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
On the 9th of November, the 452nd Bombardment Group, was assigned to the mission that was to attack a target in the Metz-Thionville region of Germany, in support of General Patton’s new push into Germany. One of their B-17G bombers on the mission that day, was the “Lady Jeannette,” piloted by 1st Lt. Donald J. Gott. After take off the Group joined the mission stream and crossed the English Channel into France. Over the Channel, each of the gunners tested his weapon and the bomb bay doors were opened to verify they were operating properly. Their bomb load that day was eight 500 pound bombs in the bomb bay and two 1,000 pound bombs, one under each wing, As they approached the I.P., Initial Point, of the Primary Target, the Group in front sheared off and went toward the I.P. of their Secondary Target, the marshaling yards at Saarbrücken, Germany. The mission plan varied little, except they would fly south toward the new target, drop their bombs and circle around to the east to begin their flight back to base.
As they left their Secondary Target Initial Point, they opened the bomb bay doors and went on automatic pilot under the control of the bombardier. Unable to change altitude or position, the crews felt most vulnerable as they approached the clouds of exploding FLAK in front of them. As they approached their Secondary Target, the pilots sat with their hands lightly on the controls as the controls moved automatically by the automatic pilot, ready to take control, if necessary. Each man, in his position, followed the routine of their previous missions, except for the co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Metzger, Jr.,who was on his second mission with the Gott crew to obtain combat experience and the bombardier, 2nd Lt. Harms, who also was on his second mission, as a fill-in for the normal Gott crew bombardier, who failed to report for the mission. Each of the gunners scanned the sky for any approaching German fighter, however their minds were on the bank of exploding German FLAK staining the sky ahead. It appeared to be exactly at the same altitude as they were and now they were on the bomb run, they had to maintain the same altitude. In their previous 27 missions, the crew had never seen a German fighter, however, at every target they had seen other B-17s crashing due to FLAK. All they could do, was hope, Lady Luck would be with them again. In another B-17, in the formation behind them, 2nd Lt. Collins, their normal copilot was flying with Lt. Metzger’s normal crew, to give them a battle experienced pilot during their first missions. Lt. Collins was watching the Group approach the FLAK cloud and suddenly, he saw a FLAK burst on the right wing of the “Lady Jeannette.” Immediately, it began to move around, as the pilots attempted to regain control. Aboard the “Lady Jeannette,” each of the crew experienced the FLAK burst differently. The pilots immediately tightened their hands on the controls, as the plane began to pitch up on the right side, due to the explosion. The men in the nose, 2nd Lt. Harms, bombardier, and 2nd Lt. Harland, navigator, were shaken in their seats and turned to see if they could find out what had happened. The intercom was suddenly full of everyone talking at once, asking what had happened or reporting what they had seen. In his tail position, the tail gunner, S/Sgt. Krimminger, was badly shaken as the tail whipped back and forth and suddenly, he saw a stream of fire to his left. The waist gunner, S/Sgt. Robbins, was thrown to the floor and was getting back up to find out what had happened. The radio operator, T/Sgt. Dunlap, could not see what had happened, but he had his right hand at his radio controls, in order to broadcast what the pilot might order.
In his top turret, the Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, T/Sgt. Gustafson, looked to his right to see what had happened and was astonished to see the number four engine, the outboard engine on the right wing was missing. He had seen B-17’s that had returned with engines missing, but the engine mount and cowl back to the wing was still there. Their engine, its mount and the engine cowling was gone all the way back to the wing, leaving a large hole in the leading edge of the wing. He also saw a large fire flowing back into the slip stream and at first, he expected to see the wing was melting and they would crash, but taking a second look, he realized the engine had been blown down and off the wing, taking the fuel line with it, until it broke and the escaping fuel caught fire. Fortunately, the fire was below the wing and it was no immediate threat to the bomber. Gustafson attempted to contact the pilots via the intercom to find it was not working, so he swiveled around to be able to get off his turret seat and tell the pilots the fire was not going to make them crash. As he put his weight on his right foot, suddenly there was another loud FLAK explosion. A fragment of the shell, which had exploded under the numbers 2 and 1 engines, on the left wing, broke through the fuselage, cutting the bomb bay controls, and slicing through Gustafson’s leg, just above the ankle and cutting out an inch and a half of his leg bone. It then broke into the hydraulic oil tank behind the copilot, allowing the hydraulic oil to flow down and over the flight engineer’s parachute.
In his belly turret, the belly turret gunner, S/Sgt. Fross, had been looking ahead in order to count the bombs as they fell, so the bombardier would know all the bombs had cleared and the bomb bay doors could be closed, when the FLAK shell burst within 15 feet of his turret. He was badly shaken, and small fragments of the shell had broken through the turret and embedded in his skull. However, his training kicked in and he began to turn the turret to a position where he could climb up into the waist.
