26.08.1944 368th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G 42-97946 ‘Hard to Get’, 1st Lt. Dean C. Allen
Operation: Gelsenkirchen (Mission #575), Germany
Date: 26th August 1944 (Saturday)
Unit No: 368th Bombardment Squadron (H), 306th Bombardment Group (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Hard to Get
Serial No: 42-97946
Location: Budberg, Germany
Base: Thurleigh (Station #111), Bedfordshire, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. Dean C. Allen O-759675 AAF Age 21. PoW No. 7752 *
Co Pilot: 1st Lt. Charles Urban Rapp Jr. O-705426 AAF Age 19. KiA
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Charles Howard Evans Jr. O-716290 AAF Age 22. Murdered (1)
Bombardier: 1st Lt. Michael L. Vlahos O-703540 AAF Age 23. KiA (2)
Radio Operator: T/Sgt. Robert Bruce Newsbigle 33355040 AAF Age 22. KiA
Engineer: T/Sgt. Harvey J. Purkey. 16113858 AAF Age 21. Murdered (1)
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Eugene Wallace Le Veque 39135725 AAF Age 23. KiA
Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Richard Charles Huebotter 19129898 AAF Age 22. PoW **
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. James Rae Carey 19076562 AAF Age 23. PoW **
One of the two Waist Gunners was removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.
* Stalag 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work Camp 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and Work Camp 3368 Munich).
** Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
Crew photograph at Thurleigh airfield in 1944 (credit: (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Master Sgt. Matthew Carey/Released)
Front L to R: 1st Lt. Allen, 1st Lt. Rapp Jr., 2nd Lt. Charles Donahue, 1st Lt. Vlahos; Back L to R: T/Sgt. Purkey, T/Sgt. Newsbigle, S/Sgt. Le Veque, S/Sgt. Huebotter, S/Sgt. Charles Reinartsen, S/Sgt. Carey.
2nd.Lt. Charles Donahue was replaced by 2nd.Lt. Charles H. Evans Jr. and S/Sgt. Charles Reinartsen was not on the crew complement for this mission.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The B-17G 42-97946 Hard to Get was one of 36 aircraft that took off from Thurleigh at 06:20 hrs on the 26th August 1944 to bomb targets at Gelsenkirchen in Germany.
After action interrogations reported that the formation was subjected to heavy flak over the target area. Eyewitness reports differ in their descriptions of the events that followed but in summary, Hard to Get was struck by a flak burst during its bomb run which knocked off most of the outer section of the port wing causing the aircraft to roll to port. A second burst than struck the bomb bay which started a fire. The aircraft suffered further strikes by flak which led to it entering a flat spin and causing large parts of the aircraft to break away. Eyewitness recollections about the number of parachutes seen in the air ranged from one to four.
German documents report that the aircraft crashed at 12:50 hrs about a 2 km NW of Orsoy and NNW of Duisburg. 1st Lt. Rapp Jr., S/Sgt. Le Veque and T/Sgt. Newsbigle perished in the aircraft.
S/Sgt. Carey reported that he had landed in the back garden of an SS officer’s home. The officer kept him safe from the hostile crowd that had gathered and probably saved his life. S/Sgt. Carey had sprained his knee on landing which left him with a limp for the duration of his time as a PoW.
S/Sgt. Huebotter landed in the river Rhine and was rescued by a German in a rowing boat who then towed him to the shore where he was handed over to a German soldier from a nearby flak battery. He met up with 2nd Lt. Evans Jr. and they were held until later in the evening before being loaded onto the truck that was being used to recover wreckage from their aircraft. 2nd Lt. Evans Jr. was made to assist in the recovery of 1st Lt. Rapp’s remains from the wreckage of the nose section of the aircraft. He also saw three other caskets which he believed held the remains of S/Sgt. Le Veque, T/Sgt. Newsbigle and 1st.Lt. Vlahos.
S/Sgt. Huebotter and 2nd Lt. Evans Jr were then taken to a nearby Luftwaffe airfield where they met up with T/Sgt. Purkey, 1st.Lt. Allen and S/Sgt. Carey. They were held in separate jail cells overnight and the next morning boarded a train for Dulag Luft Oberursel near Frankfurt. After arriving at Wiesbaden during the night they and their escorts boarded another train. When the train halted at a small station on the morning of the 28th August 2nd Lt. Evans Jr. and T/Sgt. Purkey made their escape whilst the guards were sleeping.
(1) 2nd Lt. Evans Jr. and T/Sgt. Purkey were recaptured by unknown German civilians on the 29th August in or near Trebur and then taken by car to the town of Groß-Gerau where both were killed at the hands of German civilians.
After hostilities ceased a US Army investigation resulted in Heinrich Flauaus, a German civilian and Nikolaus Fachinger the chief of the local security police, being tried before a Military Commission convened in Munich, Germany on the 3rd August 1945. Georg Sturm, a Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt.) was tried separately before a General Military Government Court in Dachau, Germany over the period of the 28th to 29th July 1947.
Flauaus and Fachinger were charged that each did on the 29th August 1944, at Groß-Gerau, Germany, wrongfully and unlawfully kill two airmen, members of the Allied armed forces, names, ranks, and serial numbers unknown by beating them with an iron bar. Sturm was charged that on the 29th August 1944 at or near Groß-Gerau, Germany, that he wrongfully encouraged, aided, abeted and participated in the killing of members of the United States Army who were then and there surrendered and unarmed PoWs in the custody of the German Reich. At the time of the trials the identities of the two airmen had not been established as 2nd Lt. Evans Jr. and T/Sgt. Purkey.
