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The Evacuation of Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I (Barth)

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.

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor of the Buslee ship. George Hawkins (navigator), Harry Liniger (waist gunner), and Wilfred Miller (tail gunner) were the only survivors of the Brodie ship. As an officer, Hawkins would have been sent to an officers’ POW camp in Germany, but he was seriously injured and was held in a hospital setting for prisoners instead.

Farrar, Liniger, and Miller – all enlisted men of the USAAF – were sent to a POW camp for enlisted men only, Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland). With the Russian Army advancing toward the camp in January 1945, the Germans made the decision to evacuate the camp. The majority of the prisoners in the camp were marched out the gates of the camp on February 6, 1945 and were herded at gunpoint across Pomerania and Germany for the next 86 days, covering over 500 miles on foot and by boxcar.

However, not all of the POW’s of Stalag Luft IV made this march. Many were too sick or injured to undertake the trek and other prisoners who were able-bodied enough to do so were selected to be moved, mostly by train, to another POW camp, Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany.

George Farrar and Harry Liniger were both part of the group of POW marchers. Wilfred Miller was part of the POW group sent to Barth. I have written previously about the march and will write more about it in the future, but today I want to share recent information I have learned about the evacuation to Barth by train.

The POW camp of origin of Farrar, Liniger, and Miller was Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now known as Tychowo, Poland). It was about 25 miles or 40 km south of the Baltic Sea coastline.

Stalag Luft I was located two miles northwest of the village of Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. The direct distance, “as the crow flies”, between Luft I and Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow is approximately 144 miles or 232 km, with Luft I being northwest of Luft IV.

Map of 28 September 1944 Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision and crash sites, Stalag Luft IV POW camp, and Stalag Luft I (Barth) POW camp
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Train Ride to Barth

However, the prisoners were not marched to Barth. Rather they were moved by rail in boxcars. According to former Stalag Luft IV prisoner Joseph P. O’Donnell’s book, The Shoe Leather Express – The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany on pages 34,

Stalag Luft I was located on the Baltic Sea at Barth at 13° Longitude and 54° Latitude and approximately 175 miles from Grosstychow by the 40 and 8 via Stettin.

The prisoners were moved from Luft IV to Luft I by train, and more specifically in “40 and 8” boxcars. A Forty-and-Eight boxcar is of a size that should hold 40 men or 8 horses. Stettin refers to today’s Szczecin, Poland.

Today the trip from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I would be about four hours by automobile or about fifteen to seventeen hours by train (from Tychowo, Poland to Barth, Germany).

On January 29 or 30, 1945 (or perhaps over multiple days in multiple groups considering the large number of POW’s being transferred), the prisoners selected to be moved to Barth were moved out of Stalag Luft IV. Wilfred Frank Miller of the Brodie crew was one of them.

In Chapter 31, “Train Ride to Barth,”  of her book, “What I Never Told You – A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father,” Candy Kyler Brown describes the transfer of POW’s, including her father, John Kyler, from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I. Candy writes,

On page 279:

…between two to three thousand inmates of Stalag Luft IV, approximately one-third of the camp population…were marched out in polar weather for the two-mile trek to the Kiefheide train station on January 29, 1945 [to evacuate] the camp. Many among the selected group were ill or injured, but prisoners who were fairly healthy were included in the draw.

On page 281:

On February 8, 1945, [the] train arrived in Barth, Germany, where [the Stalag IV P.O.W.’s] would next take up residence in Stalag Luft I, a POW camp for Allied officers, located on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

In Chapter 32, “The Walk to Stalag Luft I,” on pages 283 and 284 of her book, Candy describes the walk of the Stalag Luft IV prisoners from the Barth railroad station at the end of the “eleven grueling days of boxcar travel,” to the new POW camp at Barth. The POW’s were marched through “a quaint storybook village in a seaside setting,” on “a cobblestone road past open fields and farmland,” and past “an anti-aircraft artillery (flak) school.”

In Joe O’Donnell’s first Shoe Leather Express book, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, pages 34 – 35, POW Paul B. Brady, Sr. of the 15th Air Corp, 465th Bomb Group, 781st Bomb Squadron, recalled he was moved to Barth, Stalag Luft I, on January 30, 1945. Brady stated that fifty-two POW’s were loaded into his boxcar for the evacuation from Grosstychow to Barth.

Brady also said,

It took us eight days to reach Stalag Luft I, we were seldom let out of the boxcars and only had two buckets for relief purposes, we had to bribe the guards with a few cigarettes when we stopped on the sidings to push some snow through the crack of the door so we could let it melt for drinking water. Of course this was the same opening all of us had been using to urinate through for days to try to conserve the two buckets for the P.O.W.’s with dysentery that most of us had.

Another Stalag Luft IV transferee, Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm, added that before the arrival of the POW’s from Stalag Luft IV, Stalag Luft I was only for Air Force officers (multi-national, mostly American, British, and French) and their orderlies. Yes, it seems in Stalag Luft I, American POW officers had American G.I. (soldiers, ground forces rather than airmen) POW’s as orderlies.

Life at Stalag Luft I, Barth

I am providing a summary of information about the prison camp at Barth, Stalag Luft I, in this article. For an in-depth look at life in Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany, please check out the extensive information on B24.net and Merkki.com.

The following information was prepared by the Military Intelligence Service War Department on 1 November 1945 and was compiled and presented by Greg Hatton on the 392 Bomb Group’s B24.net website. Follow the link for Greg’s full report.

Reproduced from the introduction (general) of camps:

Source material for this report consisted of interrogations of former prisoners of war made by CPM Branch, Military Intelligence Service and Reports of the Protecting Power and International Red Cross received by the State Department (Special War Problems Division).

The first prisoners of Stalag Luft I, which was for Air Force officers, were French and British POW’s who arrived at the camp on 10 July 1940, before the entry of the Americans into World War II.

Housing

By early 1944 the camp consisted of 2 compounds, the South & West compounds, with a total of 7 barracks, housing American officers, and British officers and enlisted men. A new compound (North 1) opened the last of February 1944 to which an increasing number of American officers were housed. North 2 opened on 9 September 1944 and North 3 opened on 9 December 1944. The North compounds completed the camp and this is how the camp remained until liberation of the prisoners in May 1945.

As far as “amenities” in the separate compounds went,

  • The South compound lacked adequate cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.
  • The West compound had latrines and running water in the barracks.
  • The North 1 compound was considered the best compound with a communal mess hall, inside latrines, and running water.
  • The North 2 and 3 compounds were constructed the same as the South compound and also lacked adequate cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.

The completion of North 2 and 3 gave the camp an L-shape appearance. Guard towers were placed at strategic intervals.

As for housing, the barracks in each compound had,

  • Triple-tiered wooden (bunk) beds with wood chip-filled mattresses
  • (Or at least almost every barracks had) a communal day room but without much equipment
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Insufficient ventilation due to the requirement that the barracks’ shutters remain closed from 2100 (9pm) to 0600 (6am)
  • Inadequate stoves for heating and cooking
  • Poor weather-proofing for the bitterly cold northern Germany climate so close to the Baltic Sea

In addition to barracks for housing, the West and North 1 compounds each had the following facilities which were used by all compounds,

  • One kitchen barrack
  • One theater room
  • One church room
  • One library
  • One study room

Food

Before the arrival of the Stalag Luft IV prisoners, the POW’s of Stalag Luft I were fed with Red Cross parcels plus German food prepared in separate kitchens in each compound.

Up until 1 October 1944, the German food ration provided 1200 to 1800 calories per day per man. However, by September through November 1944, the German food ration had been cut to 800 calories and Red Cross supplies became so low, they were also cut, except for the month of December 1944 when the supply returned to the normal amount. In January 1945, the Red Cross supplies were cut again.

In March 1945, no Red Cross parcels were distributed, and German rations were also severely cut. Per the information provided by Greg Hatton, during this “starvation period”, “…Men became so weak that many would fall down while attempting to get from their beds. American ‘MPs’ were placed around garbage cans to prevent the starving PW from eating out of the cans and becoming sick.”

From around the beginning of April 1945, a sufficient supply of Red Cross parcels was received and the POW’s were better fed until the time of the evacuation of the camp.

Health

The medical staff of the camp consisted of two British doctors and six orderlies until 1 March 1945 when an American doctor, Capt. Wilbur E. McKee, arrived. Keeping the POW’s healthy was difficult because of a lack of medical supplies and facilities to handle a large number of patients.

Even before the arrival of the Stalag Luft IV POW’s, the biggest challenge was the poor sanitation in the camp. The camp had only one bathhouse with ten shower heads. Early in 1945, though, another bathhouse with ten shower heads was added.

Still insufficient for the number of POW’s in the camp, there was also an insufficient quantity of wash basins and soap, which not only challenged personal cleanliness, but also the ability to launder clothing and bed linens. Disposal of garbage was also a challenge and the poorly working latrine and wash drains often caused flooding around the barracks.

The number of stoves and amount of fuel was not sufficient to battle the extreme cold of the climate in the area, resulting in upper respiratory illnesses. The requirement that barracks shutters remain closed at night also did not allow for sufficient ventilation in overcrowded conditions inside the barracks.

Liberation

Stalag Luft IV transferee, Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm said that on May 1, 1945, Russian guerrillas overran the camp. Paul Brady, Jeff Boehme, John Kyler, Wilfred Miller, and the other POW’s at Stalag Luft I were liberated by the Russians.

The German Commandant of the camp had been ordered to move the camp to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Russians, but the POW’s were determined not to move unless they were forced to do so. On the night of April 30, to avoid bloodshed, the Commandant and guards of the camp turned out the lights and left the camp, leaving the gate unlocked.

The POW’s took over the camp, taking over the guard stations to keep the POW’s orderly and from leaving the camp and to keep other Germans from coming into the camp. On May 1, contact was made with Russian advance troops and Russian scouting parties visited the camp. After two or three days, the Russian commander made arrangements to feed the Stalag Luft I prisoners.

Evacuation

Jeff Boehm reported,

The Russians had the airfield cleared in three days so we could be evacuated but it was thirteen days before the sky was crowded with B-17’s for our mass move to Camp Lucky Strike in LeHarve, France. We had a couple of guys who spoke Russian so we spent quite a lot of time visiting with the Russians.

Although the actual liberation was performed by the Russians, they did not attempt to evacuate the POW’s from the camp other than clearing the airfield. On 6 May 1945, American POW Colonel Jean R. Byerly left camp with two British officers and flew to England the following day. They reported to 8th Air Force headquarters regarding the conditions at the camp, and arrangements were made to evacuate the liberated POWs.

In Chapter 24, “Liberation,” of her book, “What I Never Told You – A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father,” Candy Kyler Brown notes that at the time of liberation of the camp, the sick and injured left Barth on May 12 and everyone else starting on May 13, 1945. Candy’s dad flew out from the POW camp at Barth on May 13. This is the same date Wilfred Miller notes on his POW application as the date he was released as a POW. He must have been in the same group to be liberated as John Kyler.

In “Operation Revival,” the 8th Air Force evacuated nearly 8,500 Allied POW’s between May 13 and 15, 1945 using mainly stripped-down B-17’s, with some C-46’s and C-47’s. This article on the website of the National WWII Museum provides a great deal of detail about the operation to evacuate the prisoners of Stalag Luft I at Barth. For more information about the liberation, the National WWII Museum provides this article.

Notes

Kriegsgefangenen Lagers: Home of the “Kriegie” Airmen, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

STALAG LUFT I – Barth Germany (Air Force Officers), courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

Stalag Luft 1 Images, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

Stalag Luft 1 Stories, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

Stalag Luft I Online – World War II – Prisoners of War – Stalag Luft I

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father” by Candy Kyler Brown

A selection from The Shoe Leather Express Book 1, courtesy of Gregory Hatton’s Stalag Luft IV website

Operation Revival: Rescue from Stalag Luft I, courtesy of the National WWII Museum

The Liberation of Stalag Luft I, courtesy of the National WWII Museum

Previous post, Wilfred Frank Miller, Update

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Wilfred Frank Miller, Update

Wilfred Frank Miller at Grafton Underwood
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Last year, the youngest son of Wilfred Frank Miller, Patrick Miller, and I connected after he found my articles online about his father and his father’s B-17 crew of World War II. Patrick has shared a lot of information about his dad and his family and has made some new discoveries regarding his father’s POW experience.

Wilfred Frank Miller was the tail gunner of the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII. He was aboard B-17 42‑31222 Lazy Daisy when it collided with the John Oliver Buslee crew’s B-17 43‑37822, with my father aboard, coming off the target at Magdeburg on 28 September 1944.

Today I want to share the new information I’ve learned about Wilfred Frank Miller, thanks to his son Patrick. To view my original post and other information about Wilfred Frank Miller, please see the links at the end of this post.

Wilfred Miller, Growing Up

Wilfred Frank Miller was born February 15, 1925, at Pigeon Lake, Wisconsin, son of Fred and Mary Sadkowski Miller. Wilfred had an older brother by two years named Leo Anton Miller. Leo was born on February 8, 1923.

The family farmed first in the township of Rhine, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, then later moved to Osman, an unincorporated community in the township of Meeme, Manitowoc CountyWisconsin. Both Miller boys would grow up to serve in World War II, Wilfred in the Army Air Forces and Leo in the Marines.

Left to right, brothers Wilfred Frank Miller and Leo Anton Miller
Photo courtesy of Alyssa Miller on Ancestry.com

The boys’ father, Fred Miller, died of a heart attack on April 6, 1943, two days short of his fifty-first birthday. Leo had registered for the draft in 1942, but then delayed his enlistment until June 30, 1944. Wilfred entered the service in October of 1943. The war years must have been especially difficult for Wilfred’s mother, Mary Miller, as a widow worrying about her two sons serving in a world war.

Entry into World War II Military Service

Although I cannot find an enlistment record for Wilfred Miller, I believe that he likely did enlist in order to get into the Army Air Forces. I did find a copy of his draft registration, however.

Wilfred Miller registered for the WWII draft on February 15, 1943, his eighteenth birthday. On his draft registration, he listed his father, Mr. Fred Miller of R #1, Newton, Wisconsin, as the person who would always know his address. But Fred Miller would die on April 6, 1943, less than two months after Wilfred registered for the draft.

On his draft registration form, Wilfred Miller noted he was eighteen years old, born on February 15, 1925 in Liberty Township, Wisconsin. His employer was Matthias Cheese Factory, also known as Matthias Dairy or Cleveland Cheese Factory, located in the village of Cleveland in the township of Centerville, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.

He described himself as 6’1″ in height, 164 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy complexion. Topping six feet made him pretty tall for a B-17 airman and I imagine sitting on the bicycle-style seat in his position in the tail of a B-17 was a tight fit for him.

Wilfred Miller’s induction into the Army Air Forces was 28 September 1943, exactly one year before the Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision. I believe his induction date could represent his enlistment date. He entered into active service almost a month later on 23 October 1943 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

Wilfred Miller completed two months of basic training (MOS 521) at Jefferson Barracks. He then attended six weeks of Aerial Gunnery School at Las Vegas, Nevada, where he received his wings.

Wilfred Miller completed his crew training at Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he became a member of the James Joseph Brodie B-17 crew, and departed the U.S. for combat duty in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) on 1 July 1944, arriving in England on 5 July 1944, according to his honorable discharge record. However, he actually left Ardmore somewhere between 23 and 25 June, and was in transit at Goose Bay, Labrador on 1 July.

World War II Military Service at Grafton Underwood, England

Wilfred Frank Miller’s 384th Bomb Group Individual Sortie record indicates that his duty was tail gunner, one month’s pay was $140.40, and his home address was Mrs. Mary Miller, Newton, RFD #1, Wisconsin.

Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Wilfred Frank Miller:

  • On 26 JULY 1944, Corporal Wilfred Frank Miller was assigned to the 384th Bombardment Group, 545th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944 as a tail gunner (classification AAG, Airplane Armorer/Gunner, with the MOS, military operational specialty, of 611).
  • On 2 AUGUST 1944, Corporal Wilfred Frank Miller was promoted to Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #155.
  • On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany (Target was Industry, Steelworks), Wilfred Frank Miller, flying with the James Joseph Brodie crew, went from duty to MIA (Missing in Action). He was subsequently declared POW (Prisoner of War).

Prisoner of War

On April 14, 1988, Wilfred Miller filled out an application for a POW medal. On this form he noted (with corrections) that:

  • I was captured on September 28, 1944 at Magdeburg, Germany.
  • I was at Stalag Luft No 3 [correction: should read Stalag Luft IV; Luft IV was a sub-camp of Luft III] Baltic Sea Bay, (East Side) September 28, 1944 to Jan. 1945.
  • Then at Stalag Luft No 4 [correction: should read Stalag Luft I] Baltic Sea Bay (West Side) Jan 1945 to May 13, 1945.
  • I was released [as a POW] on May 13, 1945 at France.
  • Date of discharge [from WWII military service], November 4, 1945.

Wilfred’s son Patrick requested his father’s POW Records from the Red Cross in January this year and received a reply in March. The ICRC sent the following information: A capture card dated 13 October 1944 noted Wilfred Miller was a POW in German hands detained in Stalag Luft IV. His prisoner of war number at Stalag Luft IV (Gross Tychow) was 3916. He arrived at Stalag Luft I (Barth) on 7 February 1945 according to a list sent 1 March 1945.

Wilfred Miller was listed in a Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster on page 44. He is the second W.F. Miller listed on the page, POW 3916, ASN 36834864.

Wilfred Frank Miller on Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster

Note that Miller W.F. (POW 3916, ASN 36834864) on page 44 of the roster has a circle beside his name. At the top of page 8 of the same list is an asterisk with a notation, “Men moved to Barth 1-30-45.” I believe that an asterisk, or circle in Miller’s case, signifies that the POW was moved to Stalag Luft I (Barth) on Jan 30, 1945 before the general population of the camp was to begin the march.

I believe in his POW medal application, Wilfred Miller just confused the stalag numbers after forty-three years had gone by. Stalag Luft IV was a satellite camp of Stalag Luft III, so I can see the confusion in the camp numbers.

In the past, I believed that only sick and injured POWs who were unable to walk were selected to be transported to Stalag Luft I at Barth ahead of the march. However, now I understand that is not the case, thanks to Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler of the 92nd Bombardment Group of the 8th Army Air Forces.

Candy is author of the book “What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father.” John Kyler was also one of the POWs who was moved to Stalag Luft I at Barth.

In her book, Candy writes in Chapter 31 (Train Ride to Barth),

Many of the selected group were ill or injured, but prisoners who were fairly healthy were included in the draw.

The train ride to Barth and the subsequent imprisonment in a different POW camp was not as simple as it may appear on the surface. In fact, it was just a different slice of the same living hell the prisoners had endured in their previous captivity. I will share more information about their experience from the train ride to their liberation in a future post.

In Chapter 34 (Liberation) of her book, Candy notes that at the time of liberation of the camp, the sick and injured left Barth on May 12 and everyone else on May 13, 1945. Candy’s dad flew out from the POW camp at Barth on May 13. This is the same date Wilfred Miller notes on his POW application as the date he was released as a POW. He must have been in the same group to be liberated as John Kyler.

Candy Kyler Brown stands next to a display at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force of a vest her father, John Kyler, knitted during his time as a POW in WWII

Wilfred Miller’s POW record in the online National Archives notes his Last Report Date as 4 June 1945. This possibly could have been the date he departed Europe on his return to the US as no departure date was recorded on his honorable discharge separation document, but his date of arrival in the USA was noted as 21 June 1945. He likely returned on a slow moving service members’ transit ship.

Release from World War II Military Service

Wilfred Miller was honorably discharged from military service on 4 November 1945 (his Date of Separation). His Place of Separation was the Lincoln Army Air Field at Lincoln, Nebraska. Documents list his civilian occupation as farmer.

Separation documents note he received no wounds in action and he was not awarded a Purple Heart. These facts lead me to believe that he was not physically injured in the mid-air collision of 28 September 1944.

Wilfred’s Separation Qualification Record notes his Summary of Military Occupations as,

Aerial Gunner (611). Flew on a B-17 as tail gunner in the E.T.O. for 19 missions. Was shot down and bailed out over Germany. Was taken prisoner of war and interned for 7 months. Was returned to U.S. control 13 May 1945.

Also noted in separation documents, Miller’s continental (U.S.) service was reported as 1 year, 22 days. His foreign service was reported as 11 months, 20 days as an Aerial Gunner (MOS 611).

A departure date for his return from Europe was not recorded, but his date of arrival in the USA was noted as 21 June 1945. He returned home to his mother Mrs. Mary Miller of Route 1, Newton, Wisconsin, where he would run their 80 acre dairy farm.