In the radio compartment, a fragment flew up through the floor and struck Dunlap’s left thigh, then it continued up through the radio operator’s table and through Dunlap’s right arm, just above the wrist, almost cutting his hand away from the lower arm, leaving it hanging by sinew and muscle. In the rear, Krimminger, had released his seat belt and was making his way to the tail gunner escape hatch, when the second FLAK burst occured. As soon as the second shell burst, a fragment killed the number one engine, leaving its propeller blade in the flight position, causing a great drag. In addition, another fragment or two, flew up into the number two engine, where they blew the cylinder head off two or more cylinders. This allowed engine oil to flow out and turn into smoke that flowed back along the slip stream. At the same time, the engine lost its ability to provide full power. This left the “Lady Jeannette” with only two working engines, the number three, inside, engine on the right wing was undamaged and the damaged number two, inside, engine on the left wing. The sudden change in power and the FLAK explosions caused the B-17 to begin to dive out of the formation. Lt. Collins saw his crew’s bomber began to spiral down and out of the formation and to him and all those who were watching, it was going to crash from the damage they could see. There was a large flame streaming back behind the right wing and heavy smoke was flowing from the left wing and these men had seen other bombers, with much less damage fail to regain control. Collins called the navigator and told him to mark the position where the “Lady Jeannette” had been seen and then, he and the pilot began to tightenup the formation. As another B-17 closed into the same position the “Lady Jeannette” had been in, that B-17 was also hit by FLAK, killing one engine. It did manage to maintain formation long enough to drop its bombs and turn with the formation to circle to the east, as they began their western return to their base, this B-17 left the formation and parachutes were seen, as it dove to the earth. Along the same route, a third B-17 that had been less damaged by the FLAK of Saarbrucken, also crashed.
As the Group continued on its bomb run, aboard the “Lady Jeannette” the two pilots struggled with the controls. Sitting on the deck behind them, in agony, Gustafson thought, they were going to crash. However, they were an excellent team and as they dropped in altitude the wings gripped the heavier air andthe control panels, allowing the spiraling dive to end. Due to the large hole in the right wing, the number three engine had to be sped up to emergency rpms to balance the hole, the left wing’s unfeathered numbered one engine props created a great drag which almost overcome the pull the damaged number two engine could provide. The damage was extensive, from both FLAK explosions, the bomb bay doors were open, the two outside bombs and the eight bombs in the bomb bay were still aboard and all they had was one and a half working engines to keep her above stall speed, so they could keep flying. As control was being obtained, the navigator dropped the nose escape hatch and the bombardier went up the crawl way to the cockpit to see if he could help. By this time, Gustafson, had pulled on the sleeve of the copilot, to let him know, that he was wounded and he had gotten a morphine shot out of the first aid kit and was attempting to inject it. The bombardier realized his problem and helped him open his pants to inject the morphine into his leg. Having realized, when he tried an emergency bomb drop, that the system was no longer working, he moved past the flight engineer and hand dropped the large bombs under each wing. Then, he went into the bomb bay to try to manually drop the bombs. Realizing this, he tried to kick the bombs out, but their shackles had jammed, so he went back into the radio compart, as the pilot had requested, to find out the condition of the men in the back.
In the waist, S/Sgt. Robbins had just gotten to the belly turret to help S/Sgt. Fross get out when the second FLAK burst took place. He held on, as the plane went through a violent shaking and he felt the plane begin a dive which made him think it might crash. As it settled down, he looked down the fuselage and saw Sgt. Krimminger crawling out of the tunnel to the tail and he looked very shook up, with his “bell badly rang.” Immediately, Robbins, opened the turret hatch and helped S/Sgt. Fross climb out. Fross looked and acteed like his “bell had also been rung” and he was hardly able to talk. Realizing he had not see T/Sgt. Dunlap, Robbins told the two, to go to the waist escape hatch and prepare to bail out, as he turned and opened the door between the waist and the radio compartment.
He was shocked, as he saw blood spattered all around the compartment and Dunlap was collapsing onto the deck. Then, he saw that Dunlap’s hand was hanging by shreds of muscle and skin and blood was squirting out with each beat of Dunlap’s heart. Robbins immediately knelt down to help Dunlap and at the same time, he saw the door from the bomb bay to the radio compartment open and an officer that he had never seen came into the compartment and knelt down to help. Between them, they got a tourniquet on Dunlap’s arm and used a bandage to hold his severed hand to the stump of his right arm with the hope it could be sewn back on and saved. It was obvious, Dunlap had lost a lot of blood. He must have tried to get up and get help, then spun around several times before falling to the deck. They had pulled his arm out of his flight jacket to work onit and all they could do now, was to zip up his jacket with the right arm inside and tell the pilots of his condition. Lt. Harms, told Robbins to join the other two and wait for an order to bail out and he would gotell the pilots what had happened. On his way back through the bomb bay, he tried to kick the shackles to release the bombs, but gave up and went into the cockpit, where Gustafson had been talking to Metzger, who had just handed Gustafson his parachute. After Gustafson had a chance to review his situation, he reached for his parachute to get ready to bail out. He always stored it under the hydraulic tank behind the copilot and the same FLAK fragment that cut the piece of bone out of his leg, had entered the tank and the hydraulic oil had soaked his parachute.
