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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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8th Air Force
03.10.1944 327th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 43-38396 ‘Insomnia’, 1st.Lt. Edmund L. Dornburgh

Operation: Nürnberg (Mission #662), Germany

Date: 3rd October 1944 (Tuesday)

Unit: 92nd Bombardment Group (H), 327th Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st. Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17G

Serial No: 43-38396 Insomnia

Code: UC:J

Location: Gießen-Wieseck, Germany

Base: Podington (Station 109), Bedfordshire, England

Pilot: 1st.Lt. Edmund L. Dornburgh O-760804 AAF Age 26. Survived (1)

Co Pilot: 1st.Lt. Morris Dean Jay O-792337 AAF Age 24. Killed

Navigator: 1st.Lt. Wallace Woodrow Bengson O-374781 AAF Age 26. Survived (1)

Bombardier: 1st.Lt. Charles R. Walter O-772781 AAF Age? PoW *

Radio Operator: T/Sgt. William T. Barrett 16079559 AAF Age 22. Killed

Engineer: T/Sgt. John Eugene Boisseau 19078078 AAF Age 25. PoW **

Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Phillip L. Chiofilo 35912308 AAF Age 20. Killed

Waist Gunner: Sgt. Frederick W. Carter 16832452 AAF Age 19. Killed

Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Laurence W. Chappell 36832452 AAF Age? Killed

One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.

* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

** Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Poland (Moved to Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, Prussia now Poland).

1st.Lt. Dornburgh’s ‘regular’ 9 man crew Photograph (Courtesy: Tom Boisseau)

Back L to R: 1st.Lt. Dornburgh, Lt. Herschel Crowley (Navigator), Lt. Don Peters (Co-Pilot), 1st.Lt. Walter; Front L to R: Sgt. Chiofilo, T/Sgt. Boisseau, Sgt. Larry Schappel (Tail Gunner), Sgt. Phillip Bear (Waist Gunner), T/Sgt. Barrett

Lt. Crowley had suffered a severe injury to the hip from flak on a mission to Meresburg on the 11th September 1944. Lt. Peters and Sgt. Bear were grounded for unspecified medical reasons for this mission. (John Eugene Boisseau’s biography)

1st.Lt. Jay, 1st.Lt. Bengson, Sgt. Carter and S/Sgt Chappell who were substitute crew on this mission are not depicted in this image.

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the morning of the 3rd October 1944 43-38396 Insomnia joined a force of aircraft on a mission to bomb the Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN) AG Industry complex at Nürnberg in Germany.

At about 1200 hours, whilst making a turn before reaching the Initial Point (IP) over Gießen, two aircraft from the in the high element of the Low squadron collided.

John Eugene Boisseau’s biography describes the events leading up to the collision:

From the top turret T/Sgt. Boisseau saw the lead aircraft hit by flak and go into a nosedive. 1st.Lt. Dornburgh, as the deputy lead, nosed the ‘Insomnia’ up to take over the lead aircraft position for the formation. Seconds later S/Sgt. Chiofilo, in the ball turret, screamed a warning which was cut short as the lead aircraft, having regained control and apparently trying to resume its position, collided with the underside of ‘Insomnia’. S/Sgt. Chiofilo was killed in the collision.

1st.Lt. Walter’s account of the events described that he was in the nose of Insomnia and saw the impending collision but did not have time to call out a warning. He recalled that after the collision Insomnia turned on its back and entered a spin. He was unable to exit the aircraft because of the centrifugal forces but did manage to clip on his chest type parachute. When the aircraft exploded he was blown through the plexiglass nose and parachuted to earth where he was taken prisoner.

John Eugene Boisseau’s biography describes his situation in the aftermath of the collision:

He left the top turret and saw that most of the port wing had been obliterated and that the engineer’s instrument panel was ‘going crazy’. He tried to assist 1st.Lt. Dornburgh in controlling the aircraft, but received a sharp elbow dig to the ribs, and ordered to bail out. He crawled to the forward escape hatch after clipping on his parachute. Despite his efforts to open the hatch it remained jammed shut. He and 1st.Lt. Walter became hopelessly pinned to the aircraft fuselage because of the centrifugal forces when the aircraft entered a tail spin.
Then the aircraft’s 5000 Ib. bomb load and almost half of 2500 gals. of fuel exploded and he found himself blown out of the aircraft. He managed to open his parachute and then heard 1st.Lt. Walter shouting his name as they passed through the clouds under their parachutes. He landed in the middle of a Luftwaffe airbase (Believed to be either the Gießen airfield located 3.6 km ENE from the town centre or the dummy airfield at Gießen-Darbringen about 5 km NNE of Gießen airfield). He and 1st. Lt. Walter were captured and transferred Dulag Luft, Oberursel and then on to separate Stalags.

Eye witness accounts believed that Insomnia exploded after falling below the cloud cover which was around 20,000 ft. 42-38445 was also seen to go down with its tail section missing.

German documents record that the aircraft crashed in or near Gießen-Wieseck in Germany at about 1115 hours (Local) and was totally destroyed.

After hostilities had ceased and in the course of investigations carried out by US authorities it was determined that three airmen from the two crews had been killed by hostile action after being captured. Additional research, see (2), has identified the possibility that a fourth airman was also captured and killed by hostile action.

(1) Two General Military Government Courts were convened in Germany at Ludwigsburg on the 20th, 21st and 23rd November 1945, and in Dachau on the 9th and 10th June 1947.

Two German nationals, Ludwig Schad and Julius Lassak, were charged that they on or about the 3rd October 1944, at or near Gießen, did wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of three members of the United States Army, believed to be Franklin Adams, Wallace Bengson and Edmund Dornburgh who were PoWs of the then German Reich.

S/Sgt. Franklin W. Adams Jr., from the 325th Bomber Sqn B-17G 43-38445.

Schad was a Nazi Blockleiter (Block leader: responsible for political supervision of a neighbourhood), and a Gruppenführer (Guard leader) of the Volkssturm (National militia). Lassak was the former Police Director (Civilian appointment) of Gießen and also an Allgemeine (Regular) Schutzstaffel Standartenführer (SS-Col.).

On the day in question, three American airmen parachuted safely from a disabled aircraft [sic] and landed near Gießen-Wieseck in Germany. They were captured at about 1200 hours and delivered to the police station in Wieseck where they were handed over to a police officer named Heinrich Momberger. After placing them under guard he reported their capture to his superior, a man named Laud.

Lassak arrived at the police station and ordered the unidentified Chief of Police to turn over the airmen to the Nazi party. That day on the road between Gießen and Wieseck, Schad, Hans Sonntag and Heinrich Goerig, who were members of the Volkssturm, were met by Kreisleiter (Nazi district leader) Brück who ordered them to go to the police station and shoot the three American airmen held there.

The three joined a Hans-Joachim Wilke, who was a leader in the Hitlerjugend (Nazi party youth organisation), at the police station where he demanded that the airmen be turned over to them. Momberger refused to comply as he was under orders to hand over such captives to the Luftwaffe. About 30 minutes later Harri Hellwege-Emden, an Oberstleutnant der Polizei (Lt.Col. in the Police), arrived and ordered Momberger away from the police station. He left after handing over custody of the airmen to Friedrich Doerr, a policeman on duty.

Wilke then re-entered the police station and demanded that Doerr hand over the airmen. When he refused to do so Wilke and the others forcibly took the airmen into their custody. At about 1400 hours Schad, Wilcke, Goerig and Sonntag left the police station with the airmen and marched them along Marburgerstraße toward the Gießen New Cemetery. En route an air-raid alarm sounded and as the airmen were passing a group of apple trees the four guards opened fire at the same time killing the airmen. The bodies were covered with straw and later buried under arrangements made by Schad with the cemetery caretaker.

Schad was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment which was later reduced to 30 years. He was paroled in October 1954. Lassak was also found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison of cancer on the 26th March 1950.

It is clear from the Review & Recommendations for the case that Wilke, Goerig and Sonntag were implicated in the killing of the three airmen. The court was informed that Goerig and Sonntag had died before they could be apprehended. One had died during an air raid on Gießen on the 6th December 1944 and the other had committed suicide by hanging himself on the 3rd May 1945. It is not known why Wilke was not before the court.

(2) At another Military Government Court held at Dachau in Germany between the 10th January and 21st March 1947, Lassak along with a Leonard Braner and three other senior German principals, were charged, that they did on or about the 3rd October 1944, at or near Gießen, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of an unknown member of the United States Army who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.

The court heard that Ernst Muenk, an Ordnungspolizei Meister (Police Sgt. Maj.), arrested an airman on the day in question and escorted him to the police station in Gießen. He was met by Lassak who ordered him to take the airman down to the orderly room in the cellar. Some time later Lassak ordered that the airman be handed over to an unnamed Gestapo agent who was present.

