16 February 1945 — Gütersloh, Germany
The 452nd Bomb Group, 731st Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 142, Deopham Green, England. Deopham Green was located 1 ¾ miles north of Attleborough in the forested and heathland area of Norfolk. The sign at the right was located at the entrance to Deopham Green. There was a 2,000 yard main runway with two intersecting auxiliary runways. Two large hangers, fifty hardstands and temporary housing for 2,900 men of the 452nd Bomb Group, was the home of the groups B-17 Flying Fortress’. The group flew 250 missions during the course of the war, losing 110 of the bombers.
On 16 February 1945, Mission #201 was scheduled for the marshaling yards at Hamm, Germany. The following account of the mission was detailed in “Missing Planes of the 452nd Bomb Group” by Edward Hinrichs, 3rd Edition, 1996.
The 452nd was picked for a very rough mission right after celebrating their 200th Mission party. Today the Group put up three squadrons, forming the lead, high and low squadrons in the 45th Combat Wing, consisting of 38 aircraft plus 4 Pathfinder aircraft to attack the briefed primary target; however the lead Group dropped in error. A close flak hit caused the lead plane to drop early but some of the planes held their bombs and dropped on Osnabruck instead of Hamm. The high squadron had fair bombing results as well as the low squadron. This seemed to be one of the days when nothing was working right.
Flak over the target at Hamm, over Munster and Osnabruck was meager, tracking and accurate, with 13 aircraft receiving min flak damage and 4 with major damage, one so badly damaged by flak that it had to be salvaged. No enemy aircraft attacked.
Pilot 2nd Lt. Frank S. Payne and his crew, flying plane 43-38698, were assigned the # 3 position of the lead squadron. Going over the target, their plane received its first damage at coordinates 510 45’N, 080 00’E, at 1320 hours. [43-38698 had tail markings of a “Square L.”
The ship spiraled down about 3000 feet. 2nd Lt. Payne feathered the # 2 engine and the plane seemed to level out momentarily before it started to make slow 3600 turns. It disappeared into the under cast sky.
The 3rd Air Division reporting section stated that fighters reported to them that at approximately 13:25 hours about 10 mile southeast of Cologne, a B-17 from the 452nd Bomb Group was seen to go down in flames. The aircraft crashed in an area between Gütersloh and Herzebrock, Germany. All crew members bailed out successfully. Missing Air Crew Report 12447 was filed after they failed to return home to base.
In November 1990, Lt. Frank S. Payne sent Edward Hinrichs the following description of the events that occurred on 16 February 1945 about the Hamm mission. In his own words:
This was my last combat flight, which I will go into considerable detail to cover. About 03:00 hours the Squadron C.Q. with flashlight in hand shook my shoulder and said “Lt. Payne, your crew flies today.” I lit a Chesterfield and crawled out of that warm sack and pulled on some clothes. I woke Bob Stuber and then started to get Clint Day awake. He was born to sleep. I tried to move around without bumping anything and headed for the latrine. With our flashlights we headed for the mess hall. We had powdered milk or coffee and sometimes we were served fresh eggs with toast instead of the usual powdered eggs.
After breakfast we hitched a ride by truck over to the briefing room. By now we are a little uneasy about the target we will be headed for today. At about 05:00 hours Col. Burnam Batson comes in and we all pop to attention. He gives us a quick talk and the briefing is turned over to the Command Pilot who will lead our Group today. We will bomb the marshaling yards at Hamm, Germany. It should be a milk run. The weather officer gave us details on cloud cover, winds aloft and at ground level with speed and directions. Also temperatures at altitude as well as what weather to expect when arriving back at Deopham Green. The lead navigator covers basic flight plan with headings, altitudes, time over the Buncher bomb load, arming procedure, number of bombs and weight load. Base G-2 intelligence officer filled us in on flak defenses we could expect, enemy fighter potential and tactics. Also the latest info on escape and evasion. The Command Pilot the reviewed the basic operations of the mission to be sure we all understood everything including starting time, taxi, take off times and that we be on the ball forming up. If no questions, we headed for separate briefings by crew functions: Pilots, Navigators, Bombardiers, Radiomen, Engineers, Gunners, etc.
After briefing we went to flight gear lockers and dressed appropriately for the occasion; wool uniforms, electric suits, wool socks, flying boots, Mae West, chute harness and chute, escape kit, helmet and goggles, oxygen mask and throat mike. According to Army regulations, you left all your personal belongings in you locker except dog tags. That day I didn’t. I had Lillian’s picture, my ago card, some English money in a billfold, a small penknife (my mother-in-law gave me) and a set of miniature dice.
