The Arrowhead Club

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


6 Comments

  1. a gray says:

    You ask ” Is it best remembered or imagined or forgotten?” Having written about this event, can it ever really be forgotten? My experience says “No”.

    • Was the mission to Magdeburg about which you wrote from February 15, 1945? My dad’s mission there was September 28, 1944. I know he remembered it every day of his life and now I, his daughter, remember it from his stories and my research. I hope for his future descendants to know him, to know this particular mission, and to know the meaning of his service and sacrifice. But I fear we are losing this history over time. Thanks for connecting.

      • a gray says:

        Your post, “When in Magdeburg, Look Up” with its mention of colliding B-17s reminded me of the death of my father in a mid-air collision of two B-17s over Germany on 14 March 1945. I wrote of this in my blog, “Wayne’s Journal”, (https://waynes-journal.com/2015/03/14/march-14-1945/).

        As you do, I fear we are losing our history and with it an understanding of men such as your father. Men? Well, really just boys who were thrust into circumstances beyond our understanding, and we knew those men/boys.

        We may wonder what their sacrifices were worth. Some years ago, I stood in the American Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, looking at the Roll od Honor with its names of Americans stationed in the United Kingdom who died during World War II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gzzcIE-XfY. With me were two English gentlemen who had lived through the Blitz. They were boys then. They talked about how grateful they were that the Americans came to help.

      • I am so sorry for the loss of your father. How old were you at the time of the collision? I see you are as passionate as I to keep their memory alive. Do you attend the 8th AF reunions? Perhaps we can meet at one of them one day. I am looking into this year’s reunion in DC in October.

      • a gray says:

        No, I’ve never attended an 8th Air Force reunion; however, I have visited the museum in Savannah. Have you attended any of the reunions?

      • Yes, several reunions of the 384th Bomb Group and several of the 8th Air Force. They are always wonderful and meaningful. The Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah is a great experience, too. I have been twice – on the first occasion, I brought a pilot of 384th to the museum and met three other daughters of Stalag Luft IV POW’s there. On my second occasion, the son of the waist gunner of the B-17 involved in the collision with my dad’s B-17 met me there to tour the museum. So many memorable moments…

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