19.04.1945 850th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 43-38701 2nd.Lt. Paul A. Snyder
Operation: Marshalling yards at Aussig (Mission #961), Czechoslovakia
Date: 19th April 1945 (Thursday)
Unit: 490th Bombardment Group (H), 850th Bomber Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 43-38701
Location: 45 km south of Prague, Czechoslovakia
Base: Eye (Station #134), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Paul A. Snyder O-768275 AAF Age? Killed
Co-Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Ross Edward Stewart O-833268 AAF Age 21. Killed
Navigator: F/O William Wilson T-137835 AAF Age? Killed
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Joseph A. Trojanowski O-2069736 AAF Age 21. (1)
Radio/Op: Sgt. Wayne W. Stauffer 13171757 AAF Age 20. Killed
Engineer: Sgt. Lyle E. Dole 39188034 AAF Age 24. (1)
Ball Turret: Sgt. George Blew Langley Jr. 32079502 AAF Age 23. Killed
Waist Gunner: Sgt. William G. Zuendel Jr., 15134175 AAF Age? Killed
Tail Gunner: Sgt. Richard B. Phillips 33885212 AAF Age 24. Killed
RCM: * S/Sgt. Wilbur Laverne Lesh 37723289 AAF Age 22. (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.
* RCM = Radio Counter Measures operator. S/Sgt. Lesh operated the Spot Jammer equipment.
REASON FOR LOSS:
B-17G 43-38701 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 850th Bomb Sqn was the Low 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.
At 12:30 hours the last known position of the aircraft was 50 57N,13 54E about 16 Km SE of Dresden and 3 km WSW of Pirna in Germany.
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 2nd.Lt. Snyder’s aircraft and B-17G 43-38078. 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 709 Bomber Sqn was in the Lead Sqn of the 447 Bomb Group 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.
The only official information that is available about the circumstance of the loss of B-17G 43-38701 comes from an eye witness account by S/Sgt. Robert W. Merkel, 19140032.
“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 two 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”.
Mr. Pavel Kmoch’s research determined that the fighter attack hit the starboard wing and set the fuel tanks and two engines ablaze. 2nd Lt. Trojanowski, Sgt. Dole and S/Sgt. Lesh were the only members of the ten-man crew that managed to bail out of the burning aircraft. The other crew members perished when the aircraft exploded in mid-air and the wreckage fell to earth in fields between the villages of Hradišťko, Sestrouň and Zberaz, some 45 km south of Prague.
Julie Schönigerová, the head of the local branch of the Nazi party in Sedlčany and deputy commissioner of Sedlčany, was responsible for the funeral of the seven dead airmen in the churchyard at Církvička. The head of the Sedlčanské headquarters (HQ), SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj.) Baron Otto von und zu der Tann apparently did not want to give the airmen a proper funeral, but Schönigerová insisted, stating that her son also fell in air combat while doing his duty, and that she would have liked him to have been given this last service.
(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 HQs 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. The three airmen that bailed out, together with 2nd.Lt. Smith Jr., FO Lake, 2nd.Lt. Borden, S/Sgt. C.B. Johnson Jr. and S/Sgt. R.A. Johnson from B-17G 43-38078, were picked up one after the other and taken to the 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 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 LECTŮ: Situation plan showing places where the American airmen were killed and buried
Group of buildings labelled BENEŠOV: City of BENEŠOV
Arrow pointing left: Direction of Prague
MÍSTO ZAKOPÁNÍ LECTŮ: 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 LECTŮ *: 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 Rodney2k: FindAGrave) 2nd.Lt. Paul A. Snyder. AM, PH. Repatriated and buried at the Hampton National cemetery, Hayton City, Virginia, Section F, 819 (Joint Headstone) on the 28 June 1949. Believed to have resided in Ohio prior to the war. No further details.
2nd.Lt. Ross Edward Stewart. Repatriated and buried at the Potters Hollow Cemetery, Albany County, New York. Born on the 4th September 1923 in Rensselaerville, New York. Son of Ross E. and Marjorie E. (née Baldwin) Stewart of Rensselaerville, Albany, New York. Husband to Irene (née Cox) Stewart of Stuttgart, Arkansas, USA.
F/O William Wilson. PH. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot D, Row 9, Grave 35. Son of Hugh and Mary (née Drimmie) Wilson of Woodlawn, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
2nd.Lt. Joseph A. Trojanowski. AM, PH. Repatriated and buried in the Saint Josephs Cemetery, Webster, Worcester County, Massachusetts in April 1949. Born on the 18th September 1924 in Massachusetts. Son of Eleanor Trojanowski of Webster, Massachusetts, USA
Sgt. Wayne W. Stauffer. Repatriated and buried at the Saint Clair Cemetery, Greensburg, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Born on the 20th June 1924 in Pennsylvania. Son of John W. And Many Ann (née Smith) Stauffer of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, USA.
Sgt. Lyle E. Dole. Repatriated and buried at the New Tacoma Cemetery, University Place, Pierce County, Washington. Born on the 24th January 1921 in Washington. Son of Everett E. and Sadie E. (née Thomas) Dole of Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington, USA.
(Right: Courtesy Mary Ann Missimer-Moore: FindAGrave) Sgt. George Blew Langley Jr. Repatriated and buried at the Eglington Cemetery, Clarksboro, Gloucester County, New Jersey. Born on the 8th November 1921 in New Jersey. Son to George Blew and Essie (née Sharp) Langley of Gibbstown, New Jersey, USA.
Sgt. William G. Zuendel Jr., AM, PH. Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot B, Row 14, Grave 32. Believed to have resided in Summit County, Ohio, USA. No further details.
(Left: Courtesy Rodney2k: FindAGrave) Sgt. Richard B. Phillips. Repatriated and buried at the Hampton National Cemetery, Hayton City, Virginia, Section F, 819 (Joint Headstone) on the 28 June 1949. Born in 1921 in North Carolina. No further details.
(Right: (Courtesy Dominique Potier: FindAGrave) S/Sgt. Wilbur Laverne Lesh. AM (3 OLC), PH. Buried at then Ardennes American Cemetery, Neuville-en-Condroz, Section A, Row 25, Grave 7. Born on the 22nd March 1923 in Lamoni, Iowa. Son of Floyd Turner and Flora Azella (née Snethen) Lesh of Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, USA.
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.
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