A series of articles, laying out the true events behind the creation of : The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two. In December 1945, when it became known that Gen George S. Patton had told his staff he was quitting the Army so he could speak freely and after New Years 1946 he was going to tell the American public the truth about what those who were attempting to destroy him had done. He was positive, once that truth was known, he could live freely and it was their careers that would be destroyed. A series of day by day articles beginning on Nov 9 2015, which is the 71st anniversary of the crash of the Lady Jeannette, B-17G, SN : 42-97904 (November 9 1944). I will describe the shooting down and the crash of two American bombers in France. One was the Lady Jeannette, the other, a top secret B-24J which was flying a top secret night mission while attached to the top secret 100th Group Royal Air Force. The B-24J also crashed in France, early on the morning of Nov 10 1944, 138 miles from the crash site of the Lady Jeannette.
Crew Members #42-97904
2/Lt Joseph F. Harms
Bombardier, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), New York, USA
Air Medal, Purple Heart
T/Sgt Russell W. Gustafson
Flight Engineer, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), New York, USA
Air Medal, Purple Heart
1/Lt Daniel J. Gott
Pilot, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), Oklahoma, USA
Medal of Honor, Air Medal, Purple Heart
2/Lt William E. Metzger Jr
Copilot, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), Ohio, USA
Air Medal, Purple Heart, Medal of Honor
2/Lt John A. Harland
Navigator, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), Illinois, USA
Air Medal, Purple Heart
T/Sgt Robert A. Dunlap
Radio Operator, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF, (Heavy), California, USA
Air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart
S/Sgt James O. Fross
Belly Gunner, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), Texas, USA
Air Medal, Purple Heart
S/Sgt William R. Robbins
Gunner, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), Massachusetts, USA
S/Sgt Herman B. Krimminger
Tail Gunner, 729-BS / 452-BG – 8-AAF (Heavy), NC, USA
Air Medal, Purple Heart
On Nov 9 1944, the 452-BG (729-BS – 8-AAF), was assigned a support mission ahead of Patton’s 3rd Army in Army new push into Germany. The day’s target were located along the German border in the area opposite to the Metz – Thionville regions of France. One of their B-17G bombers was the Lady Jeannette, piloted by 1/Lt Donald J. Gott.
(Note) The 452nd Heavy Bombardment Group (USAAF)(45th Combat Wing) was activated on June 1, 1943 at Geiger Field, WA. The group was immediately sorted into four squadrons : 728th Bomber Squadron, 729th Bomber Squadron, 730th Bomber Squadron, 731st Bomber Squadron. The Cadre formation took place at Salt Lake City Army Base. During training, the troops would be sent to various locations, including Ephrata, Walla Walla, and Moses Lake (Washington); Rapid City, (South Dakota); Lincoln and Grand Island (Nebraska); Sioux City (Iowa); Wilmington (North Carolina); Shaw Field (South Carolina); Oklahoma City (Oklahoma); Pendleton Field and Redmond (Oregon); Peyote (Texas); and Great Falls (Montana). They would become one of twenty-four B-17 Heavy Bomber Groups in England. On Jan 2 1944, the 1st wave of 452nd troops embarked from Camp Shanks (New York), many on the Queen Elizabeth liner, arriving in Scotland on Jan 8. The servicemen experienced cramped quarters, taking turns on deck, and eating meals twice a day. Many flight crews assigned to Station 142 started their journey in a B-17 via Newfoundland and Labrador. The troops spent a month getting used to the British weather, attended classes, and received tips on how to operate their ‘Stove Pipe’ heaters, and warm beer. Although the 452nd arrived late in the war, it proved critical timing. February 5, 1944 the 1st mission was flown, target Romilly, France. (Source : 452-BG)
After take off from Deopharm Green (AFFB #15) the Group joined the mission stream and crossed the English Channel into France. Over the Channel, each of the gunners tested his weapon and the bomb bay doors were opened to verify they were operating properly. Their bomb load that day was eight 500 pound bombs in the bomb bay and two 1,000 pound bombs, one under each wing. As they approached the IP (Initial Point) of the Primary Target, the Group in front sheared off and went toward the IP of their Secondary Target, the marshaling yards at Saarbrücken, Germany. The mission plan varied little, except they would fly south toward the new target, drop their bombs and circle around to the east to begin their flight back to base. As they left their Secondary Target Initial Point, they opened the bomb bay doors and went on automatic pilot under the control of the bombardier. Unable to change altitude or position, the crews felt most vulnerable as they approached the black clouds of exploding FLAK (Fliegerabwehrkanonen – Antiaircraft Artillery) front of them. As they approached their Secondary Target, the pilots sat with their hands lightly on the controls as the controls moved automatically by the automatic pilot, ready to take over, if necessary. Each man, in his position followed the routine of their previous missions, except for the co-pilot, 2/Lt William E. Metzger Jr, who was on his second mission with the Gott crew to obtain combat experience and the bombardier, 2/Lt Harms, who also was on his second mission, as a fill-in for the normal Gott crew bombardier, who failed to report for the mission. Each of the gunners scanned the sky for any approaching German fighter, however their minds were on the bank of exploding German FLAK staining the sky ahead.
