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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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15th Air Force
20.07.1944 756th Bomb Squadron (H) B-24H 42-52358 ‘Hell’s Bells’ 2nd.Lt. Howland J. Hamlin

Operation: Friedrichshafen, Germany

Date: 20th July 1944 (Thursday)

Unit No.: 459th Bombardment Group (H), 756th Bombardment Squadron (H), 304th Bombardment Wing, 15th Air Force

Type: B-24H

Serial No: 42-52358 Hell’s-Bells

Code:-

Location: In the vicinity of Hemishofen (across German and Swiss territory)

Base: Giulia airfield (Cerignola satellite #1), Italy

Pilot: 2nd Lt. Howland Joseph Hamlin O-799576 AAF Age 21. Murdered (1)

Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Richard Van Sant Newhouse O-1703134 AAF Age 21. Murdered (1))

Bombardier: 2nd Lt. George T. Hunter O-690572 AAF Age 23. KiA

Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Aaron Carlyle Slaughter 17037482 AAF Age 26. Murdered (2)

Engineer: T/Sgt. Donald W. Anderson 17155109 AAF Age 21. Interned

Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Raymond C. Ertel 15337772 AAF Age 22. Murdered (2)

Right Waist: Sgt. John A. Boardsen 36380956 AAF Age 23. KiA

Left Waist: S/Sgt. Ronald Wesley Cherrington 16161830 AAF Age 21. Murdered (2)

Tail: S/Sgt. Tonnes E. Tonnessen 32860876 AAF Age 20. Interned

The B-24 had 10 crew positions. Crew complements evolved during the war and generally comprised 9 personnel who were typically, but not always, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Bombardier, Navigator, Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Radio Operator/Waist Gunner, Nose Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner, Waist Gunner, Tail Gunner.

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the morning of 20th July 1944 Hell’s-Bells took off from the Giulia airfield in Italy, also known as Cerignola satellite #1, on a mission to bomb the Maybach tank engine factory at Friedrichshafen, Germany. It was reported that in general there was intense and accurate flak. Hell’s Bells was last seen over Konstanz on the German side of Lake Constance. Hell’s Bells was one of two Liberators reported lost by the 459th Bomb Group on this mission.

A casualty information report by T/Sgt. Anderson recalled that Hell’s-Bells ran into flak and received four direct hits immediately following bomb release. The co-pilot’s controls were virtually shot away and shortly thereafter fuel was noticed spraying onto the flight deck. Approximately 5 minutes had elapsed between bomb release and the crew abandoning the aircraft which was flying over Lake Constance at a height of 15,000 ft at the time.

It was reported that the aircraft exploded in mid-air shortly after the crew bailed out. Most of the wreckage fell onto German territory. Some of the aircraft including part of the tail assembly fell onto Swiss territory near Hemishofen which is some 38 km due west of Konstanz.

Photographs of the aircraft wreckage on Swiss Territory (Credit : Swiss Warbird website)

T/Sgt. Anderson landed near Berlingen in Switzerland, on the south side of Lake Constance and was picked up by Swiss frontier guards, whilst S/Sgt. Tonnessen landed in the lake and was saved from drowning by a Swiss fisherman. They were both transferred to Weinfelden, some 14 km SSW of Konstanz, and billeted in the Hirschen hotel together with the ten crew members of the B-24H 42-64470 RAU DEE DAU, who had bailed out of their crashing aircraft over Swiss territory that day. The next day the twelve airmen were transferred to the Dübendorf military airbase, east of Zürich. From there the officers were usually interned in Davos, some 70 miles SE of Dübendorf, and the NCO airmen in Adelboden, some 128 km SW of Dübendorf. (Ref: Swiss Warbird website)

2nd Lt. Hamlin, 2nd Lt. Newhouse, 2nd Lt. Hunter, S/Sgt. Slaughter, S/Sgt. Cherrington and S/Sgt. Ertel landed either in the German part of Lake Constance itself or on the adjacent shores on the German territory. Sgt. Boardsen was known to have landed in the Untersee (Lower lake) of Lake Constance.

T/Sgt. Anderson had no definite knowledge of the fate of the other crew members other than for Sgt. Boardsen whose body was later recovered from the lake by the Swiss and reported to have been buried in Münsingen, some 150 km SW of Lake Constance. (This location is questionable and cannot be corroborated at this time).

Two fishermen (Ref 2), a Hans Ribi, who had rescued S/Sgt. Tonnessen, and his brother Fritz also recovered a drowned American, who was believed to be Sgt. Boardsen from the Seerhein and was initially buried in Ermatingen.

