27.09.1944 703rd Bombardment Squadron (H) B-24H 41-29579 ‘Clay Pidgeon’ 1st Lt. Oliver B. Elder
Operation: Henschel industrial plants Kassel (Mission #650), Germany
Date: 27th September 1944 (Wednesday)
Unit No: 703rd Bombardment Squadron (H), 445th Bombardment Group (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-24H Clay Pidgeon
Serial No: 41-29579
Location: Lindenau-Weißenhasel, Germany
Base: Tibenham airfield (Station #124), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. Oliver Berg Elder O-817826 AAF Age 23. KiA
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Roy E. Ellender O-1996104 AAF Age? PoW *
Navigator: 1st Lt. Harold Philbrick Whidden Jr. DFC O-708301 AAF Age 26. PoW * (2)
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Charles Vergos O-1996085 Age 24. KiA
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. John Joseph Donahue 33524628 AAF Age 20. Murdered (3)
Engineer: T/Sgt. Paul E. DeVries 31126075 AAF Age? PoW **
Right Waist: S/Sgt. Charles J. Deckert Jr. 32876559 AAF Age? PoW **
Left Waist: S/Sgt. John L. Durr 35685514 AAF Age? PoW ***
Tail: S/Sgt. Stanley H. Morse 32672315 AAF Age 23. KiA (1)
Originally 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, Radio Operator/Waist Gunner, Nose Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner, Waist Gunner, Tail Gunner.
The Ball Turret was being removed from July 1944 as an operational decision to reduce weight and the improve manoeuvrability of the aircraft.
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
** 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).
*** Stalag 9c Bad Sulza, Saxe-Weimar, Thuringia, Germany.
Above: B-24H 41-29579 Clay Pidgeon (Courtesy of World War Photographs)
The airman believed to be 1st Lt. Wallace C. Clay, DFC, Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), 3 Bronze Stars. He survived the war and passed away peacefully aged 91 on the 5th December 2011.
Above: Photograph of the 1st Lt. Oliver Berg Elder crew (Courtesy of Richard Glueck).
The individual members of the drew are not identified except that; standing 2nd from the left is 1st Lt. Whidden.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The aircraft took off from Tibenham on the 27th September 1944 as part of the 445th Bombardment Group mission to bomb the Henschel facility in Kassel, Germany. Because of an error in navigation the 445th became detached from the main stream and the fighter escort and proceeded north of Kassel to bomb the western edge of the town of Göttingen, some 40 km (25 mls) NE of Kassel.
After leaving the target area, the 445th was attacked by an estimated 150 enemy aircraft comprising Fw190 and Bf109 fighters. In a period of less than 6 minutes, 25 of the 35 B-24's had gone down in flames. The exact circumstance of the shooting down of the Clay Pidgeon is not known.
1st Lt. Elder gave the bail out order and kept the aircraft in a straight and level flight before losing control. He was killed when the aircraft crashed, about 1 km (¾ ml) SW of Lindenau-Weißenhasel which is some 27 km (16¾ mls) WNW of Eisenach, Germany.
2nd Lt. Vergos was operating the nose turret when the enemy aircraft attacked and was killed by a 20mm shell which also jammed the turret.
(1) S/Sgt. Morse was seen to exit the tail turret and was believed to have bailed out. It was reported that enemy fighters followed the Clay Pidgeon as it was falling to earth and it was speculated that S/Sgt. Morse was wounded aboard the aircraft or whilst parachuting. He was treated at the Eisenbach hospital but died from his injuries. He was buried in the Eisenach cemetery.
(2) Harold Philbrick Whidden Jr. was born on the 19th January 1918 in New York, New York and passed away on the 1st August 1981, aged 63, in San Antonio, Bexar, Texas.
Above Harold P. Whidden, Jr. (Courtesy of Richard Glueck)
Grave marker for Maj. Harold P. Whidden, Jr., DFC, Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), at the Fort Sam Houston National cemetery. (Headstone © 2022 by LKat on Find A Grave. Used with permission)
(3) Amongst the numerous aircraft and crews lost on this mission the circumstances of the deaths of five American airmen from three different B-24s were unknown. The airmen in question were T/Sgt. Donahue from the Clay Pidgeon, 2nd Lt. Newell White Brainard from B-24H 42-110022 Patches, 2nd Lt. John W. Cowgill, 2nd Lt. Hector Victor Scala and T/Sgt. James T. Fields from B-24H 42-50383 King Kong.
