29.06.1944 514th Fighter Squadron P-47D ‘Bloom’s Tomb II’, 42-8473 1st Lt. Levitt C. Beck Jr.
Operation: Armoured reconnaissance of the Mantes-Gassicourt, France
Date: 29th June 1944 (Thursday)
Unit No: 514th Fighter Squadron, 406th Fighter Group, 303rd Fighter Wing, 9th Air Force
Type: P-47D Bloom’s Tomb II
Base: Ashford airfield (Station #417), Kent, England
Location: Abondant, 8 km (5 mls) NE of Dreux, France
Pilot: 1st Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck Jr. O-736945 AAF Age 24. Evader/ Id No. 78286 *
Above: Photograph of 1st Lt. Levitt C. Beck Jr., (Credit: Dwight “Andy” Anderson)
* Buchenwald concentration camp established on Ettersberg hill near Weimer, Germany in July 1937.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The following is a statement by 2nd Lt. Byant L. Cramer concerning the shooting down of 1st Lt. Levitt C. Beck, O-756945 on the 29th June 1944.
“At approximately 08:15 on 29th June, I was flying the wing of Yellow flight leader, Lt. Beck, at 13,500 ft. on a heading of 260 degrees, over Dreux. The flight was jumped all too effectively at this time by four Fw190’s, who came out of some clouds directly over us. Lt. Beck and I broke left, but one of the 190’s got hits on Beck’s airplane before I could get it off his tail. His engine was smoking rather badly, and as I followed the enemy aircraft down in his dive, attempting to close into effective range, I heard Lt. Beck call on the radio and say, "My airplane is hit. I think I’ll have to bail out”. I cannot say for sure whether he made the jump successfully or not, nor am I positive he did jump. It is quite probable, however, that he did jump, and successfully. A pilot from the 313th Squadron, flying below us at the time of the encounter, reported seeing an unidentified, black fighter dive into the ground, and saw a chute open up above it. The Focke-Wulfs were silver.”
In his book “Fighter Pilot” (Ref 1) 1st Lt. Beck wrote that he crash landed his aircraft so the eyewitness account probably related to 1st Lt. Edward R. Gaudent who was flying P-47D 42-8682 from the same squadron and was also shot down during this encounter.
Above the wreckage of Bloom’s Tomb II. 42-8473 was originally assigned to the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, 8th Air Force and later transferred to the 514th Fighter Squadron. (credit: American Air Museum in Britain)
Beck said that his P-47 crashed at Abondant which is some 8 km (5 mls) NE of Dreux.
Beck described that his engine was shot out during the head-on attack with the German fighter. Later in the book he wrote that he had heard from the Résistance that the Fw190 was itself shot down in the encounter and the German pilot bailed out. They informed him that the pilot was shot by German troops who may have thought he was an enemy airman from the shot down aircraft. 1st Lt. Beck speculated that this may have been the reason for the gunfire that he had heard after leaving the location of his crashed aircraft.
German records document a time of 07:37 hrs for the crash. However, no Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) (German Air Force High Command) fighter claims for the Reich, West & Südfront that record a P-47 near or close to Abondant at or around this time frame, has been found.
One possible explanation is that if indeed the German pilot was shot by his own side then there would no one to report his claim. This is also true in the case of 1st Lt. Beck as he died before he could report his claim.
Tom Kracker (Aircrew Remembered) has tentatively identified the German pilot as Uffz Walter Ruffing of 7./JG11 flying Fw190A-8 Wk# 172713 "White 123" who was KiA when his Fw190 was shot down by a P-47 near Flers, Normandy, France on the 29th June 1944. This was the only recorded loss of a Fw190 in the west on this day. No record of where he was buried has been found.
He initially evaded and was hiding in locations in Anet and Rouvres. A week after arriving at the home of Mr. René Farcy a car arrived to collect 1st Lt. Beck. It was driven by a Jean-Jacques accompanied by a Madame Orsini who claimed that they were part of the French underground.