However, he came across what he believed to be accurate information concerning the actions by German troops on the north side of the lake. He had been able to speak to several Swiss nationals including a Swiss official and the Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Berlingen who informed him that German troops had been seen to shoot at crew members resulting in their deaths as they were parachuting to the ground.

T/Sgt. Anderson was convinced of the authenticity of the information with which he had been provided, however, he had no knowledge of the fate of the other crew members but suspected that they were also killed. Additionally, the same Swiss fisherman who had saved S/Sgt. Tonnessen also tried to save 2nd Lt. Hunter but was driven away by German patrol boats. 2nd Lt. Hunter had been tangled in his parachute and perished before the Germans returned to effect his rescue. The entire incident was witnessed by S/Sgt. Tonnessen.

According to a fisherman (Ref 2), 2nd Lt. Hunter was taken into a German customs boat injured in the neck but alive. However, according to German files provided by the Reichenau municipal archive he drowned in the Lake, and was buried at a cemetery on Insel Reichenau.

(1) The fates of 2nd.Lt. Hamlin and 2nd.Lt. Newhouse were not known until a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 26th September to 8th October 1947.

Five German nationals were charged that they did, at or near Radolfzell, Germany on or about 20th July 1944, wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of two members of the United States Army who were then and there unarmed and surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.

Those charged were:

Kurt Groß, a former SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj), former acting Commanding Officer (CO) for the SS-Unterführerschule (SS Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO)) School at Radolfzell, Germany and member of the Nazi party;

Adolf Mattes, a former SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt);

Eduard Mack, a former SS-Untersturmführer (2nd Lt) who was appointed as the acting Adjutant of the SS-Unterführerschule by Groß at 11:00 hrs on the day of the killings;

Rudolf Spletzer, a former SS-Stabsscharführer (M/Sgt);

Thomas Aschner a former SS-Scharführer (Cpl) employed as a truck driver from the SS-Unterführerschule.

Groß was on a field exercise at Wollmatingen some 16 km ESE from Radolfzell with most of the students from the SS-Unterführerschule. Here he was advised by a motorcycle messenger that two American airmen had been captured in the vicinity of Öhningen which is to the SW of the SS-Unterführerschule.

Mack testified that Groß had sent him a written message directing Mattes to pick up the airmen. He in turn transmitted the order to Mattes and also directed Spletzer to accompany him to pick up the two airmen, one from Öhningen and the other from Wangen. Their orders, in effect, were to collect the airmen and shoot them on the pretext that they were attempting to escape.

Aschner was assigned to drive Mattes and Spletzer to collect the two airmen. When they had been collected Aschner drove the truck back toward the SS-Unterführerschule. After driving for about 24 km to 32 km, at a point by some woods between Gundholzen and Itznang (Iznang), he heard several shots being fired from the rear of the truck and immediately pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. He remained in the truck because of a defective hand brake but looked back from his open driver door and saw a body lying in road. Shortly thereafter they continued toward Radolfzell.

At the SS-Unterführerschule dispensary the two airmen were examined by a German doctor who pronounced them to be dead. One had a bullet wound to the back of the head and the other in the left back. They were buried on the night of the 20th July 1944.

Mack told the court that after the two airmen had been killed Groß formally commended Mattes and Spletzer. A witness testified that Groß also ordered a placard placed over the graves of the two airmen reading in effect "Here rests the two American Gangsters or Flyers". The court heard that the names of the two airmen were on their 'dog tags' and may have been Newhouse and Hamlin.

The court found Groß, Mattes and Spletzer guilty of the charge and sentenced each of them to life imprisonment. Mack was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, commencing on the 18th May 1945. The sentences for Groß, Mattes and Spletzer were commuted to 25 years. Groß was paroled on the 30th April 1954. Mattes and Spletzer were both paroled during April 1954. The final disposition of the sentence for Mack is unknown.

The sentence of 3 years imprisonment for Aschner’s part in the killings was disapproved by the Review and Recommendation board because it was considered that the evidence presented did not justify the findings of guilty and hence the sentence.

(2) While the fate of six crew members has been determined the circumstances leading to the deaths of S/Sgts. Slaughter, Ertel and Cherrington have not been established.

However, Swiss eyewitness accounts described that German troops were shooting at the parachuting airmen, two of whom were seen descending over German territory at Wollmatingen. This account may offer a possible connection to the events tried in another war crimes trial.

During the trial, which was convened at Dachau, Germany from the 16th to 18th December 1946, three Wehrmacht officers were charged with Violation of the Laws of War, in that they ”did, on or about 20th July 1944, at or near Wollmatingen, Kreis Konstanz, Germany, willfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of three members of the United States Army, who were then unarmed and surrendered prisoners of war in the custody of the then German Reich.“

It was alleged by the prosecution that Major (Maj) Albert Heim, commanding officer (CO) of the 195th Ersatz (Reserve) Battalion in the Bodenseeregiment (Lake Constance Regiment) and CO of Cherisy Kaserne (barracks), ordered his subordinate, Oberleutnant (1st Lt) Fritz Saalmüller to shoot to death an American airman whom they had met accompanied by a crowd of about 50 people which included German soldiers. Saalmüller took a carbine or rifle and shot the airman in the chest whilst he was standing against a wall with his hands raised.

Oberleutnant (1st Lt) Kunze who had witnessed this scene later encountered a third airman who had been arrested, by a person or persons unknown, near to the Kindlebildkapelle (Chapel) which is located on Pirminstraße where it leaves Insel Reichenau to the east and joins the mainland. En route to the rear gate of Cherisy Kaserne on Cherisy-Straße, just under 3km from the Kindlebildkapelle, the airman was assaulted by the two Luftwaffe soldiers who had been ‘leading’ him. When the party arrived at the rear gate Kunze kicked the airman several times and then killed him with several shots to the back and head with his pistol.

With the assistance of the City Archive Konstanz (Constance) information in the form of a note (Ref 1) from a Peter Voggenberger to a Dr. Otto Feger, the then head of the Konstanz (Constance) city archive has provided additional detail on the events that day .

Peter Voggenberger (probably a Leutnant (2nd Lt)) was the former Adjutant of Maj Heim.

In the note he described the events concerning the fate of three American airmen who had parachuted from their disabled bomber on the 20th July 1944 over the Lake Constance region.

Voggenberger and two other Wehrmacht officers were in the courtyard of the Cherisy Kaserne (barracks), located on Cherisy-Straße, and observed seven airmen descend from high altitude. He was of the mind that they would drift into Swiss territory but only one of the seven did so. Voggenberger found out later that this airman, believed to be S/Sgt. Tonnessen, was rescued from the lake by Swiss fishermen. He had also heard that a second airman, believed to be 2nd Lt. Hunter, was alleged to have been drowned by Eugen Maier the former Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Reichenau, however, this may have been gossip as no corroboration of this story has been found.

Maier was arrested by the French authorities. He died in Paris on the 30th August 1945 "while in political internment custody".

He had also heard that two other airmen, believed to be 2nd Lt. Hamlin and 2nd Lt. Newhouse, had been arrested by members of the SS-Unterführerschule at Radolfzell and were shot dead at the school.

He went on to describe that three of the parachuting airmen were seen to disappear behind the roof line of the Kaserne. Maj Albert Heim arrived through the gates of the Kaserne and ordered himself and an Oberleutnant (1st Lt) Brandes to get into the car and then directed the driver to head toward Wollmatingen. About 90 metres from the Gasthaus zum Wotan they came across Saalmüller holding an airman at gunpoint with a carbine and surrounded by civilians from Wollmatingen.

It has not been possible to establish where an inn named Gasthaus zum Wotan was located in 1944. However, a civilian eyewitness (Ref 2) gave the location of the shooting as being adjacent to where Hardtstraße joins Fürstenbergstraße and about 875 yards from Cherisy Kaserne.

Heim ordered the driver to stop the car, he stepped down and went over to Saalmüller and told him to shoot the airman. He then returned to the car, and they drove off to continue the search for the other two airmen. Voggenberger did not see Saalmüller shoot the airman nor did he hear a shot being fired as they left the scene. However, according to eyewitnesses at the incident Saalmüller shot and killed the airman, who was standing with this hands in the air and back against a wall, with a single shot to the heart immediately after the order was given. It is possible that Voggenberger did not hear the shot being fired because the car drove off at the same moment.

They found the second airman about 200 metres behind the Gasthaus zum Wotan in the direction of Wollmatingen Ried surrounded by civilians, children and police they did not see anyone from the military. Heim shouted from the moving car to "Shoot the air gangster".

In Ref 3, p285 Anderson writes "Although nobody knows who shot the second American, it is assumed today that this murder was the one described by eyewitness Willi Sutter. He described the scene thus: Led by soldiers, one of the parachuted airmen was taken from the street and behind a residential house to a nearby shed, passing through an outraged crowd of people shouting abuse. The airman in his grey coverall was placed with his back against the gable wall. I was at a distance of about 15 meters from this place and I can still see in my mind how the young man opened his combination a little bit when a Feldwebel raised his carbine and, from about five metres away, fired. The airman immediately fell to the ground."

