Secret of World War II: B-17 Lady Jeannette – Part 3

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A series of articles, laying out the true events behind the creation of: “The Best Kept Secret Of World War Two!” In December, 1945, when it became known that General Patton had told his staff, he was quitting the Army so he could speak freely and after New Years, 1946, he was going to tell the American public the truth about what those who were attempting to destroy him had done. He was positive, once that truth was known, he could live freely and it was their careers that would be destroyed.

A series of day by day articles beginning on 9 November, 2015, which is the 71st anniversary of the crash of the “Lady Jeannette.” B-17G, SN: 42-97904, on 9 November, 1944. Today and tomorrow, I will describe the shooting down and the crash of two American bombers in France. One was the “Lady Jeannette” and the other was a top secret B-24J, which was flying a top secret night mission, while attached to the top secret 100th Group Royal Air Force. The B-24J also crashed in France, early on the morning of 10 November, 1944, 138 miles from the crash site of the B-17.


B-17 Lady Jeannette

As of midnight, 10 November, 1944, the “Lady Jeannette,” a B-17G, SN: 42-97904, belonging to the 729th BS, 452nd BG consisted of four large pieces, lying in the Woods of Hattonville, Department of the Somme. The location can be be found on Google Earth at 49o0’4.77 N – 5o45’31.07″ E.

Hattonville Casey Jones CaptionedOne hundred thirty-eight miles to the northwest, is a large hole surrounded by a debris field. Created by an American bomber crash the hole and its debris field at 49o56’42.94″ N 3o2’’34.44″ E is all that remains of the top secret B-24J, SN: 42-51226 and its top secret cargo of over 8,0000 pounds of the Allies most top secret electronic radar, radio and telephone jamming equipment. The B-24J, belonged to the 36th Bomb Squadron (RCM – Radar Counter Measures), attached to the top secret 100th Group, Royal Air Force.

At the “Lady Jeannette” crash site, several members of the 563rd Signals Aircraft Warning Battalion’s headquarters detachment were sharing an night guard shift. They had to maintain a perimeter to prevent any French citizens entering the crash site. There, next to a fire, lying on a canvas, covered by another canvas, were the two bodies of the pilots, 1st Lt. Donald J. Gott and 2nd Lt. William E. Metzger, Jr. Both men had died from blunt force injuries to their faces, as the trees of the woods had broken into their cockpit during the lowering of the “Lady Jeannette” into the woods from when she first struck the tops of the trees to where the forward fuselage had come to rest. Their two complete bodies had been removed from their cockpit with the help of two Frenchmen, who were the first to arrive at the crash site.

Next to the two pilots, was the complete body of T/Sgt. Robert A. Dunlap, their radio operator, who had been wounded and was lying on the deck of his radio compartment when the B-17 began to strike the trees and when, about 450 feet into its journey into the woods, both wings sheared off and the tail broke off, taking the rear bulkhead of the radio compartment with it. At that time, the B-17s forward fuselage was still moving forward and about 15 feet above the ground. One hundred twenty-seven feet from where the broken off bulkhead and tail came to rest, the nose turret of the B-17G dug into the earth, causing a pile of earth to be pushed up in front of the still moving nose. When it had grown to the required height, the nose swiveled 90 degrees to the west, the broken rear end of the fuselage coming to a rest a few feet to the west.

Mid-way from where the tail broke off and where the nose struck the earth, the unconscious body of the radio operator fell out of his radio compartment and came to a rest. When the wings broke off, the left flew over and alongside the forward fuselage for some distance. When it came to a stop leaning against a tree, its fuel cells broke open and the fuel atomized and spread across part of the crash site, including the location where the unconscious radio operator laid in a deep thicket of black berry bushes. The number 3 engine that had been mounted on the left wing was extremely hot and smoking, this ignited the atomized fuel and the whooshing explosion of the fuel was heard by witnesses for some distance.

Though, the radio operator might have died before the crash, based on the French eye witnesses, his body and flight uniform was lightly signed and they thought the flash fire had killed him. The guards were also very aware of the partial remains of a fourth crewman lying under the covering canvas, where for part of the 9th, a duffle bag also occupied part of the space.

The fourth, dead, crewman was the tail gunner, S/Sgt. Herman B. Krimminger. He had accidentally opened his parachute inside the B-17, just before the bail out order was given. His parachute had blown out of the rear waist hatch and went over the tail, Krimminger had been pulled out of the hands of two of the survivors and as he was pulled out, his body dropped down below the tail, where it was held by the parachute shroud lines and the open parachute above the tail. When the “Lady Jeannette” began to lower into the forest, due to its slowing speed, his body was lower and it was first to begun to strike the tree limbs of the oak forest.

Krimminger still had his combat helmet strapped under his chin when he was pulled out. About 200 feet from where his body had to have begun striking the trees, the author discovered one of the ear flaps that fit over his earphones, by the stump of a large tree. The flap had been folded up into a clam shell shape and basically, indicated Krimminger had died at or before that location along the debris trail.

The guards were used to walking a perimeter, however, an assigned duty this night, was t walk along the debris trail leading to the crash site, frequently. While completing that circuit, they were to carry a flashlight and continually swing it out into the trees to look for shiny eyes belonging to the foxes, ferrets, and even large wild boars. In the immediate surrounding of the crash site, they may not have observed the mud hole and realize what it was, but it was a boar wallow. At the same time, they were to loudly talk to themselves, sing or just holler.

“Lady Jeannette” - B-17G, SN: 42-97904. (Credits: Via B-17 Flying Fortress Rescue)

“Lady Jeannette” – B-17G, SN: 42-97904. (Credits: Via B-17 Flying Fortress Rescue)

As it turned dark and the medics had completed their remains recovery and added to the pile of torn-apart human remains alongside the three bodies lying on the canvas, near the fire which was another added task this night, the military police attachment officer had came out and gave them their orders, including the constant walking of the debris trail. Not only was it their job to keep the French away, it was also their job to insure none of the wild animals who were attracted to the crash site by the smell of the torn-apart man and the three complete bodies. Several times, during the night as the two walking the debris trail, one would tell his story of seeing eyes watching them move.

As the 9th of November, 1944, turned into the 10th of November, 1944, an Eisenhower Headquarters staff car arrived. They were told by a young Colonel who got out of the car to take good care of his driver. The Sergeant of the Guard, then took the Colonel to the mayor’s home where the Lt. Colonel Battalion Commander, McBride, the Major Executive Officer, Byrne, and Major, the Medical Doctor, Venar, attached to the battalion were living.

We know, from the French, the Mayor and his wife had been asked to stay with one of their children that night, so the expected visitor could use their bedroom. As all of what happened, was beyond top secret as far as General Eisenhower was concerned, there is no documentation that supports what was being done. There is documentation, the author as found, that proves the official records of involved units had been modified after the fact and that the Battalion cooks had requested extra rations to replace rations eaten by two men, who do not show up on any manning document, where even transit personnel staying with the battalion, by regulation, were to be documented.

We know, they had talked for some time, when the Sergeant of the Guard was called to the Mayor’s home, met at the door by the Battalion Executive Officer and given a set of instructions to be followed in the morning.

Before, the November daylight arrived, the enlisted Medics, Boatman, Bernardi and the ambulance drive, Zeman, who had been jarred out of their bunks by the SOG, arrived early for breakfast and to pick up the drinks and food on the list the SOG had given to the mess Sergeant.

As daylight broke from the east, they arrived at edge of the woods, carried the order to the fire area and very quickly, a Colonel, no one knew, their Battalion Commander, their Battalion Executive Officer and the Doctor walked up to the fire, and one of the guards broke out their food order.

As they were eating and discussing the crash site, Venar told the medics to pick up their recovery gloves and buckets and start their final recovery of the torn-apart men’s remains. As they walked off to the debris trail, the officers began touring the site. The first thing they did, was lift the canvas cover and show the Colonel, the three complete bodies and what had been collected of the torn-apart man. Then, they walked around the site and part way down the debris trail, where they observed the trouble the three medics were having, searching through the broken limbs and airplane pieces spread along the debris trail. On the way back, they were observed climbing on a berm located just to the east of the crash site. Such berms dated back hundreds of years, as they were created to provide a boarder, in this case, the berm was the boundary between the woods that belonged to Hattonville and the National Forest to the east of the berm.

The officers took their time during their tour and several times, they often walked further into the forest and then returned to site. When they had finished their circuit, they walked back out to the edge of the woods and walked out and surveyed the large group of fields where Harms, Harland and Gustafson had landed. When they had accomplished this, they were gathered together around the fire when Boatman came up and reported, he thought, they had recovered as much as the man’s remains as they could. The group stepped over to the canvas covered remains, Boatman lifted the cover and they looked at the collected remains. Venar took a second look and told Boatman, he only saw one leg, to which Boatman replied, they had looked up in the trees and doubly along the debris trail and he thought, one of the wild animals had been missed by the night guards and the animal had taken the remains.

