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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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8th Air Force

Operation: Schweinfurt (Mission #84), Germany

Date: 17th August 1943 (Tuesday)

Unit No: 534th Bombardment Squadron (H), 381st Bombardment Group (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17F

Serial No: 42-3227

Code: GD:G

Location: Teuven, Belgium

Base: Ridgewell (Station #167), Essex, England

Pilot: 1st Lt. Hamden Landon Forkner O-416956 AAF Age 25. Evader (1)

Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Joseph Anthony Kelly O-671956 AAF Age 23. PoW *

Navigator: 2nd Lt. Robert Estabrook Hyatt O-797321 AAF Age 21. PoW *

Bombardier: 1st Lt. Edwin Lee Vincent O-2043746 AAF Age 26. ID No. 78310 **, PoW No. 8922 * (2)

Engineer: S/Sgt. Paul Frederick Shipe 33152998 AAF Age 25. Evader (3)

Radio Operator: S/Sgt. Chester Ellsworth Shattuck 11098207 AAF Age 31. PoW ***

Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Ralph Edward Stease 15102174 AAF Age 19. PoW ***

Left Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Harry Hubert Horton Jr. 14164586 AAF Age 21. Evader (4 & 5)

Right Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Edward Francis Sobolewski 36326245 AAF Age 29. Evader (4 & 5)

Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Lin Foon ‘Jack’ Chew 18120798 AAF Age 23. PoW ***

* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).

** Buchenwald concentration camp established on Ettersberg hill near Weimar, Germany in July 1937.

*** Stalag 17B Krems-Gneixendorf, Austria.

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the 17th August 1943 1st Lt. Forkner’s aircraft joined a force of 230 bombers on the first USAAF mission to Schweinfurt in Germany.

En route and shortly after crossing the enemy coast the formation was attacked by German fighters. A few minutes after the first attack had been driven off, more fighters than had been in the first attack appeared in front of the aircraft, and, in single file they made head-on attacks.

The #1, #2 and #3 engines of B-17F 42-3227 were hit directly by cannon fire. With #1 engine feathered, #2 engine on fire and #3 engine ailing, the aircraft began to loose altitude fast. The bale out bell was sounded and the crew successfully baled out.

The aircraft exploded on impact at Teuven, Belgium, near the Castle of the Count de Ciscilion who was killed in the explosion. He was involved in the “Comet” escape line.

Note: It believed that the Castle is the Château Abdij van Sinnich which is located about ½ km (550 yards) ESE of Teuven.

(1) After giving the bale out order 1st Lt. Forkner jumped out from the nose escape hatch and fell free until the air came appreciably warmer before he pulled the rip-cord. Of the 8 parachutes he saw he was the first on the ground.

After landing he dropped his chute and most of his equipment. Hearing motorcycles in the distance he ran about 300 yards to hide behind a hedge. For three days and three nights he lay behind the hedge during which time he was brought food by a Dutch boy. On the fourth evening, just after dark, a man came and took him to a farm, where he disposed of military clothing and shoes. He was given civilian clothes and was then taken to a home on Brusselseweg in Maastricht, Holland where he remained until he was liberated.

Note: Maastricht was declared liberated during the evening on the Thursday the 14th of September 1944 by the US 117th Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division (Old Hickory division).

Another American Lt. S. Alukonis joined me, but three days later he was taken away.

Note: Lt. S. Alukonis was 2nd Lt. Stanley Alukonis O-679013 who was the Co-Pilot of B-17G 42-37750 ‘Mary T’ from the 366th Bombardment Sqn, 305th Bombardment Group, shot down on the 14th October 1943 (1 KiA, 7 PoW, 2 Evaders). He successfully evaded.

On 18th April 1944 he decided to move, as he was receiving no help. He started off alone and walked to the Dutch-Belgian border but after spotting a couple of Germans he went back to Maastricht. He asked for help but was unable to get anything, but blank looks. That night he returned to the home where he had been staying. From that time on no one knew that he was there except for Lt. Alukonis. Even the neighbours on both sides of the home in which he was hiding were unaware that he was there. He went outside three times during his stay in Maastricht, on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and his excursion to the border on the 18th April 1944.

He was interviewed on the 17th September 1944.

(2) The circumstances leading to the evasion and subsequent capture of 1st Lt. Vincent is not known other than he was captured on the 20th August 1944.

He was then taken to the Fresnes prison located to the south of Paris. This was where 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).

Fg Off. Joel Mathews ‘Tex’ Stevenson C27788 RCAF, the pilot of 419 (Moose) Squadron, RCAF Lancaster X KB727 VR:H escaped from the train and successfully evaded.

Sqn Ldr. Lamason and Fg Off. Chapman succeeded in getting all but two of the Allied PoWs transferred to Stalag Luft 3. Two airmen, 1st Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck Jr. O-736945 USAAF and Fg Off. Philip Derek Hemmens, 152583, RAFVR died in the sick barrack.

