Old plane, new crew - the story of second US bomber over Olomouc(part 1)
About the crash of B-24J Liberator that crashed in Olomouc-Neredin I wrote in my last article.
Who would have guessed that another similar event will happen the next day. Crash of a Boeing B-17G serial number 42-32097
and named "Slipstream" was always a little bit hide in the shadow of the events of previous day.
18th December 1944 – Target: Odertal oil rafinery
Although the refineries in Upper Silesian were already bombed the previous day, these targets, to the surprise of the crew in Italy,
were in the targets list presented the following day too.
If U.S. planners were surprised by solid German fighters resistance the day before, could be calm on Monday.
German JG 300 Fighter group has been decimated and the amount of the airplane were very sparse. Luftwaffe is not against US units to deploy any larger forces. The resistance should consist chiefly of flak and technical failures.
Tortorella airbase, 99th Bomb Group homebase, was from the early hours of the morning busy. Bombers B-17 with
stylized diamond on the rudder were refueling and fully equipped to fight. At 5:35am the tired crew learn that their target for today is
Odertal oil rafinery. This unit participate in the raid by his 36 bombers, which fly together with 2 spare aircraft if someone fell off.
The 6:50am engines start is sheduled and shortly after that will resounding roar of number aircraft engines around the base. The pilots checked the machines and
taxiing soon to start.
‹ diagram of the final flight route of the 99th BG, blue line is a bomb group route, red line shows direction of German fighters attack. The red cross indicates the probable location of 42-32097 aircraft hit.
At 7:10am flips green flares into the sky and the leading aircraft, serial number 42-97733, with Colonel Wiper behind the controls
gave full throttle and starts with the runway. Within minutes starting all aircrafts. All the bombers that took off will form at 9:18am
huge formation and headed north to the first turning point - the port of Split, which has flown over 6095 meters height.
^ Rare photos of B-17G 42-32097 "Slipstream" at the Poltava airbase during the operation Frantic Joe at 19th September 1944
Boeing B-17G 42-32097 „Slipstream“
In the last flight of 99th Bomb Group flying the No. 3 position bomber Boeing B-17G named "Slipstream". Plane belongs to the 347th Squadron. The aircraft itself is already a veteran. The machine was manufactured in
the parent Boeing factory in Seattle, Washington at 1942. As a new machine was in the U.S.A. in February 1944 assigned to the newly formed 483rd Bomb group. Crews, as usual,
just named their new planes. Aircraft 42-32097 has been assigned to 2nd Lt. Glenn L. McSparrana´s crew. Crew named this plane "Sadie Hawkins" according to one of the characters from the comix Lil Abner
which drew well known cartoonist Al Capp.
Bomber with this crew completes move to Italy. There are, however, all new bombers seized and exchanged for old war weary machines.This all to crew´s unwillingness. Our bomber gets
after this exchange to 99th Bomb group. This group has intensively deployed and necessarily need replacement fleet of new bombers. New aircraft immediately took the mechanics.
After a series of modifications was painted black diamond with the letter "Y" signature of 99th BG to the aircraft 42-32097,the Roman numeral II will be added below the serial number- marking of the 347th Squadron.
The aircraft also receives a new name - "Slipstream," which means whirlwind, caused by in propeller of the aircraft.
‹ Mechanics team prepared 42-32097 to combat missions, the rubber deicer boots are removed
There is already a bomber named "Sadie Hawkins" in the 416th BS. Therefore the aircraft is renamed to "Slipstream".
According to superstition, which circulated among pilots, bomber renaming means bad luck. "Slipstream" however defied destiny and become one of the longest flying aircraft in the 347th Squadron. She participated in exactly 90
combat missions and before to the fateful 18th December 1944 could always bring his crew back home safely.
To the fight for the first time
Compared with the aircraft Sherwood Ruster´s crew sheer novices.
The crew first got together in late June 1944 on the base near the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. The crew were consist of:
|7.|| Pilot||2nd Lt Sherwood P. Ruster|| Michigan|
| || Co-pilot||2nd Lt Robert A. Brown|| Wisconsin|
|8.|| Navigator||2nd Lt Frank P. Piro|| ?|
|6.|| Bombardier||2nd Lt Paul E. Barselou|| Oregon|
|2.|| Top gunner/engineer||T/Sgt. William P. Moore|| ?|
|1.|| Radioman|| S/Sgt Walter G. Person|| Virginia|
| || Right side gunner ||?|| ?|
|3.|| Left side gunner ||Sgt. Roland D. Bergman|| Iowa|
|5.|| ball turret gunner||Sgt. Byron C. Anton|| Oregon|
|4.|| Tail gunner||Sgt. Robert E. Lary|| Oklahoma|
Details of crews training are not yet known, nor is it known who at that time served as co-pilot and right side gunner.
The co-pilot Robert A Brown has joined the crew later. It is also not known when the crew appeared at the 99th Bomb Group. According to the recollections of bombardier Mr. Paul Barselou,
crew was used after his arrival as a refill. The group was the lack of navigator, bombardier and others specialized crew members, so Paul Barselou, Frank Piro and William Moore flew the first few missions with
other crews, while the rest carry out training flights or was on leave.
At 18th December 1944 was on schedule the crew under the command of Lieutenant Ruster for the first time. 2nd Lt. Sherwood P. Ruster had to command his first airplane in combat.
Crew assembly was as follows:
| Pilot||2nd Lt Sherwood P. Ruster|| Michigan|
| Co-pilot||2nd Lt Robert A. Brown|| Wisconsin|
| Navigator||2nd Lt Ward S. Randolph|| Louisiana|
| Bombardier||Sgt. Vincent C. Manzella|| New York|
| Top gunner/engineer||T/Sgt. Wilbur T. Massey|| Kentucky|
| Radioman|| S/Sgt Walter G. Person|| Virginia|
| Right side gunner ||Sgt. Edward E. Davis||Texas|
| Left side gunner ||Sgt. Roland D. Bergman|| Iowa|
| ball turret gunner||Sgt. Byron C. Anton|| Oregon|
| Tail gunner||Sgt. Robert E. Lary|| Oklahoma|
Ward S Radolph flew as a substitute for Frank P Piro. Ward was a crew member in Lt. Kenneth Colby´s crew, just as the next substitute T / Sgt Wilbur T Massey. The only one of the original crew - Paul Barselou had the day off, his position will replace Sgt Vincent C. Manzella, whose original crew under the command of Lt. James R. Ryan flew the aircraft on the right side of "Slipstream" on an airplane named "Swamp Gal". To the right side gunner position was assigned Sgt.
Edward E Davis, at that time a very experienced gunner with 30 combat mission on the account.
‹‹ T/Sgt Wilbur T Massey
‹ Sgt Vincent C Manzella
‹‹ Sgt Edward E Davis
‹ 2nd Lt Robert A Brown
Perhaps for good luck, or because it was already too old, the Lieutenant Ruster´s crew was assigned to B-17G 42-32097 "Slipstream". It is common that the crews are not permanently assigned aircraft and fly with what is currently available.
12:10am combat formation is over initial point the city Vrbno pod Pradedem. 12:49am dropped 99th Bomb Group theirs bomb load through clouds and turns left. When the group made last turn over the city of Nysa and heading back home, germans fighters appears on the background:
„Bombs away“ said the bombardier, and our formation starts to rally to the left. Now I turn the ship over to the co-pilot so I can relax after the bomb run.
After removing my flak suit I settled down to relax, as I lean over I looked behind us and spot seven or eight FW-190 sweeping up after us, so I knew we were in a fight.“
Describing Sherwood P Ruster the situation in his diary.
German fighter pilots flying the aircraft Focke-Wulf FW-190A-8 comes from I.Gruppe / EJG 1 Fighter group starting from the airbase Sagan-Küpper. Small groups of fighters attacking units in different parts of formation. They aimed two bombers who are late for formation in 99th Bomb Group. The first one is flak damaged bomber B-17G 42-32110, fighters discarded the engine, damaging the hull and cause a fire in the bomb bay. Aircraft Commander - Lieutenant Clark
decides to flew aircraft over the Soviet line, there the crew will be able to safely leave the aircraft by parachute. Damaged aircraft is attacked by Soviet fighters above Hungary and the crew is forced to bail out earlier.
Why is 42-32097 delayed isn´t known. The fact is that witnesses said the aircraft was slightly delayed behind the formation since dropped bombs. Then there were everything happen in seconds. Let's tell the commander Ruster´s diary:
“On their first pass at our squadron, the enemy cripples my ship by shorting out all my control surfaces, leaving me helpless. At the same time 88s opened up from the ground scoring a direct hit in the nose.
(Planes didn´t hit by flak, but was hit by German FW-190, how Ward S Randolph recalls).
Being out of control we were gradually falling into a turn to the left. I reached down for the C-I but it had been blown away, as I bent over a 20 mm grazed my head. I sat up and called the crew, telling them to „bail out“ then I rang the emergency bell.“
Bomber after being heavy hits, which excluded the controls of the plane, and probably killed the tail and both side gunners, began to decline. The crew was about to jump. At that moment, however, probably comes the next German fighter attack, which came from the front side. Firing kills bombardier Vincent Manzella, injures navigator Randoplh and pilot Ruster and aircraft becomes a spinning metal coffin. Wilbur T Massey manages to escape the aircraft manages at this time,
other crew members are still fighting for their lives.
„When I had seen the co-pilot and engineer go for the escape hatch, I reached for my parachute and started to get out of my seat, but as I let go of the controls the ship went into a tight spin to the left. The centrifugal force of the spin pushed me into my seat so I couldn´t budge. I felt sure I had „had it“. All of a sudden something happened and I was thrown out of my seat against the roof of the cockpit then down on the catwalk between the seats.
Luckily I still held my parachute so I snapped it on and made a lunge for the escape hatch in front of me.“
Wrote Sherwood Ruster in his diary.
Worse situation has the navigator in the nose of airplane, he fights with centrifugal forces, and finally managed to leave the aircraft wreckage. Shortly after that plane explodes and debris fall to the ground on both banks of the river Bystrice between Olomouc part called Belidla and the village Bystrovany.
‹ Wright Cyclone engine from B-17 42-32097 laying on the field on the left bank of the river Bystrice, photo was taken at summer 1945
„I pulled the parachute release handle so hard it came out in my hand - and I thought that was the end- but miracles were still happening. The parachute deployed, but it had taken a hit from the flak generated by that shell. As the parachute deployed, I was out of the cloud and sinking fast- about 300 feet, I reckoned from the ground. Couple of nylon panels were missing, and I braced myself for a hard landing, manipulating for a downwind landing. It was a hard landing. I managed to clear a roadway of some sort and land in a freshly plowed field digging in at least 6 inches. There was a gusty wind, so as soon as I touched down, I released the chute with the quick release device, and tried to save it in case I needed it later. But within seconds I was surrounded by Wehrmacht troops with machine guns. I had dislocated jaw, and dislocated shoulder- from when the parachute deployed.“
This is the navigator Ward P. Randolph recallection after many years later to his impact .
All pilots are almost immediately captured by German soldiers from the garrison, which had its habitat in Theresian fortress, a few meters from the point of impact.
The explosion wiped out the bomber into small pieces. Fuselage hits the field on the right side of the river Bystřice between Theresian fortress and the river, all four engines hit the field on the left bank toward the cemetery.
Wings and small parts fall over a wide area to Belidla district.
‹ A field where fell the fuselage of
B-17 "Slipstream" Theresian fortress is visible on the background right
The fall of the aircraft observed Mr. Rudolf Zatloukal:
“ On monday, 18 December 1944, appr. 1330 hours I observed an American bomber in the air, which engines apparently had a defect. This bomber, flying behind the squadron, was always attacked by German fighter planes. Above the churchyard at HODOLANY it exploded in a high altitude and the pieces fell down on various places around the churchyard. I saw 4 flyers bailing out of the plane by parachute and 4 other flyers falling down dead about 250 meters north-east of the churchyard. The 4 parachuters survived. Furthermore it was observed, that 2 flyers were hanging on the parachute in an altitude of about 1000 meters. One of them probably didn´t hold on the parachute, he fell down and was killed.“
As shown, 6 dead crew members fell near the crashplace of aircraft. Mrs. Bozena Prichystalova recalled, that she went with a friend to look at the weir in Hodolany, where should fell a plane into the river:
„ Near the bridge near the weir, where we went swimming, we saw from the shore of the river some debris in the water and on the shore laying a death airman. Around the neck had signs with the name Walter Person. There were still some guys and how the Germans came, we fled.“
‹ A field on the left bank of the river, where fell engines from "Slipstream", there is visible a cemetery of Hodolany in the background
Two gentlemans- Alois Drabek and Jiri Havlena remembered to the other dead in their post war explanation:
