731st Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 42-31780 ‘Windy Lou’, 1st Lt. William B. Leith
Operation: Marshalling yards at Ludwigshafen (Mission #702), Germany
Date: 5th November 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 731st Bombardment Squadron (H), 452nd Bombardment Group (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Windy Lou
Serial No: 42-31780
Location: Wichterich, Germany
Base: Deopham Green airfield (Station #142), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. William Browning Leith O-819011 AAF Age 23. Killed (1)
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. Raymond Oscar Rowe Jr. O-823975 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Navigator: 2nd Lt. George S. Keiser O-723372 AAF Age? PoW **
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. William F. Stewart O-765855 AAF Age? PoW *
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Jack Edward Nunley 38459199 AAF Age 19. PoW ***
Engineer: T/Sgt. Harold F. Fishbeck 37556201 AAF Age 22. PoW ***
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Raymond Edward Newton 35892263 AAF Age 20. Killed (1)
Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Frank Barra 32978948 AAF Age 19. Killed.
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Coy Hurley Newport 34678386 AAF Age 20. PoW ***
One of the two Waist Gunners was 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 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work Camps Krumbachstrasse and Work Camp 3368 Munich)
*** 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).
REASON FOR LOSS:
Above the B-17G Windy Lou. (Credit: The American Air Museum in Britain)
The Windy Lou was one of 219 aircraft assigned to bomb the marshalling yards at Ludwigshafen, while 177 others targeted the IG Farben oil refinery in the same city. The aircraft took off from Deopham Green, Norfolk, England, on the morning of 5th November 1944.
In a video interview on the 30th December 2014 with Lt Col. Raymond O. Rowe, then a 2nd Lt., he described how the aircraft ran into flak during the bombing run which hit the #3 engine oil radiator. The engine was feathered and the RPM was increased on #4 engine which then blew up.
The ‘Windy Lou’ was a veteran aircraft having already flown 25 missions before it was assigned to 2nd Lt. Rowe and his crew and this was their 16th mission.
The Windy Lou dropped out of formation and descended to a height of between 2000 ft and 3000 ft. The crew were ordered to lighten the aircraft by jettisoning guns and ammunition. The navigator suggested they head for Paris but it was decided to head for Brussels, Belgium instead. Arriving overhead what they believed to be a friendly airfield near Brussels they encountered flak. A shell burst in the aircraft which he believed had killed T/Sgt. Nunley but it was actually S/Sgt. Barra who was hit.
They then turned away from the airfield and the crew bailed out. 2nd Lt. Rowe made his way to the open bomb bay doors where he found S/Sgt. Newton rooted to the spot. He said to 2nd Lt. Rowe, “you’re an officer you first”. 2nd Lt. Rowe believed that S/Sgt. Newton was scared to jump, which was not uncommon amongst aircrew.
Radio Operator T/Sgt. Nunley stated in his debriefing, after being liberated, that the aircraft received flak damage over Ludwigshafen, resulting in the loss of two engines. The altitude was then 27,000 feet. Windy Lou dropped out of formation and headed for Brussels (Belgium). South of Cologne and approximately 14½ km from allied lines, the aircraft lost one more engine on account of low altitude flak at an altitude of 5,000 feet. Now the bail out signal was given. At this time, S/Sgt. Barra had already been killed by flak in his waist gunner’s position. S/Sgt. Newton, slightly wounded in the head, was last seen, with his parachute on, standing on the cat-walk over the open bomb bay doors. 1st Lt. Leith was last seen by co-pilot 2nd Lt. Rowe who said that when he was leaving from the bombardier’s hatch, Leith was immediately behind him. All crew members except S/Sgt. Barra managed to bail out.
The aircraft crashed 180 metres SE of Mülheim, a village which is a part of Zülpich-Wichterich, Germany and was 99% destroyed by fire.
2nd Lt. Rowe, 2nd Lt. Keiser, 2nd Lt. Stewart, T/Sgt. Nunley, T/Sgt. Fishbeck and S/Sgt. Newport were captured the same day and transferred to Dulag Luft at Oberursel.
The body of S/Sgt. Barra was found in the aircraft wreckage, and was buried in the Wichterich cemetery.
(1) The circumstances of the deaths of 1st Lt. Leith and S/Sgt. Newton were somewhat suspicious. A captured German document bearing the title “Grabmeldung” (Grave Report), dated 28th November 1944, said that Newton was buried at Kuchenheim (9 km SE of the crash site) after being shot while trying to escape.
A US “Report of Investigation/Area search” dated 25th March 1946 stated that the local Bürgermeister (Mayor) led the investigators to two isolated graves outside a cemetery which were marked with wooden crosses and bore inscriptions. After exhumation, the two bodies were identified as being 1st Lt. Leith and S/Sgt. Newton.
According to evidence by one Mrs. Lessenich from Kuchenheim, she had seen two Americans, one of whom was wounded in the arm or head, being walked down the road by three German soldiers in the direction of Flamersheim. Later in the day, Otto Aschoff, one of the three German soldiers, who was at the time living with Mrs. Lessenich, told her that the Americans had been shot while trying to escape.
The investigators did not believe that the two men would have attempted to escape across an open field. Neither did they believe that the gunshot wounds to their heads were consistent with such an escape scenario, especially given the fact that 1st Lt. Leith’s skull not only showed evidence of being fractured by blunt force, but also a gunshot wound to the forehead which had entered from the front.
Although the information was handed over to a War Crimes agent no evidence has been found that the matter was progressed any further.
1st Lt. William Browning Leith. Repatriated and buried at the White Plains Rural Cemetery, Westchester County, New York. Born on the 29th October 1921 in Manhattan, New York. Son to William George Fordyce and Carolyn (née Caldwell) Leith of White Plains, Westchester County, New York, USA.
Above Grave marker for S/Sgt Newton (Credit: Des Philippet FindAGrave)
S/Sgt. Raymond Edward Newton, Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Reinterred in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Plot BBB, Row 6, Grave 136 as UNKNOWN X-7558. After identification relocated to Plot H, Row 18, Grave 13. Born on the 26th May 1924 in Kokomo, Howard County, Indiana. Son to William Wesley and Carrie M. (née DuGranrut) Newton of Kokomo, Howard County, Indiana, USA.
S/Sgt. Frank Barra. Reinterred in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Plot PPP, Row 10, Grave 240 as UNKNOWN X-1805. After identification he was repatriated and buried at the Calvary Cemetery, Queens County, New York. Born on the 29th March 1925 in New York. Son to Mrs. Nancy (née Barbella) Gallub of New York, New York, USA.
Researched by Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks to Mr. Jörg Dietsche of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Luftkriegsgeschichte Rhein/Mosel e.V. for his permission to use documents which he collected from NARA archives, and for his valued advice in compiling this report.