The 398th Bomber Group, 600th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 131, Nuthampstead, England. Nuthampstead was the nearest Eighth Air Force heavy bomber base to London and also one of the most isolated. It was situated in the sparsely populated Hertfordshire countryside 460 feet above sea level on rolling terrain known as the East Anglican Heights. The 398th BG arrived at Nuthampstead in late April 1944.
Mission number 152 was flown on 22 February 1945 to the marshalling yards at Stendhal, Germany. Stendhal was also the prime training field for the Germans newly developed jet propelled fighter, ME-262. 1st Lt. Hubert F. Beatty, pilot and his nine man crew were aboard the B-17G 43-39128 nicknamed “Beatty’s Eight Balls.” The crew even had the logo of an eight ball on their flight jackets. The following eyewitness account of the events that day is from Missing Air Crew Report 12650:
At about ten minutes before the I.P., a ME-262 (jet propelled) enemy fighter hit a ship in our formation. From the nose I could see bursts of 30 mm shells, drawing my attention to Lt. Beatty’s plane. The bursts started at the radio room going up the fuselage to the left wing, then out the left wing, bursting flames commenced as the plane dived across our nose. The flames seemed to be more intense between numbers one and two engines. Later I noticed five chutes burst out of the plane. At about 5,000 feet the plane exploded.
Another eyewitness stated that the ME-262 fighter came out of the clouds and haze below Beatty’s Flying Fortress, made one pass from about seven o’clock and then peeled out into a steep climb.
Sgt. Alva Freeman bailed out but waited too long to open his chute and crash landed on top of a barn roof. The roof was constructed of tile. He received a cut above the eye. A local German family patched him up and fed him before German soldiers came to take him prisoner.
Beatty, co-pilot James R. Honaker, Jr. and navigator James E. Luna were all killed. All three were buried in the Ardennes cemetery. The others bailed out before the wreckage came down near Altendorf, two kilometers west of Brome and 40 kilometers northeast of Brunswick, Germany. The togglier, Staff Sgt. Urie H. Zook survived the bailout only to be killed when an American P-47 strafed the boxcar he was riding in on the POW train from Frankfort to Nurnberg.