Muenk accompanied the agent and the airman to the Gestapo headquarters (HQ) in Gießen where Braner, a Gestapo Kriminalsekretär (Criminal secretary: equates to a rank of 2nd.Lt.) was waiting. After handing over the airman Muenk returned to the police station.

Ernst Hermann Friedrich Kohn, an officer in the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal police) working at the Gestapo HQ was present when Muenk arrived with the airman. With them were Kriminalrat (Detective Superintendent) Wintzer, Kriminalsekretär Schneider and Braner. Kohn told them that the airman should be turned over to the military at the Gießen airfield. Kohn did not hear any orders being issued but Braner said that he would take the airman away. Kohn’s impression was that the airman was going to be killed. About 15 to 20 minutes later Braner returned without the airman. Braner then met with Wintzer and indicated that the airman had been ‘taken care of’. After this Kohn overheard Braner on the telephone speaking with someone at the Gießen cemetery telling them that the dead airman at the Philosophen forest should be collected.

The trial transcript for case 12-2000 (incident 3) recorded that Arthur Trenkner, the Gießen funeral director, received an instruction from the Gießen airfield on the afternoon of the 4th October 1944 to collect an American airman from the Philosophen forest. This airman was one of 14 on this day for whom he had received instructions to bury.

(Above) A page from the Gießen cemetery record contains entries for 12 named airmen from Insomnia and 42-38445. The two unknowns listed were later identified as airmen from Insomnia. Of the 14 entries on the page, 3 have been identified as murder victims. Although it has not been possible to determine the identity of the fourth victim it can be concluded with some degree of certainty that the unidentified American airman alluded to in case 12-2000 (incident 3) was one of the other 11 airmen recorded.

Lassek was found not guilty of the charge and Braner was tried in absentia but no findings or sentence was recorded by the court.

Burial Details:

Research has determined the crew that died were initially buried at the Gießen community cemetery before being relocated to the US Military cemetery in Eisenach and later relocated to the Netherlands American Cemetery on the 28th June 1945.

(Left: Courtesy: Anne Cady - FindAGrave) 1st.Lt. Edmund L. Dornburgh. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 39. Repatriated and buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Section 12, Grave 8382 on the 9th December 1948. Born on the 26th September 1918. Son to Edmund and Florence Dornburgh. Husband to Mrs. Veda M. Dornburgh of Palatine Bridge, New York, USA.

(Right: Courtesy: Marianne Deadmon - FindAGrave) 1st.Lt. Morris Dean Jay. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 30. Repatriated and buried at the Resthaven Cemetery, Jacksonville, Texas. Born on the 9th August 1920. Son to Alton Ferris and Francis (née Dean) Jay of Jacksonville, Texas, USA.

(Left :Courtesy: Des Phillppet - FindAGrave) 1st.Lt. Wallace Woodrow Bengson. Purple Heart. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 34. Relocated to Plot L, Row 16, Grave 16. Born on the 11th December 1917. Son to Oscar and Anna Elvina (née Knutson) Bengson of Shoshone, Idaho, North Dakota. Husband to Kathryn Bengson of Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA.

(Right: Courtesy: Anne Cady - FindAGrave) T/Sgt. William T. Barrett. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 31. Repatriated and buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Section 12, Grave 5856 on the 13th December 1948. Born on the 27th January 1922. Son to Mrs. Marjorie S. Barrett of Chicago, Illinois, USA.


(Left: Courtesy: Liz Mull - FindAGrave) S/Sgt. Phillip L. Chiofilo. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 33 as X-1109. Repatriated and buried at the Lake View Cemetery, Section 22, Lot 993-H, Cleveland, Ohio. Born on the 31st August 1924. Son to Orazio and Theresa (née Dottore) Chiofilo of Cleveland, Ohio, USA.



(Right: Courtesy: Theresa Miller - FindAGrave) Sgt. Frederick W Carter. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 39. Repatriated and buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, Section N, Site 703, San Bruno, California on the 11th April 1950. Born on the 14th December 1925. Son to Mrs. Jane M. Carter of San Francisco, California, USA.

S/Sgt. Laurence W. Chappell. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block SS, Row 2, Grave 35. Relocated to Plot L, Row 7, Grave 19. Son to Mr. Laurence Chappell of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Special thanks to Tom Boisseau the son of T/Sgt. John Eugene Boisseau (27th February 1917 – 9th July 1995) for his generous contributions and permission to use extracts from his father’s biography for this report.

RS & TV 18.01.2021 - Editorial amendments

Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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