21.11.1944 359th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 42-102484 'Heller’s Angels', 1st Lt. Arthur F. Chance
Operation: Merseburg (Mission #720), Germany
Date: 21st November 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit No: 359th Bombardment Squadron (H), 303rd Bombardment Group (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Heller’s Angels
Serial No: 42-102484
Location: Weißkirchen, south of Oberursel, Germany
Base: Molesworth (Station #107), Huntingdonshire, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. Arthur Flake Chance O-764610 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Robert Hetherington Johnson O-768572 AAF Age 24. PoW *
Navigator: 1st Lt. William M. Couch O-769010 AAF Age 24. Murdered (1)
Bombardier: T/Sgt. Ralph Allen Cuykendall 16041712 AAF Age? PoW **
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Albert Miller 33777588 AAF Age? PoW **
Engineer: T/Sgt. Elmer Willis Menasco 38529486 AAF Age 20. PoW **
Ball Turret Gnr: S/Sgt. Shirley Leroy Moss 37460059 AAF Age 21. Killed (2)
Waist Gnr: Sgt. Leo Anthony Torre 39214563 AAF Age 21. PoW ***
Tail Gnr: Sgt. Anthony Benedict Martin 36802197 AAF Age 21. Murdered (3)
One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.
* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Dulag Luft 12 Groß-Tychow Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland.
*** Stalag 2b, Hammerstein, Pomerania (now the town of Czarne, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland)
1st.Lt. Chance’s original combat crew, photographed in front of B-17G 44-6076 ‘Liberty Run’, 303rd BG, 359th BS, BN:Y (The ‘Liberty Run’ was lost on a Merseburg mission on the 13th September 1944, 3 KiA, 6 PoW). Courtesy of Fold3.
Back Row L to R: 1st Lt. Chance, 2nd Lt. Johnson, 1st Lt. McCaver, 1st Lt. Couch. Front Row L to R: T/Sgt. Menasco, S/Sgt. Nejna, S/Sgt. Moss, T/Sgt. Miller, Sgt. Torre.
1st Lt. Eugene Douglas McCaver, Navigator. Completed combat tour on 16th November 1944 and S/Sgt. Dennis R. Nejna, Tail Gunner, Completed combat tour on 18th December 1944.
Above: T/Sgt. Ralph Allen Cuykendall. Courtesy of Fold3.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of the 21st November 1944 the Heller’s Angel took off from Molesworth on a mission to bomb the Leuna synthetic oil plant at Merseburg. They were one of 39 aircraft tasked from the 303rd Bomb Group and one of 13 aircraft assigned from the 359th Bomb Sqn.
The Merseburg defenders put up a fierce barrage of intense and accurate flak, and chaff had no effect in deterring the determined German gunners. The Heller’s Angel was hit causing a fire in #4 engine which was extinguished. With only three engines they trailed the rest of the formation by about 100 yards. The aircraft was last seen at the approximate Lat/Long of 51 20N, 12 00E, at an altitude of 20,000 ft heading south and seemingly under control.
Lat/Long of 51 20N, 12 00E is on the southern outskirts of Merseburg.
In a statement provided by 1st Lt. Chance on the 17th August 1945 he described the events leading up to the loss of the Heller’s Angel.
“I was pilot of a B-17 plane on a mission to bomb Merseburg, Germany on 21 November 1944. We dropped our bombs on the target and at the same time we were hit by flak which set fire to No. 4 engine. This fire extinguished itself but caused a runaway prop which set up severe vibration in that engine.
