22.02.1944 716 Bomb Squadron (H) B-24H 42-52146 ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’, 2nd Lt. Robert P. Bird
Operation: Regensburg, (Mission #29), Germany
Date: 22nd February 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 449th Bombardment Group (H), 716th Bombardment Squadron (H), 47th Bombardment Wing, 15th Air Force
Type: B-24H Pistol Packin’ Mama
Serial No: 42-52146
Location: Weiz, Austria
Base: Grottaglie Field, southern Italy
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Robert Parker Bird O-795685 AAF Age 23. PoW *
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Philip Joseph Sheridan O-805994 AAF Age 26. PoW *
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Charles Frederick Popken Jr. O-685719 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Deane Charles Manning O-751920 AAF Age 21. PoW ** (1)
Engineer: Sgt. Oscar Ingle Allison 18035086 AAF Age 25. PoW No. 1799 ***
Radio Op: S/Sgt. Jack Knowles Dixon 14184724 AAF Age 22. PoW No. 1789 ***
Waist Gnr: S/Sgt. Richard William Leaf 16075936 AAF Age 21. PoW No. 1768 ***
Waist Gnr: S/Sgt. Frank Wayne Watkins 34382696 AAF Age 18. PoW No. 2170 *** (2)
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Edward Frank Szymanski 12155651 AAF Age 22. PoW No. 1861 ***
Tail Gnr: S/Sgt. James M. Blake 14160189 AAF Age 25 or 26 PoW ***
The B-24 had 10 crew positions. Crew complements evolved during the war and generally comprised 9 personnel who were typically, but not always, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Bombardier, Navigator, Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Radio Operator/Waist Gunner, Nose Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner, Waist Gunner, Tail Gunner.
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
** Obermassfeld Hospital #1249 (served Stalag 9c Mühlhausen near Bad Sulza, Thuringia) Obermassfeld Thuringia, Germany.
*** Stalag Luft 4 Groß-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
Front Row (L to R): 2nd Lt. Bird; 2nd Lt. Hughes; 2nd Lt. Manning; 2nd Lt. Harris. Standing (L to R): S/Sgt. Leaf; S/Sgt. Szymanski; S/Sgt. Watkins; S/Sgt. Dixon; S/Sgt. Blake; Sgt. Allison. (Credit of the 449th Bomb Group Association)
2nd Lt. Sheridan flew as Co-Pilot in place of 2nd Lt. Hughes on this mission and 2nd Lt. Popken Jr. was the replacement Navigator for 2nd Lt. Victor S. Harris, O-755184 but had flown with 2nd Lt. Bird two days earlier on the 20th February 1944;
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Anson F. Hughes O-689057, was aboard B-24H 41-29214 ‘Sophisticated Lady’ which was shot down on a mission 3 days later but successfully evaded capture. (1 KiA, 9 Evd).
REASON FOR LOSS:
The Pistol Packin’ Mama took off at 08:04 hrs from the Grottaglie Field in southern Italy on the morning of the 22nd February 1944 and joined a force of ninety B-24s to bomb the Obertraubling Messerschmitt GmbH aircraft factory in Regensburg, Germany.
The Pistol Packin’ Mama was not 2nd Lt. Bird’s normal aircraft which was B-24H 41-29214 Sophisticated Lady which was lost on a mission on the 25th February 1944.
Above: The Pistol Packin’ Mama (Credit of the 449th Bomb Group Association)
Flak was intense and accurate and more than one hundred German fighters attacked the formation. The bombers claimed twenty-six fighters destroyed and a further eighteen claimed as probables. The force lost fifteen B-24s of which four were from the 449th BG albeit two crashed in friendly territory.
The ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama‘ was reported to have crashed on a small villa south of Weiz, Austria. No official record has been found that directly associates a German fighter claim for B-24H 42-52146.
Weiz is a small town in Styria (Steiermark), approximately 25 km NE of the provincial capital Graz.
However, searching the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) fighter claims for the Reich, West & Südfront, January - April 1944 has found an entry for an Uffz. Helmut Beckmann from 2./JG27, who claimed a B-24, his 4th Abschuss, south of Weiz at 13:50 hrs on this day.
Note: OKL = High Command of the Luftwaffe.
Information provided by Mark Coffee, the 449th Bomb Group Association Historian, confirms that Uffz. Beckmann was the German pilot who claimed the aircraft and also that his own Bf-109 was in turn shot down by the gunners of the Pistol Packin’ Mama.
An article written by Bob Bird in the “Tucson to Grottalie/And This is Our Story: A history of the 449th Bomb Group” entitled “Forty Years Later…. We Meet With Our Opponents” describes a meeting between Deane Manning, Bob Bird and Helmut Beckmann on the 7th September 1984.
2nd Lt. Bird reported that a second pass by the German fighters disabled his aircraft’s interphone which made contact with the majority of the crew impossible. However, prior to this he had alerted the crew to be prepared to abandon the aircraft. Because of this warning the entire crew bailed out on their own initiative when the aircraft became uncontrollable.
(1) 2nd Lt. Manning was initially hospitalised at Hospital 3b in Graz (formerly spelt Gratz) Styria, Austria, with serious injuries to both legs, however his lower left leg could not be saved. He was repatriated along with 27 exchange PoWs from Germany who arrived in the United States on the Swedish ship MS Gripsholm on the 23rd February 1945.
Left: Credit: The Chickasha Daily Express, dated Friday February 23rd,1945. Right: Credit: Stillwater Gazette, dated Friday March 9th, 1945.
(2) S/Sgt. Watkins was hit by shell fragments in the head and fractured both ankles when he landed heavily and was initially hospitalised along with 2nd Lt. Manning. S/Sgt. Watkins remained in hospital for a month before being sent to Dulag Luft, Oberursel. After liberation in May 1945 he was invalided back to the United States and was admitted to hospital suffering from tuberculosis. He was discharged in February 1946.
The remainder of the crew were also repatriated to the United States after hostilities had ceased.
None - All Survived
Researched by Ralph Snape of Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Mark Coffee, the 449th Bomb Group Association Historian, for the additional German fighter information, for the updated details for the crew and aircraft, and the excerpts describing the meeting between former foes. (Dec 2021).