It appeared to be exactly at the same altitude as they were and now they were on the bomb run, they had to maintain the same altitude. In their previous 27 missions, the crew had never seen a German fighter, however, at every target they had seen other B-17s crashing due to FLAK. All they could do, was hope, Lady Luck would be with them again. In another B-17, in the formation behind them, 2/Lt Collins, their normal copilot was flying with Lt Metzger’s normal crew, to give them a battle experienced pilot during their first missions. Lt Collins was watching the Group approach the FLAK cloud and suddenly, he saw a FLAK burst on the right wing of the Lady Jeannette. Immediately, it began to move around, as the pilots attempted to regain control. Aboard the bomber, each of the crew experienced the FLAK burst differently. The pilots immediately tightened their hands on the controls, as the plane began to pitch up on the right side, due to the explosion. The men in the nose, Lt Harms, bombardier, and Lt Harland, navigator, were shaken in their seats and turned to see if they could find out what had happened.
The intercom was suddenly full of everyone talking at once, asking what had happened or reporting what they had seen. In the rear, the tail gunner, S/Sgt Krimminger, was badly shaken as the tail whipped back and forth and suddenly, he saw a stream of fire to his left. The waist gunner, S/Sgt Robbins, was thrown to the floor and was getting back up to find out what had happened. The radio operator, T/Sgt Dunlap, could not see what had happened, but he had his right hand at his radio controls, in order to broadcast what the pilot might order.
In the top turret, the flight engineer and gunner, T/Sgt Gustafson, looked to his right to see what had happened and was astonished to see the number four engine, the outboard engine on the right wing was missing. He had seen B-17’s that had returned with engines missing, but the engine mount and cowl back to the wing was still there. Their engine, its mount and the engine cowling was gone all the way back to the wing, leaving a large hole in the leading edge of the wing. He also saw a large fire flowing back into the slip stream and at first, he expected to see the wing was melting and they would crash, but taking a second look, he realized the engine had been blown down and off the wing, taking the fuel line with it, until it broke and the escaping fuel caught fire. Fortunately, the fire was below the wing and it was no immediate threat to the bomber. Gustafson attempted to contact the pilots via the intercom to find it was not working, so he swiveled around to be able to get off his turret seat and tell the pilots the fire was not going to make them crash. As he put his weight on his right foot, suddenly there was another loud FLAK explosion. A fragment of the shell, which had exploded under the numbers 2 and 1 engines, on the left wing, broke through the fuselage, cutting the bomb bay controls, and slicing through Gustafson’s leg, just above the ankle and cutting out an inch and a half of his leg bone. It then broke into the hydraulic oil tank behind the copilot, allowing the hydraulic oil to flow down and over the flight engineer’s parachute.
The belly turret gunner, S/Sgt Fross, had been looking ahead in order to count the bombs as they fell, so the bombardier would know all the bombs had cleared and the bomb bay doors could be closed, when the FLAK shell burst within 15 feet of his turret. He was badly shaken, and small fragments of the shell had broken through the turret and embedded in his skull. However, his training kicked in and he began to turn the turret to a position where he could climb up into the waist. In the radio compartment, a fragment flew up through the floor and struck Dunlap’s left thigh, then it continued up through the radio operator’s table and through Dunlap’s right arm, just above the wrist, almost cutting his hand away from the lower arm, leaving it hanging by sinew and muscle. In the rear, Krimminger, had released his seat belt and was making his way to the tail gunner escape hatch, when the third FLAK burst occurred. As soon as the second shell burst, a fragment killed the number one engine, leaving its propeller blade in the flight position, causing a great drag. In addition, another fragment or two, flew up into the number two engine, where they blew the cylinder head off two or more cylinders. This allowed engine oil to flow out and turn into smoke that flowed back along the slip stream. At the same time, the engine lost its ability to provide full power and this left the Lady Jeannette with only two working engines, the number three, inside, engine on the right wing was undamaged and the damaged number two, inside, engine on the left wing. The sudden change in power and the FLAK explosions caused the B-17 to dive out of the formation. Lt Collins saw his crew’s bomber began to spiral down and out of the formation and to him and all those who were watching, it was going to crash from the damage they could see. There was a large flame streaming back behind the right wing and heavy smoke was flowing from the left wing and these men had seen other bombers, with much less damage fail to regain control.
Collins called the navigator and told him to mark the position where the Lady Jeannette had been seen and then, he and the pilot began to tighten-up the formation. As another B-17 closed into the same position the Lady Jeannette had been in, that B-17 was also hit by FLAK, killing one engine. It did manage to maintain formation long enough to drop its bombs and turn with the formation to circle to the east, as they began their western return to their base, this B-17 left the formation and parachutes were seen, as it dove to the earth. Along the same route, a third B-17 that had been less damaged by the FLAK over Saarbrucken, also crashed.
