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Our New Home at Grafton Underwood by Eugene Spearman

Eugene Spearman, Radio Operator/Gunner in the 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron during WWII

Eugene Spearman, Radio Operator/Gunner in the 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron during WWII

Eugene Spearman, radio operator with the 384th Bomb Group, shares a story of life at Grafton Underwood by recollecting some of his own non-combat experiences.

Our New Home at Grafton Underwood

Just after we moved into the little Quonset hut as a replacement crew for the 384th BG and 544 BS at Grafton Underwood, an engineer gunner who had flown almost all of his required missions told me about his crew being shot down on a previous mission. He said they had been hit by flak and crash landed in Belgium. His pilot made a wheels-up landing and as the plane skidded for several hundred yards, finally stopped in a large greenhouse or nursery. The large greenhouse with the glass roof was completely destroyed.

As elderly lady suddenly appeared, waving her arms and yelling loudly. She said the Germans had gone in a western direction and that her greenhouse had survived. The Germans had gone in a eastern direction and her greenhouse had survived. Then the allies went in a eastern direction and her greenhouse survived. Then an American bird came along and completely destroyed her greenhouse.

If an air crewman completed his required missions (35 missions while I was flying), it was standard practice for the other crew members and friends at debriefing to celebrate his good fortune by giving him our individual little glass or shot of cognac. We celebrated with one of my friends, who according to his records had flown the required 35th mission, only to find the next morning that they awoke him and told him that their records showed he had flown only 34 missions. He was asked to fly the mission, but he refused. He was immediately charged with being AWOL and placed in the brig. Later I would see him picking up garbage around the base. I never did know just who made the error in counting the number of missions he had really flown.

One city we visited when we could get leave time was Northampton. The large double-decker English buses made a scheduled run from Grafton Underwood to Northampton. The last bus to leave Northampton was at midnight for the base at Grafton Underwood. One weekend, I went on leave to Northampton and for some reason missed the last bus to depart for Grafton Underwood. I knew that if I wasn’t in my bunk and available to fly my mission at the wake-up hour of about 4 a.m., I would be declared AWOL and would be put in the brig. I immediately checked the remaining buses and asked if any were going near the base at Grafton Underwood. One driver informed me he was going within about five miles, so I told him to let me off on the road at that point and I would attempt to walk the remaining distance and try to get there before wake-up time.

He finally stopped and told me that was where I should get off the bus. I got off at a dark, dark, cold and damp location and started walking in the direction he had pointed. After I had walked for what seemed like a long time, I suddenly saw a small light coming in my direction. I realized that I was completely lost and decided that I would have to ask whoever was coming in my direction which was the way to Grafton Underwood. It turned out that the small light was on a bicycle. When the bicycle approached, I decided to tackle the rider and ask the rider for instructions on how to get to the base. My football-type tackle of the bicycle was successful, for it turned out the rider was an elderly, small, and scared-almost-to-death Englishman. I was able to hold him in my grasp long enough to tell him that all I wanted to know was which way is it to Grafton Underwood. When I turned him loose, he left in a hurry, and I resumed my walk toward the air base. Fortunately, I made it back to the base in time to fly the next morning. I’m convinced that there was one elderly English bicycle rider on a dark, lonely road that night that wishes he had been somewhere else at that time in history.

© Eugene Spearman, 2016

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

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Missing in Action, 1945

The 384th Bomb Group flew seventy missions in 1945, with the last mission flown April 25. From January 1 to April 25, 1945, twenty-two crewmen were declared missing from four different missions with their bodies never recovered. Of the twenty-two, twenty of the missing composed two crews who seemed to disappear from the face of the earth, never to be seen again.

1945

January 8, 1945

Harmon C. Hastings, tail gunner on his thirty-fourth mission with the John Joseph DeFrancesco crew aboard Fightin’ Hebe. The target was the railroad in Kyllburg, Germany. Prior to the Initial Point of the bomb run, the Fightin’ Hebe slowed up and dropped behind the formation due to flak damage to one or more engines. It was then lost to view in contrails and later crashed near Baasem, Germany.

The rest of the crew of nine parachuted to safety and became POWs, many of them close to the end of their thirty-five missions and completion of their tours. Hastings is said to have acknowledged the order to bail out and was seen leaving the plane. One of the crew’s theory was that Hastings fell into the hands of civilians or SS troops or failed to make good his escape.

The pilot, John DeFrancesco, related to me that he parachuted down unseen in the middle of a heavy snowstorm and evaded capture for a few days. Spying an empty jeep, he climbed in and attempted to drive away in it, but was captured before he could do so.

Harmon C. Hastings is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.

January 10, 1945

The target was the railroad marshalling yards at Bonn, Germany. The Group Leader was aircraft 44-8216 which suffered flak damage and left formation twenty minutes prior to the Initial Point of the bomb run. They did not communicate any information regarding the abort. The aircraft was under control when it was last seen. The crash site and fate of the entire crew is unknown. Lost were:

  • The Commander, Major Arthur Martin Stone, Jr. (thirteenth mission with the 384th Bomb Group, but twenty-five previous missions with the 92nd Bomb Group)
  • The Pilot, Kenneth Delmont Hicks (sixteenth mission)
  • Three Navigators
    • William Rudisill Barry (twenty-seventh mission)
    • Edward Joseph Kampel (twenty-third mission)
    • Eugene Theodore Wilson (twenty-seventh mission)
  • The Bombardier, Thomas Southern Fornear (thirty-first mission)
  • The Radio Operator, George Frank Palecek (twenty-fourth mission)
  • The Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Lavern Frank Harfman (fifteenth mission)
  • Flexible Gunner, James Kane Carter (twenty-seventh mission)
  • Flexible Gunner, Robert Harwood Guider (twenty-ninth mission)
  • An Observer in the Tail, Emil Edward Pluhar (twenty-eighth mission)

All are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

February 3, 1945

Frederick Arnold Maki, radio operator on his third mission with the Robert Clax Long crew aboard The Challenger. The target was the Tempelhof Railroad Marshalling Yards in Berlin, Germany. The co-pilot, Ralph John Vrana, conveyed the details of the mission in a report which included the following information:

About a minute and a half before bombs away, the number three and four engines were hit by flak. With pressure dropping, they were forced to feather #3.

There were also flak holes throughout the right wing, the left Tokyo tank hit and drained, plexiglass in the nose broken, and several holes in the nose section of the aircraft.

No men were wounded by enemy action.

They had enough power to stick with the formation on into the target and dropped their bombs with the formation.

Following the group off the target, the damage caused them to drop behind. The co-pilot suggested going to Russia, but the pilot wanted to try to make it back to England.

They began losing altitude and air speed and lost the group, but followed the bomber stream back to the coast. They crossed the coast at about 17,000 feet, where they received more flak, but no further damage was inflicted on the aircraft. Losing altitude more rapidly, they jettisoned everything possible, and were even working on removing the ball turret, but were unable to get it completely off.

At 5,000 feet the crew prepared for ditching in the North Sea and threw out the rest of the equipment that they could. A B-17 flying alongside them likely radioed their position. The radio operator, Maki, sent out S.O.S.’s until about 500 feet, and everyone except for the pilot and co-pilot assumed ditching position in the radio room.

They hit the water at 1315 hours. The ship bent slightly in the middle. In the ditching, the togglier injured a leg and broke a few ribs. The navigator sprained an ankle and the tail gunner was bruised up. (See note below).

As soon as they hit the water, they got out, but the life raft handles wouldn’t come out. They got out on the wing and pulled the extra handle and the rafts came out. Only one of the life rafts would inflate properly. The other only half inflated. Some of the Mae Wests (life jackets) would only partially inflate also.

A big wave came along and carried off both rafts, so the men were forced to swim for them. [The average water temperature of the North Sea in February is about forty degrees Fahrenheit.] The pilot swam thirty-five to forty yards to reach the farthest raft, which was only partially inflated. The rest of the crew swam for the other, closer raft and the ball turret gunner – Jack Coleman Cook – who reached the raft first, helped everyone else in. However, Frederick Arnold Maki, the radio operator, never did make it to the raft. The crew saw him and tried to row over to him, but the waves were too high and they lost track of him as he drifted back towards the ship. Five men were in the raft with two in the water hanging onto the sides.

They rowed toward the pilot in the other raft. The pilot had lain down as soon as he had gotten into the raft and they hadn’t seen him move since. While the men rowed toward the other raft, the navigator, who had been in the water and holding onto the side for thirty minutes, got the cramps. Cook got out of the boat and got the navigator back up to the raft and they pulled him in. Cook stayed in the water and helped push the raft along by kicking his feet in the water. He was in the water about forty-five minutes before they reached the other raft.

Cook and Duncan got into the raft with the pilot when they reached him. The men bailed water out of both rafts, but the other raft seemed to fill up faster than they could bail it out. They were also unsuccessful in pumping up the other raft.

A B-17, three PBY amphibious aircraft, and later some P-51’s witnessed the efforts of the men in the rafts.

Long, the pilot, began to froth at the mouth and talk out of his head. The men doubled their efforts to bail the water out of the raft, but weren’t very successful.

At about 1715 hours, the men spotted two P-47’s and fired a flare. They dropped smoke flares and flew east to pick up an Air/Sea Rescue Cutter, which was about four miles from the men in the rafts. By the time Air/Sea Rescue arrived, Cook was talking out of his head and the pilot was perfectly still. Air/Sea Rescue took the men aboard and worked on the pilot until they docked, about four hours later. Vrana said, “There was no life in him at all. There was still a faint bit of life in Sgt. Cook and they gave him oxygen and artificial respiration, but he died on the boat.” The men were delivered into Milton Lodge.

The pilot, Robert C. Long, died in the raft. The ball turret gunner, Jack C. Cook, died after rescue. The radio operator, Fred A. Maki, never reached the life raft and was washed away.

Robert C. Long received a posthumous Silver Star for gallantry in action. Frederick Arnold Maki is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

Notes

  • The togglier, Marvin Irving Rudolph, who reportedly injured a leg and broke a few ribs, was able to return to duty after about six weeks.
  • The navigator, Edward Field, who sprained an ankle (and who also provided the photos below), was able to return to duty after about six weeks.
  • The tail gunner, Thomas Arnold Davis, who was bruised up, was able to return to duty after about four weeks.
  • The remaining crew, who had no reported injuries – Ralph John Vranna, co-pilot; Howard Jasper Ogelsby, engineer/top turret gunner; and Donald Ramsey Duncan, flexible gunner – all returned to duty after four to six weeks.

 

Ed Field: "Squatting: I'm third from left. Second from left is co-pilot Ralph Vrana from Cleveland. Can't remember the other names. Plane went down in North Sea on Feb. 3, 1945" Back L-R: All unidentified Front L-R: unidentified, Ralph Vrana (CP), Edward Field (N), unidentified To Be Identified: Robert Long (P), Marvin Rudolph (TOG), Frederick Maki (RO), Howard Oglesby (TT), Jack Cook (BT), Thomas Davis (TG), Donald Duncan (FG) Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Ed Field: “Squatting: I’m third from left. Second from left is co-pilot Ralph Vrana from Cleveland. Can’t remember the other names. Plane went down in North Sea on Feb. 3, 1945”
Back L-R: All unidentified except Frederick Arnold Maki (RO) standing far right
Front L-R: unidentified, Ralph Vrana (CP), Edward Field (N), unidentified
To Be Identified: Robert Long (P), Marvin Rudolph (TOG), Howard Oglesby (TT), Jack Cook (BT), Thomas Davis (TG), Donald Duncan (FG)
Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Crew being picked up by British Air-Sea Rescue - Crew being picked up by British Air-Sea Rescue. 3 February 1945 mission to Berlin. Robert Long (P), Ralph Vrana (CP), Edward Field (N), Marvin Rudolph (TOG), Frederick Maki (RO), Howard Oglesby (TT), Jack Cook (BT), Thomas Davis (TG), Donald Duncan (FG) 42-102501 BK*H The Challenger 546th BS Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Crew being picked up by British Air-Sea Rescue – Crew being picked up by British Air-Sea Rescue.
3 February 1945 mission to Berlin.
Robert Long (P), Ralph Vrana (CP), Edward Field (N), Marvin Rudolph (TOG), Frederick Maki (RO), Howard Oglesby (TT), Jack Cook (BT), Thomas Davis (TG), Donald Duncan (FG)
42-102501 BK*H The Challenger 546th BS
Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Choppy waters. I (Edward Field) forgot to take off my parachute harness before ditching. Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Choppy waters. I (Edward Field) forgot to take off my parachute harness before ditching.
Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Photos of rescue by photographer aboard British Air-Sea Rescue boat - Photos of rescue by photographer aboard British Air-Sea Rescue boat. Robert Long (Pilot) and Fred Maki (RO) survived the ditching, but Maki was swept away and lost, and Long succumbed to to exposure. Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

Photos of rescue by photographer aboard British Air-Sea Rescue boat – Photos of rescue by photographer aboard British Air-Sea Rescue boat.
Robert Long (Pilot) and Fred Maki (RO) survived the ditching, but Maki was swept away and lost, and Long succumbed to to exposure.
Photo courtesy of Edward Field, 2011.

March 19, 1945

The target was the Braunkohle-Benzin Synthetic Oil Plant in Bohlen, Germany. The Low Squadron Deputy of the “D” Composite Group, which was also the hot camera ship, was last seen over Ostend, Belgium on their return to England. They were observed under control and were presumed to have landed away on the continent. However, the aircraft and crew were never seen again. The crash site and fate of the entire crew is unknown. Lost were:

  • The Pilot, William L. Kramer (thirty-first mission)
  • The Co-pilot, Emmett Patrick Culhane (twenty-ninth mission)
  • The Navigator, Charles Linwood Fell (fourteen missions)
  • The Bombardier, Walter S. Robitzki (tenth mission)
  • The Radio Operator, William R. Brooks (thirty-fourth mission)
  • The Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Dwight A. Scrivner (twenty-seventh mission)
  • Ball Turret Gunner, Jack E. Pfeiffer (thirtieth mission)
  • Tail Gunner, Keith A. Krauss, (thirty-first mission)
  • Flexible Gunner, Francis J. Lukosavich (thirty-first mission)

All are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

Radio operator Eugene Spearman, who was a crewmate of Walter Robitzki, tried for years to find out what had happened but was unsuccessful. Spearman said, “In talks with my pilot, copilot, and others in the crew, no one knew any more than I did. They just didn’t return. In 1993, when we dedicated the Heritage Museum, I asked a lady employee there if she knew or could help me find out anything about Walter’s MIA status. This employee was Mrs. Phyllis Dubois from Alysham, Norwich, England. She promised to try and find some information and write me. Later, she sent me a casualty report that showed that the B-17, No. 44-8008, was sighted over Ostend, Belgium, at 11,000 feet at 1655 hours with no apparent damage.”

Ostend, Belgium is on the coast, which leads to the assumption that the ship went down in the English Channel or the North Sea and whatever remains of the aircraft and her crew are still down there today.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Missing in Action, 1944

Of the forty-eight missions the 384th Bomb Group flew in 1943, twenty-five crewmen were declared missing in action during those six months and their bodies never found. Their names are etched in the Tablets of the Missing in Cambridge (England), Margraten (The Netherlands), and Henri-Chappelle (Belgium).

The 384th Bomb Group flew two hundred seventeen missions in 1944. For the entire year 1944, only fifteen crewmen were declared missing with their bodies never recovered. Keep in mind, many more men were at one time declared missing, but some of those became POWs, or evaded capture, or were declared killed in action.

1944

February 3, 1944

Donald Ivan Collins, ball turret gunner on his twelfth mission with the Joseph R. Herbert crew aboard Wabbit Twacks. The target was a submarine facility at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Collins “fell through” the ball turret at 12,000 feet over enemy territory. He was not wearing a parachute. He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

March 9, 1944

42-37781 SILVER DOLLAR

42-37781 SILVER DOLLAR

Merlin Reed (pilot on his nineteenth mission), Peter Gudyka (navigator on his twenty-first mission), and Robert O. Johnson (engineer/top turret gunner on his sixteenth mission) were aboard Silver Dollar. The target was the Heinkel Aircraft Plant in Oranienburg, Germany.

Bombs from the 379th Bomb Group (the high group) fell onto Silver Dollar, knocking the tail completely off in front of the stabilizer. The aircraft dived straight down into a spin with all four engines running. Only two of the crew managed to escape from the aircraft. Other than the three missing men, five more of the crew were killed when the plane struck the ground about one-half mile from the southern outskirts of Berlin.

John Plotz, the waist gunner who parachuted down and landed about one hundred yards from the plane, wrote that the plane was completely demolished by the impact and an explosion. [You can read about the ball turret gunner’s amazing escape from Silver Dollar here]. Reed, Gudyka, and Johnson are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands.

May 8, 1944

James Wesley Brown (pilot on his fourth mission), Donald Vernon Chubb (co-pilot on his third mission), Kenneth Myron Jones (navigator on his third mission), Merle Ernest Ingmire (engineer/top turret gunner on his fourth mission), Joseph John Kozar (radio operator on his third mission), James Augustine Hatton (ball turret gunner on his third mission), and Julius Eugene McClintick (waist gunner on his third mission) were aboard aircraft 42-97081. The target was a Crossbow (V-weapon) service bunker in Sottevast, France.

The aircraft was struck by flak immediately after the bomb run, peeled out of the formation, and headed for England. The crew had to ditch in the English Channel thirteen miles off the French coast on the return trip back to Grafton Underwood. The bombardier and tail gunner were rescued, but the rest of the crew did not survive.

The body of one waist gunner was recovered, but the remainder of the crew were not recovered. Both the survivors, bombardier Carl William Kuba and tail gunner George Hallow Yeager, Jr., described the incident. I have combined their comments into this one description:

Shortly after the bomb run, flak struck the No. 4 engine and then the No. 1 engine. Both engines cut out. The Nos. 2 and 3 engines were working all right. The No. 4 engine caught fire and the crew considered bailing out.

The next burst of flak hit the tail wheel, knocking it off. The oxygen system was also knocked out. But after a check with everyone on the interphone, no one had been wounded by the flak.

Another burst of flak struck the left wing between the Nos. 1 and 2 engines and almost tore it from the aircraft. It was held on only by about 1 1/2 feet of the leading edge and about 1 foot of the trailing edge. The Engineer called and reported that there was fire between Nos. 1 and 2 engines in the main gas tank.

The bombardier jettisoned the bombs to reduce the weight of the aircraft. The pilot peeled out of formation to the left and headed for the English Channel. The fire in the No. 4 engine was extinguished and the crew believed they could make it back.

Because of the lack of oxygen, they were forced down to 13,000 feet. However flames continued to shoot out of the left wing and it became clear they could not make it back. The interphone became inoperative by the time they reached the Channel, and the pilot gave the signal to bail out about 1905 hours.

The tail gunner, Yeager, reported he was the seventh man to leave the ship. When he got into the water he had some difficulty in getting rid of his chute, as one side of it stuck. However, he finally got it off. He pulled the cords on his Mae West and it inflated and then deflated. He began swimming about. He did not see any of the others after he landed in the water.

The bombardier, Kuba, reported that he followed the navigator out of the plane as the eighth chute out. He delayed opening his chute to prevent drifting too far away from the rest of the crew. He pulled one side of his Mae West and when he hit the water, got rid of his chute.

Yeager reported an explosion in the aircraft when it was about five to six hundred feet above the water. It went into a dive and then hit the water and sank. It came back up and another explosion occurred and it began burning, staying afloat for about four to five minutes. According to Yeager, neither the Pilot or Co-Pilot bailed out.

A Spitfire dropped Kuba a dinghy, but he could not reach it, as it was about four to five hundred yards away. His clothing kept him warm and dry for awhile, but as the water successfully penetrated each garment, he discarded it. His fingers became numb and he was unable to remove his coveralls.

About 2045 hours Yeager was picked up by Air/Sea Rescue.

Kuba reported he was in the water for about one and one-half hours and was picked up by Air/Sea Rescue. He was informed by Air/Sea Rescue that all of the crew except two had died of exposure.

Waist gunner Donald E. Reis, who died of exposure, was the only body recovered. The other seven crewmen unaccounted for were also presumed to have died of exposure.

James Wesley Brown’s name is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Ardennes American Cemetery, in Neupré, Belgium. Donald Vernon Chubb’s name is listed on the Tablets of the Missing in Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France. James Augustine Hatton, Merle Ernest Ingmire, Kenneth Myron Jones, Joseph John Kozar, and Julius Eugene McClintick are all listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

May 13, 1944

Thomas Rex Francis, pilot on his fourth mission, aboard aircraft 42-97404, (possibly named Little Mike). The target was an aircraft assembly components factory in Poznań, Poland. The formation was under enemy aircraft attack when Francis pulled out of the formation to the left. He was seen circling under control, but with fires under the inboard sections and both wings.

Francis maintained control of the aircraft while the crew bailed out. The ball turret gunner, William Fiory, believes that Francis stayed at his post too long. Fiory saw the left wing break off soon after he bailed out. The aircraft crashed in a field near Loitz, Germany, near the Tutow Luftwaffe Base. Theories from the crew about Francis’s fate were:

  • He may have been trapped aboard by the fire and was still in the aircraft when it struck the ground
  • His parachute caught on fire after bailing out
  • He parachuted safely, but was killed by the “Jerries” after landing
  • He parachuted into an area that was being bombed (one crew member reporting landed only one mile from the bombing area)
  • One of the crew reported that the German interrogator at Dulug Luft told one of the crew that Francis had been killed, but the interrogator offered no details.

The top turret gunner, Allen Francis Brannigan, described what happened:

From out of the sun, the Me-109s cut through the flight path. In the top turret, I could follow their path around our formation and I spotted two fighters peel off and enter our air space. I called for Pallandino (left waist gunner) to spot his target. I opened fire and followed the 109 across my horizon. Petrillo (right waist gunner) opened fire, but the fighter escaped the barrage of lead. Two more entered the fray. The second 109 hit the plane ahead, (Chas. Baker aircraft) the cabin exploded and the ship did a complete loop, over and out of formation. Tom Francis, (pilot) pulled up, trying to miss the flaming debris. Another German cut in front of us and placed a shell in our left wing. Our Fortress shook and the wing burst into flame. Tom called out he had lost control and to abandon ship.

Francis attended the A&M College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) as a member of the class of 1940 majoring in Agricultural Engineering. He graduated from Cadet School at Brooks Field in September 1942 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was the pilot on a B-17 named “Little Mike” after his son, Michael. The plane was shot down and the crew, except Lt. Francis, captured. No one in the crew knew what had happened to Lt. Francis. German interrogators told the co-pilot during his interrogation that they had shot Francis. There was some doubt in the co-pilots mind that this happened as the Germans were trying to intimidate them to extract information on the flight. The crew returned to the United States a little over a year after their capture.

Source:  Fields of Honor Database

Thomas Rex Francis is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands.

September 13, 1944

Lee White Dodson (pilot on his thirty-fourth mission) and William Conrad Koch (navigator on his first mission), aboard aircraft 43-38213. The target was the Leuna Synthetic Oil Refinery in Merseburg, Germany. The anti-aircraft fire was intense and accurate, with continuously pointed fire and barrage employed. The aircraft was damaged by flak, and was observed going down in flames immediately after bombs away. Later the aircraft was noted to fall apart into three sections (the left wing and tail snapped off). It was afire, went into a spin and a steep dive, and exploded. The pilot and co-pilot were observed slumped over their seats. Two crewmen were killed, five became POWs and Dodson and Koch remained missing in action. The co-pilot, who had been reported slumped over his seat, was blown out of the plane by the explosion and did survive.

Dodson, the pilot, had numerous flak wounds in his left side. He ordered the crew to bail out and then said “Let’s get the hell out of here.” German guards reported that Dodson was found in the wreckage underneath the #2 engine. However, he was burned beyond recognition and his dog tags were missing. The crew member reporting this information believed the guard was entirely truthful as he was shown the dog tags of other crew members.

Koch, the navigator, was apparently unable to exit the aircraft or was knocked unconscious when the plane exploded. The bombardier, who was rendered unconscious and knocked out of the nose by the explosion reported that Koch was just next to him at the time of the explosion. He probably never recovered consciousness or else had his chute torn from him.

Lee Dodson only had one more mission to go to complete his tour. William Koch did not return from his first mission. Lee Dodson and William Koch are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.

December 27, 1944

Thomas Earl Raught, ball turret gunner on the Elmer Nelson crew, on his thirty-first mission aboard aircraft 42-107083. The target was a bridge in Altenahr, Germany. The aircraft received a direct flak burst two minutes after attacking the secondary target, the railroad marshalling yards in Koblenz, Germany. The burst hit behind the ball turret and completely disengaged the tail assembly. After the tail section broke off, the plane plunged to earth. The aircraft crashed near Mühlbach, Germany, (near Arenburg). Other than Raught, six of the crew were killed and two became POWs. The amount of destruction to the aircraft was described as 99 1/2 percent.

In response to an interrogation form, tail gunner John R. Manicki supplied some information about the mission. He wrote:

About ten minutes after bombs away we were hit with flak in the waist section of the ship, resulting the the outer wing panels dropping off. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Elmer Nelson, did not give the order to abandon ship. A few minutes later, from the result of flak, the plane split in half.

Manicki was thrown clear from the impact and parachuted to safety. During his descent, he saw:

The nose section of the plane was in a dive and traveling at at tremendous rate of speed.

Neither Manicki or the other suvivor, radio operator Anthony Occhino, had any information regarding Thomas Raught’s fate.

Thomas Earl Raught is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Lorraine American Cemetery, Saint-Avold, France.

To be continued with 384th personnel missing in action on missions in 1945.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Missing in Action, 1943

Eugene Spearman wrote in one of his stories that he tried for years to find out what happened to crewmate Walter Robitzki. Robitzki flew a mission on March 19, 1945 with a different crew and was never seen again. Their B-17, No. 44-8008, was sighted on the way back to Grafton Underwood over Ostende, Belgium, at 11,000 feet at 1655 hours with no apparent damage. Ostende is on the coast, which leads to the assumption that the ship went down in the English Channel and whatever remains of the aircraft and her crew are still down there today.

Walter Robitzki is one of sixty-two men of the 384th Bomb Group that are still listed as Missing in Action in WWII as their bodies were never found.

The 384th Bomb Group flew three hundred thirty-five missions from June 22, 1943 to April 25, 1945. They flew forty-eight missions in 1943.

1943

June 22, 1943

Bernarr Houghton Nelson, bombardier of the Frederick Disney crew. The Disney crew was on its very first mission. The target was the General Motors Truck Factory in Antwerp, Belgium. The crew’s aircraft, Salvage Queen, was damaged by enemy aircraft and had to ditch in the English Channel. Three of the crew managed to bail out and became POWS. The remaining crew were caught in the plane by centrifugal force due to the spinning ship and were probably killed when the ship hit the water. Six bodies washed up on shore and were recovered. Bernarr Nelson was the only one of the crew who remained missing. He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

June 25, 1943

Charles Earl Crawford (ball turret gunner) and John R. Way (pilot). The Way crew was on its very first mission. They were aboard Miss Deal and the target was the industrial area and submarine pens of Hamburg, Germany. Comments on the sortie report states that:

After making two unsuccessful runs on the primary target, the crew headed for Emden as a likely target for their bomb load. The flak guns found them, inflicting serious damage and injuries – then they ran into fighters. A furious running battle ensued, with some crew members bailing out, and finally the aircraft exploded. The main part of the wreckage came down in the dollard (Dutch: dollart), an embayment of the Ems River on the border between Germany and the Netherlands.

Six of the crew became POW. Two bodies were recovered. The bodies of Crawford and Way were never recovered. Crawford and Way are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands.

July 25, 1943

Arlie R. Bridge, Jr. (flexible gunner) and John D. Neyland (bombardier) of the John D. Hegewald crew. The Hegewald crew was on its second mission. The target was the Blohm & Voss Aircraft Works and Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany. The crew’s aircraft, Longhorn, was disabled by enemy action over the target and crashed in the Wesel, Germany area. Details are unknown. Three of the crew survived and became POWs. The remaining crew were killed, but only five bodies were recovered and identified. The bodies of Bridge and Neyland were never recovered. Bridge and Neyland are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands.

July 29, 1943

Robert J. Quaranta, tail gunner, was on his fourth mission with the James R. Roberts crew aboard aircraft 42-29700. The target was the Naval Base in Kiel, Germany. They were shot down by enemy aircraft after attacking a target of opportunity. Seven of the crew became POWs. Three of the crew were killed, with two recovered and identified.  Quaranta’s body was never recovered. He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands.

August 12, 1943

The target was a synthetic fuel hydrogenation plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Five men in two different crews remain missing from this mission.

Ernest J. Sierens, pilot, was on his seventh mission aboard Merrie Hell. Only two of his crew survived and became POWs. The remainder of the crew were killed, and Sierens is the only one still listed as missing. Merrie Hell was damaged by flak and crashed near Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The Missing Air Crew Report (MACR289) shows that Sierens was buried on August 15, 1943 in the Gelsenkirchen/Bismarck Village Cemetery, Field 14c, in grave number 88 (although his name is erroneously listed as E.J. Eierons). However, Sierens is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands.

Walter C. Parkins (tail gunner on his ninth mission), Win R. Smalley (ball turret gunner on his tenth mission), Floyd M. Wingate (waist gunner on his ninth mission), and Arthur E. Brittain (radio operator on his fifth mission) were flying with the Richard T. Carrington, Jr. crew aboard The Inferno. All but Brittain had flown the 384th Bomb Group’s Mission #1. The Inferno was damaged by an engagement with six or seven enemy fighters and crashed southeast of Liblar, Germany. The crew would not go down without a fight, though. Another pilot on that mission, Jesse D. Hausenfluck, Jr., described the actions of the Carrington crew which Major William Edward “Pop” Dolan included in the Mission Report:

About six or seven enemy fighters were converging on him, mainly from 9, 10, and 11 o’clock, level. He turned into the formation of enemy fighters, pulled his nose up so that the ball turret could let them have it. He did not swerve from his course. All guns which were available and could be brought to bear on the fighters were brought to bear. The nose guns, the ball turret, and, when nose down, the top turret. …  At the time I last saw Capt. Carrington he was still under control and knew exactly what he was doing. I think it was one of the most outstanding feats of personal bravery I have ever witnessed.

Six of the crew, including Carrington, became POWs. The remaining four – Parkins, Smalley, Wingate, and Brittain – were missing in action. Parkins, Smalley, and Brittain are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, The Netherlands. Wingate is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.

September 1, 1943

Willard D. Nelson, assistant engineering officer. According to 384th records compiled by historian Ken Decker, on September 1, 1943 Nelson drowned off the coast of Morecambe, Lancashire. He was on a British RAF Anson aircraft from the School of Air Sea Rescue at Squires Gate Airfield, near Blackpool, which crashed in the English Channel. Although all others aboard the Anson were saved, Nelson was a non-swimmer and was apparently swept away by the waves. Nelson is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

October 9, 1943

John Thomas Ingles (pilot on his eleventh mission), Harry Mitchell Pratt (co-pilot on his ninth mission), Charles Logan Ruman (navigator on his tenth mission), Robert Leigh Fish (bombardier on his second mission), Lawrence Waith Smith, Jr. (radio operator on his eighth mission), Clarence Theodore Morrison (engineer/top turret on his tenth mission), John Francis Farley (ball turret on his tenth mission), Alfred Joseph Brescia (tail gunner on his tenth mission), Charles Arnold Spaulding (waist gunner on his eighth mission), and Carl Warner Janes (waist gunner on his tenth mission) were aboard Dallas Rebel. The targets were the aircraft factories in Anklam, Germany. Dallas Rebel was attacked by enemy FW-190 aircraft and ditched in the North Sea fifty miles west of the Danish coast. The entire crew of ten was lost at sea and never recovered. Their names are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

November 26, 1943

James F. Bucher (waist gunner) and Maurice V. Henry (engineer/top turret gunner) were on their third mission with the William Featherson Gilmore crew aboard Barrel House Bessie. The target was the city center of Bremen, Germany. With flak damage, Gilmore ditched in the North Sea near the English coast. Seven of the crew were rescued. Three of the crew died of exposure and Bucher and Henry’s bodies were never recovered. Henry was posthumously awarded the Distinguised Service Cross…

For valor above and beyond the call of duty while participating in an operational mission over Germany on 26 November 1943. T/Sgt. Henry’s display of courage, coolness, skill and self-negation in the presence of great hazard and uncertainty, with utter disregard of his own personal safety, made possible the rescue of seven members of his crew although by his actions he is missing and presumed to have perished.

Approaching the target on its bombing run, T/Sgt. Henry’s aircraft suffered an engine failure in two outboard engines and began to fall behind the formation. The crew jettisoned the bombs to lighten the load, and intercept the formation, but one fully armed bomb hung up in the racks. Despite intense attacks by enemy aircraft, evasive action, and the extreme cold, T/Sgt. Henry entered the open bomb bay and released the bomb. About that time the number three engine was set on fire and it was decided to run for a cloud bank some distance away.

At this point, T/Sgt. Henry destroyed one enemy aircraft and damaged another from his position in the top turret. Despite violent evasive action, the enemy fighter attacks increased in intensity and many damaging hits were made on the aircraft. The oxygen system was shot out, the pilot’s aileron control and both pilot and co-pilot’s rudder control were destroyed, and the entire electrical system including instruments and turret control were made inoperative.

An incendiary shell struck the left side of the cockpit, slightly wounding the pilot and setting the cockpit afire. T/Sgt. Henry extinguished the fire although ill and vomiting from the acrid smoke. The enemy fighters were evaded in the clouds, but the aircraft was losing altitude and due to the failure of the inter-communications system T/Sgt. Henry made repeated trips through the ship to carry out orders of the pilot and to supervise the jettisoning of equipment to lighten the load.

Breaking out of the clouds at 6000 feet directly over the city of Emden, the aircraft was immediately engaged and further damaged by heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire, but by strong evasive action, escaped to the sea. By this time, the number four engine was completely out and it was impossible to feather the propellor. Number three engine had been started again but was giving only spasmodic power. Shortly thereafter, both number one and number two engines cut out and T/Sgt Henry quickly and with great presence of mind assembled the crew in the radio compartment and prepared them for ditching.

All radio equipment had been destroyed and it was impossible to transmit an S.O.S. A small boat was seen in the sea and T/Sgt. Henry immediately produced a flare and Very pistol with which to signal it. With no power, the pilot landed in the general area of the surface vessel, the aircraft breaking in two just aft of the radio compartment. T/Sgt. Henry assisted the other members of the crew to leave the ship and was himself the last to abandon it, renouncing all regard for his own survival.

He delayed his exit further by searching for and finding the emergency radio which he took with him into the icy water. Due to the battle damage to the life rafts, the heavy swell of the waves, and the shock of entering the extremely cold water, members of the crew could do nothing to assist each other. T/Sgt. Henry, still grasping the emergency radio which he considered vitally necessary to rescue, and despite his valiant struggle, was washed away and lost.

[Information provided by 384thbombgroup.com]

The missing air crew report also noted that only one life raft inflated and due to the extreme cold of the water, Bucher was also not able to get into a life raft and was also washed away and lost.

James F. Bucher and Maurice V. Henry are listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

December 30, 1943

Aldo Joseph Gregori, right waist gunner, was on his fourteenth mission with the Randolph George Edward Jacobs crew aboard the Sea Hag. The target was a chemical/synthetic rubber plant, I. G. Farben Industrie in Ludwigshafen, Germany. The Sea Hag experienced mechanical failure when just fifteen minutes over France, the number one prop ran away, threw chunks of cowling and caught on fire. Jacobs had to ditch in the English Channel. Nine of the crew were rescued at sea. Unable to free himself from the wreckage of the ditched aircraft, Gregori went down with the ship.

Aldo Joseph Gregori is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

In all, twenty-five men with the 384th Bomb Group were declared missing in action in 1943.

To be continued with 384th personnel missing in action on missions in 1944 and 1945.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016