08.02.1944 369th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G ‘Susan Ruth’, 1st Lt. Howard J. Snyder
Operation: Railroad marshalling yards at Frankfurt (Mission #214), Germany
Date: 8th February 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit No: 369th Bombardment Squadron (H), 306th Bombardment Group (H),1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Susan Ruth
Serial No: 42-31499
Location: Macquenoise, Belgium
Base: Thurleigh (Station #111), Bedfordshire, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. Howard J. Snyder O-742461 AAF Age 28. Evaded (1)
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. George Waldon Eike O-748164 AAF Age 24. Murdered (2)
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Robert James Benninger O-685369 AAF Age 20. Murdered (2)
Bombardier: 2nd Lt Richard L. Daniels O-679378 AAF Age 23. PoW *
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Ross L. Kahler 33324107 AAF Age 30. KiA
Engineer: S/Sgt. Roy K. Holbert 34036012 AAF Age 22. PoW **
Ball Turret Gnr: Sgt. Louis L. Colwart Jr. 18151729 AAF Age 18. KiA
Right Waist Gnr: Sgt. John Pindroch 15329492 AAF Age 19. Murdered (2)
Left Waist Gnr: S/Sgt. Joseph J. Musial 13025549 AAF Age 25. PoW **
Tail Gnr: S/Sgt William D. Slenker 16101156 AAF Age 20. Evaded (3)
* Oflag 9A/H Spangenberg-Kassel Hessen-Nassau, Germany
** 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).
Back row: S/Sgt. Roy K. Holbert, Sgt. Louis L. Colwart Jr., T/Sgt. Ross L. Kahler, Sgt. John Pindroch, S/Sgt. Joseph J. Musial, S/Sgt William D. Slenker. Front Row: 1st Lt. Howard J. Snyder, 2nd Lt. George W. Eike, 2nd Lt. Robert J. Benninger, 2nd Lt. Richard L. Daniels. (Credit: American War Museum)
B-17G 42-31499 ‘Susan Ruth’ (Credit: Steven Snyder)
REASON FOR LOSS:
The Susan Ruth was one of twenty B-17’s from the 306th Bombardment Group that took off from Thurleigh at about 09:10 hrs on the 8th February 1944 to bomb the railroad marshalling yards at Frankfurt in Germany.
The Susan Ruth encountered heavy flak over the target damaging the aircraft which however continued to be flyable. The aircraft was then attacked about 9½ km (6 mls) south of Chimay by Fw-190 fighters severely damaging the aircraft and forcing the crew to bailout.
Gefr. Siegfried Marek, flying Fw-190A-7 Werk # 430187 "Black 8" and Lt. Hans G. Berger swept though the formation in a head-on attack which targeted the Susan Ruth.
Gefr. Marek’s Fw-190 was shot down and he was KiA. The claim could not be attributed to a particular aircraft but Lt. Berger’s Fw-190 was claimed by the gunners of the 'Susan Ruth'. This was confirmed later by Lt. Berger who had bailed out and survived the war.
Above: The ‘Susan Ruth’ was Lt. Berger’s fifth of eight Abschüsse. He was a Staffelkapitän (Sqn Commander) of 2./Staffel Jagdgeschwader 1 (2./JG1) (2nd Squadron, 1st Fighter Wing) based out of Dortmund-Brackel. (credit: Tom Kracker Archive).
It was reported that T/Sgt. Kahler in the radio compartment and Sgt. Colwart in the ball turret were killed by cannon fire. The remaining crew successfully exited the aircraft. 2nd Lt. Daniels, S/Sgt. Holbert and S/Sgt. Musial were all captured shortly after reaching the ground and were incarcerated as PoWs for the remainder of the war.
(1) 1st Lt. Snyder suffered burns around the head and neck as a result of a fire on board after the fighter attack. He successfully bailed out of the aircraft at around 20,000 feet and landed in the vicinity of Macquenoise in Belgium. He evaded capture with the assistance of the Belgian resistance and over the next months he was moved multiple times both in Belgium and France. He was eventually liberated by elements of Patton’s 1st Army in Trélon, France on the 2nd September 1944 and returned to his base at Thurleigh.
(2) 2nd Lt. Eike and 2nd Lt. Benninger, evaded capture with the assistance of the Belgian resistance and were hidden at Camp de Rièze. The camp comprised three large log-built cabins well camouflaged and hidden in the forest near the village of Rièze in Belgium. They were joined by 1st Lt. Glaze, T/Sgt. Nichols, T/Sgt. Owens, S/Sgt. Gemborski and S/Sgt. Coles from the B-17F 42-30782 ‘Rationed Passion’ who had evaded capture with the assistance of the Dutch resistance who helped them make their way to Belgium.
Early on the morning of the 25th February the area around Rièze was surrounded by German troops believed to be acting on information provided by Belgian collaborators. Every house in the surrounding villages was searched and twenty-nine people were arrested and imprisoned. A young farmer, Gaston Constant who provided food to the camp, spotted the German patrols but was shot and badly wounded before he could raise the alarm. However, the gunfire alerted the men and they fled and successfully evaded the German patrols.
The airmen were taken to a small wooden cabin in the Bois de Pleumeont (Pleumeont woods). It was here that the farmer Florent Simon brought 2nd Lt. Billy Hugo Huish from the B-17F 42-29656 ‘Skunkface’ to join the group. They were then moved to a broken down shed in the woods east of the Terne des Vaches (Hill of Cows) and south of St. Rémy. Florent Simon built a new hut in the Bois de la Champagne (Champagne Woods) into which the group moved on the 10th March.
On the 25th March the eight airmen were joined by Sgt. Vincent J. Reese from the B-17G 42-39795 ‘Woman’s HomeCompanion’ along with Sgt. John Pindroch who re-joined his fellow crew members from the Susan Ruth.
1st Lt. Glaze and S/Sgt. Cole decided that after waiting almost a month that they would try to escape on their own and left early in April. They evaded capture with the assistance of the Belgian and French resistance, and Spanish partisans. They eventually reached Gibraltar on the 26th June and their Squadron at Thurleigh on the 30th June 1944.
On the morning of the 22nd April 1944 at about 0800 hours the remaining eight airmen and a Henri Fontaine, who had delivered the morning meal, were surrounded and captured by a disparate group of turncoats and traitors dressed in German uniforms. The families of two nearby farms who had been feeding the airmen were also arrested as were about thirty Belgian citizens from Chimay. Florent Simon, the father-in-law of Henri, was the only one to escape. The civilians were interrogated, sent to different jails and later to concentration camps. Research by Steve Snyder, the author of ‘Shot Down’, determined that Joseph Simon, Florent’s son and Henri Fontaine were transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp on the 1st September and eventually to the Dachau concentration camp. Joseph was killed during an American raid whilst working repairing railway tracks near Koblenz, Germany. It was reported that Henri was alive after being liberated from Budapest but was never heard from again.
The eight airmen were stripped to their underwear and searched. They all had their ‘dog tags’ and two were still partially dressed in military uniform and could not be mistaken for freedom fighters despite the discovery of two ancient rifles and a pistol. They were interrogated at a local school and in the early afternoon returned by truck to the woods where they had been captured. They were separated and taken into the forest, hands tied behind their backs, with each airman accompanied by two guards in German uniform. On an arranged signal the eight airmen were shot in the back and killed.
Later that day their bodies were transported to the Luftwaffe airfield Gosselies, about 1½ km (1 ml) SSE of the village of Gosselies and buried in a mass grave. They were all later reinterred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten.
The three murdered airmen from the Susan Ruth were 2nd Lt. Eike, 2nd Lt. Benninger and Sgt. Pindroch.
Three of the other murdered airmen were T/Sgt. Nichols, T/Sgt. Owens and S/Sgt. Gemborski from the Rationed Passion.
“Shot Down” The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth: by Steve Snyder
The seventh and eighth murdered airmen were Sgt. Reese from the Women’s Home Companion and 2nd.Lt. Huish from Skunkface.
Research conducted by the late Herman Bodson and documented in his book ‘Downed Allied Airmen and Evasion of Capture: The Role of Local Resistance Networks in WW2’, highlighted that there was little that the US Government Military Justice system could have done to track down the perpetrators and punish those responsible for the murders because they had no jurisdiction over Belgian citizens.
Herman Bodson describes that an uncovered document dated the 12th November 1947 recorded that the Belgian military tribunals had identified and prosecuted the main culprits responsible for the atrocity.
The actual charges levelled at the following six individuals remain unknown as was their role in the deaths of the eight US AAF airmen:
Marcel Jaye, the Commandant of the 3rd Company of Garde Wallone (Local auxiliary police force) was sentenced to death,
Charles Lambinon, the Head of the Regional Pro-German Information Service (SI) was sentenced to death,
Karl Berger, German citizen and the Head of the Chimay Feldgendarmerie (Military Police) was sentenced to death,
Jean Lefevre, the Adjutant 3rd Company Garde Wallone was sentenced to death,
Camille Raccourt, of the Garde Wallone who arrested Mrs. Simon, the wife of Florent, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The sentences recorded are those handed down by the Belgian military tribunals, but it is not known if they were carried out.
(3) S/Sgt Slenker suffered multiple shrapnel wounds to the right leg before successfully bailing out of the aircraft. He landed in the vicinity of Signy-le-Petit in France and was immediately picked up by the French Maquis who organised treatment for his wounds. He was sheltered in Chimay, Belgium by the Collet family until liberated by elements of Patton’s 1st Army on the 2nd September 1944 and returned to his base at Thurleigh.
Sgt, Colwart Jr. and T/Sgt. Kahler were initially interred in the Gosselies Village cemetery in Grave Numbers 79 & 80 respectively.
Above: 2nd Lt. Eike (credit: Paul Hays, Find A Grave)
2nd Lt. George W. Eike. Repatriated on the 14th December 1948 and reinterred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia in Section 12 Grave No.129. Born on the 27th January 1919 in Monroe, New York. Son to Derwood Walden and Ella A. (née Williams) Eike and husband to Helen Lydia (née Prietz) Eike, Rochester, New York, USA.
Above: 2nd Lt. Benninger (credit: Randy Fletcher, Find A Grave)
2nd Lt. Robert James Benninger. Repatriated on the 7th December 1948 and reinterred at the Winchester National Cemetery, Virginia in Section 2 Grave No. 4221-B. Born on the 26th January 1923 in Pennsylvania. Son to Curtis Charles and Jane Finley (née Snyder) Benninger of Pennsylvania, USA.
Above: T/Sgt. Kahler (credit: Paul R, Find A Grave)
T/Sgt. Ross L. Kahler. Repatriated and reinterred at the Mount Peace Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Section E-110. Born on the 13th July 1914 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Son to Leroy B. and Lilian I. (née Newman) Kahler of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Above: Sgt. Colwart Jr. (credit: Fields of Honor)
Sgt. Louis L. Colwart Jr. Purple Heart and Air Medal. Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium. Plot D, Row 29. Grave 2. Born during 1924 in Louisiana. Son to Louis William and Odile (née Rogers) Colwart of Lafayette, Louisiana, USA.
Above: Sgt. Pindroch (credit: Fields of Honor)
Sgt. John Pindroch. Purple Heart and Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium. Plot E, Row 5. Grave 3. Born during 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio. Son to Mr. George Pindroch of Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
(Left) The monument at Macquenoise in Belgium was constructed to honour the B-17 ‘Susan Ruth’ and its crew and was dedicated on the 28th August 1989. The monument features a propeller from the aircraft. (credit: Steve Snyder)
(Right) Memorial in Saint-Rémy near Chimay, Belgium to the memory of the eight murdered USAAF airmen and two Belgian underground members who died in German camps. (credit: Steve Snyder and the American Air Museum)
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 ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report. Tom Kracker and his Kracker Luftwaffe Archive. Thanks also to Keith Janes from‘escapelines’ for his advice and contribution. Special thanks to Steve Snyder for his advice and also for permission to use his research and materials.
Other sources listed below: