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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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15th Air Force
772nd Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 44-8163, 2nd Lt. Philip K. Whitman

Operation: Vienna, Austria

Date: 13th February 1945 (Tuesday)

Unit: 463rd Bombardment Group (H), 772nd Bombardment Squadron (H), 5th Bombardment Wing, 15th Air Force

Type: B-17G

Serial No: 44-8163

Code: None allocated

Location: Schützen am Gebirge, Austria

Base: Celone/San Nicola d’Arpi airfield, Italy

Pilot: 1st Lt. Philip Kelley Whitman DFC, O-818258 AAF Age 26. PoW * (1)

Co-Pilot: 1st Lt. Leon Lewis Drake O-824729 AAF Age 20. PoW **

Navigator: 1st Lt. Ferdinand Charles Thiel Jr. O-723504 AAF Age 23. Survived/Murdered (2)

Bombardier: 1st Lt. Robert L. Stricker O-721911 AAF Age 24. Survived/Murdered (2)

Radio/Op: T/Sgt. James Evans Sanders 7086387 AAF Age 22. KiA/Murdered (2)

Engineer: T/Sgt. Robert Haynie Driver 34701274 AAF Age 24. PoW *

Ball Turret: S/Sgt. James Thomas McPadden 31289647 AAF Age 22. KiA/Murdered (2)

Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Lester William Smith 36871278 AAF Age 22. KiA/Murdered (2)

Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Charles James McDonald 34701250 AAF Age 24. KiA/Murdered (2)

Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Charles W. Anderson Jr. 36872525 AAF Age 23. PoW *

* Unknown Camp

** Stalag 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work Camps 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and 3368 Munich)

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the 13th February 1945 B-17G 44-8163 joined a force of 113 B-17s and 53 B-24s on a mission to bomb the south-eastern freight depot in Vienna. Smoke covered and obscured the target and the raid missed the depot but damaged buildings and a barge in the harbour. The flak was generally intense and accurate but only B-17G 44-8163 was shot down.

An after mission statement made by the tail gunner of the lead ship in the formation described what he witnessed:

“On 13 February 1945 I flew as tail gunner on the lead ship of our formation. Immediately after "Bombs Away". Ship #44-8163, flying able two, received a direct hit on their number three engine. The engine was severed just short of the leading edge of the wing and fell in flames. Shortly after, I witnessed the tail turret gunner bailing out. I did not see his parachute open up. The ship made a gentle peel off to the right and completed a turn of 180 degrees. During this time I noticed white smoke trailing out of the right wing. I watched the ship until it went out of sight. It seemed to be under control, and when last seen was heading towards the target area”.

A second after mission statement made by another tail gunner from the formation described what he witnessed:

“When on the bomb run about 30 seconds before bombs away, ship #44-8163 received a direct hit on the number four engine. The engine left the wing and the ship banked off to the right. About ten seconds after bombs away, ship #44-8163 salvoed their bombs and the pilot seemed to have control of the plane. There was bright heavy smoke coming from the engine mount but no fire was visible. The plane continued on its turn and I saw no chutes or men abandoning the plane. I had complete view of the plane until it was out of sight and no time did it seem out of control”.

Flak damaged a second engine setting it ablaze. The blaze spread and the aircraft became uncontrollable. 2nd Lt. Whitman ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. He together with 2nd Lt. Drake, T/Sgt. Driver and S/Sgt. Anderson Jr. survived and became PoWs.

Witnesses on the ground near Schützen am Gebirge in Austria saw a single aircraft trailing smoke flying toward Vienna. Shortly afterwards an explosion shook the entire area, leaving little more than debris falling to the ground and several parachutes visible in the sky. (Ref 1. p.284)

(1) 2nd Lt. Whitman was one of the last to attempt to abandon the aircraft, however, he became caught up in the fuselage and could not bail out. It was only when the blaze reached the fuel tanks causing an explosion that he was thrown clear of the disintegrating aircraft and parachuted to safety.

Philip K. Whitman (5th May 1919 - 28th September 2019). Courtesy of The Herald News, dated Tuesday October 1st, 2019.

(2) The fate of four of the six airman that perished was determined by a Military Commission held at Salzburg, Austria on the 29th and 30th January 1947. Two Austrian nationals were charged that they did, at or near Schützen am Gebirge, Kreis (district) in Austria, on or about the 13th and the 14th February 1945, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of four unknown members of the United States Army who were then unarmed, surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.

The two accused were:

Oswald Josef Rath who was a former member of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) and a Vormann (Trooper or Private) in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD)(Reich Labour Service) in Kreis Eisenstadt;

Franz Hofbauer who was a former member of the Wehrmacht and a Haupttruppführer (T/Sgt) in the RAD and was in charge of the camp armoury.

The Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) was a major organisation established in Nazi Germany as an agency to help mitigate the effects of unemployment on the German economy, militarise the workforce and indoctrinate it with Nazi ideology. It was the official state labour service, divided into separate sections for men and women.

The court heard that on or about the 13th February 1944, at approximately 12:00 hrs, an American airplane was shot down in the vicinity of Schützen am Gebirge, Kreis Eisenstadt in Austria. Before it crashed several American airmen parachuted to the earth and four of them landed safely near a local Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) camp.

Three of them were captured at different times during the afternoon and evening of that day and taken to the camp where they were interrogated and confined. During the late afternoon four guards of the camp, Reisinger, Steinmüller, Blauensteiner, and Rath, were ordered, by the deputy Commanding Officer (CO) of the camp, a man named Krone, to march two of the airmen (the third and fourth had not yet been captured) in the direction of Eisenstadt and to shoot them under the pretence that they were trying to escape.

Wilhelm Krone was a Oberfeldmeister (1st Lt) in the RAD;

Rudolph Reisinger, Franz Blauensteiner, Herbert Steinmüller held the rank of Vormann in the RAD and were all 17-year old youths at the time of the offences.

One of the airmen was marched away by Reisinger and Blauensteiner, who were in the lead, and the other by Steinmüller and Rath who followed shortly thereafter. After approximately 2 km both airmen were shot and killed. The airman shot to the left side of the road who had two bullet holes in his back had been in the custody of Steinmüller and Rath.

The bodies were loaded onto a wagon to be taken to the morgue of the church in Schützen. Before it moved off Rath looted the bodies and took a ring and a watch from one of the dead airmen. The bodies were buried about two days later at the cemetery in Schützen am Gebirge.

The third airman was captured later in the evening of that day and shot the next morning by Reisinger and Blauensteiner.

The fourth airman was not captured until the afternoon of the next day. Two guards from the camp had been sent out to search for him in a game reserve near Schützen am Gebirge where the airman had been seen. When the two did not return Hofbauer was sent to look for them. He met them at the edge of the reserve and found that they had the captured airman in custody. They asked Hofbauer what they should do with the airman and he told them they should bring him back to the camp. Arriving at the camp the airman was locked up in the guardroom.

Some time later, Seidl, the CO of the camp ordered Reisinger and Blauensteiner to take the airman back to the game reserve and shoot him under the pretext of recovering some of his buried equipment.Seidl then ordered Hofbauer to accompany them who followed a short distance behind the group. As they approached the forest the guards raised their rifles and shot the airman who died from two bullet wounds. They then looted the body and removed his watch, rings and other personal effects.

Hans Seidl was a Oberstfeldmeister (Capt) in the RAD.

The next day Krone dictated a report which stated that the airman had been shot and killed while attempting to take a rifle away from one of the guards. The body of the airman was buried one day later in the cemetery in Schützen am Gebirge.

Georg Hoffmann (Ref 1. pp 285, 286) established that the third and fourth victims were 2nd Lt. Stricker and 2nd Lt. Thiel Jr. However, it was not established which two of the four airmen, T/Sgt. Sanders, S/Sgt. McPadden, S/Sgt. Smith or S/Sgt. McDonald, were the murder victims. The remains of two of the four were found in the woods some days later and their deaths were assumed to be as a result of the aircraft explosion.

Although the two accused were found guilty of murder the court considered that in light of the fact that they were 17 years of age at the time of the offence and that they were acting under the orders of a man whose guilt was greater than theirs they were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment with hard labour. The final disposition of their sentences is unknown.

Hans Seidl, Wilhelm Krone and Herbert Steinmüller were never found and therefore were not before the court to answer for their part in the killings. Franz Blauensteiner was not prosecuted apparently because of his age and no information has been found regarding the whereabouts or situation regarding Rudolph Reisinger.

Note: Blauensteiner was also tried by the Austrians in a Volksgericht trial held in 1950 but again was not punished.

Burial Details:

Clipping courtesy of Evansville Press dated Friday May 18th,1951

1st Lt. Ferdinand Charles Thiel Jr. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Repatriated on the 21st May 1951 and interred at the Oak Hill Cemetery Section K, Row 126, Grave 6, Evansville, Indiana. Born on the 13th August 1921 in Indiana. Son of Ferdinand Walter ‘Fred’ and Bernadette (née Gootee) Thiel of Evansville, Indiana, USA.

1st Lt. Robert Lewis Stricker. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart.Repatriated and interred at the Evergreen Cemetery, Sect 59, Grave 234, Southgate, Kentucky. Born on the 6th October 1925 in Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky. Son of Clarence Edward and Frieda Alvina (née Sturtzum) Stricker of Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky, USA.

T/Sgt. James Evans Sanders. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Repatriated and interred at the Asbury Cemetery, Tremont, Itawamba County, Mississippi. Born 8th March 1922 in Alabama. Son of Fint Wheeler (pre-deceased him) and Mattie Sue (née Evans) Saunders of Memphis, Shelby, Tennessee, USA.

S/Sgt. James Thomas McPadden. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Long Island National Cemetery, East Farmingdale, New York. Born on the 27th February 1923 in New York City, New York. No further details.

Above: Grave marker for S/Sgt. Lester (Courtesy of Dominique Potier - FindAGrave)

S/Sgt. Lester William Smith. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot A, Row 34, Grave 30. Born on the 21st May 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. Son of Lee S. and Mary Gail (née Dudley) Smith of Detroit, Michigan, USA.

S/Sgt. Charles James McDonald. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Repatriated and interred at the Baptist Cemetery, Monroeville, Alabama. Born on the 31st December 1920. Husband to Pauline A. (née Abercrombie) McDonald of Pritchard, Mobile, Alabama, 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’.

Reference(s)

1. Fliegerlynchjustiz (Gewalt gegen abgeschossen alliierte Flugzeugbesatzungen 1943-1945) - Fallstudie XXIV: Die Fliegermorde von Schützen am Gebirge (13. und 14. Februar 1945) - Georg Hoffmann - ISBN 978-3-506-78137-6.







RS & TV 19.03.2022 - Initial upload

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