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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
21.06.1944 712th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-24H 42-95186 2nd Lt. Cleve J. Howell

Operation: Marienfelde, Berlin (Mission #428), Germany

Date: 21st June 1944 (Wednesday)

Unit No: 712th Bombardment Squadron (H), 448th Bombardment Group (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-24H

Serial No: 42-95186

Code: CT:K

Location: West of Meteln, Germany

Base: Seething (Station #146), Norfolk, England

Pilot: 2nd Lt. Cleve Jackson Howell O-812266 AAF Aged 22. PoW No: 8294 * (1)

Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Arthur Benjamin Majestic O-701940 AAF Age 24. Murdered (4)

Navigator: FO Robert (Roberto) John Branizza T-125180 AAF Age 23. PoW * (2)

Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Victor Donald Dolecek O-697998 AAF Age 22. Murdered (3)

Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Herschel Orval Hamblin 13062783 AAF Age 23. Murdered (4)

Engineer: S/Sgt. Bertil S. Johnson 35099877 AAF Age 19. Murdered (4)

Right Waist: Sgt. Sammie D. Vinson 14177911 AAF Age 20. Murdered (3)

Left Waist: Sgt. George J. Grubisa 32916135 AAF Age 20. Murdered (3)

Tail: Sgt. James L. Vajgl 35527301 AAF Age 27. Murdered (5)

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.

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

Standing L. to R: 2nd Lt. Cleve J. Howell, 2nd Lt. Arthur B. Majestic, FO Robert J. Branizza, 2nd.Lt. Victor D. Dolecek. Front L. to R: S/Sgt. Herschel O. Hamblin, Sgt. Sammie D. Vinson, Sgt. George J. Grubisa, Sgt. James L. Vajgl, Sgt Alexander Istvanovic.

Sgt. Alexander Istvanovic was not assigned to this mission


On the morning of the 21st June 1944 at 05:00 hrs B-24H 42-95186 took off from Seething along with a number of other aircraft from the 448th Bombardment Group on a mission to bomb the Daimler-Benz factory (Tank engines) at Marienfelde in Berlin. The aircraft encountered heavy flak on the approach to the target and 42-95186 was hit knocking out an inboard engine and puncturing the wing fuel tanks. The nine crew members successfully bailed out of the aircraft. German reports recorded that the aircraft crashed at about 10:00 hrs to the West of Meteln, a municipality in the Nordwestmecklenburg district, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

(1) 2nd Lt. Howell was the last to bail out of the aircraft, but his parachute failed to open. He was found near Moltenow, some 24 km east of Wismar, seriously injured suffering a fractured skull. He was initially hospitalised in Schwerin and awoke 4 days later in the Luftwaffe Lazaret (hospital) 4/11 at Wismar where he remained for almost 4 months before being transferred to Stalag Luft 3 on the 24th October 1944.

(2) Flight Officer (FO) Branizza bailed out immediately on seeing the damage to the aircraft. He was the first to bailout and landed near the Tiergarten zoo to the West of Berlin. He managed to evade his searchers for 6 days but eventually surrendered to the German Police in the district of Kolberg on the 27th June 1944 at around 10:00 hrs. He was later transferred to Stalag Luft 3.

(3) The trial of Major War Criminals at Nuremburg brought to the court’s notice the shooting of 15 crew members of two B-24 Liberators brought down on the 21st June 1944 in the district of Mecklenburg. This subsequently led to a General Military Government court being convened at Dachau in Germany during the period 20th February to the 31st March 1947.

Seven German civilians; Kurt Müller, Fritz Schröder, Karl Grönwaldt, Wilhelm Bollow, Ewald Haselow, Franz Penzien were charged on two counts and Friedrich Hildebrandt on four counts, that on or about 21st June and the 1st September 1944 they wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encouraged, aided, abetted and participated in the killing of a number of unknown members of the Allied air forces, who were unarmed and surrendered PoWs in the custody of the German Reich.

All seven accused were members of the Nazi party and held various ranks in the hierarchy of the “political leaders” corps. Müller and Schröder were farmers, Grönwaldt was a city official and merchant, Bollow was a Secretary to an estate, Haselow was a forester and Penzien was a district construction worker. Hildebrandt was a farmer and a Gauleiter (Regional party leader), Reichsstatthalter (Regional governor) and defence commissar of Gau (Administrative division) Mecklenburg. The court heard that Hildebrandt had issued direct orders to the other accused that all enemy flyers who landed in Gau (District) Mecklenburg were to be immediately captured and killed.

