29 Jan 1944 — WWII-96th Bomb Group(H) 413th Bomb Squadron
Kandl near Gusenburg (article written by Roland Geiger, St. Wendel, Germany) I have enterend the article for family research purposes.The article is an account of my Uncle's last flight and the sacrifice of life for the cause of WWII.
Article is as follows:
B-17 F-125-BO; Serial # 42-30859 Nickname: "Skylark"
96th Bomb Group (H) 413th Bomb Squad, based at Snetterton Heath, England
Pilot Louis C. Kandl 1st Lt 0-797550 KIA
Copilot Brandon J. Britt 2nd Lt 0-680599 KIA
Navigator Robert W. Stanton 2nd Lt 0-736416 KIA
Bombardier Albert Combs 1st Lt 0-2043755 KIA
Radio Operator Robert J. Scanlon TSgt 11094721 KIA
Top Turret Edward J. Knapp TSgt 13038641 KIA
Ball Turret Theodore A. Wagner SSgt 36275721 KIA
Right Waist Theodore D. Brown SSgt 32362081 POW
Left Waist Aaron E. Shoop SSgt 17077156 KIA
Tailgunner Charles E. Harbaugh SSgt 13145658 POW
Tailgunner Charles E. Harbaugh from Tiffin, Ohio, was the only member of Kandl's crew I could locate.
Dear Roland: I wish to thank you for your phone call and your letter and packet of information I received yesterday. The information is interesting and brings back old memories. I entered the service in November of 1942 and spent the next eight months training and was assigned to a B-17 crew as a tail gunner and aircraft armorer. In September of 1943 I arrived in England.
In January of 1944 the crew of the "Skylark" was assigned the position of squadron leader. On the morning of January 29, 1944 after being briefed and assigned the target of Frankfurt, during the warm up and preflight inspection of the aircraft, a mechanical problem developed. While the problem was being rectified by the ground crew, the squadron took off with the normally second plane in the lead.
By the time our plane was air worthy and we caught up with the assembling group, it was too late to take over the lead and we filled in farther back in the formation. After the bombs were dropped through a hole in the overcast (undercast to us) on what we thought was Frankfort we turned for home base. No friendly escort fighters appeared, but scores of German fighters did. They attacked the formation and tried to dive through the formation, a tactic used to loosen the defensive fire power and get a bomber on the side by itself. All of a sudden I heard over the intercom, "Look out"; then a crash and I was in the tail section alone, and the rest of the plane was gone. I had little trouble freeing myself but when I jumped and rolled over to open my parachute the tail section was following me down at nearly the same rate of speed I was falling. I waited as long as possible to open my parachute and somehow the parachute missed the tail section and we landed seconds apart in a small field. The tail section was not more than 200 yards away from me."
Staff Sergeant Theodore D. Brown, the right waist gunner, was thrown out of the plane when it was broken in two at the waist. He was wearing his chute and landed safely. After returning home after the war he was interrogated about the crash and reported:
"The collision happened about 11:45 Greenwich Time at an altitude of 23,000 feet on the way home near Belgium. Besides me only the tailgunner could bail out; he was in the tail which had been separated. On the ground I met two crew members of the other plane, the bombardier and one of the waist gunners.
Our pilot Kandl didn't bail out. He was caught in the ship. My last contact with him was during the usual interphone conversation. When I saw him last he was not injured. I think he must have been trying to straighten the ship out also he must have known the tail was off. The controls were out and the ship was falling.........
Ball turret gunner Knapp saw the wing ship coming toward us and started to warn the pilot but it was too late. The ship went into a dive and he was not wearing his chute and must have been trapped in the ship.
I saw Shoop, left waist gunner, the last time before I bailed out. He didn't wear his chute and I asked him if he wanted to put his chute on and he shook his head "no". Germans reported him dead. I think he either went out without a chute or stayed in the ship. I personally think he went out. The slipstream was cutting the ship and he stood near the edge.
Due to the crash of the other ship colliding with ours and breaking ours in two, radio operator Scanlon may have fell against something in the radio room and lost conciousness and did not go out."
Charles Harbaugh about his capture:
"At the edge of a field there was a line of tress, about 50 yards long, behind another field and then a hill. I threw my chute into the tail section of debris, passed the first field and hid under the trees. When I heard a search party approaching I left the trees on the other side to run across the second field toward the hills. Reaching the middle of the field, I saw a German soldier riding a motor bike around the edge of the line of trees. He shouted "Halt!" and I stopped at once. He rode to me and I became his prisoner. He asked for the chute, so we went back to the tail and took it. I wore my .45 pistol but didn't even think of pulling it. Furthermore the soldiers wore a weapon. He told me to walk on and showed the direction, so I walked. And he followed with his motor bike. The time must have been about noon." (Remember the weid couple as watched by Johannes Ganz).