The friction from this vibration and engine damage started another fire at which time I gave the bail out order. However, a few seconds after I gave the bail out order, the propeller shaft snapped which reduced the friction and the fire began subsiding. At this time I changed my bail out order and told the crew to hold fast as we might make it. However, I learned that Sgt Shirley Moss, ball turret, and Sgt. Leo A. Torre had already bailed out. This occurred at about 1245 hours on the above date between Merseburg and Frankfurt-am-Main. We continued flying approximately west for about twenty-five (25) minutes when we were again hit by flak. The right wing was severely damaged and set afire. The plane was unmanageable and I gave the order to bail out. Three (3) crew members, Lt. Couch, Sgt. Martin and Sgt. Menasco bailed out immediately. The plane then exploded in the air and Lt. Johnson, Sgt. Miller, Sgt. Coykendal [sic] and I were blown clear of the plane. After my ‘chute opened, I counted seven (7) ‘chutes in the air which accounted for the seven (7) men who had been in the plane.
After landing on the ground I was joined immediately by Lt. Johnson, Sgt. Miller, Sgt. Coykendal [sic] and Sgt. Menasco. We had landed in an anti aircraft position and were taken prisoners immediately. I checked my watch at this time and the time was 1330. This gun position where we had landed was about four (4) miles north northwest of Frankfort [sic], While we were in the anti aircraft revetment, about fifteen (15) minutes after we had been captured, a German soldier came into the revetment and obtained some first-aid bandages which led me to believe that they might be for use on either Lt. Couch or Sgt. Martin who had not yet been brought in. The German soldier who took me into custody at the time I hit the ground made the remark to me “seven more in machine” in such a manner as to indicate to me that he was verifying the fact that he had seen seven (7) ‘chutes and wanted to know if that was all there were in the plane.
At that time, and as I look back now, I do not know of any reason why any of the seven (7) men might have been injured as I do not believe that any of the parachutes were fired upon from the ground, Lt. Couch and Sgt. Martin may have been injured on leaving the plane but, obviously, both of them were able to open their parachutes.
We were taken to Dulag at Frankfort [sic] the same afternoon and while there at about 1700 hours, a German Sergeant who spoke fair English remarked to us that we were very lucky as seven (7) of us got out of the plane alive. While being interrogated a day or two later at Dulag, Frankfort [sic], the German interrogator who was a Captain informed me that Lt. Couch, Sgts. Martin, Moss and Torre had been killed in the crash of the plane and that their bodies were in the wreckage. This I knew to be a lie for the purpose of obtaining information as some of the other crew members had seen these men leave the plane, The Captain at this time showed me the AGO* identification card of Lt. Couch in an effort to convince me of the truth of his remark regarding the four (4) casualties in the plane. Of course, this identification card could have been obtained from Lt. Couch whether he was living or dead as we were all relieved of our personal belongings. It would also indicate that his body was not severely burned as there was no damage to the AGO card. I believe the records of Dulag Luft or the personnel who were in charge at that time could furnish information concerning Lt. Couch and Sgt. Martin. When we were able to get together and talk a few days later at Wetzlar, Dulag, it was the consensus of opinion of the five (5) crew members that all members of the crew had gotten out of the plane and should be alive.
I heard no more pertinent information until I was liberated when I saw Sgt. Torre at Lucky Strike Camp, Le Havre, France, At this time Sgt Torre told me that he had seen Sgt. Moss in his ‘chute on the way down and he had waved at him and Sgt. Moss responded by waving.
There is a possibility that Lt. Couch and Sgt. Martin may have been burned by the flames trailing from the right wing as they left the plane. If this did not happen, it would seem that they should be safe unless they met with foul play on the ground. There is a possibility that Sgt. Moss may have been killed by angry civilians.
I know of no other information that would aid in clearing the status of any of the missing men of my crew. It is my opinion that Sgt. Torre could give best information regarding the whereabouts or what may have happened to Sgt. Moss”.
*AGO = Adjutant General’s Office
S/Sgt. Torre evaded the Germans for two days and a night before being captured on the 23rd November and taken to a police station at Oppurg in the district of Saalfeld.