On the first count, Müller, Schroeder, Grönwaldt and Hildebrandt were charged with the killing of an unknown member of the Allied Airforce in the vicinity of Veelböken. Research conducted by Bernd Kasten, the head of the City Archives in Schwerin, concluded that the victim of this atrocity was 2nd Lt. Victor D. Dolecek. He had been captured uninjured by a Wehrmacht soldier and subsequently shot and killed by Müller who was accompanied by Grönwaldt and Schroeder. Hildebrandt was implicated in this murder because of his orders to kill any captured Allied Airmen.

On the second count, Grönwaldt, Bollow, Haselow, Penzien and Hildebrandt were charged with the killing of two unknown members of the Allied Airforce in the vicinity of Pingelshagen. Research conducted by Bernd Kasten, the head of the City Archives in Schwerin, concluded that the victims of this atrocity were Sgts. Sammie D. Vinson and George J. Grubisa. The two airmen were captured, one of whom had suffered a leg injury and held in the police station at Mühlen Eichsen. The policemen at the station initially refused to hand over the airmen to Haselow and Penzien but were ordered to do so by a superior officer. They drove the two airmen to the area of the Pingelshagen forest where each shot and killed one of the airmen. Grönwaldt was implicated in these murders for carrying out the orders of Hildebrandt to kill any captured Allied Airmen and Bollow for ordering these killings.

Hildebrandt protested that he was not guilty on all the charges, whilst the remaining six confessed to the murders. The court found all seven guilty of the first two charges. Schröder was sentenced to 20 years in prison whilst Haselow, Penzien, Müller, Grönwaldt, Bollow and Hildebrandt were sentenced to death and executed on the 5th November 1948 in Landsberg. Schröder was paroled during February 1954.

Hildebrandt was acquitted of the two charges for which he was solely indicted.

(4) 2nd Lt. Majestic, S/Sgts. Johnson and Hamblin were captured and killed by unknown assailants in the district of Schönberg on the 21st June 1944. No evidence has been found that anyone was held to account for their murders. However, research conducted by Bernd Kasten, the head of the City Archives in Schwerin, concluded that a Kreisleiter (District leader) Koepcke and two unknown Sturmabteilung (SA) men killed one of the airmen at Rüting, one at Wüstenmarck and the last at Rambeel.

(5) German documents record that Sgt. James L. Vajgl was shot on the 23rd June 1944 at about 10:00 hrs by an unknown assailant(s) in or near Börzow in the district of Schönberg and that he was buried in the cemetery at Grevesmühlen. No evidence has been found that anyone was held to account for his murder.

Burial details:

Although research has determined that 2nd Lt. Majestic, S/Sgts. Johnson and Hamblin were allegedly interred in the cemetery at Diedrichshagen, at the time of writing of this report the status of the three are recorded as ‘Missing in Action’ on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency database, as is the status of 2nd Lt. Dolecek and Sgt. Vinson. Only the remains of Sgt. Grubisa and Sgt. Vajgl had been located, identified and reinterred at the Ardennes American cemetery.

Above: 2nd Lt. Majestic (credit: Fields of Honor)

2nd Lt. Arthur Benjamin Majestic. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten. Born on the 19th December 1920. Son to Stanislaw J. and Cecelia M. Majestic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Above: 2nd Lt. Dolecek (credit: Fields of Honor)

2nd Lt. Victor Donald Dolecek. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten. Memorial marker at the Russell City cemetery, Kansas. Born on the 18th September 1922. Son to Victor P. and Blanche E. (née Liske) Dolecek of Russell City, Kansas, USA.

Above: S/Sgt. Hamblin (credit: Fields of Honor)

S/Sgt. Herschel Orval Hamblin. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten. Born on the 8th July 1926. Son to Will C. and Emma G. (née Bryant) Hamblin of Danville City, Virginia and husband to Frances (née George) of Greene, Tennessee, USA.

S/Sgt. Bertil S. Johnson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten. Born on the 18th September 1924. Son to Carl S. and Hulda M. (née Westman) Johnson of Marion County, Indiana, USA.

Sgt. Sammie D. Vinson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American cemetery, Margraten. Memorial marker at the Wootens Chapel, Birmingham, Alabama. Born on the 31st August 1924. Son to Mrs. Mae Vinson of Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama, USA.

Sgt. George J. Grubisa. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Ardennes American cemetery in Plot C. Row 13, Grave 24. Born in 1923. Son to Michael and Rose Grubisa of Essex, Newark, New Jersey, USA.

Sgt. James L. Vajgl. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Ardennes American cemetery in Plot B. Row 33, Grave 33. Born on the 14th November 1917. Son to James and Elizabeth (née Knecht) Vajgl of Cuyahoga, Ohio and husband to Eleanore A. (née Gaydich) Vajgl of Cuyahoga, Ohio, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report.

Other sources listed below:

RS 21.08.2019 - Editorial update

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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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