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|Saturday, November 18, 1944 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 294:
Briefing began at 0950 hours, the target is a storage dump Located at St. Wendel, Germany. Captain Philip Tener of the 555th Squadron will lead the first box of eighteen at 11,500 feet with "HELLS ANGELS" 131615 YA-W. The high flight leader flying at an altitude of 11, 750 feet in ship 334315 is Lieutenant Morgan, also from the 555th Squadron. Low flight leader from the 552nd Squadron is Captain Herbert Ritter flying at 11,250 in ship 334202 RG-S.
The second box of eighteen is headed by Major Hoover of the 553rd Squadron flying in a ship called "RAT POISON" 131606 AN-S. His high flight leader in another 553rd ship named "DINAH MIGHT" 131576 AN-Z assigned altitude of 10,750 feet is Captain Robert Harris. Captain Paul Schuler from the 554th Squadron flying at 10,250 will lead the low flight flying ship 334413 RU-D. Temperature at altitude is going to be a chilly minus 03 degrees Centigrade!
Each of the thirty-six planes will carry sixteen 250 pound general purpose demolition bombs with 1/10th second delay nose fuses and 1/100th second delay tail fuses. All intervalometer settings will be 50 feet. Eight aircraft will carry K-21 Strike Cameras, four of which are in the first eighteen aircraft. Briefing ended at 1020 hours, and the crews were delivered to their respective hardstands within ten minutes. Engine starting began at 1055 hours. Soon the thirteen foot diameter propellers of the thirty-six B-26 Marauders were churning the cool moist air at Beaumont sur Oise, France.
A slow procession of B-26s worked their way to the active end of the runway where final cockpit equipment checks were completed. A green light shone and Captain Tener was on his take off roll with "HELLS ANGELS". It became airborne at 1115 hours, followed in quick order by the remaining thirty-five bombers. The leader circled the airdrome as his flight leaders developed that familiar B-26 formation pattern. At 1136 hours the Group departed home baseclimbing on course for a 1220 hour rendezvous with the 19th Tactical Fighter Group, they would provide fighter escort for todays mission.
Heavy type flak began to come up on course near the Moselle River. It was moderate in amount and accurate, but soon increased to intense and very accurate as the bomb run began. Snow and haze made the target impossible to locate so the formation began a 360 degree turn. While in the turn the secondary target, a storage area at Aulenbach was seen twelve and a half miles northeast of the primary target. Flak continued to harass the bombers as they came around to take up their second bomb run heading. Captain Owen flying deputy lead of the lead flight in ship "SON-OF-SATAN" took a direct hit in a wing, blowing it completely off the aircraft at 1240 hours. The plan began to spin down as one chute was seen to open! Flak was continuous as the formation maneuvered for position on the bomb run. Time was 1247 hours when plane number 334353 YA-S piloted by Lieutenant Maxwell was hit by flak, it began to spin down immediately as three chutes were seen to open.
The aiming point came into view, two large rectangular buildings, and it was bombs away at 1254 hours. The lead flights bombs fell in a concentrated pattern which covered the chosen aiming point. The high flight pattern fell 350 feet north of the AP covering a series of slit trenches, fires were started near by. The low flight dropped 700 feet south of the AP, hits were seen on road intersections, and some fell in an open field. Bombing results were rated from poor to good.
A startling event began to unfold quickly in the cockpit of "DINAH MIGHT", lead ship of the high flight in the second box of eighteen bombers. The voice of Tail Gunner, Staff Sergeant Spencer Volpp jolted the crew over the intercom with a terse question, "Hey do you know were on fire, left wing outboard, flames to the tail?" The intercom calls from the cockpit were to no avail--silence! Captain Harris looked over his left shoulder and saw fire behind his left engine. Both pilots deduced immediately that they had a wing tank fire to deal with.
Co-pilot Stanley Guistwite feathered the left engine and rang the alarm bell to signal bail out to the crewas Pilot Harris trimmed the ship for level flight with a desperate hope the wing would not burn through before his seven man crew could exit the doomed aircraft. Even a slight turn or nose down attitude could increase the burning rate and cause the wing structure to fail!