During his World War II military service, Wilfred Miller earned the Air Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal, American Theater EAME Theater Ribbon with 3 battle stars, Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, one Overseas Bar, and the Prisoner of War medal.

Post-World War II

On October 25, 1947, Wilfred Frank Miller married June Holfeltz at St. Isidore Catholic Church in Osman, Wisconsin.

Wilfred and June Miller Wedding
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

In the wedding photo are Wilfred’s brother, Leo Miller, and June’s brother, Edsel Holfeltz.

Son Patrick Miller notes that after the war, his parents farmed in the town of Osman, Wisconsin, a small town with a population of around 75. Wilfred was also a carpenter. Wilfred and June had six children, five sons and one daughter.

Wilfred and June Miller enjoyed traveling together and traveling with friends and neighbors, visiting relatives, and seeing sights in the US. But for the rest of his life, Wilfred kept his feet, or tires, on the ground. He never again flew in a plane after the war.

In the early 1960’s, Wilfred and June sold the cows and Wilfred went into carpentry as a profession. He worked with a few builders in Manitowoc and Sheboygan.

In the 1960’s, Wilfred purchased a nearby abandoned schoolhouse in Osman. He and his oldest sons tore it down, and built a new house on the site. Patrick Miller mostly grew up in this house. Wilfred and June lived in that house until the early 1990’s when they sold the house to build another.

They purchased land in Cleveland, Wisconsin to build the new house. Wilfred was now retired as a carpenter, but was going to do the finish work in the house himself. While temporarily living in Cleveland, and in the process of building the new house, Wilfred died in his sleep of a heart attack on June 29, 1991 at the age of 66. June had the house finished and lived there for several years before selling it. Wilfred’s brother Leo died less than three months after Wilfred, on September 10, 1991, at the age of 68.

Patrick Miller said that his dad never talked about the war, not to his kids, and not even to his wife, June. The only things Wilfred’s family were aware of were that he was shot down and became a POW in Germany. They were unaware of the mid-air collision and Wilfred Miller’s terrifying freefall toward earth in the severed tail of his B-17 until he was able to bail out and save his life with his parachute.

Brodie crew navigator George Hawkins calmly described the scene following the mid-air collision in a post-war narrative as,

The following evening (after the mid-air collision and his capture) 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.

A terrifying experience for all three, I’m sure, regardless of how matter-of-factly Hawkins described the events of the explosion and how the tail simply “left the ship” with Wilfred Miller still in it plummeting toward the ground.

Wilfred’s wife June still lives in Wisconsin. Her first airplane trip was not until after Wilfred had passed away. Wilfred and June’s children Frederick, Nancy, John, Joseph, and Patrick all currently reside in Wisconsin, and Ronald resides in Florida.

In the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, Wilfred and June Miller took a trip to visit two of Wilfred’s Brodie crewmates, both also World War II prisoners of war, George Hawkins (navigator) and Bill (William) Taylor (radio operator). Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor were both held in D Lager of Stalag Luft IV. While Wilfred Miller was taken to Stalag Luft I (Barth) in late January of 1945, I believe Bill Taylor participated in the same march out of Stalag Luft IV on February 6, 1945 as my father, George Edwin Farrar, and Brodie crew waist gunner Harry Liniger.

George Hawkins was seriously wounded in the mid-air collision and was held POW in a hospital until his own liberation at the end of the war. I’ll be sharing more information about George Hawkins and his POW experience at a later date, too, thanks to 384th Bomb Group NexGen member Paul Furiga, son of bombardier Frank Furiga, who was held POW in the same hospital as Hawkins.

Photo: Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor, date unknown

Left to right, likely Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Photo: Wilfred Miller and Bill Taylor, circa late 1970’s or early 1980’s

Left to right, Brodie crew mates Wilfred Miller (tail gunner) and Bill Taylor (radio operator)
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Photo: Wilfred and June Miller, and Barbara and Bill Taylor, circa late 1970’s or early 1980’s

Left to right, Wilfred and June Miller, and Barbara and Bill Taylor.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Photo: George Hawkins and Wilfred Miller, circa late 1970’s or early 1980’s

Left to right, Brodie crew mates George Marshall Hawkins, Jr (navigator) and Wilfred Frank Miller (tail gunner)
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son

Thank you to Patrick Miller, Wilfred Miller’s youngest son, for sharing so many wonderful stories and photographs of his father.

Notes

Previous post, Wilfred Frank Miller

Wilfred Frank Miller’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Wilfred Miller’s POW record in the online National Archives

Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster – see page 44

MOS means Military Occupational Specialty

Previous post, Assigned Military Operational Specialties of the Buslee and Brodie Crews

Previous post, Timeline for Brodie Crewmembers and Substitutes, 545th Bomb Squadron

Previous post, ICRC POW Records Request

Missing Air Crew Report 9366 for the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944 courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Missing Air Crew Report 9753 for the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Wilfred Frank Miller on Find a Grave

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father” by Candy Kyler Brown

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

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

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

The B-17 Ball Turret Gunner

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

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

Erwin Vernon Foster, assigned Buslee crew ball turret gunner

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

Gordon Eugene Hetu, assigned Brodie crew ball turret gunner

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

Duties and Responsibilities of the B-17 Ball Turret Gunner

According to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website,

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

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

Location of the Ball Turret in a B-17

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

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

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

B-17 Ball Turret Photos

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

The exterior of the B-17 ball turret.

