a total of twenty rather than eighteen.

Circled in RED in the 42-31222 Diagram

One more airman was recovered, identified as the nose gunner of the Brodie aircraft, Byron Atkins (Togglier), who was knocked out of the nose during the collision.

The total now stood at all 18 found, but only 12 had been identified, with 6 unidentified.

Circled in ORANGE in the Diagrams

Four airmen, who were originally unidentified, were later identified.

  • John Buslee (Pilot) and David Albrecht, in position in the cockpit, and Lenard Bryant (Engineer), in position in the top turret directly behind the cockpit of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822
  • Lloyd Vevle (Co-pilot) in position in the cockpit of Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222

Circled in YELLOW in the 42-31222 Diagram

The next airman, originally unidentified, to be identified later was James Brodie (Pilot), in position in the cockpit of his aircraft, 42-31222.

Circled in BLACK in the 43-37822 Diagram

Recovered, but never identified in documents associated with either Missing Air Crew Report of the Buslee or Brodie crew, was Sebastiano Peluso (Radio Operator), in position in the radio room of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822. Peluso was likely at ground zero of the collision and likely at the center of the most destruction of the two aircraft. I am not sure when Sebastiano was finally identified, but by July 1945, his parents were still left wondering what happened to their son.

Identification Difficulties

Several factors led to difficulties in identification of the casualties.

  • Mixed crews – the casualties of both crews of both B-17’s were mixed together in the aftermath of the collision.
  • False/fake identification – at least one of the airmen in the mid-air collision, probably one of the Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron, was carrying ID and ration cards from two other 545th Bomb Squadron airmen, Robert W. Wagner and James E. Flynn, who were not on board either aircraft on 28 September 1944. Wagner was a gunner who was active during the timeframe of the collision, but did not participate in the 28 September 1944 mission. James E. Flynn was a radio operator who had completed his tour in May of 1944.
  • Missing identification – a Czech man who was on forced labor in Germany and was first to the site of the crash of 43-37822 took souvenirs and some identification and money from the plane.
  • Burned beyond recognition – the most difficult reason that six casualties of the two B-17’s could not easily be identified was that they were completely burned in the fire. These were likely the airmen originally unidentified in the German records – John Buslee, David Albrecht, Lenard Bryant and Sebastiano Peluso of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822, and James Brodie and Lloyd Vevle of Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222.

The Worst Place to Be in the Mid-air Collision

The areas of the two B-17’s with the most destruction, as evidenced by the difficulty identifying the occupants of the different positions, were the cockpits of both aircraft and the top turret and radio room behind the cockpit on Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822, and past that, the ball turret of Buslee’s aircraft, which was knocked from the plane.

What Did Happen to the Boys

Dad was not the only one who wanted to learn details of the mid-air collision and what happened to his crewmates. Chester Rybarczyk, the Navigator of the original Buslee crew, who was not onboard the B-17 43-37822 on 28 September, wanted to know. The families of the the boys who lost their lives that day wanted to know. They were all very anxious for my father to return home from the war and answer the same question, what did happen to the boys?

I doubt in their lifetimes any of them ever found a satisfactory answer. Dad, the only survivor of the Buslee ship, was expected to know. But Dad knew almost as little as anyone did. He probably felt the pressure to answer their questions, but could not. He probably felt a responsibility to ease their pain, but could not. He probably felt a need to comfort them, but could not as there is no comfort from losing a child.

Dad wanted answers. Dad shared the families’ pain. Dad, too, needed comfort. And he alone felt the guilt of being the only survivor of his crew. He never understood, why did he live when the other boys died?

What did happen to the boys? Dad, I hope this research puts your question to rest, comforts your soul, and eases your pain. Please know, for you, I carry all of the boys lost on 28 September 1944 in a special place in my heart. I will always remember them. And I will make sure your grandchildren and future generations remember you and remember them.

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous post, On Forced Labor

Previous post, What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 1

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Previous post, What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1

Previous post, What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 2

Previous post, Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 1 of 3

Previous post, Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 2 of 3

Previous post, Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 3 of 3

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 1

A recap of the mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews on 28 September 1944…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was MACR9753. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) was MACR9366. Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.


While recently reviewing a missing air crew report (MACR4814) for a different air crew (not the Buslee or Brodie crew), I ran across a letter from HEADQUARTERS, ARMY AIR FORCES, that was contained in that missing air crew report file. The Subject of the letter was “Casualty Information of Crew Members” and noted “In reply, refer to AFPPA-8.”

