12.09.1944 511th Bomber Squadron B-17G ‘Dinah Might’ 2nd.Lt. Robert C. Lopert
Operation: Synthetic Oil Refinery at Ruhland, Germany
Date: 12th September 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 511th Bomber Squadron (351st Bombardment Group (H)), 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Dinah Might
Serial No: 42-97318
Location: Staaken, Berlin, Germany (1)
Base: Polebrook (Station #110), Northamptonshire, England
Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Robert Clarence Lopert O-755714 AAF Age 25. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Darwin R. Nichols O-770738 AAF Age 26. PoW (2) (4)
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Fred R. Dahl Jr. O-723308 AAF Age 20. Killed (3)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Charles L. Surges O-555303 AAF Age 20. PoW Unknown camp.
Radio/Op: Sgt. Alton William Dreyer 38458896 AAF Age 20. PoW **
Engineer: Sgt. Lawrence (Sonny) F. Goodman 37167195 AAF Age 24. PoW Unknown camp
Top Turret: -
Ball Turret: Sgt. Jesse Coe 37680272 AAF Age 21. PoW Unknown camp
Right Waist: -
Left Waist: Sgt. Albert Sandlin 18078167 AAF Age 22. PoW **
Tail: Sgt. Paul Pomeranz 32822074 AAF Age 20. PoW Unknown camp
One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from the 23rd February 1945.
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, Prussia now Poland
** 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).
Back L to R: Sgt. Jesse Coe, 2nd Lt. Robert C. Lopert, 2nd Lt. Darwin R. Nichols, James K. Fong, 2nd. Lt. Fred R. Dahl Jr., Sgt. Alton W. Dreyer. Front L to R: Sgt. Albert M. Sandlin, Sgt. Paul Pomeranz, Sgt. Lawrence (Sonny) F. Goodman. (credit: Susan McCracken)
(unknown rank) James K. Fong was replaced by 2nd.Lt. Charles L. Surges for this mission
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of the 12th September 1944 at about 0915 hours, 42-97318 Dinah Might took off from Polebrook with 11 other aircraft from 511th Bomber Squadron on a mission to bomb the Synthetic Oil Refinery at Ruhland in Germany.
After action crew interrogations established that Dinah Might was heavily attacked ENE of Berlin by German fighter aircraft en route to the target. The aircraft was last sighted flying South about 3 miles ESE of Wriezen. Dinah Mightwas one of 6 aircraft from the 351st Bombardment Group that was shot down by German Fighters.
The tail gunner from an aircraft flying in front and above Dinah Might reported that the aircraft exploded shortly after two parachutes were seen in the air. A family member of Sgt. Goodman retells the story that 2nd.Lt. Nichols thought he was the last to leave the aircraft but when he peered through the smoke enshrouded cockpit he saw Sgt. Goodman at the Top Turret tangled and struggling to free himself from the web of straps and cords. Precious seconds ticked away as the aircraft lost altitude as 2nd Lt. Nichols cut Sgt. Goodman free from his webbed snare. The aircraft was fatally earthbound as the last two airmen bailed out.
It was later established that all of the crew bailed out of the aircraft. The surviving airmen were all captured at their scattered locations. 2nd.Lt. Surges and Sgt. Dreyer sustained injuries and were hospitalised at the Luftwaffe Hospital at Reinickendorf in Berlin. 2nd.Lt. Dahl Jr. did not survive the bail out.
(1) Research has not been able to find an explanation why captured German documents recorded the location of the aircraft crash far to the West from the position where the aircraft was seen to explode and from where the aircrew bailed out and were captured. Either the report relates to a different aircraft or the location was erroneously recorded.
(2) Seized German documents recorded that 2nd. Lt. Nichols was captured at Prötzel near Strausberg by Luftwaffe personnel at about 1220 hours. He along with Sgt. Goodman were taken to an airbase in Berlin and then transported by train to the interrogation centre at Dulag Luft Oberursel near Frankfurt. Sgt. Goodman recalls that 2nd. Lt. Nichols was last seen on the 15th September 1944, escaping the train through a lavatory window after it had stopped at a small town outside of Frankfurt. It was later established that he had been recaptured and incarcerated in the Gestapo operated prison located next to the Gerichtsgebäude (Courthouse) in Gießen, some 30 miles north of Frankfurt, where he was held for about 7 months.