To determine the circumstances of the deaths of the five airmen three separate courts were convened. What the courts did not or could not determine was which of the five airmen were captured at which location and who was murdered by whom.
Case No. 012-1915
The first General Military Government court was convened at Dachau, Germany from the 28th August to the 3rd September 1946 at which a total of seven German civilians were charged on two counts.
All seven of the accused were charged in that they did, at or near Nentershausen, Germany, on or about the 27th September 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing, and six of the seven in the assault, of an unknown member of the United States Army, who was then an unarmed surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
Paul Rübsamen was only charged on the first count. His occupation was a miner and a former Wehrmacht soldier in the German Transportation Security Battalion 606.
The following six were charged on both counts:
Paul Winkler, whose occupation was a mining inspector;
Martin Bässe, whose occupation was an automobile lacquerer and a Rottmeister (Cpl) in the Gendarmerie (Rural Police);
Karl Schrader, whose occupation was a machinist;
Jakob Ehlen, whose occupation was a miner and an Unterlagerführer (deputy camp leader) at the Ostarbeiterlager (Eastern Workers’ Camp) at Nentershausen;
Reinhard Beck, whose occupation was a baker;
Joseph Crumbach who was acquitted of both counts of the charge.
The court heard that on or about 27th September 1944 an American airman parachuted to safety near a settlement in the vicinity of Nentershausen, Germany. He surrendered to and was searched by local citizens. A crowd gathered, were exited, and were pushing each other and yelling. One witness heard the words, “Shoot this dog to death”.
The airman was beaten about the face by Schrader with his fists several times and Bässe kicked the airman in the rear causing him to fall forward. Whilst on the ground Bässe kicked him again. Jakob Ehlen slapped the airman.
Two witnesses saw Beck at the scene with a club in his hand and Winkler saw Beck hit the airman with a horsewhip. However Beck claimed that he protected the airman.
A witness named Franz Notzen claimed that he saw Crumbach strike the airman once with his fist and kick him. However, Crumbach testified that he had only been in Nentershausen for 11 days at the time of the incident. He was returning from his place of work and saw a large crowd gathered around the airman but walked on past to his home and did not take part in or witness the incident. He also testified that he did not know and had never heard of a Franz Notzen.
In a pre-trial statement Winkler stated that he took part in the calls of the crowd to kill the airman and that he struck the airman twice about the head with his fist. He along with the crowd encouraged Rübsamen to shoot the airman. There is some evidence that Winkler ordered Rübsamen to carry out the shooting.
In his pre-trial statement Rübsamen said Winkler attempted to take his carbine and that when he refused to hand it over Winkler with others beat and kicked the airman. After which Winkler again demanded that he hand over his weapon or he would take it from him.
Rübsamen then warned everyone and shot the airman in the back of the head killing him. Rübsamen claimed that Winkler ordered him to do so. Rübsamen stated that he did not go out that day to kill the airman and was sorry that he was swayed by the crowd to do so.
Bässe stated that he tried to push the airman out of the crowd with his foot and when that failed rushed into the crowd and tried to push them away from the airman.
Schrader stated that he was walking by the airman when he was suddenly hit on his left side. He assumed that it was the airman that has struck him and retaliated by slapping the airman twice in the face. He also maintained that had he seen the shooting he would have tried to prevent it.
Jakob Ehlen testified that when passing the airman he hit him with a light blow from behind on the shoulder.
The court found that was sufficient evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt that six of the accused were guilty of the charges. The evidence against Crumbach was not given full credence and he was acquitted on both counts of the charge.
The court found Rübsamen and Winkler guilty on both counts of the charge and were sentenced to death. They were hanged at Landsberg on the 15th July 1947 and the 5th August 1947 respectively.
The court also found Bässe and Schrader guilty on both counts of the charge. They were sentenced to 25 years and 12 years imprisonment respectively. Bässe was released in July 1952, but the final disposition of Schrader’s sentence is unknown.
