15.08.1944 427th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G 42-102432 ‘Tiny Angel’ 1st.Lt. Harry S. Cook
Operation: Wiesbaden-Erbenheim Airfield (Mission #554), Germany
Date: 15th August 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 303rd Bombardment Group (H), 427th Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Tiny Angel
Serial No: 42-102432
Location: Between Malberg and Fließem, Germany
Base: Molesworth Airfield (Station #107), Huntingdonshire, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Harry Stewart Cook O-1574402 AAF Age 26. Killed
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Frederick Hunter Mason O-820791 AAF Age 29. PoW *
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Ralph Edwin Page O-710629 AAF Age 23. PoW *
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Werner Gerhardt Warmuth O-754941 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Forrest W. Howell 15097131 AAF Age 21. PoW ***
Engineer: S/Sgt. Joseph L. Slight 17016271 AAF Age 22. Killed
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Robert Frank Eaglehouse 33671407 AAF Age 24. PoW Unknown camp
Waist Gunner S/Sgt. Jess Dewey Joyce Jr. DFC, 37660786 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)
Tail Gunner: Sgt. John L. Smalley 20920927 AAF Age 35. PoW ***
One of the two Waist gunners was removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.
* 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 9c Bad Sulza, Saxe-Weimar, Thuringia, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS:
39 B-17s took off from Molesworth on the morning of 15th August 1944 to bomb the Wiesbaden-Erbenheim airfield in Germany. Of the 13 aircraft in the Low Group formation 9 aircraft including the Tiny Angel were lost on this mission.
Due to the position in the Combat Wing, namely, the Low Group position, there were few observations by crew members in the Lead and High Group positions pertaining to the missing aircraft. Statements vary as to the number of parachutes seen. The greatest number of chutes observed by any one observer was 15. Other reports by returning crews stated the number of chutes seen as being 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9. There were no eyewitness accounts in the official records that describe the loss of the Tiny Angel.
The crew reported that the aircraft was first hit by flak and following that the formation came under attack from 20 to 25 Fw-190s. The Tiny Angel was hit by cannon fire which resulted in the crew having to abandon the aircraft.
The aircraft fell out of the formation approximately 15 minutes after leaving the target area.
1st.Lt. Cook sounded the bail-out bell and remained at the controls so that the crew could bail out. 2nd.Lt. Mason urged 1st.Lt. Cook three times to leave the aircraft. 2nd.Lt. Warmuth was the last to bail out of the forward compartment shortly before the aircraft exploded.
Note: The number of (Abschüsse) claims for B-17s registered by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) (High Command for the Luftwaffe) on this day makes it problematic in identifying the pilot and unit credited with the loss of the ‘Tiny Angel’.
S/Sgt. Eaglehouse’s ball turret was knocked out of commission by one of the first flak shells to hit the aircraft. He was then wounded in the right leg when two 20mm rounds struck his position during the enemy fighter attack. He passed out several times through loss of blood and lack of oxygen but managed to extricate himself from the ball turret and bail out.
S/Sgt. Slight was last seen uninjured and standing behind 1st.Lt. Cook who was sitting in the Co-Pilots seat. It was believed that 1st.Lt. Cook and S/Sgt. Slight were still aboard the aircraft when it exploded.
The circumstances leading to Sgt. Smalley losing his leg are not known. Neither is it known who assisted him to bail out of the aircraft. It is assumed that the injury was sustained in the enemy fighter attack. Records indicate that he was held at Stalag 9c near Bad Sulza. It is probable that he was treated at the Reserve-Lazarett (Hospital) Stalag 9c(a) which was attached to Stalag 9c. Sgt. Smalley was repatriated in late January 1945. He left Marseille, France aboard the SS Gripsholm and arrived in New York on the 21st February 1945.
S/Sgt. Joyce was seen to bail out, uninjured, from the aircraft over or near to Bitburg by crew members in the waist fuselage. Nothing further was heard from him or about him.
The wreckage of the aircraft fell to earth at about 11:51 hrs near and to the north of Bitburg, Germany. Parts of the wreckage falling between Malberg, 6 miles NNE of Bitburg, and Fließem, almost 4 miles due north of Bitburg, in the Kyll Valley.
(1) Of the 9 aircraft lost on this mission from the 303rd Bombardment group, crew members from 3 aircraft where killed after they had bailed out and landed in enemy territory, either by hostile action or under suspicious circumstances. The 3 aircraft were:
B-17G 42-31183, VK:Y 'Bad Penny'. An archive report has been researched for the murders of two crew members.
B-17G 44-6291, VK:E. The Co-Pilot, 2nd.Lt. G. King was reported to have been shot by members of the German Frontier Force or Wehrmacht near Audon-le-Tiche in NE France on the 20th August 1944.
B-17G 42-102432, GN:U 'Tiny Angel'. The aircraft exploded and fell to earth near Bitburg. Of the 3 crew members that were killed only the death of the waist gunner, S/Sgt. Jess Joyce, had no explanation.
Given the timing and circumstances of the death of the unknown American airman described at a General Military Court convened on the 15th and 16th May 1946 at Ludwigsburg in Germany, it is probable that the victim was S/Sgt. Joyce.
At this court Matthias Zahnen, a German national, was charged, in that he did at or near Oberkail, Germany, on or about the 15th August 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully kill an unknown member of the United States Army, who was then an unarmed surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich, by shooting him with a gun.
Zahnen was a Feldwebel (Sgt.) serving in what was believed to be an Engineering Unit stationed in Bitburg, Germany. He was a member of an organisation called Stahlhelm* and joined the Nazi party and the Sturmabteilung (SA) (SA = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party) in 1933 and held the rank of SA-Truppführer (S/Sgt.)
* The Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten (Steel Helmet, League of Front Soldiers), also abbreviated to Der Stahlhelm, was one of the many paramilitary organisations that arose after the German defeat in WW1.
From Zahnen’s statement to the court, it was determined that after he had been released from being a PoW on the 2nd June 1945 he immediately and voluntarily reported himself to an American command post. He was arrested on the 8th June 1945 and remained in custody for the period leading up to the General Military Court proceedings.
The court heard that on or about the 15th August 1944, an American aircraft crashed in the vicinity of Oberkail in Germany. One of the airmen believed to have parachuted from this aircraft had landed in a field. He had sustained a leg injury and dragged himself to a nearby hedgerow.
An eye witness to the ensuing events described that he was in the district of Hohrecht* and saw who he believed to be an American airman with a leg injury near a hedgerow in a field. A motorcycle with two German soldiers came from along the Oberkail-Kyllburg highway from the direction of Kyllburg. He saw the motorcycle drive into the field where the airman was but on the opposite side of the hedgerow to the soldiers. The soldiers dismounted and one of them fired his weapon at the airman through the hedgerow. They then remounted and drove away towards Oberkail without looking at the airman.
* A district named Hohrecht could not be found. It may be that the witness was referring to the bounded property area named "Auf dem Hohrech", situated adjacent to the northern side of the Oberkail-Kyllburg road some 2 miles west of Oberkail.
Another eye witness recounted that at between 19:00 and 20:00 hours on the day in question he was told by a member of the police in Oberkail to collect the body of an American airman that Zahnen had shot. The airman’s body was lying in a hedgerow just over 300 feet from the Oberkail-Kyllburg highway. He and an Auxiliary Gendarme from Wittlich drove to the location in his truck to collect the body. He saw that the airman had suffered a bullet wound to the head and as his body was lifted into the truck that he also appeared to have a broken leg. He delivered the body to the fire engine house in Oberkail to where he had also delivered five other dead airmen, none of whom had been killed on the ground.
Zahnen admitted that his pre-trial affidavit was correct but his court testimony contained a more detailed and a somewhat different version of events. However, what was not in question was that he and an Unteroffizier (Cpl) Hemmers were ordered toward Oberkail to find and arrest all enemy airmen who had parachuted into the area. Both men were armed, Zahnen with a pistol and Hemmers with a carbine.
Upon arriving in the Oberkail area they were directed by German civilians to a field in which an airman had been seen. They searched the field but found no one, however, as they were preparing to leave one or both of the soldiers saw movement of a hedgerow. It was claimed some type of warning was shouted by Zahnen which directed Hemmers’ notice to the movement. Not hearing any response they opened fire towards the hedgerow without establishing who if anyone was there. The number and sequence of shots each of them fired and who fired first was not determined with any degree of certainty. The result however was clear in that when they approached the hedgerow they found a body of an airman. Neither of them searched the body for weapons or other items, but immediately left the area and reported the incident to their SNCO (Senior Non-Commissioned Officer) in charge.
The court found Zahnen guilty of the charge and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment. However, the Review and Recommendations board recommended that the findings and sentence be disapproved.
The board considered that Zahnen did not know that the airman was unarmed and also did not know that he was injured, let alone the extent of his injuries, which may have prevented the airman from surrendering or even responding to Zahnen’s warnings. They considered that the unfortunate death of the airman was a bona fide act of warfare and that Zahnen’s actions were fundamentally different from that of most other German war crime cases.
(Left: Courtesy and in memoriam of the late Katie Dee - FindAGrave)
1st.Lt. Harry Stewart Cook. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Initially buried in the Malberg Community Cemetery and then moved to the Lorraine American Cemetery. Repatriated and buried at the Mona View Cemetery, Plot 9-Z-6, Muskegon Heights, Michigan. Born on the 25th November 1917. Son of Harry James and Rose l. (née VanDame) Cook of Muskegon Heights, Michigan, USA.
S/Sgt. Joseph Louis Slight. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Initially buried in the Wilsecker Community Cemetery. Reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, Plot B, Row 17, Grave 37. Born on the 10th August 1922. Son to Thomas Louis and Pauline (née Brooks) Slight of Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri, USA.
S/Sgt. Jess Dewey Joyce. DFC, Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. It is not known were he was initially buried* but he was later reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, Plot D, Row 11, Grave 34. Born on the 14th June 1923 in Linn County, Iowa. Son of Jess Dewey, who pre-deceased him, and Caroline (née Schmickle) Joyce of Linn County, Iowa, USA.
* The victim described to the court was initially buried in Oberkail.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.