The court found that the two airmen were physically attacked by a large hostile crowd using their fists and other objects. This may have been precipitated by the death of about 30 Groß-Gerau inhabitants during the RAF raid on the night of 25th/26th August. Fachinger intervened and led one of the airmen into the courtyard of the city hall, the second airmen followed or was forcibly led along behind. The airman in the custody of Fachinger was then attacked by Flauaus who struck him several time about the face, head and body.
Fachinger allowed this individual and Sturm to enter the courtyard with the airmen. Fachinger then barred everyone else from the courtyard and ordered all windows and doors opening onto the courtyard to be closed. He then instructed Flauaus and Sturm to kill the two airmen with the iron bars he had provided. Fachinger then entered the city hall and at the point of his gun ordered anyone with offices overlooking the courtyard to vacate them. When Fachinger returned to the courtyard both airmen were dead.
Fachinger strictly maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings. Contrary to the main evidence against him from the testimony of a Johannes Neumann, who had committed suicide so the defence could not test his testimony, Fachinger told the court that he was trying to protect the airmen by removing them from the crowd and that it was he who summoned a Doctor when he found that the airmen had been assaulted in the courtyard.
The Military Commission found Flauaus and Fachinger guilty of the charge and sentenced them to be hanged. The sentences were approved by the Reviewing Authority on the 31st October 1945 and were carried out on the 1st April 1946 at Landsberg/Lech, very probably by German executioner Johann Reichhart. The General Military Government Court found Sturm guilty of the charge but because of mitigating circumstances he was sentenced to be imprisoned for 3 years, commencing on the 10th June 1947. It is not known whether he was paroled.
(2) T/Sgt. Purkey told his fellow crew members that he and 1st Lt. Vlahos had landed in the same field. He saw that 1st Lt. Vlahos suffered a head wound and believed that he was dead before he landed in the field. It has not been established whether 1st Lt. Vlahos died as a result of being struck by a piece of flak or being shot from the ground whilst still descending under his parachute.
German documents record that 1st Lt. Rapp Jr., S/Sgt. Le Veque and T/Sgt. Newsbigle were initially interred at the community cemetery in Budberg in grave numbers 1938, 1939 & 1940 on the 29th August 1944. 1st.Lt. Vlahos was initially interred in the Evangelical cemetery in Orsoy. 2nd Lt. Evans Jr. and T/Sgt. Purkey were initially interred at the community cemetery in Groß-Gerau on the 30th August 1944
Above 1st Lt. Rapp Jr. (Credit: Vindicator 1, Find A Grave)
1st Lt. Charles Urban Rapp Jr., Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 30, Grave 12. Born on the 10th November 1915 in Pennsylvania. Son to Charles U. Rapp, husband to Margaret J. Rapp and father to Donald Rapp of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above 2nd.Lt. Evans Jr. (Credit: Des Philippe & Vindicator 1, Find A Grave)
2nd Lt. Charles Howard Evans Jr., Air Medal (Two Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot K, Row 19, Grave 18. Born on the 6th March 1922 in Pennsylvania. Son to Charles H. and Anna F. (née Hallam) Evans of Bellevue, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above 1st.Lt. Vlahos (Credit: Michel Beckers, Find a Grave)
1st Lt. Michael L. Vlahos. Purple Heart, Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot D, Row 26, Grave 16. Born during 1921 in Ohio. Son to Louis and Katina M. Vlahos and Fiancé to Effie Margaritis of Springfield, Ohio, USA.
Above T/Sgt. Newsbigle (Credit: Vindicator 1, Find A Grave)
T/Sgt. Robert Bruce Newsbigle. Purple Heart, Air Medal (Two Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 43, Grave 5. Born on the 19th October 1921 in Pennsylvania. Son to Walter B. and Laura M. Newsbigle of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above T/Sgt. Purkey (Credit: John Evans, Find A Grave)
T/Sgt. Harvey J. Purkey. Purple Heart, Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters). Repatriated and interred at the Arlington National Cemetery in Plot 34, Grave 2984 on the 29th April 1949. Born on the 5th September 1922 husband to Mrs. Betty J. Purkey of Flint, Michigan, USA.
Above S/Sgt. Le Veque (Credit: Vindicator 1, Find A Grave)
S/Sgt. Eugene Wallace Le Veque. Purple Heart, Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot D, Row 26, Grave 11. Born on the 6th November 1921 in Wyoming. Son to Edward and Martha A. (née Hill) Le Veque of Monteray, California, USA.
Image of the Plaque provided by the Mayor's office - Groß-Gerau
The plaque, above, was revealed during the opening an exhibition, titled "Never again: leave it to the crowd - the air raids of 1944 and the murder of the US soldiers Evans and Purkey",in Groß-Gerau on the 31st August 2018. The city and its citizens together with a number of dignitaries, the historian Dr. Susanne Meinl who was also the curator of the exhibition, and members of the crew’s immediate family commemorated and remembered the deaths of the two airmen. Also in attendance were former members of the 306th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force. Further information can be found in the press release from the PR Office of the town of Groß-Gerau.
Translation of the Plaque:
We commemorate the American Air Force soldiers Harvey J. Purkey and Charles H. Evans Jr., who on August 29, 1944, lost their lives here, in the courtyard of the former town hall, after an angry, bludgeoning mob had driven the US soldiers through the streets of Groß-Gerau.
We remember this episode with disgust.
May the death of the American soldiers serve to remind us of our humanity, reconciliation and peace.
The Mayor and Deputies of the County Seat Groß-Gerau
Mayor Erhard Walther
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’. Sincere thanks also to Cornelia Benz, the press secretary to the Mayor of Groß-Gerau for providing an updated image of the plaque.