The court found Jakob Ehlen and Beck guilty of the 2nd count of the charge, and they were sentenced to 3 and 2 years imprisonment respectively. Ehlen was delivered to Landsberg prison on 3rd July 1947 at 08:15 am. The final dispositions of their sentences are unknown.
Case No. 012-551
The second General Military Government court was convened at Dachau, Germany from the 21st October to the 7th November 1946.
Six German nationals were charged on two counts in that they did, at or near Nentershausen*, Germany, on or about the 27th September 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of four and in the assault of two or more of the four unknown members of the United States Army, who were then unarmed surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
* For the second count the charge was amended to read “and Süß”
The six were, a Josef Ehlen who was the former commander of the Ostarbeiterlager (Eastern Workers’ Camp) at Nentershausen; August Viehl who was a former official at the camp and subordinate to Josef Ehlen; Reinhard Beck, who was a baker by profession; Franz Müller whose occupation was a mine foreman; Martin Bässe, whose occupation was an automobile lacquerer and a Rottmeister (Cpl) in the Gendarmerie (Rural Police) and Paul Winkler, who was the former Kreis (District) mining inspector with authority over the mines in his district.
The court heard that following a bombing attack on the interior of Germany, 27th September 1944, four American airmen parachuted to earth from their disabled aircraft, landing in Kreis Rotenburg. Two landed near the town of Nentershausen and the other two near the neighbouring village of Süß. The two counts of the charge were described as Incidents 1 and 2.
In the first incident one of the airmen who had landed near Nentershausen was brought to the town by Gestapo agents Christian Hellwig and Karl Eggert at about 18:00 hrs on the 27th September. After they met with Winkler, he and the agents took the airman to a conference room at the Polish and French internment camp at Nentershausen. Prosecution evidence during the trial suggested that Eggert suspected the PoWs to be Jews and in an attempt to confirm his prejudices he subjected them to a degrading search.
Hellwig committed suicide in July 1945 before he was apprehended.
Eggert was not in custody when this case was tried but was tried in a third General Military Government court (Case No.012-551-1) convened at Dachau, Germany on the 2nd and 3rd of June 1947 and faced the same charges. Eggert was a truck driver and was either a member of or in the employment of the Gestapo. It was reported that he had a Gestapo badge, a pistol, and sometimes was dressed in the uniform of a SS-Hauptscharführer (S/Sgt) in the Allgemeine (General) SS.
There they were met by Viehl, Müller, Bässe and the local police chief (name unknown). They were present when the second airman who was being held in an apartment house in the town was brought in by Bässe and when both airmen suffered a beating by the accused. The airmen were then taken to the yard by the accused where they were shot and killed.
In the second incident, subsequent to the killing of first two airmen, Eggert, Josef Ehlen and Viehl were despatched to collect the other two airmen who had landed near Süß.
The entry for the B-24H 42-110022 ‘Patches’ in the “Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Force Volume 4” (Stan D. Bishop and John A. Hey, MBE) reports that two airmen were confined in a house behind the vicarage in the village at Süß, 4 miles east of Iba. The entry also names 2nd Lt. Newell White Brainard from ‘Patches’ as one of the two but the second airman was not identified. No evidence has been found to corroborate this information.
They were instructed by Winkler that these two airmen were also to be killed. At Süß the accused beat one airman over the head with a chair. The airmen were then brought to the Ostarbeiterlager (Eastern Workers’ Camp) at Nentershausen were they were shot and killed by the accused. They then reported to Winkler that they had carried out his orders.
At 05:00 hrs on the 28th September Winkler telephoned a man named Brill and ordered him to transport the bodies of the four airmen to the cemetery before daylight.
In relation to the first incident, Ehlen testified that he was present in the building where the first two airmen were mistreated but that he was in a room adjacent to the conference room. He denied that he had participated in the beatings or the killing. He did however admit that he unlocked the rear exit door for the Gestapo agents when they took the airmen out to their deaths. He claimed to have not heard any shots being fired and that he did not learn of the airmen’s deaths until the next morning.
In relation to the second incident, Ehlen claimed that he had been ordered by Hellwig to go with Eggert and Viehl to go to Süß and collect the two airmen and return them to the conference room. The airmen were then taken outside one at a time, the first by Eggert and Viehl whilst Ehlen guarded the second airman. After the two returned they along with Ehlen took the second airman outside where Eggert shot the airman.
