Last Run for “Liberty Run”

 

– Tragedy over the clouds –

 

This story is dedicated to Lewis M. Walker, Joseph J. Doyle and Henry C. Mathis Jr.

On September 13, 1944, while Patton’s Troubleshooters were battling it out at the Moselle River in France, another battle was taking place.  Those of you who have read the story about the battle which occurred near the village of Grossenritte, Germany between Red Devil tankers and a German flak crew, will remember there was a mention of a downed Allied aircraft which crashed nearby.  No one from the area seemed to know much about this bomber.  The dead crewmen were extracted from the wreckage and buried in the nearby Civilian Protestant Cemetery of Gudensberg.  The war progressed, and this bomber and it’s crew seemed to be forgotten in the turmoil.  However, some people didn’t forget.  Some German civilians continued to visit and care for these graves.  The average German civilian had reason to hate bomber crews.  Many German cities were levelled, and countless lives were lost.  However, in spite of this, the graves of these “unknown” bomber crewmen are treated with honor.

 

 

The “Liberty Run” with another crew, just sixteen days before it’s fateful flight.

 

(Rear L-R) 2nd Lt. Donald B. Beers, 1st Lt. Lewis M. Walker, 2nd Lt. Joseph J. Doyle, 2nd Lt. Abraham Wodinsky (Front L-R) T/Sgt Albert J. Lunday, S/Sgt Arthur C. Reckert, S/Sgt Walter L. Hundley, S/Sgt Henry C. Mathis, Jr., T/Sgt James W. Sublett, unknown

 

For those who haven’t read the Grossenritte story, I quote:

 

“September 13th, 1944: the flak batteries in Grossenritte shot down a bomber.  The aircraft crashed in a forest near Besse. Three men of the crew were rescued; five were dead (this was incorrect). Of this incident, a resident writes, ”I asked my dad if he remembered something about the bomber which was shot down September 13th, 1944. He told me, that several engines of the plane and the plane itself were damaged and it was flying very low and slowly. Residents of the village and my dad came to see what happened there, because the low flying bomber and all the flak guns were very loud. He said, that every gun from the flak batteries opened fire of this bomber. The plane lost several parts and crashed into a forest near Besse, 3 Kilometers away. Residents of the surrounding villages of the crash area ran to the wreck and rescued some of the crewmembers. The wreck was laying there for some years afterward.” RAF records do not record any raids on Kassel for this date, so speculation is that this downed bomber was American.”

 

This mystery airplane fascinated my new German friend and myself. Together, we did some more digging, and found the answers. At least what we thought was the correct answers. Later new facts came to light, and thanks to a nice phone call from Carl V. Nielsen, former navigator of the downed plane, who had read the story here; it would be now possible to write the true story of “Liberty Run’s” last mission. Thanks also to Larry C. Mathis, son of the former crewmember Henry C. Mathis Jr., who sent us very important information. This article includes also true background information from different sources. Today, some of it is hard to believe.

 

This article based also on old official American-German documents, witness reports of people who were involved and reports of former crewmembers of the “Liberty Run”.

 

On September 13th, 1944, while Patton’s Troubleshooters were battling it out at the Moselle River in France, other battles were taking place.

 

From September 11th until September 13th, the 8th Air Force flew raids against different targets in Germany.  The result was many heavy air battles in Central Germany.  Many American and German pilots and aircraft were downed and a lot of pilots and crews never saw their home base again.

 

(Note: For the German Luftwaffe, these three days were a disaster. With less fuel and only some groups of fighter planes, they had no chance to stop the bomber fleets. The German fighter planes hardly arrived the near the American bombers, and they were attacked by the bomber escort, Mustang long distance fighter planes.  For the German pilots, these were nearly suicide missions.  From September 11th until September 13th, they lost 160 fighter planes and 117 pilots.  In the last months of WWII, the battles in the sky got progressively worse for them.  In mid 1944, most of the top German fighter aces had been killed or became prisoners of war, so they sent young pilots with less experience in combat into the battle.  It was reported that these young pilots flew very aggressively, but with less combat experience and fuel limited, they couldn’t match the well-trained American Mustang pilots).

 

On September 13th, the 8th Air Force sent 854 bombers on the way to Germany.  Targets were the synthetic oil plants in Leuna and Luetzkendorf in the Merseburg area.  The Merseburg area was well protected by nearly 500 flak cannons.  In use were 88 mm, 105 mm and mighty 125 mm cannons.  Pilots were talking about the ”flak hell Leuna”.  On this windy, clear September day in 1944, a B-17 aircraft and its crew were on the way to fly into American-German history.  B-17 G, Serial Number 44-6076, otherwise known as “Liberty Run”, was an aircraft of the 359th Bomber Squadron “Hell’s Angels”, 303rd Bomber Group, 1st Division, 8th Air Force.

