Bad business on the way to Blechhammer
Six crewmen from “853” survived.
“853” is a Douglas-Tulsa B-24H-15-DT Liberator, s/n 41-28853, attached to the 783rd Bomb Squadron, 465th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force.
Aircraft was flying lead for the 55th Bomb Wing on the 20 November 1944 mission to bomb Blechhammer, Germany with the 781st Bomb Squadron’s commanding officer at the controls and the Group navigator in the plane.
The plane was hit by AAA between the #2 engine and the fuselage while over the target and the wing started to come apart as the crew bailed out. Six of the crew managed to parachute safely but six were trapped and killed.
Lt Col. Clarence J. Lokker – pilot (KIA) [killed in action]
Capt. Milton H. Duckworth – copilot (POW) [prisoner of war]
1st Lt. Joseph P. Kutger – navigator (POW)
1st Lt. Robert M. Hockman – bombardier (POW)
1st Lt. Grosvenor W. Rice – bombardier (KIA)
2nd Lt. Joseph S. Whalen – radar bombardier (POW)
T/Sgt. Lee R. Billings – engineer/top turret (POW)
S/Sgt. Edmund J. Miosky – radio operator (KIA)
Sgt. James A. Bourne – gunner (POW)
Sgt. Jack Rabkin – gunner (KIA)
Sgt. Paul H. Flynn,Jr. – gunner (KIA)
On November 20, 1944, the 465th BG took off at 0742. The bomber formation formed up at 5000 ft at setting up a course to the target at 0841. During the inbound leg, a heavy overcast had been observed, and it was not sure whether the primary target could be bombed. Already over the Initial Point (IP), it was decided that the formation could turn to bomb the secondary target.
A few moments later, the visibility started to improve and suddenly the target appeared down between the clouds. Since the entire formation was already bound for the secondary target, a 270-degree turn was ordered to return to the IP. Lt. Col. Lokker also decided to climb from 22000 ft to 23000 ft to avoid the large caliber flak. The message about the maneuver was passed to the 464th BG flying behind.
Just before the bomb run Lt. Col. Lokker’s plane received a direct hit between the no.2 engine and the fuselage. Left wing started falling off, the aircraft rolled over, and the bomber immediately burst in flames. That very moment had been captured on the heading photo.
Sitting inside the “Liberator,” just behind the pilot (rearwards to the flight direction), was Lt. Whalen. Next to him, facing the flight direction, was Kutger with his radios. Kutger knew that the plane was mortally wounded for through the waist window he noticed the wing falling off.
He knew also that all that left was 2-3 seconds to leave the plane. He shouted to Whalen to abandon the ship, but Whalen was either wounded or killed, since Kutger saw no reaction in his eyes. Kutger grabbed chute with his right hand and jettisoned the bomb load with the left.
Right after that he jumped into the bomb bay, at the same time trying to put the chute on. He’d been falling through 20000 ft before he finally succeeded. He pulled the handle and after just a couple of swings under the fully opened chute he touched the ground. He was convinced that no one else made it from the bomber.
Lt. Col. Lokker quickly gave up attempts to save the bomber and left it through the top hatch. Rabkin, in the top turret, had just removed his seat and was leaving the ship when the plane suddenly tumbled and he fell back in. He hadn’t made it before the plane exploded and most probably was killed in flames.
Duckworth tried to get out through a waist window, but failed when the plane started spinning. He crawled to the top hatch, grabbed the top turret’s barrels and bailed out. When leaving the bomber, he noticed Hockman and Rice still in the nose of the falling plane.
Hockman managed to put the chute on and got out through the nose wheel bay. Rice had been navigating from the nose turret and got trapped without his chute.
Most probably, when the electric installation failed, he could not leave the turret and had no time to put a chute on. Bourne, Billings, and Miosky were in the rear, at the waist guns. Miosky was last seen standing over the escape hatch with his chute on.
The explosion of the aircraft had probably thrown him away from the hatch and he got trapped in the ball of fire.
The same explosion threw Bourne and Billings out. They could not remember the moment they left the ship, but falling down they both managed to open their chutes and land safely. They both were severely burned and wounded. Bourne recalled that he was standing at the waist guns, trying to get to the tail gunner.
He couldn’t do that because of flames. Next moment he could recall he was pressed against the top of the fuselage when the plane started tumbling. The subsequent explosion threw him clear, with a partly torn parachute and some ropes protruding from the pack.
At first, he tried to put them back in, but he could not remember when he pulled the handle. Somehow, he remained conscious, despite his severe burns. He lost an eye and broke a leg when landing.
Actually, he landed on the refinery they’ve bombed and was captured immediately. He spent a month in a hospital at Blechhammer. Right before the Soviet advance troops came, he was moved to the hospital in Bad Soden. He spent rest of the war on recovering from wounds and numerous skin transplants.
Flynn was trapped in the tail turret without a chute and had no chance to abandon the ship. Meanwhile, tragedy in the air continued…
…Flak over the target was heavy, intense and accurate. Smoke screen laid by Germans obstructed the target until some 40-50 seconds till bomb run. The deputy lead bombardier finally managed to see the synthetic fuel plant and, at 1227 bombs had been released. The formation failed to leave the target area as scheduled because the lead ship (Lokker) was shot down and the deputy lead received serious damage.
The other wingman to Lokker’s plane was Ernest Taft. His bomber was hit soon after the lead ship, went into a dive and exploded. No chutes were seen. However, Taft and his navigator managed to escape. According to Taft, their top turret gunner bailed out without a chute, he either forgot to put it on or chosen that instead of dying in flames.
During interrogation, Taft was told that his crew had been captured by civilians. He was told that his co-pilot bailed out too, but Taft never saw him again. German reports captured after the war revealed that a number of airmen were lynched by civilians. This could explain the fact that Taft never saw any other crew members besides the navigator and that the Germans presented him with some personal articles belonging to his mates.