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What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 2

The continuation of “What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1” published on May 22, 2019.

Recap:

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 (Continuous Predictive Flak) 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.

384th Bomb Group in Formation
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

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.

LEAD GROUP

September 28, 1944 Lead Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

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

HIGH GROUP

September 28, 1944 High Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

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

LOW GROUP

September 28, 1944 Low Group Formation Chart
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

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.

Summary

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

Chutes Seen

  • None
  • 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

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What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1

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.

Many years later, I met Wallace Storey, a 384th Bomb Group pilot who witnessed the mid-air collision. I was surprised to hear Wallace say that Lazy Daisy could not have been hit by ground fire from flak guns as there wasn’t any flak over the target that day. As a result, I have been searching for the reason why Lazy Daisy veered off course ever since.

Two 384th Bomb Group researchers, Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson, have a special life mission – to obtain as many of the group’s mission documents as possible to share on the group’s website. On one of their trips to the National Archives, they copied the mission documents of Mission 201 and shared them with me. After reviewing the available information, I’m still not positive what caused Lazy Daisy to veer off course, but because of various post-mission statements and one pilot’s post-mission Tactical Interrogation report, I do see the possibility that my dad may have been right about the flak after all.

I’ll get to the pilot Tactical Interrogation reports in Part 2, coming two weeks from now, but first I want to share a few facts about the mission itself and a few things that may have contributed to the mid-air collision.

The mission map shared with the officers in the morning briefing showed the flight plan for the mission in red. The route actually followed was added in blue, post mission.

September 28, 1944 Mission Map, Mission 201
Courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

The Briefing Notes prior to the mission describe the primary and secondary targets.

P.T. [Primary Target] is the most important Krupp Steel Works in Germany. Located Magdeburg. It’s the main producer of the 25 ton Mark IV tank and also makes flak guns, armor plating and heavy sheels [shells?], it is a one plus priority. And employs 35,000 workers, there is a smoke screen N. of the city.

P.F.F. [Pathfinder Force] target is the Mar. [Marshalling] Yards, in the city of Magdeburg, and adjacent to your P.T.

Other Efforts.  You are the last of 12 36 A/C Wing of First Div. The 1st 6 groups of the 1st A.B.C. and 40th A.B.C. attack oil plant 4 miles No. of your target. The 94th A.B.C. bomb A/C fact. [Aircraft Factory] 3 miles No. of your target, 94th C, 41st A.B.C. bomb your target. Should PFF be used all groups will attack your PFF RR M/Y [Railroad Marshalling Yards] at Magdeburg.

The Lead Bombardier’s post-mission narrative explains the first problem with the mission. George K. Smith, 2nd Lt., Air Corps, Deputy Bombardier, Combat Wing 41st C described how the bombs couldn’t be dropped on the first bomb run when another wing flew under them at the release point.

Turned short of I.P. because of cloud coverage. Opened bomb bay doors at I.P. to encounter complete coverage on the bomb run. Ships flew under us so we couldn’t release our bombs. We flew out and made a 180 degrees turn to put us on a heading of 260 degrees heading back over the target. There was a little opening in the clouds over a part in a river, which I believe the Lead Bombardier killed his course. We dropped the bombs PFF and shortly after the Lead aircraft was hit by flak. Then we took over from our deputy Lead position to reform the Wing and start home. No flak was encountered on the way home.

The Navigator’s post-mission narrative indicated that the 384th was not on schedule and also noted flak at the target. Lt. Clarendon George Richert wrote,

Route flown as briefed to target. Behind schedule 20 minutes. Two runs on target due to deputy taking over.

Flak concentrations encountered (not scattered bursts).

  • Place: Target
  • Time: 1208 – 1211
  • Accuracy: Accurate
  • Intensity: Moderate

In his Operational Narrative, Major W. E. “Pop” Dolan, Station S-2 Officer, wrote,

Flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate. CPF (Continuous Predictive Flak) and barrage type fire employed. Black, gray bursts being notes.

Two of our A/C is missing. These two ships collided at the target to reasons unknown. Both ships were seen to break up and go down in flames. No chutes were observed.

In these selections from his Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, “Pop” Dolan offered more detail.

Two (2) of our aircraft are known missing.

Two (2) aircraft of the High Section, A/C 337-822 (Lt. Buslee, pilot) and A/C 1222 (Lt. Brodie, pilot) collided over the target and both ships were observed going down on fire and out of control. No chutes were observed.

Assembly of the Group and Wing was accomplished fifteen (15) minutes before departure time from our Base at 0823 hours, 7,000 feet without difficulty. We were ahead of “Cowboy-Baker” but we swung wide on the first Control Point and got in our correct slot in the Division at 0920 hours over Cambridge, 7,000 feet. We left the coast of England on course and on time at 0937 hours, Clacton, 9,000 feet. Speeds were S.O.P.

The route to the Belgian Coast was without incident and we crossed it at 1001 ½ hours, 51°10’N.-02°44’E., 15,000 feet. From this point into the I.P. [Initial Point of the final bomb run to the target] the mission was flown as briefed and without difficulty. No flak was encountered prior to the target and no enemy fighter attacks were made on our Wing for the entire mission.

At the I.P., we were notified by Buckeye-Red that target weather would be approximately 8/10ths which was accurate. We made our run from the I.P. to the target in Wing formation on PFF. When we approached the target, there was another Section making a run 90° to us on the same target. They passed over the target at the same time we did directly underneath us and we were unable to drop because we would have dropped on them. We therefore made a turn and started a second run in Wing formation. Bombs were away on PFF at 1211 hours from 26,000 feet. However, in the opinion of Capt. Booska, Low Section Leader, it is possible that today’s bombing may have been visual as there was a break in the clouds directly over the target one (1) minute before bombs were away. As it is presumed that the Lead Wing Bombardier landed in Belgium, our reports will state that PFF bombing was accomplished. Magnetic heading of bombs away was 265 degrees. Some crews observed the results through breaks in the clouds and they state that the bombs hit in the target area. Flak at the target was moderate and accurate.

After we dropped our bombs, and swung off the target, the Wing Leader informed the Deputy to take over as the former had been hit by flak. At this point, the entire Lead Section started to break up. We were on a collision course at the same time with another unidentified Wing and the Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section. The High and Low reassembled and flew alone until we finally picked up the Lead Section ten (10) miles ahead of us. I called the Deputy Leader to slow down, which he did, and we assembled back into Combat Wing formation. After this, we had no other difficulties and the rest of the mission was flown as briefed and without incident. We departed the Belgian Coast at 1437 hours, 10,500 feet and recrossed the English Coast at 1508 hours, 1,000 feet.

And finally, the 384th Bomb Group’s S-2 Summary of Eye-witness Accounts summarized what happened to the two aircraft in the mid-air collision.

Brodie:  Aircraft broke up near tail assembly and went down in flames. Aircraft was burning and slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the clouds.

Buslee:  Pieces of tail and wings falling off. Plane in flames from engines. Going down in flames spinning into the clouds.

As for the statement, “We were on a collision course at the same time with another unidentified Wing,” in “Pop” Dolan’s Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, one of the pilots’ Tactical Interrogation reports described the tail symbol of the 351st Bomb Group. The 351st’s Intelligence S-2 Report for what was their group’s Mission 211 noted,

Two Triangle “P” ships were observed to collide just after the target. One chute was seen.

And a 351st combat crew comment from their aircraft 956-L remarked,

Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of formation, creating much prop wash.

Summary of information from the September 28, 1944 Mission 201 documents:

  • 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 (Continuous Predictive Flak) 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 formation, creating much prop wash

To be continued with the mission’s individual pilot Tactical Interrogation Form visual observations and combat crew comments…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Robert Jeremy Fisher

Several years ago, as I was researching the 384th Bomb Group’s mission of September 28, 1944 – the mission on which my dad’s B-17 and another B-17 of his Group collided over Magdeburg, Germany – I wrote about original Buslee crew navigator Chester Rybarczyk. The original post is here.

Chester Rybarczyk was flying with the William J. Blankenmeyer crew that day aboard Hot Nuts. The Blankenmeyer crew’s Sortie Report for that mission stated that they “Left formation after target for unknown reasons, but returned to base.” With Rybarczyk on board, I imagined that the reason they left formation was to try to determine the fate of Rybarczyk’s Buslee crewmates as he watched the two planes fall to earth.

I have learned that was not the case. The 384th Bomb Group’s Facebook Group is a wealth of information and that is where I found that my reasoning about why the Blankenmeyer crew left formation was not correct.

Through the Facebook group, I have made many connections with 384th Bomb Group Veterans and their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great-nieces and nephews. Sometimes one of them provides me with a missing piece of the puzzle of my father’s WWII service and this was one of those times.

Robert Jeremy “Bob” Fisher was the co-pilot of the Blankenmeyer crew and was aboard Hot Nuts on September 28, 1944. Bob and his son and daughter are all members of the Facebook group. When Bob’s children chimed in on one of the threads on Facebook and mentioned their dad, I looked him up in the 384th Bomb Group’s database and found that he was on that mission and on the B-17 with Chester Rybarczyk.

Formation chart of the High Group, September 28, 1944. Buslee and Brodie collide after coming off the target. The Blankenmeyer crew, including co-pilot Bob Fisher and Buslee crew navigator Chester Rybarczyk, witness the collision.

After I requested Bob’s children to ask their dad if he remembered that mission, his daughter did so and told me of a small notebook in which her dad wrote notes about each mission. On September 28, 1944, Bob Fisher wrote:

Made reciprocal run on target due to group under us when we were to drop the first time. On turn one we almost hit our squadron leader due to an exceedingly sharp turn. On turn off target 2 planes hit together and both went down. Seven chutes reported. Let down more slowly then formation due to the fact that Bill’s ears would not clear. Had some trouble with mine – ambulance met us at dispersal and took Bill to get his ears cleared. Bill grounded-as is Reed and Obermeyer.

The reason the Blankenmeyer crew left formation was because the pilot, William J. “Bill” Blankenmeyer was having trouble clearing his ears.

But there is another interesting clue in Bob Fisher’s notebook. Obermeyer was not the crew’s navigator on September 28, 1944 as he had previously been grounded. Because of his grounding, Chester Rybarczyk filled in for him, keeping him off the Buslee crew’s plane that day. Had he flown with the Buslee crew, he would have been one of the men to perish aboard Lead Banana that day after the mid-air collision. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

The Boys

On September 28, 1944, the Lead Banana, manned by the Buslee crew, and the Lazy Daisy, manned by the Brodie crew collided after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany. Neither crew of the 384th Bomb Group was the original crew as assigned.

That day, the Buslee crew was made up of five original crew members and four fill-ins. The Brodie crew was made up of seven original members and two fill-ins.

These are the two crews as they were that day:

The Buslee crew aboard Lead Banana, 544th Bomb Squad

PILOT John Oliver Buslee, original Buslee crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

John Oliver Buslee

CO-PILOT David Franklin Albrecht, original Buslee crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

David Franklin Albrecht

NAVIGATOR William Alvin Henson II, Gerald Sammons crew, KIA 9/28/1944

William Alvin Henson II

BOMBARDIER Robert Sumner Stearns, Larkin Durden crew, KIA 9/28/1944

No photo available

RADIO OPERATOR Sebastiano Joseph Peluso, original Buslee crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

Sebastiano Joseph Peluso

ENGINEER/TOP TURRET GUNNER Lenard Leroy Bryant, original Buslee crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

Lenard Leroy Bryant

BALL TURRET GUNNER George Francis McMann, Jr., Stanley Gilbert crew, KIA 9/28/1944

No photo available

TAIL GUNNER Gerald Lee Andersen, Joe Ross Carnes crew, KIA 9/28/1944

Gerald Lee Andersen

FLEXIBLE GUNNER George Edwin Farrar, original Buslee crew member, POW Stalag Luft IV

George Edwin Farrar

 

The Brodie crew aboard Lazy Daisy, 545th Bomb Squad

PILOT James Joseph Brodie, original Brodie crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

James Joseph Brodie

CO-PILOT Lloyd Oliver Vevle, original Brodie crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

Lloyd Oliver Vevlve

NAVIGATOR George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., original Brodie crew member, POW Obermassfeld Hospital #1249 (served Stalag 9-C)

No photo available

TOGGLIER Byron Leverne Atkins, James Chadwick crew, KIA 9/28/1944

No photo available

RADIO OPERATOR Donald William Dooley, from Group Headquarters, KIA 9/28/1944

Donald William Dooley

ENGINEER/TOP TURRET GUNNER Robert Doyle Crumpton, original Brodie crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

Robert Doyle Crumpton

BALL TURRET GUNNER Gordon Eugene Hetu, original Brodie crew member, KIA 9/28/1944

No photo available

TAIL GUNNER Wilfred Frank Miller, original Brodie crew member, POW Stalag Luft IV

No photo available

FLEXIBLE GUNNER Harry Allen Liniger, original Brodie crew member, POW Stalag Luft IV

Harry Allen Liniger

Fourteen out of the eighteen boys aboard the two B-17’s were lost that day. Not only did they leave behind grieving parents and siblings, but they also left behind at least five wives and three children.

I have connected with many children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews of these boys. If I have not connected with you yet, and you are related to any of them, please comment or e-mail me. If anyone can provide pictures of those I don’t have yet, that would be greatly appreciated. They all deserve to be honored for their service and their fight for our freedom.

Sortie reports provided by the 384th Bomb Group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Mission 194

George Edwin Farrar’s twelfth mission was on September 13, 1944 aboard the B-17 named Lorraine to an oil target in Merseburg, Germany. The crew that manned the ship was not the usual Buslee crew. In fact, only John Oliver Buslee (pilot), Lenard Leroy Bryant (engineer/top turret gunner), and George Edwin Farrar (waist gunner) were the only Buslee crew members on Lorraine. The remainder of the crew were:

  • Commander – William A. Fairfield, Jr.
  • Navigator – Kenneth S. Lord
  • Bombardier – Donald L. Ward
  • Radio Operator/Gunner – Albert K. Sherriff
  • Ball Turret Gunner – Irving L. Miller
  • Tail Gunner – Lloyd E. La Chine
William A. Fairfield

William A. Fairfield

William A. Fairfield was a pilot assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #85 dated May 6, 1944. His first mission was on June 4, 1944. He completed his tour of thirty missions as a commander on this September 13 mission and returned to the states.

Kenneth S. Lord

Kenneth S. Lord

Kenneth S. Lord was a navigator assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #81 dated May 1, 1944, Edward W. Lane Crew. His first mission was on May 12, 1944. Lord transferred to the 544th Bomb Squad on SO #92 dated May 17, 1944. He completed his tour of twenty-eight missions on February 24, 1945 and returned to the states.

Donald L. Ward

Donald L. Ward

Donald L. Ward was a bombardier assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #107 dated June 8, 1944, Frank L. Allred Crew. (Robert Mitchell was the ball turret gunner of the Allred crew). Ward’s first mission was on June 15, 1944. His last of twenty-nine missions with the 384th was on December 6, 1944 and last duty date was December 11, but his record does not show that he completed his tour and returned to the states.

Albert K. Sherriff

Albert K. Sherriff

Albert K. Sherriff was a radio operator assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #80 dated April 29, 1944, Clifford Lee Johnson Crew. His first mission was on May 11, 1944. He completed his tour of thirty-six missions on January 7, 1945 and returned to the states.

Irving L. Miller

Irving L. Miller

Irving L. Miller was a ball turret gunner assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #150 dated July 28, 1944, Gilbert R. Lindberg Crew. His first mission was on August 9, 1944. He served five missions, including this one, with George Edwin Farrar. He completed his tour of thirty-four missions on March 19, 1945 and returned to the states.

LLoyd E. La Chine

LLoyd E. La Chine

Lloyd E. La Chine started as a bombardier, but changed to tail gunner after his eleventh mission. He was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #116 dated June 19, 1944, William F. Combs Crew. His first mission was on July 8, 1944. He completed his tour of thirty-one missions on November 2, 1944 and returned to the states.

Thank you to www.384thbombgroup.com for kindly sharing these wonderful pictures from their photo gallery.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

Robert McKinley Mitchell

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Robert “Bob” Mitchell on the phone. Bob served on two missions in WWII with my dad, George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group, and I hoped Bob remembered my dad. Bob did not remember my dad specifically, but he did tell me an interesting story involving the Buslee crew, which I’ll get to in a minute. Until then, I’d like to share with you what I have learned about – and from – Bob Mitchell.

Robert “Bob” McKinley Mitchell, Jr. was born November 21, 1921 to Robert McKinley and Vadie Olivia Stewart Mitchell of Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama. Sheffield is a small town in northern Alabama between Muscle Shoals and the Tennessee River.

In 1930, the Mitchell family lived at 1209 Atlanta Avenue in Sheffield. Robert’s father was a clerk at the post office, while Robert’s mother was busy raising four children. Robert was the oldest at eight, followed by Muriel at five, Opal at four, and Ruth at two.

In 1940, the Mitchell family still resided at 1209 Atlanta Avenue. Robert’s father was still with the post office, and his mother was now employed as a florist. The family had grown by three more children, and the brood now consisted two boys and five girls: Robert (18), Muriel (15), Opal (14), Ruth (12), Shirley (9), Elizabeth (5), and Thomas (1).

Bob and his high school sweetheart, Joyce Willette Lowe, were married March 21, 1942 in Colbert County, Alabama. Willette was named for her father, William. Bob and Willette knew Bob would be going off to war and decided that they wanted to be married before he left. For a time, Willette worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Bob enlisted in the Army Air Forces on September 8, 1942 at Fort McClellan, Alabama. His enlistment record listed his civilian occupation as a “semiskilled inter-industry metal working occupation.”

Bob’s Army Air Forces training included aircraft maintenance training on T38 and T40 turboprop engines at Craig Field, Alabama, instructing aircraft maintenance in Texas, gunnery school at Kendall Field in Florida, and final B-17 bomber crew training in Louisiana.

Bob was assigned to the Frank L. Allred crew, 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squad on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #107 dated June 8, 1944. The 384th Bomb Group was stationed in Grafton Underwood, England. Bob’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 748 – Army Airplane Mechanic/Gunner, Flight Engineer. During crew training, one of the enlisted crew needed to be assigned to the ball turret and Bob volunteered to man what is considered the most dangerous position in a B-17.

Standing L-R: Gerald B. Sammons (AC), Frank L. Allred (P), Donald L. Ward (B), Timothy J. O’Sullivan (N), Richard E. Rafeld (TG) Kneeling L-R: Robert M. Mitchell (BT), Forrest J. Bemis (ENG/TT), Eldon B. Drury (RO), Carl H. Redcay (FG) Crew identification provided by Robert M. Mitchell, 2 September 2014.

Standing L-R: Gerald B. Sammons (AC), Frank L. Allred (P), Donald L. Ward (B), Timothy J. O’Sullivan (N), Richard E. Rafeld (TG)
Kneeling L-R: Robert M. Mitchell (BT), Forrest J. Bemis (ENG/TT), Eldon B. Drury (RO), Carl H. Redcay (FG)
Crew identification provided by Robert M. Mitchell, 2 September 2014.

The Allred crew and Bob’s first mission was the 384th Bomb Group’s Mission 136 on June 15, 1944. The target was a railroad viaduct in La Possonnièrre, France. The objective of the mission was to cut one of the enemy troop’s main supply routes. The mission was successful, and the Allred crew aboard Hotnuts returned safely to Grafton Underwood.

In all, Bob Mitchell completed 35 missions over France and Germany, but the 384th’s Mission 170 on August 3, 1944 was the closest call for the Allred crew. The 384th’s targets were NOBALL V-1 launch sites in Fleury, Flers, and Fiefs, France. NOBALL was the allied code name given to the manufacturing, storage and launching facilities of the German V-1 Flying Bomb and the V-2 Rocket.

There were three formations that mission – “H”, “I”, and “J” groups. The “H” group hit their target at Fleury and the “I” group hit theirs at Flers. The “J” group, of which the Allred crew was part, was unable to bomb their target at Fiefs due to the weather.

As a result, the Allred crew aboard Devil’s Brat had to return to base with battle damage and a full load of bombs. According to Bob Mitchell, not only did they still have their bombs on board, but the plane caught fire. They crash landed at RAF Chailey, East Sussex just after they crossed the English Channel, still 140 miles from Grafton Underwood.

All of the crew got out of the plane before the bombs exploded and all were uninjured except for the engineer/top turret gunner, Raymon L. Noble, who cut his arm on one of the props. Noble didn’t fly another mission for over a month.

Bob Mitchell’s thirty-fifth and final mission with the 384th Bomb Group was Mission 201 on September 28, 1944 to a steel manufacturing plant in Magdeburg, Germany. He was scheduled to fly with the Buslee crew that day. He had just filled in for the Buslee crew’s ball turret gunner the day before, September 27, on Mission 200.

Bob had requested to fly with friends from the Allred crew, Raymon L. Noble and Carl H. Redcay, for his last mission, but it didn’t look like his request was going to be honored. September 28 was also Redcay’s thirty-fifth and last mission, but Noble still had one more mission to go.

Bob was aboard Lead Banana ready to go with the Buslee crew when a jeep pulled up to the plane. The driver let one man out of the jeep and told Bob to get in. At the last minute, his request had been granted and he was driven over to Lorraine to fly with his Allred crewmates on his final flight. The September 28 mission to Magdeburg was the mission where the Brodie crew in Lazy Daisy collided with the Buslee crew in Lead Banana.

My interest in Mission 201 stems from the fact that my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor aboard Lead Banana. Only three men aboard Lazy Daisy survived. I continue to look for information and theories about the mid-air collision. New information from Bob gave me another perspective on the accident.

Lorraine was to the left of Lead Banana in the formation. Coming off the target at Magdeburg, Bob was still in position in the ball turret of Lorraine, looking out the ball turret’s window, thinking about the fellow in the other ball turret. As he watched the fellow in the ball turret of Lead Banana, he saw the collision occur. He saw the ball turret of Lead Banana knocked off the plane and watched as it fell away.

After witnessing the horrific event, Bob understood the significance of his reassignment from Lead Banana to Lorraine that day. With Bob’s thirty-fifth and last mission with the 384th Bomb Group complete, he was able to return home to his wife, Willette.

When he returned to the states, even though he had completed thirty-five missions with the 384th, his WWII service was not complete. He went back into training to fly missions in the Japanese theater. Fortunately, before it was time for him to ship out, WWII ended and so did his military service. Bob’s WWII decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the European Theater Medal with Five Bronze Stars.

One of Bob’s favorite post-war memories was meeting aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was the speaker at an event Willette was involved with. Bob introduced himself and told Lindbergh that as a child in Sheffield, Alabama, Bob had been the recipient of some candy thrown by Lindbergh out of an airplane. Lindbergh remembered the flight, and he and Bob enjoyed several hours of conversation at the event.

Robert McKinley “Bob” Mitchell, Jr. died last week, May 12, 2015. He was 93 years old. When I talked to him in April, I could hear the pride he had in his service with the 384th and the love he had for Willette, his wife of seventy-three years. For Bob, the war is over. Rest in peace Robert Mitchell.

Robert McKinley Mitchell Signs the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel January 2014

Robert McKinley Mitchell Signs the 384th Bomb Group Wing Panel
January 2014

Robert McKinley Mitchell, Jr. is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in his native Sheffield, Alabama.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Propwash?

I recently found a handwritten report from the September 28, 1944 Mission 201 that I had not seen before.  It was written by co-pilot Ronald H. Froebel.  He was on the crew flying lead that day, which put him in the tail gunner position, presumably for observation purposes.  I am told that this was a common practice – placing a co-pilot in the tail gunner position – on lead crews.  The crew that day was made up of Commander Horace E. Frink, pilot L.K. Davis, Jr., three navigators, a bombardier, a radio operator, an engineer/top turret gunner, a waist gunner, and Froebel.

In the tail, Froebel would have a birds-eye view of the mid-air collision between the Brodie crew in Lazy Daisy and the Buslee crew in Lead Banana.  After returning from the mission Froebel wrote:

No. 3 ship in the High Element (Green) was almost constantly lagging behind his respective position in the formation.  No. 4 in Low Element flew a good lead most of the time but flew his position lower than he should have.

Two ships in the high group, Brodie & Buslee, which were involved in the collision appeared to have been caught in prop wash on a turn to the left.  It appeared that Brodie was thrown down and into Buslee one plane, immediately disintegrated and the [other] broke into at the ball turret and finally caught fire and broke up.  I observed one chute.  On the whole the formation looked fairly decent throughout the trip until we were hit and had to leave the formation.

Lt. Ronald H. Froebel, Tail Gunner, Lead Ship

Screaming Eagle, with Ronald H. Froebel and the Frink crew on board, was hit by flak.  The ship was damaged seriously enough to necessitate landing away in Brussels.

Froebel’s report is the only explanation I have read that points to prop wash as a factor in the mid-air collision.  Lead Banana is the plane that broke in half at the ball turret.  My father, George Edwin Farrar was just behind the ball turret in the waist gunner position.  He was knocked unconscious and must have fallen through the break in the fuselage.  He was fortunate to come to at 5,000 feet, in time to pull the D-ring on his chute before losing consciousness again.

Below is a document from September 28, 1944 showing the 41st “C” Combat Wing.  The document illustrates where  all the crews should have been in the formation.  The Buslee and Brodie crews are in the High Group.

DSCN4649
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

 

George M. Hawkins, Jr. – September 28, 1944

George M. Hawkins, Jr. (Navigator), Wilfred F. Miller (Tail Gunner), and Harry A. Liniger (Waist Gunner) who were aboard the Lazy Daisy all survived the mid-air collision with the Lead Banana on September 28, 1944.  Hawkins wrote what he knew of the accident after he returned home from the war in 1945.  His account, 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.

In the Casualty Questionnaire section of MACR9366, Hawkins adds that Miller, the tail gunner, rode the tail down some distance following an explosion which severed the tail from the ship.  Miller later bailed out of the tail section.  Also, in the Casualty Questionnaire section, Wilfred Miller adds that he heard through Hawkins that the wing of the other plane knocked Atkins out the nose without his chute.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

George Edwin Farrar – September 28, 1944

George Edwin Farrar, my dad, and the only survivor on the Lead Banana in the mid-air collision with the Lazy Daisy on September 28, 1944, wrote what he knew of the accident after he returned home from the war in late 1945.  His account, 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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Donald W. Bean Crew – September 28, 1944

The Donald W. “Beano” Bean crew commanded by Maurice A. Booska was the Low Group Lead on September 28, 1944 and was aboard aircraft 43-38542.  See Sortie Report.

In MACR9366, Missing Air Crew Report 9366, several members of the Bean crew are listed as witnesses to the mid-air collision between the Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana:  Maurice A. Booska (Commander), Henry P. Nastick (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), Delmar R. Casper (Ball Turret Gunner), and Omar L. Gordon, Jr. (Waist Gunner).

In MACR9366, the Bean crew described enemy opposition as “No enemy Aircraft,” and “Moderate and accurate flak at the target.”

Their description to the extent of damage to the Lazy Daisy was “Aircraft broke up near tail assembly and went down in flames.”

In response to “If aircraft was out of control describe appearance,” they wrote, “Aircraft was burning and slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the clouds.”

And their response to “Number of parachutes seen” was “None.”

Note:

  1. The Bean crew names were not all listed properly on MACR9366.  Henry Nastick’s name was listed as Henry Nastrick.
  2. September 28, 1944 was the first flight for aircraft 43-38542.  It was credited with 22 combat missions.  It crashed on landing at Grafton Underwood on November 30, 1944 when it “landed with wheels up due to confusion in the cockpit during final approach” as noted on the Sortie Report.  After repairs, 43-38542’s next flight was on January 20, 1945 (Sortie Report).  On that mission, during the return to base in a heavy snowstorm, engine #4 was lost, and possibly engine #3, due to ice accumulation.  It crash landed killing the navigator and togglier, and seriously wounding the remainder of the crew.
  3. See Aircraft 43-38542 November 30, 1944 Accident Report 44-11-30-510 for more details of the landing accident.
  4. Aircraft 43-38542 January 20, 1945 Accident Report 45-01-20-527 for more details of the crash.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014