The testimony of Viehl did not differ materially to that given by Ehlen in that he also denied any involvement in the first incident. He admitted that he was present when the second airman from the second incident was killed.
In relation to the first incident, Beck testified that he had stopped at the internment camp at about 19:30 hrs en route to his bakery and entered the office building. He had gone to see Ehlen to collect monies owed to him for the sale of his bread. Although he had entered the conference room and saw the other accused and two American airmen he left immediately and re-joined his children, whom he had left on his cart, and returned home. He denied having assaulted either airman. Ehlen and Winkler confirmed that Beck did not assault either airman and that he had left immediately after entering the conference room.
In relation to the first incident, Müller testified that he was present in the conference room during the interrogation and assault of the two airmen but he denied any involvement in the killing of the two airmen and claimed he was not aware that they had been killed until the following day.
In relation to the first incident, Bässe testified that he met with Eggert in the office building who ordered him to accompany him to collect an airman and delivered the airman to Hellwig in the conference room and immediately left thereafter.
In relation to the first incident, Winkler testified and denied that he left the conference room to join the other accused outside when the first two airmen were killed. In relation to the second incident, he testified and denied every fact set out in his extrajudicial sworn statement. However, on cross-examination he admitted the truth of the facts except for ordering Viehl and Ehlen not to bring back the airman from Süß alive.
The court rejected the defence of Winkler and Viehl and found them guilty on both counts of the charge and sentenced them to death. Both were hanged at Landsberg, Winkler on the 5th August 1947 and Viehl on the 14th January 1949.
The court found Josef Ehlen not guilty on the second count and guilty on the first count of the charge for which he was sentenced to death. He was hanged at Landsberg on the 14th January 1947.
The court found Eggert guilty of the charge at his trial and sentenced him to death. He was hanged at Landsberg on the 14th November 1947.
The court found Beck and Bässe not guilty on the first count and guilty on the second count of the charge for which Beck was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment commencing on the 20th May 1945. On review Beck’s conviction and sentence were disapproved. Bässe was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment commencing on the 25th June 1945. He was released in July 1952.
The court found Müller not guilty on the first count and guilty on the second count of the charge for which he was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment commencing on the 5th June 1945. He was delivered to Landsberg prison on the 1st march 1948 at 14:00 hrs. It was reported that he died whilst in prison on the 1st December 1948. The circumstances of his death are unknown.
The five murdered airmen were all initially buried in the local cemetery at Nentershausen. At the end of March 1945 they were reinterred in the Lorraine American Cemetery.
1st Lt. Elder and 2nd Lt. Vergos were initially buried in Weißenhasel Cemetery.
1st Lt. Oliver Berg Elder. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred in the Lorraine American Cemetery, Plot PP, Row 9, Grave 106. Repatriated and buried Rimersburg Cemetery, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. Born on the 17th February 1921 in East Brady, Pennsylvania. Son to Oliver Thomas and Estella Roxanna (née Berg) Elder of East Brady, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above: 2nd Lt. Vergos (Credit: Johanna - FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Charles Vergos. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Reinterred in the Lorraine American Cemetery, Plot PP, Row 9, Grave 107. Repatriated and buried Waldheim Cemetery Co., Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois. Born on the 20th July 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. Son to Lillian A. Vergos of Chicago, Illinois, USA.
T/Sgt. John Joseph Donahue. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred in the Lorraine American Cemetery, Plot PP, Row 11, Grave 132. Repatriated and buried at the St. Josephs Roman Catholic Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia. Born on the 9th November 1923. Son to Clara C. Donahue of Petersburg, Virginia, USA.
S/Sgt. Stanley H. Morse. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery on the 19th November 1947 in Plot FF, Row 4, Grave 79 as Unknown X-6928 and was later identified and relocated to Plot B, Row 32, Grave 11. New York. Born on the 21st June 1921 in Vermont. Husband to Miriam L. Morse of Jamestown, New York, 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’. Many thanks to Richard Glueck for the crew photograph and that of his uncle 1st Lt. Harold P. Whidden Jr. (Dec 2022).