The continuation of “What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1” published on May 22, 2019.
On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, 43-37822 and 42-31222 (also known as Lazy Daisy.) The Buslee crew, with my dad George Edwin Farrar as waist gunner, was aboard 43-37822. The Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy. Dad told me the story of the mid-air collision many times when I was a child and he always said the reason for the collision was that the “other ship” was hit by ground fire, which caused it to veer off course and into his ship.
In the high-level group narrative documents for the mission, I discovered,
- Bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point
- A second bomb run had to be made on the target
- The group was behind schedule 20 minutes
- CPF (Continuously Pointed Fire) and barrage type flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate
- The Wing leader was hit by flak and the deputy had to take over the lead, causing the Lead section to break up
- The Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section
- Coming off the target, the Wing was on a collision course with another unidentified Wing
- As reported by a 351st Bomb Group crew member, a Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of the formation, creating much prop wash
Quite a bit of information was gleaned from the high-level post-mission documents, but there was much more detail about the collision in the Visual Observation section of the Tactical Interrogation Forms that each pilot filled out in the post-mission briefing, which I will add to what I have already reported.
B-17 formation flying was tricky in itself, but it became even more difficult and dangerous when things out of the ordinary happened as they did on September 28, 1944. Not that there were many “ordinary” missions, but mid-air collisions were just one of the ways a B-17 could be brought down in addition to flak from ground fire, rockets, and enemy fighter attacks.
The 384th Bomb Group’s formation on September 28, 1944 was made up thirty-six (36) crews and aircraft, twelve (12) each in three groups, Lead, High, and Low. Both the Buslee and Brodie crews were part of the High Group.
Below are each of the Lead, High, and Low Groups’ formation charts, a list of each crew and aircraft, and narratives I found recorded in various sections, but mainly the Flak and Visual Observations sections, of each pilot’s Tactical Interrogation Form, along with several comments from crew members pertinent to the Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision found on the Technical Failure report.
Frink, Horace Everett, Commander, and Davis, L K, Pilot, of 44-8007
Wing Leader and PFF ship was hit by flak just after bombs away. Forced to land away in Brussels due to flak damage and therefore not available for post-mission briefing reporting.
Rummel, Brian D, Pilot of 44-6476
Just after bombs away the lead ship had direct hit in #4 supercharger & the formation scattered because of his slow air speed. Two B17’s collided & both went down. No chutes seen.
Henderson, William V, Pilot of 43-38616
No observations regarding the collision, but he did note,
ME109 went down, attacked by 2 P51’s
Tracy, Edward H, Pilot of 42-97251
Saw one B17 break in half at Target. No chutes.
Salley, Thomas R, Pilot of 42-97510
2 B-17’s collided. No chutes were seen. One man came out but no chute. High Gp, High Sq.
Cepits, Francis F, Pilot of 42-107121
2 planes go down.
Duesler, Donald B, Pilot of 42-102500
2 B17’s from high group went down. One ship was hit by a direct flak burst & broke at the waist & fell on the second a/c. Both went down in flames.
Duesler also noted on the second page of the form in the “Facts concerning our a/c destroyed” section, the reasons,
flak & collision
Hassing, Eugene Theron, Pilot of 42-102501
2 A/C from high sqdn high group collided. 1A/C lost right wing, the other broke in half. No chutes seen. All parts burning when A/C fell into undercast.
Mead, Frank Willard, Pilot of 42-102620
No observations regarding the collision, but one of Mead’s crew reported on the Technical Failures report,
Two bomb runs made on 3 of the last 4 missions. Circled right through the flak today.
McDaniel, Clifford F, Pilot of 42-107125
Saw 2 ships collide – go down.
Green, Loren L, Pilot of 42-31484
No observations regarding the collision
Doran, William Elmer, Pilot of 43-37971
No observations regarding the collision
Hale, Kenneth Oliver, Pilot Flying Spare 43-38501
Filled in for Rice in the High Group – see next grouping
Johnson, William T, Commander and Toler, Harold M Pilot, of 43-38016
Reported at the time of 1217, at the location of Helmsledt (approximately 30 miles west of Magdeburg), and at an altitude of 28,000 feet,
2 17s. One crashed into each other. Both went down.
Groff, Richard Hubert, Pilot of 43-38615
Ball turret gunner Robert Mitchell was aboard this ship flying just to the left of the Buslee ship.
