The Arrowhead Club

Category Archives: #201, 9/28/1944

What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 2

A continuation of my previous post, What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 1


A recap of the mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews on 28 September 1944…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was MACR9753. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) was MACR9366. Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.

In my father’s response to the Army Air Force’s request for information about the mid-air collision, which is included in MACR9753, he concluded his narrative with,

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.


My father died on November 5, 1982, never knowing the details of what happened to his crewmates on board B-17 43-37822 in the mid-air collision of 28 September 1944. Nor would he know what happened to the airmen of B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy, the ship with which his B-17 collided.

Dad died of cardiac arrest at the age of 61, still wearing the Air Force ring he wore on his left ring finger beginning sometime after he returned home from World War II, but before marrying my mother in 1949. He did not replace the ring with a wedding band or move it to another finger upon his marriage.

Dad’s United States Air Force Ring

Dad’s Air Force ring was clearly his personal memorial to his lost crewmates, a symbol which could not easily be set aside even when he took the vows of marriage to my mother, a ring he only parted with upon his death.

On the day he died, Dad finally joined his crewmates as one of the men who, I believe, were all lost on that day. In the mid-air collision, I believe my father was fatally wounded in heart, mind, and spirit, even though he remained physically tethered to this earth and his family for another thirty-eight years.

I need to finish his unfinished business, to answer his question that remained unanswered and disturbed him so deeply, “what did happen to the boys?”

George Edwin Farrar’s complete narrative of the mid-air collision, included in MACR9753, is as follows:

Am very sorry I can’t give more information, but our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group. The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship. Never saw any of the other boys. I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was.

Any information you can find out about the boys I would appreciate hearing very much.

Please pardon this not being typed, but am out of my town, and have tried, with no luck to obtain one (typewriter), but can’t.

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.

George E. Farrar

All of the documents of Missing Air Crew Report 9753 and 9366 are now declassified and available for perusal by anyone who cares to review them. And peruse I have, over and over, studying them as if some new secret may emerge upon repeated inspections. It’s not uncommon for me to notice something I hadn’t noticed before or maybe something that just hadn’t sunk in with past readings.

For example, this go-round, I noticed something in George Hawkins’ narrative of Missing Air Crew Report 9366 (the MACR for the Brodie crew involved in the collision) that previously slipped past me. Hawkins stated in the first paragraph of his narrative, “At the time of the accident [the collision], our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.”

George Hawkins, as navigator, was seated in the nose of Brodie’s B-17, so he would not be able to see from his seat the cockpit, top turret, radio room, ball turret, waist, or tail. He would not be able to know for certain from a visual standpoint the condition of the other areas of the aircraft or its occupants.

However, all of the airmen of the crew would have been in interphone radio contact with each other, and I believe if the aircraft had suffered a major flak hit or mechanical failure or if any of his crewmates had suffered an injury before the collision, he would have heard of it over the interphone. If there had been time.

Regardless of what he could see or hear or know otherwise of what was happening in his ship, I imagine from the nose of Lazy Daisy, George Hawkins had a front row seat to view their slide out of formation on the path to collision, to feel the quickly changing course of destruction in the pit of his stomach. And to quickly comprehend that he could do nothing about it.

I have researched in detail (see links below to previous posts, What Happened in the Skies over Magdeburg Parts 1 and 2, and Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins Parts 1, 2, and 3) what might have happened to B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy, to cause it to veer off course into B-17 43-37822.

I have considered that George Hawkins may have had the answer. If he did, he did not share the information in his Missing Air Crew Report narrative. If the ship had suffered major damage from flak as my father believed and I, therefore, have supposed, I don’t think Hawkins would have described it as “light flak damage.”

However, if what Hawkins believed to be light flak damage was more injurious to the pilots than it was destructive to the aircraft, Hawkins may not have been aware of it.

From eye-witness reports, here’s what I do know, or think I know, just from the two missing air crew reports, MACR9753 and MACR9366:

The Buslee crew’s B-17 43-37822

  • Broke in half near the center of the ship, either at the waist or at the radio room
  • The ball turret of this ship and the tail of the other ship hit, tearing off both
  • The wings folded up
  • Pieces of the tail and wings fell off. Plane was in flames from the engine.
  • Was going down in flames spinning into the clouds.

The Brodie crew’s B-17 42-31222, Lazy Daisy

  • The left wing of this ship hit the other ship’s tail and cut part of a wing off
  • The aircraft broke up near the tail assembly (in collision with ball turret of other ship) and went down in flames.
  • The aircraft was burning and slowly spiraling down until it disappeared into the clouds.
  • George Hawkins noted:  “The front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner S/Sgt. Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.”
  • George Hawkins added:  “Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.”

In the collision, six men left the two planes, possibly in this order, but only four survived to become prisoners of war. Two were knocked from their respective aircraft but were not able to save themselves with their parachutes.

