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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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8th Air Force
24.03.1945 533rd Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 44-6478, 2nd Lt. Robert E. Jankowiak

Operation: Fürstenau-Vechtel airfield (Mission #911), Germany

Date: 24th March 1945 (Saturday)

Unit: 381st Bombardment Group (H), 533rd Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17G

Serial No: 44-6478

Code: VP:W

Location: Reported to be the Quakenbrück airfield, Germany

Base: Ridgewell (Station #167), Essex, England

Pilot: 2nd Lt. Robert E. Jankowiak O-782292 AAF Age 21. PoW *

Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Philip Rodney Roche O-929834 AAF Age 20. Killed

Navigator: 2nd Lt. William David Garrett O-2074389 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Herbert Hirsh Levenson O-783475 AAF Age 22. Killed

Radio Operator: S/Sgt. Oscar John Moberg 16137143 AAF Age 21. Killed

Engineer/Gunner: S/Sgt. James Edward McGrath 11043406 AAF Age 25. PoW *

Ball Turret: Sgt. John L. Hensley 18200417 AAF Age? PoW *

Waist Gunner: Sgt. Paul L. Berger 33836714 AAF Age 24. Survived/ Murdered (1)

Tail Gunner: Sgt. Stanley Earl Beschta 36817521 AAF Age 23. PoW *

* Unknown PoW camp.

One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.


On the morning of 24th March 1945 B-17G 44-6478 took off from Ridgewell and joined a mission to bomb the Fürstenau-Vechtel fliegerhorst (airfield) in Germany.

The Fürstenau-Vechtel fliegerhorst was bombed by 72 B-17 Fortresses on the 24th March 1945. 5 Fw-190s were destroyed and 7 Fw-190s damaged. The landing ground, flight control, operations bunker and barracks were all severely damaged. The airfield was put out of commission and not used again. (Luftwaffe Airfields 1935-45 Germany (1937 Borders) By Henry L. deZeng IV)

Flak was reported as being meagre to moderate but very accurate and there was no German fighter activity. The aircraft was seen to be hit by flak in the vicinity of #4 engine knocking off the propeller and engine cowlings causing a fire to break out. The aircraft was seen to go into a glide to starboard but under control, level off and head in a southerly direction towards Alfhausen, Germany.

The Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) recorded that the aircraft was last seen spiralling down and crashing on Quakenbrück airfield. No parachutes were observed.

Note: Quakenbrück airfield was about 1½ km SW of Quakenbrück itself and some 24 km NE of the target and as the aircraft was seen heading in a southerly direction towards Alfhausen the reported location of the crash would appear to be unlikely.

The most likely crash site on the aircraft’s southerly flight path would have been the Hesepe airfield which was some 12 km south of Alfhausen and about 4 km SSE of where Sgt. Berger landed after he parachuted from the aircraft.

The available Individual Casualty Questionaries (ICQs) recorded that 2nd Lt. Roche was uninjured prior to bailing out and was seen under his parachute. German authorities had his dog tags but would not divulge how he had died. 2nd Lt. Leverson was uninjured when he was last seen standing behind 2nd Lt. Garrett in the forward compartment when the bailout was ordered. Their deaths remain unexplained.

S/Sgt. Moberg and Sgt. Berger were uninjured and were last heard on the intercom when the bailout was ordered. Sgt. Hensley saw them both at the waist door. After an explosion in the starboard wing the aircraft was subjected to violent manoeuvres and it was speculated that this may have prevented them from escaping the aircraft.

(1) The circumstances leading to the death of Sgt. Berger were determined by a British Military court which was convened between the 20th and the 23rd December 1945 in Osnabrück (Ref 1).

Four German nationals were charged with the killing of an unknown Allied PoW at Hesepe airfield on or about the 24th March 1945.

