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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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15th Air Force
25.07.1944 764th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-24H 42-95383, 1st Lt. Grover F. Mitchell

Operation: Linz (Mission #116), Austria

Date: 25th July 1944 (Wednesday)

Unit No: 764th Bombardment Squadron (H), 461st Bombardment Group (H), 49th Bomb Wing, 15th Air Force

Type: B-24H

Serial No: 42-95383

Code: 12

Location: Hargelsberg near Enns, Upper Danube, Austria

Base: Torretta airfield, Italy

Pilot: 1st Lt. Grover Franklin Mitchell O-755392 AAF Age 21. MiA (1)

Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Herbert Holmer Hartford O-825858 AAF Age 21. MiA (1)

Nav: 1st Lt. Robert S. Brown O-695871 AAF Age 27. MiA (1)

Bombardier: 1st Lt. Walter John Roeben O-685026 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Top Turret Gnr/Eng: S/Sgt. Lynwood Curtis Harrell 13032979 AAF Age 24. MiA (2)

Nose Turret Gnr: Sgt. John Leroy Kennedy 39416061 AAF Age 19. MiA (1)

Ball Turret Gnr: S/Sgt. Donald George Charland 36456233 AAF Age 20. PoW *

Right Waist Gnr: S/Sgt. Donald Duane Robinson 13145412 AAF Age 23. Killed

Left Waist Gnr/Radio Op: S/Sgt. Ira William Hebert 38265918 AAF Age 27. Killed

Tail Turret Gnr: S/Sgt. Jasper Daniel Trout 6293603 AAF Age 24. 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, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Radar Operator, Radio Operator/Waist Gunner, Nose Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner, Waist Gunner, Tail Gunner.

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

** Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde)

REASON FOR LOSS:

B-24H 42-95383 took off from Torretta airfield, Italy and joined the four Bombardment Groups from the 49th Bomb Wing on a mission to bomb the Hermann Goering Tank Works located SSE of the centre of Linz in Austria.

The circumstances leading to the loss of the B-24H 42-95383 were described by three after-mission reports:

2nd Lt. Douglas A. Herrin O-820747, Pilot:

“As I was flying No.5 position in ‘C’ flight, I saw the 3 ships ahead of me go down. The fighters came from behind, apparently on our level and slightly above. When one Fw190 came about 10 feet above my left wing, he hit No.4 ship flown by Lt. Stitch and forced him out of the formation with #2 and #3 engines on fire, in a spiral.

Lt. Freeman’s ship, flying in No.2 position was then hit from behind and a fire started in the bomb bay. He dropped out of formation and I saw one (1) man parachute out opening his chute immediately upon leaving the plane.

Lt. Mitchell’s ship, flying in No.3 position dropped out with one engine on fire and I did not see him anymore. The No.1 ship of our formation was forced out with one engine on fire and I did not see him anymore. However, he got back to the home field.

I then took up No.6 position in ‘A’ flight with one engine feathered. The above happened within a period of approximately 1½ to 2 minutes, the fighters attacking just before we reached the flak and we were still in flak when I got in No.6 position in ‘A’ flight.

The fighters were so numerous and the flak was so heavy, and being engaged in trying to get in formation with ‘A’ Flight, I did not see the planes after they left the formation.”

1st Lt. Douglas A. Herrin, DFC, Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster) O-820747, was KiA on the 4th October 1944.

2nd Lt. James H. Cain O-1703166, Pilot:

“Flying position #5 on bomb run, tail gunner called “Fighters coming in at 6:00 o’clock.” Four (4) FW-190’s made a pass at us, pulled up, sprayed #2 ship, flown by Lt. Freeman and #4 ship flown by Lt. Stitch, then pulled up to the left. Fires started in these B-24’s in forward bomb bays of each. Another pass by fighters and large pieces began breaking off Lt. Freeman’s ship and it went down and to the right. I saw no chutes. Fighters came in again hitting Lt. Stitch’s ship and it went out of my view. A 190 hit #3 ship, flown by Lt. Mitchell, setting his #3 engine afire. Lt. Mitchell, presumably out of control, did a wingover to the left, then went into a nose-dive out of sight. I saw no chutes”.

