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Mission to Plauen marshaling yards
5 March 1945 | Friedland, Germany
The 388th Bomber Group of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 136, Knettishall, England. The group’s tail code was a square H. This large airfield was located on the southern side of the Little Ouse Valley between the villages of Knettishall and Coney Weston in East Anglia countryside. The main 50-yard wide concrete runway was 2,000 yards long and had two smaller intersecting runways. There were 50 hardstands, two large hangers and airfield lighting for night flying. Barracks were mainly Nissen huts dispersed in various sites south of the field near the village of Coney Weston.
A total of 38 B-17s were dispatched to bomb marshalling yards in Eastern Germany. Airborne between 05:40 and 06:37 hours, the Flying Fortress’ had little difficulty making formation over the continent. But because of cloud cover over the primary target, the lead and high group attacked the marshalling yards at Plauen, Germany using PFF methods. Bombing was done by squadrons with bombs away at 11:06 hours from 25,500 feet. 1st Lt. Ralph W. Kittle was the pilot of the B-17G 42-97542, “City of Savannah” of the 563rd Bomb Squadron. Kittle and his crew were on their twelfth mission and in the Hi-1-2 position. This was to be the second and last time Kittle flew the “City of Savannah.” On the way to the target area, Kittle and his nine man crew were hit by flak and suffered mechanical failure of their aircraft. Two engines were feathered. Kittle jettisoned his bombs to lighten the load but number 3 engine failed. Kittle was able to keep the aircraft under control and contacted the command pilot, stating he was going to try and land in Russian territory. He ordered the crew to bail out while maintaining level flight before bailing out himself. Kittle was wounded and captured by German soldiers. Four crew members were killed. The aircraft crashed near Friedland, Germany. Missing Air Crew Report 12926 was filed after the crew failed to return to base. Several of the squadron aircraft had to land in France for more gas before returning home to Knettishall, England
Ralph Wade Kittle, Sr.
1st Lt. Ralph Wade Kittle, Sr. (O-828187) was born on 19 July 1920 in Ringgold, GA., where his father was a partner in a lumber mill and cotton gin and the owner of several houses. After his father died in 1924, Kittle helped his mother and sisters by raising chickens and collecting rent from their tenants during the depression. He graduated from Catoosa County High School, attended Mercer University in Georgia and graduated from the University of Chattanooga in 1941. He worked briefly for the Tennessee Valley Authority while attending Chattanooga College of Law at night.
He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and attended flight school and officer training school in Colorado Springs. On 3 December 1944, Lt. Kittle was selected to fly the famous “City of Savannah”, the 5,000th airplane to be processed through Hunter Field, GA. The gleaming new B-17 bomber (seen at left) was paid for by Savannah’s citizens and schoolchildren. After a concert of military tunes, a prayer by the base chaplain for the blessings on the bomber, Kittle and his crew took off for England. The men and aircraft were assigned to the 388th Bomb Group at Knettishall. Kittle and his crew flew other aircraft during the first months of 1945. But on 5 March 1945, mission #272 was to be the last flight for 1st Kittle and the famous “City of Savannah.”
After his liberation, he returned home on 21 June 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster and the Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster. The Army Air Corps sent him to California to appear with Cary Grant and Dorothy Lamour at events to sell war bonds for the war in the Pacific, and he was discharged as a captain in October 1945.
Within day, he enrolled in the University of Virginia law school on the G.I. Bill, and lived close to the university grounds due to his wounds. He served on the managing board of the Virginia Law Review and was editor-in-chief of The Virginia Spectator magazine, as well as student assistant to the dean of the law school. He married Cornelia Ely and shortly after his graduation from law school in 1948, moved to New York City, where they lived for 25 years and raised their three children.
Kittle joined the New York law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwelol, where he specialized in labor law. In 1953, he became counsel to the Senate Labor Committee and Sen. Robert A. Taft, and worked on the drafting of the Taft-Hartley Act. For the next 32 years, Kittle worked for International Paper Company, first as a labor lawyer and later as vice president in charge of government relations. He opened its Washington office in 1970. In response to growing government regulation of the paper industry, he created and managed the largest corporate government relations program in the country, through coordinated constituent “grass-roots lobbying” by company employees in 36 states and 127 Congressional districts. He logged more than 2 million air miles, much of it on the shuttle, and was a familiar figure on Capitol Hill.
Kittle served as an advisor to numerous Congressional committees and advisory boards on legislative policy. In 1966, he was a participant in the National Conference on Air Pollution and, starting in 1968, he served three years as a member of the President’s Advisory Board on Water Pollution Control. In the 1970’s, Kittle became active in issues relating to education and employment opportunities for women and minorities. He was chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mary Baldwin College, a member of the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Women’s Center, a member of the Advisory Council of the Women’s Institute at American University, a trustee of Lee’s College in Jackson, KY and a member of the Education Task Force of the New York Urban Coalition. He also served as a special consultant on equal employment opportunity for the U.S. Department of Labor and a member of the Advisory Committee on Women to the secretary of labor.
He retired from International Paper in 1985, and became a counsel to the McNair Law Firm in Washington on government and legislation, and a member of the District Export Council of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was a member of the Folger Shakespeare Library Council and the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, and the Keswick Hunt Club. Kittle died at age 80 on 27 March 2001 in Keswick, VA.