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US Air Force

The end of the B-17 number 43-37569, December 24, 1944

 

The End of the B-17 number 43-37569,

December 24, 1944

Translation: Yvonnick & Chantal BOBE 
 
Friday, December 22nd 1944.  The aviators are questioned by the rather worrying news from the front and the astonishment caused by the massacre of Americans POW on the 17th of December in Baugnez (Malmedy).  All of them would to go on mission in order to relieve the ground troops engaged in heavy fights.
 
Unfortunately, since a few days the cloudy sky is preventing the bombing missions of strategic places in the Reich. 
 
Saturday, December 23rd 1944.  While the weather is a little bit improving, the Headquarters of the 8th Air Force received datas from the Army weather forecast.  They are sure, tomorrow the sky will be clear, they say.  From this moment, the countdown for the biggest aerial operation of all times started.  It is preparation for action in all 8th Air Force’s bases in Great Britain. 
 
All the units have received the order to do their best to provide aircrafts as much as possible.  “Everything must fly” say the officers, even old aircrafts worn by many flying hours. 
 
Sunday, December 24th 1944.  Early in the morning, waiting for the fog to lift, after a unremitting work from the maintenance and supplies teams, 2034 heavy bombers and 853 escort fighters were ready to take off.  To get all these aircrafts to flight, they needed, to gather together a lot of airmen.
 
As soon as Saturday, end of the afternoon, all airbases went on alert. 
 
The soldiers on leave were recalled.  The MP’s check theaters and bars to order the men to rejoin their squadron. Some of them, who are navigators but occupying administrative function, are reassigned in the crews. 
 
They are volunteers too, like 1st Lieutenant Cuno BECKER, weapons officer from the 836th Bomb Squadron.  This officer doesn’t hold any flying personnel license. 
 
As early as 9 A.M. 54 B-17 bombers belonging to the 487th BG take off from the airfield 137 located at LAVENHAM, England. 
 
38 from them, including 4 pathfinders (guide aircrafts fitted with a H2X radar and whose the crew received a special training) will constitute the leading team who will guide the armada. 
 
(From the morning briefing, a feeling of proud has overcome the spirit from the 487th Bomb Group crewmembers, not only because they are credited to lead the wing and the Air leader, the General Frederick CASTLE, will too hold the co-pilot position in the 1st Lieutenant HARRIMAN’s pathfinder aircraft.) 
 

The 38 aircrafts departed in 3 squadrons.

The 837th Bomb Squadron including 12 Fortress of which two pathfinders will take the lead.

The 838th Bomb Squadron including 13 Fortress of which one pathfinder will be the up squadron.

The 836th Bomb Squadron also including 13 Fortress of which one pathfinder will be the low squadron.  
 
Because of the circumstances, the difficult preparation of mission 760 forced the operations office’s officers to transfer temporary aircrafts belonging to either four squadrons of the Bomber Group. 
 
Among the 836th Squadron’s aircrafts, was the B-17G N° 43-37569 who occupied the lowest position and administratively belongs to the 839th Bomb Squadron.  On the fuselage, the aircraft carries the mention R5*P. 
 

The 9 member’s crew is formed by the following airmen:

BALL Ira L – 1/Lt – Pilot – KIA – Henri-Chapelle (Liège, Belgium)

TOMEA Jr. Gordon R – 1/Lt – Copilot – KIA – Calvary (Paterson/New Jersey, USA)

SPERBER Harold P – 1/Lt – Navigator – Safe

BROOM John C - 1/Lt – Bombardier – Safe

PARKS Warren H – T/Sgt – Engineer – KIA – Petersburg (Petersburg/Ohio, USA)

LULL Robert H – T/Sgt – Radio Operator – KIA - Almira (Almira/ California, USA)

GAUDIN Jr. Duffy J – S/Sgt – Ball Turret Gunner – KIA – Henri-Chapelle (Liège, Belgium)

 CONERY John J – S/Sgt – Waist Gunner – KIA – Henri-Chapelle (Liège, Belgium)

BECKER Cuno V – 1/Lt – Tail Gunner – Wounded/KIA – Siloam (Vineland/New Jersey, USA)
 
It is a blended crew:
Only TOMEA, SPERBER and LULL belong to Lieutenant BALL’s original crew.  BROOM usually belongs to Boeing 42-52609 crew.  GAUDIN, him, is member of Lieutenant Lloyd REED’s crew. 
 
It is the same thing for the other airmen on board Lieutenant BALL’s Fortress.  His aircraft is in the 6th position, i.e. it is flying on the right side of the low formation.  After being over the Meuse River the leading squadron is under short attacks by German fighters.  Two pathfinders, including the Air Leader, are lost after these attacks. 
 