When trying to explain why he was held in jail instead of being sent to an Oflag (Officers' PoW camp), researchers remembered the "Bullet Decree":
On the 4th March 1944, Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent out what was later introduced into the Nuremberg Trial as document No. 1650-PS: A top secret teletype ordering that recaptured escaped officers, except British and Americans, were to be handed over to the Gestapo for transfer to Mauthausen Concentration Camp (keyword: "Operation Bullet"). British and American officers however were to be held captive away from PoW camps; if the Wehrmacht did not have appropriate facilities, they were to be held in a police prison in a town where also a Gestapo office was. Enquiry should then be made in higher places as to whether they should be handed over to the SD. (Sicherheitsdienst (SD) was the security service of the SS).
It seems that in the case of 2nd.Lt. Nichols, this enquiry was either not made or not answered in the affirmative for a long time. A number of reasons for this omission are possible, one of which could have been intentional disobedience by someone who wanted to protect the prisoner.
After the prison was liberated by US forces it came to light that 2nd.Lt. Nichols had been shot and killed in late March 1945. The case was investigated and resulted in a General Military Government court being convened at Ludwigsburg on the 30th April 1946 A Karl Lösch, a member of the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal police), was charged that he in conjunction with a Konrad Wald, an SS warden at the prison, that they at or near Gießen on or about the 27th March 1945 wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encouraged, aided, abetted and participated in the killing of 2nd.Lt. Darwin R. Nichols, a member of the United States Army, who was unarmed and a surrendered PoW in the custody of the German Reich.
The trial proceedings established that Oberwachtmeister (Police Sgt.) Konrad Wald was the individual that shot and killed 2nd.Lt. Nichols. Research has uncovered that Wald was cited but not tried by the Court because he had died on the 14th September 1945 of unknown causes whilst in custody at the Neuengamme German PoW camp in Hamburg.
Evidence has been found that indicates that 2nd.Lt. Nichols was removed from the prison to the nearby Gestapo offices at Neuen Bäue 23. It was here that Lösch was ordered by the Gestapo Chief Kueppel, an SS Hauptsturmführer (Captain), to accompany Wald and remove 2nd.Lt. Nichols and kill him. Evidently, the relocation also happened to several other prisoners, some of whom were killed, and some released in a completely arbitrary fashion. 2nd.Lt. Nichols was one of four prisoners that were murdered that day. There are many examples of the Gestapo killing their prisoners during the final stages of the war. Heinrich Gimpel, a Wachtmeister (Guard) at the prison and who carried a letter from 2nd.Lt. Nichols praising him for kindness and consideration, told the court that the US Army was a mere 15 Km from Gießen. So, it is plausible that this was the reason 2nd.Lt. Nichols was killed.
At about 0100 hours on the 27th March 1945, the airman had his hands tied behind his back and was marched for 20 to 25 minutes toward the Lahn River. It was here that Lösch witnessed Wald shoot 2nd.Lt. Nichols from close range and kill him, who then told him that the airman had “fallen into the Lahn River”. His body was found some time later at the Lahn weir and was identified by Heinrich Gimpel before being interred at the Neuer Friedhof (New cemetery) in Gießen. As part of the investigation his body was exhumed, and a post mortem performed by a US Medical examiner during June 1945.
The court found Lösch guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 2nd.Lt. Nichols and handed down a sentence of 11 years imprisonment commencing on the 12th May 1945. He was released during September 1952.
(3) 2nd.Lt. Surges reported that 2nd.Lt. Dahl had apparently opened his parachute whilst still in the aircraft. The aircraft was in a steep dive with its bomb bay doors open when he was thrown out of the aircraft’s nose escape hatch with his parachute under his arm.
(5) Darwin R. Nichols enlisted in the US Navy during 1935 and served until the 9th February 1939 when he resigned as a Midshipman (Officer cadet).
(credit: Susan McCracken)
(Left) 2nd.Lt. Darwin R. Nichols, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré in Belgium, Plot B, Row 31, Grave 14. Born on 28th April 1918 in Power, Idaho. Son to Duboise and Emily Nichols of North Pocatello, Idaho, and husband to Mrs Eileen B. (née Graves) Nichols, of Multnomah, Oregon, USA. (credit: Susan McCracken)
(Right) 2nd.Lt. Fred R. Dahl Jr. Repatriated and interred at the Holy Sepulchre cemetery, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in Section U, Lot No 79, Range 27, Grave No. 1. Born on the 11th June 1924. Son to Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Dahl of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. (credit: Ellen Johnson - Find A Grave)
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. Special thanks to Susan McCracken, the Great Niece of 2nd.Lt. Darwin R. Nichols for her contributions.