  • Brodie crew nose gunner Byron Atkins was knocked from 42-31222, but his parachute failed, was not hooked up properly, or he was not conscious to properly deploy it
  • Buslee crew ball turret gunner George McMann, while still inside the ball turret, was knocked from 43-37822, likely without a parachute as was customary in those tight quarters, unable to save himself in his fall
  • Buslee crew waist gunner George Farrar was thrown from 43-37822 when it broke in half, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans
  • Brodie crew waist gunner Harry Liniger was thrown from 42-31222 in an explosion, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans
  • Brodie crew tail gunner Wilfred Miller, while still inside the tail of 42-31222, rode the tail down before bailing out after an explosion, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans
  • Brodie crew navigator George Hawkins, while still inside the nose of 42-31222, broke out behind the right nose gun to bail out, parachuted to the ground, and was captured by the Germans

Of the remaining twelve airmen who were still on board the two B-17’s when they crashed, they were likely severely injured, or killed in the collision or ensuing explosion and fire, or if uninjured, unable to exit the planes due to centrifugal force trapping them in the spinning planes as they plummeted to earth.

These diagrams are of the B-17’s of the two crews, with different colored notations to represent the groupings and order of identification. Each individual is circled upon identification, not recovery. See the descriptions following the diagrams for details.

Diagram of BUSLEE CREW aboard 43-37822

B-17 43-37822, Buslee crew, 28 September 1944

Diagram of BRODIE CREW aboard 42-31222

B-17 42-31222, aka Lazy Daisy, Brodie crew, 28 September 1944

Circled in PURPLE in the Diagrams

Of the first eight airmen recovered from the two crashed B-17’s, only two from each crew were identified.

  • William Henson (Navigator) and Robert Stearns (Bombardier) were in position in the nose of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822
  • Robert Crumpton (Engineer) in the top turret and Gordon Hetu (Ball Turret Gunner) in the ball turret were in position in Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222
  • Four unidentified, crew unknown, not circled at this time

Circled in BLUE in the Diagrams

Of the next five airmen recovered, two from the Buslee crew and one from the Brodie crew were identified.

  • Gerald Andersen (Tail Gunner, name misspelled Anderson on the diagram) was in position in the tail, and George McMann (Ball Turret Gunner) was in position in the ball turret of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822, when the ball turret was knocked from the ship during the collision.
  • Donald Dooley was in position in the radio room of Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222
  • Two unidentified, crew unknown, not circled at this time

Circled in GREEN in the Diagrams

Four airmen captured by the Germans were identified.

  • George Farrar (Waist Gunner) was thrown from his position in the waist of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822
  • Harry Liniger (Waist Gunner) was thrown from the waist door and Wilfred Miller (Tail Gunner) bailed out of the severed tail following an explosion in Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222, and George Hawkins (Navigator) bailed out of the nose.

At this point, seventeen of the eighteen airmen of the two crews of nine each had been found, with eleven identified and six unidentified. One was still missing. I think the Germans may have believed three airmen from the two crews were still missing, as I think they were assuming each crew had ten airmen rather than nine, for a total of twenty rather than eighteen.

Circled in RED in the 42-31222 Diagram

One more airman was recovered, identified as the nose gunner of the Brodie aircraft, Byron Atkins (Togglier), who was knocked out of the nose during the collision.

The total now stood at all 18 found, but only 12 had been identified, with 6 unidentified.

Circled in ORANGE in the Diagrams

Four airmen, who were originally unidentified, were later identified.

  • John Buslee (Pilot) and David Albrecht, in position in the cockpit, and Lenard Bryant (Engineer), in position in the top turret directly behind the cockpit of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822
  • Lloyd Vevle (Co-pilot) in position in the cockpit of Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222

Circled in YELLOW in the 42-31222 Diagram

The next airman, originally unidentified, to be identified later was James Brodie (Pilot), in position in the cockpit of his aircraft, 42-31222.

Circled in BLACK in the 43-37822 Diagram

Recovered, but never identified in documents associated with either Missing Air Crew Report of the Buslee or Brodie crew, was Sebastiano Peluso (Radio Operator), in position in the radio room of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822. Peluso was likely at ground zero of the collision and likely at the center of the most destruction of the two aircraft. I am not sure when Sebastiano was finally identified, but by July 1945, his parents were still left wondering what happened to their son.

Identification Difficulties

Several factors led to difficulties in identification of the casualties.

  • Mixed crews – the casualties of both crews of both B-17’s were mixed together in the aftermath of the collision.
  • False/fake identification – at least one of the airmen in the mid-air collision, probably one of the Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron, was carrying ID and ration cards from two other 545th Bomb Squadron airmen, Robert W. Wagner and James E. Flynn, who were not on board either aircraft on 28 September 1944. Wagner was a gunner who was active during the timeframe of the collision, but did not participate in the 28 September 1944 mission. James E. Flynn was a radio operator who had completed his tour in May of 1944.
  • Missing identification – a Czech man who was on forced labor in Germany and was first to the site of the crash of 43-37822 took souvenirs and some identification and money from the plane.
  • Burned beyond recognition – the most difficult reason that six casualties of the two B-17’s could not easily be identified was that they were completely burned in the fire. These were likely the airmen originally unidentified in the German records – John Buslee, David Albrecht, Lenard Bryant and Sebastiano Peluso of Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822, and James Brodie and Lloyd Vevle of Brodie’s aircraft, 42-31222.