As the Group continued on its bomb run, aboard the Lady Jeannette, pilot and copilot struggled with the controls. Sitting on the deck behind them, in agony, Gustafson thought, they were going to crash. However, they were an excellent team and as they dropped in altitude the wings gripped the heavier air and the control panels, allowing the spiraling dive to end. Due to the large hole in the right wing, the number three engine had to be sped up to emergency RPMS to balance the hole, the left wing’s un-feathered numbered one engine props created a great drag which almost overcome the pull the damaged number two engine could provide. The damage was extensive, from both FLAK explosions, the bomb bay doors were open, the two outside bombs and the eight bombs in the bomb bay were still aboard and all they had was one and a half working engines to keep her above stall speed, so they could keep flying. As control was being obtained, the navigator dropped the nose escape hatch and the bombardier went up the crawl way to the cockpit to see if he could help. By this time, Gustafson, had pulled on the sleeve of the copilot, to let him know, that he was wounded and he had gotten a morphine shot out of the first aid kit and was attempting to inject it. The bombardier realized his problem and helped him open his pants to inject the morphine into his leg. Having realized, when he tried an emergency bomb drop, that the system was no longer working, he moved past the flight engineer and hand dropped the large bombs under each wing. Then, he went into the bomb bay to try to manually drop the bombs. Realizing this, he tried to kick the bombs out, but their shackles had jammed, so he went back into the radio compartment, as the pilot had requested, to find out the condition of the men in the back.
In the waist, S/Sgt Robbins had just gotten to the belly turret to help S/Sgt Fross get out when the second FLAK burst took place. He held on, as the plane went through a violent shaking and he felt the plane begin a dive which made him think it might crash. As it settled down, he looked down the fuselage and saw Sgt Krimminger crawling out of the tunnel to the tail and he looked very shook up, with his bell badly rang. Immediately, Robbins, opened the turret hatch and helped Fross climb out. Fross looked and acted like his bell had also been rung and he was hardly able to talk. Realizing he had not see Dunlap, Robbins told the two, to go to the waist escape hatch and prepare to bail out, as he turned and opened the door between the waist and the radio compartment.
He was shocked, as he saw blood spattered all around the compartment and Dunlap was collapsing onto the deck. Then, he saw that Dunlap’s hand was hanging by shreds of muscle and skin and blood was squirting out with each beat of Dunlap’s heart. Robbins immediately knelt down to help Dunlap and at the same time, he saw the door from the bomb bay to the radio compartment open and an officer that he had never seen came into the compartment and knelt down to help. Between them, they got a tourniquet on Dunlap’s arm and used a bandage to hold his severed hand to the stump of his right arm with the hope it could be sewn back on and saved. It was obvious, Dunlap had lost a lot of blood. He must have tried to get up and get help, then spun around several times before falling to the deck. They had pulled his arm out of his flight jacket to work on it and all they could do now, was to zip up his jacket with the right arm inside and tell the pilots of his condition. Lt Harms, told Robbins to join the other two and wait for an order to bail out and he would go tell the pilots what had happened. On his way back through the bomb bay, he tried to kick the shackles to release the bombs, but gave up and went into the cockpit, where Gustafson had been talking to Metzger, who had just handed Gustafson his parachute. After Gustafson had a chance to review his situation, he reached for his parachute to get ready to bail out. He always stored it under the hydraulic tank behind the copilot and the same FLAK fragment that cut the piece of bone out of his leg, had entered the tank and the hydraulic oil had soaked his parachute.
Realizing, it might work, Gustafson had tugged on Metzger’s arm and when Metzger turned and realized what Gustafson was saying, as Harms entered the cockpit, Metzger was handing Gustafson his own parachute. By then, though they were much lower in altitude, the two pilots had realized they now had control of the bomber again. They could not turn it, they could not climb and they had to lose about 450 feet of altitude for each mile they gained, in order to keep the air speed above their stall speed, around 118 MPH. Their flight was not in a straight line to the west, it was turning into a large right turn, which in due time would return them back to Saarbrucken. However, they realized its diameter was large enough, they could still reach the allied front lines, if only they could keep it airborne. Realizing they were about an hour from the front lines, the pilots thought they could keep her going until they reached allied territory and there, they might be able to crash land where both the radio operator and Gustafson, who could not bail out on their own, could receive proper medical treatment. Otherwise, all they could do is drop Dunlap out and hope he landed somewhere, where the Germans might give him the medical help he needed. However, they had all heard of what happened to some crews who had bailed out over Germany and no one wanted to risk that, if they had any option at all.
Gott, then asked Metzger to go back with Harms to see if they could kick out the bombs and tell the crewmen to dump all the weight they could to help extend the distance they could fly. When done, they were to stay by the escape hatch and wait for the order to bail out. With Metzger’s help, the bombs were released over Germany and they tried to close the bomb bay doors, however the doors were damaged and remained open. Harms then returned to the nose, while Metzger informed the men in the waist to dump all the weight they could and get ready to bail out, then he returned to the cockpit. A major dead weight at that time, was the ball turret and there was a special wrench that was supposed to be attached to the assembly at all times. It was to be used to allow the turret to drop free. When Sgt Robbins attempted to drop the turret, he found the wrench was gone and all he could do was to get Fross and Krimminger to help him to throw out all they could, then get to the rear and be ready to bail out when ordered.