This particular letter was not made a part of the Buslee or Brodie missing air crew reports (MACR9753 and MACR9366, respectively), but I do believe my dad and the other survivors of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision of those crews received this same letter.

The Buslee and Brodie MACR files contain what I believe are responses to this letter from Buslee crew waist gunner (my dad) George Edwin Farrar (questionnaire and narrative) and Brodie crew navigator George Marshall Hawkins (questionnaire and narrative) and tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller (questionnaire). I had been curious about how they received a request for the information and now I believe I have my answer.

The contents of the undated “Casualty Information of Crew Members” letter are as follows:

  1. You will be interested to know that there have been formed here in Washington and in the theaters overseas, Missing Aircrew Research and Investigation Offices to collect all information from our own and enemy sources, correlate this information and furnish it to search teams in the theaters who will go to the scene of the casualty incident and investigate. These teams will question those in the area who have knowledge of the incident and trace all leads down until they have the story. The German records we have translated are excellent. We have just received the Japanese records. By combining all this data with the story available in your memory, we can tell next of kin the things that mean so much to them.
  2. You may or may not have been questioned in this manner before concerning the mission on which you were shot down and the events that followed. Regardless of previous questionnaires, it is important that we have the information requested here to complete our records concerning combat crewmen remaining in a casualty status.
  3. If you have been sworn to secrecy as a result of your escape, evasion or internment, you may consider yourself released from all restrictions as to disclosure or publication of experiences except:
    1. Secret intelligence activities and methods developed for use, or actually used, in prison camps.
    2. Details of techniques employed by military intelligence organizations operating behind enemy lines to assist evasion and escape.
    3. Negotiations conducted on high government or military level to secure release from internment in a neutral country. (See AAF Reg 46-8 dated 30 October 1945)
  4. Please answer all the questions you can promptly and accurately. Request that, if possible, answers be typewritten; if not, printed. Mail the reply to Commanding General, Army Air Forces, Attention: AFPPA-8, Washington 25, D.C.

BY COMMAND OF GENERAL ARNOLD:

JOHN J. SMITH
Lt. Col., Air Corps
Chief, Notification Section
Personal Affairs Branch<
Personnel Services Division, AC/AS-1

Brodie crew navigator aboard B-17 42-31222 Lazy Daisy, George Marshall Hawkins, Jr’s, narrative, as follows, is included in MACR9366:

Following “Bombs away” at our target over Magdeburg, Germany, our B17-G and another ship in our formation collided. At the time of the accident our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.

At the time of the collision, the front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner, S/Sgt Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.

Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.

Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground. While floating downward, I saw one other chute below me.

I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.

The following evening I met two members of the crew…the waist gunner, Sgt. Liniger, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Liniger said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.

To the best of my knowledge, All other five members of the crew were at their positions on the plane and failed to leave the ship. All were uninjured up till the time of the collision.

Buslee crew waist gunner aboard B-17 43-37822, George Edwin Farrar’s narrative, as follows, is included in MACR9753:

Am very sorry I can’t give more information, but our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group.  The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to.  At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship.  Never saw any of the other boys.  I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was.

Any information you can find out about the boys I would appreciate hearing very much.

Please pardon this not being typed, but am out of my town, and have tried, with no luck to obtain one (typewriter), but can’t.

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.

George E. Farrar

George Edwin Farrar’s handwritten narrative, with apology for it not being typed as requested in the “Casualty Information of Crew Members” letter:

George Edwin Farrar’s response to Army Air Forces letter regarding Casualty Information of Crew Members (click/select image to enlarge)

I am unsure of the dates Dad and the other survivors of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision received the request for information or the dates they returned their responses, but in 1946, Dad received two responses to his completed casualty questionnaire and narrative.

First, on June 14, 1946, Dad received a letter from Lt. Colonel William H. Brandon, Air Corps. Dad did receive a reply, but he did not get any answers.

June 14, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Mr. George E. Farrar,
79 East Lake Terrace, Northeast
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Mr. Farrar:

Your completed casualty questionnaire has been received in this Headquarters, and we are appreciative of the information you furnished us relative to the fate of your fellow crew members.