The four accused were:

Richard Geisler who was a former Major (Maj) in the Luftwaffe and the commanding officer of the Hesepe airfield;

Otto Franke who was a German civilian with no known military or Nazi party affiliations;

Alfred Büttner who was a former Stabsintendant in the Wehrmacht. He was an official of the Wehrmacht Administration who wore the rank and uniform of a Hauptmann (Capt);

Lina Schröder who was the former secretary to Büttner.

The court heard that Sgt. Berger had bailed out of the aircraft and landed close to a motor depot near Thiene about 4 km NNW of Hesepe airfield. Emil Dix who at the time was working at the depot, together with two colleagues, took Berger prisoner who, as Dix later alleged in his interrogation, asked anxiously whether he was to be shot to which Dix reassured him and told him that would not happen.

At about the same time a man in Nazi uniform and Schröder arrived at the depot to have their car fueled. Both appeared to be tipsy and Schröder was alleged to have shouted words to the effect “Why don't you shoot him?”.

Sgt. Berger, only slightly injured in his shoulder and ankle, was left by Dix in the custody of some colleagues whilst he reported the airman’s capture to Geisler. It was alleged that he reacted similarly to Schröder by saying, “We must not commiserate with such air gangsters who don't commiserate with our women and children either!”.

When Dix returned from seeing Geisler he found that the airman was already dead. His colleagues told him that whilst he was away Büttner and Franke had arrived from the Hesepe airfield.

Herr Peter Krone's digest of the trial determined that Büttner, Franke and Schröder had received orders to fetch the prisoner (Ref 2).

They had beaten the American with the butts of their pistols and driven him along a narrow path into some woods nearby where they shot and killed him.

Sgt. Berger was allegedly buried in a cemetery near the PoW camp at Achmer (today part of Bramsche), Germany. It is not known where the other three airmen that perished were initially buried.

The court found Franke and Büttner guilty of the charge and sentenced them to death by hanging. Geisler and Schröder were found not guilty of the charge.

The findings and sentences for Franke and Büttner were confirmed on the 31st January 1946. They were both hanged on the 8th March 1946 at 15:10 hrs and 15:45 hrs respectively at Hameln (Hamelin) by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by RSM Richard A. O’Neill.

Burial details:

2nd Lt. Philip Rodney Roche. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot B, Row 22, Grave 15. Relocated to Plot B, Row 22, Grave 15. Born on the 27th February 1925 in San Diego, California. Son to William H. and Hazel Fern (née Stine) Roche of San Diego, California, USA.

Above: Grave marker for 2nd Lt. Levenson (Courtesy Dominique Potier - FindaGrave)

2nd Lt. Herbert Hirsh Levenson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot C, Row 22, Grave 14. Relocated to Plot C, Row 22, Grave 14. Born on the 18th April 1923 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. Son to Samuel and Frieda (née Cohen) Levernson of Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. His mother pre-deceased him. Husband to Harriett Levernson of Dorchester, Massachusetts, USA.

Above: Grave marker for S/Sgt. Moberg (Courtesy Dominique Potier - FindaGrave)

S/Sgt. Oscar John Moberg. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot D, Row 26, Grave 3. Relocated to Plot D, Row 26, Grave 3. Born in 1924 in Illinois. Son Carl Oscar and Marie Moberg of Cook County, Illinois. Husband to Laverne L. (née Schott) Moberg of Oak Park, Illinois, USA.

Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Berger (Courtesy Dominique Potier - FindaGrave)

Sgt. Paul L. Berger. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot D, Row 6, Grave 20. Born on the 8th October 1925 in Frackville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Son to Charles Alfred and Caroline Olive (née Gwynn) Berger of Frackville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.


1. Article in the Osnabrücker Zeitung dated 03.04.2010 - Henker sühnte den Mord as US-Soldaten (Hangman atoned for the murder of US soldiers).

2. Krone, Peter, “Hingerichtetengräber” auf dem Friedhof Wehl, Hameln, Hameln 1988, p. 62/63.

RS & TV 30.03.2022 - Initial upload

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Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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