24.8.1944 854th Bomb Squadron (H) B-24J Liberator 'Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma'm' 2nd Lt. Rogers Jr.
Operation: Hannover-Langenhagen Airfield (Mission #568), Germany
Date: 24th August 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 491st Bombardment Group (H), 854th Bombardment Squadron (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-24J Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma'm
Serial No: 42-110107
Location: 5 km NE of Greven, Germany
Base: North Pickenham (Station #143), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Norman J. Rogers Jr. O-820907 AAF Age 24. Survived (1)
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. John Nicholas Sekul O-824262 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Navigator: FO. Haigus Tufenkjian T-125660 AAF Age 23. Survived (1)(2)
Radio/Op: Sgt. Thomas D. Williams Jr. 13100227 AAF Age 19. Survived (1)
Engineer: S/Sgt. Forrest W. Brininstool 36459119 AAF Age 28. PoW * (3)
Nose: Sgt. William A. Adams 33833061 AAF Age 19. PoW * (4)
Ball Turret: Sgt. William A. Dumont 31267637 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Elmore Lathrop Austin 31340848 AAF Age 19. Survived (1)
Tail: Sgt. Sidney Eugene Brown 34792548 AAF Age 19. PoW * (4)
The B-24 had 10 crew positions. Crew complements evolved during the war and generally comprised 10 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 and Tail Gunner
* 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).
Photograph of original crew. Back row, left to right: Rogers, Sekul, Cassidy, Robinson. Front row, left to right: Adams, Austin, Williams, Dumont, Brown, Brininstool. (credit: US Army Signal Corps & National Archives)
B-24J Liberator 42-110107 (credit Allan G. Blue Ringmasters: A History of the 491st Bombardment Group (H))
REASON FOR LOSS:
On 24th August 1944 42-110107 was part of a large combined force of bombers and fighter escorts, totalling some 2058 aircraft to bomb 16 targets north of Hannover.
The crew of 42-110107 was on their first mission together and one of 72 aircraft assigned to bomb the Hannover-Langenhagen airfield. Reports describe that 42-110107 had just released its bombs and before the bomb bay doors were closed a burst of flak beneath the aircraft disabled the hydraulic systems, one engine and damaged two others. S/Sgt. Brininstool and Sgt. Adams suffered shrapnel wounds. The crippled aircraft was controllable but with only one serviceable engine and the bomb bay doors open it became impossible to maintain height. 2nd Lt. Rogers Jr. gave the order to abandon the aircraft and all nine of the crew parachuted to safety and landed spread out over a farm area. German reports identify that the aircraft crashed about 5 km NE of Greven, at around 12:15 hrs.
The attack of the Hannover-Langenhagen airfield was the second to be conducted in August 1944 and resulted in the destruction of the majority of the airfield’s infrastructure.
Wham Bam over Hannover on 24 August 1944 with No.1 Engine on fire. (credit Allan G. Blue Ringmasters: A History of the 491st Bombardment Group (H))
(1) All nine of the crew were captured and eventually brought together at the town hall in Greven. After being subjected to harsh treatment during an interrogation, they were eventually handed over to the Luftwaffe and transferred to the nearby Münster-Handorf airfield. At about noon the next day eight of the nine ''see (3) boarded a train with three Luftwaffe guards and headed south to the Dulag Luft interrogation centre at Oberursel near Frankfurt. After an interrupted journey the train was halted at 06:00 hours on the morning of the 26th August at the outskirts of Rüsselsheim because of damage to the railway line. To continue to Oberursel the airmen were marched through the town to another railway station.
Earlier that morning the nearby Opel plant had been heavily bombed by the RAF which also caused immense damage to the historic section of the city. It was believed that when the town’s residents saw the airmen they assumed that they were responsible for the bombing. A crowd formed and quickly turned into an uncontrolled angry mob that attacked the airmen and bludgeoned them with whatever came to hand. All eight eventually succumbed to the brutal beating and collapsed in the road. An air-raid warden, later identified as Josef Hartgen, armed with a pistol, joined the mob and shot one or more of the airmen in the head. Throughout the violence, the Luftwaffe guards made not the slightest effort to stop the mob or Hartgen.
The eight airmen were loaded onto a farmer’s cart and transported to the local cemetery during which time anyone who showed signs of being alive was bludgeoned. They were left on the cart all day but before they could be buried an air-raid alarm sounded and the bodies were abandoned in the cemetery overnight. This provided Brown and Adams, who had miraculously survived although badly injured, the opportunity to extricate themselves from their dead comrades and flee. Four days later they were recaptured and became PoWs. It was reported that Russian PoWs buried six bodies on 28th August in a common grave.
After Rüsselsheim was occupied by elements of the 3rd US Army, in late March 1945, US officers were informed about eight British soldiers who were buried on the Waldfriedhof. However, it was not until the 28th June that the grave was exhumed, only to uncover the remains of six of the reported eight bodies. They were all found to be USAAF airmen with John N. Sekul, William A. Dumont, Thomas D. Williams and Elmore L. Austin being immediately identified from their ‘dog tags’ and personal effects. The remaining two, Norman J. Rogers Jr. and Haigus Tufenkjian, would not be identified until after the first trial. A pathologist report concluded that five of the airmen had fractured skulls, consistent with being struck with heavy blunt instruments. Two of the five had also suffered gunshot wounds to the head as had the sixth.
The investigation into the murders resulted in eleven residents of Rüsselsheim being tried by a military commission at Darmstadt, Germany on the 25th July 1945. They were charged jointly and with other persons whose names were unknown, at Rüsselsheim on or about 26th August 1945, with the deliberate aiding, abetting, encouragement and participation in the murder of the six airmen. The trial ended with seven receiving death sentences, one with a 25-year jail term and two with 15-year jail terms, all with hard labour, and one acquittal. A review of the sentences commuted the death sentences for the two women found guilty to 30-year jail terms. Hartgen and four others were hanged on the 10th November 1945 at Bruchsal prison. All those sentenced to serve prison terms were released in 1953 and 1954 and returned to live in Rüsselsheim.
Although it was anticipated that not all of the perpetrators would be brought to justice, two further individuals were found and tried separately. The first, a Hauptgefreiter in the Wehrmacht, was tried at a general military Government Court at Dachau on 26th August 1945. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, however, upon review the verdict was overturned apparently because of an omission in the wording of the charge and was freed in March 1948. The second, a member of the Sturmabteilung (SA), was also tried at Dachau on 15th May 1947. He was found guilty and hanged on 14th November 1947 at Landsberg.
(2) The regular Navigator, Lt. Bernard Cassidy and Bombardier, Lt. Yancey Robinson were undergoing training in advanced radar systems. Flight Officer (FO) Haigus Tufenkjian, an experienced operator, had volunteered to fill the positions of Navigator and Bombardier. Additionally, Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma'm was not their regular aircraft which was having the Ball Turret removed. The removal was an operational decision made in July 1944 to reduce weight and the improve manoeuvrability of the aircraft.
(3) Brininstool received emergency treatment for his shrapnel wounds at a small field hospital near the airfield were the crew was being held. He was then transferred to a hospital in Münster where he underwent further surgery for his wounds. After he had recovered sufficiently he was transferred to Stalag Luft 4.
(4) Sgt. Brown and Sgt. Adams managed to evade capture for four days before being apprehended and transferred to Stalag Luft 4. They recounted that they became aware that Brininstool was also at the same camp, albeit in a different compound, but they did not meet or see one another. With Russian forces closing in the Germans evacuated the camp and forced the PoWs to march in a meandering trip through northern Poland and much of Germany without adequate food or medical assistance in what has become known as the Death March. Sgt. Brown and Sgt. Adams together with their fellow surviving PoWs were liberated in May 1945 by the British Army and units of the US 9th Army.
The remains of the six were taken to a temporary US Military Cemetery at Bensheim, about 12 miles south of Darmstadft and interred in Plot U, Row 25 on the 30th June 1945.
2nd Lt. Norman J Rogers Jr. Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, France. Plot D, Row 3, Grave 14. Born on the 22nd December 1919, the husband to Mrs. Helen Rogers of Monroe County, Rochester, New York, USA.
2nd Lt. John Nicholas Sekul. Repatriated and laid to rest at the Saint Raymonds Cemetery (New) in the Bronx, New York. Born in 1922, the son to Mr. Sam Sekul of New York, New York, USA.
FO. Haigus Tufenkjian. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, France. Plot E. Row 48. Grave 16. Born on the 1st Jan 1921, the son to Mrs. Andoosh Tufenkjian of Detroit, Michigan, USA.
S/Sgt. Thomas D. Williams Jr. Purple Heart. Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold, France. Plot E, Row 44, Grave 17. Born in 1925, the son to Mr. Thomas D. and Mrs. Pricilla Williams of Hazleton Pennsylvania, USA.
Sgt. Elmore Lathrop Austin. Repatriated and laid to rest at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Bakersfield, Franklin County, Vermont. Born on the 6th July 1925, son to Mr. Wayne E. and Mrs. Hildred M. Austin of Edinbugh Falls, Vermont, USA.
Sgt. William A. Dumont: Repatriated and laid to rest at the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Berlin, Coos County, New Hampshire. Born on the 8th November 1923, the son to Mrs. Blanche Dumont of Berlin, New Hampshire, USA.
Memorial plaque at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia.
In 2004 on the 60th anniversary of the crime, a memorial was unveiled in Rüsselsheim on the spot where the airmen suffered most, near the railway station in Grabenstraße.Top row, left to right: Sgt. Elmore L. Austin, Sgt. William A. Dumont, 2nd Lt. Norman J. Rogers Jr., 2nd Lt. John N. Sekul. Bottom Row left to right: FO Haigus Tufenkjian, Sgt. Thomas D. Williams Jr., Sgt. William A. Adams, Sgt. Sidney E. Brown.
A full account of the fate of the crew of Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma'm has been written by Gregory A. Freeman in “THE LAST MISSION of the WHAM BAM BOYS”.
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the database, and for reference to extracts from the book “Hangman at War” by Richard Clark and Traugott Vitz found here.