We boarded a truck and rode around the perimeter strip to our aircraft parked in the revetment. We had just been assigned a brand new plane built by Lockheed Vega with about 70 hours and tail number 43-38698. It was still dark and foggy so we pre-flighted using flashlights. I remember walking up to the plane and the ground crew were running up the engines and the foggy vapors were swirling through the props. They topped off the tanks and it was then our aircraft.
Start engines and taxi time came and we trundled out around the perimeter track to the active runway. Usually 225, the main runway if the wind was right. Green flares went up from the control tower and it was take-off time. About every 30 to 60 seconds an aircraft started its run down the runway. A clearing turn was made from the runway and climb-out in trail made on the prescribed N.W. heading. After about 15 minutes, we ma a wide sweeping turn to the left onto a reciprocal heading towards the Buncher Beacon. We usually were formed up at about 18,000 feet in the area of Ipswich. From there we climbed at about 300 feet per minute. Over the channel it’s time to test fire our guns. Lyle Varnum, in the upper turret, liked to let loose right over the top of my head. The concussion was distracting, but it was nice to know that they were there and working.
Our flight path covered about 400 miles to the target. We turned from the east to a southerly course before the Initial Point. On the bomb run there was minor amounts of 88-mm flak but it was accurate. Our aircraft was flying off the left wing of the lead element of the lead squadron, a hot position! Just prior to bombs away I felt the concussion from a flak burst in front of and down below the # 3 engine. Bob Stuber started feathering # 3. I felt the ship jump at bombs away and then came a big jolt as flak impacted and exploded back of # 4 in the wing. The formation poured on the power and we dropped our gear and slid down and to the right. The Bomb Group mad a steep descending turn to the left and we were alone. Bob Stuber told me we had a fire in the wing behind # 4. We feathered # 4 hoping we might get rid of the fire or slow it down. I got up out of my seat to look and I could see oil streaming out of # 3 and the fire was boiling inside the wing. We had closed the bomb bays, retracted the gear, re-trimmed the ship and got stabilized. We took another quick look at the fire, which looked worse. We knew it was involved with fuel and would soon burn into empty Tokyo tanks in the outer wing panel. The loss of the outer wing panel would put the plane out of control with no possibility of bailing out due to G force in a spiral or spin. It was a fast and easy decision to bail out. I hit the alarm bell and told the crew to bail out.
I told Bob Stuber to take Lyle Varnum and to be sure that all the crew was O.K. and had bailed out. They gave me the O.K. sign and crouched down in the belly by the nose escape hatch. I had reset the power, adjusted the trim, go rid of my flak helmet, unplugged my headset, throat mike, heater cord and looked down toward the escape hatch and there were Stuber and Varnum looking down at all that thin air. I yelled at them and they rolled out. I had problems before I could leave the aircraft. The ship would quickly roll over into a spiral and I was afraid I might get trapped and go down with the aircraft and be burned badly before impact. I finally dropped the nose, pulled the power off on # 1 and # 2 and hopped down to the hatch door. I looked down and saw some red tile roofs through breaks in the clouds. I pitched overhead first and rolled out. The slipstream turned me over and I was lying on my back looking up and I could see # 698 off to my left flying into Germany on an eastbound heading. My goggles started flipping up and down on my face, so I pulled them down to get them anchored in place. I fell through a cloud layer and could see I was dropping fast as another cloud deck was coming up rapidly. As I came out in the clear I knew it was time to get my chute open. I gave the “D” ring a pull, but no results. The next yank brought out a good bit of cable with a loud pop and a rude jerk. I looked down and my sheepskin boots had almost snapped off my feet. I pulled them back up and hoped that chute harness would have had no effect on my potential as a father.
It was now very still. No roar of engines, no flak, no nothing. Just slow oscillations and a very peaceful feeling knowing you are still alive, but facing an unknown future. You will soon be among the enemy. I came out of the last clouds at about 4000 feet drifting sideways toward a small town on my right. I could see several big warehouse buildings with 2 or 3 rail spur tracks with freight cars. This small R.R. yard had been bombed recently as it was peppered with bomb craters. People running around like ants and they were aware of me too. My feeling were hard to describe. I was scared and a bit angry because I knew now I had no chance to escape or evade. A Bad Dream. I got hold of my chute shrouds and got turned enough to be facing the direction of drift, wind to my back. The earth came up very fast. I hit on the R.R. tracks between a warehouse and a line of box cars. A tough way to finish my combat tour with the 452 Bomb Group.
Payne was wounded and after his capture was sent to the hospital at Güetersloh. After their capture the enlisted men were interrogated at Werl Command and declined to make any statement. The dog tags of Grisham, Wolf, Varnum, Staton, and Koontz were confiscated. The airmen were then transferred to the American camp at Ausertestelle.