2nd Lt. James H. Cain O-1703166, was KiA on the 12th August 1944.

S/Sgt. Edward D. Rose 12205996, Tail Gunner:

“Tail gunner in the lead ship of ‘C’ Flight, which consisted of five ships. Saw three ships from our flight destroyed by enemy fighters and flak. I saw approximately seven ships destroyed from four of our flights.

All 3 ships destroyed from ‘C’ flight were on fire and the. Ships flown by Lt. Freeman and Lt. Stitch blew up. Lt. Mitchell’s ship burned until it hit the ground. There were at least five parachutes from that aircraft. The other two planes from ‘C’ flight, flown by Lt. Freeman and Lt. Stitch, had at least two or three chutes come form them before they blew up.

I could fairly say an average of three chutes left each ship. Due to the fact that we were under constant attack, I couldn’t see anymore. It is very possible more airmen escaped than I saw”.

Sgt. Kennedy was killed when the nose turret was blown off the aircraft by 20mm cannon fire in the German fighter attack. This was his first mission and he had replaced S/Sgt. Harrell in the nose turret. It was reported that he had told the pilot, 1st Lt. Mitchell, that he felt uneasy in the nose turret.

S/Sgt. Charland in his Individual Casualty Questionnaire (ICQ) described that S/Sgt. Harrell had been badly wounded in the legs, body and hands after he had been hit by 20mm and 7.9mm MG bullets and the application of oxygen had no effect and did not believe that he had bailed out. He also saw S/Sgt. Robinson fit and well with his parachute fitted ready to bail out but did not know why he did not do so.

The identification of S/Sgt. Harrell by S/Sgt. Charland appears to be a case of mistaken identity and in all probability he was describing S/Sgt. Hebert (See Ser 2 below).

S/Sgt. Trout was the last to see S/Sgt. Robinson alive and was of the opinion that he was scared to bail out and did not realise the seriousness of the aircraft’s situation. S/Sgt. Trout was told later by 1st Lt. Roeben that he believed both 1st Lt. Mitchell and 2nd Lt. Hartford were killed by the German fighters during the engagement.

The aircraft was last sighted at 11:03 hrs at a Lat/Long of 48 17N, 14 19E which is a position over the centre of Linz in Austria. The aircraft was reported to have crashed at Hargelsberg, near Enns, which is some 17km SE of its last seen position and some 12 km SSW of Mauthausen.

1st Lt. Roeben was captured in the vicinity of Mauthausen, S/Sgt. Charland near Linz at 12:00 hrs and S/Sgt. Trout at Enns and the three became PoWs.

(1) A communication (KSU-1706) from the Mauthausen concentration camp reported that

1st Lt. Mitchell was dead and had been cremated in the camp’s crematorium. It was also reported that 2nd Lt. Hartford, 1st Lt. Brown and Sgt. Kennedy were dead but there was no mention in the record of what became of their remains although it mentioned that the personal belonging of all the dead had been delivered to the Hörsching airbase commandant’s office.

KSU = Reports of US bomber crashes in central Europe

Georg Hoffmann’s research (Ref 1 p. 248) has determined that whilst 1st Lt. Mitchell and a 2nd Lt. Warren were descending in their parachutes around twenty SS men including an SS-Hauptsturmführer (Capt) Fritz Seidler from the Gusen I concentration camp opened fire on them.

2nd Lt. Robert A. Warren Jr. O-797651 was the pilot of B-24H 41-29529 (765th BS, 461st BG) which was also lost on this mission. German records show that he had been severely injured and was admitted to the St. Georgen concentration camp hospital. He survived and became a PoW at Stalag Luft 1.

St. Georgen an der Gusen (also known as Gusen II) and Gusen I were sub-camps of the Mauthausen concentration camp complex.

SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Seidler, who was responsible for numerous crimes mainly in the Gusen I concentration camp committed suicide on the 3rd May 1945 (Ref 1 p. 248).

