19.04.1945 849th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 43-38078 1st.Lt. Robert A. Norvell
Operation: Marshalling yards at Aussig (Mission #961), Czechoslovakia
Date: 19th April 1945 (Thursday)
Unit: 490th Bombardment Group (H), 849th Bombardment Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 43-38078
Location: Approximately 48¼ km NW of Plzeň, Czechoslovakia
Base: Eye (Station #134), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Robert A. Norvell O-777282 AAF Age? PoW Unknown Camp
Co-Pilot: 2nd.Lt.* Lorenzo Goodwin Smith Jr. O-833230 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Navigator: FO Gordon P. Lake T-137823 AAF Age 21. Survived (1)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Leo Lucca Borden O-785455 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Peter Malires 17151375 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Engineer: T/Sgt. Wendell S. Snyder 32471963 AAF Age? PoW Unknown Camp
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Carl B. Johnson Jr. 16106864 AAF Age 19. Survived (1)
Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Robert A. Johnson 11063744 AAF Age? Survived (1)
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Newton R. Parker 35780287 AAF Age? 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.
* This was his rank as documented in the MACR. Since his headstone gives his rank as 1st.Lt. it is probable that when compiling the MACR this was overlooked.
REASON FOR LOSS:
B-17G 43-38078 took off from Eye in Suffolk on the morning of the 19th April 1945 on a mission to bomb the marshalling yards at Aussig in Czechoslovakia. The 849th Bombardment Sqn was the Lead Sqn of the 490th Bombardment Group. Due to a navigation error the formation flew too near Prague before turn back on to track for Aussig.
The following is a possible sequence of events and is based upon B-17 witness statements, the flight path of the bombers, the location of the Me-262 air base, Ruzyně airfield to the west of Prague, the available Me-262 pilot’s statements and references 1 through 4:
The formation was just south of Dresden to the north of Aussig (now Ústí nad Labem) starting their bomb run when a flight of four Me-262s from I./JG-7 climbed towards the bombers from the SW. The pilots of the first two jets of the flight were Oblt Hans 'Specker’ Grünberg, who was leading Maj. Wolfgang Späte, who technically should have been in lead.
In the first attack by the jets it is probable that Späte shot down B-17G 43-38048 and that Grünberg shot down B-17G 43-38135. It is known that Oblt Walter Bohatsch and Uffz Anton Schöppler were the other two pilots of this flight and shot down 1st.Lt. Norvell’s aircraft and B-17G 43-38701. From the available information it has not been possible to determine which bomber was shot down by which Me-262.
B-17G 42-31188 'Dead Man’s Hand' from the 709BS was in the Lead Sqn of the 447BG and it is probable that it was shot down by Obfw Hubert Göbel from III./JG-7.
Various publications claimed that a sixth B-17 was shot down during this mission, however, the record of losses from the 8th Air Force archives only records five B-17s being lost on the 19th April 1945.
An eye witness account from S/Sgt. Robert W. Merkel. 19140032 recalls:
“I saw the fighters hit this plane (43-38078) and #1 or #2 engine caught on fire. I saw 4 chutes open from the plane. My belief is that one was from the tail, one from the waist, although 2 could have come from the waist. One came out before bombs were jettisoned . Right after the third chute opened I saw the bombs jettisoned, one man fell out with the bombs. They all opened their chutes as soon as they had cleared the plane. I then saw the plane make a turn to the right and it disappeared from sight”.
At 12:50 hrs 1st Lt. Norvell, ordered his crew to bail out. 1st Lt. Norvell, though wounded, along with the Sgt. Snyder stayed with the aircraft to try and save it, the remaining seven of the crew bailed out over Vrchotovy Janovice. However, over Plzeň the aircraft was hit by flak and the last two crew members had to bail out and were then captured. 1st Lt. Norvell met up with Sgt. Snyder at Plzeň at about 13:00 hrs on the 19th April and saw that he was a little bruised from the jump but otherwise in good shape.
1st Lt. Norvell believed that the aircraft crashed approximately 48¼ km NW of Plzeň, Czechoslovakia.
(1) The area into which the airmen parachuted was used by the SS for training. In November 1941 it had been decided to create an SS training area around Benešov, called initially “SS-Truppenübungsplatz Beneschau”, later “SS-Truppenübungsplatz Böhmen”. At 440 square km, it was so large that the Germans evacuated 65 municipalities with 144 settlements to create it, ejecting 31,000 people. The headquarters were at Konopiště Castle, which was the former summer residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. From 1942, the commanding officer of the training area was SS-Brigadeführer (Brig.Gen) and Major General of the Police Alfred Karrasch who had his flat in the former Hotel Zámecká, below the castle.
The airmen knew nothing about this but it was into this wasps’ nest that ten airmen parachuted from the downed bombers. Sgt. Malires was shot by Hungarian SS soldiers after landing in the forest and surrendering. Sgt Parker was injured but escaped and was hidden by the Czech population until the end of the war. The remaining five together with 2nd Lt. Trojanowski, Sgt. Dole and S/Sgt. Lesh from B-17G 43-38701 were picked up one after the other and taken to the headquarters (HQ) of the training area to be interrogated.
Image of the SS Headquarters. (Courtesy: Pavel Kmoch)
The five windows on the upper floor of the Annex, attached to the left of the main building, was the residence of Major General Alfred Karrasch, the Military Training Ground Commander. The first two windows from the left on the upper floor of the main building, was the location where the captured where interrogated. The entrance to the building was on the extreme right on the upper floor of the main building.
Karrasch took some part in the interrogation, but it is not quite clear which part, if any, he had in deciding their ultimate fate. He is described as “immersed in depression” and as “lax”, leaving much work to his deputy, SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj.) Otto Hauprich. The latter, together with Karrasch's aide, SS-Hauptsturmführer (Capt.) Herbert Sander, and SS-Unterscharführer (Cpl.) Kurt Decker as interpreter, conducted the interview in Sander’s office. It started friendly enough, with the offer of cigarettes, but took a catastrophic turn when the airmen answered the question about their mission target as being Aussig (now Ústí nad Labem). That was where Hauprich’s family was living.
It was never found out who gave the order for the killing. It seems that a platoon led by SS-Untersturmführer (2nd.Lt.) Ernst Albrecht and consisting of SS-Rottenführer (Pfc.) Johann Balcke, SS-Oberscharführer (Sgt.) Erich Merwitz, SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Kurek, SS-Oberscharführer Otomar Matausch and SS-Sturmmann (Private) Mohr led the eight men out of the SS headquarters a few dozen yards through the surrounding woods onto the road from Konopiště to Václavice. There, near the Km marker 2,2, the SS opened fire. This did not go unnoticed. At around 22:00 hrs on that day, the head of the castle power plant located next to the HQ, living at his place of work, together with his wife heard shooting and barking dogs, and saw flashes of shots.
(Left) Image depicting the route taken by the SS men and American airmen, and the location of their murders. A = Place where the American airmen were shot and B = Km marker, 2,2 (Courtesy: Pavel Kmoch)
(Right) Image of the original Km marker, 2,2 from the crime scene, now transferred to the Benešov city hall. (Courtesy: Pavel Kmoch)
(Below) General situation map (Courtesy: Pavel Kmoch). Translation of legends, from top to bottom and left to right.
SITUAČNÍ PLÁNEK MÍSTA ZASTOPÁNÍ A AMERICKÝCH LETCŮ: Situation plan showing places where the American airmen were killed and buried
Group of buildings labeled BENEŠOV: City of BENEŠOV
Arrow pointing left: Direction of Prague
MÍSTO ZAKOPÁNÍ LETCŮ: Place where airmen were buried
VÁŇŮV DVŮR: Váňův farm
ZÁMEK KONOPIŠTĚ: Konopištĕ Castle
SPRÁVNÍ BUDOVA: Office building
UBIKACE: Quarters, billets
VELITELSTVÍ SS: SS Headquarters
MÍSTO ZASTŘELENÍ LETCŮ *: Place where airmen were killed
K 2,2: Km marker 2,2
DOMEK NAJMANOVÍCH: House of the Najmans
KONOPIŠŤSKÝ RYBNÍK: Lake Konopištĕ
Arrow pointing downwards: Direction of VÁCLAVICE
The next morning, he saw puddles of blood and spent pistol cartridges on the road. Another witness was ordered by the SS to remove the blood and cartridges from the road. Again another saw a pair of muddy high boots and an American jumpsuit at SS HQ. About one week later, two women, employed to clean the offices there, found seven American ID tags when clearing the ashes out of a stove in an office.
Immediately after the end of the war, a Czech investigator started to collect evidence and to search for the bodies which were known to be somewhere in the Benešov region. In mid-June, all his interrogation protocols along with the ID tags were handed over to the US embassy. In September, two US Army Air Force officers arrived in Benešov, and took back copies of the documentation, saying that the evidence was sufficient, and that they were taking over the investigation. At that time both Karrasch and Hauprich were in American custody at Dachau.
On the 28th December 1946, the bodies were found by Josef Jirec and Václav Hrbek. These two had been cutting ice on a small pond when they remembered that they had heard from a next door neighbour that at the end of the war, that when he was walking to his work to the Váňûv farm near Konopiště Castle that morning at 06:00 hrs, he had noticed a hole that had not been there in the previous evening being filled up by a pile of manure which had been done by some SS men. After some thought, Jirek and Hrbek brought their tools and began digging. When they dug through compost and about 76 cm of frozen mud, they encountered a piece of canvas and a bare human foot beneath it. They informed the authorities, and during a preliminary examination an American air mask, a leather cigarette case, parts of a jumpsuit and what looked like at least four bodies was found in the pit. Digging was stopped and the US embassy informed.
Arrows from left to right Zámek Konopiště = Konopiště Castle; Místo, kde byli zastřelení američtí letci SS-many zakopáni = The corrected meaning should read 'Place where American airmen were buried'; Váňův dvůr = Váňův farm. (Courtesy: Pavel Kmoch)
On the 15th January 1947, the bodies of the eight murder victims were exhumed by US troops and taken away to the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neuville en Condros, Belgium.
The killing of these eight men was not the only crime in which Otto Hauprich was allegedly involved. The Czech authorities wanted him for his role in the brutal intervention against the Prague uprising from the 5th to 8th May 1945, and indeed Hauprich was actually extradited by the US on 12th December 1946 and transported from Dachau to Czechoslovakia. However, very soon thereafter the American authorities claimed an administrative error caused by a misrepresentation of his name, and that they intended to prosecute Hauprich for the murder of their airmen. Since the Czech authorities wanted to maintain good relations, they returned Hauprich to the custody of the Americans on the 14th January 1947. But instead of prosecuting him, they released him in February 1947. Karrasch had already been previously released. To this day, it is unclear how and why these two suspects were released.
Since the mid-1960s, the Czechoslovak State Security had reopened many cases of unresolved or unpunished war crimes. Since most possible suspects in the Konopiště case were assumed to be in Germany, copies of case materials were handed over to judicial authorities in FRG and GDR. The West German prosecutors did not start investigations until August 1971 but by this time Karrasch had died on the 30th August 1968. Albrecht died on the 6th May 1974 in Gelsenkirchen.
Hauprich was questioned in November 1976, but as a witness only. He claimed that he was not at Konopiště at the time, but at Benešov. However Mayor Josef Krejza whom he named as his alibi witness could not be questioned; he was already dead. Evidence that Hauprich was indeed in Konopiště and conducted the questioning, or even that he personally brought in one or two of the airmen on a motorcycle, was disregarded, and the prosecutor stopped proceedings “for lack of evidence”. Hauprich died on the 22nd January 2002 in Wittlich.
Kurek claimed that Albrecht was the only one who fired the shots; his own involvement could not be proved.
It was not possible to prove Sander’s participation in the execution, and everything else was no longer punishable because of the statute of limitation.
Merwitz admitted that he had shot at the prisoners, but his prosecution was stopped because it could not be proved that the shots he had fired were fatal and anything less than murder meanwhile fell under the statute of limitation. He was lucky that Germany had not signed the International Convention on the Non-Expiration of Statute of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity which was in force in signatory states since 1970.
It is unknown what happened to Balcke, Matausch and Mohr.
(Above: Courtesy Josef Souček) Monument to the Norvell and Snyder crews of the 490th Bomb Group. Every year in April at the monument near Konopištĕ Castle there is a ceremony and wreath laying service in remembrance of the American Airmen executed by the SS on April 19, 1945.
(left: Courtesy John Evans: FindAGrave) 1st.Lt. Lorenzo Goodwin Smith Jr. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Repatriated and buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, Section 8, Site 19-WH on the 6th June 1949. Born on the 16th July 1922 in Union Springs, Bullock, Alabama. Son of Lorenzo G. and Dixie D. (née Grady) Smith of Union Springs, Alabama. Husband to Lily M. (née Davis) Smith of Blue Mountain, Mississippi, USA.
FO Gordon P. Lake. Repatriated at buried at the Arlington Cemetery, Delaware County, Pennsylvania in the Grove plot, Born on the 16th September 1923 in Delaware, Pennsylvania. Son of Parker B. and Edith E (née Ward) Lake of Glenolden, Delaware, Pennsylvania, USA.
2nd.Lt. Leo Lucca Borden. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot D, Row 8, Grave 15. Born on the 5th June 1925 in Rockford, Winnebago, Illinois. Son of Joseph Carl and Rhoda Marie Caroline (née Nelson) Borden of Rockford, Winnebago, Illinois, USA.
T/Sgt. Peter Malires. Initially buried in Arnostoviche, which is close to Konopiště by Benešov. Repatriated at buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery, Rock Island, Illinois, Plot D-88 on the 8th September 1948. Born on the 22nd August 1922 in East Moline, Illinois. Son to James Malires. No further details.
(Left: Courtesy of Dave Vangsness - FindAGrave) S/Sgt. Carl B. Johnson Jr. Repatriated and buried at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Section C-3, Site 7896 on the 17th June 1949. Born on the 3rd October 1925 in St. Louis Park, Minneapolis. Son to Carl B. Johnson. No further details.
(Right: Courtesy John Evans: FindAGrave) S/Sgt. Robert A. Johnson. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot C, Row 8, Grave 8. Son of Austin A. Johnson of Lakewood, Rhode Island, USA. No Further details
Researched by Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. We are indebted to Mr. Pavel Kmoch, Czech historian, who furnished us with photos and information from his own research into the case.
1. The Me 262 Stormbird - Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis. pp 163 - 1652
2. The Messerschmitt Combat Diary Me. 262 - John Foreman & S.E. Harvey, pp 167 -169.
3. The Mighty Eighth - Roger A. Freeman pp 228 - 229
4. The Mighty Eighth War Diary - Roger A. Freeman p 494