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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
30.05.1944 359th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G 42-31213 ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’, 2nd Lt. Douglas Clarke Van Weelden

Operation: Halberstadt (Mission #380), Germany

Date: 30th May 1944 (Tuesday)

Unit No: 359th Bombardment Squadron (H), 303rd Bombardment Group (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17G Pistol Packin’ Mama

Serial No: 42-31213

Code: BN:Z

Location: 6 km (3¾ mls) west of the Helmstedt-Mariental airbase, Germany

Base: Molesworth (Station #107), Huntingdonshire, England

Pilot: 2nd Lt. Douglas Clarke Van Weelden O-809898 AAF Age 26. PoW *

Co Pilot: 2n .Lt. William A. Sysel O-819211 AAF Age 21. KiA

Navigator: 2nd Lt. Robert Walter Saumsiegle O-710324 AAF Age 21. PoW Unknown camp

Bombardier: FO. Ronald Judson Vincent T-1946 AAF Age 19. PoW Unknown camp

Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Ralph Eugene Ledogar 32766822 AAF Age 20. KiA

Engineer: S/Sgt. Philip Alfred Olander 19086526 AAF Age 22. PoW **

Ball Turret: Sgt. Urban Leonard Raterman 17121891 AAF Age 20. PoW *

Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. William Kennedy Forsythe 13126702 AAF Age 26. Murdered (1)

Tail Gunner: Sgt. John K. Barry 32983857 AAF Age 19. KiA

One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.

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

** 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).

2nd.Lt. Van Weelden’s crew (assigned 4th May 1944)

Back L to R: S/Sgt. Olander, S/Sgt. Ledogar, S/Sgt. Forsythe, Sgt. Raterman, Sgt. Hohn Welch (Waist Gunner), Sgt. Barry; Front L to R: 2nd Lt. Van Weelden, 2nd Lt. Sysel, 2nd Lt. Saumsiegle, FO. Vincent. (Courtesy: Michel Beckers).

Sgt. Hohn Welch was not included on this mission.

B-17G 42-31213 'Pistol Packin’ Mama' (Courtesy: US AAF)


On the morning of the 30th May 1944 Pistol Packin’ Mama took off from Molesworth on a mission to bomb the Junkers aircraft plant and airfield at Halberstadt in Germany.

An after action statement described that as the formation crossed the Dutch coast #2 engine of the Pistol Packin’ Mama started to smoke which caused it to drop back from its #2 position to the #6 position of the low squadron. After dropping its bombs the smoke from the #2 engine worsened and the engine was subsequently feathered. From this moment on the Pistol Packin’ Mama progressively dropped behind the formation. On the second bomb run the aircraft could not make the turn and lagged behind the formation.

Pistol Packin’ Mama was last seen near Nordhausen at 11:52 hrs. The aircraft was then attacked by German Bf109’s after which 2nd Lt. Van Weelden ordered the crew to bail out. German records reported that the aircraft crashed at Rennau which is some 6 km (3¾ mls) west of the Helmstedt-Mariental airbase which was 5 km (3 mls) north of Helmstedt, and immediately NE of the Mariental village.

From the Individual Casualty Questionnaires (ICQ) it has been determined that all of the crew bailed out of the aircraft.

German records reported that S/Sgt. Olander and Sgt. Raterman were captured on the afternoon that day at Brome, 36½ km (22½ mls) north of Rennau. Flight Officer (FO) Vincent was captured near Gardelegen at about 19:00 hrs that day, 44½ km (27½ mls) NE of Rennau.

2nd Lt. Saumsiegle was captured on the afternoon of the next day, on the 31st May, at Barwedel, 27 km NNW of Rennau. 2nd Lt. Van Weelden was captured in the early morning on the 4th June, when he was found lying on a bench in the waiting room at the Peine railway station, which is about 44 km (27 mls) west of Rennau.

German records and information provided by interrogators at Dulag Luft implied that 2nd Lt. Sysel, S/Sgt. Ledogar, S/Sgt. Forsythe and Sgt. Barry were found at the crash site of the aircraft. This was refuted by 2nd Lt. Van Weelden in his ICQ which stated that all of the crew bailed out of the aircraft in quick succession after being ordered to abandon the aircraft at about 13:00 hrs. He remained with the crippled aircraft for some 5 to 8 minutes and flew the aircraft out of the area from where the crew had bailed out. He speculated that the four airmen had been killed by hostile action on the ground after they had landed. However, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 2nd Lt. Sysel, S/Sgt. Ledogar and Sgt. Barry have not been established at this time.

(1) The circumstances surrounding the death of S/Sgt. Forsythe were unknown until a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany on the 4th and 5th November 1947.

The court charged two German nationals that they did, at or near Helmstedt, Germany on or about the 30th May 1944, wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States Army, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.

The two charged were Otto Behme who was the former Bürgermeister (Mayor) and Ortsgruppenleiter (Local Nazi party group leader) of Helmstedt, and Waldemar Feldmeier who was a former Kreisorganisationsleiter (A Nazi party functionary position at the district level) at Helmstedt.

The court heard that on about the 30th May 1944, an American airman, believed to be S/Sgt. William K. Forsythe, ASN 13126702, landed by parachute uninjured near the town of Lelm, Germany (7¾ km (5 mls) SSW of the aircraft crash site). He was mistreated by members of a Bombenentschärfungskommando (Bomb Disposal squad) but he only sustained minor injuries. He was then taken to Behme’s office where his details were registered. Behme and a Gendarme (policeman) named Timmer then took the airman by car to the Landrat’s (Head of administration for a district) office at Helmstedt.

The Landrat and a Gendarmerie Hauptmann der Polizei (Police captain) named Crome ordered Feldmeier to follow the police vehicle carrying Timmer and the airman on the road toward the nearby Helmstedt-Mariental airbase and kill him in a forest along the way.

On a signal from Feldmeier’s car both vehicles stopped. They were then driven 17 m (55 ft) to 25 m (80 ft) along a side road and halted again. Feldmeier ordered Timmer to walk along the road with the airman and after about 20 paces Feldmeier killed the airman with a shot through the heart from the back. Feldmeier then fired two or more shots into the body of the airman. His body was then loaded into Timmer’s vehicle and he was ordered to take the body to the Helmstedt-Mariental airbase where it was unloaded by soldiers outside of the airbase.

Behme was acquitted of the charge. Feldmeier was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The court heard that Feldmeier had been found guilty in a previous case for participating in the killing of four Allied airmen in similar circumstances to this case for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Feldmeier was executed on the 5th November 1948.

The two men who ordered the killing of S/Sgt. Forsythe were not before the court. The Landrat of Helmstedt at that time was a man named Karl von Hinüber who was interned by the Americans on the 29th April 1945 and died on the 4th May 1945. It is not known why Crome was not before the court.

Burial Details

German records document that 2nd Lt. Sysel, S/Sgt. Ledogar, S/Sgt. Forsythe and Sgt. Barry were buried in the Rühen cemetery on the 31st May 1944 at 11:00 hrs, 30½ km (19 mls) NNW of Helmstedt. However a second group of German records document that S/Sgt. Ledogar and S/Sgt. Forsythe were buried at the Foreigner cemetery located at the Helmstedt-Mariental airbase on the 30th May 1944 at 16:00 hrs. It has not been possible to determine the reason for this discrepancy

Left 2nd Lt. Sysel: (Courtesy: Fred- FindAGrave), Right S/Sgt. Ledogar: (Courtesy Michel Beckers)

2nd Lt. William A. Sysel. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium, Plot H, Row 7, Grave 168. Relocated to Plot B, Row 31, Grave 25. Born on the 12th November 1922. Son to Anthony Joseph and Signe Margaret (née Blomberg) Sysel of New Rochelle, New York, USA.

S/Sgt. Ralph Eugene Ledogar. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium, Plot Y, Row 2, Grave 42. Relocated to Plot C, Row 2, Grave 39. Born on the 31st December 1923. Son to Ralph Raoul and Louise (née Schuppel) Ledogar of New Jersey, USA.

Left S/Sgt. Forsythe: Right Sgt. Barry: (Courtesy: Michel Beckers)

S/Sgt. William Kennedy Forsythe. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium, Plot HH, Row 10, Grave 240. Relocated to Plot C, Row 9, Grave 47. Born on the 20th October 1917. Son to William R. and Olive A. (née Zug) Forsythe of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, USA.

Sgt. John K. Barry. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Reinterred on the 20th June 1945 at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Plot III, Row 3, Grave 72 as X-1133. Relocated to Plot D, Row 6, Grave 10. Born on the 1st January 1925. Son to James and Helena Barry of New York, New York, USA.

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

RS & TV 02.08.2019 - Editorial update

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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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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