14.01.1945 568th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 43-38526 ‘Star Duster’, 1st.Lt. Louis F. Niebergall
Operation: Derben (Mission #792), Germany
Date: 14th January 1945 (Sunday)
Unit: 390th Bombardment Group (H), 568th Bombardment Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Star Duster
Serial No: 43-38526
Location: Near Friesack, Germany
Base: Framlingham (Station #153), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Louis F. Niebergall O-825690 AAF Age 21. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Norman Dale Comstock O-774953 AAF Age 21. PoW **
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Jay Killian Bowman Jr. O-2065943 AAF Age 21. Killed (1)
Togglier: S/Sgt. Lorenzo Hope Herring Jr. 35707497 AAF Age 20. PoW Unknown Camp
Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Victor Joseph Perrotta 32692705 AAF Age 26. PoW ***(2)
Engineer/Top Turret: S/Sgt. Robert Jerome Putt 35558368 AAF Age 21. PoW Unknown Camp
Ball Turret: Sgt. William L. May 12207104 AAF Age 22. Killed
Waist Gunner: Sgt. James Robert Kidd 35098597 AAF Age 28. Killed
Tail Gunner: Sgt. Jack Courtney Palmer 39212720 AAF Age 22. PoW ****
Spot Jammer: Sgt. Lennard A. Hokom 39468900 AAF Age 24. 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.
Togglier - When it was required for all aircraft in a Squadron formation to drop their bombs simultaneously, the designated Bombardier was on the lead aircraft. The task of the Bombardiers in the rest of the formation was to drop their bombs when the lead aircraft dropped theirs. When there were personnel shortages the role of Bombardier was carried out by an enlisted crew member who was designated as the Togglier.
Spot Jammer - Radar Jamming equipment designed to disrupt German radar directed anti-aircraft systems. It typically comprised a receiver to detect a radar frequency and three transmitters to jam the frequency detected.
* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag 17b Krems-Gneixendorf near Krems, Austria.
*** Dulag Luft Wetzlar, Frankfurt, Germany.
**** Dulag Luft 12 Groß-Tychow Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland.
***** Stalag 9c Bad Sulza, Saxe-Weimar, Thuringia, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The Star Duster was one of eight B-17s from the 568th Bomber Sqn which made up the Low Sqn of the 390th BG and part of a force of 169 bombers on a mission to bomb the Derben Industrial oil storage facilities.
The Low Sqn was lagging behind the main force due to a supercharger problem with their lead aircraft. When the Luftwaffe appeared on the scene, the Low Sqn was flying some 2000 ft below and behind the rest of the group, presenting the obvious choice of target. The German fighters showed signs of inexperience, as they attacked mostly in pairs from the rear, without any apparent co-ordination and often opening fire at maximum range; it took them the best part of 30 minutes to despatch all eight of the B-17s and one other from the main formation. The 390th BG gunners claimed twenty fighters shot down but were credited with fourteen. For the 390th BG this was their unluckiest day, the highest losses on a single mission and, incidentally, the last sustained assault by a Luftwaffe formation on a single 8th Air Force heavy bomber unit.
An after mission eyewitness statement described that aircraft #526 (Star Duster) was last seen during intense fighter attacks by approximately 100 Fw-190s and Bf-109s in the area between 5300N-1300E and 5220N-1250E, about 12:40 hours. Due to the fact the entire Sqn was lost during these encounters, there are no particulars available regarding the attack and subsequent loss of aircraft. Approximately fourteen parachutes were reported seen from the eight aircraft lost from this Sqn.
The corridor encompassed between these Lat/Longs is about 65 km long running from the north to the south, to the west of Berlin.
A German document records that the aircraft crashed about 27 km SW of Neuruppin near to Friesack, Kreis (district) Westhavelland at 12:50 hours.
Sgt. May and Sgt. Kidd were killed by cannon fire during the German fighter attacks.
S/Sgt. Herring Jr. was captured on the 14th February at about 17:00 hrs at Wolfshagen, some 14 km NE of Perleberg and some 64 km NW from where the aircraft crashed. The circumstances of his evasion after he had bailed out on the 14th January and subsequent capture are not known.
2nd.Lt. Comstock and S/Sgt. Perrotta were captured as soon as they had landed and were immediately taken to the site of the aircraft crash where they were made to recover the bodies of Sgt. May and Sgt. Kidd from the wreckage.
(1) 2nd.Lt. Bowman Jr. was uninjured and bailed out just before 1st.Lt. Niebergall who was the last person to see him. A German document recorded that 2nd.Lt. Bowman’s body was recovered sometime before the 20th January 1945. His death is recorded as the 19th January 1945.
2nd.Lt. Bowman’s parents had apparently received additional information from two Frenchmen who were working as slave labourers in Germany at that time and who found him alive on the 15th January. The information was passed onto the US War Department. The details of any subsequent investigation are unknown but it appears that it did not find anything to prove or disprove the information. It was speculated that 2nd.Lt. Bowman Jr. may have been killed whilst attempting to escape. No records have been found that provide any information into the circumstances of 2nd.Lt. Bowman’s unexplained death.
(2) S/Sgt. Perrotta was captured on 14th January 1945 at about 13:00 hours in Friesack near Neuruppin.
1st.Lt. Niebergall last saw S/Sgt. Perrotta at Dulag Luft for a few hours on the 26th January and he appeared to be very depressed with what had befallen him. When 1st.Lt. Niebergall heard from S/Sgt. Putt that S/Sgt. Perrotta had been shot while attempting to escape in broad daylight and not dressed for the winter conditions, he speculated that this may have been a method of suicide.
He died from a bullet to the left side of his head when he tried to escape from Dulag Luft at Wetzlar on the 16th February 1945. It was rumoured that a German civilian shot him whilst in the act of surrendering.
A report of the circumstances surrounding the death of S/Sgt. Perrotta was submitted to a War Crimes Commission office then operating at Governors Island, New York. It is not known if an investigation was conducted.
S/Sgt. Perrotta was initially interred in the Wetzlar-Büblinghausen cemetery for Russians, Grave 1, on 18th February at 08:30 hrs.
German documents recorded that Sgt. Kidd and an unknown airman, subsequently identified as Sgt. May, were initially interred in the community cemetery at Friesack Kirche (church) in Section B, in a common grave on the 15th January 1945.
2nd.Lt. Jay Killian Bowman Jr. Repatriated and buried at the Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia. Born on the 27th February 1924 in Henrico, Virginia. Son to Jacob Killian and John-Geline (née MacDonald) Bowman of Richmond, Virginia, USA.
S/Sgt. Victor Joseph Perrotta. Repatriated and buried on the 18th May 1949 at the Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, Section J, Site 15440. Born on the 26th February 1919. Son of Vito Perrotta of Brooklyn, New York, USA
Above Sgt. May (Credit Dominique Potier - FindAGrave)
Sgt. William L. May. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot B, Row 16, Grave 9. New York. Born during 1923 in New York. Son to William J. and Josephine Elnora (née Pettitt) of Niagara Falls, New York, USA.
Above Sgt. Kidd (Credit Dominique Potier - FindAGrave)
Sgt. James Robert Kidd. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot B, Row 27, Grave 12. Born on the 19th October 1917 from Rockcastle, Kentucky. Son to James W. and Julia Elizabeth (née Canada) Kidd who both pre-deceased him. Husband to Maribelle C. (née Russell) Kidd of Montgomery, Indiana, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.