The Worst Place to Be in the Mid-air Collision

The areas of the two B-17’s with the most destruction, as evidenced by the difficulty identifying the occupants of the different positions, were the cockpits of both aircraft and the top turret and radio room behind the cockpit on Buslee’s aircraft, 43-37822, and past that, the ball turret of Buslee’s aircraft, which was knocked from the plane.

What Did Happen to the Boys

Dad was not the only one who wanted to learn details of the mid-air collision and what happened to his crewmates. Chester Rybarczyk, the Navigator of the original Buslee crew, who was not onboard the B-17 43-37822 on 28 September, wanted to know. The families of the the boys who lost their lives that day wanted to know. They were all very anxious for my father to return home from the war and answer the same question, what did happen to the boys?

I doubt in their lifetimes any of them ever found a satisfactory answer. Dad, the only survivor of the Buslee ship, was expected to know. But Dad knew almost as little as anyone did. He probably felt the pressure to answer their questions, but could not. He probably felt a responsibility to ease their pain, but could not. He probably felt a need to comfort them, but could not as there is no comfort from losing a child.

Dad wanted answers. Dad shared the families’ pain. Dad, too, needed comfort. And he alone felt the guilt of being the only survivor of his crew. He never understood, why did he live when the other boys died?

What did happen to the boys? Dad, I hope this research puts your question to rest, comforts your soul, and eases your pain. Please know, for you, I carry all of the boys lost on 28 September 1944 in a special place in my heart. I will always remember them. And I will make sure your grandchildren and future generations remember you and remember them.

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous post, On Forced Labor

Previous post, What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 1

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Previous post, What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 1

Previous post, What Happened in the Skies Over Magdeburg? Part 2

Previous post, Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 1 of 3

Previous post, Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 2 of 3

Previous post, Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 3 of 3

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 1

A recap of the mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews on 28 September 1944…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was MACR9753. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The Missing Air Crew Report for the Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) was MACR9366. Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.


While recently reviewing a missing air crew report (MACR4814) for a different air crew (not the Buslee or Brodie crew), I ran across a letter from HEADQUARTERS, ARMY AIR FORCES, that was contained in that missing air crew report file. The Subject of the letter was “Casualty Information of Crew Members” and noted “In reply, refer to AFPPA-8.”

This particular letter was not made a part of the Buslee or Brodie missing air crew reports (MACR9753 and MACR9366, respectively), but I do believe my dad and the other survivors of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision of those crews received this same letter.

The Buslee and Brodie MACR files contain what I believe are responses to this letter from Buslee crew waist gunner (my dad) George Edwin Farrar (questionnaire and narrative) and Brodie crew navigator George Marshall Hawkins (questionnaire and narrative) and tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller (questionnaire). I had been curious about how they received a request for the information and now I believe I have my answer.

The contents of the undated “Casualty Information of Crew Members” letter are as follows:

  1. You will be interested to know that there have been formed here in Washington and in the theaters overseas, Missing Aircrew Research and Investigation Offices to collect all information from our own and enemy sources, correlate this information and furnish it to search teams in the theaters who will go to the scene of the casualty incident and investigate. These teams will question those in the area who have knowledge of the incident and trace all leads down until they have the story. The German records we have translated are excellent. We have just received the Japanese records. By combining all this data with the story available in your memory, we can tell next of kin the things that mean so much to them.
  2. You may or may not have been questioned in this manner before concerning the mission on which you were shot down and the events that followed. Regardless of previous questionnaires, it is important that we have the information requested here to complete our records concerning combat crewmen remaining in a casualty status.
  3. If you have been sworn to secrecy as a result of your escape, evasion or internment, you may consider yourself released from all restrictions as to disclosure or publication of experiences except:
    1. Secret intelligence activities and methods developed for use, or actually used, in prison camps.
    2. Details of techniques employed by military intelligence organizations operating behind enemy lines to assist evasion and escape.
    3. Negotiations conducted on high government or military level to secure release from internment in a neutral country. (See AAF Reg 46-8 dated 30 October 1945)
  4. Please answer all the questions you can promptly and accurately. Request that, if possible, answers be typewritten; if not, printed. Mail the reply to Commanding General, Army Air Forces, Attention: AFPPA-8, Washington 25, D.C.

BY COMMAND OF GENERAL ARNOLD:

JOHN J. SMITH
Lt. Col., Air Corps
Chief, Notification Section
Personal Affairs Branch<
Personnel Services Division, AC/AS-1

Brodie crew navigator aboard B-17 42-31222 Lazy Daisy, George Marshall Hawkins, Jr’s, narrative, as follows, is included in MACR9366:

Following “Bombs away” at our target over Magdeburg, Germany, our B17-G and another ship in our formation collided. At the time of the accident our plane was in good condition with nothing more than light flak damage. As far as I know, all men on board were uninjured.

