Tag Archives: Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

6 July 1944: Rose of York

Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, with Colonel Claude Putnam, commanding officer, 306th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at the christening of Rose of York, R.A.F. Thurleigh, 6 July 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

6 July 1944: In honor of Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, a United States Army Air Forces heavy bomber, Boeing B-17G-55-BO Flying Fortress 42-102547, was christened Rose of York. The ceremony took place at R.A.F. Thurleigh (U.S.A.A.F. Station 111), 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of Bedford, Bedfordshire, England.

Named for Princess Elizabeth Windsor (now, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II), 42-102547 was originally named Princess Elizabeth but that did not meet with any official approval. (There were concerns about the propaganda value to the enemy, and the effect on civilian morale, should the bomber named for a member of the Royal Family be lost in combat.) The aircraft was renamed Rose of York instead and was christened by the Princess on her royal visit to the airfield.

Rose of York. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Following the ceremony, the bomber was flown to RAF Molesworth, where a number of photographs were taken.

Rose of York at RAF Molesworth, 6 July 1944. (Vintage Wings)

42-102547 was built by the Boeing Airplane Company at its Plant 2, south of Seattle, Washington, in early 1944. The new bomber was not camouflaged, but left in its natural metal finish. It was flown to the Cheyenne Modification Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming, on 12 March 1944, for installation of the latest combat modifications. It was then taken to the B-17 training base at Grand Island Army Air Field in central Nebraska. From there, it flew to Dow Army Air Field, Bangor Maine, arriving 3 April 1944, and then ferried across the North Atlantic Ocean to England.

A Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress of the 306th Bombardment Group, England, 1944–1945. (American Air Museum in Britain)

The Flying Fortress arrived in England, and on 2 May 1944, was  assigned to the 401st Bombardment Group, Heavy, at R.A.F. Deenethorpe (A.A.F. Station 128). Three days later, though, 42-102547 was transferred to the 306th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at R.A.F. Thurleigh. It was assigned to Captain Perry E. Raster of the 367th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy. The group’s identification code, “Triangle H”—a white capital “H” centered on a black triangle—was painted on the vertical fin above the serial number. A black capital “F” was painted below, identifying the individual airplane within its squadron.

42-102547 had completed 13 combat missions by 6 July 1944.

The crew of Rose of York, 6 July 1944.  Front row, left to right: Engineer and Top Turret Gunner, Sergeant Eugene E. Kelley; Radio Operator and Top Gunner, Technical Sergeant George G. Roberts; Ball Turret Gunner, Sergeant Donald F. Urban; Waist Gunner, Sergeant Herman Shore; Ball Turret Gunner Sergeant William E. Landrum; and Tail Gunner, Sergeant Watson R. Vaughn. Standing, left to right: Unknown, possibly Master Sergeant Edward S.  Gregory, maintenance crew chief; Aircraft Commander, Captain Perry E. Raster; Co-Pilot, Lieutenant Talmadge E. McDonough; Navigator, Captain William E. Pleasant; Bombardier, Lieutenant Marion J. Northway; the crew’s previous bombardier, Captain Steven Tanella; and unknown, possibly assistant crew chief Mark Madsen.
B-17G 42-102547 with the name Princess Elizabeth.

On Saturday, 3 February 1945, the Eighth Air Force, under the command of Lieutenant General James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, executed Mission No. 817. 1,003 B-17 Flying Fortresses, 434 B-24 Liberators and 948 P-47 and P-51 fighters were sent to attack Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich. The B-17s’ primary target was the city’s railroad marshaling yards, while the B-24s attacked the Braunkohle Benzine A.G. synthetic oil refinery at Rothensee.

23 B-17s, 2 B-24s, 7 P-51s and 1 P-47 were lost. 6 B-17s and 2 P-51s were damaged beyond repair, and another 339 B-17s and 58 B-24s were damaged.

18 airmen were killed in action, with 11 wounded and 216 missing.

Rose of York was one of the B-17s on that 1,000-bomber mission to Berlin. On its sixty-third combat mission, and with a different crew, 42-102547 was hit by heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire. The last contact indicated that one engine was out of operation and another was streaming gasoline. The Flying Fortress went down in the English Channel with all nine crew members and a civilian news reporter.¹

HRH The Princess Elizabeth; His Majesty King George VI, Marshal of the Royal Air Force; Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth; Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, commanding Eighth Air Force. (American Air Museum in Britain)

The B-17G was the final production variant of the Flying Fortress. It entered service with the United States Army Air Forces in 1943.

The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a combat crew of nine to ten men. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.38 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters). The B-17G had an empty weight of 35,972 pounds (16,316.6 kilograms), and the maximum takeoff weight was 67,860 pounds (30,780.8 kilograms).

The B-17G was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-97 had a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for Takeoff and Military Power. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine was 3 feet, 11.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The B-17G had a cruising speed of 172 knots (198 miles per hour/319 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The maximum speed was 285 knots (328 miles per hour/528 kilometers per hour) at 26,700 feet (8,138 meters). The service ceiling was 38,450 feet (11,720 meters) at maximum power.

The B-17G had a fuel capacity  of 2,780 gallons (10,523 liters) in twelve wing tanks. Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). The B-17G combat radius of 689 nautical miles (793 statute miles/1,276 kilometers) with max bomb load, and a maximum ferry range of 2,624 nautical miles (3,031 statute miles/4,878 kilometers).

The B-17G was armed with thirteen Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the nose, dorsal, and ventral positions. Two guns could be installed in flexible mounts in the nose compartment, one in the radio compartment, two in the waist and two in the tail. 5,970 rounds of ammunition were carried.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17G was 12,800 pounds (5,806 kilograms). The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of ten 1,000 pound bombs,  eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs or two 2,000 pound bombs. The physical size of each type limited the number that could be carried in the bomb bay.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 8,680 of these were B-17Gs, with 4,035 built by Boeing, 2,395 by Douglas and 2,250 by Lockheed-Vega.

Boeing B-17G-85-BO Flying Fortress 43-38412, 306th Bombardment Group, Heavy. This bomber survived the War and was placed in storage at Kingman, Arizona, 5 December 1945. (American Air Museum in Britain) FRE 005936

¹ Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 12283: Aircraft Commander, Lieutenant Vernon Daley; Co-pilot: 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Carbine; Navigator, 1st Lieutenant Paul Becker; Bombardier/Nose Gunner, Staff Sergeant Robert Crede; Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Technical Sergeant Reisel Horn; Radio Operator/Top Gunner, Technical Sergeant Porfirio Marquez; Ball Turret Gunner: Staff Sergeant George Petrillo; Waist gunner, Staff Sergeant Silvio DeZolt; Tail Gunner: Sergeant Okey Coplin; and British Broadcasting Company (BBC) war corresponent Guy Byam (civilian). 10 Killed in Action.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1944

First Lieutenant Edward Stanley Michael, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

First Lieutenant Edward Stanley Michael

United States Army Air Forces

Rank: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps

Organization: 364th Bombardment Squadron, 305th Bombardment Group (H), 8th Air Force

Place and Date: Over Germany, 11 April 1944

Entered Service: Chicago

Born: 2 May 1918, Chicago, Ill.

General Orders: War Department. General Orders No. 5. January 15, 1945

Citation: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Edward Stanley Michael, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B-17 aircraft on a heavy bombardment mission to Germany, April 11, 1944. The group in which 1st Lt. Michael was flying was attacked by a swarm of fighters. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak. His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. 1st Lt. Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh. Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off. The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of 3 cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries. With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, 1st Lt. Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane. Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator’s gun at the enemy planes, 1st Lt. Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm fragments and was useless. 1st Lt. Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing. Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane. After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, 1st Lt. Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank. Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. 1st Lt. Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness. The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an RAF field near the coast. 1st Lt. Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap.

 

LT Michael's B-17G-20-DL 42-37931, Bertie Lee, at RAF Grimsby, 11 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Michael’s Douglas-built B-17G-20-DL Flying Fortress, 42-37931, WF-D, “Bertie Lee,” at RAF Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England, 11 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

By 11 April 1944, four of Lt. Michael’s original crew had been replaced. For the six remaining, Eight Air Force Mission 298 would be their twenty-sixth combat mission. (The combat tour had just been increased from 25 missions to 30.)

On that day, 917 B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers, along with an escort of 819 P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighters were dispatched to strike aircraft production centers in Germany. The mission was divided into three sections. Lieutenant Michael’s B-17 was one of the 341 in the first section, and one of the 127 which were assigned to attack a ball bearing plant at Stettin, Germany (now, Szczecin, Poland).

While on the approach to the target, Bertie Lee came under continuous attack by enemy fighters. The airplane was heavily damaged and several crew members, including Lieutenant Michael, were severely wounded. Two engines were out and several incendiary bombs in the bomb bay caught fire.

When Michael found that he was unable to jettison the bomb load, he ordered his crew to bail out. Four gunners and the airplane’s navigator jumped. The flight engineer/top turret gunner was badly injured and could not put on his parachute. Lieutenant Michael put on the ‘chute for him, and as he jumped, Michael pulled the parachute’s rip cord.

All of those who escaped from Bertie Lee were captured and held as prisoners of war. One was so badly injured, though, that Germany repatriated him to the United States.

Boeing B-17G-30-BO Flying Fortress 42-31820, WF-E, of the 364th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), trails smoke during a combat mission, 25 February 1944. It went down soon after this photograph was taken. “Bertie Lee” was marked WF-D. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Of the original aircraft sent on the mission, 52 B-17s were lost, 4 (including Bertie Lee) were damaged beyond repair, and another 313 damaged. 12 B-24s were lost, 1 damaged beyond repair, and 63 damaged. Seven of the P-47s were shot down and 16 damaged. Nine P-51s were shot down and 13 damaged. The P-38s were unscathed.

19 U.S. airman were listed as Killed in Action, 31 wounded, and 668 missing in action.

Gunners and fighter pilots claimed 124 enemy fighters shot down.

Mission 298 was one of the worst single-day losses of World War II.

1st Lieutenant Michael was hospitalized for months while he recovered from his wounds, and was sent back to the United States to recover.

The Medal of Honor was presented to 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America, in a ceremony at The White House, Washington, D.C., 10 January 1945.

President Roosevelt congratulates 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael at The White House, 10 January 1945.

Edward Stanley Michael was born at Chicago, Illinois, 2 May 1918. He was the son of Stanley William Michael and Lillian Harriet Konior Michael. He attended Chicago High School, graduating in 1936. By 1940, Edward Michael was employed as a machinist.

On 2 November 1940, Michael enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. He was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 148 pounds. He served at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, and was present during the air attack of 7 December 1941. Private First Class Michael was appointed an aviation cadet, 5 June 1942. He graduated from flight training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 12 April 1943. He trained as a multi-engine pilot at Douglas Army Airfield, in Cochise County, Arizona, and then underwent training as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot at Geiger Army Airfield, Spokane, Washington.

Lieutenant Michael with the crew of his Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, 1943. Standing, left to right: SSGT Arthur Kosino, waist gunner; SSGT Pat Malone, tail gunner; SSGT Ray Ridge, flight engineer/top turret gunner; SSGT Anthony Russo, waist gunner; SSGT Fred Wilkins, ball turret gunner; SSGT Reynold Evans, radio operator/top gunner. Kneeling, left to right: 2LT Franklin Westberg, co-pilot; 2LT Sid Miller, navigator; 2LT John Lieber, bombardier; 1LT Edward S. Michael, pilot/aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Michael with the crew of his Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, 1943. Standing, left to right: Staff Sergeant Arthur Kosino, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Pat Malone, tail gunner; Staff Sergeant Ray Ridge, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Anthony Russo, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Fred Wilkins, ball turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Reynold Evans, radio operator/top gunner. Kneeling, left to right: 2nd Lieutenant Franklin Westberg, co-pilot; 2nd Lieutenant Sid Miller, navigator; 2nd Lieutenant John Lieber, bombardier; 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael, pilot/aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)

2nd Lieutenant Michael married Miss Bertie Lee Parks, whom he had met while training in Arizona, at Geiger Field, on 21 October 1943. He would later name his B-17G 42-37931, Bertie Lee, in her honor. They would divorce in 1956.

Michael was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 25 Jan 1944.

Lieutenant Michael remained in the Air Corps following the War. On 5 July 1946 his wartime Army of the United States rank was converted to 1st Lieutenant, United States Army Air Forces, with date of rank effective 12 April 1946.

Captain Michael returned to flight status ferrying aircraft from Love Field, Dallas, Texas, and was the assigned to Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., for air transport operations. When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1948, Captain Michael was transferred.

Michael graduated from the Air University at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, in April 1949. He was next assigned to the 1729th Air Transport Squadron, Military Air Transport Service (M.A.T.S.) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and remained there for three years. In September 1952, Captain Michael was assigned as operations officer of the 1503rd Air Support Squadron at NAS Agana, Guam, in the Marianas Islands, followed by assignment to the 1500th Air Base Wing, Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1957, Major Michael was trained as a B-47 Stratojet pilot at McConnell Air Force Base, near Wichita, Kansas, then served with the 4347th Combat Training Wing at McConnell.

Major Michael married his second wife, Ms. Louise Erdman, 21 November 1958, at Salt Lake City, Utah.

Major Michael was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 1 August 1963.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Stanley Michael retired from the United States Air Force on 12 February 1971, after 30 years of military service.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, during his military service Lieutenant Colonel Michael was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Purple Heart; the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters (five awards); the Air Force Commendation Medal; Army Commendation Medal; Presidential Unit Citation; Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Army Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze service star; European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star; World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal; National Defense Servce Medal with bronze star (two awards); and the Air Force Training Ribbon with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (six awards).

Edward Stanley Michael died at Fairfield, California, 10 May 1998, at the age of 76 years. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Springville, Utah.

A B-17G Flying Fortress. This is the same aircraft type as “Bertie Lee.” (American Air Museum in Britain)

Bertie Lee was a B-17G-20-DL Flying Fortress, 42-37931 (Douglas serial number 8897), built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California, in October 1943. It was delivered to Denver, Colorado, on 13 October. On 5 November 1943, the B-17 was flown to Grand Island Army Air Field, Nebraska; then to Bangor, Maine on 7 November. It was flown across the Atlantic Ocean to England, arriving at RAF Chelveston (USAAF Station 105) on 5 January 1944. The bomber was assigned to the 364th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and given the fuselage identification markings WF-D.

When 42-37931 was assigned to Lieutenant Michael and his combat crew, he named the airplane Bertie Lee, after his wife.

Bertie Lee was damaged beyond repair when it crash-landed at RAF Grimsby on 11 April 1944. It was later scrapped.

A B-17G Flying Fortress salvoes its bombs during a mission over Europe. Though unpainted, this airplane is the same type as Lt. Michael’s “Bertie Lee.” (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1945

In one of the most dramatic photographic images of World War II, “Wee Willie,” Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, is going down after it was hit by antiaircraft artillery over Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, 8 April 1945. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection.)

8 April 1945: Wee Willie, a Flying Fortress heavy bomber, left its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), on its 129th combat mission over western Europe. The aircraft commander was 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, U.S. Army Air Forces.

Wee Willie was a B-17G-15-BO, serial number 42-31333, built by the Boeing Airplane Company’s Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. It was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces at Cheyenne, Wyoming on 22 October 1943, and arrived at Bassingbourne 20 December 1943. It was assigned to the 322nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force. The identification letters LG W were painted on both sides of its fuselage, and a white triangle with a black letter A on the top of its right wing and both sides of its vertical fin.

Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, LG W, Wee Willie, December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

On 8 April 1945, the 322nd Bombardment Squadron was part of an attack against the locomotive repair facilities at the railroad marshaling yards in Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt Germany. The squadron was bombing through clouds using H2S ground search radar to identify the target area. Antiaircraft gunfire (flak) was moderate, causing major damage to four B-17s and minor damage to thirteen others. Two bombers from the 91st Bomb Group were lost, including Wee Willie.

The Missing Air Crew Report, MACR 13881, included a statement  from a witness:

“We were flying over the target at 20,500 feet [6,248 meters] altitude when I observed aircraft B-17G, 42-31333 to receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb bay and #2 engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet [914.4 meters] from the ground it exploded and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew member leave the aircraft or parachutes open.”

This photographic image precedes the one above. The Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, is engulfed in flame. The left wing has separated and is crossing over the fuselage. (American Air Museum in Britain)

The pilot, Lieutenant Fuller, did escape from the doomed bomber. He was captured and spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War. The other eight  crew members, however were killed.

1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, O-774609, California. Aircraft Commander/Pilot—Prisoner of War

2nd Lieutenant Woodrow A. Lien, O-778858, Montana. Co-pilot—Killed in Action

Technical Sergeant Francis J. McCarthy, 14148856, Tennessee. Navigator—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Richard D. Proudfit, 14166848, Mississippi. Togglier—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Wylie McNatt, Jr., 38365470, Texas. Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant William H. Cassiday, 32346219, New York. Ball Turret Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Ralph J. Leffelman, 19112019, Washington. Radio Operator/Top Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant James D. Houtchens, 37483248, Nebraska. Waist Gunner—Killed in Action

Sergeant Le Moyne Miller, 33920597, Pennsylvania. Tail Gunner—Killed in Action

In the third photograph of the sequence, Wee Willie has exploded and fragments of the wings and fuselage streak downward in flame. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection)

Wee Willie was the oldest B-17G still in service with the 91st Bomb Group, and the next to last B-17 lost to enemy action by the group before cessation of hostilities. The War in Europe came to an end with the unconditional surrender of Germany just 30 days later, 7 May 1945.

Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress, LG W, “Wee Willie,” and its flight crew at Air Force Station 121, RAF Bassingbourne, 12 February 1944. The bomber is still nearly new, having flown 6 combat missions, 31 January 1943–3 February 1944, when it was damaged by anti-aircraft artllery over Wilhelmsahaven, Germany. “Wee Willie” was out of action until 20 February 1944. Standing, left to right: 1st Lt. John A. Moeller, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Harry Lerner, navigator; S/Sgt Robert Kelley, waist gunner; S/Sgt Martin, ball turret gunner; Lt. Joe Gagliano, bombardier; 1st Lt. Paul D. Jessop, pilot. Kneeling, left to right: S/Sgt MacElroy, waist gunner; S/Sgt Shoupe, radio operator; S/Sgt Southworth, engineer/top turret gunner; and S/Sgt Joe Zastinich, tail gunner. Waist gunner S/Sgt Henry F. Osowski was wounded on the Wilhelmshaven mission and is not in this photograph. (American Air Museum in Britain)
During the 129 missions “Wee Willie” flew in its 1 year, 3 months, 20 days at war, many airmen served as its crew members. The men in this photograph are not identified, and the date it was taken is not known. A battle-scarred veteran, “Wee Willie” now has markings showing 106 missions completed. These men are representative all the aircrews who fought and died in the skies over Europe. The officer kneeling in the front row, right, has been identified as 2nd Lieutenant Jess Ziccarello, the navigator for this crew. Thanks to his son, Rick Ziccarello, for the identification. (American Air Museum in Britain)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1944

Second Lieutenant Walter Edward Truemper, Air Corps, United States Army. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 4732)

MEDAL OF HONOR

TRUEMPER, WALTER E. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps. 510th Bomber Squadron, 351st Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944.

Entered service at: Aurora, Ill. Born: 31 October 1918, Aurora, Ill.

G.O. No.: 52, 22 June 1944.

Second Lieutenant Walter Edward Truemper, United States Army Air Forces
Second Lieutenant Walter Edward Truemper, United States Army Air Forces

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which 2d Lt. Truemper was serving as navigator was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged Nevertheless, 2d Lt. Truemper and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, 2d Lt. Truemper’s commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and that they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After 2 unsuccessful efforts their plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. 2d Lt. Truemper, the engineer, and the wounded pilot were killed.

MEDAL OF HONOR

MATHIES, ARCHIBALD (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U .S. Army Air Corps, 510th Bomber Squadron, 351st Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944.

Entered service at: Pittsburgh, Pa. Born: 3 June 1918, Scotland.

G.O. No.: 52, 22 June 1944.

Staff Sergeant Archibald Mathies, United States Army Air Forces
Staff Sergeant Archibald Mathies, United States Army Air Forces

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which Sgt. Mathies was serving as engineer and ball turret gunner was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged. Nevertheless, Sgt. Mathies and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. Sgt. Mathies and the navigator volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving Sgt. Mathies and the navigator aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, Sgt. Mathies’ commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, Sgt. Mathies and the navigator replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After two unsuccessful efforts, the plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. Sgt. Mathies, the navigator, and the wounded pilot were killed.

The combat flight crew of the Boeing B-17G-30-BO Flying Fortress, 42-31763, “Ten Horsepower.” Front row, left to right: 1/LT Clarence R. Nelson, aircraft commander; Flight Officer Ronald Bartley, co-pilot; 2/LT Walter E. Truemper, navigator; 2/LT Joseph Martin, bombardier. Back row, left to right: SSGT Archibald Mathies, flight engineer and top turret gunner; SGT Joseph Rex, radio operator/gunner; SGT Carl Moore, waist gunner; SGT Russell Robinson, ball turret gunner; SGT Thomas Sowell, waist gunner; SGT Magnus Hagbo, tail gunner. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 34945)
“Ten Horsepower,” B-17G 42-31763 (top), escorted by “My Princess,” B-17F 42-30499), 24 February 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 004724)
Boeing B-17F-105-BO 43-30499, RQ-Q, My Princess. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 010730)
Walter E. Truemper, 1938. (The Speculum)

Walter Edward Truemper was born 31 October 1918 at Aurora, Illinois. He was the eighth of ten children of Henry Edward Truemper, a cigar maker, and Friedericke Engel Truemper, both immigrants from Hesse, Germany.

Walter attended East Aurora High School. He was on the Honor Roll for four consecutive years. He was also a member of the Deutsche Verein (the German Club) and the Debate Team. He graduated in 1938. Truemper then attended Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois.

Truemper enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Chicago, Illinois, 23 June 1942. He was described as being 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall and weighed 143 pounds (64.9 kilograms). Selected as an aviation cadet, he attended a navigator training course and aerial gunnery training at Harlingen Army Air Field, Texas. On completion, Truemper was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). 26 August 1943. He was then assigned to the 796th Bombardment Squadron, 496th Bombardment Group at Alexandria, Louisiana, for combat crew training.

Lieutenant Truemper deployed to England in December 1943, and joined the 510th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook (USAAF Station110) in Northamptonshire, England.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Lieutenant Truemper’s mother by Brigadier General R. E. O’Neill at the Truemper family’s home, 4 July 1944.

Second Lieutenant Walter Edward Truemper’s remains were returned to the United States and interred at St. Paul’s Lutheran cemetery, Aurora, Illinois.

Valor at Polebrook, by David Poole, depicts the B-17G Flying Fortress, Ten Horsepower, flown by 2/LT Walter E. Truemper and SSGT Mathies, being escorted by Major Elzia Ladoux, commanding officer 509th Bombardment Squadron, aboard My Princess. Major Ladoux tried to assist the crew to land their bomber at RAF Polebrook.
Private Archibald Mathies, circa 1941.

Archibald Collins Hamilton was born 3 June 1918 in Stonehouse, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the second of two sons of William Young Muir Hamilton and Mary Scott Collins Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton died in 1919. Mrs. Hamilton married William James Mathies in 1921. The new family emigrated to the United States, sailing from Glasgow aboard R.M.S. Cameronia 6 October 1921, and arriving at the port of New York, 16 October 1921.

Archie Mathies ¹ attended Monongahela High School, graduating in 1937.

By 1940, Archie was using his step-father’s name. He worked for the Pittsburgh Coal Company at Finleyville, Pennsylvania. Archibald Mathies enlisted in the United States army at Pittsburgh, 30 December 1940. He was blond with gray eyes. He was 5 feet, 4 inches (1.63 meters) tall and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).

Staff Sergeant Archibald Hamilton Mathies’ remains were returned to the United States and interred at the Finleyville Cemetery.

A gunner fires the two Browning .50 caliber machine guns of his ball turret.

¹ When he arrived at the Port of New York, Sergeant Mathies, along with his brother, was identified by the surname Hamilton. It is not known if his name was ever legally changed to Mathies.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 December 1944

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, United States Army Air Forces. (Photographed circa 1943, as a lieutenant colonel.) (U.S. Air Force)

          The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to

BRIGADIER GENERAL (AIR CORPS) FREDERICK WALKER CASTLE

UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES,

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

         “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 487th Bombardment Group (H), 4th Bombardment Wing, Eighth Air Force.

Brigadier General Castle was air commander and leader of more than 2,000 heavy bombers in a strike against German airfields on 24 December 1944. En route to the target, the failure of one engine forced him to relinquish his place at the head of the formation. In order not to endanger friendly troops on the ground below, he refused to jettison his bombs to gain speed maneuverability. His lagging, unescorted aircraft became the target of numerous enemy fighters which ripped the left wing with cannon shells, set the oxygen system afire, and wounded two members of the crew. Repeated attacks started fires in two engines, leaving the Flying Fortress in imminent danger of exploding. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the bail-out order was given. Without regard for his personal safety he gallantly remained alone at the controls to afford all other crewmembers an opportunity to escape. Still another attack exploded gasoline tanks in the right wing, and the bomber plunged earthward, carrying General Castle to his death. His intrepidity and willing sacrifice of his life to save members of the crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

/s/ HARRY S. TRUMAN

War Department, General Orders No. 22 (February 28, 1946)

Colonel Frederick Walker Castle, U.S. Army Air Corps (center) and Lieutenant Colonel Elliot Vandevanter, Jr. (left), speaking to Brigadier General Curtiss E. LeMay, 10 November 1943. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, commanding officer of the 4th Combat Bombardment Wing, Heavy, was flying the lead bomber of the 487th Bombardment Group, on Air Force Mission No. 760, which was an attack against German air fields. This was a “maximum effort” involving three air divisions—a total of 2,046 B-17 and B-24 bombers, escorted by 853 fighters. The 487th was leading the 3rd Air Division. The Group’s target, with a total of 96 bombers, was the airfield at Babenhausen, Germany.

As the Wing’s commander, General Castle flew as co-pilot aboard the lead ship, B-17G 44-8444 of the 487th, with pilot 1st Lieutenant Robert W. Harriman and his lead crew of 6 officers and 3 sergeant/gunners. As the leading Pathfinder, Treble Four carried three navigators.

The combat crew of “Treble Four.” Front row, left to right: Lt. Wilkinson, (not aboard for Mission 760); S/SGT Lowell B. Hudson, Waist Gunner; T/SGT Quentin W. Jeffers, Flight Engineer, Top Turret Gunner; T/SGT Lawrence H. Swain, Radio Operator, Top Gunner; Standing, left to right: 1st Lt. Robert W. Harriman, Pilot, Aircraft Commander; 1st Lt. Claude L. Rowe, Co-Pilot (Tail Gunner, Formation Observer for Mission 760); 1st Lt. Bruno S. Procopio, Radar Navigator; 1st Lt. Henry P. MacArty, Pilotage Navigator; 1st Lt. Paul L. Biri, Bombardier. Not included, Captain Edmund F. Auer, Navigator. Lt. Harriman, Lt. Rowe, T/SGT Swain, were killed in action 24 December 1944. (487thbg.org)

The group began taking off from RAF Lavenham at 0900 and assembled at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in what was described as “perfect weather.” En route to their target, the B-17s continued climbing to 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and leveled off at 1223.

B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the 487th Bombardment Group, Heavy, circa 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 6772)

At about this time, Treble Four‘s number four engine, outboard on the right wing, began losing oil and could not produce its normal power. As the bomber slowed, it dropped out of the formation, with General Castle relinquishing the lead to a second Pathfinder B-17. The airplane, now on its own, was quickly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters, putting two engines out of operation and setting the bomber on fire. Two crewmen were wounded in the first attack.

The Battle of the Bulge, a major land engagement, was under way, and Castle’s bomber was overhead American 1st Army formations. The General did not want it to come down among the friendly lines with its full load of bombs.

Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle continued to fly the disabled airplane as the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Six men bailed out. One man was machine-gunned in his parachute by an enemy fighter and was killed. Another lost his parachute and also died. A third died of his wounds at a hospital.

At about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the B-17’s right wing came off and Treble Four entered a violent spin. The fuselage broke into several sections. The largest remaining part of the airplane, the forward fuselage, including the bomb bay, left wing and inboard right wing, crashed approximately 300 yards (275 meters) from Chateaux d’Englebermont in Belgium. The wreck was on fire and bombs exploded.

Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle, still in the cockpit, were killed.

Lockheed Vega B-17G-65-VE 44-8444 Treble Four crash site
The wreckage of General Castle’s Lockheed Vega-built B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress 44-8444, Treble Four. (U.S. Air Force)

Treble Four was a B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress, built by the Vega Aircraft Corporation (a subsidiary of Lockheed) at Burbank, California. It was delivered to Dallas, Texas, 14 September 1944. After crossing the continent, the new bomber departed Bangor, Maine, 16 October 1944, and headed across the North Atlantic Ocean for England. On 20 November, 44-8444 was assigned to the 836th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 487th Bombardment Group (Heavy), at Air Force Station 137 (RAF Lavenham), near Sudbury, Suffolk, England.

The airplane was a “Pathfinder,” equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar which allowed a radar navigator to locate a target through cloud cover. The rotating antenna replaced the bomber’s ventral ball turret.

The two B-17s in this photograph, both Lockheed-Vega B-17G-20-VE Flying Fortresses, 42-97627 and 42-97555, are equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Frederick Walker Castle (fourth from left) joins Major John J. McNaboe  during the debriefing of 1st Lt. James A. Verinis and his combat crew of the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). Verinis had previously served as co-pilot of the B-17F Memphis Belle. (U.S. Air Force)

Frederick Walker Castle was born at Fort William McKinley, Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 14 October 1908. He was the first of three children of 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Frederick Castle, United States Army, and Winifred Alice Walker Castle.

Castle attended Boonton High School, in Boonton, New Jersey, and the Storm King School at Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.

Castle enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard in 1924. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, as a cadet in 1926. Upon graduating, on  12 June 1930, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, United States Army.

Transferred to Air Corps, 1931, trained as a pilot at March Field, near Riverside, California.

12 September 1936, 1st Lt., Air Corps, 27th Division Aviation

Recalled to active duty at the rank of captain, January 1942. He was assigned to the staff of Major General Ira Eaker, engaged in forming Eighth Air Force in England. He was promoted to colonel, January 1943. He served as chief of staff for supply.

From 19 June 1943, Colonel Castle commanded the 94th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at RAF Bury St. Edmunds (USAAF Station 468), and in April 1944, took command of the 4th Combat Bomb Wing, Heavy. Castle was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, 20 November 1944.

Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle receives his insignia of rank from his staff, 14 December 1944. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

General Castle’s remains was buried at the Henri Chapelle American Cemetery near Welkenraedt, Belgium.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Brigadier General Castle was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics awarded him its Орден Кутузова (Orden Kutuzova, the Order of Kutuzov); Belgium, the Croix de Guerre avec palme; France appointed him an Officier de la Légion d’honneur and awarded its Croix de Guerre avec palme.

Merced Army Airfield was renamed Castle Field, 17 January 1946, in honor of General Castle.

NOTE: A detailed analysis of “The Crash of B-17 44-8444 Treble Four” by Paul M. Webber can be found at: https://web.archive.org/web/20170127032552/http://www.geocities.ws/pmwebber/castle_treble4.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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