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Crash B-17 43-39081 MACR 12439


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Mission to Langendreer synthetic oil plant

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Wertz crew
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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 approximately 3.5 miles of Weeze, about 12 miles south 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.

  • Obersholven, Germany
  • 16 February 1945

Walter Cole Campbell

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Staff Sgt. Walter Cole Campbell (6575542) was the waist gunner.  He was born on 1 August 1918 in Cunningham, WA son of Walter Cornelius & Elzonia Cole Campbell.  He graduated from Waitsburg High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 16 October 1939 at Pope Field, Ft. Bragg, NC. He served for 13 years as a gunner.  Campbell was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. He then flew 50 missions over Africa before heading back to the States to become a gunnery instructor. He was then sent to England and the Eighth Air Force.  On his 25th mission over Germany, he was shot down.  After the war, Campbell was stationed in Japan.  He and one other crewmember were the only two survivors when their B-36 crashed at Fairchild Air Base in Spokane, WA.  He retired from the Air Force in 1952 due to disabilities received in that crash. He died at age 65 on 8 May 1984 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Seattle, WA. He was buried in the Waitsburg Cemetery, Waitsburg, WA.

Edward James Giering

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Tech Sgt. Edward “Radio” James Giering (11102375) was the radio operator.  He was born in 4 March 1924 in West Haven, CT son of Agnes M. Giering. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 17 November 1942.  After the war he continued to serve including a tour of duty in Korea with the U.S. Air Force, with the 1st Infantry Division, U.S. Army in Vietnam and he volunteered and served one month during Operation Desert Storm. This qualified Giering as the only 8th Air Force flier and World War II POW to serve in Desert Storm.  He retired from the service on 19 March 1991 as a lieutenant colonel. For his service, he received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Vietnamese Honor Medal and others.  Giering still owns the flight jacket he was wearing (seen at right) when he was shot down.  Giering was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “his heroic action.”  Giering and others from his crew including top turret gunner Ralph N. Warne who was killed in the crash, received the award at ceremonies at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum on 16 March 1997 in Pooler, GA. He wrote of his experiences during the war in the fictional book B-17 Bomber Crew Diary which was published in 1985. Giering lived in Clinton, CT and was active in POW and veteran activities.  He served as National Director of American Ex-POW and was later a veteran’s service officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs for Connecticut.

Giering died on 29 November 2009 in Clinton, CT.

Contributor: jkurtspence
Created: April 3, 2012 · Modified: January 5, 2015

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