In the aft section Radioman Staff Sergeant John Depue pulled in his waist guns and then secured them in the stowed position, thus providing the maximum waist window opening for bail out. Flight engineer Staff Sergeant Reuben Small scrambled from his upper turret position and received cuts on his head in the process. However this did not slow his exit, he dropped to the floor of the ship, strapped on a chest pack chute and went out of the waist window in articulated fashion. All three gunners cleared the aircraft in a hurry. Tail Gunner Volpp apparently had some slack in his harness, when his chute opened he received some pronounced strap burns from his parachute harness. Radioman John Depue delayed opening his parachute, during his free fall he noted a large diameter hole through the left wing just outboard of the engine. A very large size flak projectile had passed through the wing panel, but did not explode!
Meanwhile up front Navigator Lieutenant Donald Bell and Lieutenant Eskenazi made their way out of the ship via the nose wheel well door along with Co-pilot Guistwite who delayed his chute opening to a very low altitude. The right hand engine was still running, thus keeping the aircraft reasonably level. As pilot Harris vacated his seat his eye caught sight of the unwinding hands of the altimeter as they passed through the 8,000 foot level. The ship had been flying at 10,750 feet when struck by enemy fire. Captain Harris was tumbling end over end in free fall when he heard a loud explosion, he pulled his ripcord, was jerked upright by the billowing parachute canopy. He saw "DINAH MIGHT" for the last time, the explosion had blown off the left wing and engine. The remaining airframe was flopping over and over as it plunged earthward!
The second eighteen had commenced their bomb run as the lead bombardier chose a railroad bridge nine and a half miles from the primary target. His bombs fell 1800 feet northeast of the aiming point in a field. The high flight dropped on the lead ship AP and the bombs fell in the same area in a concentrated pattern. The low flight had a scattered pattern in an open field some 3,000 feet northeast of the chosen aiming point. Bombing results were rated poor.
Co-pilot Guistwite came down in a wooded ravine and hastily discarded his parachute. He dug a small hole with his hands and buried his wallet and AGO Card, (Officers I.D.) then moved smartly out of the area. As he walked an incident after briefing came to mind. He found out the last minute so to speak about the seventh man on his crew for the mission today. He had handed out all six of the personal property bags to the crew, they would be kept at the air base until they returned. With no time to locate another bag for himself, he said, "Im optimistic today, we will get back okay," and with that put his wallet back into his pocket. Now the last of his personal possessions lay buried in a shallow hole in German soil! The wind condition at formation altitude was 40 m.p.h. from 270 degrees which caused Captain Harris to drift at a good rate away from the target area. The bomb run had been made at 240 degrees.
As he hung in his chute everything seemed quiet at 7,000 feet, he could see the Moselle River and a hill of greenery even though an inch of snow covered the land. Suddenly the pilot heard what he said sounded like bees buzzing around him at 2,000 feet, then sharp cracking noises were audible. A stark realization set in, he was being shot at by some German riflemen. Descending lower, the greenery turned out to be a vineyard with tall poles set out on approximately four foot centers. A new peril as he envisioned one of the poles coming out of his mouth when he landed! Luck was still with him as a stiff surface wind carried him clear of the poles and dumped him unceremoniously in a small clearing directly in front of a flak gun emplacement. A German rifleman ran up to him with his gun pointed as the air filled chute dragged the pilot along. Painfully bumping on the ground he tried desperately to get out of his chute harness and still not appear to be trying to escape his captor!
The returning Group appeared over home base, and Captain Tener broke his lead flight away from the main bomber formation in preparation for landing procedure. Aircraft with wounded aboard landed first, firing red flares on final approach which would alert ambulance crews standing by at the far end of the runway! On downwind leg Captain Tener called for gear down and realized immediately he had a problem. The landing gear indicator showed both main gears down and locked, but the nose gear was still in the up position! Hydraulic fluid was spraying in the nose well compartment due to battle damage.
