8th USAAF - 31st December 1943 : mission no. 171 - South West France

Rédigé par Alan dans la rubrique Les Alliés

As Christmas passes and we approach the last day of the year I am always reminded of the fates of so many American Airmen who left England on various missions over the South West of France early in the morning of 31st December 1943 for what they believed would be "just a quick milk run". 

Over the years I have had the pleasure of being in contact with many families of some of the Airmen who took part in that mission and it has been an honour to have helped their research. 

On the 31st December 1943 464 B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberators from the First, Second and Third Air Divisions 8th USAAF left their bases in the South East of England, destination the South West of France. Their mission was to attack air fields used by the Germans at Cognac-Châteaubernard, Bordeaux-Merignac, Landes Bussac, St. Jean d'Angely and a Blockade Runner Ship in the mouth of the River Garonne.
24 of the planes were lost due to enemy attack and bad weather.

Six in Charente Maritime :
  • B-17 piloted by Major John R. Blaylock / 351st Bomb Group. Crashed at the Aérodrome de Medis 
  • B-17 piloted by First Lt Marvin H Bender / 351st Bomb Group. Crashed at le long de la Seudre, L'eguille
  • B-17 piloted by 2nd Lt Stanley D. Wainwright / 94th Bomb Group. Crashed at "Le Maine Dorin", Corme Royal
  • B-17 piloted by 2nd Lt Edward J. Sullivan / 94th Bomb Group. Crashed at Figers, Echebrune
  • B-24 piloted by Lt Coleman K. Goldstein / 92nd Bomb Group. Crashed at "Soubise", Expiremont
  • B-24 piloted by 1st Lt Thomas R. McKee / 392nd Bomb Group. Crashed at "Chez Bonnet", Montlieu-la-Garde

Two in Charente :
  • B-17 piloted by 2nd Lt Milton R. Moore / 447th Bomb Group. Crashed at Gimeux
  • B-24 piloted by 1st Lt Max R. Jordan / 448th Bomb Group. Crashed at "La Croix-de-Gente

One in Gironde 
  • B-24 piloted by 2nd Lt Charles V. Frascati / 446th Bomb Group. Crashed at "Les Agrieres", Marcillac

One in Deux Sèvres
  • B-17 piloted by 2nd Lt James L. Grumbles / 92nd Bomb Group. Crashed at "Le Joug", La Bataille

Thanks to the extensive research made by Christian Genet, Jacques Leroux and Bernard Ballanger for their book "Les deux Charentes sous les bombes : 1940-1945" published in 2008 by La Caillerie - Gemozac we are able to find out what happened to the crews of these ten planes. Some did not survive the crash, some were taken prisoner, some with the help of French patriots managed to get to escape lines and got back to England via Spain, some joined the Résistance and were later picked up by the Allies when the region was liberated and some died in combat while fighting alongside the résistance.

I have had the pleasure of being in contact now for several years with one of the book's authors Bernard Ballanger. He has very kindly sent me many photos of various commemorations in honour of the Airmen and photos of meetings with some of the Airmen and their families in past years. I have translated below six of the stories from "Les deux Charentes sous les bombes" and included a few of those photos and also some links to some of those stories that I have posted over the years.

Crash at Medis (17)

A B-17 from the 351st BG, based at Polebrook in Northamptonshire crashed at 13.10 after being hit by ground fire. Three of its crew lost their lives, Major John R. Blaylock and Captain Edward C. Boykin jr. had been injured in the attack and were unable to parachute from their plane, 2nd Lt James A. Taylor parachuted but died on impact when his parachute did not open. The remaining 8 crew members, Colonel William A. Hatcher jr., Captain John W. Smith, S/Sgt Edward C. Kase, S/Sgt William S. Maupin jr., S/Sgt Joseph R. Quiles, T/Sgt Roger Blaser, T/Sgt Adam J. Fisher and Captain Jack E. Danby parachuted from the plane but were all taken prisoner soon after they had landed. One of the crew had landed in a tree near Puiraveaux (commune of Brie) and a local couple helped him down but unfortunately Germans arrived before they could help him escape.

In 1997 the town of Medis honoured the memory of Edward Boykin by giving his name to a road in the village of Brie (rue du Captain Edward Boykin). The road was inaugurated on 30th April 1997 during the annual commemoration organised by the Amicale de la brigade Rac. The commemoration honours the members of la brigade Rac / 50e R.I., (Résistance originating from the Dordogne), who died in combat at Brie during the liberation of Royan in April 1945.

Ten aviators bail out over l'Eguille (17)

A second B-17 "Iron Ass" from the 351st BG crashed after being hit by enemy fire after bombing the airfield at Cognac-Chateaubernard. All the crew survived after parachuting out over Saujon. The B-17 was never found and is believed to have crashed into the sea. Three members of the crew managed to evade capture, 2nd Lt Harold O. Freeman, 2nd Lt Robert B Wilcox and S/Sgt Francis E. Anderson. 

Robert Wilcox was taken in by two families, the second family at Bénigousse looking after him for eight months until the region was liberated by the Résistance in early September 1944. Francis Anderson was aided by the Resistance and managed to cross the Pyrénées over into Spain on the 19th January 1944. He managed to get back to England via Gibraltar by the middle of February. (Full story : link)

At a ceremony organised for December 2015, Kari Wilcox, grand daughter of Robert Wilcox, poses in front of
the Nadaud family home. To her right, Thomas Wolf (US Consul at Bordeaux) and Christian Barbe (Souvenir Français)
(Photo B. Ballanger)

Harold Freeman and S/Sgt Levi H. Collins landed close by and made their way together toward Saintes and then on to Colombiers where they were given refuge in a farm and civilian clothes. The following morning they left heading south towards Pons. They knocked on the door of a remote house and were invited in. Sitting in the kitchen were a family of ten. Amazingly the house was the home of a family who had the day before helped four American Aviators who also crash landed on the 31st December during the same mission.

Head of the household was Elie Dodart an active resistant in the Pons region and at the time Mayor of Bougneau. The following day he drove Freeman and Collins over to a safe house at Cussac in the Haute Vienne where six Aviators were also being looked after (part of the same mission). They remained there until March and then were taken by a guide on a train down to Carcassonne. The group were divided into three and Collins' group were unfortunately stopped by Gendarmes. He was handed over to the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a German prison. 

The remaining six members of the crew, 1st Lt Marvin H Bender, 2nd Lt William J. Grupp, Sgt Francis W. Rollins, Sgt Veikko J. Koski, S/Sgt Harold F. Long and S/Sgt Lawrence R. Anderson were captured soon after they landed and all made prisoner of war. Anderson had landed in a lake and totally drenched was taken in by a family near Saintes. With his clothes dried he left heading east but was soon picked up by Germans. He would spend 18 months of captivity in Stalag 17 prison camp near Krems in Austria.

Crash at Figers - Echebrune near Pons (17)

A B17 from 94th BG "Pacific Dream" was hit by ground fire soon after bombing the airfield at Cognac. With two of its engines on fire it began to lose altitude and its place in its formation. German fighters continued the attack and the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. All ten airmen survived their jump landing around Pon and the plane exploded on impact in between Figers and Meussac. Four of the crew were found and taken prisoner by German patrols quite quickly, 2nd Lt Edward J. Sullivan, 2nd Lt Clifford H. Robinson and T/Sgt Elmer L. Shue.

The remaining seven crew members were able to find help from the Résistance, 2nd Lt Harvey B Barr, jr., S/Sgt Charles Hoyes, S/Sgt Stanley J. Dymek, S/Sgt Alvin E. Sanderson, S/Sgt John C Mclaughlin and S/Sgt Kenneth Carson all successfully made it over the Pyrénées and into Spain. Six of them, like two airmen from the crash at L'Eguille were taken in by Elie Dodart and his family. The seventh airman 2nd Lt Reuben Fier had been looked after by the Boizeau family before joining the others at Dodart's house at "des Robelines". He was picked up by Gendarmes close to the Pyrénées along with Levi Collins from the crash at l'Eguille.

Elie Dodart would soon join Jacques Nancy's maquis group Section Spéciale de Sabotage based in the Charente. This group would later become part of la brigade Rac (Armée Secrète Dordogne-Nord) which continued fighting the Germans until they finally surrendered at La Rochelle on 8th May 1945.

Crash at Maine-Dorin

As a B-17 from the 94th BG arrived over their target at the airfield at Cognac-Châteaubernard it was hit by flak and the pilot began to lose control. One of the crew, Sgt Paul F. Schatsau was injured in his arm and foot. Isolated, the B-17 came under attack by two German Messerschmitts and several of the crew were hit, 2nd Lt Norbert A. Lorentz jr., Sgt Paul F. Schatsau, S/Sgt Arthur C. Mahy and Sgt Arthur M. Deuenhauer, T/Sgt Henry J. Patterson, Sgt Henry O. Richard and S/Sgt Paul M. McGill. With the cockpit on fire the pilot gave the order to bail out but only four of the crew were able to jump, 2nd Lt Stanley D. Wainwright, Norbert Lorentz, Sgt John Di Silva and Paul Schatsau. When John Schatsau had jumped from the plane he had seen 1st Lt John J. Bickley preparing his parachute to jump and it is believed that he had been able to bail out but his parachute had not opened. 

Soon after their bail out the B-17 exploded in mid-air over Pisany and Corme-Royal to the east of Saintes and ended up near the village of Maine-Dorin. The four American aviators landed around Pisany all with serious bullet wounds and burns. John Di Silva was found by Pierre Sirot and taken to Dr Boucher, a Doctor in the town. The other three parachutists were soon picked up by the Germans and also taken to the same Doctor. Norbert Lorentz had landed in woods to the south east of Pisany and initially been helped by several villagers until the Germans arrived. Stanley Wainwright had landed at Grand Village and Paul Schatsau at Le Pointeau but both were soon picked up by German patrols. 

Crash landing in the Deux Sèvres (79)

After suffering mechanical problems over France it was forced to make a crash landing at 13.15 in a field near "Le Joug" 400 metres north-west of the village La Bataille in the department Deux-Sèvres. All ten of its crew members survived the crash landing. F/O Lloyd C Busboom and 2nd Lt Edward F. Neu made it over into Spain with the help of the Resistance at Campels in the Haute Garonne and returned to England via Gibraltar on 27th April 1944.

Two of the crew, Sgt Miland F. Bills and Sgt Hugh L. Halsell Jr., were picked up by the Germans soon after the crash landing and made prisoners of war.

Sgt Richard J. FrievaltSgt Michael F Cahill jr.S/Sgt Clarence J. Muntzinger and S/Sgt Alex J. Dominski were picked up by the Resistance group Bir-Hacheim at Chasseneuil in the Charente. They were placed among a small résistance group at Négret who were unfortunately tracked down by the Germans to a barn at Andourchapt on 22nd March 1944. During the attack Alex Dominski and one of the résistants André Potevin were shot dead trying to escape. The other three Americans were taken prisoner with 33 resistants who would be executed as "terrorists" on 8th May 1944 at Poitiers. Frievalt, Cahill and Muntzinger being American soldiers were sent to Germany as prisoners of war (Full story : link).

Photo taken in late January / early February 1944 of the Maquis Bir Hacheim in the Charente.
The four guys to the left kneeling are the four American airmen from the crash at Deux Sèvres. 
From left to right : Michael Cahill, Alex Dominsky, Richard Frievalt (with flag) and possibly Clarence Muntzinger

Crash landing at Experimont (17)

Crippled by flak and enemy fighter attacks over Cognac the B-17 piloted by Lt. Coleman Goldstein (92nd BG based at Podington) was forced to make an emergency landing at Experimont near Montendre in the Charente Maritime. The Pilot managed to land the plane in a field and all ten aircrew survived and torched the plane so it could not be used by the Germans. The crew split up into two-man teams and scattered into the countryside with the aim to reach Spain via the Pyrénées.

Six of the crew managed to get back to England, Coleman K. Goldstein, 2nd Lt Shirley V. Casey, 2nd Lt Herbert Brill, Sgt William Weber, Sgt George Jasman and Sgt Owen R. Scott. Brill and Weber were picked up by the Résistance at Angoulême (Charente) and Herbert Brill stayed with them for eight months, taking part in sabotage and attacks, notably the fighting at Javerlhac and the liberation of Angoulême. (Full story : link). With the region liberated in September 1944 Brill, Weber along with several other American aviators were flown back to England. 

Photo taken at a private ceremony on 3rd January 2004. From left to right : Lt. Lorentz, Lt. Brill, Lt. Goldstein
(Photo : B. Ballanger)

Coleman Goldstein, Shirley Casey, George Jasmin and Owen Scott were helped by French families and managed to get down to the Pyrénées, cross over to Spain, then Gibraltar and returned to England in March 1944.

The four remaining members of the crew, 2nd Lt John E. Maloney, Sgt Herbert C. Edenholm, S/Sgt Nicholas Mucci and Sgt Emil J. Mahne were soon captured by the Germans and made prisoner.

Each year on 31st December a ceremony is held at Chez Bonnet, a little south of Montlieu-la-Garde, to remember the lives of the nine American Airmen who died when their B-24 Liberator exploded in mid air after being hit by German fire. Two of its ten man crew managed to bail out, one shot dead by Germans as he parachuted down, the other shot but survived and was taken prisoner.

In 1947 a monument was erected at Chez Bonnet and each year since a ceremony has been held in their honour. (link)

Photo taken by Bernard Ballanger at this year's ceremony (2016) at Montlieu-la-garde (link)

In 2001 a monument was erected at Lamourette to remember the crew of "Devil Dream" (sometimes referred to as "Flak Bait") of the 446th BG based at Flixton near Bungay in Suffolk who crashed near Marcillac. The crew bailed out successfully but one of the crew died on impact, his parachute shot at by Germans and riddled with holes it is believed. The remaining nine members of the crew were taken in by locals and local R
ésistance, seven of them were eventually captured by the Germans and sent to POW camps but two managed to evade capture, get to Spain and back to England by April and May 1944.

Each year on 31st December a ceremony is held in their memory at 10.30 at the monument. (link)

Photos of the monument at Lamourette (link)

Photo taken at the 60th anniversary in 2003. The Mayor of Montlieu-la-Garde holding the street sign honouring the airmen downed on 31st December 1943.  To his right is Nancy Cooper, U.S. consul-general at Bordeaux.
(Photo : B. Ballanger)