04.08.1944 832nd Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G 43-37909 2nd Lt. Walthall, Sudbury, Borkum island, Germany, War Crimes
Operation: Hamburg (Mission #514), Germany
Date: 4th August 1944 (Friday)
Unit No: 832nd Bombardment Squadron (H), 486th Bombardment Group (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 43-37909
Location: Borkum Island in the East Frisian archipelago, Germany
Base: Sudbury (Station #382), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Harvey Mitchell Walthall O-819359 AAF Age 22. Murdered (1)
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. William J. Myers O-566289 AAF Age 27. Murdered (1)
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Quentin F. Ingerson O-719951 AAF Age 19. PoW * (2)
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Howard S. Graham O-772043 AAF Age 25. Murdered (1)
Radio Operator: Sgt. Kenneth Faber 32551563 AAF Age 25. Murdered (1)
Engineer: Sgt. Kazmer Rachak 17087283 AAF Age 22. PoW ** (3)
Ball Turret Gunner: Sgt. James W. Danno 39207138 AAF Age 21. Murdered (1)
Waist Gunner: Sgt. William F. Dold 15325004 AAF Age 22. Murdered (1)
Tail Gunner: Sgt. William W. Lambertus 32593007 AAF Age 22. Murdered (1)
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).
** 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).
2nd Lt. Walthall's crew at Rapid City, North Dakota before deploying overseas.Standing (L to R): Quentin F. Ingerson, Harvey M. Walthall, William J. Myers, Howard S. Graham. Front (L to R): Kazmer Rachak, J. Hesner, Kenneth Faber, James W. Danno, William W. Lambertus, William F. Dold. (Credit of 486th Bomb Group Association & Quentin Ingerson).
Note: J. Hesner (No further information found) AAF was an assigned Waist Gunner on 43-37909 but was redeployed.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 4th August 1944 B-17G 43-37909 was taking part in a massed daylight bombing raid on Hamburg, Germany.
There were conflicting eye witness reports surrounding the circumstances resulting in the loss of B-17G 43-37909. However, what can be deduced is that before reaching Hamburg, 43-37909 was involved in an airborne collision with 43-38145 resulting in 43-38145 breaking up in mid-air with only two of her crew escaping the crashing aircraft. 43-37909 continued to fly with damage to the starboard propellers, wing and upper fuselage. In the confusion whilst the pilots, 2nd Lt. Walthall and 2nd Lt. Myers, were struggling to control the damaged aircraft, Sgt. Rachak thought he heard the bell notifying the crew to bailout.
To reach the nose escape trunk he had to pass by the compartment where the bombardier, 2nd.Lt. Graham and the navigator, 2nd Lt. Ingerson, were situated. Rachak motioned to them to also bail out but Ingerson urged Rachak out, since he was already in the escape trunk as he had duties to perform before bailing out. In the time it took him to do so the pilots managed to control the aircraft and make a turn towards England. When Ingerson left the aircraft, it was approaching Quelkhorn, ENE from Bremen. It is not known why he left the aircraft or why Graham did not follow.
Both starboard engines were running rough due to the damaged propellers and despite the bomb load being jettisoned the remaining two engines could not keep the aircraft airborne for the flight across the North Sea. Walthall made the decision upon reaching the coast to follow it westward intending to reach allied occupied territory. However, the aircraft struggled to maintain height and Walthall decided on an emergency landing on the closest island along their flight path, which was the German garrisoned island of Borkum, near the border with the Netherlands. Walthall carried out a successful wheels-up landing at the beach on the north side of the island. The crew survived largely unscathed and were captured by German sailors from the nearby 216th Naval Flak Battalion
(1) On orders from the Borkum island Kommandant the seven captured airmen were marched, despite the availability of rail facilities, under armed guard through the town to an airfield on the southern side of the island. Witnesses claimed that German civilians along the march where joined by their guards in physically abusing the PoW’s.
The march ended with the seven airmen being shot and killed by a Wehrmacht soldier who was not part of the escort. An attempt to deflect the culpability for the murders was made in a report to the commander of the 216th Naval Flak Battalion, Korvettenkapitän (Corvette captain = Maj) Walter Krolikowski, falsely stating that the airmen had been beaten to death by an enraged mob which had overwhelmed the guards.
After Borkum was occupied by the Allies, a former Dutch prisoner reported that he had witnessed the deaths of the airmen. A full-scale investigation was instigated, which identified the graves of the airmen and proceeded to gather evidence. A pathology report on the dead airmen revealed that all seven had suffered gunshot wounds to the head.
Charges were brought against 23 German civilians and military personnel for the crimes committed against the airmen. However, only 15 were arrested, and although the other 8 were cited by name they could not be located. Gefreiter (trooper) Erich Langer who was the prime suspect in the shootings was reported to have been transferred after the atrocity and was killed in action.
A War Crimes Tribunal was convened on the 6th February 1946 in Ludwigsburg, Germany and lasted six weeks. It was established that the airmen’s march had been deliberately planned by the German military personnel on Borkum and had exposed the airmen to the maximum potential of violence from civilians and military personnel, which culminated in their murder.
Death sentences were pronounced on 5 of the accused with the other 10 receiving prison sentences ranging from life to a few years imprisonment with one acquittal. The sentences were confirmed in 1947. However, in 1948 the death sentences for Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain = 1st Lt) Dr. Kurt Goebell and Oberleutnant (1st Lt) zur See Jakob V. Seiler was commuted to life imprisonment. Seiler was paroled in December 1953 and Goebell in February 1956. Bürgermeister (Mayor) Jan J. Akkermann and Feldwebel (S/Sgt) Johann Josef Schmitz were hanged on 15th October 1948. Oberleutnant Kurt Wentzel [Wenzel] was hanged on 3rd December 1948.
