31.07.1944 410th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 42-31906, 2nd.Lt. Darwin N. Johnson
Operation: Munich (Mission #507), Germany
Date: 31st July 1944 (Monday)
Unit: 94th Bombardment Group (H), 410th Bombardment Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 42-31906
Location: Günzenhausen, 19½ km north of Munich, Germany
Base: Bury St. Edmunds (Station #468), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Darwin N. Johnson O-755694 AAF Age 25. Killed
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. George E. Thompson O-821738 AAF Age 28. Survived (1)
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Michael Rohulich O-708312 AAF Age? Survived (2)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Robert T. Maddison O-769156 AAF Age 21. Survived (2)
Radio Operator: Sgt. John J. Smith Jr. 12132233 AAF Age 20. Survived (2)
Engineer: S/Sgt. James D. Compton 18176137 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Ball Turret: Sgt. George F. Gottschalk 32772542 AAF Age 27. PoW *
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Ralph T. Bisdale 32784962 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)
Tail Gunner: Sgt. Francis L. Heimiller 32733753 AAF Age 21. PoW *
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 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of the 31st July 1944 B-17G 42-31906 took off from Bury St. Edmunds to bomb targets at Munich, Germany. The aircraft was observed to be hit by flak as the formation neared the target area which damaged two engines and set them ablaze. The aircraft was then seen descending rapidly but under control and no parachutes were observed.
The casualty reports from the returning PoWs suggested that the aircraft exploded in mid-air after being hit by flak around 15 minutes from the target. Some of the crew bailed out and some were blown out by the force of the explosion. Those who bailed out cannot be accurately determined from these reports. However, analysis of other available documentation suggests that all the crew except for 2nd.Lt. Johnson survived bailing out of the aircraft. It is not known how 2nd.Lt. Johnson perished, however, he was seen at the controls of the aircraft when the aircraft exploded.
German documents report that the aircraft wreckage fell to earth some 200 metres SW of Günzenhausen, which is about 19½ km north of Munich.
Further German documents recorded that S/Sgt. Compton, Sgt. Gottschalk and Sgt. Heimiller were captured at about 13:00 hours on the day of the crash at Schleissheim which is some 13 km north of Munich. The three airmen were transported to a Dulag Luft, assumed to be Oberursel near Frankfurt, before being incarcerated at Stalag Luft 4.
(1) An uncorroborated entry in Vol. 4 of ‘Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces’, cites a War Crime Trial that refers to the capture and murder of five unknown members of the United States Army who bailed out of their disabled bomber following an air raid over Munich during July, August or September 1944. The entry speculates that 2nd.Lt. Thompson and Sgt. Bisdale may have been amongst the five unknown airmen. However, no official documentation has been found that provides any information on the fate of 2nd.Lt. Thompson and Sgt. Bisdale and they remain listed as Missing in Action by the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
(2) It has been established that 2nd.Lt. Rohulich and 2nd.Lt. Maddison were taken into custody and held at a German anti-aircraft position close to where they landed. Sgt. Smith Jr. was held in custody at a German command post near to the scene of the aircraft wreckage. All three were shot and killed by German civilians.
After hostilities ceased a US Army investigation resulted in a General Military Government Court being convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 25th July to 1st August 1946. The court charged Hans Staudinger, Maximilian Hermann and Josef Huber, German civilians, and Oberleutnant (1st.Lt.) Walter Kaiser a member of the German armed forces of the then German Reich, that they did, at or near Eching, Germany, on or about the 31st July 1944, wilfully, deliberately, and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet, and participate in the killing of three members of the United States Army who were then unarmed, surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
The court heard that Staudinger, an assistant Kreisleiter (District leader) of Kreis (District) Freising, Hermann a SA Sturmfuhrer, and Huber a SA Truppfuhrer, left Freising in a car with specific orders from Kreisleiter Villechner (see 3) to search out and kill any enemy airmen that could be found. They found two airmen, tentatively identified as 2nd.Lt. Rohulich and 2nd.Lt. Maddison, at a German anti-aircraft position and demanded that the two should be handed over. Unteroffizier (Sgt.) Eisenhardt, in charge of the anti-aircraft position, refused to comply with their demands until he received orders from his Commanding Officer, Kaiser. Staudinger then ordered Hermann to take each of the airmen separately behind the barrack and shoot them whilst Huber stood by. That night the bodies of 2nd.Lt. Rohulich and 2nd.Lt. Maddison were buried in a bomb crater beside the Autobahn not far from Eching, Germany.