At present we have on hand a large back-log of inquiries from the next of kin of our personnel who were killed in action or who are otherwise unaccounted for. In accordance with the Air Force post war reduction in manpower, the staff of this office has been reduced to a point where all inquiries cannot be answered as promptly as we would desire. In view of this, I am certain you will agree with our policy of giving preference to the next of kin. It is not known when we will be able to answer your questions concerning the members of your crew; however, an attempt will be made to furnish you this information as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,
WILLIAM H. BRANDON
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps
Chief, Notification Section
Personal Affairs Branch
Personnel Services Division, AC/AS-1

On September 11, 1946, he received this letter from 1st Lt. John W. Bertschi:

September 11, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Dear Sir:

The casualty questionnaire you completed for Air Forces Headquarters came to my attention today. I noticed your own question in the back of the sheet, and knowing how anxious any crewmember is to know what happened to the rest of the fellows, I want to tell you what we have found.

German casualty records which we recently translated state that all your crewmembers were recovered dead. The only one not identified by name was S. J. Peluso. All the boys were buried in a cemetery at Ost Ingersleben where the plane crashed. This town is twenty miles northwest of Magdeburg. We do not have reburial on all of the fellows yet so this would indicate that the Quartermaster General is having trouble identifying the bodies.

That is really all there is to tell you. You might be interested to know that the German records also include your name and state that you were taken to Dulag Luft West.

You really lived through a close one. I hope you suffer no permanent ill effects, and are enjoying a normal life once again.

This personal letter is easier to get out than an official one.

Very sincerely,
John W. Bertschi
1ST LT. AC

In a handwritten note at the bottom of the typed letter, John Bertschi described himself as “Just one of the boys now working in AAF Hdqts personnel division.”

He also added:

P. S. When I checked your 201 file for your address, I found our “very sorry” letter to you.

John Bertschi hoped Dad had returned to a normal life. A “normal life?” How does one return to a normal life after such a catastrophic event as a mid-air collision between two B-17’s, confinement to a POW camp, and an 86-day 500-mile march to liberation and freedom, on top of the constant reminder that he was the only one on his ship who lived?

And yes, he did receive some information from this second letter, but I believe he still had more questions than answers.

To be continued with what I have learned did happen to the boys in What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 2

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous post, On Forced Labor

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

WWII Combat Chronology – 25 September 1944

I am continuing my series of articles based on the entries from Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces. Both combat chronologies are excellent sources of information regarding combat missions in World War II and I thank the authors for sharing them online.

These articles are concentrated on the operations of the 8th Army Air Forces on the missions on which the John Oliver Buslee crew and James Joseph Brodie crew of the 384th Bomb Group participated. The statistics of other dates and missions and of other branches of the American Air Forces and theaters of operation of World War II are available through the links provided in this article to these two sources for those interested.

Today’s installment is the 25 September 1944 mission in which the Buslee crew and Brodie crew participated.


WWII Combat Chronology – Monday, 25 September 1944

384th BG Mission 198/8th AF Mission 647 to Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Target: Transportation, the Railroad Marshalling Yards.

The John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron participated in this mission.

Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 entry:

About 100 HBs escorted by 14 ftr gps attack 3 M/Ys and a synthetic oil plant at Ludwigshafen and Koblenz, industrial area of Frankfurt/Main and several T/Os. About 175 B-24’s haul fuel to France.

Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces entry:

EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (ETO)

STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): Mission 647: 1,306 bombers and 622 fighters are dispatched to attack marshalling yards in W Germany and the synthetic oil plant at Ludwigshafen bombed by PFF; 5 bombers and 3 fighters are lost. The Buslee and Brodie crews participated in this mission.

  1. 534 B-17s are dispatched to hit the Ludwigshafen/Opau oil plant and the marshalling yard at Ludwigshafen (400); 46 others hit targets of opportunity; 3 B-17s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 86 damaged; 9 airmen are WIA. Escort is provided by 200 of 216 P-51s without loss.

  2. 444 B-17s are dispatched to hit the Frankfurt industrial area (410); 2 others hit targets of opportunity; 2 B-17s are lost and 41 damaged; 18 airmen are MIA. Escort is provided by 210 P-38s and P-51s; 2 fighters are lost (pilots MIA) and 1 damaged.

  3. 257 of 328 B-24s hit the Koblenz/Mosel and Koblenz/Rhein marshalling yards; 14 B-24s are damaged. Escort is provided by 157 P-38s, P-47s and P-51s; they claim 0-0-2 aircraft on the ground; 1 P-51 is lost (pilot MIA) and 2 damaged.

Also, B-24s on a TRUCKIN’ mission fly fuel to France.

