02.11.1944 551st Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 43-37888, 1st.Lt. Hyrum Grant Keeler
Operation: Merseburg (Mission #698), Germany
Date: 2nd November 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 385th Bombardment Group (H), 551st Bombardment Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 43-37888
Location: Sutthausen railway station south of Osnabrück.
Base: Great Ashfield, (Station #155), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Hyrum Grant Keeler O-761962 AAF Age? PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Edgar Alonza Denton O-828102 AAF Age? PoW *
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Harry Weissman O-1306183 AAF Age? Survived (1)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Arthur Eugene Alexander O-712264 AAF Age? PoW *
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. John Francis Ray 35098185 AAF Age? PoW **
Engineer: T/Sgt. Glen Albert Kraft 17029282 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Billy Robert Walker 37677909 AAF Age? PoW **
Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Robert Thomas Read 31325473 AAF Age 19. PoW **
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Harold Walter Goetsch 36298861 AAF Age 20. PoW **
One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.
* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
REASON FOR LOSS:
B-17G 43-37888 was one of 36 aircraft from the 385th Bombardment Group that took off from Great Ashfield on the morning of the 2nd November 1944 on a mission to bomb the Leuna synthetic oil refinery at Merseberg in Germany.
An after mission eye-witness statement reported that 43-37888 was hit by flak over Halle in Germany which knocked out #1 engine. However, the aircraft continued in position with the formation and dropped its bombs on Halle. The formation then headed due west but became separated from the main group of bombers. The aircraft was seen to lower its undercarriage, drop out of the formation still heading west under control but with #1 and #2 propellers feathered. The aircraft fell behind and was seen at 13:15 hours at an approximate position some 7¼ km ESE of Lemgo and 12 km NNE of Detmold.
The crew abandoned the aircraft in the Damme area north of Osnabrück. German documents recorded that the aircraft crashed at about 1430 hrs. Reviewing the various different descriptions of where the aircraft crashed it is believed that the crash site was at Sutthausen railway station south of Osnabrück.
From the various Individual Casualty Questionnaire (ICQ) it can be determined that none of the crew were injured and all successfully bailed out of the aircraft. T/Sgt. Kraft, S/Sgt. Read and S/Sgt. Goetsch were captured by the German police 5 days later on the 7th November near Neuenkirchen. The remaining crew members were captured in the area of Damme by members of an SS Hitlerjugend unit who had apparently just returned from fighting on the ‘front’. (In context it is believed that the ‘front’ implies the allied landings in Normandy. On the 2nd November 1944 the Allies were some 100 miles from Osnabrück).
(1) The captured crew along with a number of other American airmen from other crews were held at a SS Headquarters (HQ) based in a two-story house located near to an unidentified town between the Dümmer See and Osnabrück.
Several ICQs commented on the fact that 2nd.Lt. Weissman had refused to divulge any information to his interrogators. He was then taken from the building by a number of SS officers. Shortly later two or three shots were heard and 2nd.Lt. Weissman was not seen again. It was speculated that 2nd.Lt. Weissman was singled out because of his name assuming that he was Jewish.
T/Sgt. Ray identified an unknown SS Major, believed to be in command of the SS HQ, was the individual that shot and killed 2nd.Lt. Weissman.
A German document records that the body of 2nd.Lt. Weissman was identified by “SS Unit 13 Company, Tank Division 25”. However, this designation cannot be reconciled as there was never a SS Tank Division 25 and the designation of Company 13 is not a valid in the command structure of the German army during WW2.
Research has determined that the 12th Waffen SS Hitlerjugend Panzer Division fought in Normandy and the remnants of which, it was estimated at about 30%, escaped across the river Seine in August 1944. The 25th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment was a battle group of this division and it is possible that this was the unit in question.
It is not known whether the SS officer or officers that shot 2nd.Lt. Weissman were ever identified.
2nd.Lt. Harry Weissman. He was reported to have been buried in a small forest about ½ mile NW of Damme. Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Plot V-6-120 as X-4992. Repatriated and buried in New York. Brother to Cpl. Milton Weissman 32757948, Army Air Force, Base Unit, Coral Table, Florida, 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’.