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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
24.03.1945 533rd Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G 44-6478, 2nd Lt. Robert E. Jankowiak

Operation: Fürstenau-Vechtel airfield (Mission #911), Germany

Date: 24th March 1945 (Saturday)

Unit No: 533rd Bombardment Squadron (H), 381st Bombardment Group (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17G

Serial No: 44-6478

Code: VP:W

Location: Reported to be the Quakenbrück airfield, Germany

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

Pilot: 2nd Lt. Robert E. Jankowiak O-782292 AAF Age 21. PoW *

Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Philip Rodney Roche O-929834 AAF Age 20. KiA

Navigator: 2nd Lt. William David Garrett O-2074389 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Herbert Hirsh Levenson O-783475 AAF Age 22. KiA

Radio Operator: S/Sgt. Oscar John Moberg 16137143 AAF Age 21. KiA

Engineer/Gunner: S/Sgt. James Edward McGrath 11043406 AAF Age 25. PoW *

Ball Turret: Sgt. John L. Hensley 18200417 AAF Age? PoW *

Waist Gunner: Sgt. Paul L. Berger 33836714 AAF Age 24. Murdered (1)

Tail Gunner: Sgt. Stanley Earl Beschta 36817521 AAF Age 23. PoW *

* Unknown PoW camp.

One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.


On the morning of 24th March 1945 B-17G 44-6478 took off from Ridgewell and joined a mission to bomb the Fürstenau-Vechtel Fliegerhorst (airfield) in Germany.

The Fürstenau-Vechtel Fliegerhorst was bombed by 72 B-17 Fortresses on the 24th March 1945. 5 Fw190s were destroyed and 7 Fw-90s damaged. The landing ground, flight control, operations bunker and barracks were all severely damaged. The airfield was put out of commission and not used again. (Luftwaffe Airfields 1935-45 Germany (1937 Borders) By Henry L. deZeng IV)

Flak was reported as being meagre to moderate but very accurate and there was no German fighter activity. The aircraft was seen to be hit by flak in the vicinity of #4 engine knocking off the propeller and engine cowlings causing a fire to break out. The aircraft was seen to go into a glide to starboard but under control, level off and head in a southerly direction towards Alfhausen, Germany.

The Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) recorded that the aircraft was last seen spiralling down and crashing on Quakenbrück airfield. No parachutes were observed.

Note: Quakenbrück airfield was about 1½ km (1 ml) SW of Quakenbrück itself and some 24 km (15 mls) NE of the target and as the aircraft was seen heading in a southerly direction towards Alfhausen the reported location of the crash would appear to be unlikely.

The most likely crash site on the aircraft’s southerly flight path would have been the Hesepe airfield which was some 12 km (7½ mls) south of Alfhausen and about 4 km (2½ mls) SSE of where Sgt. Berger landed after he parachuted from the aircraft.

The available Individual Casualty Questionaries (ICQs) recorded that 2nd Lt. Roche was uninjured prior to bailing out and was seen under his parachute. German authorities had his dog tags but would not divulge how he had died. 2nd Lt. Leverson was uninjured when he was last seen standing behind 2nd Lt. Garrett in the forward compartment when the bailout was ordered. Their deaths remain unexplained.

S/Sgt. Moberg and Sgt. Berger were uninjured and were last heard on the intercom when the bailout was ordered. Sgt. Hensley saw them both at the waist door. After an explosion in the starboard wing the aircraft was subjected to violent manoeuvres and it was speculated that this may have prevented them from escaping the aircraft.

(1) The circumstances leading to the death of Sgt. Berger were determined by a British Military court which was convened between the 20th and the 23rd December 1945 in Osnabrück.

Four German nationals were jointly charged as being concerned with the killing of an unknown Allied PoW at Hesepe airfield on or about the 24th March 1945.

The four accused were:

Richard Geisler who was a former Major (Maj) in the Luftwaffe and the commanding officer of the Hesepe airfield;

Otto Franke who was a German civilian of NCO status with no known Nazi party affiliations;

Alfred Büttner who was a former Stabsintendant in the Wehrmacht. He was an official of the Wehrmacht Administration who wore the rank and uniform of a Hauptmann (Capt);

Lina Schröder who was the former secretary to Büttner.

The court heard that in the course of an air raid on the day in question Hesepe airfield was attacked and the administrative buildings were burned to the ground. On the afternoon that day the four accused were “celebrating” the loss of the building with some bottles salvaged from the ruins. It was reported that an Allied airman had been captured at Thiene some 4 km (2½ mls) NNW of Hesepe airfield and was being held at a military petrol depot near the village.