Links/Sources

Except for entries from Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

On Forced Labor

A continuation of my post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben


A recap…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

On the afternoon of 28 September 1944, following the mid-air collision, the two B-17’s fell from the sky near Ost Ingersleben, Germany.

The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.” My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The crash site of 42-31222 Lazy Daisy was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.

At least one of the planes crash-landed in the general vicinity of Beendorf and Bartensleben, according to an eye-witness who came forward in 1948 and provided a sketch of the area.

Sketch of crash site

Notes:

  • Location name corrections of locations noted on the sketch,
    • Helmstadt should be Helmstedt
    • Bernsdorf should be Beendorf
    • Braunsweig (Braunschweig) is also known as Brunswick.
  • The locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben also seem to be swapped in the sketch. Beendorf is actually to the west of Bartensleben.

To make the location of the sketch more clear, I have plotted each location on a Google map,

Google map of crash area for comparison to hand-drawn map
Hand-drawn map points outlined in black
Military document crash area location names outlined in blue
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click images to enlarge…


The witness to the crash of B-17 43-37822, a Czechoslovakian man, described his reason for being at the crash site as, “I have been working in the fields, there the Germans put me on forced labor.” And his father described his son’s situation as “on forced labor in lager close to village Bernsdorf [Beendorf].”

I looked into the man’s circumstances and I learned that his “forced labor” may have been as a concentration camp prisoner of the Helmstedt-Beendorf sub-camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp, considering the area in which he described his forced labor.

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos). The perpetrators used these locations for a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people deemed to be “enemies of the state,” and mass murder. Millions of people suffered and died or were killed. Among these sites was the Neuengamme camp and its subcamps.

from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia

During World War II, the demand for prisoner labor in the German armaments industry led to the establishment of about eighty subcamps of the Neuengamme concentration camp at locations in northern and central Germany, beginning in 1942.

The Neuengamme camp, itself a subcamp of the Sachenhausen concentration camp, was located at an abandoned brickworks on the banks of the Dove-Elbe River, a tributary of the Elbe in the Neuengamme suburb of Hamburg in northern Germany.

The Helmstedt-Beendorf camp was a subcamp of the Neuengamme camp about 90 miles (about 145 km) to the south. The Helmstedt-Beendorf camp was located on the former site of a potash and rock salt mine, known as the Marie mine, and a potash chloride plant which produced fertilizers from the crude potash salts. Later the Bartensleben mine was constructed and connected to the Marie mine.

Between 1937 and 1944, the German Air Force used the former Marie mine as an ammunition plant at the surface and aircraft ammunition storage underground. Then beginning in 1944, the entire mine was used for armament production and became the Helmstedt-Beendorf subcamp for concentration camp prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp. The prisoners were the forced labor who produced armaments underground.

The first prisoners arrived in Beendorf on 17 March 1944. The men were used to excavate underground production halls in two neighbouring salt mines, “Marie” (Beendorf) and “Bartensleben” (Morsleben). Important equipment for manufacturing air force munitions was moved to the two tunnels, and the secret projects were given the code names “Bulldogge” [Bulldog] and “Iltis” [Polecat]. The hard physical labour and terrible working conditions in the shafts damaged the prisoners’ eyes and lungs in particular.

 from KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme

At Beendorf, from March of 1944, the men’s camp of about 800 concentration camp prisoners were used for building works. From August of 1944, the women’s camp of up to 2,500 concentration camp prisoners were used for armament production.

The women prisoners worked for the Askania factory in the Bartensleben mine and Luftfahrtgerätewerk Hakenfelde in the Marie mine, and manufactured electro-mechanical components such as control units and steering gear for the V1 and fighter aircraft.

The number of prisoners eventually numbered 4,500, housed in an area designed for less than half that number. The work was very hard and their diet insufficient to sustain them, leading many to become weak and sick, and killing many.

Near the end of 1944, ten- to twelve-thousand prisoners were interned in the Neuengamme concentration camp with another thirty-seven- to thirty-nine-thousand in the subcamps. The death rate was staggering during the winter of 1944 to 1945 with thousands dying each month.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia records the number of deaths of Neuengamme prisoners so close to the end of the war and the evacuation of the camp.

As British troops approached Neuengamme, the SS evacuated some 9,000 prisoners towards Lübeck on the Baltic Sea on April 19, 1945, and murdered most of the remaining 3,000 prisoners in the camp. Some 700 almost exclusively German prisoners remained behind to destroy the internal documents of the camp. Half of them were conscripted into an SS armed unit; the remainder evacuated the camp on April 30, leaving it empty.

British forces arrived on May 4, 1945. In early May 1945, the SS loaded some 9,000-10,000 prisoners—most of them evacuated from Neuengamme and its subcamps—onto three ships anchored in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Neustadt in Schleswig-Holstein. Some 7,000 lost their lives when the British attacked two of the ships in the course of a raid on the harbor on May 3. The Thielbek, carrying about 2,000 prisoners, sank quickly. The Cap Arcona, carrying more than 4,500 prisoners, burned and capsized during the attack. Only about 600 prisoners from both ships survived.

The death register at Neuengamme indicates that about 40,000 prisoners died in the camp by April 10, 1945. Perhaps as many as 15,000 more died in the camp in the following week and during the course of the evacuation. In all, more than 50,000 prisoners, almost half of all those imprisoned in the camp during its existence, died in Neuengamme concentration camp.

KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme reports that at the Helmstedt-Beendorf subcamp on 10 April 1945, both camps (the one for the men and the one for the women) were evacuated. The women and men were loaded onto goods cars and taken via Magdeburg, Stendal und Wittenberge to the Wöbbelin “reception camp”, arriving 16 April.

The History of the Morsleben Repository notes that the male survivors were liberated there by American troops two weeks later. The female survivors were taken to the previously evacuated Hamburg sub-camps, from which they could be evacuated and saved by the Swedish Red Cross. This source adds that,

At the end of the war, the Marie and Bartensleben mines were located within the Soviet occupation zone and later on in the Border Area of the GDR. Commemoration of the victims was only possible to a limited extent. In the centre of Beendorf, a memorial stone and, on the cemetery, a mass grave remind of the victims. Only since 1989, have survivors had the option to visit this location as memorial site.

The Czechoslovakian witness’ simple description of his internment as “the Germans put me on forced labor” does not begin to describe the ordeal he survived during World War II. He was extremely fortunate to live through the war, to be able to return to his home and family in Czechoslovakia, and to survive to tell his story about the crash and the fate of those aboard the Buslee crew’s B-17, of which my father was the sole survivor.

I liken the Czechoslovakian witness’ simplified description of his wartime ordeal to my father’s simplified description of his own wartime P.O.W. experience, his 86-day 500-mile march to liberation from his and his fellow P.O.W.’s internment by the Nazis, with his own simple explanation, “We were marched across Germany.”

Suitable words do not exist for a survivor of this kind of atrocity to utter, to convey to those who did not share the experience of the true horrors they lived through and the unbelievable miracle of their survival. Simple words and simple explanations protect both parties of the story, the teller and the listener, from the unimaginable truth where words become images and images become nightmares. Simple words paint simple images, images one can live with on the shallow side of the truth.

Sources

History of the Morsleben Repository

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAMPS AND GHETTOS, 1933–1945

KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme Satellite Camp HELMSTEDT-BEENDORF (MEN)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia, NEUENGAMME

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

A continuation of my post regarding the location of the crash site of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision of the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) and James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy).


As I previously reported,

  • The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.”
  • The crash site of 42-31222 Lazy Daisy was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” The two B-17’s likely crashed very close to the same location.

On the afternoon of 28 September 1944, two B-17’s fell from the sky near Ost Ingersleben, Germany. Unclear is how close in proximity the two planes crashed to the ground, but they likely both landed in the same general vicinity.

George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., the navigator who bailed out of one of the fortresses said from his birds-eye view above the scene, floating down in his parachute, “Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.”

One of those “civilians” was a Czechoslovakian man who was interned by the Nazis as forced labor. He said he saw one plane crash land, but never mentions a second aircraft.

To hear and see such a terrifying sight, two spinning, burning planes speeding toward the ground, to feel the ground shake upon impact seems to me an image that would be etched in memory forever. But the reported recollection of the Czechoslovakian man, who claimed to be first on the scene, is somewhat inaccurate.

Of course, considering his situation, perhaps I expect too much of his recollection as a witness. I don’t disbelieve him. I can’t. He had indisputable proof that he was there and witnessed the crash. He had taken John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s ring as a souvenir.

Years after the collision and ensuing crash of the two B-17’s, the Czechoslovakian man, now freed from Nazi forced labor and back home, decided to return the ring to Jay Buslee’s family. He wrote a letter dated 28 January 1948 and in it explained,

On Sept. 22, 1944, American plane came down in flames alone, about 40 kilometers from Magdeburg. I have been working in the fields, there the Germans put me on forced labor. I came to the plane before the Gestapo and SS did and all the flyers have been dead and I pick up a ring which belonged to one of the flyers.

In his claim to having witnessed the crash of Buslee’s B-17, he noted the date of 22 September 1944 rather than the correct date of 28 September 1944. He also noted that the plane came down in flames “alone.” I can understand in his circumstances getting the date wrong. Not seeing the second B-17 come down makes me think the Brodie plane did not come down as close to Buslee’s plane as I thought.

The Czech man later left home for military service. Correspondence continued through the man’s father in a letter dated April 12, 1948, in which more, but slightly different, details were provided,

On Sept. 24, /Sunday/ about 14 hours, /That is 2 P.M./ came a swarm of bombing US planes and the direction was Magdeburg in Germany.  One plane was separated from the swarm and the way it looks, damaged.  Finaly after a while, the plane came down in flames near the village Bertensleben, about 9 kilometers from Helmstadt.  My son, who have been in Germany on forced labor in lager close to village Bernsdorf, went to the scene and came there sooner before the German authorities did.

… the place, where the plane came down, is out of populated places…

… I made a primitive sketch of the place where the plane came down.  The place is between the village Bartensleben and Bornsdorf

Sketch of crash site

Notes:

  • In this letter, the date of the crash was noted as 24 September, a Sunday, at about 14 hours/2 o’clock in the afternoon. The actual time, in German time, of the mid-air collision and crash would have been about 1 P.M, which was about noon in English time as noted in military documents.
  • In my previous post of this letter/information, I chose to omit the exact locations, but am including them now after further review and determination of what I believe to be the locations the writer intended. The names of some of the places were not noted correctly, but I believe I know the places the writer meant.
  • Location name corrections, including those noted on the sketch,
    • Helmstadt should be Helmstedt
    • Bernsdorf or Bornsdorf should be Beendorf
    • Bertensleben (although correct on sketch) should be Bartensleben
    • Braunsweig (Braunschweig), on the sketch, is also known as Brunswick.
  • The locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben also seem to be swapped in the sketch. Beendorf is actually to the west of Bartensleben.

To make the location of the sketch more clear, I have plotted each location on a Google map,

Google map of crash area for comparison to hand-drawn map
Hand-drawn map points outlined in black
Military document crash area location names outlined in blue
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click images to enlarge…

I also wanted to see exactly where 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben would be as noted in wartime documents.

2km from Ost Ingersleben to crash site
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

And zoomed out…

2km from Ost Ingersleben to crash site, noting locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

And zoomed in…

2km from Ost Ingersleben to crash site, zoomed
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Internet searches do not turn up any more information regarding the crash of the two B-17’s in this area. Next steps for me will be to attempt to connect with libraries or local government entities in the area in order to learn more about the crash of the Buslee and Brodie crew B-17’s.

To be continued with more information regarding the role this area of Germany played in World War II and the role of the people who were forced to play it…

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

WWII Combat Chronology – 21 September 1944

I am continuing my series of articles based on the entries from Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces. Both combat chronologies are excellent sources of information regarding combat missions in World War II and I thank the authors for sharing them online.

These articles are concentrated on the operations of the 8th Army Air Forces on the missions on which the John Oliver Buslee crew and James Joseph Brodie crew of the 384th Bomb Group participated. The statistics of other dates and missions and of other branches of the American Air Forces and theaters of operation of World War II are available through the links provided in this article to these two sources for those interested.

Today’s installment is the 21 September 1944 mission in which the Brodie crew participated.


WWII Combat Chronology – Thursday, 21 September 1944

384th BG Mission 197/8th AF Mission 644 to Mainz, Germany.

Target: Transportation, the Railroad Marshalling Yards.

The James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron participated in this mission.

Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 entry:

Nearly 450 HBs escorted by 3 P-51 gps attack synthetic oil plant at Ludwigshafen/Opau, M/Ys at Koblenz and Mainz, and T/Os in Rhineland. 3 ftr gps spt First Allied Airborne Army airplanes dropping supplies and paratroops of Polish 1st Brig near Driel. Bad weather forces recall of 1 gp near Dutch coast. Other gps encounter about 50 ftrs, claiming 20 destroyed against 4 aerial combat losses. Over 80 B-24’s carry gasoline to France.

Jack McKillop’s USAAF Chronology: Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces entry:

EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (ETO)

STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): Mission 644: 486 bombers are dispatched to hit targets in W Germany using PFF methods; 2 bombers are lost. The Brodie crew participated in this mission.

