24.08.1944 68th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-24J 44-40098 ‘Lone Ranger’, 2nd Lt. Arthur H. Dittmer
Operation: Langenhagen airfield (Mission #568), Germany
Date: 24th August 1944 (Thursday)
Unit No: 68th Bombardment Squadron (H), 44th Bombardment Group (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-24J Lone Ranger
Serial No: 44-40098
Location: Sophiental, 8 km (5 mls) east of Peine, Germany
Base: Shipdham (Station #115), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Arthur Herman Dittmer O-818843 AAF Age 21. Killed (1)
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Marvin J. Reddick O-813419 AAF Age 24. PoW *
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Arnold Alvin Henry Grueber O-716650 AAF Age 20. PoW Unknown camp (2)
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Wayne Russell Davis O-717040 AAF Age 27. PoW *
Radio/Op: S/Sgt. John William Domogala 33756755 AAF Age 25. PoW **
Engineer: T/Sgt. John Edward Devich 37275604 AAF Age 19. PoW ** (2)
Top Turret: S/Sgt. Eugene Bramlet Fogelstrom 37317934 AAF Age 27. PoW **
Right Waist: Sgt. Raymond Gasperetti 39043892 AAF Age 19. Murdered (3)
Left Waist: S/Sgt. Homer Hildred Braswell 14105559 AAF Age 20. Murdered (3)
Tail: Sgt. Grover Lee Dobson 6397582 AAF Age 27. PoW ** (4)
The B-24 had 10 crew positions. Crew complements evolved during the war and comprised 9 personnel who were typically, but not always, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Bombardier, Navigator, Flight Engineer/Top Turret gunner, Radio Operator/Waist gunner, Nose gunner, Ball Turret gunner, Waist gunner, Tail gunner.
Ball Turrets were being removed in the spring of 1944 due to the increased long-range fighter escort being available and to save weight.
* 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 complement for the Ferry Flight on the 19th June 1944 (Monday) (credit: Dennis Burke-WW2IrishAviation)
Back L to R: 2nd Lt. Dittmer, 2nd Lt. Grueber, 2nd Lt. Reddick, 2nd Lt. Davis; Front L to R: Cpl. James O.E. Harvey, Sgt. George H. Smith, Sgt. Carlos F. Maestas, Sgt. Edward J. Friedl, S/Sgt. Lester M. Clark, Cpl. Riley Wayne Cannon.
The fate of the B-24J 42-50721, its crew and the story of the ferry flight from Goose Bay, Newfoundland, to Nutts Corner airfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland can be found here.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Photographs of 44-40098 ‘Lone Ranger’ WQ:B (Credit: B-24 Best Web)
After five days of inactivity the Lone Ranger and 23 other aircraft took off from Shipdham on a mission to bomb the Focke-Wulf experimental and production plant at Langenhagen airfield, Germany. The Lone Ranger was flying in the ‘tail end Charlie’ position and about 30 seconds from the target area it was heavily damaged by flak. The aircraft was seen to drop out of formation with the starboard wing and #3 engine on fire. It appeared to be under control and two parachutes were seen in the air. It was later established that all the crew had successfully bailed out of the aircraft.
German documents reported that the aircraft crashed near Sophiental about 8 km (5 mls) east of Peine in Germany, at about 11:20 hours.
(1) 2nd Lt. Grueber believed that 2nd Lt. Dittmer and Sgt. Gasperetti were captured by German civilians, lined up and shot before the German military police arrived at the scene. He did not know the fate of S/Sgt. Braswell. However, an uncorroborated entry in Vol. 4 of ‘Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces’ claims that 2nd Lt. Dittmer was shot by a German farmer at Woltorf about 3¼ km 2 mls) west of the aircraft crash site.
A partial document has been found that records a preliminary investigation that was conducted into the murder of an American airman at Woltorf in Germany.
The investigation in this case was predicated upon information received on the 20th April 1945 from a Stanislaw Nawa, a Polish worker living with farmer Albert Grethe in Rüper, that in the summer of 1944 an American airman had been killed by a German civilian in the village of Woltorf. Nawa who said his entire knowledge of the incident was based upon hearsay, did not give the name of the alleged killer, but said that a man named Kuisbach from Woltorf had been involved in the incident.
A second Polish worker, a Stanislaw Ziesula, living with farmer Hansen in Woltorf, was also contacted on 20th April 1945 and stated that although he had no first hand information regarding the murder he had heard that the airman had been killed by the Ortsgruppenleiter (Nazi Local Group Leader) Graver, and that a reliable account of the affair could be had from Albert Ehrlich of Woltorf.
On the 20th April 1945 Albert Ehrlich was interviewed and provided the following information:
Sometime in the middle of August 1944 Ehrlich had observed a burning enemy airplane circling above Woltorf and saw four or five men descending in parachutes. Accompanied by a Polish worker, Stanislaw Ziesula, he went to the approximate spot in the woods near Woltorf where one of the parachutes had landed and found one airman hanging by his parachute from the branches of a tree. He helped the airman down, searched him for weapons, briefly questioned him, and was told by the airman, who spoke broken German, that he was an American. Ehrlich intended to take the airman to the Bürgermeister (Mayor) but before he had an opportunity to do so several men, including Walter Sckopp, a barber, and Johann Kilsbach, a saddle maker, appeared and took the airman into their custody, saying he was to be brought to the Bürgermeister's office at once. Ehrlich remained at work in the fields for several hours and while returning to Woltorf in the afternoon observed from a distance the airman with his coat and boots in his hands crossing the bridge over the canal near Woltorf, and close behind he saw three men followed by a large crowd of excited villagers.