With that, Venar told Boatmen and Zeman to go to the ambulance and bring three sets of remains burial packages. When they got back, the three officers were near the end of the broken fuselage where the nose had dug an area of dirt down into the forest floor. They stood there for a while and when they came back, the Battalion Commander told the Colonel and Venar, he was going back to their HQ, to be able to personally take the calls coming in from various higher commands.

As the Battalion Commander was walking away, the Byrne told the guard commander, that they were to immediately move out far enough to where they could not see the crash site, to insure any French were kept away from the preparation of the dead. When, this was done and checked by Byrne, he came back and he told the medics, that the give them verbal order, that they must never discuss with anyone and if they do, even after going back to civilian life, they would be subject to death, as that is how important what they had to do, to the United States military.

The Colonel told them, what they were about to do, would be something that would bother them for the rest of their lives. However, no matter how much it bothered them, or if they were ever questioned about this crash site, they were to tell the person, “That I have no memory and any B-17 crash, while I was stationed in Hattonville.” He reminded them of what Byrne had told them and began telling the medics what they had to do. First, they were to help Venar create four burial packages, they would do this, by dividing the remains of the torn-apart man into four equal amounts, which were to arrive at the Limey cemetery later that day. Then, the hardest part would be completed, they were going to help hide the complete bodies that had been recovered, by burying them at the crash site, in such a way, that the French who came to the site after the guards left, would not realize what had been done.

He told them, that they could depend on himself and General Eisenhower to protect them in the future, if what they were about to do, was ever revealed to the America public.  He also said, to insure they were not alone, as he had some time left before he had to go to his next appointment he was going to start digging the grave where the bodies would be placed.

As the first recovery team did at the -24J crash site, they laid out four blanket sets. When they were done, the Colonel and Venar dropped the surprise. As the torn-apart man had not been in the fire area, to properly prepare the four Official Graves of the four dead crewmen, most of the remains had to be placed over the fire and singed and burnt, as if the B-17 and the four men had blown up in a diving crash. Venar told the men to go cut themselves a stick, to hold the pieces of man over the fire. When they started to meet that order, the Colonel joined them, again telling them, his action could be considered an insurance that no matter what the future brought, they would be protected, as what they were doing, they were doing under distress and under his direct verbal order.

When they were done and Venar was completing the official documents, he was adding the personal items that had been found for each man. He had three sets of ID tags for the three complete bodies that were not going to be in their official grave and only one ID tag had been found the debris trail. As he began to place the articles in each ditty bag, Boatman approached and told Venar, if the bodies had been torn-apart and burnt, as the remains were when they completed their task.

The personal items of each of the men, must also show fire damage. Both McBride and Venar agreed and soon, they were placing the ID tags, coins, a bracelet that Metzer had on his right arm, that had been badly bent when one of the limbs slammed through the cockpit, and pushed his arm and bracelet into Metzger’s skull. After a few minutes, Boatman retrieved the items, missing a couple of blackened coins and Venar placed the items in the ditty bags and tied the ID tags to the ditty bag with the draw string.

Then, all five men finished digging the hidden grave and carrying the complete bodies, they placed them side by side in the hidden grave, McBride spoke some words and the bodies were covered up with the covering being blended into the dirt that had been disturbed by the B-17s chin turret during the crash.

When they were done, the men rechecked the site for anything that had to disappear, McBride called the guards back in and told them, the guard duty would end when the day ends. They carried the three small, official burial packages, back to the ambulance. The officers got in a parked jeep and headed back, as Zeman and the medics headed for the village. Where, Zeman would later take the dead to the Limey cemetery.

When they arrived back, the Colonel was gone and things were returning to normal. When questioned about the crash site by other members of the unit, they were told everything had been taken care of and they did not want to talk about it.

Later that afternoon, Zeman arrived at the Limey temporary cemetery, where the Graves Registration men removed the burial packages and placed them on individual tables. An old service Sergeant went through the documents and suddenly, stopped and asked why the one burial package had only one ID tag. Zeman asked what difference it made, the Graves Registration men had to account for both ID tags before the dead could be properly identified. If, Zeman, was not able to account for the Krimminer’s missing ID tag, he would have to go back and tell Venar and he knew, they would be back out at the site searching for that tag. So, he told the GR Sergeant, that he had see two ID tags for each man in the possession of their Battalion Doctor who had completed and it an ID tag was gone, the doctor must have kept it. The old Sergeant told Zeman to go ahead and then, he wrote an entry on Krimminger’s official Burial Record, that the GR officer of the 563rd SAW Battalion had kept one of Krimminger’s ID Tag. Without this entry, the author would never have broken the wall he had reached, concerning the identity of the unit that recovered the dead for the Hattonville crash site!

