16 February 1945 — Germany
The 323rd Bomb Group, 453rd Bomb Squadron of the Ninth Air Force was based at Station A-83 Denain/Prouvy, France. This airfield was south east of Lille, France and just 10 miles from the Belgium boarder. The area was an industrial center, once famous for making lace but now was producing steel. The “White-tailed” Marauder Group moved to this new base in early February 1945 from its old base at Laon, France. The 453rd Bomb Squadron was first housed in tents but was later able build permanent structures. The adverse winter weather created many problems in changing the base of operations but the group was able to fly nineteen missions. Their mission was to disrupt transportation, paralyze aircraft production, collapse vital railroad spans and shatter busy marshalling yards.
The B-26 Marauder’s of the 323rd were flying bombing missions deep inside of Germany and straining the operational fuel limits of the B-26 Martin Marauder. Missing Air Crew Report No. 12405 has an eyewitness account from the pilot of B-26B-30-MA “Ticklish Percy II” which crashed on 16 February 1945. The aircraft had identification markings of VT-K.
I, Virgil L. Keffer, 1st Lt. A.C. 0-668006, Pilot of Aircraft No.; 41-31899, 16, February, 1945 on Bombing mission into Germany pulled about 2300 R.P.M. and 35 to 40 inches all the way to the target, and did not drop bombs on first pass over the target, so we made a second run. From the time we passed over the target the first time until I ran out of gasoline about one hour later, were pulling about 2500 R.P.M. and 45 to 50 inches. We left the bombay doors open all the way around until after we dropped our bombs on the second pass. A short distance after leaving the target, two other aircraft called the flight leader asking to slow down and told him that they were running low on gasoline, he refused.
About fifteen minutes before I ran out of gasoline, I called all personnel aboard aircraft and told them to come up front and prepare to bail out; they did. The left engine ran out of fuel first and after seeing it would run no more, I feathered it. About one minute later the right engine ran out of fuel, and I told the crew to bail out. The opened the bombay doors and went out the bombay. I stayed with the plane for about 6000 feet of its descent after running out of fuel, feathered the other engine, trimmed it up and went out of bombay close to two minutes after the others had bailed out. I saw the plane crash. It did not burn.
I landed in an open field with no injuries except a slight bruise. I stayed in that area until I got reports from Third Army that they had seen my crew bail out and all chutes open successfully. The Third Army reported the men landed in Germany’s Seigfried defense line. I got transportation back to my home base by Automobile.
From page 325 of the book Marauder Men by Maj. Gen. John O. Moench, USAF (Ret) comes the following account of the events after the crew bailed out:
Staff Sgt. Vernon L. Berg landed about 20 miles inside of Germany in the middle of a camp area on the German front. He and Tech Sgt. Carroll P. Doss were taken to a POW camp near Frankfurt. [En route] they had hot tea and coffee thrown in their faces and were spit upon by the German people who were near them. Lt. Milton J. Moscowitz, being a Jew, was given especially brutal treatment by his German captors. Doss and Berg ended up together in a German prison camp Stalag VII, Nuremberg. Postwar comments by Vernon L. Berg described the prison camp.
The barracks were long, one story buildings with a 6 foot by 3 foot space on the floor for each man with 5 gallon buckets for toilets. The lice were terrible – no showers – and there was very little to eat. Our weight went down fast. [With the Russians advancing toward the camp] in the first part of April 1945, we were ordered out and force marched several days, often 18 hours a day with the only food being a slice of bread and some potato soup, to a camp near Moosburg where on April 29th, we were liberated by Gen. Patton’s tanks with C-47’s flying us out to Le Harve.