07.07.1944 566th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-24H 42-50374 Polyana, 1st Lt. James L. Kissling
Operation: Halle (Mission #458), Germany
Date: 7th July 1944 (Friday)
Unit No: 566th Bombardment Squadron (H), 389th Bombardment Group (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-24H Polyana
Serial No: 42-50374
Location: Near to Westerode about ¼ km (¾ mls) north of Bad Harzburg, Germany
Base: Hethel (Station #114), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. James L. Kissling O-696469 AAF Age 21. PoW *
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Anthony J. Santomiery O-7820070 AAF Age 26. Murdered (1)
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Raymond Edward Frey O-708436 AAF Age 25. PoW **
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Stanley A. Jankowski O-698843 AAF Age 26. PoW Unknown camp
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Joseph W.S. Hamrick 20719209 AAF Age 25. PoW ***
Engineer/Top Turret: T/Sgt. Lawrence Allen ‘Red’ Hambel 35424780 AAF Age 23. Murdered (1)
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. James G. Mintz 14165914 AAF Age 22. PoW ****
Right Waist: S/Sgt. Christian W.J. Merkle Jr. 32012959 AAF Age 26. Murdered (2)
Left Waist: S/Sgt. Herman L. Stacey Jr. 34264382 AAF Age 24. PoW ***
Tail: S/Sgt. Sylvanus B. Chapman 32378101 AAF Age 23. PoW ***
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.
* Stalag 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work camp 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and work camp 3368 Munich).
** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
*** Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
**** Stalag 4b Mühlberg, Sachsen
REASON FOR LOSS:
The target for their mission was the aircraft factories, oil refineries and industrial plants in and around Halle, Germany. Just before arriving at the Initial Point (IP) heavy flak was encountered and the primary target was found to be obscured by heavy smoke. The formation then turned toward their secondary target, an aircraft assembly factory and airfield, and successfully dropped their bombs.
As Polyana turned for home the group in which it was flying became detached from the main formation. After-mission reports described that some 65 km (40 mls) WSW from the target, after flying though heavy flak, the formation came under attack from German fighters. Polyana was hit and veered off to port with #3 engine on fire. Two parachutes were seen to exit the aircraft followed by seven more parachutes a few minutes later. Then as the aircraft banked to port and started to spin, the tenth and last parachute was seen in the air.
1st Lt. Kissling was believed to be the last to bail out of the aircraft. His Individual Casualty Questionnaire (ICQ) reported that the aircraft exploded in mid-air after all the crew had successfully bailed out. None of the ten crew members were injured during the fighter attack. German documents recorded that the aircraft wreckage landed north of Westerode which is about 1¼ km (¾ mls) north of Bad Harzburg at 09:55 hrs.
1st Lt. Kissling, 2nd Lt. Frey and Jankowski, S/Sgt. Mintz, Stacey and Chapman along with T/Sgt. Hamrick were quickly captured and handed over to the Luftwaffe at Goslar airfield which was about 11½ km (7¼ mls) north of the town of Goslar in Germany.
(1) After hostilities ceased a special investigation was ordered by the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) to locate the graves of 2nd Lt. Santomiery and T/Sgt. Hambel. During the course of the investigation it was suspected that an atrocity had been committed after three German civilians informed the AGRC investigators of an individual who had bragged that he had shot one of the American airmen.
The investigation resulted in two separate trials being convened by a General Military Government Court in Dachau. The first over the period 29th to 30th July 1946 and the second over the period 20th and 21st October 1947.
At the first trial the court charged a Ludwig Wolter, a German national, that he did, at or near Bad Harzburg in Germany, on or about the 7th July 1944, wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of an unknown member of the United States Army, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich. Wolter was an administrative secretary with the Criminal Police and an agent in the Gestapo.
At the second trial the court charged a Leo Kowitzke, a German national, that he did, at or in the vicinity of Bad Harzburg in Germany, on or about the 7th July 1944, wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States Army, believed to be L.A. Hambel, ASN 3542780 and also in the killing of an unknown member of the United States Army, both of whom were then and there surrendered and unarmed PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich. Kowitzke was a Police instructor and the Chief of the Gestapo branch office at Bad Harzburg. He was also the superior of the Gestapo agents named at the trials.
The summary of evidence for the first trial recorded that one of the two airmen, believed to be T/Sgt. Hambel, landed near Bad Harzburg. He was being mistreated by German civilians when Wolter and an unnamed Gestapo agent arrived and took him into custody. They took the airman to the Gestapo headquarters in Bad Harzburg. Later he was taken by Wolter and another agent named Zellmann by car to look for the airman’s sidearm, money and papers which he had hidden after he had landed. When the car stopped at a place indicated by the airman they all exited the vehicle. The court heard differing and contradictory versions of the events that followed but all consistently claimed that the airman was shot whilst attempting to escape.
The court rejected Wolter’s claim that the airman was shot whilst attempting to escape and found him guilty of the charge. He was sentenced to life imprisonment which was later reduced to 22 years. He was medically paroled in December 1952.
The summary of evidence for the second trial recorded that one of the two airmen, believed to be 2nd Lt. Santomiery, landed near a hospital. It was alleged that a policeman prevented the doctors from the hospital from treating the injured airman. Witnesses at the second trial named Kowitzke as one of the two Gestapo agents that arrived at the scene and took the airman away and shot him. It was also alleged that Kowitzke ordered his agents to shoot and kill the captured airmen. The court found Kowitzke guilty on both counts and sentenced him to death.
However, the Review and Recommendations board found that the evidence presented at the trial failed to connect Kowitzke with the killing of 2nd Lt. Santomiery and that it was probable that the two Gestapo agents named as Zellmann and Bremen had shot and killed the airman. The board also found that no legal proof was presented of his complicity in the murder of T/Sgt. Hambel. Consequently his death sentence was disapproved. Kowitzke served 6 years in prison and was released during August 1950.
Although Zellmann was named as one of the perpetrators who was involved in the killing of both airmen, he was not charged and brought to trial because he had eluded the authorities. It is not known whether he was subsequently detained. The reason for Bremen, the other named perpetrator, not being charged and brought to trial is not known.
(2) After successfully bailing out of the aircraft S/Sgt. Merkle was not seen again by any of the crew. At Dulag Luft, Oberursel some of the crew were informed that two of their crew had been shot whilst allegedly attempting to escape and a third was in hospital. A US document claims that S/Sgt. Merkle’s body was found, unburied, at the foot of Mt. Brocken near Braunlage on the 13th July 1946. His remains were evacuated to the Ardennes American Cemetery. No official documentation has been found that provides any information of how he perished.
Captured German documents record that 2nd Lt. Santomiery and T/Sgt. Hambel were initially buried in the area belonging to the community of Westerode. Their remains were found and disinterred in early 1945 by an unknown AGRC unit from Bad Harzburg.
Above 2nd Lt. Santomiery (Credit: Des Philippet, FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Anthony J. Santomiery. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, in Plot II, Row 9 Grave 222 before being relocated to Plot I, Row 16, Grave 3. Son to Mrs. Elettra Santomiery of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
T/Sgt. Lawrence Allen ‘Red’ Hambel. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, in Plot II, Row 8, Grave 200 as Unknown X-426 before being repatriated on the 11th December 1948 and buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Zanesville, Muskingum County, Ohio. Born on the 17th June 1921. Son to George William and Myrtle Lillian (née Thompson) Hambel of Muskingum County, Ohio, USA.
Above: S/Sgt. Merkle Jr. (Credit: Dominique Potier, FindAGrave)
S/Sgt. Christian W. J. Merkle Jr. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Initially interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium in Plot Q, Row 8, Grave 180 before being relocated to Plot D, Row 12, Grave 22. Born in 1918. Husband to Mrs. Maria A. Merkle of Patchogue, Long Island, New York, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz 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.