28.07.1944 511th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 42-102952, 1st Lt. William P. Long
Operation: Merseburg (Mission #501), Germany
Date: 28th July 1944 (Friday)
Unit: 351st Bombardment Group (H), 511th Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 42-102952
Location: At Bauernheim, some 5 km NE of Friedberg, Germany
Base: Polebrook (Station #110), Northamptonshire, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. William Patrick Long O-756272 AAF Age 24. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Benjamin Edward Upshaw O-818310 AAF Age 27. PoW **
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Peter Mandros Jr. O-708517 AAF Age 19. Survived (1)
Bombardier: FO. Charles ‘Chuck’ Crooks Gratiot T-002068 AAF Age 24. Killed
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Donald Gustaf Skoglund 37549455 AAF Age 21. Killed
Engineer: T/Sgt. Jack Charles Hurley 36577122 AAF Age? PoW *
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Frank Gozy 16133670 AAF Age? PoW ***
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Carmelo Joseph Frontino 12091170 AAF Age 21. PoW ***
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. James Henry Howarth 19058835 AAF Age 26. 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.
* Unknown PoW Camp.
** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
*** 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 #42-102952 took off on the morning of 28th July 1944 on a mission to bomb the IG Fabenindustrie Leunawerk synthetic oil production plant at Merseburg, Germany.
About 10 minutes after dropping their bombs and passing near Erfurt the Bombardment Group (BG) came under attack from a number of Bf109s. 1st Lt. Long’s B-17 was riddled along its length with machine gun and cannon fire.
S/Sgt. Harry A. Bennett, from 510th Bombardment Squadron (BS): “I, Harry A. Bennett, 33272530, was flying as Tail Gunner on aircraft #42-31509 [Twinkle Toes] which was in #3 Position, High Squadron, Low Box, on a mission to Merseburg, Germany on 28th July 1944. The first thing I saw was fighters pouncing on the entire High Box where Lt. Long was flying. This was about ten (10) minutes after bombs away. He had to feather his #3 and #4 Engines, his #1 Engine was set on fire, and the Tail Gunner’s position was shot off. He started losing altitude under control. Then, when he got to cloud level he started bouncing and I saw 8 chutes come out. Then I saw the ship hit the ground and explode on the ground.”
2nd.Lt. James L. Van Sandt: “I, James L. Van Sandt, O-761211, was flying as pilot of aircraft #43-37850 [Umbriago] which was in #3 Position, Low Squadron, Low Box, on a mission to Merseburg, Germany on 28th July 1944. The first thing I knew about Lt. Long being in trouble was from the message I received from VHF saying that he was going down with one engine on fire. I then looked over my left shoulder and saw his plane just a little below me. He had one (1) engine feathered, and one (1) on fire. This is all the damage I could see. He kept on going down in a gradual glide under control. He then went out of sight. I saw no parachutes.”
Aboard the aircraft FO. Gratiot was killed when he was struck by a 20mm cannon shell. T/Sgt. Skoglund suffered from bullet wounds to his shoulders and neck which did not appear to be serious. He was conscious whilst T/Sgt. Howarth administered First Aid and after he gave him a Morphine shot. When the aircraft had to be abandoned he fitted T/Sgt. Skoglund’s parachute and bailed him out.
Except for FO. Gratiot the remainder of the crew successfully abandoned the aircraft which fell to earth at Bauernheim, some 5 km NE of Friedberg. Sgt. Frontino claimed that FO. Gratiot’s body fell out of the aircraft before it hit the ground.
1st Lt. Long, 2nd Lt Brown, S/Sgt Hurley, S/Sgt Howarth, S/Sgt Gozy and Sgt Frontino were all captured at 11:00 hrs by police at Bauernheim near Friedberg.
T/Sgt. Skoglund was admitted to Garrison Hospital I at Bad Nauheim on the 28th July 1944. According to German records he died at the hospital at 18:40 hrs on the 27th August 1944 from sepsis and heart failure as a result of a lung injury and broken ribs sustained from shell splinters.
T/Sgt. Hurley claimed that a fellow PoW, an unnamed British airman, told him that he was in the same hospital as T/Sgt. Skoglund and that he believed that his death was as a result of malnutrition and neglect. No corroborating evidence has been found to support this assertion.
Sgt. Frontino speculated that 2nd Lt. Mandros Jr. was murdered by civilians as the crew came under small arms fire whilst descending and that he heard shots being fired after hitting the ground. German records reported that 2nd Lt. Mandros Jr. was shot whilst attempting to escape.
(1) The circumstances leading to the death of 2nd Lt. Peter Mandros Jr. were unknown until a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 4th to 13th February 1947.
Two German nationals were charged in that they did, at or near Fauerbach, Germany on or about the 28th July 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the Untited States Army, believed to be 2nd Lt. Peter Mandros, Jr., who was then an unarmed, surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
The two accused were a Willi Rieke who was a former Sturmabteilung (SA)-Standartenführer (Col.) and Commander of the district Volkssturm (Home Guard), and a Karl Schenk, whose details were not recorded.
The court heard that on the 28th July 1944, an American officer airman, identified as Peter Mandros Jr., ASN O-718517, was apprehended by a farmer named Keller near Bauernheim, Germany. The airman was uninjured and offered no resistance and was subsequently delivered to the village Bürgermeister’s (mayor’s) office and was left with his wife.
Very soon thereafter Keller witnessed Rieke and Schenk arrive in car. Rieke, who was the driver, was armed with a pistol and Schenk with a carbine. Rieke went inside and immediately came out with the airman. The airman was placed in the front seat with Schenk in the rear seat.
Schenk, in his testimony, described that the car was driven towards Fauerbach and stopped when they reached a small bridge over the Usa river. Rieke and the airman then alighted from the car. Schenk heard Rieke load his pistol and saw the airman standing with his hands raised above his head. He then heard two or three shots being fired and saw the airman, who was wounded in the chest, fall to the ground. Rieke then proceeded to fire a number of shots into the airman’s head.
The two left the scene and whilst driving towards Fauerbach Rieke told Schenk that if he was asked what had transpired he was to say that the airman was shot whilst trying to escape.
Schenk’s version of the shooting was corroborated by several eyewitnesses who also testified that the wounded airman showed signs of life when the two accused drove away from the scene. A number of witnesses saw Rieke returning to the scene ten to twenty minutes later and fired another shot into the airman’s head.
The body was delivered to the cemetery at Friedberg around noon that day and from ‘dog tags’ identified as Peter Mandros Jr., ASN O-718517. He was buried the next day.
After exhumation by US authorities the autopsy report stated that the cause of death was as a result of bullet wounds to the head.
Rieke claimed in his testimony the airman was collected and was to be delivered to the military authorities. Whilst approaching Fauerbach they pulled over under cover of some trees because of low flying aircraft. Before the car had stopped completely the airman opened the door on his side and got out by himself. Rieke claimed after he himself exited the car that the airman did not stop moving so he fired one or two shots at him, wounding him in the chest and causing him to fall down. He then claimed to have bandaged the airman’s chest wound.
After being told by an unnamed air-raid warden, who had arrived at the scene, that there was another injured airman at the aircraft crash site he left to investigate. Finding no one he returned to the scene and found Ortsgruppenleiter (Nazi party local group leader) Damme and a soldier standing by a Wehrmacht truck. He then instructed Damme to load the airman onto the truck and take him to hospital. He was later informed by Damme that the airman was dead. Thereafter Rieke directed Damme to accompany him to the cemetery where they saw the body. Whilst driving away from the cemetery Rieke claimed that Damme said to him “Now at least I have avenged my son”.
The court rejected the version of events as told by Rieke and considered that he was positively identified by eyewitnesses as having fired the shots that killed the airman.
Rieke was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed on the 15th October 1948 at No.1 War Criminal Prison, Landsberg.
Rieke, in his last words on the gallows, protested his innocence, saying the “really guilty one” hanged himself when taken prisoner, that he himself was “involved” but a victim of “false oaths”. (Ref 1)
Schenk was acquitted of the charges.
2nd Lt. Mandros Jr. and FO. Gratiot were initially buried in the Friedberg Cemetery. T/Sgt. Skoglund was initially buried in the Bad Nauheim Cemetery, Row G1, Grave 158.
Above: Grave marker for 2nd Lt. Mandros (Credit: Dominique Potier - FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Peter Mandros Jr. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Born in 1925 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Recovered and reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot J, Row 4, Grave 81, relocated to Plot A, Row 43, Grave 20. Son of Peter and Antonia (née Collins) Mandros from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above: Grave marker for FO. Gratiot (Credit: Dominique Potier - FindAGrave)
FO. Charles Crooks Gratiot. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Recovered and reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot D, Row 5, Grave 109, relocated to Plot B, Row 24, Grave 21. Born on the 6th January 1920 in Shullsburg, Lafayette, Wisconsin. Son of Austin Flint and Mary Mercedes (née Edge) Gratiot. Husband of Gayle Alice (née Stanforth) Gratiot of Mather Field, Sacramento, California, USA.
T/Sgt. Donald Gustaf Skoglund. Recovered and interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery in Plot 3Q, Row 6, Grave 69. Repatriated and interred at the St. Nicholas Church Cemetery in December 1948. Born on the 22nd August 1922 in Minnesota. Son of Gustaf and Katherine (née Hintzen) Skoglund of Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, 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.The High Cost of Vengeance: Freda Utley (pdf page 197, document page 189)