  1. 154 B-17s are dispatched to hit the synthetic oil plant at Ludwigshafen/Opau (147); 2 others hit targets of opportunity; 54 B-17s are damaged. Escort is provided by 39 P-38s and P-51s; 1 fighter is lost.

  2. 153 B-17s are dispatched to hit the marshalling yard at Mainz (141); 52 B-17s are damaged; 2 airmen are WIA. Escort is provided by 34 of 35 P-51s without loss.

  3. 179 B-24s are dispatched to hit the marshalling yard at Koblenz (144); 12 others hit targets of opportunity; 2 B-24s are lost, 3 damaged beyond repair and 83 damaged; 15 airmen are KIA, 3 WIA and 18 MIA. Escort is provided by 44 of 46 P-51s; 1 P-51 is lost (pilot MIA).

Also, P-47s and P-51s support the First Allied Airborne Army C-47s dropping supplies and paratroops of the Polish 1st Brigade near Driel, the Netherlands.

Links/Sources

Except for entries from Carter and Mueller’s U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 and McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

In my last post, I mapped out the location of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision of the Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) and Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) as it was recorded in wartime documents.

The coordinates of the collision, in the area of Magdeburg, Germany, were noted as 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E on post-briefing reports, (52.100000, 11.650000 for Google maps), at an approximate altitude of 27,000 feet.

After the collision, the two fortresses traveled quite a distance, about 22 miles (approx. 36 km), before crashing to the ground north of the village of Ost Ingersleben, Germany (today, part of the municipality of Ingersleben in the Börde district in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany).

Distance between coordinates of collision (52.100000, 11.650000 – upper left corner of map) and 2km north of Ost Ingersleben (52.23022501900543, 11.169220977746475 – lower left corner of map)
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click on the map to enlarge the image. Ignore the roadways and driving directions and look at the straight line diagonally crossing the map and representing the flight path between the two points. The survivors who were able to leave the aircraft and parachute to the ground likely landed in the vicinity of this path.

The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.” Measuring the distance on a Google map between the Magdeburg city center and Ost Ingersleben city center is 33 km according to Google maps, but the distance between the collision point and an approximated crash point 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben calculates to approximately 36 km or about 22 miles.

The only survivor of the Buslee ship, my dad George Edwin Farrar, was not able to provide any location information in his Casualty Questionnaire Narrative and noted that when he hit the ground, “I was unable to tell where I was.” I previously imagined that he landed in his parachute close to the site of the crash 2km north of Ost Ingersleben, but that assumption is probably not correct.

Dad, the waist gunner aboard the Buslee crew’s B-17, was likely one of the first out, thrown out when “the other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. He added that “at the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship.”

It was uncommon for B-17 crew members to wear their parachutes in combat, preferring instead to keep them nearby for easy access if needed. Wearing his parachute during the mission that day saved my dad’s life as he would not have been able to retrieve it in his state of unconsciousness.

Dad must have landed in his parachute further east along the flight path and closer to Magdeburg and the site of the mid-air collision than I previously thought, as he was knocked out of the plane at the moment of the collision.

This leads to the question of where the other survivors of the mid-air collision landed after bailing out of the Brodie crew’s B-17.

The crash site of 42-31222 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” The two B-17’s likely crashed very close to the same location.

Brodie crew navigator George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., the only officer of the two crews to survive the mid-air collision noted as part of his Casualty Questionnaire in MACR9366 that they were “near Erxleben, Germany” when their aircraft left the formation. Brodie crew tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller noted it to be “about 4 minutes out of flak area.”

Did Hawkins’ wording “left the formation” indicate the moment of the collision? If so, the coordinates of the collision as noted in post-mission briefing documents are too far east. I believe it is possible that the collision occurred further west than the noted coordinates due to Hawkins’ and Miller’s statements, and will keep that in mind while retaining the documented coordinates for this research.

Hawkins also noted that their aircraft struck the ground “near Erxleben, Germany.” Erxleben is 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben according to Google Maps, the same location as noted in the German Report on Captured Aircraft, but without using the name “Erxleben” as where the aircraft crashed.

Hawkins described his bailout and the Brodie ship’s crash location by noting, “Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground… I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.”

I do not know which direction from the town of Erxleben Hawkins landed, but from his wording “from the town” instead of “before the town”, I believe he landed west of the town, around mile marker 20.0 on the flight path map. That would put the plane landing right at the crash site coordinate at mile marker 22, which would be about two miles from where Hawkins landed in his parachute and where the German reports note the crash, about 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.

I believe Hawkins must have been the first to bail out of the Brodie crew’s B-17. He wrote that “I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.”

In his Casualty Questionnaire Narrative, Hawkins also noted that “Sgt. Liniger [waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger] said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller [tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller] said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.”

All three likely left the ship at nearly the same time, but I believe Hawkins left the ship before the explosion as he didn’t mention it in his recounting of his own bailout. Hawkins, Liniger, and Miller likely landed in the same vicinity near Erxleben, but did not meet up again until the next night in captivity.

To be continued in a future post with an attempt to narrow down the crash site with an eye-witness report from a Czechoslovakian man in the forced labor of the Nazis.

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

MACR9753

MACR9366

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

When in Magdeburg, Look Up

On 28 September 1944 on a B-17 bombing mission to Magdeburg, Germany during World War II, just after Bombs Away, the Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 over Magdebug, Germany. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner on the Buslee crew’s B-17 and was the only survivor of the nine men on that ship. Both crews were part of the 384th Bombardment Group of the 8th Army Air Forces.

From the excellent collection of wartime records of the 384th Bomb Group, I know the exact date and time of the collision, the exact location of the collision, and the altitude at which the two planes collided.

  • The date, 28 September 1944, and time, 12:11 P.M., British time (1:11 P.M. German time)
  • The mid-air collision location, 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E, (52.100000, 11.650000), Germany
  • The altitude, 27,700 feet, (and noting the elevation of Magdeburg is 141 feet above sea level, about 27,559 feet above the ground)

Date, Time, and Location, as reported on the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753)

MACR9753 (Missing Air Crew Report 9753) noting location of mid-air collision

Time and Altitude, as reported on the Navigator’s Narrative

28 September 1944 Mission to Magdeburg, Navigator’s Narrative, High Group, Page 1

28 September 1944 Mission to Magdeburg, Navigator’s Narrative, High Group, Page 2

It occurred to me that if I were able to plot the coordinates on a map, that someday I might be able to stand in the exact location below the spot that the two B-17’s collided so many years ago, look up, and imagine seeing and hearing the impact.

Of course, the collision happened more than five miles above the earth, so I doubt the horrific incident was visible from the ground. A Google search resulted in an answer from Quora that “depending on the size of the aircraft, without … contrails to reveal its presence, you can probably see an airliner up to 7,500 to 10,000 feet,” less than half as far as the bombers’ formation was traveling above the earth on 28 September 1944.

Both aircraft continued to fly several miles before they crashed to the ground west of Magdeburg. But do you suppose at least some small parts fell directly to earth in the location of the collision itself? I can believe that they would and perhaps something is still buried in the ground in the area today.

So, of course, my next thought was to wonder what exists in the location today? Google Maps makes it pretty easy to find out, so I plugged in the coordinates to find the location not too far from the Elbe River in southeast Magdeburg (marked by the red pin).

Site of 28 September 1944 mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews over Magdeburg, Germany, 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E, (52.100000, 11.650000)
Map data ©2022 Google

If you view the Google Maps Satellite view or plug the coordinates into Google Earth, you can see the area in much more detail, but just simply zooming in reveals what exists today.

Site of 28 September 1944 mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews over Magdeburg, Germany, 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E, (52.100000, 11.650000)
Map data ©2022 Google

I see that the location (again, marked by the red pin) is just northeast of a Lidl discount grocery store, and,

Distance from Lidl grocery store to coordinates of mid-air collision, 
Map data ©2022 Google

from the northern-most corner of the Lidl grocery store to the collision coordinates measures a total distance of 68.43 feet or 20.86 meters according to Google Map’s distance calculation feature. 

One day, I hope to travel to Magdeburg, Germany, find this exact location, and do exactly what I imagine doing now, look up.

I don’t expect to see the aluminum overcast of a B-17 formation, or hear the grinding and tearing of metal as B-17 meets B-17 far above the earth, probably about the same moment as the bombs dropped from the bellies of the same aircraft and others in the formation strike the ground, exploding, destroying, engulfing the area in flames and dense black smoke, wiping out both good and bad creations of man, erasing life, changing families’ futures forever, changing the path of history as it happens.

It all happened in this space in another life, another time. Is it best remembered or imagined or forgotten?

Notes/Credits

Except for Map data ©2022 Google, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

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