Oberpfaffenhofen - 21 July 1944

© Copyright Annette Tison 2017 - All rights reserved

On 21 July 1944, the 2nd Air Division’s B-24s were dispatched against airfields and aircraft factories near Munich. The 14th Combat Wing was aimed at the Argelsried Airfield at Oberpfaffenhofen. At their briefing, the 392nd’s enlisted men were told, “There is only one important building left at this target, but clearing of the damage, repairing, and carrying on of production continues here. Production of ME-410, though not as efficiently as before, is being carried on to capacity with what the Germans have left.”

The briefed route “should be comparatively flak free” but enemy fighters were “possible with penetration of this sort.”

Luftwaffe

According to the 392nd’s post-mission teletype, “Formation was attacked on bomb run by 25 to 30 ME-109s. Main attack was at 1030 hours from low rear at 6 and 7 o’clock. Enemy aircraft [e/a] lined up 6 or 7 abreast and attacked singly, in pairs, and in threes. One group waited until formation was disrupted by flak, then pressed the attack.”

A later report said, “While awaiting opportunity to attack, e/a wove up and down. Thus attacks were from low, level and high depending on element attacked and position of e/a at the time. One group of ... ME-109s attacked from high right out of haze.”

A badly wounded Group returned to England, where battle damage kept three planes from landing at Wendling.

1/Lt Richard J. Benson crew, 579th

This crew reported several hits by 20mm cannon fire. Their left aileron was “completely shot out” at the target and there was a fire in the #1 engine’s fuel line. Other hits were in the tail turret, left waist, the oleo strut of the left landing gear, the putt-putt, and left rudder as well as flak through the nose turret.

Benson tacked on to the 44th BG but lost them in heavy clouds. He departed the continent over the Cherbourg Peninsula and was so low over the Channel that his Lib was fired upon by allied ships. After making landfall at Beachy Head, Suffolk, Benson finally found a grass landing strip at RAF Deanland. He lost control of the plane 400 feet from the ground but “slid it in” with no injuries.

1/Lt Kenneth A. Smith crew, 576th

Smith’s crew was attacked by four ME-109s in a line. The first enemy fighter shot down 2/Lt Henry F. Telken’s plane (also 576), then continued to press the attack against Smith. Per a 392nd BG press release, “From his waist gun position, S/Sgt Norman G. Rose fired almost incessantly at ME-109s attempting to break up an attack by the Libs on Oberpfaffenhofen. Knocking one down, he saw the others peel away as flak guns opened up. Shrapnel ripped through the fuselage, mortally wounding the other waist gunner [Sgt Robert B. Cumming]. S/Sgt Rose, kneeling over the dying gunner, was himself wounded. In a scream his crew still hears, the Sergeant said, “Oh my God, the sons-of-bitches have cut off my leg.” But through the shock and semi-stupor induced by his wound, the Sergeant noted more danger to his crew. The bomber was on fire. There was nothing within reach to put out the fire except the body of his old friend and crew mate. Nerving himself, Sergeant Rose rolled the dead gunner’s body over the spot where the smoke was thickest. The fire died; the crew and aircraft were saved.”

Copilot James D. McFarland later wrote, “We were attacked by fighters and just after the bomb run we had a near hit from 88mm anti-aircraft flak which knocked out our #3 engine, killed one waist gunner, blew the right leg off the other waist gunner and caused the tail gunner to have a nervous breakdown right then and there. We spent the next 3½ hours getting back to England, by ourselves and on three engines. We picked up a P-51 escort in southern France and he helped us by going down and strafing AA batteries who periodically tried to shoot us down. We finally made a crash landing on the emergency field at Manston, Kent, which was amazing since in the 3½ hours, the longest time we went without anyone firing at us was 13 minutes.

The P-51 pilot followed us in to Manston and we later shared a bottle of Scotch, which had appeared as miraculously as he had over southern France.”

[Editor’s note: That pilot was Capt Thomas J. McGeever, 359th Fighter Group. He too crashed at Manston, likely because he was out of fuel. He was killed in action on 21 Nov 1944. Sgt Cumming’s brother, Capt Herbert W. Cumming, was a P-38 pilot in the 20th Fighter Group; he had been killed in action on 7 Nov 1943.]

2/Lt Arthur L. Benson crew, 576th

Despite severe battle damage, 2/Lt Benson got his ship back to England and the entire crew bailed out near Thetford, Norfolk. One man sprained an ankle upon landing but the rest were safe. The plane finally crashed about one mile west of Old Buckenham, home of the 453rd BG.

Missing in Action

Three crews never made it back to England.

1/Lt John J. Menard crew, 579th

A 392nd eyewitness said 1/Lt Menard’s a/c was hit by enemy fire with the right wing badly damaged. He left formation about five minutes from the target and was last seen in a steep, banking dive with the #3 engine smoking. Eight men bailed out, all captured. Tail gunner S/Sgt Herbert L. Tubbs, wounded when a 20mm shell hit his turret, was last seen in the waist of the ship putting on his parachute. He was killed in action.

After his return to the US, copilot 1/Lt Jack G. Holmes wrote that some sort of posthumous award should be made to S/Sgt Tubbs. “On the last mission, I understand from other members of the crew that even after the tail turret was hit by a 20mm and was burning, that the tail gunner remained, even though wounded, and fired the one operating gun at enemy fighters attacking from that direction... If you can corroborate this from other members I hope you will, as I am sure his family would like to know that their son was made of the stuff that makes heroes.”

2/Lt Henry F. Telken crew, 576th

When last seen at the target, the #2 engine of a/c #42-94907 had been hit (almost knocked off the wing) and the plane was on fire and going down in a glide.

Only one man was able to bail out. Radio operator S/Sgt Harrison R. Cuzick landed in Oberalting, about 20 miles southwest of Munich near the east bank of Lake Ammersee He had bullet wounds in both lower legs with worse injuries on his left, where all five toes had to be amputated. He was hospitalized there for almost a month before being moved to a POW hospital.

After repatriation, he wrote, “We were attacked by enemy fighters from 3 o’clock. Just after bombs away I was in bomb bay; as I was getting on flight deck I was wounded. The navigator, 2/Lt James W. Bond, and bombardier 1/Lt Evan E. Tschudy, were under direct fire from plane. Pilot 2/Lt Henry F. Telkin and copilot 2/Lt Bonnie R. Puryear were not wounded as far as I know. The pilot gave orders to leave ship. It was on fire in bomb bay and we couldn’t escape except through top hatch. Our oxygen was gone and I was about gone. One pilot or copilot opened top hatch and left; the other was still in when I escaped. I didn’t see any other chutes but I was unconscious most of the way down. I do remember them shooting at me three times coming down.

The remainder of crew I know nothing about.” The plane crashed into shallow water about 15 feet from the northwest shore of the Ammersee near Utting. Parts of the plane were flung as far as 165 feet. The crew remains that the Germans found were placed in three coffins and buried in the cemetery at Oberschondorf.

In 1947, the Army recovered the remains of eight men from the wreckage in the lake. These remains, plus the ones initially buried in Oberschondorf, were interred in a group grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The headstone lists the names of the eight casualties.

2/Lt Richard J. Carey crew, 579th

Carey crew
The enlisted men in the Carey crew. Standing L-R: waist gunner Sgt Charles R. Marshall, tail gunner Sgt Jerome E. Kiger, and radio operator S/Sgt Joseph W. Love. Kneeling L-R: ball turret gunner Sgt Frederick R. Manchester and waist gunner Sgt Bertram Glickman.
Firemen in Ivel, Kentucky
Firemen in Ivel, Kentucky, fly an American flag over the route taken by Sgt Charles Marshall’s funeral procession. Firemen in Mannington, West Virginia, did the same thing for Sgt Jerome Kiger.

Plane #42-50433 was last seen leaving the formation presumably heading for Switzerland. It crashed between Starnberg and Andechs, about 10 miles from the target.

Six men became POWs. One, copilot 2/Lt Donald E. Ziegenhardt, later reported that the plane was on fire and the controls were shot up. Sgt Bertram Glickman, serving as the top turret gunner that day, was last seen standing on the bomb bay catwalk, wounded in the left side. German captors later took Ziegenhardt to identify his body. The copilot thought Glickman may have hit his head while exiting the plane because his ripcord was not pulled.

Sgt Glickmann was buried in a nearby church yard in Hadorf.

Soon after Sgt Kiger reported German fighters approaching, a direct burst of flak hit the tail turret. Kiger was thrown out of the tail turret and onto the catwalk, likely killed instantly. Sgt Marshall had been wounded in the legs by a 20mm shell. When he was last seen, by engineer S/Sgt Hugh L. Wear, Marshall was reaching for his parachute.

Survivors reported that Sgt Kiger and Sgt Marshall went down with the plane. No remains were found by the US Army and they were listed as Missing in Action for 69 years.

Missing No More

Markus Mooser lives in Starnberg. In 2007, a friend told him about the nearby crash site of a WWII aircraft. The two men searched for, and found, the site. Markus recalls, “When I was there for the first time, I felt, on this place died people and there is still something more. Parts of the aircraft you still can find on the ground. I immediately started my research.”

While looking for parts that would identify the ship, Markus found bone fragments.

By October 2007, he knew the plane was 2/Lt Carey’s. He also found an eyewitness who said when he was eight years old, he saw a plane drop from the sky and two men parachute out. A few days later, he went to the crash site and saw war prisoners loading a truck with wreckage from the plane. A motor was still burning. Near the crash site, the prisoners buried the few human remains they had found.

He described the burial location to Markus. When Markus investigated, he found some of those remains.

In 2008, Markus located relatives of the sergeants and began exchanging information and photos with them. They notified the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), whose mission is to account for all Americans listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action from past wars and conflicts.

In April 2009, JPAC personnel went to Starnberg and Markus turned over what he had found. The remains were brought back to JPAC’s laboratory in Hawaii for DNA testing.

During his research, Markus learned the 392nd BG had been attacked by five ME 109s from Jagdeschwader 300 (located in Bad Wörishofen). He is sure that German pilot Feldwebel Herrmann Blumör shot down the Carey crew. He was killed on 5 Aug 1944 when he crashed while being pursued by two P-51s.

During June and July 2012, JPAC returned and excavated the entire site. In April 2013, JPAC positively identified the remains as Sgt Marshall and Sgt Kiger.

Sgt Charles R. Marshall

Sgt Marshall, age 19 at his death, left behind a wife and one year old son. On 8 June 2013, his widow, now 89, and son, 70, attended his burial in Ivel, Kentucky. Full military honors were rendered.

The night before Marshall left Floyd County for the last time, he bought his wife an identification bracelet. He had their names—Bob and Dixie—engraved on it. As she put the bracelet on his arm, he promised that he wouldn’t take it off until he came home. Part of that bracelet, with the name “Dixie” still visible, was found during JPAC’s excavation of the crash site. It was returned to Dixie, a promise fulfilled.

Markus Mooser

Sgt Jerome E. Kiger

On 21 July 2013, the 69th anniversary of his death, Sgt Kiger was buried in Mannington, West Virginia, with full military honors. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin ordered all US and state flags to be displayed at half-staff from dawn to dusk that day. He wrote, “Sixty-nine years ago, Sergeant Kiger made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and today we honor his heroic actions as his remains are returned to American soil.” He also asked “all West Virginians to keep the Kiger family in their thoughts this weekend. They have waited a long time for this day and we hope the honors presented, during his memorial service, are representative of our state’s sincere appreciation for his dedication to our nation.”

Photo Left: At Sgt Kiger’s burial, Markus Mooser spoke of his six-year quest to ensure the remains he found in Germany were identified and brought back to their families.

Sgt Kiger was interred between his father and mother in a gravesite with a memorial headstone they had erected after he was declared killed in action. The funeral was attended by Kiger’s two surviving sisters, scores of relatives, and military and West Virginia government representatives.

Mission Accomplished

Markus was invited by the Kiger family to attend and speak at the funeral. “It was very emotional for me,” he said. “This was the moment when I felt Jerome was back home. And I touched the ground like I often did at the crash site.” For six years, he had been driven to return these American heroes to their families. “You can’t leave them unknown in the forest on a crash site in Germany; they have to come back to your country, and to their families.”

During the lengthy process, Markus says, “I found the right parts, the remains and the families, like I was guided through God’s hands.”

Sgt Kiger’s sister would agree with that assessment. When she looked at her brother’s flag-draped casket for the first time, she said simply, “I saw a miracle today.”