At the 563rd Signals Aircraft Warning Battalion plotting center, their radars began to report an unknown target approaching from Germany. As additional plots of the aircraft’s location were plotted, they realized it was on a path that would bring it right over their location. They had experienced German aircraft flying down the radar beams to find and destroy the radars. It was becoming a urgent concern when a forward observer in a fox hole on the front lines, called in to report a damaged B-17 with smoke and fire flowing behind it, was approaching the front lines and the Germans were firing at it. This report, changed the unknown target to a probably friendly target, however, just in case, the members of the unit that was stationed in the small village of Hattonville, Department of the Meuse, were told to start up their engines and be prepared for a dispersal was ordered. A villager told the author years later, it was always quiet there and suddenly, one day the Americans became disturbed, like a bunch of bees around a damaged hive.
Lady Jeannette Damages : consisted of the right wing, #4 outboard engine and cowling gone, with a fire blowing past the tail. The #3 inboard engine was the only engine that was undamaged and was providing emergency power. The #2, left wing, inboard engine had one or more cylinder heads gone and was pumping smoke out, leaving a trailing smoke trail. The #1, left wing outboard engine had been killed by the second FLAK burst, with it propeller blades unable to be feathered, they created a drag to the air flow around the engine. The bomb bay doors remained open, helping to increase the drag. When reviewed by Boeing engineers, who had helped build the B-17s, all of them agreed, she should have crashed immediately and she only kept flying because of the skill of the pilots and, if the damage had been different in any way, she would have crashed, except it all balanced out. (Credits : Model via Author)
Located across from the World War One American Cemetery at Tiaucourt – Regnieville (France), 8.4 miles to the southeast of Hattonville, the 606th Mobile Hospital was in operation. They were located on a hill side that opened a view of many miles to their east and north. Personnel that day, who were outside helping new arrivals and some, just off duty, heard the FLAK explosions to the east near the river and when they looked, they saw a B-17 coming, with smoke and fire streaming behind it. As there was a lull in arrivals, Pfc Lindsey stood and watched the bomber as it passed to their north. When interviewed sixty years later, he told the author that, I had never felt so helpless in my life, there were large hills to the west and it was obvious the bomber had to crash. It was lower than I was, on the hillside to the south. People were going to die and there was nothing I could do! Three point six miles to the east of Hattonville, a farmer was working in his field gathering a late cut of hay with the help of displaced Polish people brought from Poland by the Germans to be forced labor in France. They all stopped and watched, as the Fortress came from the east and was going to pass about a mile north of them. Its right wing appeared to be burning, leaving a blow torch of flame streaking behind it and its left wing left a broad plume of back smoke which flowed back as far to the east, as they could see.
(Note) : At the time, all the French people referred to all four engine bombers, as Flying Fortresses. At the time, the farmer did not know if it was a B-17 or a B-24. It was just a Flying Fortress and it could not fly much further.
Suddenly, it began a very sharp climb and he thought, it might roll over on its back and crash. Instead, a man appeared and the climb stopped and it began to dive, as if it was going to crash. The man’s parachute opened and then, just when they thought the Fortress would crash, it leveled out for a second and began another sharp climb. Again, suddenly, a man appeared and again the Fortress dove toward earth. Again, as the man’s parachute opened, the Fortress leveled out, but it was a lot lower and then it disappeared over the National Forest to his west. The farmer had seen several crashes and he decided, he had to keep his workers busy and as the two parachutes disappeared to their north, he told the men to get busy. He heard the roar of the damaged engines fade and then, the sound got louder as if the Fortress was flying back toward Germany. All this happened within three minutes and then, he heard the sound of an explosion, not an explosion of bombs, but one that sounded like he had thrown a can of gasoline over a pile of limbs and threw a match on the pile. It was a whooshing noise, not the sharp sound of bombs going off. At the same time, a column of smoke rose above the National Forest two miles to the west of his position. The farmer went back to work and except for discussing the Fortress in the bars for some years, he had forgotten about it, until the author found him in the same field, many years later.
Aboard the Lady Jeannette, Lt Gott and Lt Metzger had realized they were going to crash immediately. They had now lost too much altitude to fly over the hill in front of them where they could see a field on top where they might have safely slid into a soft crash. Now, if they maintained the same flight pattern as they had since regaining control, they were going to crash into the village at the top of the hill or into the side of the hill or a village at the bottom of the hill. Gott, told Lt Harms to go back and tell the men to be ready to bail as soon as Gott ordered it. He wanted them to bail out where they would not land in the forest, instead they could land in an open field in front of them. As Harms crossed the bomb bay into the radio compartment and started to open the door, all of a sudden the bomber began a sharp climb and Harms held on to keep from falling down and possibly out of the open bomb bay. He managed to start to open the door and when he looked down through the radio compartment and waist, he could see that there was only two men there and one of them was going out the hatch as he looked. Harms turned around to go back to the cockpit, suddenly, he had to hold on again, as the bomber started another dive, that became a climb and was followed by another dive.