Zeman returned to the HQ, reported to McBride and Venar that he had accomplished the delivery and that basically ended the 11th of November, 1944, except for the men and civilians were still talking about the bomber.

Very early on the morning of the 11th of November, 1944, at the 397th BG, air base, a transport arrived and a group of men got off. They all were wearing full American uniforms, but there was no unit, rank or other identifying marks were visible. As the plane departed, their leader went directly to the HQ for his previously scheduled meeting with the Base Commander. When he came out, the Commander took him to where his team was gathered and presented them with several jeeps, each pulling a trailer, loaded with rations, booze and lots of cartons of cigarettes. As they were leaving the leader told the Commander, they would be staying at Tincourt-Boucly as long as necessary and he would be sending back for restocking as required. He asked the Commander, if he had received the word about their full support and the Commander told him, he had. He also told the, he had a bulldozer on its way to Tincourt-Boucly, and he would lead them to the crash site since he was meeting the Mayor at site.

They arrived at the crash site, as daylight was breaking and the driver was unloading the dozer. The Mayor was there with several of the village elders and the owner of the field. The Commander asked the Mayor, how much damage had been done, as it was normal for the USAAF to pay for such damage. However, as he also realized the crash site was in an active field, his bulldozer was going to push all the wreckage into the hole and smooth the field out, so the farmer could re-plow it. The Mayor and farmer both insisted they would not take any payment for damage, when three Americans had died in the crash, while fighting for the Liberty of France.

The Commander introduced the Mayor to the leader of the group, all of whom spoke French as well as any citizen, including several accents from different zones of France. The man told the Mayor, they were there because there was a special investigation in place concerning the loss of the B-17 that made the hole. He asked the Mayor, if they could set up their living quarters in the Village Hall/School building. He also pointed toward the trailers and told the Mayor, they had brought their own supplies and would like to make arrangements with the local bar/restaurant to do their food preparation. The Mayor agreed to do that and while he led the way, the small convoy departed to the village center, where the Mayor took the Americans into the bar and introduced them to the owner. The owner was told, they would furnish plenty of food to be prepared, they would do all their drinking there and then, he gave the owner and the Frenchman in the bar, a carton of American cigarettes in memory of the men who had died in the crash of the B-17 and ordered drinks for everyone.

As soon as they had put their stuff in the school building, they met again with the Mayor about what their investigation was going to involve. Once, the hole was smoothed over, the American guards would be removed and as soon as they were done with the Mayor, they were going to split into two man teams and begin to visit every home with walking and bicycle range of the crash site, to find out if any of them had visited the crash site and if they and taken any souvenirs from the site, as it was important for them to see any items taken as souvenirs, to see if the item might have caused the crash. They were going to recover most of the items, but they were going to give each family a carton of cigarettes for accepting their visit and their help in finding out what had happened to the B-17 that had crashed there. They began their visits and interviews in the connected villages of Tincourt-Bouly and that night, bought rounds in the bar in memory of the dead, killed in the B-17 crash, enjoyed a good dinner created from the supplies they had furnished, returned to the school and thus, ended 11 November, 1944, in a happy village to have such generous Americans staying at their village.

Down at Hattonville, the three Americans who ate there, for which the mess Sergeant had to request replacement rations, had arrived in the middle of the night. They asked the SO, if their planned visit had been prepared for and the SOG, told them, they were free to do, whatever they wanted and he would now, take them to the house where the civilians had agree for them to stay. That day, the men wondered around the village and visited the local watering holes in the village of Hattonville and the villages to the north and south, using a jeep that had been prepared for them. That night, the split up and covered every local watering hole to find out what the French were saying about the crash and to see, if any of the Americans were drinking too much and talking about something they should not be talking about. As evening ended, they met at the house, discussed what they had found out and their leader went to the HQ plotting center to use a secure telephone to make a telephone call. When he was done, he returned to the house and the men who were not there, but who were eating meals that required ration replacements ended their 11th of November, 1944, secure in the fact that no one, the Americans or French realized they were listening to every one talking in either language.

At the nearby 109th Mobile Hospital, S/Sgt. Fross after the staff learned he could talk to their German POWs, the was happy escorting them around the hospital, even pushing them in a wheel chair. T/Sgt. Gustafson, had woken up, found a Purple Heart and a handkerchief sized piece of his parachute on his pillow and he was told, they were taking him to an evacuation train which would take him to Cherbourg for transfer on to England were they would recast him and hold him for some time before he would be sent back to the States. Lt. Harland had been on the same train and as he was ready to be returned to his group, he left the train and was taken to an officer’s transit hotel. Harland, being Harland, had been told, he could be on a priority flight back to England, but he was in Paris and he told them, he was in no hurry to return. S/Sgt. Robbins was still in Paris, but was told he would be put on a plane to England later that day. Lt. Harm was still lying in a bunk, to remain sedated for another day and a half.

At the 397th Bombardment Group, 9th USAAF, base near Peronne, Hornsby and his crew had been restricted to their isolated hutch and told, they were to be moved to a nearby Chateau, where General Rommel had stayed. At that time, the base had at least one courier DC-47 arriving from England and going back to England each day. However, enough time had to pass to allow what had to happen to have what happened, happen, before they could be sent back to their unit.

The driver had delivered the Colonel to the HQ of the XIX Tactical Air Command at the Etain air base, the same air base that Robbins had passed through on the 9th. After the meeting, they drove back through the Great War Zone to Eisenhower’s HQ, located a short distance to the northwest of Rheims, France, the Colonel drove the staff car and gave the driver a verbal tour that few would enjoy for years to come.

They arrived back at their HQ, the Colonel told the driver how he felt, driving in England. The driver told him, he had a lot of experience driving in England and the Colonel told him to fuel up the car, put together a few days clothes come back to the operation center. And, pick him up, as they were leaving for a nearby air field, where a ride to England was ready. They would leave the car at the air field and pick it up when they returned. They ended their 11th of November, 1944, boarding the C-47 which was going to take them to England.

The Colonel had contacted General Eisenhower several times that day, as Eisenhower was inspecting the destruction of Aachen, Germany, the first German city captured by the Allies. The Colonel had to have reported his progress and laid out the next steps he had to accomplish. The first of which, required the Colonel to go to England, to meet with the Commanders of both places Group and or Squadron, then insure that not only did the XIX TAC, the 9th USAAF, and the 8th USAAF Commander were fully informed, why was what had to be done and how they had to help it to succeed, as only a actual success would insure, what all of them were becoming involved in, was never to become public knowledge. Each of them agreed, if the Colonel failed, and that happened, each of them could kiss their career good by and they would be lucky to be allowed to retire and not go to directly to jail. Obviously, what the Colonel was doing was being done with all the power of General Eisenhower, or you would not be reading this article.

Thus, the Colonel’s day ended on11th of November, 1944, when he visited the Officer’s club and enjoyed a few drinks in Celebration of the Armistice of 11 November, 1918. He did tell his story, if it had not been for the help of Americans, he would no have been born an American. Instead, he would probably be in a German POW camp, or dead by now.

That day, many telephone calls crossed back and forth along the Chain of command, as each Commander was told he had to do and if he did not, he would be gone tomorrow. US Army documents, the 566th SAW Battalion, the one that had direct the night fighter early on the morning of 10 November, 1944, soon ceased to exist and its personnel was spread among other Battalions. The official records of the 422nd Night Fighter Squadron documents, would soon state there were no P-51, Black Widow Night Fighters at the Etain air base. Regulations and official histories of all the involved units had begun to be and within a short time, be rewritten to eliminate any documentation of the truth of the B-17 and B-24 crashes.

Tomorrow, the 12 of November, 1944, will find the Colonel in England, visiting the Commanders of both the 452nd Bomb Group and the 36th Bomb Squadron (RCM), including an additional discussion with General Donovan, the Commander of the OSS. The only documented proof of their participation consists of gaps in historical entries that should have been created did not exist. Rations were drawn at both crash sites areas, including extra ration draws to replace food that no one officially existed who would be eating those rations.


References:

  • Willis S. Cole, Jr. “Sam”, Executive Director & Curator of Battery Corporal Willis S. Cole Military Museum – Found at 13444 124th Ave NE in Kirkland, WA  98034, USA.

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All are memorials put in place by author’s organization and French citizens.


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Argunners Magazine is an independent online historian and collector's magazine, dedicated to the militaria and history of both Axis and Allied powers during the World War 1 & 2. Argunners is a central resource offering the latest militaria and war history news, journals, articles and press releases related to these themes.

1 Comment

  1. A quick query. If the 3 complete bodies were buried in the soil disturbed by the chin turret as the plane crashed (And thus a supposedly easy location to find) why was no attempt made to locate the burial area. Find the remains and your questions are answered. Metal detectors would probably be useless but I’m sure a geophys search would produce results (Same as Time Team do over here in the UK!!)

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