At the time of the collision, the front section of our nose was carried away, and with it, the nose gunner, S/Sgt Byron L. Atkins. The plane seemed to be flying straight and level for a very few seconds and then fell off into a spin. I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.

Floating downward I saw an opened but empty chute. Leading me to believe that Atkins’ chute was pulled open at the time of the accident or by him later. However, because of the position of the chute I think the chute must have been opened following a free fall of a few thousand feet and then, because of damage or faulty hook-up, failed to save its occupant.

Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground. While floating downward, I saw one other chute below me.

I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.

The following evening I met two members of the crew…the waist gunner, Sgt. Liniger, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Liniger said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.

To the best of my knowledge, All other five members of the crew were at their positions on the plane and failed to leave the ship. All were uninjured up till the time of the collision.

Buslee crew waist gunner aboard B-17 43-37822, George Edwin Farrar’s narrative, as follows, is included in MACR9753:

Am very sorry I can’t give more information, but our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group.  The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to.  At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship.  Never saw any of the other boys.  I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was.

Any information you can find out about the boys I would appreciate hearing very much.

Please pardon this not being typed, but am out of my town, and have tried, with no luck to obtain one (typewriter), but can’t.

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.

George E. Farrar

George Edwin Farrar’s handwritten narrative, with apology for it not being typed as requested in the “Casualty Information of Crew Members” letter:

George Edwin Farrar’s response to Army Air Forces letter regarding Casualty Information of Crew Members (click/select image to enlarge)

I am unsure of the dates Dad and the other survivors of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision received the request for information or the dates they returned their responses, but in 1946, Dad received two responses to his completed casualty questionnaire and narrative.

First, on June 14, 1946, Dad received a letter from Lt. Colonel William H. Brandon, Air Corps. Dad did receive a reply, but he did not get any answers.

June 14, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Mr. George E. Farrar,
79 East Lake Terrace, Northeast
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Mr. Farrar:

Your completed casualty questionnaire has been received in this Headquarters, and we are appreciative of the information you furnished us relative to the fate of your fellow crew members.

At present we have on hand a large back-log of inquiries from the next of kin of our personnel who were killed in action or who are otherwise unaccounted for. In accordance with the Air Force post war reduction in manpower, the staff of this office has been reduced to a point where all inquiries cannot be answered as promptly as we would desire. In view of this, I am certain you will agree with our policy of giving preference to the next of kin. It is not known when we will be able to answer your questions concerning the members of your crew; however, an attempt will be made to furnish you this information as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,
WILLIAM H. BRANDON
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps
Chief, Notification Section
Personal Affairs Branch
Personnel Services Division, AC/AS-1

On September 11, 1946, he received this letter from 1st Lt. John W. Bertschi:

September 11, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Dear Sir:

The casualty questionnaire you completed for Air Forces Headquarters came to my attention today. I noticed your own question in the back of the sheet, and knowing how anxious any crewmember is to know what happened to the rest of the fellows, I want to tell you what we have found.

German casualty records which we recently translated state that all your crewmembers were recovered dead. The only one not identified by name was S. J. Peluso. All the boys were buried in a cemetery at Ost Ingersleben where the plane crashed. This town is twenty miles northwest of Magdeburg. We do not have reburial on all of the fellows yet so this would indicate that the Quartermaster General is having trouble identifying the bodies.

That is really all there is to tell you. You might be interested to know that the German records also include your name and state that you were taken to Dulag Luft West.

You really lived through a close one. I hope you suffer no permanent ill effects, and are enjoying a normal life once again.

This personal letter is easier to get out than an official one.

Very sincerely,
John W. Bertschi
1ST LT. AC

In a handwritten note at the bottom of the typed letter, John Bertschi described himself as “Just one of the boys now working in AAF Hdqts personnel division.”

He also added:

P. S. When I checked your 201 file for your address, I found our “very sorry” letter to you.

John Bertschi hoped Dad had returned to a normal life. A “normal life?” How does one return to a normal life after such a catastrophic event as a mid-air collision between two B-17’s, confinement to a POW camp, and an 86-day 500-mile march to liberation and freedom, on top of the constant reminder that he was the only one on his ship who lived?

And yes, he did receive some information from this second letter, but I believe he still had more questions than answers.

To be continued with what I have learned did happen to the boys in What Did Happen to the Boys, Part 2

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous post, On Forced Labor

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

On Forced Labor

A continuation of my post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben


A recap…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

On the afternoon of 28 September 1944, following the mid-air collision, the two B-17’s fell from the sky near Ost Ingersleben, Germany.

The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.” My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The crash site of 42-31222 Lazy Daisy was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.

