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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
17.08.1943 327th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17F 42-3435, Capt. Ronald L. Sargent DFC (OLC)

Operation: Schweinfurt (Mission #84), Germany

Date: 17th August 1943 (Tuesday)

Unit No: 327th Bombardment Squadron (H), 92nd Bombardment Group (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17F

Serial No: 42-3435

Code: UX:?

Location: In the vicinity of Sint-Huibrechts-Hern, Belgium

Base: Alconbury (Station #102), Huntingdonshire, England

Pilot: Capt. Roland Leslie Sargent DFC (OLC) O-437875 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Co-Pilot 1st Lt. Keith Edward Byington O-442753 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Navigator: Capt. Robert Thurston McNeely DFC O-431801 AAF Age 27. PoW **

Bombardier: S/Sgt. George Lorne Mikel Jr. 12099721 AAF Age 21. Id No. 72266 ***, PoW No. 8178 * (1)

Engineer: S/Sgt. James Lyle Berry 32382034 AAF Age 21. Evader (2)

Radio Operator: S/Sgt. Charles Joseph Sailer 33327521 AAF Age 22. PoW ****

Ball Turret Gunner: Sgt. John J. Whitley 38161273 AAF Age? PoW ****

Left Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Harry Slade Richards 39832932 AAF Age 22. Evader (3)

Right Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Nathan Schwartz 32412531 AAF Age 23. PoW *

Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Kenneth Fredrick Fahncke 15329254 AAF Age 22. Evader (4)

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

** Stalag Luft 1, Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

*** Buchenwald concentration camp established on Ettersberg hill near Weimar, Germany in July 1937.

**** Stalag 17B, Krems-Gneixendorf, Austria.

REASON FOR LOSS:

Capt. Sargent and his crew was one of 22 aircraft from the 92nd BG that joined a force of 377 aircraft on a mission to bomb both Schweinfurt and Regensburg. The plan was for 147 B-17s from the 1st Division and 230 from the 2nd Division to fly identical courses with the 1st Division bombing Schweinfurt and returning to England and the 2nd Division bombing Regensburg and flying on to North Africa.

Capt. Sargent’s aircraft was a brand new B-17F on its first operational mission. Just after crossing the enemy coastline the formation was attacked by German fighters which damaged two engines of Capt. Sargent’s aircraft also inflicting extensive damage to the rudder and elevators. In this attack S/Sgt. Fahncke suffered slight shrapnel wounds to his hands and the power to the ball turret was knocked out.

They continued onto the target at Schweinfurt, dropped their bombs and then turned for home with the rest of the formation. Enroute the #2 engine was hit from above from what appeared to be a 50 cal bullet which severed the engine’s fuel line. The engine was immediately shut down and the propeller feathered. The power to the remaining engines, including the two previously damaged was increased.

The formation was then attacked again by German fighters and Capt. Sargent’s aircraft was hit again setting it ablaze. Unable to maintain altitude he ordered the crew to bale out. The abandoned aircraft crashed near Sint-Huibrechts-Hern, Belgium at 15:12 hrs.

Capt. Sargent, 1st Lt. Byington and Capt. McNeely landed close together and with the aid of the Belgian resistance evaded capture for about 10 days before being betrayed and arrested in Paris. As they were wearing civilian cloths at the time of their capture and had no military identification they were considered to be spies and held in Fresnes prison (See Ser 1 below) located to the south of Paris. Eventually through the efforts of the USAAF, the Luftwaffe and the International Red Cross (IRC) they were found and became regular PoWs and sent to various PoW Camps.

(1) Details of S/Sgt. Mikel’s evasion are not known other than he was betrayed and captured in Paris on the 19th March 1944.

He was then taken to the Fresnes prison located to the south of Paris. This was where French political prisoners were held and ordinarily Allied airmen, after questioning, were moved to a PoW Camp. In the summer of 1944, with the Allies having liberated Paris and closing in, the Gestapo guards started reducing the prison population by execution, and then relocating surviving prisoners to various concentration camps east of France. On the 15th August 1944 he was amongst 169 Allied PoWs and hundreds of French men and women who were packed into a freight train and transported to Buchenwald concentration camp on a journey lasting five days. Buchenwald was located 8 km (5 mls) north of Weimar, in the German province of Thüringen. It was established and administered by the Schutzstaffel (SS).

