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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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Ninth Air Force
12.08.1944 449th Bombardment Squadron (M) B-26B ‘Winnie Dee’ 1st Lt. Francis L. Hunt DFC.

Operation: Ramrod, France

Date: 12th August 1944 (Saturday)

Unit No: 449th Bombardment Squadron (M), 322nd Bombardment Group (M), 99th Combat Wing, 9th Air Force

Type: B-26B Winnie Dee

Serial No: 41-31741

Code: PN:?

Location: Near Flers, France

Base: Great Saling aka Andrews Field (Station #485), Essex, England

Pilot: 1st Lt. Francis Lee Hunt DFC, O-2045019 AAF Age 25. KiA

Co Pilot: 1st Lt. Lyle LaVern Peters O-679114 AAF Age 26. KiA

Bombardier/Nav: 1st Lt. Morris Rafalow O-748102 AAF Age? KiA

Engineer/Gunner: S/Sgt. William Frederick Stark DFC, 18074157 AAF Age 25. KiA

Radio/Gunner: T/Sgt. Raymond J. Morin DFC, 31127019 AAF Age? KiA

Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Norman E. Thielan 14057011 AAF Age 24. PoW * (1)

* Stalag 3c Alt Drewitz, Brandenburg, Prussia (now Drzewice, Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Poland).

REASON FOR LOSS:

The Winnie Dee took off from Andrews Field on a Ramrod mission to Flers in France

Ramrod = short range bomber attacks to destroy ground targets

The following after mission statements by airmen on board other aircraft in the formation described the loss of the Winnie Dee.

S/Sgt Robert F. Wittling. “Flak was heavy and accurate. The aircraft caught a direct hit in the bomb bay. Pilot lost control of the aircraft momentarily and lost about 2,000 feet in altitude. At that time, I saw one parachute come out and open fully. Another parachute came out and did not fully open until it had fallen about 1000 ft. Then I saw a third parachute come out of the ship, but no one was in it. The aircraft peeled off and plunged straight for the ground. When about 2000 ft from the ground the aircraft seemed to break in half. Afterwards there was a large blast apparently caused by the bombs exploding”.

S/Sgt Orville Hahn. “While we were on the bomb run with the bomb bays open, the flak which was thrown up hit the #3 aircraft in our formation. When I saw it, the aircraft had gone into a bank and pulled off to the left with the nose down. Fire was coming from the bomb bays or possibly both engines. The flames were increasing rapidly. I saw a parachute and the person who jumped seem to be OK. The aircraft was enveloped in flames by this time and pieces of the right wing began to break off. Immediately after this the aircraft seemed to break near the bomb bay and burning pieces filled the sky. At this time the flak was all around us, and we were doing violent evasive action to escape it. I did not see the aircraft hit the ground. The last I saw was a lot of burning pieces in the air, and the aircraft had apparently exploded”.

The aircraft wreckage fell to the ground at 20:40 hrs near Flers, 26 km (16 mls) SE of Vire, France.

(1) In his Individual Casualty Questionnaire S/Sgt. Thielan recorded that they were flying at about 12,000 feet when the aircraft was hit by flak. When he bailed out, he did not see anyone else bail out and speculated that the rest of his crew perished in the aircraft.

The circumstances of his capture are not known, however, it appears that he was eventually held in a farmhouse by personnel of an SS Infantry unit. The day after his capture he was joined by 2nd Lt. George M. Mikels O-759899 US AAF, whose B-17 was shot down on the 13th of August and WO1. Griffin ‘Griff’ James Young R85855 RCAF, a Spitfire pilot also shot down on the 13th of August.

The three were moved back from the advancing front lines by car until they arrived at the temporary PoW camp at Les Hogues, located SE of Rouen, France.

The following has been extracted from a Court of Enquiry which was held at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) on the 25th August 1945:

At the end of July or early August 1944, a German PoW unit, Supply Company K.612, set up the camp at Les Hogues, a Feldwebel (Sgt) Wenzel being in charge. The camp housed many black South African nationals, French Colonial Arabs and Turks who were being used as slave labour.

Shortly before 16:00 hrs on the 25th August 1944, WO1.Young and the following four PoWs, were sitting in front of a shed in the camp:

Flt Lt. Denis Clark 119758 RAFVR, a Mustang pilot who had been shot down on the 20th of August 1944 (insert link);

Pvt. Gordon Lafayette Bryant 6969514 from the 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, US Army. The circumstances leading to his capture are unknown;

Two British soldiers from the Royal Artillery (RA), one whose identity is unknown and a L/Bdr. Jack Martin 976272 from the 65th (The Norfolk Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment. The circumstances leading to their capture are unknown but L/Bdr. Martin was reported missing on the 21st of August 1944.