About forty German fighters Fock-Wulf 190 A8 belonging to IV Sturm/Jagdeschwader 3 get in touch with the 487th Bomb Group bombers by the left bank slope of the Ourthe River, which overlooks the confluence’s  surroundings from the Ourthe River and the Ambleve River. 
 
This head-on attack, even quick, causes damages among the squadron.  In Lieutenant BALL’s aircraft, quickly the pilots notice that the rudder is destroyed.  Afterwards the crew is surprised; the “bandits” disappeared after they passed.  (In fact, the German fighters received the order to get around the bombers formation to attack them from backside.
 
At the very  moment where the bombers fly over the Hagohé quarry, located between Halleux and Martinrive, Lieutenant BECKER reports by intercom the arriving from behind about forty enemy fighters, placed in front line.  The fighters fire when they are at about 550m, out of range of the US machine guns.  The number 2 engine is on fire and also the number 3 or 4.  A strong smell of gas and burning is spreading in the Fortress.  Lieutenant SPERBER, the navigator, calls the pilots by intercom.  He doesn’t receive any answer.  In front of him, he see Lieutenant BROOM taking his parachute.  Then, he quickly hangs his own, goes toward the nose hatch and jumps.  Lieutenant BROOM follows him.
 
When they are just out, the bomber starts to spin loosing quickly altitude.  At this moment only about thirty seconds have passed since the B-17 had been deadly hit.
 
The crewmen are literally rooted to the spot by centrifugal force.  The Fortress doesn’t resist to the dynamics efforts. The fuselage breaks by the rear empennage, the tail pulls off bringing Lieutenant BECKER with it.  It will fall in a meadow between Septroux and Chambralles, where civilians will discover Lieutenant BECKER seriously wounded and still at his post.  He will die December 26th at the hospital.  The remaining part of the aircraft fell in the Ambleve River at Gouffre d’Aywaille.
 
January 3rd 1945, the soldiers will remove the bodies of Lieutenant BALL and ROMEA and Sergeant PARKS from the wreck.  The remains of T/Sergeant LULL will be found much later, having been swept away by the waves.  Two men who were in the fuselage when the tail broke away were ejected threw the gaping hole.  They fell without parachute.  S/Sergeant CONERY in a meadow in front of the Van den Wildenberg’s sawmill and S/Sergeant GAUDIN around the dairy industry of Aywaille. 
 
       
 
               
                  Ira L. BALL, Pilot - KIA                        1/Lt Gordon R. TOMEA Jr, copilot - KIA   
 
                
1st/Lt Cuno V. BECKER, Tail Gunner, Dead of wounded.
                
 T/Sgt Warren H. PARKS, Engineer, KIA
                             
 S/Sgt Duffy J. GAUDIN Jr, Ball turret gunner, KIA
        
S/Sgt John J. CONERY, Waist Gunner, KIA     T/Sgt Robert H. LULL, Radio operator,  KIA
              
 1/Lt Harold P. SPERBER, Navigator (safe) and 1/Lt John C. BROOM, bombardier, (safe)
 

The sky above Aywaille.

Sunday, December 24th at 12:40 p.m. in François Cornesse street the inhabitants of Aywaille looking up an aerial fight between German fighters and US bombers.  Seven B-17 bombers crashed in the area of Aywaille, Comblain-au-Pont, Esneux, Florzé, Fraiture-en-Condroz and Louveigné.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 Mr Gregoire photographed on the wreckage of the bomber.
 
Destruction of the last founded bombs in 1946.
 
Testimony of Gaston Mean and his wife Melanie Toussaint wrote on August 12th 2015.
 
Written 2015 by Mr. Gaston Mean, 93 years old, eyewitness of the B17 fall in Aywaille, Belgium, December 24th, 1944.
 
Back in 1944 I was living a few hundred meters away from the place where parts of the plane fell.
 
Immediately afterwards, my brothers and I rushed to the site to discover that what we had seen falling was the tail of a plane which had been shot down during the fight we had watched.  When we approached the tail we heard someone banging on the wreck from the inside and shouting "help !", a word which we didn't understand due to our ignorance of the English language.
 
US troops were stationed in the nearest village, Martinrive, and we informed them one of their compatriots was trapped inside the wreck.
 
Four soldiers came to free the airman and drove him to a place where an ambulance brought him to hospital, and we never heard of him again.
 
Many times during all these years, my brothers and I wondered if he survived or not.
 
Jim McCloskey, Lieutenant Cuno Vernal Becker’s nephew with Gaston Méan, August 12th 2015.
 
 
Monument erected at Aywaille December 19, 2015
 
Source: Document received from Frederick WINKIN on December 19, 2015

By Pol WALHAIN

& Frederick WINKIN

 

 

487th Bomb Squadron

 

8th U.S. Air Force

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium