The Arrowhead Club

Category Archives: #201, 9/28/1944

Frank Furiga, Mid-Air Collision Witness

On September 28, 1944, on the 384th Bomb Group’s mission to Magdeburg, Germany, the B-17’s of the Buslee and Brodie crews collided coming off the target. I have written extensively about that day – my father, George Edwin Farrar, was the sole survivor of the Buslee crew.

I have reported eye witness accounts of the collision as told by 384th Bomb Group pilot Wallace Storey and ball turret gunner Robert Mitchell. Today, just a day past the seventy-seventh anniversary of the collision, I have a new eye witness account to report, this one from fellow 384th NexGen member Paul Furiga, as recorded by his father, 384th bombardier Frank Furiga.

First, let me explain how Frank Furiga had such a bird’s eye view of the collision. Frank was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group at the same time as my father. Frank was a bombardier on the Bert Brown crew and my dad was a waist gunner on the John Buslee crew.

At the time they entered combat duty, only the bombardiers aboard the lead aircraft in the formation actually determined the point at which the group would drop their bombs on the target. The remainder of the bombardiers didn’t do much else besides toggle or flip a switch to send their bombs away as soon as they saw the bombardier in the lead aircraft release his.

Considering the duration and intensity of their stateside training prior to entering combat and their status as officers, this practice was not very fulfilling for the group’s trained bombardiers. In fact, many bombardiers were replaced with an enlisted man, a gunner, who was called a togglier. Many of the trained bombardiers were reassigned from their original crews upon entering combat and many of these trained bombardiers retrained to become navigators.

Frank Furiga was one of these men. He flew his first ten missions as bombardier, first with the pilot of his original crew, Bert Brown, until Brown was wounded on September 5, 1944, then a couple of missions with pilot Russell Cornair.

Following those missions, Frank Furiga and the entire Brown crew had a break from combat with a week’s flak leave to the city of Southport on the west coast of England sometime between September 10 to 21, 1944. Frank reported in his diaries and stories that they were lodged in a lovely large hotel run by the Red Cross for about seven days.

A page from Frank Furiga’s scrapbook, the Bert Brown crew at Southport, photos taken during flak leave.
Photo courtesy of Paul Furiga.

After returning to duty from flak leave, Frank Furiga wrote,

When we got back to the 547th Squadron, I was contacted by Captain [Maurice Arthur] Booska, one of the staff officers. He told me that there was a need for a Flight Control Officer [FCO]. This position necessitated the crew member to ride in the Tail Gun position of the Lead Plane. A clip board was supplied with all of the planes diagramed on sheets. The job was to act as a “seeing eye dog” for the Lead Pilot and report anything important and unusual happening with the planes flying behind.

In view of the fact that I was just tripping switches on my missions now, I accepted. My very first mission as FCO was to Mainz (Sept 21), followed by Frankurt (Sept 25), and then Osnabruck (Sept 26). This [Sept 26] was my thirteenth mission. Yes, there was flak about and enemy planes especially the German jet fighters.

On the mission on which the Buslee crew’s and Brodie crew’s B-17’s collided, Frank wrote,

On September 28th, we went to Magdeburg, Germany, an industrial city. Coming off the target after bomb drop, I was horrified to see the plane of our very good friends, John Buslee and David Albrecht collide with the Brodie-Vevle plane and they immediately went into death spirals and I could see no parachutes.

It was a bad evening for the Bert Brown crew. I still lived in the same barracks even though I was no longer on the Brown crew.

Frank also recounted the incident in an audio recording which his son Paul transcribed. It began,

On the 28th of September, we were bombing an antiaircraft factory at Magdeburg, Germany. I had been released from my original crew now and was flying as a mission tail observer, with the lead plane of the 547th Squadron. The 546th Squadron was flying higher and behind us and to the right. [Correction: the High Group consisted of crews of the 544th Squadron, like the Buslee crew, and 545th Squadron, like the Brodie crew, rather than crews of the 546th Squadron].

As diagramed In the formation chart, Frank Furiga was an observer in the tail of Capt. Booska’s B-17 43-38542 leading the Low Group.

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

The Buslee (B-17 43‑37822) and Brodie (B-17 42‑31222) crews were positioned in the High Group and as reported by Frank Furiga, “flying higher and behind us and to the right.”

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

Frank Furiga continued,

The flak was accurate and heavy. I narrowly missed getting hit myself when a flak burst disintegrated the entire windscreen in my tail position, and a floor around me was littered with fragments.

As we dropped our bombs and made a tight right turn off the target, I saw a Fortress suddenly slacking its speed and then drop like a rock and smash into the plane of Lieutenant Buslee. The entwined fortresses went into a dance of death.

And as they plummeted downward, separated turrets, engines and shared wings were tossed aside. There are no signs of opening parachutes. Our hearts were saddened when we landed at Grafton Underwood.

The group debriefing showed that no one had observed chutes opening. This hurt for a long, long time. And the barracks were really quiet that night.

Frank Furiga flew nine missions as a tail observer and then retrained as a navigator. He served the remainder of his missions as a navigator and I’ll be telling you more about his service and interactions with both Buslee and Brodie crew members in future posts.

Seventy-seven years after the mid-air collision of September 28, 1944, over fifty years since I listened to my dad first tell the story, and ten years after I started researching the accident, I am still finding new information about that day. On this day, I thank Paul Furiga for sharing new detail through his dad’s stories and Frank Furiga for recording them.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

MISSION 201

The 384th Bomb Group’s Mission #201 was the 8th AAF’s Mission #652.

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, participated as waist gunner in his sixteenth and final mission with the 384th Bomb Group on 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, flying with the 544th Bomb Squadron’s John Oliver Buslee crew.

The 384th Bomb Group was part of the 1st Bombardment Division, 41st Combat Wing, of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, and today they flew as the “C” Wing.

The 384th Bomb Group website’s Mission Summary describes the mission as,

Two Bomb Runs – Primary Target Attacked
The 384th Bombardment Group (H) flew as the 41st CBW C Wing on today’s mission. Near the target, another formation of bombers flew below this wing, forcing them to hold their bombs. The wing made a second bomb run and released their bombs on the primary target.

Mission documents, specifically the Pre-Briefing Target Study, identified the target as Krupp Steel Works at Magdeburg, Germany, 35,000 workers.

Briefing Notes further detailed,

P.T. [Primary Target]. Is the most important Krupp Steel Works in Germany. Located Magdeburg. Its the main producer of the 25 ton Mark IV Tank and also makes flak guns, armor plating and heavy sheels [perhaps “shells”], it is a One Plus priority, and employs 35,000 workers, there is a smoke screen N. of the city.

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

Last Resorts. A/F [i.e., German Airforce/Luftwaffe targets] at Gardelegen, Quedlinburg, and Giessen. Every effort should be made to attack one of these targets. If not possible, then any Mil. Obj Pos. Iden. [military objective positively identifed] as East of the current strategic bomb line, which can be bombed without disrupting the fighter support.

Stay on the alert for E/A [Enemy Aircraft]. Yesterday E/A jumped the 2nd Div [Division] on 9 Degrees East and shot down 33 A/C [aircraft]. The E/A came in at 6 O’Clock high in waves of 15 – 20 [abreast] breaking away in all directions and then coming up from below while next wave attack at 6 O’Clock high.

Forty aircraft of the 384th Bomb Group were assigned to the mission. Of the 40,

  • 31 completed the mission (not including spares)
  • 1 flying spare completed the mission
  • 1 aircraft aborted due to personnel illness
  • 2 aircraft were scrubbed
  • 1 ground spare aircraft was unused
  • 1 aircraft returned early, the aircraft of Lt. Richard Glen Wismer, due to a mechanical failure
  • 1 aircraft landed in Allied Territory. The Wing Lead, with Commander Horace Everett Frink aboard, landed away in Brussels due to flak damage
  • 2 aircraft failed to return, the aircraft of the Buslee and Brodie crews, with my dad aboard Buslee’s ship

On Mission 201, the Buslee crew was part of the High Group of the 41st “C” Combat Wing led by Capt. William T. Johnson.

The Buslee crew flew under these leaders on this date,

  • 41st “C” Group and Senior Air Commander Major Horace Everett “Ev” Frink, serving his second tour with the 384th Bomb Group, previous and soon-to-be again 547th Bomb Squadron Commanding Officer
  • Capt. William T. Johnson, 41st “C” Wing High Group Lead
  • Col. Dale Orville Smith (not a mission participant), 384th Bomb Group Commander 23 November 1943 to 24 October 1944
  • Major Gerald Busby Sammons, (not a mission participant), 544th Bomb Squadron Commanding Officer 14 September 1944 to 6 November 1944.

The Buslee Crew Loading List for Mission #201, with several crew substitutions, was:

  • Pilot – John Oliver Buslee
  • Co-Pilot – David Franklin Albrecht
  • Navigator – William Alvin Henson II
  • Bombardier – Robert Sumner Stearns
  • Radio Operator/Gunner – Sebastiano Joseph Peluso
  • Engineer/Top Turret Gunner – Lenard Leroy Bryant
  • Ball Turret Gunner – George Francis McMann, Jr.
  • Tail Gunner – Gerald Lee Andersen
  • Waist Gunner – George Edwin Farrar (my dad)

The Buslee crew for #201 was essentially the same as the previous day’s Mission #200, with the only difference being the airman in the ball turret.

William Henson replaced Chester Rybarczyk as navigator, Robert Stearns replaced James Davis as bombardier, George McMann replaced Erwin Foster in the ball turret and Gerald Lee Andersen replaced Eugene Daniel Lucynski in the tail.

The Buslee crew was aboard the unnamed B-17 43-37822 on this mission. Mission reports show their “Time took off” as 0731.

The James Brodie crew – James Brodie, Lloyd Vevle, navigator George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., replacement togglier Byron Atkins, replacement radio operator Donald Dooley, Robert Crumpton, Gordon Hetu, Wilfred Miller, and Harry Liniger – of the 545th Bomb Squadron flew on this mission in the High Group of the 41st “C” Combat Wing aboard B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy. Mission reports show their “Time took off” as 0742.

The High Group formation with the Buslee and Brodie crews looked like this,

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

The Brodie crew’s favorite ship, A/C 42-97309 Kathleen Lady of Victory, had not been repaired in time for the 28 September 1944 Mission #201 from the damage and technical failures reported by the Farra crew, which had flown her on the previous day’s Mission #200. Kathleen would not go back into combat service until Mission #202 on 30 September 1944.

Mission data in group reports included,

From the Navigators Narrative for the High Group,

  • High Group takeoff began at 0730 hours.
  • Completed climb to bombing altitude at 1110, altitude 27,500.
  • No enemy fighter attack.
  • Flak accurate and moderate at the target at 1210.
  • Bomb run began at 1154 at altitude of 27,700.
  • Bombs away at 1211 at altitude of 27,700.
  • Number of Runs: 2.

From other reports, including the post-mission “Narrative for Lead, High, and Low Sections, 41st ‘C’ Combat Bombardment Wing on Mission Flown 28 September, 1944,”

  • No fighters encountered.
  • Behind schedule 20 minutes.
  • Flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate. CPF and Barrage type fire employed. Black, gray bursts being noted.
  • Battle damage was recorded post-mission for twenty-three of the 384th’s B-17’s. Damage varied from “minor damage” to major damage such as “hydraulic system shot out,” “right and left Tokyo tanks hit,” “bombardier’s compartment, pilot’s compartment, exhaust stack on #3 engine, waist, and tail vertical stabilizer hit,” “#1 engine hit, 3-inch flak hole,” and “5 flak holes and 1 engine shot out,” among others. The aircraft of the Wing Lead, with Commander Horace Everett Frink aboard, was so badly damaged by flak that it had to drop out of formation and land away in Brussels.
  • The extent of battle damage can best be visualized using the mission’s formation chart. Aircraft circled in red sustained major flak damage. Aircraft circled in yellow sustained minor flak damage. The two aircraft outlined in blue are the ships of the Buslee and Brodie crews involved in the mid-air collision. Considering their positions, it is likely that one or both of them also sustained flak damage.

Battle Damage noted in 384th Bomb Group Formation Chart for 28 September 1944 Mission 201

  • Fighter escort was excellent on the entire mission and close support was given at all times.
  • In a “Flash Telephone Report on A.A. Gunfire,” flak was reported as, (a) On first run on target, CPF fire [Continuously Pointed Fire] encountered with inacc. Barr [inaccurate Barrage flak]/ over target, and (b) Sec. [Second] run CPF encountered almost exclusively. Also noted was, 2 A/C lost in collision over target.
  • Lead Bombardier, Lt. George K. Smith reported reason for “other than primary attacked” to be, “Another Wing flew under us over release point.” In a narrative, Smith reported more details,

Turned short of the I.P. [Initial Point of the bomb run] because of cloud coverage. Opened bomb bay doors at the 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 [Joe Baggs aboard Major Frink’s lead aircraft] 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.

28 September 1944 Mission #201 to Magdeburg, Germany, Target Photo

  • Regarding the Wing Leader’s, Major Frink’s, aircraft, which happened to be the 384th Commanding Officer Dale’s Smith’s personal favorite B-17 44-8007 Screaming Eagle,

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.

  • Regarding Lt. Buslee’s and Lt. Brodie’s aircraft,

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.

  • Observer Ronald H. Froebel wrote,

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.

  • Co-pilot Wallace Storey flying with the Gross crew in the High Group on Brodie’s left wing provided this firsthand account of the 28 September 1944 Mission #201 to Magdeburg,

MAGDEBURG
September 28, 1944

On this day the 384th Bomb Group was dispatched to bomb the Krupps Steel Manufacturing Plant at Magdeburg, Germany. This was a heavily defended target and a long flight of almost ten hours. On this mission there was a tragic occurrence illustrative of some of the little discussed risks of combat flying that sometimes happened but, fortunately, was never repeated on any of my missions.

After being awakened at 0310 we had breakfast and briefing and were in our planes at 0610 as the “start engine” flares arched from the 384thBG control tower—or “Cherub” as was its call sign. Of course, the radio was not used for aircraft control as the group departed so as to avoid alerting the German defenses any earlier than necessary. Once we were airborne the fact that the 8th was assembling was soon evident to the enemy but any delay increased the chances of deception.

On this mission, I was to follow ship #222, [42-31222]“Lazy Daisy”, flown by Lt. Brodie, on to the taxiway leading to the runway. He was to fly #2 position of the high element of our squadron and I was to fly position #3 (i.e. right and left wing respectively off of the lead plane,#941, [42-97941, “Marion”] of the element). Take off went well as we began our roll at 0720. The Group assembled without incident and we fell into line as briefed for the Wing Order of Battle.

Our 41st Combat Wing was made up that day of the 303rdBG in lead, followed by the 379th, with the 384th last. This order, which varied from mission to mission, was to prove fateful on that day. Just a few weeks earlier the Luftwaffe had begun a new tactic which they called “company front attacks”. They added extra armor and guns to three or four dozen Focke Wolfe FW-190 single engine fighters. They approached the 8th Air Force Groups head on in wedges of eight to sixteen planes so as to saturate the bombers’ defensive fire and sometimes disrupt their formation. Although we did not know it at the time, they had used this tactic against the 446th Group of the Second Division the previous day and inflicted the greatest loss ever suffered by a single group of the 8th Air Force in World War II—-25 B-24’s.

The German fighters used this tactic against the 303rd Group, the lead group in our Combat Wing, on the mission to Magdeburg on the 28th. The 303rd lost eleven B-17’s in this frontal assault. One of the lead pilots of the 303rd is quoted as saying “When we turned on our bomb run we were attacked by about 50 Nazi fighters en masse, coming at us as a solid bunch. Those guys were like mad men–with one idea–to knock us down in a suicidal attack”. There was a total of fifteen B-17’s that were lost that day from our Combat Wing. This amounted to a 13.9% loss of the 108 planes–the highest loss in the Wing of any of my missions.

Being the 3rd Group in the Wing we were fortunate not to be as heavily attacked as the other two Groups, but what happened led to confusion as we bombed the target. Flak was extremely heavy that day and the Wing had been somewhat disrupted by the heavy opposition. We found ourselves on a crossing course with another Group and just after “bombs away” the lead ship made a sharp descending right turn. Our high element, being on the inside of this steep turn, had to move quickly by reducing power while climbing slightly. Glancing to my right, I saw that “Lazy Daisy” was sliding toward me. I pulled back on the control column to climb out of her path while keeping my eye on the #2 ship of the lead element, Lt. Buslee in #337 [43-37822], on whose wing our element was flying. I yelled to Gross to watch for him to come out on the other side and, sure enough, he slid under us and right into Buslee in the lead element.