One of the wanted 8 cited individuals, an August Haesiker, an Oberstfeldmeister (Capt) in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) (Reich Labour Service) was arrested and tried in Dachau, Germany on 26th Jun 1947. He was charged with participating and encouraging the assault upon the seven airmen. He received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment but was paroled in December 1952.
A comprehensive legal review of the Borkum Island tragedy and trial can be read here in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
(2) 2nd.Lt. Ingerson was captured by soldiers from an German armoured unit located in the field in which he landed. He spent several days in solitary confinement before being interrogated. The interrogating officer informed Ingerson of the death of the seven crew members, but did not elaborate on the details. Ingerson was eventually sent to Stalag Luft 3. Just before midnight on 27th January 1945, because of advancing Russian forces, the PoWs were marched out of the camp to Spremberg.
Between the 31st January and 7th February, the PoWs were sent to Stalag 13d at Nürnberg and Stalag 7a at Moosburg. During these transfers some 32 PoWs, including Ingerson together with a comrade escaped, but all were recaptured. With the approach of US forces on 13 April, the PoWs at Stalag 13d were marched to Stalag 7a. Whilst the majority reached the camp on 20th April, many had dropped out on the way but the German guards made no attempt to stop them. Stalag 7a now held some 130,000 PoWs which was ten time its designed capacity. On the 29th April 1945 the camp was liberated by elements of the US 14th Armoured Division. From there Ingerson was flown to France before boarding a ship bound for the USA and home.
(3) Sgt. Rachak injured his ankle when he landed near the town of Fischerhude. He hid his chute and tried to flee the landing area but his injured ankle slowed him down. He did not get far before being stopped by a member of the Volkssturm (Home Guard), armed with a shotgun, who took him into custody and then marched him to Fischerhude.
2nd Lt. J. Harper and 2nd Lt. Scully, the pilot & co-pilot of 43-38145 joined Sgt. Rachak later in the afternoon. The three airmen were taken to the local jail for processing. Sgt. Rachak received medical treatment for his injured ankle from a local doctor. Eventually Sgt. Rachak and the two officers went their separate ways with Sgt. Rachak being sent to Stalag Luft 4.
On 6th February 1945, Stalag Luft 4 was evacuated because of advancing Russian forces. During the march westward Rachak and a comrade managed to slip away and join a caravan of French refugees who were returning home after being freed. Later that night, they encountered an American Unit which enabled Sgt. Rachak to return home a month earlier than most of the other PoWs.
The seven murdered crew members were originally buried at the Borkum Lutheran Cemetery, Graves D4 to D10.
From the left: Sgt. William W. Lambertus. 2nd Lt. William J. Myers, Sgt. James W. Danno, Sgt. William F. Dold, 2nd Lt. Harvey M. Walthall, T/Sgt. Kenneth Faber and 2nd Lt. Howard S. Graham. The next grave is for an unknown Canadian and the other two are unknown. (Credit of 486th Bombardment Group Association)
2nd Lt. Harvey Mitchell Walthall. Repatriated to the USA. Interred on the 10th June 1949 at the Arlington National Cemetery in Section: 34, Grave: 4321. Born on the 16th October 1921 in Chesterfield, Virginia. Son of Timothy B. and Katherine R. Walthall and husband to Arie Maie (née Kitchen) Walthall of Matoaca, Chesterfield, Virginia, USA.
(Credit John Evans - FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. William J. Myers. Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium, Plot B, Row 31, Grave 49. Born in 1918 in Titusville, Crawford, Pennsylvania. Son of William A. and Emma Hill Myers and husband of Mrs Patricia K. Myers, of Titusville, Pennsylvania, USA.
2nd Lt. Howard S. Graham. Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium, Plot A, Row 24, Grave 5. Born in 1919 in Canada. The son of Irvine Edgar Telford and Gladys margarite (née Barber) Graham of Poughkeepsie, New York, USA.
T/Sgt. Kenneth Faber. Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium, Plot B, Row 11, Grave 2. Born on the 11 June 1918 in Buffalo, Erie, New York. Husband to Pauline Ann (née Krauss) Faber from Kenmore, Erie, New York, USA.
(Credit Fred - FindAGrave for 1st & 3rd and Dominique Potier - FindAGrave for 2nd)
Sgt. James William Danno. Repatriated and interred at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Montana on the 2nd June 1949. Born on 11th March 1923 in Great Falls, Montana. Son of Mrs Sheila Mary Danno, of Great Falls, Montana, USA.
(Credit Judyphoto - FindAGrave)
Sgt. William F. Dold. Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium, Plot C, Row 1, Grave 2. The son of Mr. Bruce W. Dold, of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, USA.
Sgt. William Walter Lambertus. Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium, Plot D, Row 15, Grave 2. Born on the 30th April 1922 in Lambertville, Hunterdon. The son of Gustav and Hellen G. (née Zimmerly) Lambertus, of Passaic, New Jersey, USA.
(Credit of Fred - FindAGrave and Dominique Potier - FindAGrave)
Plaque laid by the Rotary Club on Borkam commemorating the seven airmen. (Credit 486th Bombardment Group Association)
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Also, thanks to the 486th Bomb Group Association Historian for permission to publish the images from Borkum.