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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
21.06.1944 790th Bomb Squadron (H) B-24H 42-52497 ‘Osage Express’ 1st.Lt. Edwin M. Helton

Operation: Workshops at Genshagen (Mission #428), Berlin, Germany

Date: 21st June 1944 (Wednesday)

Unit: 467th Bombardment Group (H), 790th Bombardment Squadron (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-24H Osage Express

Serial No: 42-52497

Code: Q2:J

Location: NE shore of the Müritz See, Germany

Base: Rackheath (Station #145), Norfolk, England

Pilot: 1st.Lt. Edwin M. Helton O-687592 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)

Co-Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Maurice E. Nelson O-699712 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)

Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Richard Julius Ludka Jr. O-694919 AAF Age 32. Survived (1)

Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Frank Borchick 13171042 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)

Engineer: T/Sgt. Warren Clarence Rankin 35575827 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)

Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Thomas A. Gensert 35766187 AAF Age 27. Survived (1)

Right Waist: S/Sgt. Stanley E. Brzezowski 32862091 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)

Left Waist: S/Sgt. Charles L. Knowles Jr. 18189980 AAF Age 35. Survived (1)

Tail: S/Sgt. Carmine Margiasso 12037871 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)

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.

Original Helton Crew #55 at Wendover, Utah. L to R standing: Thomas A. Gensert, Robert M. Clark, Ernest E. Booth, Frank Borchick, Stanley E. Brzezowski, Charles L. Knowles. L to R Bottom: Richard J. Ludka, Richard B. Hirsch, Maurice E. Nelson, Edwin M. Helton. (credit: 467th BG (H) Association)

[Ranks unknown] Robert M. Clark, Ernest E. Booth and Richard B. Hirsch were allocated to unknown crew/crews of the 467th BG and have not been listed as PoW/KiA.

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the morning of the 21st June 1944 at 04:43 hrs B-24H Osage Express took off along with 33 other aircraft from Rackheath on a mission to bomb the Daimler-Benz Motor Works at Genshagen on the outskirts of Berlin.

After-action interrogations of the returning crews reported that the Osage Express was last seen in the Berlin area at approximately 1005 hours with one engine on fire and another engine’s propeller feathered but descending under control. Although no parachutes were seen it was later established that all nine crew members had been rescued from the waters of the Müritz See (lake) by a boat of the Kriegsmarine commanded by a Leutnant (2nd.Lt.) Philipp, stationed in the area. It has not been possible to determine whether they were aboard the aircraft in a successful emergency landing or they had all parachuted into the lake before the aircraft crashed.

Seized German documents reported that the aircraft came down at about 10:48 hrs near the eastern bank of the shallow lake opposite to the village of Klink, which is located on the western side of the lake, some 120 km NNW from Berlin.

(1) The trial of Major War Criminals at Nuremburg brought to the court’s notice the shooting of 15 crew members of two B-24 Liberators brought down on the 21st June 1944 in the district of Mecklenburg. This subsequently led to a General Military Government court being convened at Dachau in Germany during the period 20th February to the 31st March 1947. A number of German civilians, including a Friedrich Hildebrandt, were charged on four counts, that on or about 21st June and the 1st September 1944 they wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encouraged, aided, abetted and participated in the killing of a number of unknown members of the Allied air forces, who were unarmed and surrendered PoWs in the custody of the German Reich.

Hildebrandt was a Farmer and a Gauleiter (Regional Nazi party leader), Reichsstatthalter (Regional governor) and defence Commissar of Gau (Administrative division) Mecklenburg. The court heard that Hildebrandt had issued direct orders to the other accused that all enemy flyers who landed in Gau Mecklenburg were to be immediately captured and killed. The trial documentation recorded that seven (possibly nine) unknown members of the Allied air forces were killed in the vicinity of Klink in the district of Waren.

Analysis of a German telegram, found in the files of the Headquarters of the 11th Luftgaukommando, from the Rechlin Airfield Commander’s office, dated the 26th June 1944 suggested that after their rescue from the lake the nine airmen were passed into custody of the Waren Schutzpolizei (Uniformed Police) after which, only 1st.Lt. Helton and 2nd.Lt. Ludka Jr. were handed over to a Untersturmführer and Kriminalkommissar (Lt. junior grade in the Schutzstaffel (SS) and criminal detective) Erich Stempel and probably transported to the Sicherheitspolizeischule (Security Police School) at Drögen near Fürstenberg. Drögen is about 30 miles SE of the aircraft’s crash location. It is likely that the two airmen were killed at or near this location by unknown members of the SS and/or the Gestapo.

The telegram also indicated that the remaining seven members of the crew were to be transported to the Rechlin airbase which was located at the southern end of the Müritz See.

Research conducted by Bernd Kasten, the head of the City Archives in Schwerin, concluded that the seven airmen were shot and killed in the woods near Poppentin by Hauptmann der Polizei (Police Capt.) Kuhr, Polizeimeister (Police Sgt.) Jürss, Hilfspolizist (Auxiliary policeman) Brüggmann, SA-Sturmführer (2nd.Lt.) Schippmann from Waren and Ortsgruppenleiter (Local Nazi group leader) Gross from Eldenburg. No evidence has been found that any of these individuals were held to account for the murders.

One of the accused told the court that Hildebrandt had ordered that all reports of the killings were to be kept secret, no information was to be given to any authorities and that all reports of the deaths were to be recorded as “shot while trying to escape”. German documents containing the details of the nine crew members from the Osage Express show this as the reason given for each of their deaths.

The court found Hildebrandt not guilty of the charge of being involved in the killing of the nine unknown members of the Allied air forces in the vicinity of Klink. However, he was found guilty on two of the other three charges and sentenced to death by hanging. After a review of the case the sentence was confirmed, and Hildebrandt was hanged on the 29th November 1948. The court did not find any of the accused guilty of the murders of the nine airmen from the Osage Express.

Burial details:

German documents recorded that 1st.Lt. Helton and 2nd.Lt. Ludka Jr. were allegedly interred in a cemetery at Drögen near Fürstenberg on the 21st June 1944. After hostilities had ceased, several investigations were carried out by personnel of the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) which established that no such cemetery existed, furthermore no records of their burial in the surrounding communities could be found. The investigators came to the reasonable conclusion that 1st.Lt. Helton and 2nd.Lt. Ludka Jr. were shot and buried within the restricted area in the forests surrounding the Sicherheitspolizeischule. After the school was abandoned in April 1945 and occupied by units of the Soviet 20th Guard Tank Army the area remained restricted until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. As a consequence, at the time of writing of this report the status of 1st.Lt. Helton and 2nd.Lt. Ludka Jr. is recorded as ‘Missing in Action’ on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency database.

The same documents recorded that the remaining seven crew members of the Osage Express were interred in a mass grave at the Municipal cemetery in Poppentin, in the district of Waren, on the 21st June 1944. Poppentin is on the opposite bank of the Müritz See and about 5 miles WSW of the aircraft’s crash location. The remains of the seven airmen were disinterred on the 18th September 1946 by AGRC personnel and identified as the seven named crew members of the Osage Express. It was also established that they had each been shot consistent with being executed.

Above: 1st.Lt. Helton Flowering cherry trees, walls of the missing and the mourning woman statue at Netherlands American Cemetery (credit: ABMC and Fields of Honor)

1st.Lt. Edwin M. Helton. Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten. Born on the 6th November 1922. Son to H.l. and Ida L. Helton and husband to Margie L. (née Colvin) Helton of Ralston, Oklahoma, USA.

Above: 2nd.Lt. Nelson (credit: Robert Burns).

2nd.Lt. Maurice E. Nelson. Repatriated and interred at the Fort Bliss National cemetery in Section B, Site 295, El Paso in Texas on the 18th August 1949. Born on the 14th January 1924. Son to Mr. Edward M. Nelson of Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

2nd.Lt. Richard J. Ludka Jr. DFC, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Cambridge American cemetery in England. Born on 30th January 1920 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Husband to Mrs. Betty J. Ludka Jr. of Chicago, Illinois, USA.

T/Sgt. Frank Borchick. Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart. Interred at the Lorraine American cemetery in Plot C, Row 13, Grave 89, St. Avold, France. Born on 9th December 1923 in Bunola, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. . Son to Mrs. Esther Borchick of Pennsylvania, USA.

Above: Rankin (credit: Pat Phelps - FindAGrave).

T/Sgt. Warren Clarence Rankin. Repatriated and interred at the Kankakee Memorial Gardens and Chapel Mausoleum, Kankakee, Illinois, USA. Born on the 14th June 1923 in Kankakee County, Illinois. Son to Mr. Ethel B. Rankin of Michigan City, Indiana, USA.

Above: S/Sgt. Gensert, DFC. (Credit: Sean D. Conway who was sent this image by Thomas Moore a relative of Thomas A. Gensert)

S/Sgt. Thomas A. Gensert. DFC, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart. Interred at the Lorraine American cemetery in Plot D, Row 9, Grave 14, St. Avold in France. Born in 1917. Son to Mrs. Rose F. Genset of Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

Above: S/Sgt. Brzezowski. (credit: dshom - Ancestry.com).

S/Sgt. Stanley E. Brzezowski. Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart. Interred at the Lorraine American cemetery in Plot K, Row 26, Grave 25, St. Avold in France. Born in 1924 in New Jersey. Son to Joseph and Mary A. (née Buczek) Brzezowski of Paterson, New Jersey, USA.

S/Sgt. Charles L. Knowles Jr. DFC, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart. Interred at the Lorraine American cemetery in Plot D, Row 47, Grave 26, St. Avold in France. Born 11th March 1910 in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas. Son Charles Latham and Betty Clyde (nêe Peabody) Knowles, of Raymondville, Texas, USA.

S/Sgt. Carmine Margiasso. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Interred in the Lorraine American Cemetery in Plot E, Row 5, Grave 32, St. Avold in France. Born in 1923. Son to Mrs. Assunta Margiasso of Westwood, New Jersey, USA.

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’, for his valued research and advice in compiling this report. Thanks also to Andy Wilkinson from the 467th BG(H) Association for his valued assistance. Thanks to Linda Aksamit, the niece of Margie L. Colvin who was the wife to 1st.Lt. Helton, for the correction to her Aunt's maiden name. Thanks to Sean D. Conway for the image of the marker for S/Sgt. Gensert.

RS & TV 22.07.2020 - Addition of marker for S/Sgt. Thomas A. Gensert

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', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), 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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