03.03.1945 703rd Bombardment Squadron (H) B-24J 42-50692 1st Lt. John C. Saunders
Operation: Magdeburg (Mission #861), Germany
Date: 3rd March 1945 (Saturday)
Unit No: 703rd Bombardment Squadron (H), 445th Bombardment Group (H), 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Serial No: 42-50692
Location: Sieber, near Herzberg, Germany
Base: Tibenham airfield (Station #124), Norfolk, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. John Coggeshall Saunders O-798588 AAF Age 22. Murdered (1)
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Charles Bernard Kenning O-828451 AAF Age 21. PoW *
Nav/Bomb: 1st Lt. Leroy Sidney Dabney O-2057739 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Radio Operator: T/Sgt. John Leonard De Paula 31309497 AAF Age 22. PoW **
Engineer: T/Sgt. Daniel Clark Patton 34674671 AAF Age 20. PoW **
Gunner: S/Sgt. Jacob Klein 32641936 AAF Age 23. PoW **
Gunner: S/Sgt. William Francis Gould 39616737 AAF Age 21. PoW **
Gunner: S/Sgt. Edward Frank Paszek 31409621 AAF Age 24. PoW **
Gunner: S/Sgt. John Stephen Sieczkarski 11108036 AAF Age 19. PoW **
Originally 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.
* Dulag Luft 12 Groß-Tychow Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland.
** Unknown PoW Camp
REASON FOR LOSS:
42-50692 took off from Tibenham on the 3rd March 1945 as one of 22 Liberators of the 445th Bombardment Group (BG) to bomb the Rothensee oil refinery at Magdeburg, Germany.
An eyewitness reported that “42-50692 lost altitude just after bombs away. His props were going but the plane was still going down. Approximately six chutes came out of the plane while it was still in the air”.
42-50692 was crippled during attacks by German fighters. The aircraft was last seen in the area of Halberstadt at about 10:45 hrs, some 48 km (30 mls) SW of Magdeburg.
The aircraft exploded in mid-air and wreckage fell to earth 5 km (3 mls) NE of Sieber near Herzberg, about 21 km (13 mls) south of Goslar, Germany at 10:58 hrs. Separate parts of the aircraft were scattered over a large radius.
1st Lt. Saunders, T/Sgt. Patton, S/Sgt. Gould, S/Sgt. Klein and S/Sgt. Sieczkarski were captured at the Sieberberg [Sieber Mountain], cadastral district of St. Andreasberg and were taken to a police station in St. Andreasberg. The next day at 11:30 hrs, other than 1st Lt. Saunders, they were transferred to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt.
(1) The Individual Casualty Questionaries for a number of the returning crew described that after they had been captured a leader of the Hitler Youth or member of the Nazi party asked 1st Lt. Saunders some questions in German which the airman did not understand. Without warning the German shot him in the chest. His body fell at the feet of two of his comrades who were standing next to him. The following morning the Germans told the captured airmen that 1st Lt. Saunders was dead.
A contemporary child witness to the murder, a Herr Jochen Klähn, has informed us that the perpetrator was a Karl Robert Bäcker a toolmaker and Nazi shop steward at the St. Andreasberg Metallwerke Silberhütte.
Above: The old photo shows the market area in St. Andreasberg with the former police station (the building at the left of the photo, the one with all the people standing in front). According to Herr Klähn, John Saunders was shot dead while standing on that elevated platform in front of the entrance door to the left.
Bäcker was shot and killed by US Forces. An extract from the after action report of the US 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion for the 17th April 1945 describes the circumstances:
Personnel from Headquarters Company (Coy) captured one German civilian in Bad Lauterberg, who upon being interrogated by IPW 1st Division (Div) was found to be the notorious Mr. Bacher [sic].
Note: IPW is believed to represent “Intelligence, Prisoner of War”, probably a section handling PoWs
Mr Bacher [sic], a war criminal, was wanted for the murder of an American pilot and of two US 1st Infantry Div soldiers.
The late Mr. Bacher [sic] was shot and killed whilst trying to escape, en route to a rear area PoW camp by a soldier of the Reconnaissance Coy.
A grave record for the St. Andreasberg Cemetery documents that Karl Robert Bäcker was buried in Grave #110 on the 21st April 1945. Remarks for the entry include that he died on the 17th April 1945 at St. Andreasberg. There is also an additional entry written in red which reads ‘On 17th April shot while escaping by American soldiers’.
The identities and circumstances leading to the murders of the two infantry soldiers are unknown at this time. However, given the eye witness account, the after action report, the timing and the burial information for Bäcker it can be assumed with a high degree of certainty that Bäcker murdered 1st Lt. Saunders.
1st Lt. Saunders was initially interred in the St. Andreasberg cemetery, Grave No. 80 on 6th March 1945.
Above: Grave marker for 1st Lt. Saunders (Credit Des Philippet - FindAGrave)
1st Lt. John Coggeshall Saunders. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Recovered and reinterred at the Netherlands American Cemetery Plot X, Row 2, Grave 138 on the 18th May 1945. Relocated to Plot J, Row 15, Grave 22. Born on the 28th August 1922 in Summit, New Jersey. Son of Edmund J. and Helen A. (née Coggeshall) Saunders of Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, 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’. Thanks also to Herr Jochen Klähn for his contributions (Mar 2022).