„I was present at HODOLANY, Czechoslovakia, on the 18th December 1944 when an American airplane crashed in a field near that town. The plane was badly smashed. There were eight American flyers in the plane. They jumped out in parachutes. Six of them were dead when they were found and two of them were alive. The two that were alive were captured by the Germans at once and taken to the town of Olomouc. Only three of the parachutes opened when flyers left the plane. I saw three of the bodies of the dead flyers. One of them was Robert Brown. I know that was his name because I saw his name on a chain around his neck and also on his gloves. He was about 22 years old and had medium brown hair. He didn´t have a cap on. He was laying with his arms across his face when we found him and his face was all bloody.“
It is also known that one of the bodies turned out near the village Hlusovice, near the famous old three named Hroma´s Oak. The chronicle of the village Hlusovice remembers this event as follows:
"When herd of the bombers returned over Moravia back from Germany, was one bomber hit by accident (there probably began to burn) and the crew began the rescue by parachutes. One pilot fell to the ground with the parachute closed near the Loděnská bouda, where it was found dead with shattered limbs. He was an English. German troops buried him on the spot, but then again dug up and taken him by car to Olomouc. The other two soldiers jumped at Chválkovice district, one of whom was killed. 4 landed near Bystrovany, where they were disarmed and captured by the Germans. The plane then crashed and burned to the ground, mechine-guns ammo exploded by a heat and shrapnel flew far up on the roof of our village.“
The dead crew members were taken to the mortuary of Concordia funeral services and at 31st December 1944 Mr. Hrachovec grave-digger buried all bodies at the military cemetery in Olomouc- Cernovir district, along with five dead airmen from Gerald R Smith´s crew.
‹ Old military cemetery at Olomouc-Cernovir district, where were buried at 31st December 1944 all 12 bodies of death crew members
After the exhumation in 1946 were transported to the United States, or on the common cemetery of Allied soldiers in the Belgian Saint Avold near Metz.
‹ A Walter G Person´s grave at Saint Avold cemetery( foto: Marek Hradil)
The fate of survivors
3 crew members, who miraculously escaped, waited barbed wire of prison camp.
The wounded commander Sherwood P Ruster was first hospitalized in a military hospital in the Monastery Hradisko, where he treated wounded leg. Therefore goes at 20th December to the military hospital in Brno and after that at 29th December is sent to a POW camp. All three members happily survived and returned home after the war. After the war Sherwood P. Ruster became the first jet engine engineer for Eastern Airlines. His engineer test scores were off the chart. He was personally hired by Eddie Rickenbacker a US WW1 flying ace and President of Eastern Airlines.
S.P.Ruster left Eastern in 1964 and became Chief Flight Engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration. He wrote all the early flight manuals for booming private airlines as well as the government.
In 1967 he became Chief Flight Engineer for Frontier Airline and he was also retained by the government to investigate commercial, private and government plane crashes.
He became anxious about riding a desk and so he enrolled in Frontier Airlines pilot school of which he started as # 478 out of 478 pilots. He started flying Boeing’s 580 twin engine passenger plane. He kept working and finally retired in 1984 as a 1st Captain of Frontiers 737 twin jet planes.
Ruster retired and lived in Mexico until his second wife death in 2006,than return to Houston in Texas, but last time in his life spent at Veterans nursing house at Oklahoma city. Died at 1st August 2009.
S. P. Ruster has two sons,one daughter and one step-daughter.
We didn´t found many infos about engineer Wilbur T Massey, we know that died on 18th March 1989 in Dayton, Ohio at the age of 65 years.
Ward C. Randolph stayed in the Air Force after the war, flew in the Korean War and Vietnam, where he flew as pilot of the cargo aircraft C-130 Hercules. In 1970 he left the Army and working at a telecommunications company. Until retiring in 1990 and died 26th July 2004 at the age of 81 years.
- MACR 10635
- Pamětník letecké bitvy: mladí neznají dějiny, MF Dnes, 7. Února 2004
- Individual deceased personnel file:
- Brown, Robert A.
- Manzella, Vincent C.
- Davis, Edward E.
- Person, Walter G.
- Anton, Byron C.
- Bergman, Roland D.
- National archives and Records administrative
- J. Krumbach collection
- Zemský archiv v Opavě, pobočka Olomouc
- Vzpomínky na neznámé letce, Jan Mahr, Miroslav, 2011
- Memory book of the villageHlušovice
- Memory book of the village Bystrovany
Special Thanks to:
Julie Hebert-Ruster Price,
Paul E. Barselou,
Ward C. Randolph,
And many others...