21.09.1944 578th Bomber Squadron B-24H 41-29002 1st.Lt. Joe H. Shelley
Operation: Koblenz marshalling yards (Mission #644), Germany
Date: 21st September 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 578th Bomber Squadron (392nd Bombardment Group (H)), 8th Air Force
Serial No: 41-29002
Location: At Gut Vershoven, near Dünstekoven, Germany
Base: Wendling (Station #118), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Joe Hardy Shelley O-691289 AAF Age 24. Killed (1)
Co Pilot: 1st.Lt. Pasquale Scarpino O-815973 AAF Age 25. PoW *
Navigator: 1st.Lt. Nader Patrick Maroun O-704029 AAF Age 27. PoW **
Bombardier: 1st.Lt. Francis P. Chinchilla O-695802 AAF Age 26. Murdered (2)
Radio/Op: Pfc Paul Everette Smith 13155431 Age 23. PoW ***
Engineer: T/Sgt. Francis Michael Kane 13124399 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Ball Turret: -
Right Waist: S/Sgt. Charles Ernest Hollenbeck Jr. 33630873 AAF Age 29. Murdered (3)
Left Waist: S/Sgt. Stanley Ray Stewart 36483178 AAF Age 19. PoW ***
Tail: Pvt James Earl Childers 15053962 AAF Age? PoW ***
The B-24 had 10 crew positions. Crew complements evolved during the war and generally comprised 9 personnel who were typically, but not always, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Bombardier, Navigator, Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Radar Operator, Radio Operator/Waist Gunner, Nose Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner/Radar Operator, Waist Gunner, Tail Gunner.
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, Prussia now Poland.
** Unknown Camp.
*** 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).
REASON FOR LOSS:
B-24H 41-29002 took off from Wendling along with the 392nd Bomb Group commencing at 10:05 hours on the morning of the 21st September 1944 to bomb the Koblenz railway marshalling yards in Germany.
The Bombardier in the lead aircraft followed the normal procedures at the Initial Point (IP) but 2 minutes after passing the IP the Navigator reported that all bombs had been dropped, although the Bombardier had done nothing to cause the release of the bombs. The rest of the Squadron, upon seeing the lead aircraft drop its bombs, dropped their bombs. The bombs impacted the ground some 30 miles short of the target.
No German fighters were encountered but the flak over the target was heavy and accurate leading in the loss of B-24H 41-29002.
An after mission report by 2nd.Lt. Robert H. Kays from the 575th Bomber Sqn described a B-24 having suffered damage to its starboard wing, fuel cells and #4 engine. The aircraft was first observed pulling out of formation with fuel streaming from its starboard wing fuel cells. It was seen to level out and attempt to regain its place in the formation with #4 engine feathered but was not successful. It flew over the target and then headed west toward the coast which was reported at various locations en route. The last time and location reported was given over the North Sea.
Three other aircraft besides 41-29002 were listed as missing or salvaged on this day. Two collided over the Belgian coast en route to the target (12 KiA, 4 Rtd).
The third was B-24J 42-110071 HN:K 'TS' (446BG,705BS) which was hit by flak and turned back from the IP. On returning to its base at Bungay they were advised to land at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk. The aircraft crashed on approach at 17:29 hrs near a church at Bredfield in Suffolk killing all 10 aboard. It is possible that the after mission report could be related to this aircraft. However, equally possible is that the aircraft to which the report related was one of the three B-24s which returned to Wendling with battle damage.
German documents recorded that B-24H 41-29002 crashed at Gut Vershoven (a large farm), near Dünstekoven (now part of Swisttal) some 6 miles east of Euskirchen in Germany at about 13:00 hours and was 98% destroyed. The aircraft must have continued to fly, unpiloted, for some 30 miles NW from the location that the crew bailed out and were captured. Given the reported crash position of B-24H 41-29002 the after mission report cannot be related to this aircraft.
1st.Lt. Maroun was the last to bail out at about 300 ft and heard the aircraft crash. He confirmed 1st.Lt. Shelley, 1st.Lt. Chinchilla and S/Sgt. Hollenbeck Jr. were uninjured when they bailed out of the aircraft. He was positive that 1st.Lt. Shelley’s parachute opened. Only S/Sgt. Stewart was injured from shell fragments.
Those crew questioned after returning to the United States speculated that 1st.Lt. Shelley, 1st. Lt. Chinchilla and S/Sgt. Hollenbeck Jr. were killed on the ground by German civilians.
S/Sgt. Stewart was captured after he had landed. He had suffered flesh wounds from shell fragments and a penetration wound to his right thigh and taken to the sick-collecting centre at Vallendar Kreis Mayen-Koblenz. He was then taken to the Reserve Lazarett (Hospital) Rengsdorf * near Neuwied for treatment on the 23rd September 1944 where he recovered from his wounds. On the 10th October 1944 he was transferred, under armed guard, to Dulag Luft, Oberursel.
* No information regarding this Reserve Lazarett has been found.
(1) Although it was speculated that 1st.Lt. Shelley was killed by hostile action on the ground no evidence has been found to prove or disprove the speculation and his death remained unexplained.
(2) A General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau Germany during the period 4th to 5th August 1947 which was concerned with the killing of an unknown member of the United States army. As no other aircraft were lost in this region on the day in question it is probable that the airman was 1st.Lt. Chinchilla.
The court charged two German nationals that they did, on or about 21st September 1944, at or near Hüllenberg, Kreis Neuwied, Germany, wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States army who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
The accused were a Ludwig Hollacher who was a former Wehrmacht Unteroffizier (Cpl) with no known Nazi party affiliations and a Friedrich Metz who was a former Wehrmacht Unteroffizier and a Hitler Youth Oberkameradschaftsführer (Sgt) with no known Nazi party affiliations.
The court heard that on the 21st September an American airman parachuted to earth and landed near a Hitler Youth school a short distance from the village of Hüllenberg.
Metz and someone named Kuchem captured the airman after Metz had fired his pistol several times in the air. The airman was taken to the dining room of the school and was searched. The airman’s personal effects were removed by Metz and he was then locked in a room in the cellar. Conrad Eich, who was the local Gendarmerie Meister (probably a police Sgt) contacted Metz by telephone and ordered him to shoot the airman.
Metz and Hollacher discussed the shooting and after considerable bickering as to who would shoot the airman they both went to the cellar. In the hallway leading to the cellar Metz loaded his pistol, unlocked the cellar, and gave his pistol to Hollacher. He ordered him to shoot the airmen from behind after he exited the cellar. Metz collected the airman and as he came out into the passageway Hollacher shot him from behind.
Hollacher handed the pistol back to Metz who examined the airman who was lying on the floor. Metz then cocked his pistol and handed it back to Hollacher and ordered him to shoot the airmen in the head. After shooting the airman for a second time Metz examined the airman again and removed his wristwatch. The two then left the cellar locking the door behind them.
At about 17:00 hrs Eich arrived and informed the two that the airman’s body would be collected later. A man named Echer arrived and collected the airman and delivered his body to the local cemetery at Wollendorf where he was buried two days later. His grave had a simple cross but did not bear a name.
With such clear evidence the court found both Metz and Hollacher guilty of the charge and sentenced them both to death. Both were hanged on the 2nd February 1949 at Landsberg.
During the trial it was suggested that Conrad Eich was not before the court to answer for his part in the commission of this war crime because he had died.
(3) The circumstances of the death of S/Sgt. Hollenbeck Jr. were unknown until a Military Commission was convened at Heidelberg in Germany on the 9th October 1945.
The court charged Dominikus Thomas, a German civilian, that he did, at Wollendorf, Germany on or about the 21st September 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully kill a member of the Army of the United States whose exact identity was unknown, who was then unarmed and a PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
Thomas was a member of the Landesschützen (home guard) and had previously served in the Wehrmacht (German Army) during the 1914 - 1918 war.
The court heard that on or about the afternoon on the day in question, an American aircraft was shot down in the vicinity of Wollendorf, Germany and that at least two, and possibility four airmen parachuted from the aircraft and landed safely.
The boyhood recollections of the then named Friedrich Vincken saw an airman with a wounded leg and carrying his boots being taken by men of the Landesschützen and the gendarmerie (Police) to the police station at Wollendorf.
The airman had been disarmed but a crowd of German civilians was still threatening him, so he was moved under guard by Thomas to the house of a policeman named Linz, and then to the cellar of the building which housed the local Feuerwehr (fire brigade) where he remained for 30 minutes. During this period a Conrad Eich, who was the local Gendarmerie Meister ordered Thomas to take the airman in the direction of Neuwied and to shoot him en route and then wait with the body until he arrived.
The actual execution was witnessed by a German civilian name Lenz who had seen Thomas marching the airman down the road and into a stone quarry. Lenz followed at a distance but witnessed Thomas shoot the airman twice, the second time after the airman had already fallen to the ground.
Other witnesses to the execution were the young Friedrich Daniel Vincken* and his friend Bernie who were sitting in a densely leafed low tree near the edge of quarry from where they noticed two people approaching from the direction of Wollendorf. The first was the captured airman, who was still limping and carrying his boots, followed by Thomas whom they knew very well.
This eyewitness account was extracted from a web archive authored by Friedrich Daniel Vincken who emigrated to the USA in 1959. Here Mr. Vincken who had meanwhile traded his German name Friedrich for an American Frederic was given his final name by his employees: Puhi, short for Puhipalaoa (Hawaiian) which means 'master baker', and Puhi he was called for the remainder of his life.
When the airman and Thomas had almost reached the tree in which the boys were sitting they saw Thomas raise the pistol in his right hand and shoot the airman, and then lean over the fallen airman and shoot him a second time. The boys jumped down from the tree and when Thomas noticed them he exclaimed that “He wanted to escape!”. At that moment they were told to ‘scoot’ by a gendarme who appeared from the undergrowth.
The next morning the whole of Wollendorf knew that the name of the airman, that was Charles Hollenbeck, and what had taken place at the quarry.
Thomas admitted on several occasions that the airman had made no attempt to escape and he had shot him on the orders of Eich. The order to kill the airman was flagrantly illegal and any punishment Thomas would have received for disobeying the order would have amounted to a fine.
The court found Thomas guilty of the charge and sentenced him to death. He was hanged on the 12th January 1946 at Bruchsal prison.
As with the case concerning 1st.Lt. Chinchilla, Conrad Eich was not before the court to answer for his part in the commission of this war crime because he had allegedly died.
No German document recording the initial burial location for 1st.Lt. Shelley has been found.
1st.Lt. Joe Hardy Shelley. Repatriated and interred at the White Chapel Memorial Gardens, Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas. Born on the 10th May 1920 in Wichita, Kansas. Son of Clyde Swift and Carrie Keziah (née Hardy) Shelley. Husband to Jean Clair (née Johnson) Shelley of Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas, USA.
(Left: Courtesy: LuxAmCem - FindAGrave) 1st.Lt. Francis P. Chinchilla. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Luxemburg American Cemetery, Plot X, Row 9, Grave 224. Relocated to Plot E, Row 15, Grave 73. Born on the 11th March 1918 in Ambridge, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Son to Frank P. and Anna (née Perunko) Chinchilla of Coraopolis, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA.
S/Sgt. Charles Ernest Hollenbeck Jr. Repatriated at interred in the Roseland Cemetery, SW Centre, Lot 323 Space 5, Reedville, Northumberland County, Virginia. Born on the 7th December 1914. Son to Charles Ernest and Emily (née Seybolt) Hollenbeck of Norfolk City, Virginia, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. With thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.