30.12.1943 360th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G ‘Woman’s Home Companion’, 1st Lt. William Osborn
Operation: I.G. Farben Chemical Works at Ludwigshafen (Mission #169), Germany
Date: 30th December 1943 (Thursday)
Unit: 303rd Bombardment Group (H), 360th Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Woman’s Home Companion
Serial No: 42-39795
Location: Froidchapelle, Belgium
Base: Molesworth, (Station #107), Huntingdonshire, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. William C. Osborn O-677292 AAF Age 26. PoW * (1)
Co-pilot: 2nd Lt. Jack Jernigan Jr. O-680909 AAF Age 28. PoW ** (1)
Navigator: 1st Lt. Edward L. Cobb O-673478 AAF Age 22. PoW ** (2)
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Nelson Campbell O-679362 AAF Age 22. Survived (4)
Radio/Op: S/Sgt. George L. Daniel 11106864 AAF Age 21. PoW *** (3)
Engineer: S/Sgt. William E. Wolff 34430152 AAF Age? Survived (5)
Ball Turret: Sgt. Lyle Winston Fitzgerald 13121327 AAF Age 19. Survived (6)
Right Waist: Sgt. Vincent J. Reese 33468736 AAF Age? Survived (7)
Left Waist: Sgt. Earl D. Wolfe 13128760 AAF Age 34. PoW **** (3)
Tail Turret: Sgt. Lawrence Brooks Evans 37254370 AAF Age 27. Killed (8)
* Stalag 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work Camp 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and Work Camp 3368 Munich).
** 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).
**** Stalag 9C Bad Sulza Saxe-Weimar.
Back L to R: 1st Lt. William C. Osborn, 2nd Lt. Nelson Campbell, 2nd Lt. Lawrence D. Ross, 2nd Lt. Jack Jernigan Jr; Front L to R: S/Sgt. George L. Daniel, Sgt. William E. Wolff, Sgt. Lyle W. Fitzgerald, Sgt. Vincent J. Reese, Sgt. Earl D. Wolfe, Sgt. Lawrence B. Evans.(Credit: Fold3 and Together We Served)
2nd Lt. Lawrence D. Ross 'see 9' was replaced by 1st Lt. Edward L. Cobb for this mission.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The B-17G 42-39795 Woman’s Home Companion took off from Molesworth at 09:00 hrs on a mission to bomb the I.G. Farben Chemical Works at Ludwigshafen in Germany.
After mission interrogations and escape & evasion reports presented conflicting events leading up to the crash landing of the aircraft. However, the crew recount that the aircraft was hit by flak which severed the rudder cable shaft, causing the aircraft to drop out of formation. The aircraft was then attacked three separate times by Fw190 fighters before they managed to evade the fighters by entering a cloud bank. It was reported that two engines were out of action and the tail section badly damaged.
After flying for a short distance after the attack, the aircraft crash-landed in a farmer’s field at Froidchapelle near the Luxembourg-French-Belgian border at about 12:00 hrs. Some Belgian civilians arrived at the crash scene and told the wounded and others to scatter.
(1) 1st Lt. Osborn and 2nd Lt. Jernigan Jr. evaded capture with the assistance of the Belgian underground for six months. They were leaving Brussels for Paris by vehicle but were betrayed and driven to a Gestapo prison. They were held there for two months before being transferred to PoW camps.
(2) 1st Lt. Edward L. Cobb was the Navigator aboard B-17F 42-29738 'Upstairs Maid' that ditched into North Sea 25 miles off Felixstowe on the 30th Jul 1943 after losing two engines on a mission to Kassel, Germany. The crew were all rescued by British Air Sea Rescue within 35 minutes of the ditching and returned to Molesworth. Only 1st Lt. Cobb suffered a serious injury but was later returned to flight status.
(3) S/Sgt. Daniel was wounded in the arm and Sgt. Wolfe in the leg during the fighter attacks and were treated by a Belgian doctor before being taken into custody by the Germans and transferred to PoW camps for the duration of the war.
(4) 2nd Lt. Campbell evaded capture with the aid of the Belgian underground and partisans and escaped to Gibraltar via Belgium, France and Spain. He returned to Molesworth on the 6th October 1944.
(5) S/Sgt. Wolff evaded capture with the aid of the Belgian underground and partisans and escaped across the Pyrenees to reach Gibraltar. He returned to Molesworth on the 20th May 1944.
(6) Sgt. Fitzgerald was mortally injured after suffering wounds to his abdomen and left thigh during the German fighter attacks. He was carried from the aircraft after the crash and tended by a Belgian doctor. The doctor had no facilities to undertake the necessary surgery to save his life. German medical assistance was not forthcoming until 1900 hours and consequently Sgt. Fitzgerald died from his wounds.
(7) Sgt. Reese escaped and with the aid of the Belgian resistance was moved south hiding in Senzeilles, Villers-Deux Églises and finally in Chimay. In Villers-Deux Églises he met up with Sgt. John Pindroch from the B-17G 42-31499 ‘Susan Ruth’ and on the 25th March 1944, they decided that they wanted to join the eight US AAF airmen hiding in a well camouflaged hut in the Le Bois de la Champagne (The Champagne Woods), near Chimay. Here they waited for the underground to plan the arrangements to get them out of occupied Europe over the Pyrenees and through Spain back to England.
Two of the ten airmen, 1st Lt. Ivan E. Glaze and S/Sgt. Warren W. Cole, both from the B-17F 42-30782 'Rationed Passion', decided that after waiting almost a month that they would try to escape on their own and left early in April. They successfully escaped through France, Spain and reached Gibraltar on the 26th June and returned to their Unit on the 30th June 1944.
