23.12.1944 599th Bomb Squadron (M) B-26B 42-96182 ‘Miss Furie’, 1st Lt. Bernard F. Senart Jr. DFC
Operation: Railroad bridge at Eller, Germany
Date: 23rd December 1944 (Saturday)
Unit No: 397th Bombardment Group (M), 599th Bombardment Squadron (M), 98th Combat Wing, 9th Air Force
Type: B-26B Miss Furie
Serial No: 42-96182
Location: Between Üdersdorf and Schalkenmehren, Germany
Base: Péronne/St. Quentin (Station A-72), France
Pilot: 1st Lt. Bernard F. Senart Jr. DFC O-687770 AAF Age 25. Killed
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Robert G. Altman O-719528 AAF Age 22. PoW * (1)
Togglier: S/Sgt. Charles F. Celeste 6081247 AAF Age? Murdered (1)
Radio Op/Gunner: T/Sgt. Erick C. Swenson 11063668 AAF Age 27. Murdered (1)
Engineer/Gunner: S/Sgt. Vito Portanova 12173751 AAF Age 20. KiA
Gunner: S/Sgt. Pasquale J. Carino 32863972 AAF Age 20. Murdered (1)
* Stalag 4B Mühlberg, Sachsen
Togglier - When it was required for all aircraft in a Squadron formation to drop their bombs simultaneously, the designated Bombardier was on the lead aircraft. The task of the Bombardier’s in the rest of the formation was to drop their bombs when the lead aircraft dropped theirs. When there were personnel shortages the role of Bombardier was carried out by an enlisted crew member and was designated as the Togglier.
B-26B 42-96182 ‘Miss Furie’ (Credit of the American Air Museum)
Photo taken by Earl C. Fox 397BG's photographer from 42-96181 'Draggin Lady' 26th July 1944. (Credit of the American Air Museum). The flight in the distance is Flight A ,box 2 and comprised 42-96139 [Lead], 42-96124 'Holy Moses' far right, 42-96123 'Baby Butch' far left and 42-96172. The near flight is Flight C, box 2 and comprises 42-96182 'Miss Furie' [Lead], 42-96176 'Lily from Picadilly', 42-96283 and 42-96289.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The 397th BG after action report recorded: After the formation turned off from the target, on course to home base, approximately 25 single engine fighters attacked our formation. The group’s records show a loss of eight B-26s to enemy aircraft encounters and two B-26s to heavy flak. Our gunners hit back for a total tally of four enemy aircraft destroyed, three enemy aircraft probably destroyed, and eight enemy aircraft damaged. This total does not include enemy aircraft presumably destroyed or damaged by the ten missing bombers.
Records describe that 'Miss Furie' was attacked by German fighters and shot down at about 1040 hours by Fw-190s of II./JG 11.
S/Sgt. Portanova was killed by enemy fire. His remains were recovered from the crashed aircraft.
The other five crew members baled out successfully, however 1st Lt. Senart’s parachute failed to open properly, and he fell into a valley near Trittscheid where he was buried in the local cemetery. The four others landed safely south of Schalkenmehren.
(1) 2nd Lt. Altman together with the enlisted survivors were captured by a Wehrmacht officer, a Hauptmann (Capt.) Stark and soldiers of the Großdeutschland (An elite combat unit) Division near to Üdersdorf-Trittscheid. They were then marched to Schalkenmehren where they were locked up in the vestry of the St. Martin church. Some time later a German officer arrived and took 2nd Lt. Altman with him by car to a PoW collecting point.
In the late afternoon or early evening, S/Sgts. Celeste and Carino and T/Sgt. Swenson were marched to Daun, a distance of some 5 km, together with S/Sgt. Melvin E. Murphy from B-26C 42-107747 who had also been taken prisoner in the same area.
Earlier that day at about 15:25 hrs, Daun had been bombed, probably by a stray aircraft jettisoning its load. When the four PoWs were led into town, houses were still burning and salvage workers were clearing rubble. According to an eyewitness, the PoWs were being beaten by their guards with boards and sticks when he first saw them. People in the street, among them soldiers of the Großdeutschland Division, Organisation Todt (Civil and engineering organisation) members, and even a member of the Polizei (Police) joined in with whatever was to hand. Several of the perpetrators were identified and named by eye witnesses but were never apprehended.
About 30 minutes later all four of the airmen were unconscious and were thrown into a bomb crater. An unknown Wehrmacht decorated Hauptmann was observed to fire so called “mercy” shots at the unconscious airmen. Young Wehrmacht recruits were also seen to fire at the bodies, as if on target practise. When they had finished a voice was heard to say that whoever could use something should take it. Thereupon 15 to 20 people rushed towards the crater and looted the bodies after which the crater was filled with rubble and dirt.
After American troops had taken Daun, they were informed of the killings. On the 23rd March 1945 the four bodies were exhumed from the crater and taken to the American Military Cemetery at Hamm in Luxembourg, for examination, identification and proper burial. Investigators found that the injuries sustained by the four airmen were consistent with the attacks described by the eye witnesses.
The investigation faced huge difficulties because the Daun population kept silent. The investigators listed six possible perpetrators and ten possible witnesses. In the end only one, a Johann Billen, a former policeman, was left to stand trial. He was served the charge on 7th July 1947, however on 8th August 1947, the chief of the Trial Branch, Leo M. Goodman, wrote in a memorandum that an important witness, a boy aged seventeen years, could not identify with certainty the accused. After consultation with one Lt Col. Ellis he closed the case “because of improper identification” and the main suspect was released. After almost two years of investigation no one was held to account for the four murders.
Above: 1st Lt. Senart Jr., DFC (Credit: Dayton Daily News, dated 11th January 1945 and LuxAmCem - FindAGrave)
1st Lt. Bernard F. Senart Jr., DFC, Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Initially buried at the cemetery in Trittscheid. Recovered and buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Plot X, Row 11, Grave 258. Relocated to Plot B, Row 9, Grave 4. Born in 1910. Son to Bernard F. and Mary E. Senart of Sarasota, Florida, USA.
S/Sgt. Charles F. Celeste. Air Medal (7 Oak Leaf Clusters). Initially buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Plot CC, Row 1, Grave 3 and then repatriated to be buried in New York, USA. No further details.
Above: S/Sgt. Portanova (Credit: American Air Museum & LuxAmCem - FindAGrave)
S/Sgt. Vito Portanova. Air Medal (11 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. He was initially buried in the Üdersdorf cemetery. Recovered and buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Plot X, Row 7, Grave 169. Relocated to Plot B, Row 1, Grave 28. Born on the 17th March 1924. Son to Lucido and Philomena (née Florimonte) Portanova of Albany, New York, USA.
Above: T/Sgt. Swenson (Credit: LuxAmCem - FindAGrave)
T/Sgt. Erick C. Swenson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Initially buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Plot CC, Row 1, Grave 6. Relocated to Plot H, Row 10, Grave 36. Born in 1917. Son to Louise Swenson of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, USA.
Above S/Sgt. Carino (Credit of the American Air Museum)
S/Sgt. Pasquale J. Carino. Air Medal (11 Oak Leaf Clusters). Initially buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Plot CC, Row 1, Grave 4. Repatriated and buried at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, New Rochdale, New York. Born 1st November 1924. No further information.
Researched by Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks to Hermann Josef Stolz for making available his research article “Was in den letzten Kriegsmonaten in Daun geschah”, published in (ed.) Frank Güth / Axel Paul, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Luftkriegsgeschichte Rhein / Mosel e.V., Aachen 2003, p. 121-124, and for his support by sending copies of the documents he collected, and for giving further information via telephone. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.