As the plane began to level out, Harms entered the cockpit and told Gott, that one man was gone, another was leaving and the last man was ready to bail out when he began to come back to the cockpit. Gott told Harms and Gustafson to get forward be ready to bail out, as soon as they cleared the woods. Fross was the first survivor to land, he landed in an open field and saw an American army tent with a red cross on it some distance away. He wrapped up his parachute and began to walk to the tent. As he approached the tent, Americans walked out to meet him, as civilians from the near by village approached both groups. They took him to the tent and realized his bell had been rang. After a physical check, they put him in an ambulance to take him to the nearby hospital that could be seen on the hill to their south.
Robbins saw he was going to land in a woods and he crossed his legs and arms with his hands in front of his face as he had been instructed for such a landing. He only felt light limbs brushing against him as he landed standing up in the middle of the woods. He was near the edge of the woods and he hear a motor coming and then he saw a jeep coming across the field toward the woods. Robbins released his parachute harness and left the parachute hanging in the trees, as he walked out to meet the jeep. Just before he landed, Robbins had heard the bombers engine noise getting louder and then, as he entered the woods, he heard the whooshing explosion. As he walked out of the woods, he looked to the west and realized the smoke column he saw, had to be from his B-17. When the jeep arrived, the driver told Robbins to get in and he started back across the pasture toward some houses. The jeep headed to the smoke column and Robbins thought the man was going to take him to the crash site. Instead, as they passed between the house and a barn, the driver turned right onto a road and started driving north, away from the crash site. When Robbins asked where the man was taking him, he told Robbins, that he was stationed at the Etain Army Air Base and he was taking Robbins there, so the medics could check him out.
Upon arrival, about 15 miles north of the crash site, the man dropped Robbins off at the medics and as they were checking him, the unit commander came in and Robbins told him all about his B-17, its crash and the condition of the men on board when he bailed out. He also talked about the man who was hanging under the tail. The commander told him, as soon as the medics were finished with him, he was to go to the flight line, where they had made arrangement for a light airplane to come and pick him up. As, they had direct orders to get downed air crew members back to their base as soon as possible. Robbins arrived at the control tower and they told him, it would be some time before his ride arrived. He saw two P-61 Black Widow Night fighters close to the control tower and he told the operator he was going to go look at them, as he had never seen one. When he arrived at the two planes, the men working on them saw the blood on his clothing and asked what had happened. Suddenly, they were more than anxious to show him their two night fighters.
After a while, they heard a light planes motor. He shook the men’s hands and arrived at the small plane, as it came to a stop. The pilot told him to get in and told him, they were on their way to Paris, where he would be set up for a flight back to his base in England. His November 9 1944, was not complete. Inside the Lady Jeannette, Harms was out of the escape hatch before Harland, who was at the hatch could get out. Gustafson had thought about what he could do to get to the hatch, so he picked up his right leg by the cuff of his pants and crabbed down into the nose and followed the others out. Gustasfson was the last survivor to leave the Lady Jeannette as it approached the village of Hattonville. The hill was now less than two miles away and the B-17 could not clear the hill. By that time, in the village, the Americans were beginning to drive their vehicles out of the village and yet, some were held in place by what they were watching happen. These men were ground pounders, who helped aircraft conduct their missions, but most of them had never seen a B-17 or B-24 up close. Especially, one that was flying directly at them and each thought, it was targeting them.
The Battalion doctor was standing at the village hall & school house, which had been taken over to become their operations plotting center and when the first man bailed out, he told the ambulance driver to head to where that man was going to land. As the ambulance driver headed toward the road out to the field where the man would land, he saw one of the women of the village, with her son in her arms, running to the south away from the village center and he told the author, he remembered her skirts was flying and she was really moving. Then, just as he was ready to turn off onto the road to the field, she stopped, and was gazing at the bomber as it was now very close to the village. When the author first visited the village in September 1998, he met the boy who had been in his mother’s arms. He was now the Mayor of the village. As everyone watched the approaching bomber, they were realizing it might crash on them. Many found, they could not move as they watched the flaming smoking bomber approach them. Then, they saw another man fall from the bomber, followed by a third and at that time, none of them knew if anyone was left in the bomber. Was it under human control or just continuing toward them?
After the second sudden climb, dive and bringing the B-17 back under control, the two pilots realized something had changed. All of a sudden, they did not have to hold the controls to the right, now they could feel the possibility of actually turning the bomber to the right. As the last three survivors bailed out, the sudden loss of weight, was going to allow them to fly a short distance further. As Gustafson left the bomber, they were about 1.75 miles from the village. The pilots thought they had no choice, they were either going to crash into the village or over fly it. Obviously their conversation had to be, with each agreeing, they now had the possibility of flying further and with the sudden, additional control of the bomber, they could continue toward the village. They quickly agreed, if either of them thought they would not clear the village, they would dive into the ground before reaching the village!
Lady Jeannette : Cut-a-way of the inside as Gustafson, the last survivor bailed out, just before the crash. Metzger had no parachute and Gott was a by the number flyer and command pilot, even if he could have, he would not, so both pilots rode her down. In the radio compartment is the radio operator, Dunlap. Not shown is the fourth crewman, the tail gunner, Krimminger, whose parachute had gone over the tail plane and Krimminger had been trapped to hang under the tail plane. (Credits : Author)
Based on all the members of the Battalion, the author was able to contact and those French still living in the village, all of them were amazed as the flaming, smoking Flying Fortress began a turn and passed over the village church steeple with no more than three hundred feet clearance. All of them had expected the bomber to fly north toward the fields there, but it continued its turn until it was flying back toward Germany. Back along its flight path, the three survivors, still hanging under their parachutes, saw their bomber was now flying back east, about a thousand feet north of where they were going to land. Before the turn, both Gott and Metzger had realized they were passing over a large field complex where they could have slid in for a crash landing, if only they could control their altitude. Then, as they made the turn to the north, they saw the area in front of them was full of trees, offering no safe place to slide in. So, they completed the turn, thinking they could make another turn to the right and slide into the field they had passed over, to make a safe crash landing.
As they completed the turn, Metzger looked out at the field and realized there were people in the area where they would have to crash. In that area were Americans from a radar unit that had moved the day before, who were completing the move. With the vehicles and people, it was obvious they could not attempt a safe crash there. So, they continued to the east and out in the distance, they saw large fields where they might crash, if only they could clear the forest they were now flying over. Both realized, they did not have the altitude to do that and their last opportunity to save their lives was to immediately turn to the right and crash into the field just beyond the forest below.
However, when both realized that landing there would require them to fly into the location where the last crew members had bailed out and were still in the air suspended bellow their parachutes. Managing, if, to have the plane flying between the two men, the prop wash and air disturbance generated by the Lady Jeannette would probably cause both men’s parachutes to collapse. Neither, Gott or Metzger, were prepared to risk another man’s life to save their own and they continued east. Watching closely, as soon as they thought they might circle back to the field and avoid the first man who bailed out, they started the turn. They were about half way through the turn, when the bottom of the B-17 began to clip the top limbs of the Hattonville Forest. What neither pilot knew, was what had enabled the additional control, was their tail gunner, S/Sgt Krimminger. He had been the first man out of the waist because he had accidentally opened his parachute inside the waist and as it blew out the hatch, the parachute went over the tail and pulled Krimminger out of the arms of Robbins and Fross. As he cleared the hatch, his body swung down and under the tail, where his body slammed up into the tail control plane. Forcing it up, which caused the sudden climb. Then, as his body fell down and away, the dive began. Only to have his body slam up against the control plane again, forcing the second climb. Both Robbins and Fross told the author, there was nothing they could do and they had to bail out, listening to the screams of Krimminger, asking them to help him. As the bomber lowered into the wood, the limbs began to tear at Krimminger’s body as it hung under the tail. He had been pulled out of the B-17, still wearing his helmet with its ear protective clam shell ear flaps.
Fifty-five years later, the author found one of those flaps about 400 feet from where the B-17 came to rest in four large pieces. Both wings had broken off and the tail had broken free of the forward fuselage. The forward fuselage had stopped about 135 feet from the broken end of the tail. Lt Harms had watched after bailing out, as the B-17 flew to the west, turned and flew back toward them. He was just above tree top level, when it began its turn to his north and he followed the ongoing crash and suddenly, the nose of the B-17 was pointing right at him. It stopped moving 227 feet from where he was now landing. The fuel cells in one wing had broken and spread fuel over part of the crash site and a large whooshing sound occurred covering a large part of the crash site with fire. Harms, hit the earth, not being sure he was in a friendly area and having seen two men running toward him, he dropped his chute and ran to the north to get into the forest and hide for a while.
Harland landed seconds later and he too, dropped his chute and ran to the north into the forest where he found an old German World War One artillery position at the edge of the woods and took cover there. Gustafson, who still to this day, does not think he passed out, woke up to see the bomber to his north and then, he watched it start a turn, disappear into a woods and he saw and heard the flashing explosion as he hit the ground. The pain was extensive when his right leg hit the ground and he fell over, to find himself being pulled across the freshly plowed field by his parachute. He was attempting to follow the instructions on what to do, when a Frenchman and an American ran up to him. The Frenchman grabbed him and had stopped his movement. Gustafson pulled his favorite hunting knife out of a sheath on his parachute harness and handed it to the soldier and asking him to cut the parachutes shroud lines and so, stop the wind from pulling him across the field. Seconds later, the US soldier was rolling up the parachute when an ambulance pulled up and two men got out, aproached Gustafson and toke over.
They quickly checked his wound, got a stretcher out of the ambulance and lifted the wounded airman onto it when Harland came walking up. With both in the ambulance and unable to see anyone else the ambulance driver left for the hospital near the World War One cemetery. It had not gone very far (as Gustafson told the author) when he realized that the US soldier didn’t had given the hunting knife back. Anyway, 15 minutes later, Gustafson and Harland arrived at the 109th Mobile Hospital.
They were the patients who were remembered years later when the author attended their reunions. Of the over 25,000 patients they had treated during the war, the survivors of this B-17 crash, that many of then had watched take place, were the only aviators the hospital had treated.
As the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Pfc Lindsey helped remove the man on the stretcher and watched as two nurses talked to him and sent him to the casting tent. As he was being taken away, Lindsey asked, if he could have a piece of the parachute as a souvenir. Gustafson, told him sure, go ahead. And, when he arrived in the casting tent, he was put to sleep. November 9 1944, became then a memory. Harland, had stood by while the nurses checked Gustafson out and both had said their goodbye, never to meet again. Harland’s face had been stripped by the parachute shroud lines as it opened and he was told, they were going to keep him overnight for a complete check out and then he would be evacuated in the morning, up the line to the next higher hospital located in Paris. When done, they put him to bed, gave him a sedative and November 9 1944 also quickly ended for Lt Harland.
Lt Harms, still not sure about being in enemy or friendly territory, had continued to hide in the forest. However, as he went from tree to tree, he saw an access road running through the forest. Very carefully, he decided to move east along the road till he heard an engine and hided again. Minute later, as he went along the road, he reached a point were he could see through the trees and saw in the distance some large pieces of his B-17. He could even hear people talking. He moved a little closer and then heard someone speaking American English. He then started to walk through the trees toward the crash site. Off to his side, to the east, he began to see tree limbs and pieces of the bomber spread along the forest floor leading to the crash site. There were some very white and red items, however, he did not realize what they were.
(Illustrations : B-17 Crashes)
Soon after Harms had run away to the north from the approaching Frenchmen he had seen, the first Frenchman soon arrived where Harms had landed and he could see the nose of the bomber in the smoke of the fading fire. The fire had lasted for less than five minutes, though an engine was lying near the front and it was still burning. To its left he could also see a tire that was going to burn for some time. His friend had not arrived yet, so he went into the woods and with the fire burned out he walked up to the fuselage and he could see through the tree limbs that had broken into the cockpit, the two pilots were in their seats. As he moved some of the smaller limbs and could actually reach the man in the copilot seat the Frenchman realized the man was obviously dead, as his face had been smashed by the limbs and in the other seat, he could see the same had happened to the other pilot. His friend arrived and they walked around to the open end of the fuselage. They saw that it was spattered all over with blood. He told his friend, that he was going to crawl up into the plane and go to the front and check again on the pilots. His friend, said he was not going to do that, but he was going to the broken off tail to see if anyone was there.
The man had just reached the two pilots and verified how they had died, when his friend called and said, he had found another body. He went back to the opening and his friend took him to see a man who had landed between the tail and the forward fuselage and was lying there, also dead. They discussed it and thought, he must have bailed out very late and had landed in the fire which had killed him. At that time, the Frenchmen heard English and they turned and walked out to meet the Americans who were arriving at the site. They saw the Commander, the second in command and the doctor. All the French in the village knew the medics and the doctor, as they had never had better health care than when the Americans were stationed there during World War Two. No matter, what was wrong, if they went to the building where the doctors were at, one of them would find out what was wrong and bind cuts and burns, or give them medicine which always helped. If, one of required more attention, they would bring the doctor who wore the gold leafs on his shoulder. They had been there for two months now and everyone in the village, knew everyone of the Americans, if not by name, by the job they were doing.
The Frenchman who was the Americans translator was with them and he filled the Americans in about what the two men had found. As soon as they arrived at the site, the Commander told one of the enlisted Americans to build a fire, not too far from where the wing leaning a tree had came to rest. The six men stood by the cockpit and discussed the two dead men inside and then, they showed them the body they had found. The officers asked the Frenchmen to help get the dead men out of the cockpit and recover the man lying in the bush. The American doctors (enlisted and officer, medics were thought of as doctors) entered the cockpit and started remove the bodies. As they pulled the first one clear of the seat, another man grabbed his flying jacket at the collar and began to pull him through the cockpit and radio compartment. There, the two Frenchmen helped lift them off the deck and carried the bodies to place them on a canvas the officers had placed near the fire. Then, they went back to help with the second body found in the cockpit. The medics had been unable to free his safety belt clasp, so they cut through the seat belting to free him and then, they pulled him out.
All four men had helped carry that body and placed him next to the first, then they went to get the body they had found in the brush. The Frenchmen saw the second in command, take the coat off the body of the man they had just recovered. Soon the French from the village began to arrive. After some time, three boys who were pushing their bicycles arrived. One of the officers, now wearing a flying jacket, reached into a pocket and pulled out a stick of gum for each of the boys, then he told the French, they had to leave. At the same time, he told the other Americans to place the site under guard and keep any more the French away from the site.
As the boys walked their bikes out of the wood, they told arriving French people to turn around and go back to their homes and as they rode toward the village, after clearing the woods, they told everyone they met to turn around and they talked about what they had seen. There were three bodies lying on a cover in the woods, two had broken faces and the only damage the other seemed to have suffered was a light burning, except for where his coat had been and they each remarked, seeing one of the Americans wearing a matching, slightly burned jacket.
At their air base back in England, the men and officers discussed the loss of the Lady Jeannette. All of them were certain it was going to crash and instead, it came under control and was last seen, heading west with no parachutes seen. It was another day of combat and another day of what was considered fairly light casualties, thus the 9th of November, 1944, came to an end. The author and his wife, Carol, asked each survivor of the Lady Jeannette to sign the drawing to show they agreed with the author’s research. Each did, except for S/Sgt Fross, who died before the drawing was completed.
End of Part One
Why was a B-24J flying over France in the middle of the night on a top secret mission, would be a very good question. One that could have been be answered by a member of the 36th Bomb Squadron! However, it was a question that the answer you received, would not have answered your question. The required information maintained its top secret listing until the 1990’s. The following will supply some background information required, if you might decide you have to question the author’s conclusion. Please, re-research the following before contacting the author.
When first we got to Cheddington the thing they told us that we had to be completely aware of that (our) operation was absolutely TOP SECRET. We were not to divulge to anyone what kind of work we were in. We couldn’t send any word back home about what we were doing. If we ran into some of the other crews that we might have known in training in the states and they asked us what we were doing, to just tell them we were just flying like they were, and not divulge that we were in the counter radar top secret squadron. Page 146, Squadron of Deception : The 36th Bomb Squadron in World War II by Stephen M. Hutton.
On March 31 1944, after discovering what the English bomber streams were using to confuse their radars, which consisted of thin lengths of aluminum foil cut to match their radar’s search beam frequency. The British called the secret weapon, Window, while the Americans called it Chaff. When discovered, the Germans changed all their radar’s frequency to overcome the problem. That night, the Royal Air Force lost over ten percent of their bombers to German night fighter attacks. The losses were so great, the RAF stopped all missions until a solution could be found. To continue, would have meant there would have been no Royal Air Force Bomber Command left, in less than ten days. As fate would have it, that same day, the first aircraft from the American 36th Bomb Squadron (RCM – Radar Counter Measures) was transferred to the 100th Group, Royal Air Force. On the first mission, flown with the protection of the electronic counter measures provided by the radar jamming aircraft, the RAF lost no bombers.
The Lichtenstein radar was among the earliest airborne radars available to the Luftwaffe in World War II and the first one utilized exclusively in the air interception role. Developed by Telefunken, it was available in at least four major revisions, designated FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C, FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1, FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 and the very rarely used FuG 228 Lichtenstein SN-3. (FuG is short for Funk-Gerät, German Radio Set). The Lichtenstein series remained the only widely deployed airborne interception radar used by the Germans on their night fighters during the war — the competing FuG 216 through 218 Neptun mid-VHF band radar systems were meant as a potentially more versatile stopgap system through 1944, until the microwave-based FuG 240 Berlin could be mass-produced; the Berlin system was still in testing when the war ended.
German night fighters had a radar unit mounted on its nose, once it was vectored to the general area by the German ground radars, it could lock onto the British bomber on the darkest of nights. Normally, they would approach from below and behind and the British crews had no indication until their bomber was struck by the fighters fire. A detection unit was created, that would indicate they were being tracked, so they could attempt to evade. However the combination of ground radar control and the on-board targeting radar of the German night fighter was deadly. Just, as the same combination enabled Allied night fighters to over come German aircraft that flew at night.
(Note) As a former Air Force Radar Operator and a Nike Missile Fire Control Maintenance Man, this book provided a wealth of information, that was still secret when I served. Stephen’s father was in the squadron and during his research and squadron receptions, he interviewed many survivors and fleshes out the members of the squadron and their individual experiences. Stephen and I met, as he was completing his book, and on page 185 you will find this author’s name in connection to the installation of a memorial in France to 226, and her crew. Not far away, in the village cemetery of Cartigny, Department of the Somme, France, is the grave that started all of this for the author on Christmas Eve, 1991, when my friend and I were asked, to visit the grave of an Unknown American of WW-II. The Frenchman had been tending the grave for some years and he requested, that the author identify the grave, so the person within could be honored during the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.
On November 10 2000, this memorial was dedicated by the same audience that later dedicated the grave Memorial (below) later that day. The plaques memorialize a B-26 that later crashed near the memorial location, which is about 3/4 mile from the exact B-24J crash site, which is in a working field. The B-26, actually stuck the exact B-24J crash site, bounced over a electric line, bounced again and then slammed into the woods very close to this memorial. During the crash, the radar navigating unit broke loose, crushing two of the crew to death. The two pilots were awarded the Soldiers Medal for their action in removing the bodies from the burning wreckage. The author interviewed the two pilots and each told him, if we had not removed the bodies, we would have been stuck in the burning plane and died.
The bomber belonged to the 1st Pathfinder Squadron, on the day it crashed (January 22 1945), it marked the bridge over the Our River (Belgium) blocking thousands of Germans and vehicles on the west side of the river. It is documented as being the most successful day of the 9-AAF. They flew so low down the Valley of the Our to successfully mark the target. As they were marking the bridge, German anti-aircraft guns were firing down at them from the valley banks.
The lower left memorial plaque is to the Americans who were stationed in the Bois de Buirre, which is the woods behind the memorial. They participated in the drive to the east during WW-1, fighting with the Canadians, Australians and British. The American Bony WW-1 Cemetery is located about ten miles to the east. The lower right memorial plaque is to the 452nd Bombardment Group, as many French citizens, as did the author had, that the Lady Jeannette had crashed where the top secret B-24J had actually crashed.