(1) The fate of 1st Lt. Couch was unknown until an American General Military Court was convened at Ludwigsburg, Germany between the 21st and 29th March 1946
Two German nationals were charged in that they did at or near Hausen, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on or about the 21st November 1944, wilfully, deliberately, and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of an unknown American airman, presumed to be William Couch, a member of United States Army, who was then an unarmed, surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
The two accused were:
Wilhelm Heene, who was a member of the Nazi party and the Sturmabteilung (SA = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party), and also the Ortsgruppenleiter (Nazi party Local Group Leader) and Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Hausen.
Wilhelm Matthäi, who was a member of the Nazi party and connected with the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (Nazi German Labour organisation) at its local office in Hausen.
The court heard from a series of ten witnesses for the prosecution all of whom substantially corroborated the facts of the case as presented.
In summary, the court heard that an American aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire in November 1944 and that several crew members bailed out and landed in the vicinity of the Ginnheim woods.
An employee at a tavern in Hausen, where Heene had his office saw him in his Ortsgruppenleiter uniform and Matthäi in civilian clothes leave in search of the parachuted airmen. Heene left on a motorcycle and Matthäi on a bicycle at about 13:00 hrs on the day in question. They returned to the tavern at about 17:00 hrs where Matthäi asked if he could wash his bloodied hands whilst admitting that they had killed an American airman. He said that he had fired the first shot and Heene a second.
During this conversation Heene came in, now in civilian clothes, and said that he had taken care of the second one and that he was lying near Ginnheim, and that the people of Ginnheim should go and get him.
It is almost certain that the second airman to whom Heene was referring was Sgt. Martin and that Heene had come across him after he had been shot and wounded by Clemens Wiegand (see section 3).
A number of witnesses recalled seeing an American airman in the custody of Heene, Matthäi and an unidentified young Wehrmacht soldier. The eyewitness accounts of what transpired leading up to, and the shooting of this airman differ in detail. However, what was not in dispute was that Matthäi shot the airman once at close range and that Heene fired a second shot. One eyewitness also claimed that the Wehrmacht soldier had also shot the airman five or six times after which Heene, Matthäi and the Wehrmacht soldier left. About a ½ hour later Heene returned and placed the body in a wagon and drove off.
The claim that an unidentified Wehrmacht soldier shot the airman has not been corroborated and it is not know if this soldier was ever apprehended.
The court found that there was ample evidence to establish the guilt of the accused. Not only did the evidence presented by the prosecution established their guilt, so did some of the defendant’s own testimony and as a result the court sentenced the two accused to death.
Heene and Matthäi were hanged at Landsberg on the 18th April 1947 at 10:05 and 10:13 hrs respectively.
(2) The following is a sworn statement provided by S/Sgt. Torre on the 15th September 1945. He was the last person from the crew to have seen S/Sgt. Moss.
“That while assigned in the European Theatre of Operations to the 303rd. Bomb Group, 559th Bomb Squadron, that on 21st November 44 we departed on a mission to enemy territory and at the time we were in a B-17 type aircraft and on this mission S/Sgt. Shirley L. Moss was a member of my crew and was assigned as ball turret gunner.
That after making the run on the target our plane became disabled by anti-aircraft and orders were given by the pilot to bail out. I was one of the first to leave the ship and one of the other members was S/Sgt. Shirley L. Moss who succeeded in parachuting out. As I was descending I saw S/Sgt. Moss who was descending above me. Just prior to landing I waved to him. He was close enough to me that I recognized him. My chute landed in some trees. S/Sgt. Moss landed in a little village which was named Wimar [sic] Germany. This is the last that I ever saw of S/Sgt. Moss.
Wimar is probably the town of Weimar, some 39 miles SW of Merseburg.
That I successfully evaded capture for approximately two days and was later taken into custody by German civilian police. I was taken to a room where I saw on a desk some flying clothing which I recognized to be that of S/Sgt. Moss. I know this because he had his initials on the bill of his cap and also his initials on his flying boots. Also there was about one-half pack of Chesterfield cigarettes lying on the desk. I knew S/Sgt. Moss smoked Chesterfields.
I was unable to learn whatever became of S/Sgt. Moss. I never saw him again after this instance”.
The circumstances surrounding the death of S/Sgt. Moss remain unexplained although it was speculated by S/Sgt. Torre in his Individual Casualty Questionnaire that he may have been killed by hostile action after he had landed.
(3) The fate of Sgt. Martin was unknown until an American General Military Court was convened at Heidelberg, Germany on the 15th and 16th October 1945.
One German national was charged that he did, at or near Frankfurt am Main, Ginnheim, Germany, on or about the 21st November 1944, wilfully, deliberately, and wrongfully, kill Anthony B. Martin, a member of the United States Army, who was then a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich, by shooting him with a gun.
The accused was a Clemens Wiegand, who was the former Ortsgruppenleiter (Nazi party Local Group Leader) in Ginnheim and was a member of the Sturmabteilung (SA = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party).
Ironically his mother was born in the USA, although she was a resident of Frankfurt am Main, and he had a brother who was a citizen of the USA living in New York.
The court heard that on the 21st November 1944 and American aircraft was shot down over Ginnheim, Germany. Several members of the crew, including Anthony B. Martin parachuted to safety from the burning aircraft. He landed in a field near Ginnheim and was captured. While being lead away with his hands in the air he was shot in the head by Wiegand with his pistol from about 20 ft.
Wiegand, thinking that he had killed the airman, then left the scene. Later, upon being informed that the airman was still alive he became upset and said “he must die”. Wiegand then returned to where the airman lay. He refused to permit the wounded man to be taken away and helped the German police to drive spectators away from the scene. After speaking to a Wehrmacht officer, who then left, Wiegand lit a cigarette and walked about, presumably to see if he was being observed. He then drew his pistol, approached the airman, and deliberately fired two shots into his head. The airman died from these gunshot wounds within three hours of the time they were inflicted.
Wiegand admitted that he had killed the airman and offered no defence for his actions except that he was angry and embittered as a result of the Allied bombings and by Nazi propaganda that Allied airmen were paid murderers who should be put to death.
The court found him guilty of the charge and sentenced to death, unusually by decapitation. The sentence was upheld upon review by the Reviewing Authority on the 3rd November 1945, but the method of execution was changed to hanging. He was hanged at Bruchsal by M/Sgt. John C. Woods, S/Sgt. Fred Guidry assisting, on the 11th January 1946.
Decapitation was at the time the prescribed punishment in German penal law for common murder.
1st Lt. Couch and Sgt. Martin were buried in the main cemetery at Frankfurt.
1st Lt. William M. Couch. Air Medal (four Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, Plot EE, Row 3, Grave 69. Repatriated and buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Section A on Clinton Avenue, Maspeth, Queens County, New York. Born on the 14th December 1919 in Long Island City, Queens County, New York. Son of William Henry and Berenice A. (née Miller) Couch from Long Island, New York, USA.
Above S/Sgt Moss (Courtesy: Dominique Potier - FindAGrave).
S/Sgt. Shirley Leroy Moss. Air Medal (four Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Army Graves Registration Service (AGRS) Mausoleum No 44. Relocated to the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot C, Row 9, Grave 41. Born on 9th September 1923 in Nebraska. Son of Ida M. Moss from Terrington, Wyoming, USA.
Above Sgt Martin (Courtesy: The Daily Tribune, November 29, 1945).
Sgt. Anthony Benedict Martin. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery as X-664, Plot EE, Row 3, Grave 70. Relocated to Plot F, Row 16, Grave 34. Born on 1st January 1923 in Oglesby, LaSalle County, Illinois. Son of Anton and Franciska (née Rebernik) Martin. Husband to Shirley Jean (née Nelson) Martin of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz or Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
Other sources listed below: