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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.

We seek additional information and photographs. Please contact us via Helpdesk
12th Air Force
18.06.1943 437th Bombardment Squadron (M) B-26B 41-31603, 1st Lt. Roger L. Zeller

Operation: Olbia Harbour, Sardinia

Date: 18th June 1943 (Friday)

Unit No: 437th Bombardment Squadron (M), 319th Bombardment Group (M), 42nd Bombardment Wing, 12th Air Force

Type: B-26B

Serial No: 41-31603

Code: Battle No: Unknown

Location: 16 km (10 mls) west of Olbia Harbour, Sardinia

Base: Sedrata airfield, Algeria

Pilot: 1st Lt. Roger Lee Zeller O-659439 AAF Age 26. PoW/Escaped (1)

Co Pilot: 1st Lt. Albert Gordon Irish O-727220 AAF Age 23. PoW * (2)

Bombardier/Nav: 2nd Lt. Sam David White O-664853 AAF Age 23. PoW *

Engineer/Turret Gnr: S/Sgt. Russell Edward McClintock 39388728 AAF Age 24. PoW **

Radio Op/ Waist Gnr: T/Sgt. Carl Dale Piper 6936657 AAF Age 22. PoW **

Tail Turret Gnr: Cpl. Frank Alexander Raitto 11039915 AAF Age 35. MiA

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

** Stalag 17b Krems-Gneixendorf near Krems, Austria.

Note 1: The MACR for the crew of 1st Lt. Zeller records the incorrect serial number for the airframe. The correct serial number is #41-31603 and not of #41-18603. Additionally some publications attribute the ‘nickname’ Our Baby to #41-31603. However, the use of this ‘nickname’ appears to have been misconstrued from the photographed B-26B #41-31608 Our Baby AN:Q which was assigned to the 553rd Bombardment Squadron (M), 386th Bombardment Group (M), 9th Air Force when the photograph was taken.

Note 2: B-26B #41-31608 Our Baby crashed landed at RAF Lympne in England on the 26th November 1943 whilst assigned to the 8th Air Force. It was later repaired and assigned to the 9th Air Force. This has been confirmed from the research conducted by Russel McClintock who tracked down the record card for this aircraft which documents that it arrived in the UK on the 4th June 1943 and was assigned to the 8th and then the 9th Air Force completing its service on the 20th March 1946.

Above: The only known colourised image of B-26B #41-31603 (Courtesy of Russel McClintock)

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the 18th June 1943 the 319th and 320th BGs attacked the Sicilian port of Olbia. The latter group suffered no losses, but three Marauders from the 319th were destroyed. The mission had started badly when 2nd Lt. Harold Mesco's B-26B #41-18301 Dodo Bird II from 437th BS crashed on take-off at Sedrata.

12th Air Force B-25s had attacked the port of Olbia just prior to the 36 B-26s arriving over Sicily, so the port's defences were fully alert. The flak was intense, and Bf109Gs and Macchi C.202s also attacked the formation.

Another victim was 438th BS B-26B #41-18318, flown by Capt. John B. Beard, which was lost over the target. Two of his crew were KiA three became PoWs and one evaded. Upon leaving the target area, the bombers were again set upon by enemy fighters, and the flak-damaged 437th BS B-26B #41-18291, flown by 1st Lt. James L. Schoonover went down chased by a Bf109G. Its six-man crew parachuted into the sea but British Air Sea Rescue efforts found no trace of the airmen and were therefore reported MiA.

An after mission statement described the loss of B-26B #41-31603:

“Ship #41-31603 was behind the formation and trying to catch up. During this time it was under attack by enemy pursuit. Suddenly it started to stream white smoke as if there were large leaks in the gas tanks. Then the left engine began to burn and white smoke turned to black. The ship started to turn to the right and started climbing. It pulled up to a complete stall and fell of into a spin. Just before it stuck the ground it exploded and fell into three pieces, each flaming. During this time, at least three parachutes were seen to open”.