At least one of the planes crash-landed in the general vicinity of Beendorf and Bartensleben, according to an eye-witness who came forward in 1948 and provided a sketch of the area.

Sketch of crash site

Notes:

  • Location name corrections of locations noted on the sketch,
    • Helmstadt should be Helmstedt
    • Bernsdorf should be Beendorf
    • Braunsweig (Braunschweig) is also known as Brunswick.
  • The locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben also seem to be swapped in the sketch. Beendorf is actually to the west of Bartensleben.

To make the location of the sketch more clear, I have plotted each location on a Google map,

Google map of crash area for comparison to hand-drawn map
Hand-drawn map points outlined in black
Military document crash area location names outlined in blue
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click images to enlarge…


The witness to the crash of B-17 43-37822, a Czechoslovakian man, described his reason for being at the crash site as, “I have been working in the fields, there the Germans put me on forced labor.” And his father described his son’s situation as “on forced labor in lager close to village Bernsdorf [Beendorf].”

I looked into the man’s circumstances and I learned that his “forced labor” may have been as a concentration camp prisoner of the Helmstedt-Beendorf sub-camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp, considering the area in which he described his forced labor.

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos). The perpetrators used these locations for a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people deemed to be “enemies of the state,” and mass murder. Millions of people suffered and died or were killed. Among these sites was the Neuengamme camp and its subcamps.

from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia

During World War II, the demand for prisoner labor in the German armaments industry led to the establishment of about eighty subcamps of the Neuengamme concentration camp at locations in northern and central Germany, beginning in 1942.

The Neuengamme camp, itself a subcamp of the Sachenhausen concentration camp, was located at an abandoned brickworks on the banks of the Dove-Elbe River, a tributary of the Elbe in the Neuengamme suburb of Hamburg in northern Germany.

The Helmstedt-Beendorf camp was a subcamp of the Neuengamme camp about 90 miles (about 145 km) to the south. The Helmstedt-Beendorf camp was located on the former site of a potash and rock salt mine, known as the Marie mine, and a potash chloride plant which produced fertilizers from the crude potash salts. Later the Bartensleben mine was constructed and connected to the Marie mine.

Between 1937 and 1944, the German Air Force used the former Marie mine as an ammunition plant at the surface and aircraft ammunition storage underground. Then beginning in 1944, the entire mine was used for armament production and became the Helmstedt-Beendorf subcamp for concentration camp prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp. The prisoners were the forced labor who produced armaments underground.

The first prisoners arrived in Beendorf on 17 March 1944. The men were used to excavate underground production halls in two neighbouring salt mines, “Marie” (Beendorf) and “Bartensleben” (Morsleben). Important equipment for manufacturing air force munitions was moved to the two tunnels, and the secret projects were given the code names “Bulldogge” [Bulldog] and “Iltis” [Polecat]. The hard physical labour and terrible working conditions in the shafts damaged the prisoners’ eyes and lungs in particular.

 from KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme

At Beendorf, from March of 1944, the men’s camp of about 800 concentration camp prisoners were used for building works. From August of 1944, the women’s camp of up to 2,500 concentration camp prisoners were used for armament production.

The women prisoners worked for the Askania factory in the Bartensleben mine and Luftfahrtgerätewerk Hakenfelde in the Marie mine, and manufactured electro-mechanical components such as control units and steering gear for the V1 and fighter aircraft.

The number of prisoners eventually numbered 4,500, housed in an area designed for less than half that number. The work was very hard and their diet insufficient to sustain them, leading many to become weak and sick, and killing many.

Near the end of 1944, ten- to twelve-thousand prisoners were interned in the Neuengamme concentration camp with another thirty-seven- to thirty-nine-thousand in the subcamps. The death rate was staggering during the winter of 1944 to 1945 with thousands dying each month.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia records the number of deaths of Neuengamme prisoners so close to the end of the war and the evacuation of the camp.

As British troops approached Neuengamme, the SS evacuated some 9,000 prisoners towards Lübeck on the Baltic Sea on April 19, 1945, and murdered most of the remaining 3,000 prisoners in the camp. Some 700 almost exclusively German prisoners remained behind to destroy the internal documents of the camp. Half of them were conscripted into an SS armed unit; the remainder evacuated the camp on April 30, leaving it empty.

British forces arrived on May 4, 1945. In early May 1945, the SS loaded some 9,000-10,000 prisoners—most of them evacuated from Neuengamme and its subcamps—onto three ships anchored in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Neustadt in Schleswig-Holstein. Some 7,000 lost their lives when the British attacked two of the ships in the course of a raid on the harbor on May 3. The Thielbek, carrying about 2,000 prisoners, sank quickly. The Cap Arcona, carrying more than 4,500 prisoners, burned and capsized during the attack. Only about 600 prisoners from both ships survived.

The death register at Neuengamme indicates that about 40,000 prisoners died in the camp by April 10, 1945. Perhaps as many as 15,000 more died in the camp in the following week and during the course of the evacuation. In all, more than 50,000 prisoners, almost half of all those imprisoned in the camp during its existence, died in Neuengamme concentration camp.

KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme reports that at the Helmstedt-Beendorf subcamp on 10 April 1945, both camps (the one for the men and the one for the women) were evacuated. The women and men were loaded onto goods cars and taken via Magdeburg, Stendal und Wittenberge to the Wöbbelin “reception camp”, arriving 16 April.

The History of the Morsleben Repository notes that the male survivors were liberated there by American troops two weeks later. The female survivors were taken to the previously evacuated Hamburg sub-camps, from which they could be evacuated and saved by the Swedish Red Cross. This source adds that,

At the end of the war, the Marie and Bartensleben mines were located within the Soviet occupation zone and later on in the Border Area of the GDR. Commemoration of the victims was only possible to a limited extent. In the centre of Beendorf, a memorial stone and, on the cemetery, a mass grave remind of the victims. Only since 1989, have survivors had the option to visit this location as memorial site.

The Czechoslovakian witness’ simple description of his internment as “the Germans put me on forced labor” does not begin to describe the ordeal he survived during World War II. He was extremely fortunate to live through the war, to be able to return to his home and family in Czechoslovakia, and to survive to tell his story about the crash and the fate of those aboard the Buslee crew’s B-17, of which my father was the sole survivor.

I liken the Czechoslovakian witness’ simplified description of his wartime ordeal to my father’s simplified description of his own wartime P.O.W. experience, his 86-day 500-mile march to liberation from his and his fellow P.O.W.’s internment by the Nazis, with his own simple explanation, “We were marched across Germany.”

Suitable words do not exist for a survivor of this kind of atrocity to utter, to convey to those who did not share the experience of the true horrors they lived through and the unbelievable miracle of their survival. Simple words and simple explanations protect both parties of the story, the teller and the listener, from the unimaginable truth where words become images and images become nightmares. Simple words paint simple images, images one can live with on the shallow side of the truth.

Sources

History of the Morsleben Repository

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAMPS AND GHETTOS, 1933–1945

KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme Satellite Camp HELMSTEDT-BEENDORF (MEN)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia, NEUENGAMME

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

A continuation of my post regarding the location of the crash site of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision of the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) and James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy).


As I previously reported,

  • The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.”
  • The crash site of 42-31222 Lazy Daisy was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” The two B-17’s likely crashed very close to the same location.

On the afternoon of 28 September 1944, two B-17’s fell from the sky near Ost Ingersleben, Germany. Unclear is how close in proximity the two planes crashed to the ground, but they likely both landed in the same general vicinity.

George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., the navigator who bailed out of one of the fortresses said from his birds-eye view above the scene, floating down in his parachute, “Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.”

One of those “civilians” was a Czechoslovakian man who was interned by the Nazis as forced labor. He said he saw one plane crash land, but never mentions a second aircraft.

To hear and see such a terrifying sight, two spinning, burning planes speeding toward the ground, to feel the ground shake upon impact seems to me an image that would be etched in memory forever. But the reported recollection of the Czechoslovakian man, who claimed to be first on the scene, is somewhat inaccurate.

Of course, considering his situation, perhaps I expect too much of his recollection as a witness. I don’t disbelieve him. I can’t. He had indisputable proof that he was there and witnessed the crash. He had taken John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s ring as a souvenir.

Years after the collision and ensuing crash of the two B-17’s, the Czechoslovakian man, now freed from Nazi forced labor and back home, decided to return the ring to Jay Buslee’s family. He wrote a letter dated 28 January 1948 and in it explained,

On Sept. 22, 1944, American plane came down in flames alone, about 40 kilometers from Magdeburg. I have been working in the fields, there the Germans put me on forced labor. I came to the plane before the Gestapo and SS did and all the flyers have been dead and I pick up a ring which belonged to one of the flyers.

In his claim to having witnessed the crash of Buslee’s B-17, he noted the date of 22 September 1944 rather than the correct date of 28 September 1944. He also noted that the plane came down in flames “alone.” I can understand in his circumstances getting the date wrong. Not seeing the second B-17 come down makes me think the Brodie plane did not come down as close to Buslee’s plane as I thought.

The Czech man later left home for military service. Correspondence continued through the man’s father in a letter dated April 12, 1948, in which more, but slightly different, details were provided,

On Sept. 24, /Sunday/ about 14 hours, /That is 2 P.M./ came a swarm of bombing US planes and the direction was Magdeburg in Germany.  One plane was separated from the swarm and the way it looks, damaged.  Finaly after a while, the plane came down in flames near the village Bertensleben, about 9 kilometers from Helmstadt.  My son, who have been in Germany on forced labor in lager close to village Bernsdorf, went to the scene and came there sooner before the German authorities did.

… the place, where the plane came down, is out of populated places…

… I made a primitive sketch of the place where the plane came down.  The place is between the village Bartensleben and Bornsdorf

Sketch of crash site

Notes:

  • In this letter, the date of the crash was noted as 24 September, a Sunday, at about 14 hours/2 o’clock in the afternoon. The actual time, in German time, of the mid-air collision and crash would have been about 1 P.M, which was about noon in English time as noted in military documents.
  • In my previous post of this letter/information, I chose to omit the exact locations, but am including them now after further review and determination of what I believe to be the locations the writer intended. The names of some of the places were not noted correctly, but I believe I know the places the writer meant.
  • Location name corrections, including those noted on the sketch,
    • Helmstadt should be Helmstedt
    • Bernsdorf or Bornsdorf should be Beendorf
    • Bertensleben (although correct on sketch) should be Bartensleben
    • Braunsweig (Braunschweig), on the sketch, is also known as Brunswick.
  • The locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben also seem to be swapped in the sketch. Beendorf is actually to the west of Bartensleben.

To make the location of the sketch more clear, I have plotted each location on a Google map,

Google map of crash area for comparison to hand-drawn map
Hand-drawn map points outlined in black
Military document crash area location names outlined in blue
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click images to enlarge…

I also wanted to see exactly where 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben would be as noted in wartime documents.

2km from Ost Ingersleben to crash site
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

And zoomed out…

2km from Ost Ingersleben to crash site, noting locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

And zoomed in…

2km from Ost Ingersleben to crash site, zoomed
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Internet searches do not turn up any more information regarding the crash of the two B-17’s in this area. Next steps for me will be to attempt to connect with libraries or local government entities in the area in order to learn more about the crash of the Buslee and Brodie crew B-17’s.

To be continued with more information regarding the role this area of Germany played in World War II and the role of the people who were forced to play it…

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

In my last post, I mapped out the location of the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision of the Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) and Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222, Lazy Daisy) as it was recorded in wartime documents.

The coordinates of the collision, in the area of Magdeburg, Germany, were noted as 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E on post-briefing reports, (52.100000, 11.650000 for Google maps), at an approximate altitude of 27,000 feet.

After the collision, the two fortresses traveled quite a distance, about 22 miles (approx. 36 km), before crashing to the ground north of the village of Ost Ingersleben, Germany (today, part of the municipality of Ingersleben in the Börde district in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany).

Distance between coordinates of collision (52.100000, 11.650000 – upper left corner of map) and 2km north of Ost Ingersleben (52.23022501900543, 11.169220977746475 – lower left corner of map)
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click on the map to enlarge the image. Ignore the roadways and driving directions and look at the straight line diagonally crossing the map and representing the flight path between the two points. The survivors who were able to leave the aircraft and parachute to the ground likely landed in the vicinity of this path.

The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.” Measuring the distance on a Google map between the Magdeburg city center and Ost Ingersleben city center is 33 km according to Google maps, but the distance between the collision point and an approximated crash point 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben calculates to approximately 36 km or about 22 miles.

The only survivor of the Buslee ship, my dad George Edwin Farrar, was not able to provide any location information in his Casualty Questionnaire Narrative and noted that when he hit the ground, “I was unable to tell where I was.” I previously imagined that he landed in his parachute close to the site of the crash 2km north of Ost Ingersleben, but that assumption is probably not correct.

Dad, the waist gunner aboard the Buslee crew’s B-17, was likely one of the first out, thrown out when “the other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. He added that “at the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship.”

It was uncommon for B-17 crew members to wear their parachutes in combat, preferring instead to keep them nearby for easy access if needed. Wearing his parachute during the mission that day saved my dad’s life as he would not have been able to retrieve it in his state of unconsciousness.

Dad must have landed in his parachute further east along the flight path and closer to Magdeburg and the site of the mid-air collision than I previously thought, as he was knocked out of the plane at the moment of the collision.

This leads to the question of where the other survivors of the mid-air collision landed after bailing out of the Brodie crew’s B-17.

The crash site of 42-31222 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” The two B-17’s likely crashed very close to the same location.

Brodie crew navigator George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., the only officer of the two crews to survive the mid-air collision noted as part of his Casualty Questionnaire in MACR9366 that they were “near Erxleben, Germany” when their aircraft left the formation. Brodie crew tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller noted it to be “about 4 minutes out of flak area.”

Did Hawkins’ wording “left the formation” indicate the moment of the collision? If so, the coordinates of the collision as noted in post-mission briefing documents are too far east. I believe it is possible that the collision occurred further west than the noted coordinates due to Hawkins’ and Miller’s statements, and will keep that in mind while retaining the documented coordinates for this research.

Hawkins also noted that their aircraft struck the ground “near Erxleben, Germany.” Erxleben is 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben according to Google Maps, the same location as noted in the German Report on Captured Aircraft, but without using the name “Erxleben” as where the aircraft crashed.

Hawkins described his bailout and the Brodie ship’s crash location by noting, “Following my own free fall, our ship was circling above me. It was then in a flat spin, burning. It passed me and disappeared into the clouds below. When I next saw the ship it was on the ground… I landed a mile or so from the town of Erxleben, Germany…west of Magdeburg. The plane landed within two or three miles of me. Many civilians and the military there saw the incident.”