"I was taken to a small village a short distance away. Times and distances are deceptive, especially after all these years. I do remember a column of smoke rising from the other side of a hill and what sounded like ammunition exploding in the fire. That evening one or two others and myself were taken by truch to a place where we met other American flyers and were kept over night. That is where I met Ted Brown, our waist gunner. He was thrown from the plane but had his chute on and was uninjured as was I. He drifted several kilometers away on the way down."
Anni Kaspar from Bierfeld knows about the capture of an American flyer near Bierfeld (Bierfeld is about 5 miles southeast of Hermeskeil). She was 24 years old. An American soldier landed in the forest near the edge of the village with his chute, was captured by some people and taken to the house of the mayor named Ramb, Anni's father. Someone for the town came and said: "Ramb, come on, take your gun and shoot him without further ado!" But Ramb was a veteran from World War One and knew how to handle a prisoner of war. The young American was led into the kitchen. His neck was injured and bleeding. Anni cleaned the the wound with water and bandaged it. Her mother had cooked some soup and the American was asked to eat something. He also was offered a pill against his pain. But he declined. A German soldiers who knew some English talked with him. But he didn't dare to answer. Finally Anni ate some soup and also took half of the pill as it didn't hurt her, he "surrendered" and ate the soup, comsuming two cups of it. Later some German soldiers came and carried him away.
He was not the only flyer to come down at Bierfeld that day. On the other side of Bierfeld another flyer landed - but without parachute and one of his legs missing. It was Estes from Sisler's plane. He was buried at Bierfeld Cemetery.
About him there is a paper from a KU-file #734 (filed at Oberursel at German Interrogation Center). It says:
"Flieger_Ersatz-Battalion XII Trier, Feb. 19,1944
Attached please acknowledge receipt of form #1 plus two dog tags from an American crew member shot down during the air battle above Gusenburg on Jan 29, 1944, and buried at the community cemetery of Bierfeld near Hermeskeil:
Montidier, Estes N. dog tag # 0-682161 T 43
The body was buried on Jan 29, 1944 at 1800 hours at the community cemetery of Bierfeld. Gravesite: Single grave in the left corner of the cemetery as seen from the entry. The grave is marked.
The next day we were put on a train and taken to the Dulag Interrogation Center In Frankfurt. After having been bombed a day or two before it is needless to say the civilians were not happy. We were protected by the army guards and were not mistreated at any time. After being interrogated by the Luftwaffe I was taken by train to Stalag Luft III near Sagan. I was in custody until January of 1945 when the Russians were moving into Germany from the east. At that time we were moved out and taken to Stalag VII A where I was liberated April 29, 1945.
I have never been able to get in touch with Theodore D. Brown. The remains of the crew members were returned to the U.S. in the late forties. I was notified by the War Department and attended the internment at a National Cemetery and met their next of kin but Brown did not attend and no one knew his whereabouts."
Hermann-Josef and Maria Wahlen from Gusenburg remember the plane wreck very well:
The crash site is located to the right of the road to Hermeskeil north of Gusenburg shortly after you enter the woods. In the middle of a small curve to the left a field path goes down to the right. Ten yards later you leave the field path to the left and there you can see the old road to Hermeskeil. Follow it 50 yards and you come to a tree-nursery with fir-trees. Here the main part of the fuseage crashed and burned out. The pilot and copilot died in the plane at their positions. People remember they were the size of little dolls. The ilot (Louis Kandl) was sitting at his controls, the control stick still in his hands. The copilot (Brandon J. Britt) sat near him, his hands holding a pouch. Both were carbonized from fire. About 250 yards away they found five more bodies. Hilegard Blasius from Blasiusmuhle saw another body, hanging from a tree under his chute.
A couple of years lago Edmund Schomer from Hermeskeil did research for a Roman temple not far away from the crash site and found live rounds of ammunition.
The bodies were recovered and buried at the cemetery of Gusenburg, identified by the dog tags they wore. After the war they were exhumed by U.S. collection teams and reinterred ath the huge military cemetery outside German soil. Most of them were returned to the states.
Kandl, Britt, Scanlon and Knapp could not be individually identified and received a group burial at Zachary Taylor National Cemeter, Louisville, Ky.
The wrecks were carried away and recycled. Aluminium was rare in those days and Luftwaffe needed airplanes.
Sisler's plane is gone but Kandl's Skylark you can find some bits and pieces. But more or less only small fragments a inches long. All that is left from a gib airplane. Some small fragments and this story.