1st Lt. Irish bailed out immediately over the target from a height of 10,000 ft.

S/Sgt. McClintock, T/Sgt. Piper and Cpl. Raitto bailed out about 1 min after passing the target to the west from a height of 8,000 ft. S/Sgt. Piper and T/Sgt. McClintock both reported that they had seen Cpl. Raitto bail out and his parachute open but failed to deploy properly. He remained in their vision with his parachute streaming behind him.

2nd Lt. White followed by 1st Lt. Zeller bailed out about 2 min after passing the target to the west from a height of 4,000 ft.

There is some disparity as to the exact location of the aircraft crash. 1st Lt. Irish reported that they left the formation 42 km (30 mls) inland after leaving the target and 1st Lt. Zeller reported that the aircraft crashed 16 km (10 mls) west of the target in the mountains. The latter is the more likely location.

There are a number of publications that record Oberleutnant (1st Lt) Karl Rammelt from 4./JG 51 as having shot down #41-31603, however, the location attributed to his claim was given as some 85 km (53 mls) west of Botte. This would place the location in the Mediterranean as Botte is some 222 km (138 mls) SSW of the port of Olbia. It is probable that this claim is associated to the loss of 1st Lt. Schoonover and B-26B #41-18291.

The MACR indicated that the aircraft loss was attributed to enemy aircraft over the target, however, it is possible that the aircraft had suffered damage from the fighter attacks when trying to catch up with the formation which manifested over the target as described in the after mission statement.

There were a number of Italian fighter claims over Olbia for damaging a number of B-26s with one B-26 as a probable but it has not been possible to attribute the loss of the aircraft to a specific Italian pilot. The claims were made by pilots from 354 Sqn and 355 Sqn of the 24th Group, Regia Aeronautica flying Macchi MC.202s. Two B-26s were also claimed by Flak over Olbia.

(1) A statement made by the then Maj. Zeller in his Individual Casualty Questionnaire (ICQ) provides a description of the crews capture by the Italians.

‘”Lt. A.G. Irish was also captured as was Lt. Sam White. On the second day after capture Lt. White joined Lt. Zeller, Sgt. McClintock and Sgt. Piper as prisoners of the Italians in a small jail in Southern Sardinia. Lt. Irish was never seen during this time. The Italians reported to have found the bodies of two men answering the description of Lt. Irish and Cpl. Raitto and tried to discern whether or not they were crew members on my airplane. I did not disclose any information regarding this but supposed that they were both dead. However, on my return to active duty four months later I discovered that Lt. Irish was safe in a German prison camp. Therefore, the Italians were using a ruse to obtain information, but I do believe Cpl Raitto was killed because of information supplied by Sgt. Piper and Sgt. McClintock. Lt. Irish has since been repatriated by the Germans because of a back injury and is now in a hospital somewhere near the West Coast. It is suggested that an attempt be made to locate Lt. Irish and obtain a statement from him. Any further information gained by the undersigned will be forwarded immediately to your office”.

Note: Cpl. Raitto’s remains have not been recovered and he is still posted Missing in Action (MiA).

In his PoW report Capt. Zeller described the circumstances of his capture and subsequent escape and evasion:

Just before making the bomb run the aircraft was hit by Italian Reggiane Re.2000 fighters which shot out both engines and set the plane ablaze. All of the crew baled out safely.

Capt. Zeller suffered flak wounds to his leg and he hurt his back and neck when his parachute opened. He landed in the mountains where he found S/Sgt. Piper with a broken foot and nearby, S/Sgt. McClintock with flak wounds. Capt. Zeller suggested that their maps and escape money should be concealed by sewing the items into the collars of their jackets or in the lining. He was sure anything carried loose in pockets is sure to be taken by searchers.

While Capt. Zeller was hiding his men's parachutes, a sheep herder with a shotgun approached and motioned for him to follow. He escorted him to some nearby Italian soldiers. Other soldiers were sent back for the two wounded crew. They were all taken to an Flak installation at Olbia and questioned individually. Pictures were taken of them and food provided. From there they were taken to the airport at Olbia, confined, chained and shackled by the Italians and underwent a severe interrogation. That same night the Germans arrived and ordered the Italians to take off the chains and shackles from their captives.

On the 19th June 1943 under Italian guard they left Olbia by train to a town in south central Sardinia where they stayed until the 23th June 1943. There they met several other airmen from the same formation who were split up into small groups. From there Capt. Zeller was flown to the Rome airport and subsequently taken to Poggio Mirteto where he was held for 17 days. He was interrogated almost constantly and on several occasions cigarettes were denied him in an effort make him talk. He was then transferred to the Italian PoW camp PG.21 at Chieti.

On the 23rd September 1943 the American officers were moved from PG.21 to PG.78 Sulmona in trucks, where they arrived at 12:00 hrs. They spent the afternoon looking over the place with the idea of escaping that night, even though the Germans were in control of the camp. At 20:00 hrs Capt. Zeller together with 1st Lt. Van Epps, crawled through the wire and made their way for about 8 km (5 mls) from the camp where they hid out in the mountains all that day and all night.

1st Lt. John S. Van Epps O-727285 was the Co-Pilot of B-26B #41-18318, flown by Capt. John B. Beard.

They travelled by night and hid by day and finally took refuge in the shack of a mountain charcoal burner where they stayed for 9 days, expecting to hear news of the Allied advance. From the second day on they were in civilian clothes which they had obtained from friendly civilians. Unobserved by Germans, who were the neighbourhood, they kept to the mountains. On the 14th October 1943 came to a farmhouse in the hills just outside of Trivento, some 60 km (37 mls) SE of Sulmona, where they were taken into the care of Mary Nieman, an American who was married to an Italian, the owner of the farm.

Capt. Zeller reported that Mary had helped more than 30 Allied evaders providing them with food and money. He described that the farm as being about 10 to 15 acres in size and also that her husband, Giovanni Nieman, had lead parties of American and British evaders through the front lines.

Capt. Zeller and 1st Lt. Von Epps stayed at the farmhouse over-night and upon directions furnished by Mary Nieman, they left on the 15th October 1943 and crossed the British lines near Casacelanda, some 25 km (15 miles) ESE of Tivento. On the day they left, the Germans had located a gun emplacement not more than 800 m. (½ ml) from the farmhouse. From Casacelanda Capt. Zeller was relayed back to British 8th Army bases and returned to his base.

He was repatriated to the United States and transferred to the USAAF staff at the Pentagon in 1944 where he served until he was discharged in 1946. He was awarded an Air Medal (AM) on the 4th September 1943, the Purple Heart (PH) on the 15th December 1943 and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on the 9th June 1945.

Above: Courtesy of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, dated Aug 8th, 1997

(2) 1st Lt. Irish suffered a broken back bailing out of the aircraft. After arriving at Stalag Luft 3 and some excellent hospital treatment he was repatriated to the United States in March 1944.

Above: Courtesy of the Ventura County Star, dated Oct 14th, 1944

Above: Obituary courtesy of Los Angeles Mirror, dated Apr 18th, 1960

Albert Gordon Irish (16th September 1920 - 13th April 1960)

Burial details:

Above: Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, Tablets of the Missing

Sgt. Frank Alexander Raitto. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, Tablets of the Missing. Born on the 7th June 1908 in Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts. Son of Matti Elfraim and Rosie Wilhelmina (née Luomala) Raitto of Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts, USA.

His mother predeceased him in 1926 and his father died a matter of weeks after his son.

Researched by and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Feb 2023). Thanks to Russel McClintock, the Grandson of S/Sgt. McClintock, for his additional research and aircraft photograph (Jun 2023). Thanks again to Russel McClintock for the correction to the crew positions (Jul 2024).

Other sources listed below:

RS 11.07.2024 - Correction to crew descriptions

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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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