I do not know which direction from the town of Erxleben Hawkins landed, but from his wording “from the town” instead of “before the town”, I believe he landed west of the town, around mile marker 20.0 on the flight path map. That would put the plane landing right at the crash site coordinate at mile marker 22, which would be about two miles from where Hawkins landed in his parachute and where the German reports note the crash, about 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.

I believe Hawkins must have been the first to bail out of the Brodie crew’s B-17. He wrote that “I managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun.”

In his Casualty Questionnaire Narrative, Hawkins also noted that “Sgt. Liniger [waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger] said he was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. At that time Sgt. Miller [tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller] said the tail assembly left the ship and he later chuted from the tail section.”

All three likely left the ship at nearly the same time, but I believe Hawkins left the ship before the explosion as he didn’t mention it in his recounting of his own bailout. Hawkins, Liniger, and Miller likely landed in the same vicinity near Erxleben, but did not meet up again until the next night in captivity.

To be continued in a future post with an attempt to narrow down the crash site with an eye-witness report from a Czechoslovakian man in the forced labor of the Nazis.

Notes

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

MACR9753

MACR9366

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

When in Magdeburg, Look Up

On 28 September 1944 on a B-17 bombing mission to Magdeburg, Germany during World War II, just after Bombs Away, the Brodie crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 over Magdebug, Germany. My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner on the Buslee crew’s B-17 and was the only survivor of the nine men on that ship. Both crews were part of the 384th Bombardment Group of the 8th Army Air Forces.

From the excellent collection of wartime records of the 384th Bomb Group, I know the exact date and time of the collision, the exact location of the collision, and the altitude at which the two planes collided.

  • The date, 28 September 1944, and time, 12:11 P.M., British time (1:11 P.M. German time)
  • The mid-air collision location, 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E, (52.100000, 11.650000), Germany
  • The altitude, 27,700 feet, (and noting the elevation of Magdeburg is 141 feet above sea level, about 27,559 feet above the ground)

Date, Time, and Location, as reported on the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753)

MACR9753 (Missing Air Crew Report 9753) noting location of mid-air collision

Time and Altitude, as reported on the Navigator’s Narrative

28 September 1944 Mission to Magdeburg, Navigator’s Narrative, High Group, Page 1

28 September 1944 Mission to Magdeburg, Navigator’s Narrative, High Group, Page 2

It occurred to me that if I were able to plot the coordinates on a map, that someday I might be able to stand in the exact location below the spot that the two B-17’s collided so many years ago, look up, and imagine seeing and hearing the impact.

Of course, the collision happened more than five miles above the earth, so I doubt the horrific incident was visible from the ground. A Google search resulted in an answer from Quora that “depending on the size of the aircraft, without … contrails to reveal its presence, you can probably see an airliner up to 7,500 to 10,000 feet,” less than half as far as the bombers’ formation was traveling above the earth on 28 September 1944.

Both aircraft continued to fly several miles before they crashed to the ground west of Magdeburg. But do you suppose at least some small parts fell directly to earth in the location of the collision itself? I can believe that they would and perhaps something is still buried in the ground in the area today.

So, of course, my next thought was to wonder what exists in the location today? Google Maps makes it pretty easy to find out, so I plugged in the coordinates to find the location not too far from the Elbe River in southeast Magdeburg (marked by the red pin).

Site of 28 September 1944 mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews over Magdeburg, Germany, 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E, (52.100000, 11.650000)
Map data ©2022 Google

If you view the Google Maps Satellite view or plug the coordinates into Google Earth, you can see the area in much more detail, but just simply zooming in reveals what exists today.

Site of 28 September 1944 mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews over Magdeburg, Germany, 52°06’00.0″N 11°39’00.0″E, (52.100000, 11.650000)
Map data ©2022 Google

I see that the location (again, marked by the red pin) is just northeast of a Lidl discount grocery store, and,

Distance from Lidl grocery store to coordinates of mid-air collision, 
Map data ©2022 Google

from the northern-most corner of the Lidl grocery store to the collision coordinates measures a total distance of 68.43 feet or 20.86 meters according to Google Map’s distance calculation feature. 

One day, I hope to travel to Magdeburg, Germany, find this exact location, and do exactly what I imagine doing now, look up.

I don’t expect to see the aluminum overcast of a B-17 formation, or hear the grinding and tearing of metal as B-17 meets B-17 far above the earth, probably about the same moment as the bombs dropped from the bellies of the same aircraft and others in the formation strike the ground, exploding, destroying, engulfing the area in flames and dense black smoke, wiping out both good and bad creations of man, erasing life, changing families’ futures forever, changing the path of history as it happens.

It all happened in this space in another life, another time. Is it best remembered or imagined or forgotten?

Notes/Credits

Except for Map data ©2022 Google, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

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