MACR: Missing Air Crew Reports
Documents Reveal Many Grim Stories
By Allen Ostrom
When a World War II air crew failed to return home, and the eye witnesses provided convincing evidence that they had been shot down, little time was wasted in clearing out their personal belongings from their Nissen hut or tent.
Early that morning they were there. Full of life, cocky and confident.
Then gone. The hut now is strangely quiet and different. Someone has already slipped in and picked up their things. The photos are gone. The clothes on the rack are gone. The boots under the bunk are gone. The .45 that “Shorty” was so proud of is gone. It has all been cleaned out.
Silently, as if questions are forbidden, the ones in the hut who did make it home go about the tasks of rearranging their quarters. One will move to a bunk away from the drafty door. Another will lay claim to the choice bunk in the corner where one of the “missing” guys had built a neat writing desk.
And the drama will continue. Another mission tomorrow and soon the names of the “missing” guys will hardly be remembered.
Once a crew was listed as missing there was precious little information forthcoming as to their status. Just missing.
Sadly, some crew members simply never did find out what happened to the men who one day turned up missing. If they were lucky enough to come home from the war healthy and unscathed there were more important tasks at hand. School, job, marriage, family ...
News about the killed in action, wounded, prisoners, missing, became a distant dream. And then all but forgotten.
Some didn’t forget, however, and their efforts are recorded in military archives called Missing Air Crew Reports (MACR). Only through these reports has it been possible to learn what really happened to some of the B-17 crews after they were plucked from the skies by sharp-shooting German fighter pilots or flak gunners far below.
The statisticians of the Air Force remained “on the job” until the last shred of information on each crew member was filed and recorded. For a time, it was just a matter of putting each piece of information into a file folder and giving it a number. Eventually, each piece of paper was put on microfilm or microfiche.
Sixty-two crews from the 398th have MACR numbers. There are also reports without numbers on three crews that went down in England (DeCleene, Meyran, and Searl) and the crew that crashed while on a training flight at Rapid City (Kiernan).
Each microfiche contains up to two dozen pages of information on the missing aircraft. Eye witness reports, crew loading lists, home addresses and next of kin; types and numbers of machine guns aboard, bomb load, German reports on killed, wounded and captured, burial sites, etc.
These are grim statistics, representing for the most part painful memories. To be sure, there are many reference to former buddies once thought dead who turned up as prisoners of war.
But then there is the reality of discovering that seven crews on the Missing Air Crew Reports went down without a single survivor. These are Charles Searl (600) who crashed near Bovingdon, England; Ben Rolfe (601) whose crew was flying the popular B-17 “Ugly Duckling;” Bill Meyran (603) who crashed on take-off and exploded in the moat surrounding the former castle at Anstey; Thomas Foster (603) who took a direct hit in the tail over Munich; James Fields (602) who was on the way to Brux, Czechoslovakia, when flak caught two engines and he had to turn back. They never made it. It is believe the plane crashed in the Baltic Sea as they tried to make it to Sweden. John McArthur (603) was hit over Peenemünde, the German rocket research facility on the Baltic. The ball turret gunner on the John Ryan crew, William Coombs, offered this report to Intelligence upon returning home — “Four bursts completely covered the McArthur plane’s left wing. Suddenly the ship quivered, shook and belched forth a large red flash. It went into the Baltic Sea in a power dive.” Lyle Doerr (602) apparently had trouble from the beginning, as he never made it into formation, but crashed into the Channel.
Six crew members became the sole survivors on their downed aircraft — Robert Templeton, 600 waist gunner, (William Wells crew); Dave Bancroft, 603 tail gunner, (Perry Powell); Frank Gnasdowski, 601 tail gunner, (John Ingram); Doyle Borchers, 602 waist gunner, (Dallas Hawkins); William Hamor, 602 radio operator, (Harry Connolly); and Selmar Haakenson, 603 tail gunner, (Donald Christensen).
Ira O’Neal of the 600th was the pilot on the very first 398th plane to be lost in combat. This occurred on May 19, 1944 on the way to Berlin. There were two survivors, George Graham and Howard Baer.
One pilot, Kermit Pope of the 600th, probably said, “Thanks a lot,” if he saw 600 CO Bruce Daily after the war. Pope had flown 10 missions with the 379th at Kimbolton when he was transferred with his navigator, Walter Poole, to the radar navigation school at the 482nd.
Meeting Daily in London one day, Pope suggested he and Poole would like to get out of the school assignment and back into combat. Daily said, “Leave it to me,” and proceeded to get them transferred to the 398th and into the 600th. The first mission Pope and Poole flew with their new crew they were hit over the target at Misburg and ultimated made a forced landing in German occupied Holland.
On one of the many infamous Mersebürg missions — November 2, 1944 — tail gunner William G. Jones of the 603 Herb Newman crew took out an ME-109. Moments later, in a second attack, the Newman plane was rocked by cannon fire and Jones and three comrades were killed. The crash occurred near the city of Eisleben, better known as the birthplace of Martin Luther.
Among the unusual stories found in the MACR’s concerned William Hendrickson, assistant gunnery officer for the 8th Air Force. He had gone along as observer on the Russ Conrow crew of the 601st on a trip to Magdeburg on September 28, 1944. Hit at the IP and with a fire in the bomb bay, Hendrickson was forced to bail out with the other nine airmen. But not before he had to be released from a sling he had set up for himself to “observe” from the waist. And not before he removed his heated felt boots and put on his GI shoes!
Stendel was the prime training field for the Germans in developing the jet-powered fighter, ME-262. A mission there on February 22, 1945, stirred up a single 262, who proceeded to knock out “Beatty’s 8-Balls” of the 600th. This would be the Hubert Beatty crew.
Beatty and his fellow officers were killed. The togglier, Urie Zook, survived the bail out, only to be killed later by the strafing American P-47 while he and others were on a PW train.
Among the many “little friend” comments to be found in the MACR concerns Lowell Thompson of the Mahlon Erickson crew of the 602nd. All nine crew members bailed out during an attack on a bridge at Bingen on December 29, 1944. Nearing the ground, an ME-109 began circling Thompson as though lining him up for a burst of machine gun fire. Along came a P-51 and chased him away.
At the same time, Adolph Huesgen was being fired on from the ground. Once he got unhooked from his chute, Huesgen took off and didn’t stop running until he found some friends from the U.S. 89th Infantry.
Help in the form of heroism was noted on the reports. On the Sam Palant plane of the 601st during the April 13, 1945, “RDX” mission the tail gunner happened to be a gunnery officer flying on of his required six missions. Orie Hedges, in the tail, was injured by flak. Waist gunner Byron Cunningham responded to his urgent call on the intercom, dragged Hedges back to the waist and put his own chute on him as the plane was on fire.
Cunningham pushed Hedges out the waist door, then crawled back to the tail to retrieve Hedges’ chute and finally bailed out himself.
The words, “Pennell was a hero” are placed on a MACR by a survivor on the Tommy Thompson crew of the 600th. Pennell came out of his ball turret as his ship began its death plunge. Seeing waist gunner John Namey injured, Pennell hooked on his chute and tossed him out the waist door. Pennell then apparently tried to check on the crew up front, but went down with the aircraft. George Gagne, radio operator on the Thompson crew, bailed out successfully. And landed in the middle of the PW camp on the outskirts of Dessau, the mission’s target city.
An English gunner aboard a rescue amphibian called the “Walrus” made a valiant attempt to save a crew member from the Lyle Doerr crew that crashed in the Channel. The amphibian landed near the crash site, found one crewman navigator John Walker, struggling in the cold water. Unable to pull him aboard, this unnamed British gunner dove into the Channel and tried valiantly to save him. He finally had to give up the attempt as he became too exhausted to continue. The B-17 was called “Boomerang” and the crash site was 16 miles off Beachy Head. The pilot of the “Walrus” was “Flight Officer Robinson.”
The Missing Air Crew Report scenario continued until the very last mission flown by the 398th. It is ironic that two B-17’s went down on this day — April 25, 1945 — but doubly so in that both were hit by flak on their second pass over the target, the Skoda Munitions Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
This mission was the last heavy bombing mission flown by the 8th Air Force in World War II. And there are those who assume that the Skoda Works were targeted for destruction in order to keep the plant and its equipment out of Russian hands. As a favor to Winston Churchill.
To the members of the 602 crews of Paul Coville and Allan Ferguson the political overtones of the mission were lost in a few brief moments of flak, flame and death.
Unexpected dense cloud cover caused Air Commander Michael Robinson to order a 360 and another run on the target. This time there was a brief clearing and the Skoda Works came into view for a visual attack. It was a highly successful run and the flak was described as “inaccurate and moderate” for three squadrons, but “accurate” for the high squadron. Indeed it was!
Seconds after “bombs away” the Coville aircraft caught a flak hit directly behind #3 engine. Ball turret gunner Charles Walker reported a hole in the wing and gasoline pouring out. Walker was ordered out of the ball turret by Coville while he and co-pilot Robert McLaughlin tried to feather #3 prop.
Fire then broke out and soon the engine exploded, spreading fire over the entire wing. The wing folded back over the fuselage and then tore loose. The aircraft went into a series of end over end spins and finally exploded.
Coville, McLaughlin, Neil Bartimus (navigator-togglier) all bailed out the front hatch. Charles Rawlings went out the tail door and Norman Markel (radio) and Harry Overbaugh (waist) went out the waist door. Before jumping, Markel responded to a “Help me!” from Walker, assisting the ball turret gunner with his chute. Although apparently ready to jump, Walker might have been pinned to the fuselage as the aircraft began its violent spinning. He never got out.
The survivors landed near the German - Czech border and all made their way to the nearby Allied lines. One member, Overbaugh, was even given directions by two German soldiers!
The same tracking anti-aircraft that had the high squadron of the 602nd zeroed in caught the Ferguson B-17 a moment after picking off Coville.
This time there were only two survivors, William O’Malley and Harry Mazer.
Unable to get out of the stricken craft were Ferguson; co-pilot John Halbert (his first mission); navigator-togglier Howard Feldman; and Joseph Heustess, engineer.
Flak caught the left wing of Ferguson’s aircraft and it went into violent spins. The official mission report suggests that the pilot might have been hit. The ship went into a steep dive with smoke streaming from #2 and #3 engines. As it disappeared into the clouds three falling bodies were seen.
There were four — O’Malley, the ball turret gunner; Mazer, waist gunner; Michael Brennan, radio operator; and Byron Young, tail gunner.
Young and Brennan were both “found dead,” according to German reports.
O’Malley and Mazer came down on a hilltop near a city and were taken prisoner immediately. For 13 days they spent retreating with the Germans through the Sudetenland and into Austria. The day the war ended they were in a Wehrmacht army camp between Linz and Salzburg.
Thus, the war for the 398th came to an end.
The Coville and Ferguson crews would become the penultimate and ultimate crews to be shot down during the group’s tour of duty with the 8th Air Force.
O’Malley and Mazer would become the last crewmen to bail out of a stricken B-17. The last to be taken prisoners.
Just as it was in he beginning of the war ... or later in the tour ... some lived and some died.
- 398th Missing Air Crew Reports
- Crew Photos for some of the Crews mentioned above:
- Berry's Crew - 601st Squadron - 20 March 1944 includes Lt. Raymond Thornton. It appears that Lt. Raymond M. Thornton took over the Berry Crew.
- Blackwell's Crew - 601st Squadron - 6 August 1944
- Brodin's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Spring 1944
- Buzza's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 9 September 1944
- Connolly's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 25 September 1944
- Coville's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 12 March 1945
- Doerr's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 12 August 1944
- Dwyer's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Early 1944
- Ellis' Crew - 603rd Squadron - 5 March 1945
- Folger's Crew - 600th Squadron - May 1944
- T.K. Foster's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Early 1944
- T.K. Foster's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Early 1944 -2
- Hadjes' Crew - 601st Squadron - Early 1944
- Hopkins' Crew - 603rd Squadron - 28 May 1944 Includes Captain Myer C. Wagner, Squadron Operations; Major Robert K. Simeral, 398th Group Operations, and Captain Carlton C. Moore, Squadron Bombardier
- Khouri's Crew - 603rd Squadron - circa September 1944 Includes Lt. Charles E. Khouri Flight Commander, Lt. Jack E. Kutchback, later 603rd Lead Bombardier, and Lt. Frederico Gonzales 603rd Flight Commander.
- Lehner's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 1 August 1944
- McCormick's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 26 December 1944
- Newman's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 15 August 1944
- O'Neal's Crew - 600th Squadron - April 1944
- Palant's Crew - 601st Squadron - September 1944
- Pinner's Crew - 603rd Squadron - March/April 1945
- Powell's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Fall 1944
- Shirk's Crew - 602nd Squadron - February 1945
- Russ Reed's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 28 October 1944
- Wade's Crew - 601st Squadron - July/August 1944
- Weekley's Crew - 601st Squadron - Early 1944
- Weekley's Crew - 601st Squadron - 8 July 1944
- Wilson's Crew - 601st Squadron - May 1944
- Wismer's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 1944
- Wright's Crew - 600th Squadron - May 1944
Originally printed in 398th Bomb Group Remembrances by Allen Ostrom, pages 91-92, published 1989.
The MACR: Missing Air Crew Reports: Documents Reveal Many Grim Stories article above was extracted from Flak News Vol. 24 No. 4 October 2009. That October 2009 article was a reprint of the original Remembrances article.