1st Lt. Mitchell, along with a number of other airmen who had bailed out of their stricken bombers during this mission, were likely killed by the SS personnel indiscriminately opening fire on them as they were parachuting to earth.

Georg Hoffmann’s research (Ref 1 p. 248) revealed that a number of individual inmates from the camp had seen the remains of nine American airmen in the crematorium who were incinerated some time later.

KSU-1706 lists eight airmen from three different crews that were reported as dead and the names of 1st Lt. Michell, 2nd Lt. Hartford, 1st Lt. Brown and Sgt. Kennedy are amongst the eight. 1st Lt. Michell was recorded as being cremated. How he, 2nd Lt. Hartford, 1st Lt. Brown and Sgt. Kennedy perished can only be surmised although it can be assumed with a reasonable degree of certainty that the latter three were also cremated. As a consequence the four listed airmen from this crew remain Missing in Action (MiA) to this day.

In Georg Hoffmann’s research (Ref 1 p. 249) he found that these events, which occurred over several days, led to the fact that in addition to the thirty-seven crew members who had already lost their lives in the fighter attacks, by flak or in the crashes of their aircraft, four others were definitely murdered and the mortal remains of ten Americans have not been found to this day of which eight were cremated in the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Georg Hoffmann (Ref 1 pp. 247-248) identified FO. Albright as a possible murder victim. FO. William H. Albright T-125542 was the Bombardier from B-24H 42-52459 (461 BG, 764 BS). He had been seen to land safely and head towards some woods. He was pursued by SS troops who surrounded him and shot him dead;

A second murder victim was identified by Georg Hoffmann as S/Sgt. Harrell, see Ser 2, below;

The third and fourth murder victims have yet to be identified.

(2) The circumstances leading to the death of an unidentified airman were determined by a Military Commission convened at Salzburg, Austria, between the 19th and 22nd June 1946.

One German national was charged in that he did, at or near Gusen in Austria, on or about the 25th July 1944, wilfully, deliberately, and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killings of three unknown members of the United States Army, who were then and there in the act of surrendering as PoWs.

Note: The charge was amended to only read one unknown member of the United States Army.

Although the airman was not named in the charge, Georg Hoffmann’s research (Ref 1 pp. 248) determined that the airman was S/Sgt. Lynwood Curtis Harrell. This was confirmed during the trial proceedings by a number of witnesses.

The German national was SS-Unterscharführer (Cpl) Hans Saur who was a former guard at the Gusen Concentration camp.

The court heard that on or about the 25th July 1944 shortly after midday, a flight of American bombers flew directly over the concentration camp at Gusen in Austria. At least one of the aircraft was disabled by flak and its crew parachuted from the stricken bomber. One of the airmen descended at a point near the main entrance to the camp. While still several hundred metres from the ground the airman raised his hands above his head in surrender.

Saur was one of the SS guards who approached the location to where the airman was descending and fired at him with an automatic weapon. The airman was about 100 metres from the ground at this point in time. Immediately after the shots were fired the airman’s arms dropped, his head slumped to his chest and he appeared to hang lifeless in his parachute.

The body of the airman landed within the camp area near the main gate and a little later removed to the camp hospital. The airman was still alive and had suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen. An emergency operation was performed by a Polish doctor, who was an inmate of the camp, to remove part of a shattered hip bone and to repair the intestine. At about 05:00 hrs the following day the airman died. The surgeon testified that the airman died of an embolism resulting from the gunshot wound.

Saur in his testimony denied that he was armed with an automatic weapon or that he had fired upon the American airman contrary to eye witness accounts. He claimed that he did see the airman but that he had landed near a quarry in different part of the camp. He also claimed that he had later heard that two German officers and an SS-Unterscharführer had shot the airman. He also denied that he had gone to the hospital with the camp commander, a man named Ziereis, to look at the airman.