 

On September 13th, crewmembers of “Liberty Run” were:

 

1st Lt. Lewis M. Walker- completed 30 combat missions

2nd Lt. Joseph J. Doyle- completed 31 combat missions

1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen- completed 31 combat missions

2nd Lt. Donald B. Beers- completed 26 combat missions

T/Sgt Albert J. Lunday- completed 29 combat missions

T/Sgt James W. Sublett- completed 23 combat missions

S/Sgt Walter L. Hundley- completed 24 combat missions

S/Sgt Henry C. Mathis Jr.- completed 28 combat missions

S/Sgt Arthur L. Reckert- completed 28 combat missions

 

Lt. Walker’s crew was an old combat crew. They used various B-17’s on their missions. Their first aircraft was the “Scorchy II”; their latest was the “Liberty Run”.

Sorchy II

 

The Navigator, 1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen joined the US Air Force in 1942 and was temporary on this mission.  His original crew (Robert Moreman’s crew) was the ”Queenie-crew”, because the name of their aircraft was ”Queen of hearts”.  With his crew, he flew 16 missions.  He flew another 8 missions with other pilots.  This was the only mission he flew with Walker’s crew.  Nielsen remembered that 1st Lt. Lewis Walker wore insignia indicating that he had flown for the British RAF prior to flying for the 303rd.  Actually, on that day, Liberty Run wasn’t flying with it’s own unit, but as part of a composite group made up mostly of the 384th Bomber Group flying out of Grafton-Underwood, England.  The target was the Leuna synthetic oil plant near Merseburg, Germany.  The bombers were protected by their “Little Friends”.  These were groups of P-51 Mustang fighter planes. “Liberty Run” was flying “Lead”, “High Group”, and “High Squadron” in the formation at 28,000 feet.  492 flak cannons in the Merseburg area, and 130 fighter planes of the German Luftwaffe from several bases were waiting for them. “Liberty Run” was on a heading of 330 degrees into a strong wind with no clouds.  Their wingmen were planes of the 384th.  On the way, they encountered a lot of flak.  Suddenly, the plane to their left blew up.  Ironically, and miraculously, that plane’s pilot, a man by the name of Canyon would end up in the same German prison camp as the “Liberty Run’s” navigator, Carl V. Nielsen.  Other planes were also hit. Flak fire was heavy and precise. Suddenly, shells hit ”Liberty Run”.

 

1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen

 

According to the official American report: “… B-17 G “Liberty Run” was hit by flak over Merseburg. One propeller was seen to be feathered, and then the aircraft caught fire, pulled off to the right and then went into a vertical dive, apparently out of control. The aircraft was last seen at 11:18 at 27,000 feet…”

 

Another document reports: ”… the aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire over Merseburg/Germany, one engine was feathered, and that when last seen it was completely enveloped in flames and was in a vertical dive out of control…” According to Nielsen, the #3 engine caught fire.

 

The 26-year-old pilot, 1st Lt. Lewis M. Walker and his also 26-year-old co-pilot 2nd Lt. Joseph J. Doyle, put the plane into a steep dive in an attempt to extinguish the flames on the engine. The plane dove a minimum of 3,000–4,000 feet before the flames went out.

 

At 11:18, no one of the crew would know that everything would be over in 50 minutes.

 

Navigator Nielsen gave the pilot a southwest course to France where they could reach American lines and not have to bail out over enemy territory.  In 1944, Germany was a bad place for downed allied bomber crews.  Then things got worse, much worse.  The second engine failed.  A few minutes later, the third engine stopped running.  On the left wing, oil and fuel lines were damaged.  A P-51 Mustang fighter plane got the order to escort ”Liberty Run”.  It was around 11:45 am.  The Mustang escorted the bomber for the next 15 minutes.  The situation was drastic, but “Liberty Run” was still flying.  The crew began to throw all loose equipment out of the aircraft, to reduce the weight. “Liberty Run” lost more and more speed and altitude.  They continued another 95 miles or so, ascending and limping along on one engine down to about 2,000 feet.  Hundley saw Walker and Doyle at the controls fighting to keep the plane in the air.  Nielsen, anticipating that they might have to bail out, took off his insulated flight boots and put on his shoes.  Around 11:55 am, “Liberty Run” passed the town of Kassel.  The B-17 was sighted from a young woman who was working in this town, outside, on the top of a house.  She saw the aircraft and a lot of smoke behind it, moving slowly at a low altitude, with one wing up and the other down.  Then she heard a sound like thunder, a flak unit opened fire.

 

German Luftwaffe Anti-Aircraft “Flak” Crew

 

Around noon, near the village of Grossenritte, a few Kilometers southwest of Kassel, a heavy flak unit of the group ”Kurhessen” with twelve 88 mm, 105 mm, 125 mm cannons and several automatic AA-machineguns for closer range, had detected “Liberty Run” and pointed their guns at it.  This unit had the mission to protect the nearby important Henschel aircraft-engine-factory where Daimler-Benz aircraft engines for the German Luftwaffe were produced.  It was also a part of the flak ring of Kassel. (Note: Kassel had a flak ring from more then 200 heavy cannons, but these units could never completely stop the allied bomber fleets.  If British bombers arrived in the night, all units opened fire on them.  The smaller AA-machinegun units on the top of the buildings sent their bullets way up into the sky, but the soldiers knew that they could not hit the targets; the altitude of the bombers was too high.  The former flak soldiers reported that this was good for the morale of the residents, if they saw the tracer ammunition in the dark sky and heard the thunder of the bigger cannons.  Night fighters shot down most of the bombers in night-time raids who were lost over this territory).