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

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

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

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

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

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Ball Turret Gunners

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

303rd Bomb Group:  Military Occupational Specialty

TM 12-427 Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel

The Military Yearbook Project – Army Air Force WWII Codes

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

Gordon Eugene Hetu, Update

Gordon Eugene Hetu
Photo courtesy of Anne Fisher via Ancestry.com

A new search has provided me with a photo of and some new information regarding Gordon Eugene Hetu, ball turret gunner of the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII. He was on board Brodie’s B-17 on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg. 

To view my original post and other information about Gordon Eugene Hetu, please see the links at the end of this post.

During my search for new information on Gordon Hetu, I ran across a Hetu family tree on Ancestry.com. I messaged the owner of the tree, Anne Fisher, and learned that she was not a relative, but many years ago, Gordon Hetu was her father’s best friend. Anne provided me with this new photo of Gordon, which allows me to positively identify him in the Brodie enlisted crew photos (see the new descriptions below).

Anne also told me that as Gordon was an only child, his parents took his loss in the war very hard. He was killed in the mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews’ B-17’s over Magdeburg, Germany on 28 September 1944.

Anne’s father, Howard William Fisher, was not only Gordon Eugene Hetu’s best friend, he was a close neighbor according to the 1940 census. At the time, the Fisher and Hetu families both lived on Webb Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, the Fisher’s at house number 3839 and the Hetu’s at number 3821.

Howard Fisher was a veteran of WWII, serving in New Guinea and the Philippines. He and his brother, Harry Anson Fisher, were only eighteen months apart in age, both drafted just a month after their high school graduations, and both survived the war.

With the pain of Gordon’s death too deep, Gordon’s parents, Raymond and Esther Hetu, could not bring themselves to see their son’s best friend for several years after the war, but Anne’s father persisted and Gordon’s parents were eventually able to visit with Howard and his family.

After the war, Howard Fisher married Marjorie Joyce Mathews and they had three children – Anne, Peggy, and John. Marjorie’s family lived in Hessel, Michigan. On visits to Marjorie’s family, the Fishers would stop in St. Ignace, where Raymond and Esther Hetu owned and operated a motel.

Anne built the Hetu family tree on Ancestry.com to try to find out if Gordon Eugene Hetu has any living relatives. If you are related to the Raymond and Esther (Johnson) Hetu family of Detroit, Michigan, please contact me and I will forward your information to Anne Fisher.

I do not have any additional biographical information for Gordon Hetu except that I can add the year of his mother’s, Esther Johnson Hetu’s, death of 1989.

On July 26, 1944, Cpl. Gordon Eugene Hetu was assigned as ball turret gunner to the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bombardment Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces, per AAF Station 106 (Grafton Underwood, England) Special Orders #148. The 384th was a B-17 heavy bombardment group. According to his Sortie record, his combat pay was $140.40 per month. His home address is listed as Mrs. Esther Hetu (his mother), 3821 Webb St., Detroit, Michigan.

Gordon Eugene Hetu was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #155 dated 2 August 1944.

On his nineteenth mission on September 28, 1944, two days after his nineteenth birthday, Gordon Eugene Hetu was killed when his crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany. He was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart (posthumously). He is buried at Oakland Hills Memorial Gardens in Oakland County, Michigan.

The wartime photos below include the enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew. These photos were provided by Harry Liniger, Jr., son of 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger, of the Brodie crew. Identifications were provided by Harry Liniger, Jr., Patrick Miller, son of 384th Tail Gunner Wilfred Miller, and Anne Fisher, family friend of Gordon Eugene Hetu’s family.

Gordon Eugene Hetu is the man kneeling on the far right:

Enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew
Left to right: Harry Allen Liniger (Waist/Flexible Gunner), Robert Doyle Crumpton (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), Wilfred Frank Miller (Tail Gunner), William Edson Taylor (Radio Operator), Gordon Eugene Hetu (Ball Turret Gunner).
Photo contributed by Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. ID’s provided by Harry Liniger, Jr. and Patrick Miller.

Gordon Hetu is the man standing second from right:

Enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew
Left to right: Harry Allen Liniger (Waist/Flexible Gunner), Robert Doyle Crumpton (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), Wilfred Frank Miller (Tail Gunner), Gordon Eugene Hetu (Ball Turret Gunner), William Edson Taylor (Radio Operator).
Photo contributed by Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. ID’s provided by Harry Liniger, Jr. and Patrick Miller.

Gordon Hetu is the man standing second from left:

Enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew
Left to right: Harry Allen Liniger (Waist/Flexible Gunner), Gordon Eugene Hetu (Ball Turret Gunner), Robert Doyle Crumpton (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), William Edson Taylor (Radio Operator).
Photo contributed by Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. ID’s provided by Harry Liniger, Jr. and Patrick Miller.

Thank you to Anne Fisher for providing me with the photo of and information about Gordon Eugene Hetu.

Notes/Links

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

The B-17 Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

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

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

Clarence Burdell Seeley, assigned Buslee crew engineer

Robert Doyle Crumpton, assigned Brodie crew engineer

Although Lenard Leroy Bryant served as Engineer/Top Turret Gunner with the Buslee crew after Clarence Seeley was seriously wounded, he was originally assigned as one of the Buslee crew’s Flexible/Waist Gunners and I will include him in my future post regarding that position in the B-17.

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

Duties and Responsibilities of the B-17 Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

According to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website,

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

  • Has been trained in the Air Forces’ highly specialized technical schools.
  • Works closely with the pilot and co-pilot, checking engine operation, fuel consumption, and the operation of all equipment.
  • Must be able to work with the bombardier, and know how to cock, lock, and load the bomb racks.
  • Must be thoroughly familiar with the armament equipment, especially the Browning aircraft machine gun. He should know how to strip, clean, and re-assemble the guns, how to maintain the guns, how to clear jams and stoppages, and how to harmonize the sights with the guns.
  • Should have a general knowledge of radio equipment, and be able to assist in tuning transmitters and receivers.
  • Should be an expert in aircraft identification.
  • Should know more about the airplane than any other member of the crew, including the pilot and co-pilot. He must know his engines and his armament equipment thoroughly. This is a big responsibility: the lives of the entire crew, the safety of the equipment, the success of the mission depend upon it.

Location of the Top Turret in a B-17

The top turret of a B-17 sits behind the pilot and co-pilot, who are seated in the cockpit. Should the top turret gunner have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the bomb bay doors.

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

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

B-17 Top Turret Photo

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

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

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Engineers/Top Turret Gunners

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

Airman Personnel Record Stories, Diaries, Journals, and Interviews
Bardue, Theodore Roosevelt⇗ A Rough Mission to Munich⇓ (0.120 MB)
Clemis, Joseph Bernard⇗ Joseph Clemis Mission Diary⇓ (2.525 MB)
Stahlhut, Robert Fred⇗ The Way I Remember It⇓ (1.945 MB)
Turlington, Howard Joe⇗ My Experience⇓ (0.312 MB)
Wick, Harvey Arthur⇗ A Tribute to Harvey Arthur Wick⇓ (9.481 MB)
Wilkens, William John, “Bill”⇗ Bill Wilkens’ Combat Diary⇓ (3.842 MB)
Barber, Raymond Clifford⇗ 2004 Veteran’s History Project Oral History Interview⇗
Furrey, Thomas Edwin, Jr⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Oglesby, Howard Jasper⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Wilkens, William John, “Bill”⇗ 2020 Video Interview of Bill Wilkens⇗

Sources and Further Reading

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

303rd Bomb Group:  Military Occupational Specialty

TM 12-427 Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel

The Military Yearbook Project – Army Air Force WWII Codes

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

Robert Doyle Crumpton, Update

A new search has provided me with some new and updated/corrected information regarding Robert Doyle Crumpton, top turret gunner/engineer of the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII. He was on board Brodie’s B-17 on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg. Corrected information is bolded.

To view my original post and other information about Robert Doyle Crumpton, please see the links at the end of this post.

Robert Doyle Crumpton, Jr. was born July 27, 1920 (according to his birth certificate, one day after other records note it as July 26, 1920) in Ennis, Ellis County, Texas to Robert Doyle Crumpton, Sr. (born April 7, 1892) and Stella M. Brown Crumpton (born November 16, 1896).

Robert Doyle Crumpton’s great-grandfather Edmond “Ed” Allen Crumpton, a farmer living in Shelby County Alabama in the 1860’s, fought in the American Civil War (Apr 12, 1861 – Apr 9, 1865). He enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862. He is listed on the Muster Roll of Captain James Cobb’s Company G of the 31st Regiment, Alabama Volunteers, in the service of the Confederate States.

Robert Doyle Crumpton’s father Robert Crumpton Sr. was a veteran of WWI. On April 24, 1921, Robert Sr. died at the age of twenty-nine when Robert Jr. was only nine months old.

Five years after Robert Sr.’s death, Stella married Claude Parks on April 5, 1926. Stella and Claude had a son, Claude Edward Parks, born August 6, 1930, Robert Jr.’s half-brother.

Robert served in WWII as the top turret gunner/engineer for the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in Grafton Underwood, England.

On July 26, 1944, Sgt. Robert Doyle Crumpton was assigned as top turret gunner/engineer to the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bombardment Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces, per AAF Station 106 (Grafton Underwood, England) Special Orders #148. The 384th was a B-17 heavy bombardment group. According to his Sortie record, his combat pay was $140.40 per month.

These wartime photos include Robert Doyle Crumpton and other enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew. These photos were provided by Harry Liniger, Jr., son of 384th Bomb Group waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger, of the Brodie crew. Identifications were provided by Harry Liniger, Jr., and Patrick Miller, son of 384th Tail Gunner Wilfred Miller.

Enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew
Left to right: Harry Allen Liniger (Waist/Flexible Gunner), Robert Doyle Crumpton (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), Wilfred Frank Miller (Tail Gunner), William Edson Taylor (Radio Operator), Unidentified.
Photo contributed by Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. ID’s provided by Harry Liniger, Jr. and Patrick Miller.

 

Enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew
Left to right: Harry Allen Liniger (Waist/Flexible Gunner), Robert Doyle Crumpton (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), Wilfred Frank Miller (Tail Gunner), Unidentified, William Edson Taylor (Radio Operator).
Photo contributed by Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. ID’s provided by Harry Liniger, Jr. and Patrick Miller.

