20.2.1944 332nd Bomb Squadron (H) B-17F ‘Skunkface’, 1st.Lt. Ernest B. Kidd
Operation: Leipzig and Aschersleben (Mission #226), Germany
Date: 20th February 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 91st Bombardment Group (H), 332nd Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17F Skunkface
Serial No: 42-29656
Location: Lens, Belgium
Base: Bassingbourn (Station #121), Cambridgeshire, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Ernest Byard Kidd O-746370 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Benjamin Gladstone Beauclair O-803930 AAF Age 23. Survived (2)
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Billy Hugo Huish O-750196 AAF Age 25. Survived (3)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Charles M. Betzel O-744176 AAF Age 22. Survived (4)
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Theodore J. Mazor 13083837 AAF Age 23. PoW *
Engineer: Sgt. Ober Lawrence Torvik 19069446 AAF Age 19. PoW *
Ball Turret: Sgt. Rex Wertman 35743312 AAF Age19. Survived (5)
Right Waist: Sgt. Ernest B. Serna 39531503 AAF Age 23. PoW *
Left Waist: S/Sgt. Billie L. Ramsey 15354408 AAF Age 20. Survived (6)
Tail: Sgt. Francis A. Hentges 13026551 AAF Age 20. PoW *
* 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 20th February at about 09:25 hours B-17F 42-29656 Skunkface took off from Bassingbourn on a bombing mission to Leipzig with Aschersleben as the secondary target.
Top: 332nd Bomber Squadron’s 42-29815 B-17F LG-P ‘Miami Clipper’ and 42-29656 B-17G LG-S ‘Skunkface’. A captured Bf 110 in British markings passes in the background. (Credit: Havelaar). Lower Left: 42-29656 B-17G LG-S ‘Skunkface’ at Bassingbourn. (Credit: The American Air Museum). Lower Right: Wreckage of crashed 42-29656 B-17G LG-S ‘Skunkface’ (Credit: US Government Files & Fold3).
On the homebound leg, at around 15:10 hours and about 1.5 miles NNW of Stavelot in Belgium the aircraft was attacked by a number of Fw-190 fighters. It was last seen going down under control passing through 5000 feet with number 3 engine smoking heavily. One parachute was observed exiting the aircraft. There were no reported sightings of 2nd.Lt. Betzel in the casualty reports after take-off and coupled with his reported landing location it is probable that the single parachute observed was him exiting the aircraft (see 4). Casualty reports confirmed that all of the crew successfully bailed out of the aircraft in the vicinity of Lens in Belgium. German documents reported that the aircraft crashed in a field near the Railway Station in Lens.
(1) 1st.Lt. Kidd landed in the middle of the Luftwaffe airfield at Chièvres, Belgium and was captured by the airfield guard. He suffered a fractured thigh and received medical attention at a hospital in Mons. He was later transferred to another hospital in Brussels and was last seen on the 1st March 1944 by 2nd.Lt. Beauclair and Sgt. Ramsey. He was later interned at Stalag Luft 3 (PoW No. 5874). He endured the forced march (also called the death march) to Stalag 7A in Moosburg before being liberated on the 29th April 1945 by elements of the US 14th Armoured Infantry Division.
(2) 2nd.Lt. Beauclair was wounded in the leg and chest during the fighter attack and together with Sgt. Wertman (see 5) taken by ambulance to a military hospital in Mons. He was later interned at Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, Prussia.
(3) 2nd.Lt. Huish was last seen on the 21st February while escaping near Lens. He evaded capture with the assistance of the Belgian resistance and eventually joined seven other US Army Air Force (AAF) airmen hiding in a well camouflaged hut in the Le Bois de la Champagne (The Champagne Woods), near Chimay. Here they waited for the underground to plan the arrangements to get them out of occupied Europe over the Pyrenees and through Spain back to England.
On the 25th March the eight airmen were joined by Sgt. Vincent J. Reese from the B-17G 42-39795 'Woman’s Home Companion' and Sgt. John Pindroch from the B-17G 42-31499 ‘Susan Ruth’.
Two of ten airmen, 1st.Lt. Ivan E. Glaze and S/Sgt. Warren W. Cole, both from the B-17F 42-30782 'Rationed Passion' decided that after waiting almost a month that they would try to escape on their own and left early in April. They evaded capture with the assistance of the Belgian and French resistance, and Spanish partisans. They eventually reached Gibraltar on the 26th June and their Squadron at Thurleigh on the 30th June 1944.
On the morning of the 22nd April 1944 at about 08:00 hours the remaining eight airmen and a Henri Fontaine, who had delivered the morning meal, were surrounded and captured by a disparate group of turncoats and traitors dressed in German uniforms. The families of two nearby farms who had been feeding the airmen were also arrested as were about thirty Belgian citizens from Chimay. Florent Simon, a farmer and the father-in-law of Henri, was the only one to escape. The civilians were interrogated, sent to different jails and later to concentration camps. Research by Steve Snyder, the author of ‘Shot Down’, determined that Joseph, Florent’s son Simon and Henri Fontaine were transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp on the 1st September and eventually to the Dachau concentration camp. Joseph was killed during a US AAF raid whilst working repairing railway tracks near Koblenz, Germany. It was reported that Henri was alive after being liberated from Budapest but was never heard from again.
The eight airmen were stripped to their underwear and searched. They all had their ‘dog tags’ and two were still partially dressed in military uniform and could not be mistaken for freedom fighters despite the discovery of two ancient rifles and a pistol. They were interrogated at a local school and in the early afternoon returned by truck to the woods where they had been captured. They were separated and taken into the forest, hands tied behind their backs, with each airman accompanied by two guards in German uniform. On an arranged signal the eight airmen were shot in the back and killed.
Later that day their bodies were transported to the Luftwaffe airfield Gosselies, about 1-mile SSE of the village of Gosselies and buried in a mass grave. They were all later reinterred at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten.
Research has determined that three of the murdered airmen were 2nd.Lt. George W. Eike, 2nd.Lt. Robert J. Benninger and Sgt. John Pindroch from the B-17G 42-31499 Susan Ruth.
“Shot Down” The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth: by Steve Snyder.
Three others were T/Sgt. Orian G. Owens, S/Sgt. John J. Gemborski and T/Sgt. Charles A. Nichols from the B-17F 42-30782 Rationed Passion .
The seventh and eighth murdered airmen were Sgt. Vincent J. Reese from the B-17G 42-39795 Woman’s Home Companion and 2nd.Lt. Huish from this aircraft.
Research conducted by the late Herman Bodson and documented in his book ‘Downed Allied Airmen and Evasion of Capture: The Role of Local Resistance Networks in WW2’, highlighted that there was little that the US Government Military Justice system could have done to track down the perpetrators and punish those responsible for the murders because they had no jurisdiction over Belgian citizens.
Herman Bodson describes that an uncovered document dated the 12th November 1947 recorded that the Belgian military tribunals had identified and prosecuted the main culprits responsible for the atrocity.
The actual charges levelled at the following six individuals remain unknown as was their role in the deaths of the eight USAAF airmen:
Marcel Jaye, the Commandant of the 3rd Company of Garde Wallone (Local auxiliary police force) was sentenced to death,
Charles Lambinon, the Head of the Regional Pro-German Information Service (SI) was sentenced to death,
Karl Berger, German citizen and the Head of the Chimay Feldgendarmerie (Military Police) was sentenced to death,
Jean Lefevre, the Adjutant 3rd Company Garde Wallone was sentenced to death,
Camille Raccour, of the Garde Wallone who arrested Mrs. Simon, the wife of Florent, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The sentences recorded are those handed down by the Belgian military tribunals, but it is not known if they were carried out.
(4) 2nd.Lt. Betzel landed near the farm of Maurice Nisol in Hainaut, Belgium. He suffered a broken ankle and a minor head injury during the parachute landing. The farmer gave him shelter and with his assistance contacted Belgian patriots of the Comète evasion network (the Comet Line). However, he was captured in Antwerp late in April 1944 in a trap set by infiltrators who had organized a false evasion line. He was interned at Stalag Luft 3 (PoW No. 5167) and endured the forced march to Stalag 7A in Moosburg before being liberated on the 29th April 1945 by elements of the US 14th Armoured Infantry Division.
(5) Sgt. Wertman was reported to have been severely wounded in the throat whilst descending under his parachute. He received immediate first aid and was then transferred by ambulance, along with 2nd.Lt. Beauclair (see 2), to a hospital in Mons. Sgt. Wertman died en route to the hospital from his injuries.
(6) S/Sgt. Ramsey landed in the middle of the Luftwaffe airfield at Chièvres, Belgium and was captured by the airfield guard. On 21st February 1944 he and 2nd.Lt. Huish attempted an escape near Lens, but he was injured and recaptured. S/Sgt. Ramsey was interned at Stalag Luft 4. 2nd.Lt. Huish made good his escape (see 3).
(Left) 2nd.Lt. Billy Hugo Huish. Purple Heart, Air Medal. Netherlands American Cemetery, Plot O, Row 2, Grave 10. Born on the 17th October 1918 in Douglas, Arizona. Son to Heber A. and Edna Lillian (née Haymore) Huish of Douglas, Arizona and husband to Mary L. (née Christensen) Huish of Douglas, Arizona, USA. (credit: Fields of Honor)
(Right) Sgt. Rex Wertman. Purple Heart, Air Medal. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Repatriated and interred at the Queens Meadow Point Cemetery, Mineral County, West Virginia. Born on the 15th February 1922 in New Creek, West Virginia. Son to Ira and Lottie (née Orites) Wertman of New Creek and husband to Mrs Dorothy (née Chapman) Wertman of New Creek, West Virginia, USA. (credit: Alan Wetzel – Find A Grave)
Memorial in Saint-Rémy near Chimay, Belgium to the memory of the eight murdered USAAF airmen and two Belgian underground members who died in German camps. (credit: Steve Snyder and the American Air Museum)
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. Special thanks to Steve Snyder for his advice and also for permission to use his research and materials.