2 B-17’s fr our Gp in sharp climbing bank to right #2 in Ld Sq High Gp collided with #2 High Sq High Gp. Lt. Brodies left wing hit Lt. Buslees tail and cut part of wing off & Lt. Buslee’s A/C broke off at waist.
Buslee, John Oliver, Pilot of 43-37822
Collided with 42-31222 aka Lazy Daisy
Combs, William Felix, Pilot of 42-102661
This CBW [combat wing] was pretty well scattered & 2 B17’s collided. One was OD (olive drab) color. They are thought to be from High Sqdn., High Group. No chutes seen, both planes went to pieces.
Blankenmeyer, William J, Pilot of 42-39888
Chester Rybarczyk (original Buslee crew navigator) was aboard this ship.
Group was forced to pull up to avoid collision with another group (Red diagonal strip & letter J in white triangle). Ball turret of one ship hit tail of the other, tearing off both tail and ball turret. Both ships went down. 4 chutes seen.
The group with the tail symbol Triangle J was the 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the Eighth United States Army Air Force, based at Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, during World War II.
Gabel, Raymond J, Pilot of 43-38062
James Davis (Buslee crew bombardier who replaced original crew bombardier Marvin Fryden) was aboard this ship.
2 B-17’s (384th) seen to collide rt after bombs away & fell about 50 feet & wings came off & started turning. The other spun down to 10,000 feet on fire. 3 chutes observed out of plane with wings off. None out of other.
Carlson, Walter E, Pilot of 42-97320
No observations regarding the collision, but one of Carlons’s crew reported on the Technical Failures report,
Collision of B-17s due to pilot error in evasive action after bombs away.
Rice, Robert E, Pilot of 43-37703/Hale, Kenneth Oliver, Pilot Flying Spare 43-38501
Rice turned back due to personnel illness and was replaced by Hale, Kenneth Oliver, Pilot Flying Spare 43-38501
No observations regarding the collision.
Patella, Joseph David, Pilot of 44-6141
Right after bombing, diving off target, ran into another group, lot of prop wash, formation broken up by very sharp turns & prop wash. 2 A/C – 1 from high squadron, the other unknown, collided. Both A/C broke up. No chutes seen.
Johnstone, William A, Pilot of 42-97941
A/C 222 & 822 mid air collision. No chutes seen. Both ships broke up.
Johnstone reported the observation of the collision at 1218 at the target area. He also reported barrage and CPF flak “after bombs away” at the same time of 1218.
Gross, Kenneth Eugene, Pilot of 43-38548
Co-pilot Wallace Storey, who after the war reported Brodie’s plane almost hitting him and seeing it hit Buslee’s plane, was aboard this ship.
No observations regarding the collision reported, but Gross did report tracking black flak at the target area.
Brodie, James Joseph, Pilot of 42-31222
Collided with 43-37822
Booska, Maurice Arthur, Commander and Bean, Donald W, Pilot of 43-38542
2 B17s from High group collided & both fell apart & went down in flames. No chutes.
Reported accurate CPF flak, black gray, big brown bursts at the same time as the observation of the collision at 1211.
Sine, George H, Pilot of 42-38013
2 A/C from high group in collision. 1 broke in half at radio room. A/C clipped wings went down in spin, then hit again. One broke up. Possibly one chute seen.
Hicks, Ralph B, Pilot of 42-102449
2 A/C in our Hi Group collided and blew up. No chutes seen.
One of Hick’s crew reported on the Technical Failures report,
It is thought that 2 A/C in high group collided because lead group formation scattered when lead A/C left formation at target area.
Goodrick, Gene Robert, Pilot of 44-6135
No observations regarding the collision reported.
Majeske, Charles P, Pilot of 42-37788
No observations regarding the collision reported, but he did record accurate tracking black white flak all around A/C [aircraft] at the target.
Brown, Bert Oliver, Pilot of 42-38208
No observations regarding the collision reported, but one of Hick’s crew asked on the Technical Failures report,
Why were two wings making run at target at same time?
Rowe, George B, Pilot of 44-6105
2 Gp A/C crashed. Silver A/C cut in half at radio room & wings folded off. OD (olive drab) just went straight down & disappeared in overcast. 1 chute seen from silver A/C.
Keller, Marion W, Pilot of 43-37990
Saw 2 B-17 collided. One came from 7 o’clock, other from 4 o’clock & appeared to collide sideways. Both went down. No chutes seen. No additional info. No markings seen on tails. Too far away.
Owens, Robert Clare, Pilot of 43-37843
No observations regarding the collision reported, but he reported,
2 E/A (enemy aircraft) shot down by escort and P-51 blown up by flak over target.
Farra, Robert L, Pilot of 44-6294
Below barrage. 2 planes collided above us.
