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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
27.03.1945 Headquarters 3rd Air Division, B-17G 42-31092 “Butch II’, Lt Col. Gene C. Smith

Operation: Non Operational flight

Date: 27th March 1945 (Tuesday)

Unit No: Headquarters 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17G Butch II

Serial No: 42-31092

Code: Not listed

Location: About 2 miles SW of Dunkirk, France

Base: Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) B-56, Brussels/Evere, Belgium

Pilot: Lt Col. Gene Clifford Smith O-24950 AAF Age 26. KiA

Co-pilot: 1st Lt. John Chester Appleton O-817369 AAF Age 27. Returned

Navigator: Capt. Robert Emmett Whitehand O-911151 AAF Age 35. KiA

Radio Op: T/Sgt. John Ray Harmon 39608880 AAF Age 23. PoW *

Engineer: T/Sgt. Edward Luther Shue 33193766 AAF Age 29. Killed (1)

Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Baker C. Johnson 33373485 AAF Age? PoW *

Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Thomas Clinton DeLong 34442511 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Passenger: Maj. Jay Jacobs O-437680 AAF Age 30. KiA

Passenger: 1st Lt. Arthur J. Brestlin O-567449 AAF Age 33. KiA

Passenger: 1st Lt. Ernest Mickal O-569391 AAF Age 33. KiA

* No further details other than they were returned to military control


B-17G Butch II took off from the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) B-56, Brussels/Evere, Belgium on a non-operational flight to Honington (Station #375) in Suffolk.

There were three passengers aboard this flight; Maj. Jacobs, 1st Lt. Brestlin and 1st Lt. Mickal who were all from the 18th Weather Squadron which, at that time was stationed at St. Germain-en-Laye in France.

Lt Col. Smith, the listed pilot on this flight, was from the 447th Bombardment Group (H). From witness reports it appears that Maj. Jacobs was sitting in the Pilot’s seat with 1st Lt. Appleton flying the aircraft.

The circumstances leading to the loss of the aircraft were witnessed by Allied forces on the ground:

Capt. Raymond Heinrich and Capt. Peter (Security Officer) of the Czech Armoured Brigade Group at Dunkirk state that the Fortress (42-31092) was seen flying along the SW edge of Dunkirk on a course approximately NNW. Heavy flak came up and the plane was seen to be hit. The plane turned West and seen after turned South, still under enemy fire. Evasive action was being attempted. Two (2) parachutes were seen descending just after the plane turned West and two (2) more as it turned South. These four (4) were seen to land within enemy lines.

One observer in an advanced observation post stated that he saw another object fall from the plane which he thought might have been a man's body falling free. Other observers say some parts were falling off the plane so it is obvious that it may or may not have been a body. A few rounds of small arms fire were heard by observers in the advanced posts. All this information came from observers in advanced observation posts west of Dunkirk.

Lt Col. Sitek of the same brigade saw the occurrence from his Command HQ SW of Dunkirk. He verifies the fact that four (4) parachutists were seen descending behind enemy lines and gives the further information that he saw what later proved to be Lt. Appleton's chute and also a body falling free. This happened after the plane was well South and was not seen by the observers in the observation posts west of Dunkirk.

A German prisoner taken the same night said that one of the parachutists had been shot either in the chest or abdomen and taken to the hospital. He could not or would not say how many had descended safely.

Statement made by 1st Lt. Appleton on what transpired aboard the aircraft.

“We left B56 about 17:00 hrs on 27th March 1945 with ten (10) men aboard. Due to poor visibility we flew contact at 1000 ft. After passing over Lille we took a heading of about 250 degrees to hit the coast out around Calais. At this time I was in the Co-Pilot's seat and flying the ship. Maj. Jacobs was in the Pilots seat and Col. Smith and Engineer standing between the seats. Capt. Whitehand and Lt. Mickal were in the nose and the rest of crew members were in the waist.

About fifteen (15) miles outside of Dunkirk I asked the Navigator what city was at twelve (12) o'clock and he said Calais. We were at 1000 ft and the next thing I knew there was an explosion and 20 mm started to hit. I banked sharply and made a 180 degree to the right and did evasive action but we were being blanketed by 20 mm and small arms.

I called the Navigator and told the men in the nose to go to the rear and prepare to bale out. Also Col. Smith, Maj. Jacobs and Engineer, and I would try to control the ship. I flew the ship until the flames drove me out and I expected her to blow up any minute. I trimmed up the ship to make a gradual let down and went back to the waist to bail out myself. The men had bailed out and there were a number of officers looking for chutes and very excited. One seemed to be having trouble with his leg straps, so I hooked them for him, fastened a chest pack on and put his hand on the rip cord. I then shoved him out.

