21.05.1944 368th Fighter Squadron P-51B Mustang 43-6962, 1st Lt. Arlen R. Baldridge DFC
Operation: Strafing mission, Germany
Date: 21st May 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 359th Fighter Group, 368th Fighter Squadron, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51B Mustang
Base: East Wretham, Thetford, England
Location: SW of Bahrenhorst, Germany
Pilot: 1st Lt. Arlen Richard ‘Baldy’ Baldridge DFC, O-742909 AAF Age 22. Survived/Murdered
REASON FOR LOSS:
Left: 1st Lt. Arlen R. ‘Baldy’ Baldridge in front of a P-47 Thunderbolt. Right: 1st Lt. Arlen R. ‘Baldy’ Baldridge being debriefed by S2 (Military Intelligence) Officer, 1st Lt James Burgess (Credit: US 8th Air Force Little Friends Site)
Above: The unofficial badge. Credit of the Imperial War Museum.
1st Lt. Baldridge became a member of the ‘Caterpillar Club’ when, on the 5th May 1943, he had to bail out of his aircraft after the engine cut out. The ‘Caterpillar Club’ is an informal association of people who have successfully used a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. After authentication by the parachute maker, applicants receive a membership certificate and a distinctive lapel pin.
1st Lt. Baldridge took off from East Wretham on the morning of the 21st May 1944. His flight’s mission was to strafe targets in Belgium, Northern France and the Rerik airbase which was about 23 km NNE of Wismar and immediately NNW of the village of Wustrow on the Wustrow Peninsula.
After-mission reports by 2nd Lt. Olin P. Drake and 1st Lt. John B. Hunter described how 1st Lt. Baldridge had taken over the lead of Blue flight after the flight leader was lost on a first pass on a radar tower. The three remaining aircraft overflew an unknown airfield at about 2500 feet, whose defences started firing at them. They dived for the ground under intense tracer fire and flak. 1st Lt. Baldridge was heard to call over the R/T that he had been hit. 2nd Lt. Drake observed his aircraft trailing glycol and soon afterwards the aircraft belly-landed in a large grass field. 2nd Lt. Drake and 1st Lt. Hunter overflew the crashed aircraft twice and observed 1st Lt. Baldridge running away from the site. On a third pass 2nd Lt. Drake fired on the downed aircraft and 2nd Lt. Hunter, following, confirmed that it was on fire. The report recorded that 1st.Lt. Baldridge was shot down about 5 km NW of Wismar.
(1) Seized German documents recorded that 1st Lt. Baldridge was captured at about 13:30 hrs on the 21st May 1944 SW of Bahrenhorst which is NE of Bad Doberan, Gau (district) Mecklenberg. It also recorded that he was shot whilst trying to escape and was buried in the local cemetery at Bad Doberan on 23rd May 1944.
Research undertaken by Charlotte (Char) Baldridge, the official 359th Fighter Group historian and the wife of John S. Baldridge, the youngest brother of 1st Lt. Baldridge uncovered an American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) Form 10; “Report of Investigation, Area Search”, pertaining to 1st Lt. Baldridge.
The form recorded a statement made by a Willi Selk, the cemetery-caretaker for Bad Doberan, at the local Police station on the 2nd April 1946. He describes eyewitness accounts that concur with the after-mission reports submitted by 2nd Lt. Olin P. Drake and 1st Lt. Hunter. It recalls that the airman who survived the crash landing was captured and a Sturmführer (Junior officer in the Sturmabteilung (SA)) Peters brought him by car to the Bad Doberan Court house.
He goes on to describe that at about 18:00 hrs on the same day, the 21st May 1944, the body of an American airman was brought to the cemetery morgue, where he was working, by Peters. On seeing the body Selk believed, because of the fresh blood dripping from the body, that the airman had been killed from a bullet wound to the heart shortly before the airman was brought to the morgue. The airman had to be buried immediately the next morning (The date of the burial is at odds with that reported in the seized German documents). Selk also recalled that a Frau (Mrs) Martha Muller informed him that the former Bad Doberan Polizeimeister (Police Sgt.) Gosch had told her that he had shot and killed the airman with his service pistol. Apparently Gosch was transferred away from Bad Doberan a short time later.
Charlotte (Char) Baldridge also uncovered an AGRS Form 11; “Check list of unknowns” which was completed when the remains of the airman were disinterred from the Bad Doberan cemetery. The record describes injuries sustained that made it reasonable to assume that more had taken place before the airman was shot through the heart and killed. The remains of this airman were identified from ‘dog tags’ as being 1st Lt. Baldridge.
The deputy Judge Advocate’s office for the European Theatre believed Gosch and an eyewitness to the murder were both in the Russian Zone of occupation but no records have been found that indicate that the perpetrator was ever arrested or brought to trial for the murder of 1st Lt. Baldridge.
1st Lt. Baldridge was initially buried in the local cemetery at Bad Doberan, Gau (district) Mecklenberg in Germany on the 22ndMay 1944 (as reported by Willi Selk, the cemetery-caretaker). His remains were later reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold in France.
1st Lt. Arlen Richard ‘Baldy’ Baldridge. DFC, Air Medal (5 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Repatriated and reinterred at the Cunningham Memorial Park Cemetery, St. Albans, West Virginia on the 21st July 1948. Born on 19th June 1921 in Charleston, West Virginia. Son to Arlen and Helen Dewery (née Blagg) Baldridge of Kanawha, West Virginia, United States.
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this Pilot with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ insert link to site and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report. Thanks also to Peter Randell, US 8th Air Force Little Friends Site for providing the research conducted by the late Charlotte Baldridge.