On the morning of the 22nd April 1944 at about 08:00 hrs the remaining eight airmen and a Henri Fontaine, who had delivered the morning meal, were surrounded and captured by a disparate group of turncoats and traitors dressed in German uniforms. The families of two nearby farms who had been feeding the airmen were also arrested as were about thirty Belgian citizens from Chimay. Florent Simon, a farmer and the father-in-law of Henri, was the only one to escape. The civilians were interrogated, sent to different jails and later to concentration camps. Research by Steve Snyder, the author of ‘Shot Down’, determined that Joseph Simon, Florent’s son and Henri Fontaine were transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp on the 1st September and eventually to the Dachau concentration camp. Joseph was killed during a US AAF raid whilst working repairing railway tracks near Koblenz, Germany. It was reported that Henri was alive after being liberated from Budapest but was never heard from again.
The eight airmen were stripped to their underwearand searched. They all had their ‘dog tags’ and two were still partially dressed in military uniform and could not be mistaken for freedom fighters despite the discovery of two ancient rifles and a pistol. They were interrogated at a local school and in the early afternoon returned by truck to the woods where they had been captured. They were separated and taken into the forest, hands tied behind their backs, with each airman accompanied by two guards in German uniform. On an arranged signal the eight airmen were shot in the back and killed. Later that day their bodies were transported to the Luftwaffe airfield Gosselies, about 1-mile SSE of the village of Gosselies and buried in a mass grave. They were all later reinterred at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten.
Research has determined that three of the murdered airmen were 2nd Lt. George W. Eike, 2nd Lt. Robert J. Benninger and Sgt. John Pindroch from the B-17G 42-31499 'Susan Ruth'.
“Shot Down” The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth: by Steve Snyder
Three others were T/Sgt. Orian G. Owens, S/Sgt. John J. Gemborski and T/Sgt. Charles A. Nichols from the B-17F 42-30782 Rationed Passion.
The seventh and eight were 2nd Lt. Billy Hugo Huish from the B-17F 42-29656 ‘Skunkface’ and Sgt. Reese from this aircraft.
Research conducted by the late Herman Bodson and documented in his book ‘Downed Allied Airmen and Evasion of Capture: The Role of Local Resistance Networks in WW2’, highlighted that there was little that the US Government Military Justice system could have done to track down the perpetrators and punish those responsible for the murders because they had no jurisdiction over Belgian citizens.
Herman Bodson describes that an uncovered document dated the 12th November 1947 recorded that the Belgian military tribunals had identified and prosecuted the main culprits responsible for the atrocity.
The actual charges levelled at the following six individuals remain unknown as was their role in the deaths of the eight US AAF airmen:
Marcel Jaye, the Commandant of the 3rd Company of Garde Wallone (Local auxiliary police force) was sentenced to death,
Charles Lambinon, the Head of the Regional Pro-German Information Service (SI) was sentenced to death,
Karl Berger, German citizen and the Head of the Chimay Feldgendarmerie (Military Police) was sentenced to death,
Jean Lefevre, the Adjutant 3rd Company Garde Wallone was sentenced to death,
Camille Raccourt, of the Garde Wallone who arrested Mrs. Simon, the wife of Henrie Simon, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The sentences recorded are those handed down by the Belgian military tribunals, but it is not known if they were carried out.
(8) Sgt. Evans was found dead in the tail assembly. It has not been possible to determine if he had been killed outright or mortally injured when the tail and turret compartment was badly damaged by attacking fighters. One crew member’s casualty report claimed that he believed that Sgt. Evans died because he remained at his station when the aircraft crash landed.
(9) 2nd Lt. Lawrence D. Ross drowned together with four of the crew from B-17G 42-97405 Mary Cary after bailing out over the English Channel, returning from a mission to Wizernes in France on the 22nd June 1944. Five crew members were rescued and 2nd Lt. Ross’ body was recovered by the Destroyer that assisted in the rescue of the survivors.
Sgt. Fitzgerald and Sgt. Evans were initially interred in a cemetery located in Florennes, Belgium. It has not been possible to confirm the name or location of the cemetery.
Above Sgt. Fitzgerald (credit: TogetherWeServed)
Sgt. Lyle Winston Fitzgerald. Repatriated and interred at the Calvary United Methodist Church Cemetery, Ellard, Virginia. Born on the 9th April 1923 in Virginia. Son to Hansford H. and Mary J. Fitzgerald of Ellard, Virginia, USA. (credit: TogetherWeServed)
Above Sgt Reese (credit: TogetherWeServed)
Sgt. Vincent J. Reese. Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten in Plot M, Row 21, Grave 6. Born on the 1st January 1908 in Pennsylvania. Son to Margaret C. Reese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above Sgt. Evans (credit the late ‘JEM’ and FindAGrave)
(Left) Sgt. Lawrence Brooks Evans. Repatriated and interred at the Union Cemetery, Woodville, Jackson County, Alabama. Born on the 26th November 1915 in Alabama. Son to Walter G. and Margaret A. Evans of Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama, USA.
(Left) Monument in Cerfontaine, Belgium remembering the crew of B-17G 42-39795 Woman’s Home Companion. (credit: Herman Bodson)
(Right) Memorial in Saint-Rémy near Chimay, Belgium to the memory of the eight murdered US AAF airmen and two Belgian underground members who died in German camps. (credit: Steve Snyder)
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report. Special thanks to Steve Snyder for his advice and also for permission to use his research and materials.