22.09.1944 760th Bomber Squadron B-24J 42-50888, 1st.Lt. Armin E. Van Dale
Operation: München (Munich) (Mission #102), Germany
Date: 22nd September 1944 (Friday)
Unit: 760th Bomber Squadron (460th Bombardment Group (H)), 15th Air Force
Serial No: 42-50888
Code: Blue W
Location: Tittmoning, about 14½ miles NE of Traunstein, Germany
Base: Spinazzola airfield, Italy
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Armin Emerson Van Dale. O-664699 AAF Age 26. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd.Lt. James Anthony Solsman O-705150 AAF Age 25. PoW *
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. Mark Linenthal Jr. O-2057964 AAF Age 22. PoW No. 6047 *
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Jacob Hallock Feagles Jr. O-776651 AAF Age 25. PoW *
Radio/Op: Sgt. Roy Downing 37522454 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Engineer: Sgt. Rubin Franklin Harkey 34772208 AAF Age 20. Killed (1)
Assistant Engineer: Sgt. Eugene Milton Maloney 37680642 AAF Age 19. PoW **
Assistant Radio/Op: Sgt. Harold Lee Lovelace 19103139 AAF Age 25. PoW **
Air Gunner: Sgt. Kermit Thomas Medlock 37537386 AAF Age 19. PoW **
Assistant Air Gunner: Sgt. Frederick Arnold Lackman 33310820 AAF Age 34. 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, Waist Gunner, Tail Gunner.
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, Prussia now Poland
** 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:
Believed to be an image of B-24J 42-50888, Blue W. (Courtesy American Air Museum in Britain - Roger Freeman Collection)
On the morning of the 22nd September 1944 B-24J 42-50888 took off from the Spinazzola airfield in Italy on a mission to bomb the Oberwiesenfeld Engine Factory in Munich, Germany.
Three eyewitness statements were recorded post mission, each of which described the circumstance of the loss of 42-50888 from their position in the formation.
Formation showing relative positions of the aircraft, #5 being B-24J 42-50888, Blue W
Statement by Pilot 2nd.Lt. Randall B. Darden, O-709517:
“On 22 September 1944, I was flying position #7, high box, first attack unit. First Lieutenant Armin E. Van Dale, O-6644699, pilot of Blue “W” for William, B-24J, #42-50888, who was flying position #3 [sic], high box, first attack unit, left the formation to our right and was last seen going down with smoke coming from #3 engine. Lt Van Dale left the formation just at or about the time of bombs away. The plane was not in flames the last time I saw it. In my opinion Lt Van Dale had control of the plane. No chutes were seen leaving the plane”.
Statement by Pilot 1st.Lt. Gideon H. Jones, O-771045:
“On 22 September 1944, our target was Munich I/A, Germany. My ship was flying #3, high box, first attack unit. First Lieutenant Armin E. Van Dale, O-6644699, was flying in a B-24J, #42-50888, position #5, high box, first attack unit. Shortly before bombs away, the flak became intense and accurate. I noticed that #3 engine on Lt Van Dale’s ship was smoking. He peeled off to the right and when last sighted Lt Van Dale seemed to have the ship under control. I did not see any parachutes open”.
Statement by Navigator 2nd.Lt. Rudick J. Murphy, O-2057985
“On 22 September 1944, our target was Munich I/A, Germany. Our ship was flying #6, high box, first attack unit. Ship Blue “W” for William, a B-24J, #42-50888, who was flying position #5, high box, first attack unit. Blue “W” was seen to peel off to the southeast and was observed to have been hit. Trailing smoke was coming from the bomb bay or #2 or #3 engines. While the plane was observed going down, no parachutes were seen to open. At the time of the observation, we were on a heading 090 degrees having dropped bombs and were leaving target. It is assumed that Blue “W” had also dropped their bombs”.
The aircraft was reported to have crashed east of Tittmoning, about 14½ miles NE of Traunstein at 14:30 hours.
All of the crew successfully bailed out of the aircraft and nine of the crew were captured in the vicinity of Tittmoning.
The Individual Casualty Questionnaires (ICQ) from five of the crew described that Sgt. Harkey was uninjured when he was seen to bail out of the aircraft. When Sgt. Harkey was next seen by a number of the crew he was dead. There were various and wildly different descriptions of the state of his body ranging from facial injuries, mutilated hands and a small calibre bullet wound to his body.
His body was taken to a small village chapel whilst the remainder of the crew were taken away for processing as PoWs.
(1) The exact circumstances of Sgt. Harkey’s capture and death were unknown until a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany from the 15th to 17th April 1947.
One German National, a Siegfried Scholz, was charged in that he did, at or near Palling, about 7 miles SW of Tittmoning, Germany on or about the 22nd September 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully kill a member of the United States Army, believed to be Sergeant Rubin F. Harkey, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
Scholz was a former Wehrmacht Hauptmann (Capt.) with no known Nazi party affiliations.
The court heard that following a bombing raid on Munich, Germany, at least eight American airmen bailed out of their disabled aircraft at about 13:00 hrs, and landed near Palling. A detail of soldiers, under the command of Scholz, promptly captured seven of the airmen who were taken to Palling.
Scholz, together with a Leutnant (2nd.Lt.) Johann Schaller and a German civilian named Hauer in a car, with the aid of German troops, started to search for an airman who was thought to be in the vicinity. As Scholz, Schaller and Hauer proceeded down a road they observed an airman in the custody of another German civilian, both of whom were approaching the car on foot.
When the airman saw the approaching car being driven by Scholz he ran across the road up and over an embankment and into some adjacent woods. Scholz stopped the car and with Hauer jumped out and set off in pursuit.
The testimonies of Scholz and Hauer recalled that, together with a German soldier who had approached on a motorcycle, they shouted “Halt” several times before the airman stopped. Scholz and Schaller testified that the airman assumed a defensive attitude, however, Hauer was of the mind that the airman was surrendering. Scholz had stated that in the dim light of the woods he was unable to tell if the airman was unarmed and fired a single shot from his service pistol.
It was established that the bullet passed through the back of the airman’s left hand, struck him in the body and heart and killed him, which confirmed that his left hand was not raised in a gesture of surrender. However, it could equally be possible that his left hand was in the process of being raised in surrender when the shot was fired. The body was taken to Palling where it was identified as being that of Rubin F. Harkey, 34772208.
The court considered that given the circumstances of the shooting in that Sgt. Harkey tried to escape and when he did stop his posture did not appear to be one of surrender, coupled with the dim lighting in the woods and that it was unknown if the airman was armed it was considered that Scholz had no alternative but to shoot first.
The court did not believe Scholz’s actions even in retrospect could be construed as a war crime and acquitted him of the charge.
Sgt. Harkey was initially buried at the Traunstein Community Cemetery on the 23rd September 1944.
Sgt. Rubin Franklin Harkey. Repatriated and buried at the Marvin United Methodist Church Cemetery, Lincoln County, North Carolina. Born on the 3rd December 1924 in North Carolina. Son to Bryant Michael and Betty Katherine (née Carpenter) Harkey of Lincoln County, North Carolina, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.