19.10.1944 567th Bomber Squadron B-24J 42-50842 'Betsy II', 1st.Lt. Eugene J. Coletti
Operation: Mainz, Germany
Date: 19th October 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 567th Bomber Squadron (389th Bombardment Group (H)), 8th Air Force
Type: B-24J Betsy II
Serial No: 42-50842
Location: Bierstadt near Wiesbaden, Germany
Base: Hethel (Station #114), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Eugene ‘Gene’ Joseph Coletti O-793070 AAF Age 25. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Max Milton Hullinger O-715106 AAF Age 21. PoW **
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Terrell Leonard Hollis O-718184 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Kenneth Wayne Simmons O-717115 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Dwight Cecil Wheatley 11084846 AAF Age 23. Survived (2)
Engineer: T/Sgt. John Alton Bulla 18037096 AAF Age 21. PoW ***
Nose Gunner: S/Sgt. Edward Asson 6891251 AAF Age ? PoW ***
Left Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Walter P. Polevka 35057495 AAF Age? Survived (3)
Right Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Douglas Clifford Merrick 19190285 AAF Age 23. PoW ***
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. John Joseph Trala 33798223 AAF Age? 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 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work Camp 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and Work Camp 3368 Munich).
** Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
*** Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
Standing L to R: S/Sgt. John Trala, T/Sgt. Dwight Wheatley, S/Sgt. Doug Merrick, T/Sgt. John Bulla, S/Sgt. Walt Polevka. Kneeling L to R: 1st.Lt. ‘Gene’ Coletti, 2nd.Lt. Max Hullinger, 2nd.Lt. Ken Simmons, 2nd.Lt. Terrell Hollis. (Courtesy: American Air Museum)
REASON FOR LOSS:
42-50842 Betsy II departed at 0649 hours from Hethel in Norfolk on a mission to bomb the marshalling yards in Mainz, Germany. After action reports recorded that two aircraft left the formation after bombing the target, one of which successfully returned to base. The second aircraft, assumed to be Betsy II, was seen to enter a spin and crash. Four parachutes were seen in the air.
1st.Lt. Coletti reported that the aircraft caught fire after being hit by flak after which the entire crew bailed out of the aircraft. He witnessed the aircraft explode in mid-air. The aircraft wreckage crashed at Bierstadt near Wiesbaden, Germany.
(Left) Photograph of Betsy II on fire. (Credit: B24BestWeb)
(1) From various Individual Casualty Questionnaires (ICQ) it has been determined that 2nd.Lt. Hollis was uninjured before bailing out of the aircraft but he was not seen again. There was speculation among the surviving crew members that he had died at the hands of German civilians, predominantly based upon their own treatment before German military personnel intervened.
A General Military Government Court which was held at Ludwigsburg in Germany between the 4th and 8th December 1945, charged three German nationals, two civilians and a soldier, with the killing of three unknown members of the United States army, at or near Niederseelbach, on or about the 19th October 1944, who were then unarmed, surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
The timing and location of the killings makes it probable that 2nd.Lt. Hollis was one of the three unknown victims. This probability is strengthened by the location of 2nd.Lt. Hollis’s remains at the Niederseelbach cemetery.
The accused were Fritz Amstutz who was a former member of the Nazi party and an SA (Sturmabteilung) Scharführer (Sergeant) and Robert Schauer who was the former burgomeister of Engenhahn and Niederseelbach and also a Ortsgruppenleiter (Local Nazi group leader). A third accused was Willi Christ who was a former Wehrmacht soldier and was charged with the killing of one of the unknown victims.
Two of the unidentified airmen landed near Engenhahn and the third near Niederseelbach. The trial Review and Recommendations (R&R) document implied that the three airmen were from the same aircraft. However, research has concluded that it is probable that two of the airmen came from B-24J 42-50681 Slightly Dangerous.
The court heard that the airman who had landed near Niederseelbach was taken to the burgomeister before being locked in a room at the local Kindergarten. Christ and a man named Rücker proceeded to Engenhahn to collect the other two airmen and return with them to Niederseelbach. En route, they were met by Schauer who asked why the airmen had not been shot. Christ and Reucker Rücker continued on to Niederseelbach and turned over the airmen to Fuhrmann. The two airmen were locked in the same room at the local Kindergarten as the first airman.
Later that evening Fuhrmann and Amstutz arrived to move one of the airmen to Idstein, which is about 4 miles to the north of Niederseelbach. Amstutz was handed a pistol by Schauer. After collecting the airman they proceeded in the direction of Idstein. En route Fuhrmann shot and killed the airman. The two returned to Niederseelbach and collected the second airman and prepared to set off again toward Idstein. However, the airman was limping so a cart was obtained to carry him. En route Amstutz stopped to relieve himself, as he finished he heard two shots and found that Fuhrmann had shot and killed the airman. The two then returned to Niederseelbach.
The next morning Fuhrmann and Amstutz collected the third airman and proceeded to walk toward Idstein with Christ following along behind. En route Amstutz heard several shots and saw the airman fall to the ground. Christ admitted to having shot in the direction of the airman. After examining the body all three returned to Niederseelbach. Later, the three bodies were temporarily placed in a gravel pit and the next evening they we buried in the local cemetery at Niederseelbach.
The court found the three accused guilty of the charge and sentenced Schauer to 13 years imprisonment, Amstutz to 5 years imprisonment and Christ to 1 year imprisonment. The sentences were to commence on the 8th December 1945. Schauer was released in December 1954 and Amstutz in February 1950.
It is clear from the R&R document that the prime suspect in the killing of the three airmen was the individual named Fuhrmann, however, it is not known why he was not in court and charged with the other three accused.
2nd Lt. Hollis was disinterred from grave 8 at the Niederseelbach cemetery and his remains reinterred at Netherlands American Cemetery in Plot L, Row 12, Grave 294 as X-717 on the 20th May 1945.
(2) From various ICQ’s it has been determined that T/Sgt. Wheatley was uninjured before bailing out of the aircraft. There was speculation among the surviving crew members that he had died at the hands of German civilians, predominantly based upon their own treatment before German military personnel intervened. An entry in Vol. 5 of ‘Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces’ which claimed that it was accepted that T/Sgt. Wheatley met the same fate as 2nd.Lt. Hollis cannot be corroborated at this time as a war crimes case has yet to be identified.
T/Sgt. Wheatley’s body was found at about 1305 hours on a road about ½ mile SW of Medenbach and was buried in the Southern Cemetery at Wiesbaden in the PoW Section, Plot CL, Row 3, Grave 9. He was later reinterred in the Ardennes Cemetery in Plot K, Row 2, Grave 36.
(3) A number of ICQ’s reported that S/Sgt. Polevka was wounded in the head and chest by flak splinters. He was unconscious and bleeding from the mouth but was alive when T/Sgt. Bulla and S/Sgt. Merrick lowered him through the camera hatch door and pulled his ripcord as they pushed him out of the aircraft. His parachute was seen to open but from the description of his injuries it very likely that he died on landing or soon afterwards. The initial burial place for S/Sgt. Polevka is unknown. His remains were recovered and interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery in Plot PPP, Row 4, Grave 41.
(Left) 2nd.Lt. Terrell Leonard Hollis. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten. Relocated to Plot O, Row 19, Grave 11. A memorial stone has been laid at the Oak Springs Cemetery, Calhoun County, Mississippi. Born on the 11th November 1922. Son to Leonard G. and Martha Maude (née Davis) Hollis of Mississippi, USA. (Courtesy: Des Philippet – FindAGrave)
(Right) T/Sgt. Dwight Cecil Wheatley. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium. Relocated to Plot D, Row 13, Grave 49. Born on the 19th November 1921. Son to James P. and Clara Grace (née Perham) Wheatley, Randolph, Orange, Vermont, USA. (Courtesy: Dominique Potier- FindAGrave)
(Left) S/Sgt. Walter P. Polevka. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, France. Relocated to Plot E, Row 9, Grave 11. Son to John and Helen Polevka of Cleveland, Ohio, USA. (Courtesy: Marshall and Mary McIntyre – FindAGrave)
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report.