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Mission 209 to Gelsenkirchen rail yards
16 February 1945 | Hardenberg, Holland
The 401st Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 128, Deenethorpe, England. Deenethorpe was located east of Corby on high ground south of the village of Deenethorpe. The 6,000 foot runway and two 5,200 foot cross runways, two T2 type hangers and fifty hardstands was home of the B-17 Flying Fortress’ of the 401st Bomb Group. The group flew 255 missions during the seventeen months they were at Deenethorpe. The 401st had the distinctive “Triangle S” code markings on the tail of their aircraft.
Mission 209 took place on 16 February 1945 to the railroad marshaling yards at Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Thirty-seven crews plus one lead aircraft crew from Kimbolton were briefed in the early morning. The assembly point was to be over the Kingscliffe Buncher at 10,000 feet. All operational aircraft were airborne by 1054 hours, but the airfield was closed shortly thereafter by low visibility (ceiling 400 feet, visibility 1,000 yards). One aircraft was forced to abort and another was diverted to Ridgewell. The railroad marshaling yards at Glesendirchen, which were of great tactical importance to the Wehrmacht, were bombed through much smoke and haze. The results were poor to fair but much damage was done to the city.
From the 615th Bomb Squadron, pilot 1st Lt. Ernest Arden Hansen and his crew were briefed for the operational mission at 07:00 hours. They would be aboard the B-17 aircraft 42-97869 “Maid to Order” with identification markings IY-A. The website “Remember our Heroes” from Holland has a detailed account of the events that happend that day. A portion of that account:
10:54 When they reach the North sea, Togglier James L. Morrison removes the safety pins from the 12 bomb, each 226 kilograms.
13.40 Target is in reach.
13:42 Morrison looks through his “NORDON” bomb aiming equipment and finds the right target “BOMBS AWAY” Brunson gives the signal that all bombs are on the way and the bomb doors are closed. Hansen turns the B-17 180 degrees and set course to northwest to the rally point. The crew members are relieved and on their way home. But then the flak starts shooting heavily. Morrison sees how 3 B-17s are hit over Gelsenkirchen. Then suddenly, there is a hard explosion at the right wing, the tip of the wing has been shot away. The tail gunner, Leroy M. McKnight reports of fuel coming out of the engine and Hansen tells Raymond A. Miller to transport the fuel to the left wing. Everyone starts hoping if they still have enough fuel to cross the North sea. Then Hansen sees that the right wing is on fire. As soon as possible he leaves the formation not to endanger the other planes. He changes his course to southeast not to crash in the Ijsselmeer.
14:30 Hansen gives the command “BAIL OUT” 7 men jump out of the plane and seconds later the plane exploded. But unfortunately Hansen’s parachute caught on fire by the burning wreckage and the brave pilot did not survive. The remaining 6 are safe but 5 of them are captured by German soldiers.
An eyewitness account by 1st Lt. R.F. Whitney states, “the plane was hit in the right wing by flak. The right wing was on fire and smoking badly. Eight of the crew were definitely seen to bail out; the plane turned on a 180 degree heading before the last man came out. This was probably the pilot.” According to the Missing Air Crew Report 12444, seven crewmen bailed out. Staff Sgt. Karcher stated he bailed out with Miller, Morrison, McKnight, Greenberg and Chuderswicz. However Lt. Hansen’s parachute failed to open and he was killed. Records from the MACR state: “The Germans informed some members of the crew that they had found the body of Lt. Hansen, his parachute having failed to open. Lt. Hansen’s body was handed over to the Dutch Red Cross at Oswadl, Holland, for burial.” The radio operator and ball turret gunner did not make it out of the plane and were killed. The aircraft exploded before it hit the ground near the hamlet of Reheezerveen which was part of the town of Hardenberg, Holland. All who made it safely to the ground were captured except the engineer, Raymond A. Miller, who was able to evade capture and return to Allied forces.
Alonzo Albert "Lonnie" Karcher
Staff Sgt. Alonzo Albert “Lonnie” Karcher (36751903) was the waist gunner. He was born on 20 March 1924 in Dahlgren, IL son of Anton and Bertha Karcher. He married Rita M. (Rubenacker) Karcher (1928-2008) on 22 November 1951 in Piopolis, IL. They lived in Decatur, IL. He was a sheet metal worker for 40 years at A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, a member of St. James Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus #577 and American Legion Post 105. Karcher died at age 64 on 18 September 1988 in Decatur, IL.
Leroy Miles McKnight
Staff Sgt. Leroy Miles McKnight (34795493) was the tail gunner. He was born on 7 October 1919 in Alabama. He graduated from high school. He enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Corps on 2 November 1943 at Camp Blanding, FL. He married Tommie K. McKnight. He later lived in Millport, AL. He died in February 1974 in Atlanta, GA.
James Lowry Morrison
Staff Sgt. James Lowry Morrison (17181731) was the togglier. He was born on 28 December 1925 in Missouri, the son of Lloyd F. and Edna B. Morrison. They moved to Washington, IA where his father was manager of the local telephone company in 1930. Morrison graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 15 January 1944 at Camp Dodge, Herrold, IA. He married Mabel. They lived in Rochelle, IL. They now reside in Cocoa, FL.