 

Enlisted men of the James Joseph Brodie crew
Left to right: Harry Allen Liniger (Waist/Flexible Gunner), Unidentified, Robert Doyle Crumpton (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner), William Edson Taylor (Radio Operator).
Photo contributed by Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. ID’s provided by Harry Liniger, Jr. and Patrick Miller.

On his nineteenth mission on September 28, 1944, Robert Crumpton was killed when his crew’s B-17 collided with the Buslee crew’s B-17 after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany. He probably saw the near miss with the Gross crew right above his head from his viewpoint in the top turret (see Wallace Storey’s account of the near-miss), and probably saw the collision with the Buslee crew’s B-17 coming, but was helpless to do anything about it.

Robert Crumpton was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group as a Staff Sergeant according to Special Orders.

S/Sgt Robert D. Crumpton earned the Purple Heart and Air Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters. He was buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Eijsden-Margraten Municipality, Limburg, Netherlands, Plot E, Row 19, Grave 22.

Notes/Links

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

The B-17 Radio Operator/Gunner

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

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

Sebastiano Joseph Peluso, assigned Buslee crew radio operator

William Edson Taylor, assigned Brodie crew radio operator

Donald William Dooley, Headquarters, but radio operator of the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944

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

Duties and Responsibilities of the B-17 Radio Operator/Gunner

According to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website,

Training in the various phases of the heavy bomber program is designed to fit each member of the crew for the handling of his jobs. The radio operator will be required to:

  1. Render position reports every 30 minutes.
  2. Assist the navigator in taking fixes.
  3. Keep the liaison and command sets properly tuned and in good operating order.
  4. Understand from an operational point of view Instrument landing, IFF, VHF, and other navigational aids equipment in the airplane.
  5. Maintain a log.

In addition to being a radio operator, the radio man is also a gunner. During periods of combat he will be required to leave his watch at the radio and take up his guns. He is often required to learn photography. Some of the best pictures taken in the Southwest Pacific were taken by radio operators.

Aside from these duties noted by the 303rd, I have read that when B-17 crews were reduced from ten airmen to nine, losing one of the waist gunners, the radio operator was tasked with manning the left waist gun if needed while the lone waist gunner manned the right waist gun. That may have been true in some B-17 groups and may have been true for some crews in the 384th Bomb Group, but one of the group’s veterans once told me that was not the case.

The 384th veteran told me that the lone waist gunner would man both waist guns and the side he manned – left or right – depended on where his B-17 was in the formation, and which side of the aircraft was more vulnerable to enemy attack. He said that the radio operator, aside from his radio duties, was also tasked with distributing chaff, the aluminum strips dropped from aircraft in the formation to confuse enemy radar.

Radio communications during the war needed to be precise and understandable and the phonetic alphabet helped in the effort. The 384th Bomb Group’s website includes this chart and explanation.

Combined Phonetic Alphabet

This phonetic code was adopted for 8th AF use in 1942. The purpose of the code is to improve the accuracy of radio voice communications by providing an unambiguous key word for each letter that would improve recognition of the intended letter through static, intermittent transmissions, and jamming.

Letter Phonetic Letter Phonetic Letter Phonetic
A Able J Jig S Sugar
B Baker K King T Tare
C Charlie L Love U Uncle
D Dog M Mike V Victor
E Easy N Nan W William
F Fox O Oboe X X-ray
G George P Peter Y Yoke
H How Q Queen Z Zebra
I Item R Roger

Phonetic Alphabet Chart courtesy of 384thBombGroup.com

Location of the Radio Room in a B-17

The radio room of a B-17 sits between the bomb bay and the ball turret. Should the radio operator have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the bomb bay doors.

In the following diagram, Sebastiano Peluso is noted in the radio room of the aircraft along with the other Buslee crew members in their positions on September 28, 1944.

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

B-17 Radio Room Photos

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

Entry of the radio room from the bomb bay catwalk of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

 

Radio operator’s desk of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

 

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

 

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

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Radio Operators

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

Airman Personnel Record Stories, Diaries, Journals, and Interviews
Grosbier, Gordon Joseph⇗ Grosbier, Combat Mission Diary⇓ (8.508 MB)
Grosbier, Gordon Joseph⇗ Grosbier, Daily Journal⇓ (6.235 MB)
Levison, Jules Sidney, “Julie”⇗ Jules Levison Diary⇓ (3.622 MB)
Misch, Henry Conrad⇗ Henry C Misch WWII Diary⇓ (7.671 MB)
Pratt, John Butler⇗ Diary of John Butler Pratt⇓ (7.246 MB)
Spearman, Eugene (NMI)⇗ The Eighth Air Force in World War II⇓ (3.588 MB)
Williamson, Albert (NMI)⇗ The Trip of a Lifetime⇓ (3.296 MB)
Kovach, Joseph William⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Lustig, David Carl, “Dave”, Jr⇗ 2003 Oral History Interview⇗
Lustig, David Carl, “Dave”, Jr⇗ Book:  “Initial Point: Reminiscences of a World War II B-17 Bomber Crewman” (out of print, but occasionally available on used book sites)
Wininger, Dexter Gene⇗ Oral History Interview⇗

Sources and Further Reading

303rd Bomb Group:  Duties and Responsibilities of the Radio Operator

384th Bomb Group:  Combined Phonetic Alphabet

303rd Bomb Group:  Military Occupational Specialty

TM 12-427 Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel

The Military Yearbook Project – Army Air Force WWII Codes

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

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

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021