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December 19, 1943 - Innsbruck Austria - Mission 110
The original mission plan was to destroy the Messerschmitt Development Plant at Augsburg Germany. The first alternate was the B.M.W., plant at Munich, Germany. Because of weather the Group chose the third alternate, the marshalling yards at Innsbruck. Col. Rice leading the Group had to turn back because of engine failure. Maj. Kutchera, 429th Squadron Commander, leading the second wave, was deputy commander, but the first wave had pulled away so far that he could not catch up and assume the lead. His wave of ten airplanes salvoed their bombs near Hall, Austria, trying to catch up and because they were being attacked by fighters. 1st Lt. Samuel Covert, of the 96th Squadron, who had been flying Col. Rice's right wing, took over Group lead. His wave of seventeen planes dropped its bombs near small towns east of Innsbruck. The mission was very confused indeed.
The enemy, always looking for a disorganized formation, came in with Me-109s, Me-110s, Me210s, Me-410s, and FW-190s. A running thirty-seven minute fight developed, and three of the Group B-17s were shot down. Group gunners claimed eighteen enemy fighters destroyed.
20th Squadron pilot, Lt. John C. Williams and his crew in airplane 42-5427 went down after seven enemy fighters concentrated their attack on them. The entire right wing was on fire and the airplane went down thirty-one miles east of Bolzano, Italy, where it crashed into a mountain and exploded. Other crews counted at least nine parachutes exiting from the stricken airplane. Lt. Williams and lower turret gunner S/Sgt. Howard E. Richardson were killed. All the rest of the crew became POWs. After his release from POW camp, 2nd Lt. Gail P. Hoffman, CP, stated that he knows nine men left the plane on William's bailout order, but Williams was still at the controls holding the airplane straight when he last saw him.
2nd Lt. Robert D. Peterson and crew, 429th Squadron in plane number 42-5409, "Lydia Pinkham," were shot down about seventy-six miles southeast of Bolzano, Italy. The airplane had number 3 engine on fire and fell behind the formation where the fighters swarmed on it. Seven to nine chutes were counted by the Group crews. Radio gunner, S/Sgt. Allen T. Bennett died, while all of the other crew members became POWs. Tail gunner S/Sgt. Roy K. Snyder was the last one to talk to Bennett before he died. German soldiers claimed he was shot while trying to escape but Bennett said he was shot while coming down in his chute.
The third airplane lost was number 42-3065 piloted by Lt. Henry S. Vogel 429th Squadron. It was last seen 93 miles southeast of Bolzano. The enemy fighters concentrated their attacks on this unfortunate crew, causing a fire in the right wing. The airplane was out of control and one witness said it did at least one complete barrel roll before diving vertically into the clouds. Only two parachutes were reported, but the observers were so occupied at the time fighting the enemy, they could not watch closely. The following men were killed in action: 2nd Lt. Harry R. Ludwig, CP; 2nd Lt. Paul (NMI) Leland, N; 2nd Lt. Donald F. Parks, B; S/Sgt. Earl E. Bengston, RWG; and S/Sgt. James H. Redick, Jr., TG. All of the rest were captured and became POWs.
Pilot Vogel made the following report after his release from POW status, "My plane was struck by flak over the target. The two left engines were knocked out, and the left wing burst into flames. At the same time the plane was subjected to severe strafing by enemy fighters. Fire broke out in the radio room... With only one aileron and the horizontal stabilizer left and two engines not functioning... I ordered the crew to bail out over the inter-phone, but received no answer, so I cannot be sure it was working at the time. I also employed the warning bell. I was equipped with a seat type parachute and found that the control panel was so far back that I could not get out of the seat with the pack on. Since the copilot had a chest type parachute, I requested him to hold the controls while I removed the harness, got out of my seat, and replaced the chute. This circumstance placed me in the area behind the seats. With the wing on fire and an explosion sure to come, it was necessary to utilize every second of time... I ordered him (the copilot) as I fastened on the harness, to follow me back to the bomb bay, our most practical point of exit. As I turned away from him, I saw him swing around in his seat to the left as though to follow me. I immediately crawled through the upper turret and into the bomb bay and jumped without a minutes hesitation to clear the way for the copilot whom I presumed was behind me. I blanked out, came to enough to pull the ripcord, and blacked out again from the shock of the opening chute. Then when I recovered consciousness, I saw parts of the wing and fuselage sail past. This led me to conclude that the plane blew up almost immediately after I jumped."
S/Sgt. George O. Solesbery, UTG, [Upper Turret Gunner also Top Turret] and S/Sgt. William W Boyer, ROG, [Radio Operator - Gunner] exited the plane together through the bomb bay as soon as the bailout order was given. S/Sgts. Donald J. Lewis, LTG, [Lower Turret Gunner] and Edward J. Fennessey, LWG, [Left Waist Gunner] were blown out of the plane when it exploded, landed safely, and were captured. S/Sgt. Lewis said that S/Sgt. Earl. E. Bengston, RWG, [Right Waist Gunner] was with him in the plane when it exploded. Sgt. Bengston did not survive. One of the survivors saw S/Sgt. James H. Redick Jr., TG, [Tail Gunner] dead in the waist. He had been wounded earlier at his gun position. None of the survivors knew what happened to copilot Lt. Ludvig, the navigator, 2nd. Lt. Paul (NMI) Leland or the bombardier, 2nd Lt. Donald F. Parks, but none of the three survived.
Missing Air Crew Report - 1519
Statement of 1st Lt. Robert D. Peterson, Pilot, after liberation: "We were about 30 miles from the Adriatic when we left the formation. Everyone left the burning plane. The engineer and officers exited the nose hatch. The other men used the bomb bay as the rear hatch was too hot from the flames. I believe the plane crashed within 20 miles of Udine".
"I believe one of the other crew members saw Sgt. Bennett on the ground. While I was in the Udine Hospital, the authorities questioned me about the identification tags of Sgt. Bennett. As a security precaution, I disclaimed any knowledge of his identity and thus was unable to learn the story of how Bennett was shot. From actions of the Germans, I would say that they, or the Fascist soldiers, shot Bennett on the ground. He was not injured, as I understand from other crew members, when he bailed out."
Statement of S/Sgt. Roy K. Snyder, Tail Gunner, after liberation: "Sgt. Bennett was the first to bail out near Udine. I was the last to talk to Allen before he died. He was shot by German soldiers. The German said he was trying to escape after hitting the ground but he told me he was shot in his chute while coming down. I'll take his word before any Krauts. Later, a German came to me and said Allen had died around 7:00 p.m., December 19th, 1943."