20.07.1944 613rd Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 42-31037 ‘Pistol Packin’ MaMa’, 1st.Lt. Kenneth R. Murgatroyd
Operation: Leipzig (Mission #113 for BG; #484 for 8th AF), Germany
Date: 20th July 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 401st Bombardment Group (H), 613rd Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Pistol Packin’ MaMa
Serial No: 42-31037
Location: 1½ km SE of the village of Wohlsborn
Base: Deenethorpe (Station #128), Northamptonshire, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Kenneth Robert Murgatroyd O-757248 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. James Elias Pennoyer, Jr. O-818213 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Owen Howard “Tony” Jorgensen O-709052 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. James Knox Elderkin, Jr. O-689500 AAF Age 24. PoW *
Radio Operator: T/Sgt. John Stanley Spirodek 36724687 AAF Age 21. Killed.
Engineer/Gunner: T/Sgt. Stanley Lesser 32791444 AAF Age 22. PoW No. 6972 ***
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Jerome Philip Robertson 33737795 AAF Age 21. PoW ***
Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Howard Nels Magnuson 39206694 AAF Age 19. PoW ***
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Donald Hoenig Schmidli 36808544 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)
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 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
*** Stalag Luft 4 Groß-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
Photograph of ‘Pistol Packin’ MaMa‘ dated June 1944. The date makes it probable that this image was taken prior to the taxiing incident depicted below.
A ground taxiing incident resulting in the ‘Pistol Packin’ MaMa‘ colliding with B-17G 42-39932 ‘Sweat ‘er Out’, dated 7th June 1944
The above three images are official photographs used in the 401st Bomb Group History (Courtesy Fold3 and the USAAF)
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of the 20th July 1944, Pistol Packin’ MaMa took off from Deenethorpe, assigned to bomb the primary target at Leipzig which was a ball bearing plant. During the bomb run, the target could not be made out due to 4/10 to 5/10 cloud coverage, and the Lead crew Mickey Operator could not determine which of the targets he saw was the right one. So the Lead pilot ordered the formation to proceed to the secondary target which was the airfield of Kölleda. During the bomb run Pistol Packin’ MaMa was hit by flak in #1 engine and #2 wing fuel tank which started a fire.
Mickey Operator = Operator of the airborne ground mapping 'X’ band radar which was popularly known as ‘Mickey’.
After jettisoning their bombs in an open field, the crew was ordered to bail out.
An after action report by two crew members of B-17G #43-37706 Satan's Chillen, flying below and behind 42-31037, reported:
Lost as a result of flak. 5 parachutes seen. Number 2 engine and fuselage afire. Stayed in formation for 10 minutes – 2 chutes came out – then he peeled off to left and 2 more chutes came out – made wide 360° pattern losing altitude. Tail fell off and plane crashed.
The report of the German salvage team stated that the main part of the wreckage, consisting of cockpit, engines and wings had come down at about 500 metres NE of the Bärenhügel (“bear hill”), a small elevation covered with linden trees in the midst of fields.
The precise spot is still remembered by locals and can be pinpointed at Lat/Long coordinates of 51.027357, 11.393287.
Photograph of the Bärenhügel in its current state (2020), viewed to the SE (Courtesy of Herr Bernd Schmidt)
100 metres to the NW of the main crash site, a destroyed slewing ring was found, and south of the Bärenhügel, the tail assembly with rudder and elevators, torn into small parts. At the Bärenhügel, a dead airman was found, and 150 metres to the east, another one. A third airman was found dead some 300 metres south of the Bärenhügel.
Research conducted by Bernd Schmidt of Weimar, using MACR 7545, the German KU file 2509 and the Sworn Statements taken down during the postwar War Crimes investigation, determined that while S/Sgt. Magnuson came down in the vicinity of Isserstedt, south of Apolda, and 1st.Lt. Murgatroyd was taken prisoner by personnel from a flak battery, about 3 Km SW of the crash site, the remaining four survivors T/Sgt. Lesser, 2nd.Lt. Elderkin, S/Sgt. Robertson and 2nd.Lt. Pennoyer came down fairly close to each other and to the wreckage.
S/Sgt. Robertson was taken to identify the body of Schmidli. He states that he looked very much beaten up or as if he had been stoned. He was covered in blood and a blood-covered stone was lying close by.
Both Robertson and Elderkin saw the body of Jorgensen and were of the opinion that he had been shot dead. Elderkin described that he had last seen Jorgensen alive:
“I made a delay-jump, thus was one of the first to land. Jorgensen landed over ¼ mile away. When I saw him he had discarded his chute and was running down the road, Suddenly he dived down on the ground, presumably to avoid detection. I hid. A few minutes later I heard 2 shots. When I was captured they showed me Jorgensen’s body. He was clutching a bloody handkerchief.”
It was Elderkin, who had also seen Spirodek from closeup but had to look at the ID tags to make sure the body was Spirodek.
“I last saw him on the ground dead beside Jorgensen. His body had telescoped, I did not recognize him at first. Evidently his parachute did not open. I noticed no blood on Spirodek but he looked badly broken up.”
Lesser, Robertson and Elderkin were taken to the Gestapo HQ at Weimar which were located in the former Stables of the Grandduke of Thuringia. The vehicle Murgatroyd was in followed a Luftwaffe lorry to Weimar Cemetery where three baskets (Stokes litters) were carried into the building. After some time the Luftwaffe soldiers who had been carrying them came back, carrying bloodstained airmen’s equipment which they threw back on the lorry. The lorry and the vehicle with Murgatroyd aboard drove on to the Gestapo HQ where Robertson and Elderkin were led out to climb aboard the lorry. Murgatroyd was also made to join them and noticed the names of Spirodek, Schmidli and Jorgensen on the stacked Mae Wests etc. The lorry drove to the Luftwaffe barracks at Weimar-Nohra where they met Magnuson and Pennoyer. The next day, they were taken to Oberursel by train, and later to their respective Stalags.
The three bodies were viewed on 22nd July, at 15:30 hrs by an officer cadet of Der Sanitätsdienst (German Medical Corps) ranking as Fahnenjunker-Feldwebel (Officer cadet with the rank of Sgt). He cannot have been a fully qualified physician (as he should have been) yet nevertheless completed the death certificates, certifying as cause of death a skull fracture in the case of Schmidli, a basilar skull fracture in the case of Jorgensen, and a smashed skull plus fractures of both legs in the case of Spirodek.
As soon as he could i.e. immediately after his arrival at Stalag Luft 1, Elderkin dictated a statement in which he accused civilians as having killed Schmidli and Spirodek, and claimed that Jorgensen had been shot. The War Crimes Branch of the JAG (Army) started an investigation. Two years later, the top sheet in file 12-865, signed by Colonel C.E. Straight, Deputy Judge Advocate for War Crimes, recorded the following:
“It appears that T/Sgt. John Spirodek was killed because his parachute did not open. It seems certain that S/Sgt. Donald H. Schmidli was beaten to death but there is no indication as to who is responsible for his death. 2nd. Lt. Owen Jorgensen was shot in the back of his head and killed instantly by a policeman named Gniebsch. Hoffman and Hirsch (first names unknown) were also implicated in the crime.”
The file does not contain any indication where the War Crime Investigators got the names of Gniebsch, Hoffman and Hirsch from.
Herr Schmidt’s research however identified two of these names: Hoffman, correctly spelled Hofmann, was the Nazi party Kreisleiter of Weimar. He was also involved in another airmen lynching atrocity which happened nine days later at Ottmannshausen and was named by a German eye witness (15 years old at the time) as being the man who shot Jorgensen.
Gniebsch was the county leader of the Gendarmerie (rural police), ranking Polizeihauptmann (Police Capt.), who also featured in the Ottmannshausen incident. Since he was 60 years of age in 1944, the following passage in Elderkin’s Sworn Statement may refer to him (but cannot refer to Kreisleiter Franz Hofmann who was 15 years younger and was by no means “thin”):
“I was captured by a local German Guard unit together with several civilians… I overheard these civilians talking about what had happened… They pointed out the man who had shot Lt. Jorgensen… He was about 60 years of age, 5’5” tall, 140 pounds, wore heavy glasses, had gray hair; his face was deeply lined, he had a large pointed nose, was rather thin and stooped. I was told he had lost his son in the war.”
The postwar whereabouts of Polizeihauptmann Fritz Gniebsch are unknown. Kreisleiter Franz Hofmann died in Weimar.
Franz Hofmann, school councillor, district leader (since 1933) and district administrator (since 1935) died on 30th March 1945 at 01:35 hrs at the Sophienhaus in Weimar from severe blood loss after being shot in the stomach and left knee. Under not entirely clear circumstances a sentry had opened fire on Hofmann's car at a roadblock on Belvederer Allee, near Falkenburg. On the 1st April 1945, the THÜRINGER GAUZEITUNG reported his death with the wording "victim of a tragic accident"; he was cremated on the 4th April 1945.
Straight’s last sentence in the above letter of the 9th May 1947, “It is not likely that this case will be brought to trial” proved to be true. Obviously the case could not be solved without the cooperation of the Soviets who were the Occupying Power in Thuringia where the alleged crimes had been committed. After President Truman’s declaration of 12th March 1947 which became known as the Truman Doctrine there was however little love lost between the erstwhile allies.
The Weimar Cemetery records show that the three airmen were buried on 25th July 1944 at 07:00 hrs “without any ceremony”. The US Army managed to find and exhume the men before they had to hand over Thuringia to the Soviets in July 1945. They were taken to the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avold, France.
(Left: Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times, dated September 2nd, 1944; Right: Courtesy of Kathy Salazar - FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Owen Howard “Tony” Jorgensen, initially buried Weimar Cemetery Plot 9 Grave 7, then taken to Lorraine American Cemetery St. Avold, Plot N, Row 17, Grave 1931. Repatriated and buried in February 1949 in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Graceland, Lot 4579-3, at Glendale, Los Angeles County, California. Son of Enoch Berg (predeceased) and Gertrude Mary (née Sanders) Jorgensen of Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA.
(Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune Sun, dated October 15th, 1944)
T/Sgt. John Stanley Spirodek, initially buried Weimar Cemetery Plot 9 Grave 9, then taken to Lorraine American Cemetery St. Avold, Plot N, Row 13, Grave 1882. Repatriated and buried on the 29th January 1949, in St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery at Niles, Cook County, Illinois. Former husband of Lois Winifred (née Bullerman) Walsh (remarried in 1947), and son of Piotr and Amalia (née Jarecki) Spirodek (predeceased), of Chicago, Illinois, USA.
(Courtesy of Jennifer Madison - FindAGrave)
S/Sgt. Donald Hoenig Schmidli, initially buried Weimar Cemetery Plot 9 Grave 6, then taken to Lorraine American Cemetery St. Avold, Plot N, Row 14, Grave 1885. Repatriated and buried in November 1948, in Graceland Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, section 15, block 15, lot 8, grave 6. Son of John and Frieda M. (née Hoenig) Schmidli, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.
(Courtesy of Herr Bernd Schmidt)
OF THE CREW MEMBERS
OF A US B17 BOMBER
NAVIGATOR 2LT. OWEN H. JORGENSEN
RADIO OPERATOR T/SGT. JOHN S. SPIRODEX
TAIL GUNNER S/SGT. DONALD H. SCHMIDLEY
WHO ON 20 JULY 1944
IN THE FIELDS OF WOHLSBORN
LOST THEIR LIVES
The Memorial was commissioned by the Wohlsborn community and unveiled on August 28th, 2001, in the presence of General Gregory S. Martin, at the time commanding officer of the US Air Forces in Europe, residing at Ramstein Air Base. Sadly two of the three names are misspelled. The booklet of Herr Schmidt and Herr Vitz ends with a report of the unveiling and points out the errors, and remarks in its last sentence: "It remains to be seen whether there'll be another council vote to correct the errors, and a sponsor to pay for it."
Researched by Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ (Jan 2021). This report is based, with kind permission, on the research by Bernd Schmidt (Weimar) which has been published in 2021 in book form (Jan 2021):
Bernd Schmidt/Traugott Vitz, Der Fliegermord von Wohlsborn. Fliegerschicksale im 2. Weltkrieg Heft 3, Weimar 2021, ISBN 978-3-96567-050-1.