They did not find the third airman and returned to Cherisy Kaserne. Voggenberger heard that all three airmen had been shot but did not known who had killed the second airman.

The individual or individuals involved with the killing of the second airman remain unknown.

Wollmatingen Ried, a nature reserve, is located either side of Pirminstraße in the direction of Insel Reichenau.

Maj. Heim and Oberleutnant Kunze were sentenced to death and hanged at Landsberg, Bavaria on the 2nd February 1949 and the 22nd October 1948, respectively. Oberleutnant Saalmüller was sentenced to life in prison, but his sentence was later reduced to 25 years and then to 23 years. The final disposition of his sentence is not known.

The Review and Recommendations paper for this trial does not give any clue with regard to the identity of the murder victims, nor is there an explanation why the particulars of the charge speak of three victims while the witness evidence quoted covers only two murders.

However, given the date, the location of these murders and the circumstances of the US Air Force losses during the mission to Friedrichshafen, it is possible that two of the above mentioned S/Sgts met their deaths at the hands of Saalmüller and Kunze.

Burial Details:

Above: 2nd.Lt. Hamlin. (Credit: Katherine Klimoski - FindAGrave)

2nd.Lt. Howland Joseph Hamlin. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 4F, Row 1, Grave 3. Relocated to Plot K, Row 19, Grave 14. Son of Elizabeth B. (née Booth) Hamlin of Geneva, Illinois, USA.

Above: 2nd.Lt. Newhouse (Credit: Rick M - FindAGrave)

2nd.Lt. Richard Van Sant Newhouse. Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 4F, Row 11, Grave 132. Relocated to Plot K, Row 42, Grave 13. Born 17th December 1923. Son to Frank Finely de Ville and Mary Louise (née Van Sant) Newhouse and husband to Vonda Ree (née Jacobs) Newhouse of Chicago, Illinois, USA.

2nd.Lt. George T. Hunter Jr. Air Medal (5 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 40, Row 2, Grave 28. Relocated to Plot D, Row 20, Grave 31. Born in 1921. Son to George T. and Jennie E. (née Wilson) Hunter of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, USA.

S/Sgt. Aaron Carlyle Slaughter. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minnesota, Section, A, Block 5, Grave 663 on the 29th September 1949. Born on 13th December 1918. Son to Sarah Ellen (née Gilpen) Slaughter of Osage, Becker County, Minnesota, USA.

S/Sgt. Raymond C. Ertel. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 40, Row 10, Grave 249. Relocated to Plot K, Row 43, Grave 20. Born 6th August 1922. Son to Carl F. and Johanna Mary (née Hebler) Ertel of Montgomery, Ohio, USA.

Sgt. John A. Boardsen. Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Springdale Cemetery, Clinton, Iowa. Born on the 24th September 1921 in Norway. Son to Ingvard Berg Johan, and Jensine W. Boardsen of Clinton County, Iowa, USA.

S/Sgt. Ronald Wesley Cherrington. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 40, Row 10, Grave 248. Relocated to Plot K, Row 17, Grave 19. Born on the 15th July 1923. Son to Forrest Earl and Florence May (née Stevens) Cherrington of Galesburg, Illinois, 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’ . Thanks to Dani Egger from the Swiss Warbird website for providing a tranche of reference material and the images of the crashed aircraft. Our sincere thanks also go to the City Archives Konstanz (Constance) and Herr Karl Wehrle, the Tourist Office manager and local archivist at Reichenau for their assistance and permission to use the source materials provided.

References:

1. City Archive Konstanz (Constance), Germany, file: S XVIII 79.

2. Willi Sutter, Zu Befehl! Befehl? DELPHIN Book 6, p. 23-26. Concluding note on p. 26: The report on the shooting of the US airmen has already been published in a slightly modified form in: Vereinigung Heimatmuseum, Dieter Städele, Mitenand, durenand, usenand und nebedenand, Beiträge zur Ortsgeschichte Heft XXVIII, Kreuzlingen 1997, pp. 50-53.

3. Gary Anderson, Lynchjustiz gegen alliierte Piloten. Drei Fälle aus dem Bodenseeraum 1944/45; in: Edwin Ernst Weber (editor), Opfer des Unrechts. Stigmatisierung, Verfolgung und Vernichtung von Gegnern durch die NS-Gewaltherrschaft an Fallbeispielen aus Oberschwaben, 2009 (ISBN 978-3-7995-1070-7).

RS & TV 19.06.2022 - New information regarding S/Sgts. Slaughter, Ertel and Cherrington

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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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