Fg Off. Joel Mathews ‘Tex’ Stevenson C27788 RCAF, the pilot of 419 (Moose) Squadron, RCAF Lancaster X KB727 VR:H escaped from the train and successfully evaded.

Sqn Ldr. Lamason and Fg Off. Chapman succeeded in getting all but two of the Allied PoWs transferred to Stalag Luft 3. Two airmen, 1st Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck Jr. O-736945, US AAF and Fg Off. Philip Derek Hermmens, 152583, RAFVR died in the sick barrack.

Recognition:

For decades the International Red Cross (IRC) had stated that there were no military personnel in Buchenwald despite the overwhelming documentary and anecdotal evidence. It was not until 1988 that the IRC eventually confirmed the airmen were illegally held at Buchenwald.

The Australian, New Zealand and Canadian governments also consistently denied that any of their service personnel were ever held in concentration camps and refused to investigate the claims made by a 'mere’ handful of men.

Reparations were made to the British airmen who had been illegally held at Buchenwald in 1965. Eventually in 1988 the Australian, New Zealand and it is believed the Canadian governments acknowledged that their airmen had been illegally held in concentration camps.

American airmen were among those receiving compensation and the US Air force have acknowledged the Buchenwald airmen with an exhibit at the Air Force Museum, albeit the airmen are shown in uniform rather than in civilian attire. Furthermore, there is no mention of decades-long denial of their experiences by other branches of the government.

He was transferred to Stalag Luft 3 over the period 15th to 20th October 1944.

On the night of the 27th January 1945, with Soviet troops only 26 km (16 mls) away, orders were received to evacuate the PoWs to Spremberg which is to the West in Germany. The PoW’s were informed of the evacuation, which was on foot, at about 22:00 hrs the same night and were given 30 mins to pack and prepare everything for the March. The weather conditions were very difficult, with freezing temperatures, and it was snowing accompanied by strong winds. There was 15 cm (6 in) of snow and 2000 PoWs were assigned to clear the road ahead of the main groups.

The first groups of American PoW’s set out from the South Compound with the last PoW leaving at 23:00 hrs. The next group of American PoWs set out from the West Compound. At 03:45 hrs the North Compound left, followed by the Centre Compound. At 06:00 hrs the East Compound left. All the groups were accompanied by guards.

After a 55 km (34 mls) march, the PoWs arrived in Bad Muskau where they rested for 30 hours. The PoWs were then marched the remaining 26 km (16 mls) to Spremberg where they were housed in empty garages, storerooms and in military barracks. There they were provided with warm soup and bread.

During next days, PoWs were divided up according to Compounds, and they were led to railway sidings and loaded into tightly packed carriages.

On the 31st January, the South Compound prisoners plus 200 men from the West Compound were sent to Stalag 7A at Moosburg followed by the Centre Compound prisoners on the 7th February.

The camp was liberated on the 29th April 1945 by units of the 14th Armoured Division from Patton’s 3rd Army.

(2) S/Sgt. Berry’s escape and evasion report describes the circumstances of the aircraft loss and his escape story:

‘Between 11:00 and 12:00 hrs on 17th August 1943 we took off from Alconbury to bomb Schweinfurt. Just as we crossed the coast of Belgium we picked up our escort of P-47's and met a little Flak. Number four engine was hit with no damage beyond slight gas leakage. An Fw190 came in, but I fired on him and scared him away. Several more Fw’s came in and hit the tail gunner and a fin. Flak hit our elevators about a foot out from the fuselage but did not affect our flying, so far as I knew, since the pilot did not mention any trouble. I thought we were then still over Belgium. We kept meeting Flak off and on but were not hit.

While I was watching a plane back of our tail and high, the top turret was hit, breaking the glass and sending fragments against my forehead and something into my eye, for I had trouble with it for the next few days. My left hand gun was knocked out. The radio man [S/Sgt. Sailer] was hit in the intestines. I think it was this attack which shot out the electrical connections on the ball turret. From this attack until the time we were shot down I did not see any fighters come in on us. We were meeting Flak on and off but none hit us.