Note: Hesepe Fliegerhorst was attacked by 36 B-17s on the 24th March 1945. This attack and a previous attack destroyed 2 x Me262s, 3 x Ar234s and 2 x Bf109s. 4 x Ar234s were damaged. The attacks effectively obliterated the airfield, forcing its evacuation. (Luftwaffe Airfields 1935-45 Germany (1937 Borders) By Henry L. deZeng IV).

Sgt. Berger had landed near to the depot where Emil Dix was stationed and he, together with two colleagues, took the airman prisoner. Dix later alleged in his interrogation, that Sgt. Berger asked anxiously whether he was to be shot to which Dix reassured him and told him that would not happen. Sgt. Berger, who had suffered slight injuries to his shoulder and ankle, was left by Dix in the custody of some colleagues whilst he left for the airfield to report the airman’s capture to Geisler.

Evidence showed that Geisler had made plain his attitude known concerning enemy PoWs to his staff but it was not established whether he gave the orders to the effect that he did not wish to see enemy airmen PoWs brought alive to the airfield.

Why Franke, Büttner and Schröder, who were all essentially civilians, were detailed for the task to collect the airman was not established. The three arrived at the depot, collected the airman and made off for the airfield. A number of local people had seen four persons, with three wheeling bicycles, heading out of Thiene. Evidence given by local people also described that they heard two shots being fired some 270 m. (300 yards) past the village and then saw three people cycling away.

Dix had been sent elsewhere by Geisler and when he returned to the depot, about an hour later, he asked after the airman and was told that Büttner and Franke had arrived from the airfield. They had beaten the airman with the butts of their weapons and marched him along a narrow path into some woods nearby where they shot and killed him.

Note: Franke claimed that only Büttner was armed with a pistol, which he normally carried, and a rifle on this occasion. Franke later admitted that Büttner had given him his pistol.

Franke admitted that he had fired the two shots at the airman killing him, but that he did so on the orders of Büttner, a superior officer. Büttner denied that he had anything to do with the shooting and intimated that he was not even there at the time and the first he knew about the events was when Franke returned and told him that he had shot the airman because he had tried to escape.

Schröder claimed that she knew nothing of the shooting until it happened and there was no evidence presented that contradicted her claim.

Geisler managed to convince the court that he had played no part in giving orders for the shooting of the airman although it was established that he agreed to and passed on secret orders that airborne troops and parachutists were to be given no quarter.

The court found Franke and Büttner guilty of the charge and sentenced them to death by hanging.

Geisler and Schröder were acquitted of the charge although as Geisler may be further charged by the British it was recommended that he should be held pending further investigations. It was recommended that Schröder be released subject to her not being wanted by any other Allied power.

The findings and sentences for Franke and Büttner were confirmed on the 31st January 1946. They were both hanged on the 8th March 1946 at 15:10 hrs and 15:45 hrs respectively at Hameln (Hamelin) by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by RSM Richard A. O’Neill.

Sgt. Berger was allegedly buried in a cemetery near the PoW camp at Achmer (today part of Bramsche), Germany. It is not known where the other three airmen that perished were initially buried.

Burial details:

2nd Lt. Philip Rodney Roche. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot B, Row 22, Grave 15. Relocated to Plot B, Row 22, Grave 15. Born on the 27th February 1925 in San Diego, California. Son to William H. and Hazel Fern (née Stine) Roche of San Diego, California, USA.

Above: Grave marker for 2nd Lt. Levenson (Courtesy Dominique Potier - FindaGrave)

2nd Lt. Herbert Hirsh Levenson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot C, Row 22, Grave 14. Relocated to Plot C, Row 22, Grave 14. Born on the 18th April 1923 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. Son to Samuel and Frieda (née Cohen) Levenson of Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. His mother pre-deceased him. Husband to Harriett Levenson of Dorchester, Massachusetts, USA.

Above: Grave marker for S/Sgt. Moberg (Courtesy Dominique Potier - FindaGrave)

S/Sgt. Oscar John Moberg. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot D, Row 26, Grave 3. Relocated to Plot D, Row 26, Grave 3. Born in 1924 in Illinois. Son Carl Oscar and Marie Moberg of Cook County, Illinois. Husband to Laverne L. (née Schott) Moberg of Oak Park, Illinois, USA.

Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Berger (Courtesy Dominique Potier - FindaGrave)

Sgt. Paul L. Berger. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Plot D, Row 6, Grave 20. Born on the 8th October 1925 in Frackville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Son to Charles Alfred and Caroline Olive (née Gwynn) Berger of Frackville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Rewrite of war crime narrative (Apr 2023).

Other sources listed below:

RS & TV 13.04.2023 - Update to trial narrative

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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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