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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

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

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

The 222nd Combat Crew Crew Training School in Ardmore, Oklahoma

Last week I wrote about 384th Bomb Group tail gunner John James Bregant of the Frigham Young crew and my new acquaintance with his granddaughter, Kathryn Bregant Smith. Kathryn has her grandfather’s collection of photos and other memorabilia from World War II and shared photos and images of items from his collection.

I learned through Kathryn that John Bregant had attended the 222nd Combat Crew Training School in Ardmore, Oklahoma before starting his combat duty. My dad taught at the same school and joined a combat crew there in June 1944.

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a gunnery instructor in the Army Air Forces in WWII for thirteen months before entering combat. His first station as an instructor was for seven months as a flexible gunnery instructor at Kingman, Arizona.

Following his service at Kingman, he was an instructor for six months at the 222nd Combat Crew Training School at the Army Airfield at Ardmore, Oklahoma. His duties were detailed as “administered phase checks, organized students and instructors for training in aerial gunnery.” This duty started sometime in December 1943 and continued to early June 1944.


On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.

[https://www.army.mil/d-day/]


June 6, 1944 was D-Day. Two days later, on June 8, 1944, Dad received his written orders “as a combat crew member requiring regular and frequent participation in aerial flights.”

I suppose since he had been an aerial gunnery instructor, he didn’t require much more training himself and he was quickly assigned to combat duty in the European theater with the B-17 crew of John Oliver Buslee.

Dad wrote a letter to his mother on June 22 and found himself on his way out of Ardmore somewhere between June 23 and 25, beginning his journey to an 8th Army Air Forces air base of the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England.

Dad’s combat orders included the names of three other men. I was familiar with the name Eugene D. Lucynski. He was the tail gunner on the Buslee crew. But the other two, Harold E. Beam and Arthur Pearlstein, did not find their way into the 384th Bomb Group and I have wondered who these men were that served in WWII with my dad at Ardmore.

Kathryn has her grandfather’s yearbook from the 222nd Combat Crew Training School.

222nd Combat Training School, Army Air Field, Ardmore, Oklahoma
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Smith, John Bregant’s granddaughter

John Bregant’s photo along with the other men of his B-17 crew, the Paul E. Norton crew, are identified as Crew No. 2728 in Combat Crews Section B in the yearbook. The other two crews included on the same page, the Quentin Wilson crew (Crew No. 2729) and the Robert B. Koch crew (Crew No. 2730), also served in the 384th Bomb Group in World War II.

Combat Crews of the 384th Bomb Group at the 222nd Combat Crew Training School, Ardmore, Oklahoma
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Smith, John Bregant’s granddaughter

While Kathryn hasn’t located photos of my dad or Eugene Lucynski within the pages of the yearbook, she did find others of interest to me. On a page of Flying Instructors,

Page from the 222nd Combat Crew Training School book
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Smith, John Bregant’s granddaughter

Kathryn found photos of the other two men listed on my dad’s combat orders, Harold Beam in Flying Training Section B and Arthur Pearlstein in Flying Training Section C.

S/Sgt Harold E. Beam

and

Sgt. Arthur Pearlstein

Now that I had photos of these men, I decided to dig a little deeper into how they served in combat. While I couldn’t find any more definitive information about Arthur Pearlstein’s (SN 12075325) WWII combat service, I did find out more about Harold Beam (SN 36377873).

Harold E. Beam was a resident of Vermilion County, Illinois when he enlisted on 29 September 1942 in Chicago, Illinois. He was born in Illinois in 1921.

I also found by searching POW records in the National Archives that Harold Beam served his combat duty in the Infantry rather than the Army Air Forces and became a prisoner of war of Germany on 10 March 1945.

Beam’s POW record shows that he was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated, but his Latest Report Date was 24 January 1946. No POW camp is listed in his record. I can’t explain why his Latest Report Date was not until 1946, as the war with Germany ended the previous May. I also can’t explain why a serviceman in WWII with so much experience in aerial gunnery was sent into combat with the Infantry instead of the Army Air Forces.

