20.07.1944 756th Bomb Squadron (H) B-24H 42-52358 ‘Hell’s-Bells’ 2nd.Lt. Howland J. Hamlin
Operation: Friedrichshafen, Germany
Date: 20th July 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 459th Bombardment Group (H), 756th Bombardment Squadron (H), 304th Bombardment Wing, 15th Air Force
Serial No: 42-52358 Hell’s-Bells
Location: In the vicinity of Hemishofen (across German and Swiss territory)
Base: Giulia airfield (Cerignola satellite #1), Italy
Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Howland Joseph Hamlin O-799576 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Richard Van Sant Newhouse O-1703134 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. George T. Hunter O-690572 AAF Age 23. Killed
Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Aaron Carlyle Slaughter 17037482 AAF Age 26. Survived (2)
Engineer: T/Sgt. Donald W. Anderson 17155109 AAF Age 21. Interned
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Raymond C. Ertel 15337772 AAF Age 22. Survived (2)
Right Waist: Sgt. John A. Boardsen 36380956 AAF Age 23. Killed
Left Waist: S/Sgt. Ronald Wesley Cherrington 16161830 AAF Age 21. Survived (2)
Tail: S/Sgt. Tonnes E. Tonnessen 32860876 AAF Age 20. Interned
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.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of 20th July 1944 Hell’s-Bells took off from the Giulia airfield in Italy, also known as Cerignola satellite #1, on a mission to bomb the Maybach tank engine factory at Friedrichshafen, Germany. It was reported that in general there was intense and accurate flak. Hell’s Bells was last seen over Konstanz on the German side of Lake Constance. Hell’s Bells was one of two Liberators reported lost by the 459th Bomb Group on this mission.
A casualty information report by T/Sgt. Anderson recalled that Hell’s-Bells ran into flak and received four direct hits immediately following bomb release. The co-pilot’s controls were virtually shot away and shortly thereafter fuel was noticed spraying onto the flight deck. Approximately 5 minutes had elapsed between bomb release and the crew abandoning the aircraft which was flying over Lake Constance at a height of 15,000 ft at the time.
It was reported that the aircraft exploded in mid-air shortly after the crew bailed out. Most of the wreckage fell onto German territory. Some of the aircraft including part of the tail assembly fell onto Swiss territory near Hemishofen which is some 24 miles due west of Konstanz.
Photographs of the aircraft wreckage on Swiss Territory (Courtesy: Swiss Warbird website)
T/Sgt. Anderson landed near Berlingen in Switzerland, on the south side of Lake Constance and was picked up by Swiss frontier guards, whilst S/Sgt. Tonnessen landed in the lake and was saved from drowning by a Swiss fisherman. They were both transferred to Weinfelden, some 9 miles SSW of Konstanz, and billeted in the Hirschen hotel together with the ten crew members of the B-24H 42-64470 RAU DEE DAU, who had bailed out of their crashing aircraft over Swiss territory that day. The next day the twelve airmen were transferred to the Dübendorf military airbase, east of Zürich. From there the officers were usually interned in Davos, some 70 miles SE of Dübendorf, and the NCO airmen in Adelboden, some 80 miles SW of Dübendorf. (Reference: Swiss Warbird website)
2nd.Lt. Hamlin, 2nd.Lt. Newhouse, 2nd.Lt. Hunter, S/Sgt. Slaughter, S/Sgt. Cherrington and S/Sgt. Ertel landed either in the German part of Lake Constance itself or on the adjacent shores on the German territory. Sgt. Boardsen was known to have landed in the Untersee (Lower lake) of Lake Constance.
T/Sgt. Anderson had no definite knowledge of the fate of the other crew members other than for Sgt. Boardsen whose body was later recovered from the lake by the Swiss and reported to have been buried in Münsingen, some 95 miles SW of Lake Constance. (This location is questionable and cannot be corroborated at this time).
However, he came across what he believed to be accurate information concerning the actions by German troops on the north side of the lake. He had been able to speak to several Swiss nationals including a Swiss official and the Bürgermeister (mayor) of Berlingen who informed him that German troops had been seen to shoot at crew members resulting in their deaths as they were parachuting to the ground.
