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Mission to Ruhland oil refinery
2 March 1945 | Fichtenberg, Germany
The 385th Bomber Group, 550th Bomber Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 155, Great Ashfield, England. Great Ashfield was located about ten miles east of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. The 385th Bomb Group was known as ‘Van’s Valiants’ after their first Commanding Officer, Colonel Elliott Vandevanter. The group flew 296 missions from Great Ashfield and lost 129 B-17s.
The mission for Friday 2 March 1945 included 1,232 bombers and 774 fighters which were dispatched to hit various synthetic oil plants and tank factories throughout Germany. The 385th dispatched aircraft from all three squadrons on this mission. The 550th Bomb Squadron was positioned as the low squadron and given the code nickname “Clambake George Lo.” During the early morning briefing, the crews were told that they would be flying over fighter fields of the Luftwaffe but were not expected to encounter much resistance. The weather that day was bad. The primary target was to be a Ruhland oil refinery, but heavy clouds diverted the group to the secondary target, a railroad marshalling yard at the southern outskirts of Dresden, Germany. The bombing altitude was set at 23,000 feet.
2nd Lt. Kenneth G. Tipton and his crew of the B-17G serial number 44-8417, were part of the mission which involved 406 aircraft. Tipton was on his third mission and his first with his crew who had just recently arrived in England. The lead and high squadron turned slightly short of the IP, but the low squadron saw the mistake and continued on to the correct checkpoint. This left a large gap in front of the low squadron. The official report stated the low squadron was “straggling” 2 or 3 miles behind the main group. The German Air Force took advantage of this break in the formation and attacked the low squadron. A group of six Folk Wulf Fw 190s and three Messerschmitt Me 109s fired their 20 mm shells and made several passes from the rear and side. Three B-17s in the low squadron were hit. Several other aircraft had to make emergency landings in France.
At approximately 10:43 hours, the Flying Fortress being piloted by Tipton was hit by flak over Oschatz, Germany. This was the second mission for the crew. The following brief description of events is chronicled in W.V. Varnedoe’s A New History of the 385th Bomb Group (H) page 91:
The escorting P-51s had also engaged the enemy and accounted for several shot down. On the bomb run, Tipton’s B-17 was knocked out during the first attack. The co-pilot, Ed Craig, recalls that they were hit in the radio room and the tail section, then sustained a burst in the main fuel tank. Nos. 1 and 4 were on fire, the turbos out and the controls were half-shot away. They began a split-S, but the auto pilot held them level enough for all to jump. The tail gunner, John, was killed on impact with the ground, but all the others were captured and sent to a prisoner camp. On the way to interrogation, Jack, the navigator, was hit in the mouth by a brick thrown by a civilian and had a tooth knocked out. Craig and Glenn, the bombardier were captured near Oschatz, then sent to Frankfurt for interrogation before being sent to a POW camp. At the time, no one saw any parachutes and many reported that the plane and exploded.
Eyewitnesses saw the aircraft fall back from the formation and almost immediately blow up. It fell through the clouds which were at 18,000 feet. No chutes were seen to open.
The crash location for the aircraft was near Fichtenberg about 18 kilometers northeast of Oschatz. Missing Air Crew Report number 12858 was filed when the crew failed to return to base. Seven other aircraft failed to return home that day.
Jack Maury Waller
2nd Lt. Jack Maury Waller (O-926868) was the navigator on the crew and it was his first mission. He was born on 13 January 1924 in Galveston, TX. After his capture by civilian policeman, Waller was paraded through the streets of the small town. A local bystander threw a brick and Waller was hit in the mouth, knocking out a tooth. He still showed evidence of the wound on his upper lip when his photo was taken at the interragation center Dulag Luft (Oberursel). After his liberation, Waller returned home on 28 May 1945 aboard the USS Marine Panther. He married Ora Lee Bennett. They lived in Ocean Springs, MS. Waller died on 23 December 1999 in Ocean Springs, MS.