Regardless of whether my father’s photo can be found or not in the 222nd Combat Crew Training School yearbook, I do have several photos, including these, from his time there as an instructor.

George Edwin “Ed” Farrar, in Ardmore, Oklahoma

and pointing out Ardmore on the map,

George Edwin “Ed” Farrar, in Ardmore, Oklahoma

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

The B-17 Ball Turret Gunner

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist/flexible gunner with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in World War II. On 28 September 1944, the Buslee crew and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the same group became forever connected when the B-17’s they were aboard on a combat mission over Germany suffered a mid-air collision.

I am currently updating the biographical information of the men of these two crews, and I thought it would be a good time to explain the duties involved in each position of the airmen aboard the aircraft, the B-17. I have recently updated the information of the three 384th Bomb Group Ball Turret Gunners who flew with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron.

Erwin Vernon Foster, assigned Buslee crew ball turret gunner

George Francis McMann, Jr., Gilbert crew ball turret gunner, but ball turret gunner of the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944

Gordon Eugene Hetu, assigned Brodie crew ball turret gunner

For a list of all of the airmen of the Buslee and Brodie crews, see permanent page The Buslee and Brodie Crews, which is maintained with new information/posts.

Duties and Responsibilities of the B-17 Ball Turret Gunner

According to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website,

Training in the various phases of the heavy bomber program is designed to fit each member of the crew for the handling of his jobs. The ball turret gunner:

  • Requires many mental and physical qualities similar to what we know as inherent flying ability, since the operation of the power turret and gunsight are much like that of airplane flight operation.
  • Should be familiar with the coverage area of all gun positions, and be prepared to bring the proper gun to bear as the conditions may warrant.
  • Should be experts in aircraft identification. Where the Sperry turret is used, failure to set the target dimension dial properly on the K-type sight will result in miscalculation of range.
  • Must be thoroughly familiar with the Browning aircraft machine gun. They should know how to maintain the guns, how to clear jams and stoppages, and how to harmonize the sights with the guns.
  • Should fire the guns at each station to familiarize himself with the other man’s position and to insure knowledge of operation in the event of an emergency.

Location of the Ball Turret in a B-17

The ball turret of a B-17 is suspended below the fuselage of the aircraft, between the radio room and the waist. Should the ball turret gunner have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the waist door. The ball turret gunner first had to exit the ball turret and hook up his chute as he did not have room in the ball turret to wear it (although there are stories of ball turret gunners who saved their lives by wearing their chutes in the ball and exiting the aircraft by rotating the ball and bailing out directly from it).

In the following diagram, George McMann is noted in the ball turret of the aircraft along with the other Buslee crew members in their positions on September 28, 1944.

Buslee Crew in Position on September 28, 1944
Diagram courtesy of 91st Bomb Group and modified by Cindy Farrar Bryan in 2014

B-17 Ball Turret Photos

I took the following photos of the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine-O-Nine a few years before its tragic crash.

The exterior of the B-17 ball turret.

Ball turret of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

For a little perspective of the size of the B-17’s ball turret, 384th Bomb Group pilot John DeFrancesco stands beside the Collings Foundation’s aircraft.

John DeFrancesco, WWII B-17 pilot in front of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

A view of the ball turret from inside the aircraft, the top hatch of the ball can be seen in the foreground of this photo near the bottom of the image, with a view to the rear of the aircraft and the waist area.

Ball turret and waist area of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Ball Turret Gunners

I thought it might also be interesting to read stories, diaries, and journals written by or view video interviews of some of the 384th’s own ball turret gunners. You’ll find a chart of several ball turret gunners of the 384th Bomb Group below with links to their personnel records and their written and oral histories as are provided on the Stories page of 384thBombGroup.com.

Airman Personnel Record Stories, Diaries, Journals, and Interviews
Burns, Robert (NMI)⇗ My Bit For Victory⇓ (2.721 MB)
Estrin, Leonard (NMI), “Len”⇗ Len Estrin’s Combat Diary⇓ (6.029 MB)
Lavoie, Ralph Edmund⇗ Near-Escape From Infamous Stalag 17⇓ (0.971 MB)
Werbanec, George Frank⇗ Our Fatal Day, June 22,1943⇓ (8.075 MB)
Jaworski, Frank (NMI)⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Jones, Lynn Tilton⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Smith, Luther Earl, “Smitty”⇗ 2011 Veteran’s History Project Oral History Interview⇗

Sources and Further Reading

303rd Bomb Group:  Duties and Responsibilities of the Engineer and the Gunners

303rd Bomb Group:  Military Occupational Specialty

TM 12-427 Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel

The Military Yearbook Project – Army Air Force WWII Codes

The Army Air Forces in World War II: VI, Men and Planes, Edited by W.F. Craven and J.L. Cate, Chapter 19: Training of Ground Technicians and Service Personnel

Training to Fly:  Military Flight Training 1907 – 1945 by Rebecca Hancock Cameron

Thank you to the 91st Bomb Group for granting me permission in 2014 to use and modify their B-17 diagram for use on The Arrowhead Club.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

George Francis McMann, Update

George Francis McMann, Jr.
Photo provided to WWII Memorial Registry by crewmate Noah Hickman

A new search has provided me with a photo and some new and updated information regarding the ball turret gunner, George Francis McMann, Jr., who was onboard my father’s (George Edwin Farrar’s) B-17 the day of the Buslee crew’s mid-air collision with the Brodie crew’s B-17, 28 September 1944.

George McMann was the ball turret gunner of the Stanley Gilbert crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII and filled in for Buslee crew ball turret gunner Erwin Foster on that date.

To view my original post and other information about George Francis McMann, Jr., please see the links at the end of this post.

On 21 DECEMBER 1942, George Francis McMann registered for the WWII draft. He noted his address as 27 Brewster Dr., Hoxsie, Kent County, Rhode Island. (Wikipedia notes that Hoxsie is the largest section in the city of Warwick). He was 18 years old, born on September 26, 1924 in Providence, Rhode Island.

The person who would always know his address was Mrs. Richard McMann of the same address in Hoxsie. He listed his employer as Student, Gorton High School. McMann listed his height as 5’7″, weight as 154 pounds, with blue eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion. He also listed a birth mark on leg as a physical characteristic that would aid in identification.

With a little more research into George McMann’s family, I found that Richard McMann (from George’s draft registration information) was one of his father’s younger brothers. George Jr’s father was not George Francis McMann, Sr., but named rather George Washington Ambrose McMann. He was one of eleven children of Frank and Elizabeth McMann. of Providence, Rhode Island. This leads me to believe that George Jr got his middle name of Francis from his father’s father, Frank (short for Francis).

George W.A. McMann also registered for the WWII draft and listed his son George (with the Hoxsie address) as the person who would always know his address.

I only find George Jr listed with both parents, George W.A. and Nellie McMann, on one census record, the 1925 Rhode Island state census. They never appear all together again on any record I can find. In fact, I only find Nellie in a few city directories, and only listed by herself. I find George W.A. in the 1930 census as not living with George Jr or Nellie, but listed as married, although with no wife in the listing. I also find him in the 1940 census as widowed. I am uncertain if George Jr’s parents divorced or if Nellie died.

As for his military record with the 384th Bomb Group, on 9 AUGUST 1944, George Francis McMann, Jr., Ball Turret Gunner of the Stanley Gilbert crew was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #159. He was assigned to the Stanley Milton Gilbert crew as a Corporal, and as an AG (aerial gunner) with MOS (Military Operational Specialty) of 612 (Airplane Armorer / Gunner). His pay per month was $140.40. He listed his home address as Mr. George F. McMann, 354 West Ave., Bridgeport, Conn.

On 25 AUGUST 1944, George McMann was promoted to Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #171.

On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, George Francis McMann, Jr., flying with the John Oliver Buslee crew on the 28 September 1944 Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany went from duty to MIA (Missing in Action). McMann replaced Buslee crew ball turret gunner Erwin Foster on this mission. Including the 28 September mission, McMann participated in ten combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group. He later was determined to have been killed in action on the mission. He had just turned twenty years old two days before his death.

McMann’s next of kin noted on his Headstone Inscription and Interment Record was his father, Mr. George F. McMann, 354 West Ave., Bridgeport, Conn., the same name and address as on his group Sortie Record.

George Francis McMann, Jr. would not be forgotten by his friend and crewmate Noah Hickman, radio operator of the Gilbert crew. Hickman honored McMann by posting a memorial page to him on the online WWII Memorial Registry.

Memorial to George McMann honored by his crewmate and friend Noah Hickman

Links

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

Erwin Vernon Foster, Update

A new search has provided me with some new and updated information regarding my father’s (George Edwin Farrar’s) WWII crewmate Erwin Vernon Foster, ball turret gunner of the original John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII. 

To view my original post and other information about Erwin Vernon Foster, please see the links at the end of this post.

Erwin Vernon Foster’s mother was the former Mary Caroline Carpenter. She was born about 1896 in New York and married Erwin’s father, Erwin Sr., on August 12, 1917 in Cheming County, New York. Ruth Carpenter (see census record references in previous posts) was her sister.

Erwin Vernon Foster’s draft registration card notes that he registered for the WWII draft at the age of 21 on July 1, 1942 while living in Elmira, Chemung County, New York. His date of birth was February 12, 1920 in Horseheads, New York. His occupation was as “steel chaser.” His employer was American Bridge Co. of Elmira Heights, New York.

At the time of his draft registration, Erwin was 5’7″ tall and weighed 140 pounds. He had blue eyes, black hair, and a ruddy complexion.

The name of the person who would always know his address was Mrs. Kenneth B. Smith, who I believe was his mother, who apparently had remarried, date unknown.

On 22 JULY 1944, Erwin Foster was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) of the 384th Bombardment Group based in Grafton Underwood, England, per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #144.

He was assigned to the John Oliver Buslee crew as a Corporal, and as an AG (aerial gunner) with MOS (Military Operational Specialty) of 611 (Aerial Gunner/Waist, Ball & Tail). His pay per month was $140.40. He listed his home address as Mrs. Mary C. Smith (his mother), 356 W. Water St., Elmira, New York.

On 6 AUGUST 1944, Erwin Foster was promoted to Sergeant on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #158.

On 9 SEPTEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster was promoted to Staff Sergeant on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #180.

On 10 SEPTEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster went from duty to absent sick (LD) 303rd Station Hospital Thrapston. The possible reason for his sick leave was, as noted in his records at the National Personnel Records Center, jaundice, which he suffered in 1944. (See More About… post link below).

On 26 SEPTEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster went from absent sick (LD) 303rd Station Hospital, Thrapston, to duty.

On 27 SEPTEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster’s original crew, the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron, participated in the mission to Cologne, Germany, but Erwin Foster did not participate. Perhaps he was still en route from the Thrapston hospital back to Grafton Underwood, or perhaps a substitute ball turret gunner, Robert McKinley Mitchell, had already been assigned to take his place.

On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, the Buslee crew participated in the mission to Magdeburg, Germany, but again, Erwin Foster was not assigned to the crew as the ball turret gunner. Robert McKinley Mitchell was first assigned to take Foster’s place in the ball turret, but it was Mitchell’s final mission and his request to fly his last one with his original crew was granted, so he was replaced by George Francis McMann, Jr. at the last minute. The substitutions proved fortunate for both Foster and Mitchell, and it would be McMann’s fate to die in the mid-air collision over Magdeburg between the B-17s of the Buslee and James Joseph Brodie crews just after bombs away.

On 30 SEPTEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster flew his first mission after he returned to duty from his sick leave. He flew his first of twenty-one missions with the Stanley Milton Gilbert crew. Foster replaced the original ball turret gunner of the Gilbert crew, George Francis McMann, Jr., who had just two days before been lost with the Buslee crew on the mission to Magdeburg, replacing Erwin Foster in Buslee’s ball turret on 28 SEPTEMBER.

The Gilbert crew is pictured with Erwin Foster kneeling on the far right with the notation of the mission of 2 OCTOBER 1944, which would have been Foster’s second mission with the Gilbert crew. On that mission, it had been five days since Foster’s original Buslee crew with the Gilbert crew’s George McMann went missing over Magdeburg following the mid-air collision with the Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron.

Crew of 42-98000 “Fightin’ Hebe” on 2 OCTOBER 1944 mission to Ford Motor Works at Cologne, Germany
Back row, left to right: Lyle Orin McKnight (waist gunner), Emmett Patrick Culhane (co-pilot), Stanley Milton Gilbert (pilot), and Noah Clarence Hickman (radio operator)
Front row, left to right: Marion Butler Chase (engineer/top turret gunner), Jack Vito Carella (tail gunner), and Erwin Vernon Foster (ball turret gunner)

On 18 DECEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster went from duty to TD (temporary duty) to Ebrington Manor (a flak house), AAF Station 498 for seven days to carry out the instructions of the Commanding General per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #248 dated 17 December 1944.

On 25 DECEMBER 1944, Erwin Foster went from TD (temporary duty) at Ebrington Manor AAF Station 498 to duty.

On 5 JANUARY 1945, Erwin Foster, Berton Robert Finstad (waist gunner), and Eddia Kenneth Cook (ground crew Airplane and Engine Mechanic), were reduced to Private for misconduct (for unknown reasons) per 1 SO 4 HQ AAF Station 106. Subsequently, on the same date/morning report, Foster and Finstad were appointed Sergeant per 2 SO 4 HQ AAF Station 106.

On 1 FEBRUARY 1945, Erwin Foster was reclassified from MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) 611 to MOS 612 (Armorer Gunner/Togglier) per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #25.

On 3 FEBRUARY 1945, Erwin Foster was promoted to Staff Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #27.

On 28 FEBRUARY 1945, Erwin Foster completed his tour of 35 missions.

On 22 APRIL 1945, Erwin Foster left the 384th BG and was transferred to the Casual Pool, 70th Replacement Depot, Station 569, per 1 SO 105 Hq 1st Air Div departed (EDCMR 22 Apr 45).

After the war, Erwin Vernon Foster married Virginia Stone in Elmira, New York on November 28, 1946. Together they had a daughter named Sharon.

Virginia Stone Foster was born February 8, 1925. She had been married previously, and her Social Security index showed her with the last name of Williams as of May 1943. By January 1960, she was known with the last name of Bolton, so she and Erwin had divorced at some point prior. By June 1975, her last name was Eisenhart. She died January 11, 1985 and is buried in Section M of Maple Grove Cemetery in Horseheads, Chemung County, New York. It is the same cemetery in which both Erwin Foster Sr. and Jr. are buried.

Erwin V. Foster married Bessie A. Sheddon on July 1, 1962. Bessie’s maiden name was Bessie Irene Allen (born August 20, 1920, died October 12, 1994), and she was previously married to Duane Sheddon, and widowed from him in December of 1960.

I very recently connected with Erwin Foster’s daughter Sharon and hope to soon learn more about his life and family.

Note

Although I found reference to Erwin Foster regarding the 306th Bomb Group, 368th Bomb Squadron in his records at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri (see More About… post), I find no record of his name on the 306th Bomb Group website rosters or anywhere else on the site. (See link below to the 306th).

Links

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021