Jean-Jacques was in fact a Belgian traitor named Jaques Desoubrie (Jean-Jacques, Jean Masson and Pierre Boulain were aliases) who had infiltrated the Réseau Comète (Comet Line) escape route in Brussels and Paris. He was responsible for the Nazis rounding up dozen of members of the Réseau Comète and Allied airmen. He was finally captured and stood accused at a French military trial in Lille. He was convicted and condemned to death for having participated in the capture and assassination of members of the resistance and for sending Allied military to their deaths in violation of the Geneva convention. He was executed by firing squad.
Madame Orsini, also known as Colette, was Marie-Antoinette Orsini and an accomplice of Desoubrie. She was arrested by the French authorities but not before Desoubrie tried but failed to kill her so that she would not inform on him (Ref 3).
1st Lt. Beck was taken to a hotel on the rue Pigalle in Paris which was not far from the apartments of Desoubrie. Here he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the Fresnes prison located to the south of Paris.
This was were French political prisoners were held and ordinarily Allied airmen, after questioning, were moved to a PoW Camp. In the summer of 1944, with the Allies having liberated Paris and closing in, the Gestapo guards started reducing the prison population by execution, and then relocating surviving prisoners to various concentration camps east of France. On the 15th August 1944 he was amongst 169 Allied PoWs and hundreds of French men and women who were packed into a freight train and transported to Buchenwald concentration camp on a journey lasting five days. Buchenwald was located 8 km (5 mls) north of Weimar, in the German province of Thüringen. It was established and administered by the Schutzstaffel (SS).
Note: Fg Off. Joel Mathews Stevenson C27788 RCAF assisted five Frenchmen to escape from the train and they all successfully evade capture. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) on the 1st January 1946. (Ref 1).
1st Lt. Beck was taken to the camp hospital where he died of purulent pleurisy due to medical neglect on the night of the 29th/30th October 1944 (Ref 2).
Sqn Ldr. Lamason and Fg Off. Chapman succeeded in getting all of the PoWs except for 1st Lt. Beck Jr. and Fg Off. Philip Derek Hermmens, 152583, RAFVR, who also died in the camp hospital, transferred to Stalag Luft 3.
For decades the International Red Cross (IRC) had stated that there were no military personnel in Buchenwald despite the overwhelming documentary and anecdotal evidence. It was not until 1988 that the IRC eventually confirmed the airmen were illegally held at Buchenwald.
The Australian, New Zealand and Canadian governments also consistently denied that any of their service personnel were ever held in concentration camps and refused to investigate the claims made by a 'mere’ handful of men.
Reparations were made to the British airmen who had been illegally held at Buchenwald in 1965. Eventually in 1988 the Australian, New Zealand and it is believed the Canadian governments acknowledged that their airmen had been illegally held in concentration camps.
American airmen were among those receiving compensation and the US Air force have acknowledged the Buchenwald airmen with an exhibit at the Air Force Museum, albeit the airmen are shown in uniform rather than in civilian attire. Furthermore, there is no mention of decades-long denial of their experiences by other branches of the government.
There is no known grave for 1st Lt. Beck and it was speculated that his body was cremated at the camp and his ashes dispersed.
Above: Memorial at Buchenwald for Fg Off. Hemmens and 1st Lt. Beck (Credit Harold Skaarup).
1st Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck Jr. Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters). Commemorated on the Tablets of the Missing, Luxembourg American Cemetery with a date of death as 29th November 1944. Born on the 2nd January 1920 in Houston, Texas. Son of Levitt Clinton and Verne Ethel (née Tryon) Beck of Walnut Park, California, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this Pilot with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks to Tom Kracker for the German fighter loss information (Jan 2022).
1. “Fighter Pilot” by 1st Lt. L.C.B. Beck Jr.
2. Hitler’s Atrocities against Allied PoWs - Philip D. Chinnery - Page 191.
3. Footprints in the Sands of Time: RAF Bomber Command Prisoners-of-War in Germany 1939-1945 - Oliver Clutton-Brook - Chapter 6.