Before the camp was liberated SS-Standartenführer (Col) Franz Ziereis went into hiding but was spotted by some former prisoners of the Mauthausen concentration camp. On the evening of the 23rd May 1945 US soldiers were lead to where he was hiding. In an exchange of gunfire Ziereis was wounded in the arm and then in the back as he twisted away. He was taken to the 131st US evacuation hospital ironically situated at Gusen and was cared for by a doctor who was a former prisoner at the camp. Ziereis died of his injuries at 07:30 hrs on the 24th May.

Saur was found guilty of the change and was sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed in the courtyard of the Landesgericht Salzburg (Federal state court of Salzburg), Austria on the 26th November 1946 by an Austrian hangman.

Burial Details:

Above: Wall of the Missing with 424 names on four separate panels surrounding the Memorial (Courtesy of Dwight Anderson) S/Sgt. Lynwood Curtis Harrell along with 1st Lt. Grover Franklin Mitchell, 2nd Lt. Herbert Holmer Hartford, 1st Lt. Robert S. Brown and Sgt. John L. Kennedy remain Missing in Action (MiA) to this day.

Above: 1st Lt. Mitchell missing - Courtesy of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, dated Sunday, August 5th, 1945.

1st Lt. Grover Franklin Mitchell. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters). Tablets of the missing, Epinal American Cemetery. Born on the 16th April 1923 in Roanoke, Denton County, Texas. Son to Louis David (his father predeceased him in Nov 1936) and Ellen Frances (née Howe) Mitchell of Dallas, Texas, USA.

2nd Lt. Herbert Holmer Hartford. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Tablets of the missing, Epinal American Cemetery. Born on the 8th October 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts. Son of Charles Franklin and Mabel Esther (née Holmer) Hartford of Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts, USA.

1st Lt. Robert S. Brown. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters). Tablets of the missing, Epinal American Cemetery. Born on the 8th August 1917. Son of John M. Brown of Detroit, Michigan, USA.

Above: S/Sgt. Harrell Notification of death - Courtesy of the Richmond Times Dispatch, dated Thursday August 9th 1945

S/Sgt. Lynwood Curtis Harrell. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Tablets of the missing, Epinal American Cemetery. Born on the 15th May 1920 in Sussex County, Virginia. Son of Turner Jett and Alta Mae (née Bishop) Harrell of Petersburg, Virginia, USA.

Above: The brothers Turner are remembered on a memorial stone at the Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia, USA.(Courtesy of Mandy W. - FindAGrave)

Above S/Sgt. Turner G. Harrell reported missing – Courtesy of The Hopewell News, dated Tuesday February 5th 1946.

His brother was S/Sgt. Turner Gary Harrell 7023675, of the 17th Air Base Sqn, 118th Air Service Group, 7th Air Force and was posted MiA on the 24th February 1944, along with his five crew. His B-25G went missing on a ferry flight to Makin (Makin Atoll) in the Gilbert Islands, Philippine Sea. He is remembered on the US National Memorial, Tablets of the Missing Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

Sgt. John Leroy Kennedy. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Tablets of the missing, Epinal American Cemetery. Born on the 8th March 1925 in Kimbal, South Dakota. Son of Mary Kennedy of Frazee, Minnesota, USA.

Above: S/Sgt. Robinson reported missing – Courtesy of The News Journal, dated Thursday August 9th,1945 and grave marker – Courtesy of Dwight Anderson, FindAGrave

S/Sgt. Donald Duane Robinson. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, Plot D, Row 9, Grave 6. Born on the 11th March 1921 in Frankstown, Blair County, Pennsylvania. Son of Landis James and Annie J. (née Hall) Robinson of Wilmington, Newcastle, Delaware, USA.

S/Sgt. Ira William Hebert. Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Tablets of the missing, Epinal American Cemetery. Born on the 28th April 1916 in Bell City, Louisiana. Son of Ira and Rebecca Hebert of Bell City, Louisiana, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive.

Reference:

1. Fliegerlynchjustiz (Fallstudie XIV: Die »Fliegermorde« von St. Georgen an der Gusen (25. Juli 1944) ) (German Edition) - Georg Hoffmann (ISBN: 978-3506781376)





RS & TV 06.06.2022 - Correction to crew positions and update to NoK details

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