Continuing the landing pattern he ordered all his crew not essential to landing sequence to the tail section of the ship. They hurried to the rear via the bomb bay cat walk and took positions on the floor of the waist section just behind the aft bomb bay bulkhead, this would help keep the nose high after landing. The pilot made a smooth touch down on the main gears, then holding up the nose as long as possible; as the nose began to sink he gingerly applied a bit of right wheel brake and guided his ship off the right side of the runway onto the soft muddy grass area. The nose pitched down ever so gently and crunched in the Plexiglas nose as the ship ran with its tail high for some 80 feet. At this point there was a strong resemblance of a hound dog trotting in an open field with his nose down in hot pursuit of a fresh scent!
The crew in the aft section dropped out of the waist windows to the ground after the plane came to a halt. Lieutenant Travis Foster lead bombardier surveyed the wreckage of his former greenhouse. The lower portion of the nose section extending to the windshield line was badly buckled. All propeller blades were bent back about 45 degrees from the outer two feet of blade tip. The package gun pods and both of the engine cowlings escaped damage in the nose over landing of "HELLS ANGELS," Staff Sergeant Tail Gunner Robert Trittipo was slightly injured in the landing. Lieutenant Peebles flying a ship called "MORE SPAM BURGER" 334436 YA-F also had battle damage and had to make a crash landing upon his return. Lieutenant Thompson flying ship named "HELLS BELLE II" 131789 YA-A was so badly shot up it was a total loss after he made a crash landing on the home field. During interrogation the crews gave details involving all of the aircraft lost over enemy territory. Captain Brockhouse flying a plane which was named "HARD LUCK" 131610 AN-P in the number two position high flight, second box of eighteenreported how his flight leader Captain Harris was shot down near Lorbach, Germany. Others related details about Captain Owens ship going down over Bernkastel and Lieutenant Maxwell being shot down at Bedenbach. All lost aircraft were knocked down prior to bomb release!
Vivid accounts of the intense flak were also recorded. It was a rough mission for the Group with three planes shot down, one totaled in a crash landing, and two others were damaged in crash landings. In all twenty-five of the thirty-six aircraft received battle. Nineteen men were reported missing in action.
The Owen crew: Captain R.J. Owen, Jr. KIALieutenants W.F. Melson and R.L. Holm KIAStaff Sergeants T.A. Price KIA and R.C. Beegle KIA. Tech Sergeant C.J. Mann was able to bail out and became a POW.
The Harris crew: Captain R.T. Harriss, POWLieutenants S.U. Guistwite, POWD.E. Bell, POWJ. Eskenazi, POWStaff Sergeants J.W. Depue, POWR.E. Small, POW and S.A. Volpp, POW. All members of this crew had completed sixty-five or more missions.
Captain Harris was taken to a small village after being captured by the flak battery crew where he was held at a local police station until near dark. He was not put into a cell. In the meantime Lieutenant Guistwite was still walking in a partial wooded area with a road off to one side. Recounting the events of the day, he remembered that they had destroyed the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) unit in the aircraft just before bailing out. He was concerned about the trail he was making in the light snow covering the ground in his area. A bit later a road came into view on the other side, he found himself walking into the apex of the two roads, and then at this point he heard dogs barking!
German soldiers were looking for him with Bloodhounds on both roadshis freedom was short lived. He was taken to Aulenholden and held in a place that looked like a stable. That night he was moved by jeep to another location while passing a German armored group near a small airfield. He was told to enter a building with straw covering the floor, was pleasantly surprised to all his crew gathered therein, less Captain Harris. He noticed Staff Sergeant Small had cuts about the head and asked a German guard if this man could be looked at by a doctor. A short time later Ruben Small did receive medical treatment for his injuries.
The crew was split up the next day and Lieutenant Guistwite was told to go with an old man who was a member of the Home Guard, he did not appear to be armed. They went to a small barroom so the old man could get a drink of beer. Later the man gave the co-pilot an apple to eat as they walked to the railroad station. While at the station he became very uneasy as German civilians crowded close, the Home Guard ordered them away as they boarded the train for Frankfurt. Captain Harris also turned up at Frankfurt, both men were taken to Auswertestelle West, a camp where captured airmen were taken for interrogation prior to being assigned to a POW Camp. It was situated at Oberursel a few miles north of Frankfurt. Both officers were placed in solitary confinement upon arrival there.
Both pilots were put through a series of interrogation sessions over an eleven day period.
During one session Captain Harris as usual was answering with only name, rank and serial number. Then the civilian interrogator picked up a book off a nearby shelf, it was nearly five inches thick and about eight and a half inches by eleven inches in size. He told the pilot this was information they had on the 386th Bomb Group. Then he asked about Captain Stewart Marquis, it so happened that both officers had received their Captain promotions on the same set of orders. How did the Germans know about Captain Marquis, he was still flying with the 386th!
Lieutenant Guistwite was also receiving shocking bits of information during his sessions with the interrogator. He was asked many questions about the Group and its operations, but he told the interrogator nothing. The co-pilot noticed a group of five by seven size photographs on a shelf behind the interrogator. He recognized one officer as Lt. Colonel Hankey Group Operations Officer along with some other officers from the 386th Group.
Lt. Colonel Hankey had finished up his tour with the Group in September, and at this time was assigned to duty in Washington, D. C. The interrogator saw him looking at the photographs and asked if he knew any of the persons shown. He replied, "Looks like you know more about the Group than I do." With that he was hustled directly back to his cell. On another occasion the interrogator walked over to Lieutenant Guistwite and put a AGO Card on the table and asked if he knew that fellow. He sat there staring at the picture card, it was difficult to believe what he sawthe AGO Card of Captain Harris. Several weeks earlier he and Captain Harris were on leave in Paris, and somehow the Captain managed to lose his AGO Cardnow here it was in the hands of an German Intelligence Agent deep in Germany! The German interrogator did not at anytime show the card to Captain Harris. Up to this point the war was scary, now it had become bewildering! A few days later both fliers were shipped off to a regular POW Camp in Germany.
The Maxwell crew: Lieutenant J.E. MaxwellFlight Officer N. Brancato--Lieutenant R.L. AndersonTech Sergeant L.A. RosanbalmStaff Sergeants G.B Powell and W.A. Sundberg III. None of this crew was listed as KIA by the 386th Bomb Group, so it is assumed that they all became POWs.
The following is an account by Hans-Gunther Ploes whos home is in Traben-Tirrbach, Germany, which is several miles north of where two of our planes crashed. His statement follows: "Two of the planes were lost to flak during a mission to a St. Wendel storage area on November 18, 1944. Unfortunately it is very difficult to identify the involved flak units. Nevertheless one eyewitness told me that at least "DINAH MIGHT" was hit by shells of the heavy flak battery stationed at the "Graacher Schanzen" near Bernkasel. After being hit "DINAH MIGHT" turned west. During the following minutes the crew bailed out. Finally Captain Robert Harris left the ship and was taken prisoner near Gonzerath. His plane had lost a wing and plunged to earth. She hit the ground in a meadow near Veldenz (Moselle) and her wing landed in some vineyards only a few hundred meters away.
The crew of "SON-OF-SATAN was not so lucky. After being hit by flak almost instantly the left wing fell off, and the aircraft began to spin. The crew was trapped and only Tech Sergeant Chester J. Mann, Jr. the radio operator landed safe. "SON-OF-SATAN" crashed in a wood near Kempfeld (Hunstruck). In the smoldering remains of the aircraft four bodies were found. Tech Sergeant Mann landed in a tree not far from the crash site. Unable to leave the tree by himself he was forced to wait until someone could help him. Finally people from Morschied found him and he was taken to the town.
The fate of the sixth crew member was a mystery until two boys found his body several months later in the winter of 1944/45. It seems that he like Tech Sergeant Mann could leave the ship, but unfortunately his parachute did not open, he hit a tree and was found wrapped around the trunk!" End of correspondents statement.
Chester P. Klier