Note: 2nd Lt. Dittmer’s father emigrated from Germany.
Ehrlich recognised Graver as one of the three men who followed close behind the airman and said that he had heard from many people that the other two were Sckopp and a Willi Plönnecke or Plünnecke. Ehrlich states that he continued on toward his home, believing that the airman was being taken to Peine.
About a half hour after he had returned home, Graver, who appeared to be quite excited, rushed into Ehrlich's house and demanded that the Polish worker, Ziesula, be sent to the woods to find the airman's parachute.
This is the extent of the report, however, a Polizei Oberinspektor (Police Chief Inspector) named Jakatz reported the following:
Dittmar or Dittmer, Arthur, American flight officer, date and place of birth unknown, place of residence in America: Levesen-New-York. D., had parachuted from the aircraft and died during transport from Woltorf to Peine. He was buried in the communal cemetery in Woltorf, disinterred on 6th May 1945 by members of the American army and probably transferred to America. The matter was investigated and clarified by American officers in 1945.
A German cemetery document records that a Dittmar or Dittmer, Arthur, had died on the 24th August 1944 and had been buried in Woltorf.
The outcome of the investigation is not known or whether the individuals named as suspects were ever found or questioned in relation to the death of 2nd Lt. Dittmer. Although what has been found is circumstantial there appears to be a strong possibility that 2nd Lt. Dittmer died in highly suspicious circumstances.
(2) 2nd Lt. Grueber described how he had bailed out of the aircraft at about 22,500 feet and landed approximately 1000 feet from the aircraft wreckage. He was injured during the landing and was captured by hostile German civilians. He believed that his life was saved by the timely arrival of Luftwaffe personnel. He was taken to a temporary hospital and put into a room where a badly burned B-17 pilot named Maier was being treated. 2nd Lt. Grueber tried to comfort him whilst being transported to the Dulag at Oberursel near Frankfurt. He did not believe the pilot had survived his injuries. On arrival at the Dulag his captors accused him of being a traitor because his Grandfather and Great Grandfather had lived in the Hanover area but had emigrated to the USA in the 1870’s.
Believed to be 1st Lt. Ralph E. Maier, the pilot from B-24M 42-51278 Pistol Packin Bomma II. Records show that he was a PoW at Stalag 9C near Bad Sulza, which was liberated on the 31st March 1945. It is possible that he was treated for his injuries at the camp’s attached hospital (Reserve-Lazarett IX-C(a)).
(3) The available casualty questionnaires recorded that S/Sgt. Braswell and Sgt. Gasperetti had reported over the intercom that they were not injured after the aircraft had been hit. Other crew members reported that both airmen successfully bailed out of the aircraft. No official documentation has been found that provides any clue as to the fate of these two airmen.
After US ground forces occupied the area encompassing the aircraft crash site the graves of two unknown Allied airmen were identified to the US authorities by German civilians. The subsequent investigation resulted in a General Military Government Court being convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 4th and 5th June 1947. The court charged Heinz Franz Herbert Minx, a German National, that he did at or near Münstedt, on or about the 24th August 1944, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of two unidentified airmen, believed to be members of the United States Army, who were then and there surrendered and unarmed PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
The location and the timing of the murders makes it possible that this case relates to S/Sgt. Braswell and Sgt. Gasperetti.
The court heard that Minx, a former member of the SS (Schutzstaffel), in the company of three other SS men, proceeded by car to the village of Schmedenstedt where they took over the custody of two American airmen. The three SS men, the two American airmen and Minx who was driving the car, proceeded toward Braunschweig. In the vicinity of Münstedt the senior SS officer, a man named Harms, ordered Minx to stop. The three SS officers and the two American airmen exited the vehicle. Minx then drove away to find another vehicle with which to continue the journey. After having driven a short distance he stopped the car and it was then he heard shots being fired in the vicinity of where he had dropped the group.
Minx drove back to the SS men where Harms informed him that the American airmen had been shot trying to escape. On his return to Schmedenstedt Minx reported the shooting to the Mayor and the police. Under the orders from the police a party of German civilians buried the two American airmen alongside the road where they had been shot.
The court acquitted Minx of the charge as it may have considered that he, as the driver, had no direct involvement in the murders. No evidence has been found that Harms or the two unnamed SS officers were found, arrested or held to account for the murders of the two American airmen.
(4) S/Sgt. Sgt. Grover L. Dobson was a substitute gunner from the 66th Bombardment Squadron (H).
Above L to R: 2nd Lt. Dittmer, Sgt. Gasperetti (Credit: Des Philippet, FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Arthur Herman Dittmer. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands, Plot E Row 14 Grave 14. Born on the 30th November 1922 in Manhattan, New York. Son to Henry and Sophie Dittmer of Glendale, New York, USA.
Sgt. Raymond Gasperetti. Purple Heart. Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands, Plot C Row 10 Grave 8. Born on the 6th November 1924 in San Francisco, California. Son to Mr. Umberto Gasperetti, San Francisco, California, USA.
Above Marker for S/Sgt Braswell (Credit: Brenda Darbyshire, Find A Grave)
S/Sgt. Homer Hildred Braswell. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Fairview Cemetery, Eufaula, Alabama. Born on the 20th April 1922. Son to Ira H. and Leona (née Anderson) Braswell. Husband to Bobby G. Braswell and father to daughter, Pet Braswell, of Eufaula, Alabama, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks also to Dennis Burke-WW2IrishAviation for permission for the use of the crew photograph. Thanks to Jacob Domogala for S/Sgt. John William Domogala Next-of-Kin information (Feb 2023).
Other sources listed below: