05.04.1945 506th Bomb Squadron (H) B-24J 44-40158 ‘Tinker Belle’, 2nd Lt. George F. Brown Jr.
Operation: Plauen marshalling yards (Mission #928), Germany
Date: 5th April 1945 (Thursday)
Unit: 44th Bombardment Group (H), 506th Bombardment Squadron (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force.
Type: B-24J Tinker Belle
Serial No: 44-40158
Location: 33¾ km NE of Köln (Cologne)
Base: Shipdham airfield (Station #115), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 2nd Lt. George Frederick Brown Jr. O-831104 AAF Age 21. Survived/Murdered (1)
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Harl Norman Flowers O-834782 AAF Age 21. Evaded
Navigator: FO. Robert S. Thomas T-133888 AAF Age? PoW *
Bombardier: 1st Lt. James Joseph Barry O-727299 AAF Age? PoW *
Radio/Mickey Op**/Gnr: S/Sgt. Travis Enloe Nash 36851997 AAF Age 21. Killed
Nose Turret: Sgt. James E. Otto 13200898 AAF Age 19. PoW *
Engineer: S/Sgt. Howard M. Burkhart 37347802 AAF Age? PoW *
Waist Gnr: Sgt. Robert Eugene Sampley 35298849 AAF Age 27. PoW *
Tail Gnr: Sgt. Earnest E. McAlpine 38608646 AAF Age 19. PoW *
The B-24 had 10 crew positions. Crew complements evolved during the war and comprised 9 personnel who were typically, but not always, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Bombardier, Navigator, Flight Engineer/Top Turret gunner, Radio Operator/Radar Operator/Waist gunner, Nose gunner, Ball Turret gunner, Waist gunner, Tail gunner.
* Unknown PoW Camp
** Mickey was the popular name for an airborne ground-scanning radar designated H2X (AN/APS-15) which was a development of the British H2S radar system.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The Tinker Belle took off from Shipdham airfield on the morning of the 5th April 1945 to join a force of 43 aircraft from the 44th BG on a mission to bomb the railway marshalling yards and transportation system at Plauen, Germany.
An eyewitness statement described that the Tinker Belle was last seen at about 12:17 hrs, flying at 14,000 feet over Friedberg some 17¾ km NNE of Frankfurt. The aircraft was in radio contact with the formation which was flying at 18,000 ft and approximately 3 miles ahead of the Tinker Belle. A radio message was received reporting that the aircraft was under control with #1 engine feathered. A fighter escort of 3 P-51 Mustangs was observed. Weather at time was 8/10 - 10/10 cumulus with tops generally at 10-12,000 ft with CAVU conditions above the undercast. Nothing further was heard from the aircraft.
CAVU = Clear or Scattered Clouds (Visibility greater than 10 miles)
A later mission report recorded that the Tinker Belle had been hit by flak. With one engine feathered, the aircraft dropped 3 miles behind the formation but under control. S/Sgt. Burkhart, the Engineer, stated that #1 engine was feathered, #2 was on fire, #3 and #4 were smoking.
The recollection of crew members as to where the aircraft crashed differed by a wide margin and no German records have been found that documents the location of the crash site. However, FO Thomas, the navigator, estimated that the crash occurred approximately 33¾ km NE of Köln (Cologne).
Note: The locations given by the crew were all NE of the Cologne Cathedral i.e. Wipperfürth which is some 36¼ km, Kürten some 24 km, Odenthal about 15 km, and Bergisch-Gladbach about 13¼ km.
All of the crew except for S/Sgt. Nash bailed out of the aircraft. S/Sgt. Nash was seen slumped over his desk in the radio room with a severe head trauma sustained when the aircraft was hit by flak. 2nd.Lt. Flowers and S/Sgt. Burkhart were the last to see him and were sure that he was beyond help.
The pilot, 2nd Lt. Brown, had suffered a head wound either from shrapnel or cockpit window fragments when the aircraft was hit by flak. He was seen on his parachute by S/Sgt. Burkhart but was not seen again. It was speculated that he died whilst descending or after he had landed.
2nd Lt. Flowers parachuted down near Wipperfürth and was hidden by a Hubert Schumacher until he was recued by American forces a few days later. Schumacher told him that one crew member had been “shot by Burgomaster” and 2nd Lt. Flowers speculated that this might have been 2nd Lt. Brown.
(1) The fate of 2nd Lt. Brown was unknown until a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 24th to 27th March 1947.
Two German nationals were charged in that they did, on or about the 29th March 1945 [sic], at or near Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States Army, believed to be George F. Brown Jr., 2nd Lt., ASN O-831104, who was then an unarmed, surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
Note: Witness recollections of dates and times were in many instances notoriously unreliable as was demonstrated in this case. The victim, 2nd Lt. Brown, was positively identified and US Army Air Force records confirmed that he, his crew and aircraft was lost on the 5th April 1945.
The two German nationals were a Christian Menrath, who was a former acting Ortsgruppenleiter (Nazi party local group leader) and Kreispropaganda-Leiter (District Nazi propaganda leader), and also a Volksturm Kompanieführer (Company commander (Capt) in the national militia), and an Otto Knopp, who was a former member of the Volkssturm and the secretary to a man named William (Walter) Aldinger, who was the Kreisleiter (Nazi district leader).
Aldinger was believed to be the Kreisleiter of Rheinisch-Bergischer Kreis, residing in Bergisch Gladbach.
The court heard that on the 28th March 1945 [sic] near Bergisch-Gladbach an American airman, believed to be 2nd Lt. Brown Jr., was captured near Kürten and taken to Odenthal where he was handed over to Ortsgruppenleiter Stephan Schödder. Schödder then turned over the airman to Aldinger who locked him in a cellar for the night.
Over dinner that evening Aldinger, SS (or SA)-Obersturmführer (1st Lt) Alfred Meißen, Menrath and Knopp decided that the airman would be killed. The next morning at 07:00 hrs the airman was driven in a car by Meißen and was accompanied by Menrath and Knopp. They passed through Bergisch-Gladbach to a side road which was near a large bomb crater. Here the airman was taken from the car and pushed into the crater by Meißen and Knopp after which Menrath fired four or five shots from an automatic rifle at the airman who collapsed and cried out. Meißen then killed the airman with a single pistol shot to the head.
Meißen was also a former Volksturm Bataillonsführer (Battalion commander (Maj) in the national militia)
The actual killing was observed, unknown to the perpetrators, by a Friedrich Jung who saw Menrath fire four or five shots from his carbine and saw the airman fall and heard him cry out. He then heard the sound of a single shot being fired. Menrath approached Jung a few minutes later as if nothing had happened. A second witness heard the first burst of gunshots, then some screaming, then a single shot followed by silence. On approaching the scene the witness was ordered away by Menrath.
Meißen assisted by Knopp superficially covered the body with sand whilst Menrath kept civilians away at the road.
In his testimony Menrath claimed the defence of superior orders and cited that he was in fear of his life if he disobeyed an order from Aldinger or Meißen, who both had a reputation for brutality. Knopp in his testimony claimed that he was just getting a lift in the car to deliver a letter in Weiden and had nothing to do with the killing or the burial of the American airman.
The court evidently did not believed the testimonies of the accused, as opposed to the facts and circumstance presented in evidence together with the testimonies of the two witnesses, and found both guilty of the charge.
The court sentenced Menrath and Knopp to death by hanging. They were both hanged at Landsberg, Bavaria on the 5th December 1947.
Aldinger and Meißen were not before the court for their parts in the murder as it was reported that they were both dead. Aldinger was reported to have been found shot dead in a forest near Odenthal some time after the murder of 2nd Lt. Brown. Meißen was reported to have died from a broken neck during an attempt to escape from a moving vehicle in which he was being transported after being arrested by the American authorities.
Grave marker for 2nd Lt. Brown Jr, (Courtesy Anne Cady - FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. George Frederick Brown Jr. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Repatriated and interred at the North Watertown Cemetery, Jefferson County, New York. Born in 1924. Son to George Frederick and Mary Camilla (née Reese) Brown of Utica, New York, USA.
Above Grave marker for S/Sgt. Nash (Courtesy Des Philippet - FindAGrave)
S/Sgt. Travis Enloe Nash. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster) Purple Heart. Netherlands American Cemetery, Plot F, Row 21, Grave 19. Born on the 9th September 1923, Paris, Henry County, Tennessee. Son of Jesse Herman and Nellie Iona (née Gateley) Nash of Paris, Tennessee, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.