The rest still did not have chutes on so I went up to the flight deck to see if I could fly the ship again. However the flames were too fierce and I could not get near it. I then returned to the waist with a chute and had Maj. Jacobs get on me in piggy-back fashion. We were then about three hundred (300) feet I believe when I left the ship. I pulled the rip cord and when the chute opened, it jerked Maj Jacobs off of me.

The ship hit about 1000 yards from where I landed and exploded. I landed about two (2) miles southwest of Dunkirk and was picked up by French and Czech troops, who treated my burns at their medical headquarters. From there I went to the 21st General Hospital at St. Omer, France. While in the hospital a "Czech" Intelligence Officer said that four or five chutes landed in no-mans land and were picked up by the Germans”.

From the available records it has been determined that Lt Col. Smith was assisting the passengers and he perished in the crash. 1st Lt. Mickal and 1st Lt. Brestlin had no parachutes and both perished in the crash as did Capt. Whitehand. It was thought he could not get to his parachute as it was in the burning cockpit area.

Maj. Jacobs was without a parachute and he piggy-backed on 1st Lt. Appleton when he bailed out but the shock of the parachute opening broke his hold and he fell to his death. French ground forces recovered his body and wrapped him in 1st Lt. Appleton’s parachute.

T/Sgt. Harmon, S/Sgt. Johnson and S/Sgt. DeLong were listed as PoWs but it is assumed that they were liberated in short order and returned to military control.

(1) T/Sgt. Shue, from the 447th BG, was seen in a German hospital in Dunkirk by either T/Sgt. Harmon, S/Sgt. Johnson or S/Sgt. DeLong where he told one of them, before he died of his injuries, that he was standing with his hands in the air when he was shot in the back by a German soldier.

Although this deathbed evidence suggests the possibility of a war crime, we do not know of any investigation into the circumstances of T/Sgt. Shue’s death.

T/Sgt. Shue was initially buried in a local cemetery in Dunkirk at the request of the local US Commander.

Burial Details:

Lt Col. Gene Clifford Smith. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot H, Row 8, Grave 142. Relocated to the US Military Cemetery, St Andre-Evreux, France. Repatriated and interred on the 5th January 1950 in Plot 34, Grave 4573, Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Born on the 5th May 1919 in Missouri. Son of Mr and Mrs. Guy A. Smith of Kansas City, Kansas. Husband to Betty Louise (née Fults) Smith of Kansas City, Kansas, USA.

Left: Courtesy of the Iowa City Press Citizen, Dated October 11th, 1945: Right Grave marker (Courtesy of Dominique Potier – FindAGrave)

Capt. Robert Emmett Whitehand. Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 2, Grave 39. Relocated to Plot B, Row 40, Grave 6. Born on the 12th March 1910 in San Francisco, California. Son of Robert Emmett and Beatrice Irene (née Ryan) Whitehand of Iowa City, Iowa. Husband to Laura Eleanor (née Knight) of Iowa City, Iowa, USA.

Courtesy of The Daily News Leader, Dated June 27th, 1945

T/Sgt. Edward Luther Shue. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Relocated to the US Military Cemetery, St Andre, Evreux, France. Repatriated and interred on the 15th April 1949 in Plot 34, Grave 4182, Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia . Born on the 26th October 1915 in Stanardsville, Virginia. Son of Luther Edward and Ann Irene (née Southard) Shue. Husband to Sara (née Portale) Shue of Washington, DC, USA.

Left: Courtesy of The San Francisco Examiner, Dated June 1st, 1949: right Grave marker (Courtesy of Cate – FindAGrave)

Maj. Jay Jacobs. Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 2, Grave 35. Repatriated and buried on the 3rd June 1949 in Plot K, Grave 78 at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California. Born on the 16th October 1918 in California. Son of Jay and Elena Olive (née Metvedt) Jacobs Sr. of San Francisco, California, USA.

1st Lt. Arthur J. Brestlin. Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 2, Grave 34. Relocated to Plot D, Row 32, Grave 11. Born on the 17th September 1911 in New York. Son of Louis V. and Marguerite Marie (née Tjaden) Brestlin. Husband of Rita Agatha (née Riley) Brestlin of Brooklyn, New York, USA.

1st Lt. Ernest Mickal. Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot K, Row 5, Grave 91. Repatriated and buried on the 18th June 1949 at the Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana. Born on the 6th June 1911 in Louisiana. Son of Touflick Abi Haider and Amy Shamse (née Daggett) Mickal of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

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

RS & TV 23.09.2022 - Initial Upload

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