T/Sgt. Anderson was convinced of the authenticity of the information with which he had been provided, however, he had no knowledge of the fate of the other crew members but suspected that they were also killed. Additionally, the same Swiss fisherman who had saved S/Sgt. Tonnessen also tried to save 2nd.Lt. Hunter but was driven away by German patrol boats. 2nd.Lt. Hunter had been tangled in his parachute and perished before the Germans returned to effect his rescue. The entire incident was witnessed by S/Sgt. Tonnessen.
(1) The fates of 2nd.Lt. Hamlin and 2nd.Lt. Newhouse were not known until a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 26th September to 8th October 1947.
Five German nationals were charged that they did, at or near Radolfzell, Germany on or about 20th July 1944, wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of two members of the United States Army who were then and there unarmed and surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
Those charged were Kurt Groß, a former SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj.), former acting Commanding Officer (CO) for the SS Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) School at Radolfzell, Germany and member of the Nazi party; Adolf Mattes, a former SS-Obersturmführer (1st.Lt.); Eduard Mack, a former SS-Untersturmführer (2nd.Lt.) who was appointed as the acting Adjutant of the NCO School by Groß at 1100 hrs on the day of the killings; Rudolf Spletzer, a former SS-Stabsscharführer (M/Sgt.); Thomas Aschner a former SS-Scharführer (Cpl.) employed as a truck driver from the NCO School.
Groß was on a field exercise at Wollmatingen some 10 miles ESE from Radolfzell with most of the students from the NCO school. Here he was advised by a motorcycle messenger that two American airmen had been captured in the vicinity of Öhningen which is to the SW of the NCO School.
Mack testified that Groß had sent him a written message directing Mattes to pick up the airmen. He in turn transmitted the order to Mattes and also directed Spletzer to accompany him to pick up the two airmen, one from Öhningen and the other from Wangen. Their orders, in effect, were to collect the airmen and shoot them on the pretext that they were attempting to escape.
Aschner was assigned to drive Mattes and Spletzer to collect the two airmen. When they had been collected Aschner drove the truck back toward the NCO School. After driving for about 15 to 20 miles, at a point by some woods between Gundholzen and Itznang (Iznang), he heard several shots being fired from the rear of the truck and immediately pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. He remained in the truck because of a defective hand brake but looked back from his open driver door and saw a body lying in road. Shortly thereafter they continued toward Radolfzell.
At the NCO school dispensary the two airmen were examined by a German doctor who pronounced them to be dead. One had a bullet wound to the back of the head and the other in the left back. They were buried on the night of the 20th July 1944.
Mack told the court that after the two airmen had been killed Groß formally commended Mattes and Spletzer. A witness testified that Groß also ordered a placard placed over the graves of the two airmen reading in effect "Here rests the two American Gangsters or Flyers". The court heard that the names of the two airmen were on their 'dog tags' and may have been Newhouse and Hamlin.
The court found Groß, Mattes and Spletzer guilty of the charge and sentenced each of them to life imprisonment. Mack was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, commencing on the 18th May 1945. The sentences for Groß, Mattes and Spletzer were commuted to 25 years. Groß was paroled on the 30th April 1954. Mattes and Spletzer were both paroled during April 1954. The final disposition of the sentence for Mack is unknown.
The sentence of 3 years imprisonment for Aschner’s part in the killings was disapproved by the Review and Recommendation board because it was considered that the evidence presented did not justify the findings of guilty and hence the sentence.
(2) While the fate of six crew members has been determined the circumstances leading to the deaths of S/Sgts. Slaughter, Ertel and Cherrington have not been established.
However, Swiss eyewitness accounts described that German troops were shooting at the parachuting airmen, two of whom were seen descending over German territory at Wollmatingen. This account may offer a possible connection to the events tried in another war crimes trial.