An SS NCO who had driven up in a car into the camp ordered these five PoWs to come and help to ‘push a car’. There was some speculation as to the purpose for this subterfuge, which was subsequently overtaken by what followed.

The prisoners did not understand and did not move. The SS NCO went away and returned with an SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt.) and two other SS NCOs. The SS-Obersturmführer asked why the prisoners did not get up, again they did not reply, whereupon he assaulted one of them.

At this point, another of the PoWs began to walk or run towards the gate of the camp and he was shot by one or more of the SS men. The other four PoWs were then shot in turn, each making varying efforts to get away, with one succeeding in getting out of the gate and down the road outside before he was shot.

The bodies of all five men were collected and buried in the camp. All money and valuables were removed from the bodies and a receipt was given to Feldwebel Wenzel. This paper was stamped "SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Second Company" and signed "Gutemann". The paper was not presented as an exhibit to the court but was seen on several occasions by one of the witnesses.

The camp guards took no part in the murders and appeared to keep out of the way. Seven witnesses were called before the court. Most reiterated the events as told to them by Feldwebel Wenzel and the camp guards. However, three of the witnesses saw the PoW on the road outside the camp gate being shot and killed.

The court attached no importance that the five deceased were planning to escape together with other fellow prisoners, as this was not known to the SS men. The pathologist’s findings documented that all five victims suffered one or more gunshot wounds either to the head, neck or chest which were inflicted from the front or side. One body exhibited a gunshot wound from behind and may have been the victim who was running on the road.

In the view of the court, the evidence presented was sufficient to establish, in the minds of reasonable men, a case of murder by SS-Obersturmführer Gutemann and two of his three associates, the third apparently took no direct part.

An SS-Obersturmführer Eugen Gutemann was captured on the 28th April 1945 in Italy and was held as a PoW by the USA. American record cards have been found that a case number had been allocated in relation to a war crime committed against Pvt. Bryant but nothing further has been found.

No records have been found to indicate that Gutemann had been brought before a court to answer for his role in the deaths of the five PoWs.

S/Sgt. Thielan was on the other side of the camp and 2nd Lt. Mikels was not noticed and escaped the murderous intentions of the SS troopers. 2nd Lt. Mikels later escaped and hid with the help of French citizens until the arrival of British troops. He reported what he had witnessed to the authorities.

Burial details:

Initial burial locations are unknown.

Above newspaper clipping for 1st Lt. Hunt from The News and Observer, dated Sunday September 3rd, 1944

1st Lt. Francis Lee Hunt. DFC, AM (9 Oak Leaf Clusters). Recovered and interred in the US Military Cemetery Blosville near Carentan in August 1946, Plot DD, Row 4, Grave 66. Repatriated and interred at the Rockfish Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Wallace, North Carolina. Born on the 1st of January 1919 in Currie, Pender, North Carolina. Son of Allen Lee and Sallie Elizabeth (née Fussell) Hunt. Husband to Adalee Louise (née MacKenzie) Hunt from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.

1st Lt. Lyle LaVern Peters. Recovered and interred in the US Military Cemetery Blosville near Carentan in August 1946, Plot DD, Row 4, Grave 67. Repatriated and interred at the Fulton Center Cemetery, Perrinton, Michigan. Born on the 27th of February 1918 in Gratiot, Michigan. Son of Luie and Olive E. (née Morton) Peters. Husband to Elaine R. (née Morse) Peters from Clayton, New York, USA.

1st Lt. Morris Rafalow. Recovered and interred in the US Military Cemetery Blosville near Carentan in August 1946, Plot DD, Row 4, Grave 65. Repatriated to New Jersey. Son to Molly Rafalow from the Bronx, New York, USA.

S/Sgt. William Frederick Stark. DFC (Oak Leaf Cluster), AM (7 Oak Leaf Clusters) Purple Heart (Oak Leaf Cluster). Recovered and interred in the US Military Cemetery Blosville near Carentan on the 21st of March 1947, Plot DD, Row 8, Grave 152 as X-398. Transferred to the Normandy American Cemetery Plot C, Row 8, Grave 37. Born on the 28th of March 1919 in Perryton, Texas. Son of August Frederick and Beulah Mae (née King) Stark. (His father predeceased him in 1922). Husband to Nellie R. Stark from Downsville, Los Angeles, USA.

T/Sgt. Raymond J. Morin. DFC (Oak Leaf Cluster), AM (9 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. I Recovered and interred in the US Military Cemetery Blosville near Carentan in August 1946, Plot DD, Row 4, Grave 64. Transferred to the Normandy American Cemetery Plot F, Row 19, Grave 16. Son of Henry J. Morin from Somerset, Massachusetts, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Update to the story leading to the murders of the five PoWs. (Jan 2024)

Other sources listed below:

RS 20.01.2024 - Update to the story leading to the murders of the five PoWs

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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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