Soon the tail gunner reported that his guns were not working; he could not hand charge one gun with his left hand. The pilot ordered one waist gunner to go back and take over the tail turret but the ball turret man who was already out of his position went back. The tail gunner took over the waist window and the assistant radioman went up in the radio position. I transferred gas to number three and four engines. Just before we came to the target a Ju88 got caught between two of our formations, and we shot it down.

We were low when we dropped our bombs, about 20,000 feet; some other planes were almost over us. Just before or just after we were on the bomb run a bullet hit number two engine, and we had to feather the propellor. The navigator said it was a 50 calibre bullet which hit us. I thought that some of the other planes might have fired on us, thinking we were a B-17 which the Germans had captured and were using against American formations. Our plane was a brand new one and was used on this raid because every available plane was needed. We did not have the customary triangular marking and we did not even have the group letter yet. Indeed, our guns had not yet been altitude tested.

When we were circling and coming back from the target, I transferred gas from number three engine to number one. In Belgium the pilot asked the group leader if he could slow down the formation because we were having trouble keeping up with numbers four and three. We used all the manifold pressure that we dared, but we kept falling farther back and the formation behind us passed us.

Just before we were shot down we saw a smoke screen ahead of us. I thought it came from an airfield. The time was about 15:30 hrs. Something hit number one engine and set it on fire. I did not know whether it was Flak or a fighter. We had no fire extinguisher at all in our ship. The pilot gave the order to bale out; I thought we were about 18,000 feet. I did not see any fighters around. We were supposed to pick up our fighter escort just about the time that we went down.

For the sake of the bombardier and navigator we did not open the bomb bay doors. I went back to check the rest of the crew. The radio operator was wounded and I yelled to him to come out. I put on my parachute and went out the waist after the tail gunner. I pulled my rip cord as soon as I was clear of the ship. After my chute opened I heard a plane firing; it sounded like 20mm, not machine guns, so I thought that we had probably been hit by a fighter rather than by Flak. On the way down I saw four other chutes in the air. I thought they belonged to the ball, turret, tail turret, and two waist gunners, but I was not certain.

It took me 20 or 30 minutes to go down, I hit hard but did not hurt myself. I landed near a man with a shovel. Fifty or sixty people were standing about. I saw another man land not far away; no people were around him, and I assumed that he walked off. I snapped my chute off quickly, rolled my Mae West and flying boots in it and buried them. A girl looked at my eye which was watering and tried to remove the foreign material. I ripped off my insignia and the name piece on my flight jacket and gave them to the girl. A man came up to me, talked a bit, and told the people that he was taking me to the Gestapo. People started to follow us, he went toward a hedge and before the people realised what had happened we were in the woods and out of sight. We stopped, and I got a drink from a well. We walked to the edge of the woods, and he left me, telling me to hide in a nearby wheat field until he returned late that night.

I crawled over to the wheat field. A Ju88 was circling over head at 4,000 or 5,000 feet. I heard some noises in the woods but did not see any persons. When I heard people going home from work, I feared that my green coveralls did not provide good camouflage in the ripe grain, so I crawled into the woods, I ate some Horlick's tablets from my escape kit. I did not eat the chocolate because I was afraid it was very bitter stuff like the chocolate in iron rations. When I gave it away to some children afterwards and found it was sweet, I was a bit annoyed.

When the man came back he brought me some food, I was supposed to stay in the woods that night, but when he learned that my eye was bothering me, he took me to his house. There I washed, and his family fed me, dressed my eye, and gave me some civilian clothes. They found a place outside for me to hide that night.

From there my journey was arranged and he arrived in Spain on the 5th November 1943. On the 28th November 1943 he crossed into Gibraltar and flew out the next day and landed at Bristol on the 30th November 1943’.

(3) S/Sgt. Richards baled out at 17,000 ft but delayed opening his parachute until reaching 10,000 ft. He was knocked out momentarily on landing. Coming round some Belgians took his equipment then took him to met another man who was to take him to met S/Sgt. Fahncke, however, arriving at the location he was not to be found.

He was provided with civilian cloths and hidden in some woods for the night. The next day he met with another helper who took him to a train station where they boarded a train for Liege. In Liege he was hidden in a hospital for 9 days and when the Gestapo arrived to search the premises for evading aircrew he was hidden in a coffin.

He was then passed to a number of people and ended up at Rue St Lambert 67 in Herstal which was behind the Fabrique Nationale (firearms manufacturer) from where he was shuffled back and forth across the street to No. 65. He was there for about a month when a Sgt. Robert Masters of the RCAF, a Halifax crew gunner, arrived.

Believed to be Sgt. Robert Henry Masters R138344 RCAF, from 51 Sqn, Halifax II JD244, which crash landed near Moi, Belgium on the 21st June 1943 (6 PoW, 1 Evd/PoW).

On about the 15th October he met with a Sgt. Ronald Glover, an RAF Navigator.

Believed to be Sgt. Ronald Walton Glover 1586431 RAFVR, from 76 Sqn, Halifax V, LK932 which was shot down on the 3rd November 1943 (4 PoW, 2 Evd/PoW, 1 Evd).

On the 1st November the three men were moved to a local Doctor’s home where they remained for about 2 weeks. During this time a Sgt. Bronick Malinowski, a Polish Spitfire pilot, joined the group.

This was Sgt. Bronislaw Malinowski DFC P.3036/782059 PAF/RAFVR, from 302 Sqn, whose Spitfire V AA928 was shot down during a Ramrod S41 mission on the 8th September 1943. Sgt. Bronislaw Malinowski successfully evaded via France, Spain and Gibraltar returning to Portreath on the 23rd December 1943.

On about the 15th November Richards, Glover and Masters returned to Rue St. Lambert. On the 18th December the three were taken to Namur where they spent the night at a Custom Official’s home. From here they took a train to Paris and then onto to Dijon and Dole.

At Dole they were provided with bus tickets for a journey to Maîche, about 8¼ km (5¼ mls) NW of the Swiss border. where they were instructed to contact the owner of the Garage. Upon arrival they could not find the owner.

After sleeping on a bus overnight they were taken by bus by some friendly Custom officials to a houseboat about 3¼ km (2 mls) from the Swiss border. On the 21st December they were given instructions on how to cross the border but they soon lost their way and ran into a German officer. Sgts. Masters and Glover ran off into the French countryside.

Sgt. Glover was apprehended on the 23rd December, having reached the French town of Pontarlier, close to the Swiss border. Sgt. Masters was likely to have been apprehended along with Sgt. Glover given that they were both at Stalag Luft 6 and their PoW numbers were close together; Sgt. Masters 1473 and Sgt. Glover 1478.

S/Sgt. Richards fought with the German officer and was shot in the arm before he managed to disarm him.

Note: The fate of the German officer is not known.

After getting away he crossed the river into Switzerland and went to the first house he came across. He was battered and bloody and was sent to the hospital at Saignelégier. After a month of treatment he was to sent to Klosters.

He was then taken to the American Legation in Bern to write up his experiences after which he was moved on to Glion located on the northern shore of Lake Constance and some 10 km (6½ mls) from the French border as the crow flies.

On the 1st September he was required to sign an undertaking not to leave Switzerland until his debts were paid and like the others held in Glion he took this as a green light to leave. On the 2nd September he and a group of other USAAF airmen crossed the border and made their way south to Annecy. From there they headed for Grenoble and reached American forces. After a journey through a number of countries he was flown to RAF St. Mawgan in Cornwall, England and was interviewed on the 18th September 1944.

(4) The Escape and Evasion report for S/Sgt. Fahncke does not provide any detail of his evasion or his helpers. The is a note to the effect that he was injured aboard the aircraft suffering wounds to an arm, his thigh and hand.

It recorded that he crossed the French border into Spain on the 4th October 1943. He entered Gibraltar on the 10th November 1943 and departed by air on the 19th November landing in Bristol, England the next day.

Burial Details:

None. The crew survived

Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Oct 2023). Update to include forced-march information (Jun 2024).

Other sources listed below:

RS 15.06.2024 - Update for forced-march

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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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