During the trial, which was convened at Dachau, Germany from the 16th to 18th December 1946, three Wehrmacht officers were charged with Violation of the Laws of War, in that they ”did, on or about 20th July 1944, at or near Wollmatingen, Kreis Konstanz, Germany, willfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of three members of the United States Army, who were then unarmed and surrendered prisoners of war in the custody of the then German Reich.“
It was alleged by the prosecution that Wehrmacht Major (Maj.) Albert Heim, commanding officer (CO) of the 195th Reserve Battalion in the Bodenseeregiment (Lake Constance Regiment) and CO of Cherisy Kaserne (barracks), ordered his subordinate Oberleutnant (1st Lt.) Fritz Saalmüller to shoot to death an American airman whom they had met accompanied by a crowd of about 50 people which included German soldiers. Saalmüller took a carbine or rifle and shot the airman in the chest whilst he was standing against a wall with his hands raised.
Oberleutnant (1st Lt.) Kunze who had witnessed this scene later encountered, in the vicinity of the Kaserne, two German soldiers leading an unarmed American airman between them. Kunze ordered the soldiers to lead the airman to a ditch located near a gate of the Kaserne. After having dismissed the soldiers, Kunze pushed the airman forward and then shot him two or three times with his pistol in the back. The airman fell forward to the ground and turned onto his back. Kunze then shot him twice more.
Maj. Heim and Oberleutnant Kunze were sentenced to death and hanged at Landsberg, Bavaria on the 2nd February 1949 and the 22nd October 1948, respectively. Oberleutnant Saalmüller was sentenced to life in prison, but his sentence was later reduced to 25 years and then to 23 years. The final disposition of his sentence is not known.
The Review and Recommendations paper for this trial does not give any clue with regard to the identity of the murder victims, nor is there an explanation why the particulars of the charge speak of three victims while the witness evidence quoted covers only two murders.
However, given the date, the location of these murders and the circumstances of the US Air Force losses during the mission to Friedrichshafen, it is possible that two of the above mentioned S/Sgts met their deaths at the hands of Saalmüller and Kunze.
Left: 2nd.Lt. Howland Joseph Hamlin. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 4F, Row 1, Grave 3. Relocated to Plot K, Row 19, Grave 14. Son of Elizabeth B. (née Booth) Hamlin of Geneva, Illinois, USA.
(courtesy: Katherine Klimoski - FindAGrave)
Right: 2nd.Lt. Richard Van Sant Newhouse. Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 4F, Row 11, Grave 132. Relocated to Plot K, Row 42, Grave 13. Born 17th December 1923. Son to Frank Finely de Ville and Mary Louise (née Van Sant) Newhouse and husband to Vonda Ree (née Jacobs) Newhouse of Chicago, Illinois, USA.
(courtesy: Rick M - FindAGrave)
2nd.Lt. George T. Hunter Jr. Air Medal (5 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 40, Row 2, Grave 28. Relocated to Plot D, Row 20, Grave 31. Born in 1921. Son to George T. and Jennie E. (née Wilson) Hunter of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, USA.
S/Sgt. Aaron Carlyle Slaughter. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minnesota, Section, A, Block 5, Grave 663 on the 29th September 1949. Born on 13th December 1918. Son to Sarah Ellen (née Gilpen) Slaughter of Osage, Becker County, Minnesota, USA.
S/Sgt. Raymond C. Ertel. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 40, Row 10, Grave 249. Relocated to Plot K, Row 43, Grave 20. Born 6th August 1922. Son to Carl F. and Johanna Mary (née Hebler) Ertel of Montgomery, Ohio, USA.
Sgt. John A. Boardsen. Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Springdale Cemetery, Clinton, Iowa. Born on the 24th September 1921 in Norway. Son to Ingvard Berg Johan, and Jensine W. Boardsen of Clinton County, Iowa, USA.
S/Sgt. Ronald Wesley Cherrington. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot 40, Row 10, Grave 248. Relocated to Plot K, Row 17, Grave 19. Born on the 15th July 1923. Son to Forrest Earl and Florence May (née Stevens) Cherrington of Galesburg, Illinois, USA.
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’ . Thanks to Dani Egger from the Swiss Warbird website for providing a tranche of reference material and the images of the crashed aircraft.