Wismer, Richard Glen, Pilot of 42-32106
Was not in the formation at the target. Returned early. Aircraft suffered mechanical failure; bombs dropped at 50°45’N,9°25’E, Germany, in enemy territory with unknown effect. Returned to base.
Fahr, John, Pilot of 42-107148
2 B-17 collided High Gp. High Sq. Both A/C went straight down. No chutes were seen.
In addition to the information I learned from the high-level post-mission documents, I also learned,
Reported Causes of the Mid-air Collision
- The Wing Leader was hit by flak and his air speed slowed, causing the formation to scatter (Rummel)
- Lead group formation scattered when lead aircraft left formation at target area (Hicks crew)
- One ship was hit by a direct flak burst (Duesler). [There were many reports of flak at the target and the Wing Lead was undoubtedly hit by flak. Duesler’s is the only reported visual observation of Brodie’s ship being hit by flak.]
- Group forced to pull up to avoid collision with another group (351st Bomb Group) (Blankenmeyer)
- Right after bombing, ran into another group, a lot of prop wash, formation broken up by very sharp turns and prop wash (Patella)
- Pilot error in evasive action after bombs away (Carlson crew)
Reported Collision and Damage
- 2 B-17’s collided
- Both went down
- One B-17 broke in half
- Ship hit by flak broke at the waist and fell on the second aircraft (Duesler)
- 1 aircraft lost right wing, the other broke in half (Hassing)
- Lt. Brodie’s left wing hit Lt. Buslee’s tail and cut part of wing off; Lt. Buslee’s aircraft broke off at waist (Groff)
- Ball turret of one ship hit tail of the other, tearing off both tail and ball turret (Blankenmeyer)
- 1 broke in half at the radio room (Sine)
- Silver aircraft (Buslee’s) cut in half at radio room and wings folded off. Olive Drab aircraft (Brodie’s) went straight down and disappeared in overcast (Rowe)
- Wings came off and started turning; other spun down on fire (Gabel)
- Burning when fell into undercast
- One man came out, but no chute (Salley), [likely Brodie crew togglier Byron Atkins]
- 3 out of plane with wings off (Brodie’s); none out of other (Buslee’s) (Gabel)
- 1 from silver aircraft (Buslee’s) (Rowe)
Why did the Brodie crew’s B-17 collide with the Buslee crew’s B-17? Many factors led to the disaster including a need for a second bomb run due to another wing flying underneath at the target on the first run, slightly being off schedule, the wing lead being hit by flak on the second run, slowing air speed, the deputy taking over and the formation breaking up, very sharp turns and prop wash, finding themselves on a collision course with another group coming off the target, a possible direct flak hit on Brodie’s aircraft, flak at the target, or just plain pilot error in a critical situation.
What happened to the two B-17’s of Buslee and Brodie? After the collison, at least one broke in half at the waist or near the radio room. The tail of Brodie’s was cut off as was Buslee’s ball turret. One or both lost one or both wings. They were both burning as they spun or fell into the undercast.
Was there any hope of survivors? Most witnesses did not see any chutes, but three were reported out of Brodie’s aircraft and one out of Buslee’s. One man was seen coming out of Brodie’s aircraft with no chute. The three survivors on the Brodie crew were waist gunner Harry Liniger, tail gunner Wilfred Miller, and navigator George Hawkins. Togglier Byron Atkins was likely the man seen coming from Brodie’s aircraft without a chute when he was knocked out of the nose. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was the one chute coming from Buslee’s aircraft.
Do I know much more now than I did before I saw the mission reports? Yes and no. The story, causes, and result of the mid-air collision mostly remains the same for me. But Donald B. Duesler, pilot of 42-102500, has provided me with the possibility that Brodie’s ship was hit by flak like my dad always said before it ran into his ship. (Although Duesler’s report seems unclear as to which ship was hit by flak as it was Buslee’s ship, not Brodie’s, that broke at the waist).
The families of the fourteen men who died on the two ships never really understood what happened to their boys, and I’m still not sure I really do either. Was it pilot error, was it flak, or could Lazy Daisy have suffered some sort of malfunction at a very inopportune moment? My next research will be into Lazy Daisy’s mechanical failures history and I’ll report what I find in a future post.
Thank you to Keith Ellefson and Marc Poole for helping me decipher the handwriting of the pilots on their Tactical Interrogation Forms!
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019