 

The unit near the village Grossenritte was not placed on the nearby hilltop, so it was hard to detect by any aircraft.  Some of the soldiers behind the guns were in their teens and went to school.  As the soldiers of this unit detected the “Liberty Run” they must have thought about Kassel, which was destroyed by British bombers and mighty firestorms a year earlier.  In October 1943, more than 10,000 residents of this town were killed, (Note: nearly all of them were civilian); thousands were wounded, and many residents of this town lost their homes.  The survivors never forgot this terrible night.  (Note: British bombers came mostly in the night and dropped their bombs and air-mines very often on the city centers.  They blew the top of the houses away with mines and bombs and burned the rest with firebombs to ashes.  With this bombing, they tried to break the morale of the residents and factory-workers.  The British RAF called it “morale bombing”, but these are only other words for “area bombing” and it was terrible for the area residents.  They also destroyed the Edertalsperre, a big dam a few Kilometers west of Kassel, in May 1943.  160,000,000 cm3 of water destroyed and damaged villages and houses, taking lives all along the rivers.  The British felt that the German bombing of London during the Battle of Britain justified this action against civilian targets.  American leaders argued against the idea, but the British persisted.  American bombers attacked mostly in the daytime and tried to hit more or less strategic targets like factories, railroad stations, airports or other military targets.  Very often, clouds covered the targets, strong winds were blowing, or navigation errors happened and the bombs missed the factories and hit the villages, forests, meadows or fields near the bigger towns.)

 

In the following months, Allied bombers attacked Kassel again and again. (Note: The first raid against this town was in June 1940, the last in March 1945. Allied bombers flew 40 missions with more than 6,600 bombers against this town. They dropped 18,000 tons of all kind of bombs and mines on this city).  Now, here was a big chance for the Grossenritte flak crew to down one of these aircraft. (Note: Some of the residents of the surrounding villages thought that this aircraft had come from a raid against Kassel, but no one of Walker’s crew ever did fly a mission against this town).

 

Lt. Beers called the Pilot and told him to fly around this village, because he had located several flak guns nearby, but it was too late, they were detected.  “Liberty Run” passed very closely this flak unit and the tragedy began.

 

Suddenly, unbelievable loud thunder fills the air as all weapons of this Grossenritte flak unit opened fire on the aircraft and filled the air with bullets, shells, red-hot steel and dark flak clouds.  Residents of this village arrived at the flak area to see what was going on and what happened next.  Bullets found their way into the aircraft.  The co-pilot Lt. Doyle was hit by a bullet in his head and was killed. Other bullets damaged the parachute of S/SGT Henry C. Mathis Jr.  The aircraft got shaken by the nearby explosion of the flak shells and was dancing up and down.  Meanwhile, the Plexiglas nose was completely destroyed, 3–4 feet of the left wing tip was shot off and the horizontal stabilizer (tail assembly) had been riddled.  It was 12:07, and the end was coming very soon.  Suddenly the plane went into a left spin.  According to German eyewitnesses: ”The bomber flew very slowly, like in slow motion and came from the direction of Kassel at a low altitude.  The plane was not sighted earlier, and suddenly it was there.  The flak crews were also surprised.  They had to estimate very quickly the distance, speed and altitude of the plane before it was too late.  In the beginning of the battle, the twelve cannons missed the plane again and again.  The flak crews fired the guns as fast as possible to down the aircraft and the sky around the plane was full of black flak clouds.”  The people, who saw this, said that the plane had a good chance to escape.  In the very last moment, before “Liberty Run” disappeared behind the hills and forests, it got hit terribly.

 

Ironically, if the plane would have escaped behind the hills and followed its southwest course, it would have passed the town of Fritzlar, which is not far away from the crash area.  Fritzlar had an air base in 1944.  The Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 had fighter planes on the airport of Fritzlar in 1944. “Liberty Run” had never had a real chance to reach France with three damaged engines.  The fact that they were at such a low altitude was all that prevented them from being picked up on German radar.  At the same time, officials of the nearby town Gudensberg got the note that a burning aircraft was sighted not far away.  There was also a note sent to the Luftwaffen-Office-Command of the airport Kassel-Rothwesten, but the Ortsgruppenleiter of Gudensberg got the information too.  A wing was blown off of the plane and “Liberty Run” began to rotate on its axis.  Navigator Nielsen knew that all was lost, and got on the intercom and told the crew “We need to get out of here!”.  At this point, they were roughly seven miles southwest of Kassel.  There was no response from the ”office”, the flight deck where the pilot and co-pilot were located.  No warning lights, or any response.  Meanwhile, the aircraft was riddled with holes and on fire.  The fire was rapidly spreading and the aircraft was at a very low altitude.  Henry C. Mathis Jr., Walter L. Hundley, Albert J. Lunday and James W. Sublett opened the large door of the waist section to bail out.  Arthur L. Reckert’s exit was a door in the tail section.  They all bailed out with parachutes.