I watched the two planes as they collided. It cut #337 [43-37822] in half and the wings on #222 [42-31222] folded up and both planes fell in a fireball. They were 18 men lost in those two ships. We didn’t see any chutes as we continued our turn to the right.

Some of the formations were broken up, both because of this and because of the fighter attack, but we did not have any further problem as we headed back home. Even though the 1st Division lost 23 planes, the Germans did not come out unscathed. There were 10 confirmed fighters destroyed, 7 probables, and 5 damaged by the B-17 gunners. Our crew was extremely lucky that day as “Lazy Daisy”, by all normal odds, should have collided with us and must have crossed under with less than five foot clearance as I pulled up. And for Buslee, flying on the last of his 35 missions [correction: Buslee was on his 16th mission], and for Brodie, and their crews it was the unluckiest of all days.

We were all happy to be safely back at Grafton Underwood as we touched down on the soil of England. Upon inspecting our plane we found two sizable Flak holes but, fortunately, they missed our fuel tanks and other vital points. Fighters and Flak were not the only dangers of combat flying. Taking off, assembling, and landing in extremely bad English weather (such as grounded the 8th frequently in 1943 but not later) formation flying in weather where only the adjoining plane could be seen and maneuvering large formations required great competency in the flight crews and, often, great luck as described in this mission.

Copyright (C) 2002—Lt/Col. Wallace A. Storey

Many more details of the 28 September 1944 Mission #201 have previously been published in my posts,

Contrary to the lack of chutes observed coming from the two ships of the Buslee and Brodie crews, there were a handful of survivors. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the lone survivor of the Buslee crew’s B-17. Three survived on the Brodie crew’s B-17 – Harry Liniger, Wilfred Miller, and George Hawkins. Four men out of eighteen survived. Fourteen did not and perished on September 28, 1944.

Notes

The James Brodie crew left crew training at Ardmore, Oklahoma at the same time as the Buslee crew on their way to the ETO, European Theatre of Operations. Both crews were assigned to the 384th Bomb Group within days of each other after reaching England although the Buslee crew was assigned to the 544th Bomb Squadron while the Brodie crew was assigned to the 545th.

The two crews participated in many of the same missions, although it is unlikely that the men of the two crews interacted in any other way as they were members of different crews and different squadrons at Grafton Underwood, although they may have recognized each other from their time at Ardmore together.

  • Previous post on Mission 201. Note: at the time of my previous post about Mission 201, the Buslee crew’s aircraft was misidentified in the 384th Bomb Group database and photo gallery. At the time, the photo and name attached to B-17 43-37822 were actually those of B-17 42-37822. A/C 43-37822 was unnamed or the name never recorded or nose art, if it existed, never photographed.
  • Previous posts of details about Mission 201 in “What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg?”, Part 1 and Part 2
  • Previous post Propwash?
  • Previous post, Wallace Storey
  • Thank you to the 384th’s Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson for obtaining and sharing WWII reports and mission documents from the National Archives for the 384th Bomb Group.
  • Mission documents and other mission information may be found, viewed, and saved or printed courtesy of Fred Preller’s 384th Bomb Group website.

With the exception of material in this post copyrighted by Wallace A. Storey, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

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 (Continuously Pointed Fire) and barrage type flak at the target was moderate to intense and accurate
  • The Wing leader was hit by flak and the deputy had to take over the lead, causing the Lead section to break up
  • The Low and High Sections became separated from the Lead Section
  • Coming off the target, the Wing was on a collision course with another unidentified Wing
  • As reported by a 351st Bomb Group crew member, a Triangle “P” ship seemed deliberately to weave in front of the formation, creating much prop wash

Quite a bit of information was gleaned from the high-level post-mission documents, but there was much more detail about the collision in the Visual Observation section of the Tactical Interrogation Forms that each pilot filled out in the post-mission briefing, which I will add to what I have already reported.

B-17 formation flying was tricky in itself, but it became even more difficult and dangerous when things out of the ordinary happened as they did on September 28, 1944. Not that there were many “ordinary” missions, but mid-air collisions were just one of the ways a B-17 could be brought down in addition to flak from ground fire, rockets, and enemy fighter attacks.

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

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

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