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.
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.
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.
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