Recognition:

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.

1st Lt. Vincent was too sick to leave with the others and his transfer to Stalag Luft 3 was delayed until the 28th November 1944.

On the night of the 27th January 1945, with Soviet troops only 26 km (16 mls) away, orders were received to evacuate the PoWs to Spremberg which is to the West in Germany. The PoW’s were informed of the evacuation, which was on foot, at about 22:00 hrs the same night and were given 30 mins to pack and prepare everything for the March. The weather conditions were very difficult, with freezing temperatures, and it was snowing accompanied by strong winds. There was 15 cm (6 in) of snow and 2000 PoWs were assigned to clear the road ahead of the main groups.

The first groups of American PoW’s set out from the South Compound with the last PoW leaving at 23:00 hrs. The next group of American PoWs set out from the West Compound. At 03:45 hrs the North Compound left, followed by the Centre Compound. At 06:00 hrs the East Compound left. All the groups were accompanied by guards.

After a 55 km (34 mls) march, the PoWs arrived in Bad Muskau where they rested for 30 hours. The PoWs were then marched the remaining 26 km (16 mls) to Spremberg where they were housed in empty garages, storerooms and in military barracks. There they were provided with warm soup and bread.

During next days, PoWs were divided up according to Compounds, and they were led to railway sidings and loaded into tightly packed carriages.

On the 31st January, the South Compound prisoners plus 200 men from the West Compound were sent to Stalag 7A at Moosburg followed by the Centre Compound prisoners on the 7th February.

The camp was liberated on the 29th April 1945 by units of the 14th Armoured Division from Patton’s 3rd Army.

(3) Sgt. Shipe’s inter-phone connection was disconnected and did not hear the order to bale out, but he saw the Bombardier, Navigator and Co-pilot in the nose, preparing to leave. As soon as he had his parachute adjusted he went to the nose, with the Pilot following behind him, and baled out.

He left the aircraft around 20,000 feet and meant to delay opening his parachute but after about 15 seconds he began to feel dizzy so pulled his rip cord. He saw a large town below him but realized that he was drifting away from it.

He landed in a field which bordered a river near Houthem, which is some 6 kms (3¾ mls) NE of Maastricht and 3 kms (1¾ mls) WNW of Valkenburg. There were some people several hundred yards away all yelling at him. As soon as he had removed his parachute he ran along the river paying no attention to the people. He stopped once to hide his parachute and flying boots in some brush. After about 270 m. (300 yds) he was confronted by high fences but there was a bridge that crossed the river which he crossed.

Coming off the bridge he ran into a large crowd of people who were shouting at him in German but he did not understand what they were saying at that time. However, had it not been for their frantic gestures, he would not have known which way to go.

He headed to the left to get away from the crowd. One boy darted from the crowd and tagged on his heels although he tried to shake him off. He surmised that the boy kept asking if he was German or Dutch, finally in irritation, he told the boy that he was an American. When the boy heard that he stopped Sgt. Shipe saying that he could help him.

He followed the boy down the road and up an embankment where he hid him in some brush, from where he had a good view of the countryside. The boy left and later returned with three other men who took him by bicycle to Heerlen, some 13 km (8 mls) east of Houthem, to a house of an officer of the local fire department where he spent the night. The next day he was moved to a nearby farm where he remained for 4 weeks.

After this period of time he felt that there were too many visitors and asked to be moved to another location where he stayed for a week. After being moved on a regular basis, eventually his escape was arranged by the “Comet line” organisation. On the 15th October he was taken to a safe house in Brussels where he remained for 5 days, during which time he met a Fg Off. Harvey Penny (RAF).

This was Fg Off. Herbert Arthur Penny 139207 RAFVR from 35 Sqn, Halifax HR878 shot down on the 31st August 1943 (4 KiA, 2 PoW, 1 Evd). He became the 175th airman to be successfully returned by the “Comet line”. He returned to England on the 11th November 1943.

They were provided with French Identity cards and on the 26th October taken to Paris where they were hidden in an apartment for 6 days, during which time a John Dix (RAF) joined him.

This was Sgt. John Hubert James Dix 1320215 RAFVR from 158 Sqn, Halifax JD298, shot down on the 27th August 1943 (3 KiA, 1 PoW, 3 Evd). He became the 185th airman to be successfully returned by the “Comet line”.

On the 1st November T/Sgt. Shipe and Sgt. Dix were taken to Bordeaux and turned over to a man who took them by train to Dax. Here they were given bicycles and met with two other airmen named Clary and Berry.

Calry is believed to be 2nd Lt. Jackson T. Clary O-885969, who was an American detached to the RAF, from 434 Sqn, Halifax DK259, shot down 29th September 1943 (2 KiA, 4 PoW, 1 Evd). He became the 179th airman to be successfully returned by the “Comet line”. He returned to the UK on the 6th December 1943.

Berry is believed to be Flt Sgt. W. Berry DFM 1080826 from 426 Sqn, Halifax LK883 shot down on the 12th May 1944 (4 KiA, 1 PoW, 3 Evd). He became the 177th airman to be successfully returned by the “Comet line”.

They crossed into Spain with two USAAF airmen believed to be:

Gunner: S/Sgt. Leland G. Judy 15321003 and Engineer: Sgt. Albert T. Diminno 35380608, both from B-17F 42-2990 of the 332 Bomb Sqn, 91st Bomb Group lost on the 17th August 1943 (2 KiA, 4 PoW, 4 Evd). They became the 169th and 170th airmen to be successfully returned by the “Comet line”.

He became the 180th airman to be successfully returned by the “Comet line”. He and the

USAAF airmen returned to England on the 28th November 1943.

(4) When the order was given S/Sgt. Horton baled out at about 18,000 feet. He saw seven or eight parachutes to his right and his left.

He landed in an apple orchard and badly sprained his right ankle and felt sick to his stomach. He started crawling toward some nearby woods and then saw two young men in blue coveralls running toward him and thought that they were Germans. As he could not run there was nothing he could do but wait to be captured. One of the two asked him if he was an American to which he nodded and asked whether they were Germans. They told him that they were Belgian and that he was in Holland. They carried him to the nearby woods, and he crawled about 50 yards into some thick underbrush. They also took care of his parachute.

Soon a crowd of people gathered and started talking his clothing and equipment for souvenirs, however, he managed to keep his escape kit and purse. The two young men who had carried him tried to disperse the crowd. When they had moved away he was carried to a heavily wooded area where they left him to hid in a ditch. Some 15 mins later they returned with a another young man who spoke some English.

The two men carried him to a small cave on a hillside. There they brought him drink and food but he was not hungry and could not eat anything. They moved him across some fields near to a village and told him to wait until they returned. At this time his ankle was so badly swollen that he could hardly move. That night he was moved to some bushes near a road. A doctor arrived in a car and drove him in circuitous route to confuse his sense of direction. Arriving at a house an English speaking man asked a number of questions about himself, his crew, his unit, and his plane.

Earlier in the day he had also been asked about the raid during which his aircraft was shot down and as the aircraft on the raid had returned to base he confirmed that the objective had been Schweinfurt.

On the night of the 18th August S/Sgt. Sobolewski was brought in and from there their journeys were arranged.

(4) When the order to bail out came S/Sgt. Stease exited the ball turret. S/Sgt Sobolewski pulled the emergency handle on the escape hatch, but the door did not open, S/Sgt. Horton managed to kick the door out while he pulled the handle. He looked at the ground and got scared, so he motioned to S/Sgt. Horton bale out. Then S/Sgt. Stease jumped, and he followed him. Whilst descending, which took around 15 or 20 minutes, he saw seven or eight parachutes in the air.

S/Sgt Sobolewski landed uninjured in a grass field in a farming district. People gathered and asked whether he was an American, and shook hands enthusiastically when he told them he that he was. They helped him out of his parachute harness and he took off most of his flying equipment and left it with the people.

He was careful to keep his escape kit-and purse and then ran away from the area. He came upon a priest and asked him and found that he was in Holland. He then hid in a nearby haystack until evening. When it was almost dark he started sin a southerly direction using his escape compass.

He came across a street with a number of people standing in front of their houses and when they saw him they dispersed, but one man came toward him and motioned toward a city which he recognised. He kept on walking and pretty soon a woman on a bicycle came along, spoke with him and offered him a bottle of milk when she found that he was an American. She motioned for him to get off the road and shoved him into a hay stack indicting that he should stay there.

He took the opportunity to grab some sleep and was awoken by a boy who brought him some hot sandwiches. He tried to get him to trade his shoes for his flying shoes but the boy was unwilling to do so. The next morning he was brought civilian clothes and was lead to a wooded area. They told him not to come out until he heard someone whistling "It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary".

That afternoon a man came to see him and said that he would help him to get back to England. On the evening of the 18th August he returned and took him to his house where S/Sgt. Horton was being hidden

(5) When in Paris they went to a cafe and enjoyed a most delicious meal. A number of German officers were sitting around, some of them seated nearby. Whilst they were waiting for dessert, they started smoking cigarettes and held them in their hands. The waiter remarked amiably, "Messieurs smoke cigarettes during the meal just like the Americans do". They could hardly get rid of the cigarettes quickly enough.

They were amongst 14 evaders, 4 from the RAF and 10 from the USAAF, who departed by sea aboard the Breizh-Izel, a French fishing boat, from Tréboul harbour, which is some 33½ km (21 mls) SSE of Brest, on the 22nd January 1944 arriving two days later in Falmouth.

Note: This was the last group of airmen to be returned by the Breizh-Izel.

Burial details:

None. The crew survived

Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Dec 2023). Update to include forced-march information (Jun 2024).

Other sources listed below:

RS 15.06.2024 - Update for forced-march

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Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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