16 February 1945 — Obersholven, Germany
The 303rd Bomb Group, 427th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 107 Molesworth, England. Molesworth was located on open rolling farmland 10½ miles west of Huntingdon in the Hunts countryside. Molesworth was one of the early Eighth Air Force stations and home to the 303rd which was know as “Hell’s Angels.” The tail markings for their B-17s was a triangle C.
Strategic operations for the Eighth Air Force on Friday, 16 February 1945, included 1,042 bombers and 197 fighters to attack benzol plants, oil refineries and marshalling yards inside Germany. Eight bombers were lost that day.
One of those lost was a B-17G serial number 43-39081 of the 427th Bomb Squadron piloted by 1st Lt. Robert M. Wertz. The Wertz crew is seen in the photo at right in November 1944 before they were assigned to the 427th Bomb Squadron.
The target for the Wertz crew on 16 February 1945 was the synthetic oil plant at Langendreer, Germany. As they approached the target at about 28,000 feet, eighteen aircraft dropped 351 250-lb H.E. M57 bombs with poor results. Low clouds and contrails made it difficult to visually seen the target. The first run was unsuccessful. A second bomb run was made from a different direction but heavy and intense flak hindered the operation. The B-17G being flown by Lt. Wertz received a direct hit in its No. 1 engine. The explosion caused the engine to break away from the wing and collide into the fuselage near the waist window. The result was a large hole in the side of the aircraft before the engine fell away. Momentarily out of control, the pilot was able to regain control of the aircraft. With so much damage and loss of power, the plane lagged several miles behind the formation and dropped almost 10,000 feet in elevation. The pilot called for the crew to bail out. The plane crashed near Obersholven, southeast of Kleve, Germany. Three crewmen were killed. The remaining crewmen were captured and became prisoners-of-war. Missing Air Crew Report 12439 was filed when the crew failed to return to base.