 

The engineer James W. Sublett, whose station was close behind the pilot, was also on the way to bail out.  The pilot Lewis M. Walker tried to follow him.  Sublett bailed out successfully and got hurt as he hit the ground.  Walker, evidently, had no time to bail out and went down with the plane. Sublett thought, that he was the last crewmember who bailed out successfully.  He did not know that Nielsen and Beers had not bailed out.  Both were cut off from the rest of the crew in their forward compartment.  At 200 feet, 1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen and 2nd Lt. Bombardier Lt. Donald B. Beers hit the emergency release for the escape hatch in the nose, behind the #2 engine.  The door didn’t open.  They forced it open.  Both men jumped as one.  Nielsen’s ripcord failed, and a second attempt got his chute open.  No sooner had the canopy opened and he was hitting the trees of the forest below him.  The time was so short that he never saw anyone else from the plane, just tumbling, parachute, and trees.  Nearly the ground, the sound of a huge explosion fills the air and blew “Liberty Run” into a lot of pieces.  The front of the aircraft with Walker and Doyle in the ”office” hits the edge of a wood north of the road from Besse-Metze and made two craters (a smaller one and an bigger one) in the ground.  Wings, engines and much more hit the swampy forest and a meadow south of the road Besse-Metze 150 meters away.  Parts of the aircraft were also hanging in the trees.

 

According to an American document: “… Evidently Lt. Walker was unable to clear the enflamed aircraft and remained in it until it crashed.  The bomber exploded in mid-air shortly before crashing into the forest engulfing Lt. Walker in its flames….”.  From Grossenritte a group of soldiers and some civilians were on the way to this place, not knowing how dangerous the whole situation was.  They were really careful, because they thought that the crewmembers that bailed out were waiting for them with guns in the woods.  They were the very first people who arrived, but they saw no members of the crew or other German soldiers.  Residents of the surrounding villages and the town of Gudensberg were also on the way.  A witness from Grossenritte told later about the burning and smoking wreck.  The B-17 was blown up into a lot of pieces. Parts of the aircraft were found over a huge area.

 

Forester’s House depicted above

 

After the 22-year-old Henry C. Mathis Jr. bailed out, he tried to open his parachute, but nothing happened.  His chute did not open.  Bullets damaged his chute as “Liberty Run” flew over the flak unit minutes before.  When they found him, he had the release ring of the parachute still in his hand.  He was found dead in a meadow.  He stuck vertically deep in the mud up to his shoulders; nearly all his bones were broken.  Joseph J. Doyle was also found dead.  He was covered by parts of the wreckage.  His body was bruised, burned and most bones were broken.  Civilians from Gudensberg found them.  The body of the pilot Lewis M. Walker was not located.  Meanwhile, the Ortsgruppenleiter from Gudensberg arrived.  In the area of the wreck, four polish fieldworkers were working.  They were witnesses as the aircraft crashed and the crew bailed out, but they saw more unbelievable things…

 

One of the workers, Mr. Czopek reported after the war to American Military officials: ”When they (the Polish workers) were in the forest, the Ortsgruppenleiter from Gudensberg came there.  …He wanted to kill them all (the downed airmen).  …The three Poles told me, what the Ortsgruppenleiter with the dead bodies had done (to Doyle and Mathis).  He kicked and treaded on the bodies and afterward he ordered the Poles to bury them in the rubbish heap by the cemetery of Gudensberg, where all sweepings were gathered.  Their Russian laborers did this work of burying the bodies.  A German Policeman guarded this work and on the order of him all items belonging to them were taken off.  They were buried in linen only.  All things, such as the uniform, leather, watches, chains with crosses, rings from hands, serial numbers identity card were taken with the policeman.  (Note: Personal effects of Mathis and Doyle were turned over to the office Command at the airport Kassel-Rothwesten.  Doyle’s dog tag was found in his watch pocket) …I will add that the Ortsgruppenleiter treated all foreign workers very bad and he beats us at every occasion.  For example, he had beaten me, because on Palm Sunday he met me when I went to the church.  On his orders we all were beaten and we were ill-treated”.   As American troops captured Gudensberg in the spring of 1945, the Ortsgruppenleiter ran away.

 

The Buergermeister of Gudensberg had taken the wristwatch of Mathis.  He sent the item to the Luftwaffe Office Command of the airport Kassel-Rothwesten.  He informed the Command, that the two dead airmen were buried in their churchyard on September 15th.  Henry C. Mathis Jr. was buried in grave No. 2 and Joseph J. Doyle in No. 3.  Grave No. 1 was the final resting-place of the 19-year-old polish soldier Henry Betiuch, who was buried there few weeks before. (Note: The grave of the polish soldier, former grave No. 1, is still there and in a fine condition.) A plan of the situation of the churchyard had already been handed to the salvage-officer.

 

Grave of Henry Betiuch

 

After the war, the Buergermeister gave a statement. He reported:

 

”… Buergermeister of Gudensberg since 1922, states on the 13 September 1944, I arranged for the burial of two American Flyers who were found dead and brought to me. I supplied rugs to be used as shrouds for the burial.  The deceased were buried in the civilian cemetery at Gudensberg, Germany.  I also state, that I turned over to the German Authorities a wristwatch belonging to one of the deceased – Mathis, Henry.  The other deceased was believed to be a man by the name of Doyle…“  In May 1945, both graves were open by US Army officials for the first time for a post-mortem examination of the bodies.  After the body of Doyle was exhumed, a bullet hole in the base of his skull was detected.  The post-mortem examination was repeated in January 1946.  At the same time, both bodies were put into coffins.  (Note: After the war, soldiers of the US Army visited the cemeteries of the villages and towns of Germany, tried to locate graves of American soldiers, exhumed them and brought them away.  After a request to town officials of a nearby town, they were told what happened in the cemeteries in those days.  Very often, colored soldiers of the US Army were made to do the job of exhumation, but former Nazis were also made to help them.  They took the bodies into boxes and bags, loaded everything on trucks and drove away.  Later, the empty trucks came back).  In February 1946, Joseph J. Doyle was exhumed again and was temporarily buried in St. Avold, Metz, France (Plot PP, Row 9, and Grave 97) again.  He was later re-interred to the permanent cemetery at St. Avold, France (Plot A, Row 14, and Grave 57).

 

Grave of 2nd Lt. Joseph J. Doyle

 

In February 1946, Henry C. Mathis was also exhumed again and was temporarily buried in St. Avold, Metz, France (Plot PP, Row 7, and Grave 84) again. In the summer of 1948, after another exhumation, Henry C. Mathis was buried in the Macedonia cemetery, 12 miles from Pell City, Alabama.

 

Final Grave of Henry C. Mathis

 

Hand-drawn Map of the Gudensberg Cemetery

 

Location of the original burial sites for Doyle and Mathis

 

After Hundley landed with his chute, he lost consciousness.  15 minutes later, he woke up on the ground, covered by his chute.  Nearby, were two crewmembers from the aircraft; Albert J. Lunday and Arthur Reckert.  They thought that he was dead, because he had not moved during the last few minutes.  They went to a hill in the forest to find a hiding-place.  For Hundley, it was very painful, because he broke the knuckle of his toe.  He took his suspenders off and wound it tight around his leg and foot.  From their hiding place, they could see a farmhouse and a village.  They were full of fear of getting caught by the German Army.  The downed airmen must have also heard the shots not far away from the hiding place in the woods, so they stayed hidden a long time in the forest.  They hid in this area until Sept. 27th.  During these two weeks, they ate only raw potatoes, kohlrabi and fruits.  They could not stand it any longer in the forest, so they went to the nearby village of Besse to surrender.  On the way to Besse, polish field workers were waving with their hands to them and they were waving back to them, but the residents from the village ignored them completely!  They went to the other side of this village, where the farmers put the harvested potatoes.  They hid out another night in the forest and would try to surrender again the following day.

 

Village Of Besse As Seen From Crash Area Roughly 2km Away

 

The next day, they went to the village Metze on the other side of the forest.  They talked to a polish worker.  He brought them to the Buergermeister of Metze.  In the beginning of the conversation, they did not believe that the airmen were from that downed aircraft. The residents did not see any parachutes, so they thought that there must have been no survivors. After they rummaged through their clothing and asked several questions, they fed the men potato-soup, bread and milk. Hundley said that it was good to be among people again who meant well.

 

Home of the Buergermeister of Metze

 

They were waiting in a barn, until they were brought away by two German soldiers in a car.  The soldiers brought them to an army-barracks.  Then they traveled by train in a freight car to Wetzlar.  From there, they traveled to a camp named Stalag Luft IV near Grosstychow, in Pommern.  They arrived there Oct. 10th.  Here, they stayed in Stalag Luft IV until Feb. 5th, 1945.  Then they told the men that they would take them to a bigger camp, three days away – but this camp did not exist.  For the POWs, a terrible 87-day forced march began.  On this march, their own fighter planes attacked them, because they did not know that they were Americans too.  They were marching away from the nearing Russian Army, heading west.  To make things worse, the winter was very bitter.  Sometimes, they slept in barns, sometimes under the stars on fields.  After 87 days and around 600 miles, the march was over.  Near the town of Uelzen (Note: not far away from the town Hanover in North-Central Germany), the British 2nd Army, 6th Armored Division, liberated the POWs.  This march was a real hard thing on the men.

 

Red Cross Map Showing The Route Of March Of The POW’s

 

James W. Sublett had escaped after landing.  He was captured September 20th near the town of Siegen.  Beers had landed on the ground but Nielsen landed approximately 25 feet above the ground in a treetop.  Nielsen told that, as he hung helpless from the tree that had caught his parachute, a German (the Ortsgruppenleiter from Gudensberg) appeared just below him, and emptied his pistol in an attempt to kill Nielsen.  Fortunately, the German’s marksmanship was poor and he missed.  A polish fieldworker reported later, that he saw the Ortsgruppenleiter standing under a tree where a man was hanging with his chute.  The man had blood on his face.  He reported also, that the Ortsgruppenleiter had a gun in his hand and that he had fired two shots in the forest.  Meanwhile, Major Rohde with his search and rescue team from the airport Kassel-Rothwesten arrived and stopped the shooting by the Ortsgruppenleiter.  A long pole was acquired and used to push Nielsen towards the tree-trunk so he could get down.  The polish workers were helping to bring Nielsen to the ground.  The Germans took him to the edge of the forest and there at the side of the road stood Beers.  He had been captured as well.  Placed into the backseat of a Volkswagen, they were driven to a huge police station in Kassel-Niederzwehren, Frankfurterstrasse and placed in a jail.  The station was one of the main police-headquarters in Kassel.  The ”1./Pol.-Wachbatl. IX” was stationed there.

 

2nd Lt. Donald B. Beers Prison ID Card

 

1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen’s Prison ID Card

 

The following items were taken from Beers and Nielsen:

 

Parts of throat microphone, 2 bags of food, 2 locked bags with the letter ”F” painted on them, 1 lighter, 1 money-bag which contained the following items: 5 parts of identifications cards with the name Carl. V. Nielsen, 5 amateur pictures, Liv. Sterl. 14– in banknotes, Liv. Sterl. 10– in banknotes, 4 Half Crown in coins, 1 Shilling in a coin.  They did not take away the cigarettes from Beers and Nielsen.  Major Rohde from the air base Rothwesten had taken the wristwatches from them.  In the crash area, 3 parachutes and 2 flying suits were also located.  A few hours later, P-51 Fighter Pilot David Malcolm Fry joined them in the Kassel jail.  He had been flying escort for “Liberty Run’s” mission.  He was shot down at 1300 hours near the village Berndshausen, few Kilometers south of Kassel.  

 

The story of Lt. Fry – an eyewitness report was written by the German researcher Mr. Rudolph in 1992:

 

”I went to school in Sippershausen near Berndshausen on that day.  Suddenly, we heard the loud howling of aircraft engines, then the sound of machine guns.  We would run to the classroom window, tried to see anything, but the teacher forced us back, it was too dangerous.  Sure, this was O.K., but we would like to see what was going on outside…  As the lessons were over, we heard about an American fighter plane that was shot down near the village Berndshausen.  Some men from the Landwacht of the village Dickershausen were on the way to a place call Schellenberg to arrest the pilot who bailed out with his chute.  We followed them, to see what happened next.  The soldiers from the Landwacht came too late.  Mr. Bubenhain from the village Ostheim, an overseer from a group of foreign field workers had saved the pilot and brought him to the village Berndshausen in a room of the guesthouse Ruebekoenig.  Some people from this village were playing with the idea to make worse things for this pilot, but the overseer, Mr. Bubenhain protected Lt. Fry from these kinds of people.  From this place, they made a phone-call to the airport Fritzlar and told them about that downed pilot.  Soldiers from the airport came and brought Lt. Fry away.”

 

(Note: In the last months of WWII, the German Luftwaffe was very weak and the planes didn’t have enough fuel to protect the territories.  In those days, groups of American fighter planes and fighter-bomber flew raids against smaller villages, bombed the houses of the residents and attacked civilians who worked on the fields.  This was one of the reasons, why some of the residents were not so friendly with downed Allied pilots if something like that happened in the surrounding area).

 

Fry was arrested in the same jail as Nielsen and Beers.  Fry told the researcher in 1986, that he was a very frightened, downed young pilot, 42 years ago.  His aircraft was a P-51 Mustang.  The plane had the name ”Julia”.  The name was painted in big letters on front of the plane.  It was the name of his girlfriend.  David M. Fry was recalled by the Air Force in 1949 and began to see the world.  In 1977, he retired, as a Lt. Col.  His last station was Aviano, Italy.

 

Lt. Fry’s “Julia” with her Crew Chief

 

Some notes about Lt. Fry: He was a pilot of the 55th Fighter Group, 343rd Fighter Squadron.  Plane Serial Number: 44-13374, Type: P-51D, Squad: 343, A/C: CY-D, Pilot: Fry, Rank Given Name: Lt. David M., Markings: Julia, Comments: Lost in this a/c 13. Sept. 44 – POW.

 

On September 14th, between 2300 and 2400 hours in the night, they brought all three downed airmen away.  They were loaded into a German truck.  Fry suggested to Nielsen that they overpower the guard and steal the truck to attempt escape.  The German guard turned to them and in perfect English, said, ”I wouldn’t try that, if I were you.”  Fry and Nielsen were shocked that the guard had understood them.  They were taken to Giessen, Germany where they would spend the night in the railroad station on its terrazzo-tile floor.  Nielsen remembered that while at the Giessen railroad station, a German troop-train arrived.  A very large German soldier got off the train, and for reasons unknown, picked Lt. Donald Beers out of the crowd of prisoners, and beat him soundly.  From there, the men were taken to Oberursel, Germany to an interrogation center.  As part of a group of about 40 prisoners, they were led to the facility through the streets, where German civilians spit on them and yelled at them.  They were gathered in a small room together.  They assumed that the room was bugged, so they did not talk.  Here he was placed in solitary confinement for a couple days.  He was then taken to a room where a German officer interrogated him.  Along the walls were hung many American items.  The German officer spoke fluent English, and informed Nielsen that he had been educated at Ohio State University.  The officer asked Nielsen about fifty questions, and only got ”name, rank and serial number” for an answer.  Among some items lying on the German’s desk was a US flight navigator’s computer.  Nielsen picked it up and idly began spinning its dials.  The German officer smiled, and said, ”Ah, you are a navigator.”  He knew this because only a navigator would likely know what this device was.  The German pulled out a big, light-blue colored book.  On the cover was the insignia for the 303rd Bomber Group.  The German began quoting facts about Nielsen’s unit.  Then he said something that astounded Nielsen.  The officer said, ”Oh, Captain Heller is coming back.”  Heller had been absent from the 303rd, and even the men of the 303rd Bomber Group were not aware that he was scheduled to return.  This revealed a very high level of German intelligence of American activities.

 

Crater of where part of Liberty Run had crashed

 

Nielsen was taken to a transient camp at Wetzlar, Germany, the town where Leica cameras were made.  Nielsen was placed on a train and sent to Stalag Luft I in the town Barth (Note: located northeast from the town Rostock), at the Baltic Sea.  Again, he was with Lt. David Malcolm Fry, the P-51 pilot.  It was at this Stalag where he met the 384th Bomber Squadron pilot whose plane had blown up just before “Liberty Run’s” engine caught fire.  (Note: Stalag Luft I was a special prison for fliers.  They treated these POWs better than POWs in the other camps.  It was a rule.)

 

Nielsen was not to see any of the “Liberty Run’s” crew until after war’s end when he later met Hundley at a reunion.  However, 2nd Lt. Donald B. Beers ended up at Stalag Luft I himself, unbeknownst to Nielsen.  In May 1st 1945, the German Army left this place.  Russian troops over-ran Stalag Luft I and liberated the airmen.  From May 12th until May 14th, 1945, the 8th Air Force secured special permission to land in Russian-held territory to fly Nielsen and the others back to American hands.

 

Official Report Of Lt Walker’s Death

 

As reported, Lt. Walker was MIA. After the war, the American Army visited all cemeteries of the surrounding villages near the former crash area, and tried to locate Walker’s grave.  They had no success.  In 1949 a special US Army team visited the crash area again.  They checked the two plane craters.  The team found pieces of the aircraft wreckage, several bone fragments and two machine guns, no dog tags.  The serial numbers of the guns shows that they were installed in the “Liberty Run”.  Meanwhile, the bone fragments were temporarily buried as “unknown” as X-8075 in the US Military cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium, Plot JJ, Row 10 and Grave 241.  After the serial number from the guns were known, they knew that X-8075 was 1st Lt. Lewis M. Walker.  He was exhumed in the same year and was buried in the Reese Cemetery (Battle Creek Township), Battle Creek, Michigan.  A local researcher got the information from a former German soldier, that the crash area was visited again, now by the German Army, in the 1970s.  Today, nobody knows what the soldiers located deep in the ground or what they tried to find.  They may have been searching for unexploded munitions.  30 years after the ending of WWII, the mission of 44-6076 “Liberty Run” was finally over.

 

 

Decorations and Awards of Lewis M. Walker:

Purple Heart, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, WWII Victory Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, Distinguished Flying Cross, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star.

 

Decorations and Awards of Joseph J. Doyle:

Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, WWII Victory Medal

 

Decorations and Awards of Henry C. Mathis Jr.:

Purple Heart, WWII Victory Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star.

 

Casualty Report For The Liberty Run

 

A long time after the war, a man with the name Keith Ferris got an order from the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution to paint an 8 m x 25 m picture.  The painting was to show a typical WWII B-17 Bomb Group in action.  So, he painted the following situation: “303rd Bomb Group over Germany. Date: 15 August 1944, at 11:45 hours.”  On this date, German fighter planes of the Jagdgeschwader 300 attacked the 303rd Bomb Group.  One of the painted B-17s was an aircraft with the name “Special Delivery”.  On Aug. 15th, Lt. Lewis M. Walker and his crew flew a combat mission in this aircraft, 4 weeks before they were downed with “Liberty Run”.  In the Smithsonian Institution, Lt. Walker and his crew will still be flying forever…

 

Liberty Run On August 27, 1944 Just After “Bombs Away” Over Esbjerg, Denmark

 

This mystery airplane fascinated both myself, and my new German friend.  Together, we did some digging, and found the answers.   At long last, the full story of Liberty Run’s last mission has been told.  I thought it ironic that this airplane from the “Hell’s Angels” was shot down by the same flak unit which later did battle with the 702nd Tank Battalion’s “Red Devils”.  The above story was pieced together from numerous sources.  My thanks to my German friend and co-author; without you this story would still be a mystery.  Thanks also to former 1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen, Navigator of “Liberty Run”, Harry D. Gobrecht, Historian, 303rd Bomb Group Association and to the many others who helped piece this story together.  It is my sincere hope that this may help the families of these American airmen know what happened to these men, and bring closure to this mystery. 

 

8th U.S. Army Air Force Patch

 

Specifications Of The B-17G Flying Fortress

 

Henry C. Mathis, Jr. March 1944

 

Forest where Liberty Run Crashed

 

Forest where Liberty Run Crashed

 

Forest where Liberty Run Crashed

 

Forest where Liberty Run Crashed

 

View From The Former Flak Battery Area

 

The Village of Metze

 

2nd Lt. Donald B. Beers

 

2nd Lt. Joseph J. Doyle

 

Former S/Sgt Walter L. Hundley

 

Statement Of Former S/Sgt Walter L. Hundley

 

1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen

 

Former 1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen

 

S/Sgt Henry C. Mathis, Jr.

 

S/Sgt Henry C. Mathis, Jr.

 

1st Lt. Lewis M. Walker

 

T/Sgt James W. Sublett

 

Lt. David M. Fry

 

The Town Of Berndshausen Where Lt. Fry Was Taken

 

Guesthouse Ruebekoenig Where Lt. Fry Was Held Briefly In Berndshausen

 

Liberty Run’s Nose Art

 

Lt. Nielsen’s Regularly Assigned Plane-“Queen Of Hearts”

 

Queen Of Heart’s Crew, Including Lt. Nielsen

 

Wartime USAAF Victory Poster

 

The following photos courtesy of Mr. Schmeising, Mgr. of the local research group of the town of Gudensberg, Germany.  Our thanks to Mr. Schmeising!

 

 

Soldiers and High School boys in the Grossenritte Flak unit in the Summer of 1944.  Unteroffizier Bierwagen was one of the defenders who tried to stop the Americans (80th Infantry with the 702nd Tank Battalion in the lead-B Co. Lt. Slim Rives Platoon) with a handful of other young soldiers Easter 1945.  Unteroffizier Bierwagen and a few others got killed in the last battle of this unit.  They tried to stop the American advance with two flak cannons placed on the road with the barrels lowered.

 

15 Year Old High School Boys, members of the Grossenritte Flak Unit from the Summer of 1944 to Easter 1945.  A former flak soldier in this photo remembered the day they downed the American B-17 “Liberty Run”.  There was no order from the Luftwaffe High Command to down “Liberty Run”.  The order came from the commander of the Grossenritte Flak Unit, so they opened fire.  In other words, a “target of opportunity”.

 

 

 

Henry C. Mathis Jr., standing in front of his barracks in England, 1944.

Henry died in a meadow near the village of Besse, Germany after his parachute failed.

Photo courtesy of his sister.

 

Lt. David Fry-Fighter Pilot, shot down along with the Liberty Run

 

Former fighter pilot David M. Fry with his family (circa late 1980’s).

 

Thanks to a friend in Germany, we have the following photos.

Photos either copyrighted by, or courtesy of Konrad Rudolph.

 

Pilot briefing at Fritzlar airport, April 1945.  Major Peterson, Commander of the 506th Squadron gave orders to his pilots, for a mission against a target in the area of the town of Leipzig in the eastern part of Germany.  A few days before, the commanding officers of the German night-fighter groups gave orders to their pilots in the same room.

 

Soldiers of the 1st Company, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Division in a German foxhole near the Fritzlar airfield, April 1945.

 

P-47 Thunderbolts of the 404th fighter group at Fritzlar airport, April 1945.

 

Fritzlar airfield in April 1945; the new forward base for two groups of Thunderbolts (around 120 a/c) for few weeks.

 

GI’s examine a secret German night-fighter.

 

Three pilots of the 404th fighter group in front of a German night-fighter, April 1945.

L to R.: Lt. Greffenics, Lt. Gorham, Maj. Hodges.

 

Marlene Dietrich was a visitor to the Fritzlar airport.

She tried to locate lost family members in the area, Spring 1945.

 

General Eisenhower on Fritzlar airport.

He was on his way to the Headquarters of the 12th Army in the nearby town of Bad Wildungen.

In the back, L. to R. Col. Hood and Lt. Col. Murphy.

 

The US High Command in Fritzlar:

General Vandenberg, Commander 9th USAF, General Bradley, Commander of the 1st US Army Group, General Spaatz, Commander 8th USAF

 

May 17th, 1945, Marshall Koniev, Commander of the Soviet Ukrainian Army at Fritzlar airport.

 

German fighter ace, Major Drewes was Commander of the III Group of the NJG 1 at Fritzlar airport.

 

German fighter ace and Commander of the NJG 1 at Fritzlar airport: Oberstleutnant Jabs.

 

German Night-fighters of the NJG 1 were waiting to be trashed after the airport was captured, April 1945.

 

Thunderbolts of the 365th fighter group on the Fritzlar airfield, April 1945.

 

The Liberty Run with a prior crew.

 

S/Sgt. Henry C. Mathis