Staudinger, Hermann and Huber then drove to the scene of the aircraft wreckage and met up with Kaiser who informed them that there was another airman at his command post. Later on the same day Kaiser handed over the airman, tentatively identified as Sgt. Smith Jr. The airman, Hermann and Huber were driven by Staudinger to the Autobahn at Fürholzen. Here, Staudinger stopped the car and ordered Hermann and Huber to shoot the airman. Sgt. Smith Jr. was shot by Huber and after the dragging the airman to a nearby meadow, Huber fired two or three more shots into the body. The next day Sgt. Smith Jr., having been stripped of clothing by unknown persons, was buried near the place where he had been murdered.
Three of the accused admitted their involvement in the murder of the three airmen but in their defence claimed they were following orders. The court rejected their plea and found them guilty of the charges. Staudinger and Hermann were sentenced to death by hanging which was carried out on the 5th December 1947. Huber was sentenced to life imprisonment but was paroled in November 1954. Kaiser was acquitted of the charges.
(3) Hans-Rupert Villechner was removed by a Nazi party court from the office of Kreisleiter due to his involvement in the murder of a foreign worker, and in due course was drafted as a soldier. At the end of the war he was captured by US forces but by faking his identity he was released. Since he was on the American wanted list, he and his family spent the next five years incognito living in the Soviet Occupation Zone and in the British Zone, in Oldenburg. He turned himself in to the authorities in 1951. A first trial which ended in a prison sentence was overturned on appeal, and in a fresh trial he was acquitted due to lack of evidence. He also had to face the Denazification Court which classified him as "incriminated". On appeal, he managed to get this lowered to "less incriminated" in 1955, thanks to a number of "Persilscheine" (*) and to the general reluctance of witnesses to testify.
(*) "Persilschein" (=Persil certificate) being the mocking German expression for statements, affidavits etc. used to 'wash white' a person accused of being a Nazi.
German records show that only 2nd.Lt. Johnson was initially interred at the Friedhof (Cemetery) Hochmutting near Schleissheim which is north of Munich, on the 2nd August 1944.
(Above 2nd.Lt. Johnson: Credit Dale A. Wishop & Margaret O'Hagan FindAGrave)
2nd.Lt. Darwin N. Johnson. Repatriated and reinterred at the Pecatonica Cemetery, Illinois. Born on the 16th March 1919 in Illinois. Son to Arthur Leonard and Mattie Pearl (née Caldwell) Johnson of Pecatonica, Illinois, USA.
(Above: 2nd.Lt. Thompson: Credit: Roland Hall & FindAGrave)
2nd.Lt. George E. Thompson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Tablets of the Missing, Epinal American Cemetery, Dinozé, France. Declared date of death 1st August 1945. Born during 1916 in South Carolina. Son to George E. and Annie L. (née Brown) Thompson of Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
2nd.Lt. Michael Rohulich. Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, France. Plot J, Row 27, Grave 5. Pennsylvania. Son to Mrs. Mary Rohulich of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, USA.
(Above: 2nd.Lt.Maddison: Credit: Fayth Evjen FindAGrave)
2nd.Lt. Robert T. Maddison. Repatriated and reinterred at the Sheridan Cemetery, Montana. Born on the 19th January 1923 in Sheridan, Montana. Son to John M. Maddison of Sheridan Montana and husband to Mrs. Mary Lou Maddison of Houston, Texas, USA.
(Above: Sgt Smith:Credit Michel Beckers.)
Sgt. John J. Smith Jr. Repatriated on the 1st August 1949 from the Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, France. Reinterred at the Beverly National Cemetery in New Jersey, Section I, Grave 220. Born on the 15th June 1924 in New Jersey. Son to Mr. John J. Smith Sr. of Camden, New Jersey, USA.
Sgt. Ralph T. Bisdale. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Tablets of the Missing, Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England. Declared date of death 1st August 1945. Born during 1924 in New York. Son to Ralph and Clara Louise (née Tolles) of North Tonawanda, New York, 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’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report.