Realizing, it might work, Gustafson had tugged on Metzger’s arm and when Metzger turned and realized what Gustafson was saying, as Harms entered the cockpit, Metzger was handing Gustafson his own parachute. By then, though they were much lower in altitude, the two pilots had realized they now had control of the bomber again. They could not turn it, they could not climb and they had to lose about 450 feet of altitude for each mile they gained, in order to keep the air speed above their stall speed, around 118 MPH. Their flight was not in a straight line to the west, it was turning into a large right turn, which in due time would return them back to Saarbrucken. However, they realized its diameter was large enough, they could still reach the Allied Front Lines, if only they could keep it airborne. Realizing they were about an hour from the front lines, the pilots thought they could keep her going until they reached Allied territory and there, they might be able to crash land where both the radio operator who was unconscious and could not bail out on his own, and Gustafson could receive proper medical treatment. Otherwise, all they could do is drop Dunlap out and hope he landed somewhere, where the Germans might give him the medical help he needed. However, they had all heard of what happened to some crews who had bailed out over Germany and no one wanted to risk that, if they had any option at all. Gott, then asked Metzger to go back with Harms to see if they could kick out the bombs and tell the crewmen to dump all the weight they could to help extend the distance they could fly. When done, they were to stay by the escape hatch and wait for the order to bail out. With Metzger’s help, the bombs were releasedover Germany and they tried to close the bomb bay doors, however the doors were damaged and remained open. Harms then returned to the nose, while Metzger informed the men in the waist to dump all the weight they could and get ready to bail out, then he returned to the cockpit. A major dead weight at that time, was the ball turret and there was a special wrench that was supposed to be attached to the assembly at all times. It was to be used to allow the turret to drop free. When Sgt. Robbins attempted to drop the turret, he found the wrench was gone and all he could do, was to get Fross and Krimminger to help throw out all they could and then get to the rear and be ready to bail out when ordered.
At the 563rd Signals Aircraft Warning Battalion plotting center, their radars began to report an Unknown Target approaching from Germany. As additional plots of the aircraft’s location were plotted, they realized it was on a path that would bring it right over their location. They had experienced German aircraft flying down the radar beams to find and destroy the radars. It was becoming a urgent concern when a forward observer in a fox hole on the front lines, called in to report a damaged B-17 with smoke and fire flowing behind it, was approaching the Front Lines and the Germans were firing at it. This report, changed the Unknown Target to a Probably Friendly Target, however, just in case, the members of the unit that was stationed in the small village of Hattonville, Department of the Meuse, were told to start up their engines and be prepared for a dispersal was ordered. A villager told the author years later, it was always quiet there and suddenly, one day the Americans became disturbed, like a bunch of bees around a damaged hive.
Located across from the World War One American Cemetery at Tiaucourt-Regnieville, 8.4 miles to the southeast of Hattonville, the 606th Mobile Hospital was in operation. They were located on a hill side that opened a view of many miles to their east and north. Personnel that day, who were outside helping new arrivals and some, just off duty, heard the FLAK explosions to the east near the river and when they looked, they saw a B-17 coming from the east, with smoke and fire streaming behind it. As there was a lull in arrivals, PFC Lindsey stood and watched the bomber as it passed to their north. When interviewed sixty years later, the told the author that, “I had never felt so helpless in my life, there were large hills to the west and it was obvious the bomber had to crash. It was lower than I was, on the hillside to the south. People were going to die and there was nothing I could do!” Three point six miles to the east of Hattonville, a farmer was working in his field gathering a late cut of hay with the help of displaced Polish people brought from Poland by the Germans to be forced labor in France. They all stopped and watched, as the “Fortress” came from the east and was going to pass about a mile north of them. Its right wing appeared to be burning, leaving a blow torch of flame streaking behind it and its left wing left a broad plume of back smoke which flowed back as far to the east, as they could see.
Note: At the time, all the French people referred to all four engine bombers, as “Fortresses.” At the time, the farmer did not know if it was a B-17 or a B-24. It was a “Fortress” and it could not fly much further. Suddenly, it began a very sharp climb and he thought, it might roll over on its back and crash. Instead, a man appeared and the climb stopped and it began to dive, as if it was going to crash. The man’s parachute opened and then, just when they thought the Fortress would crash, it leveled out for a second and began another sharp climb. Again, suddenly, a man appeared and again the Fortress dove toward earth. Again, as the man’s parachute opened, the Fortress leveled out, but it was a lot lower and then it disappeared over the National Forest to his west. He had seen several crashes and he decided, he had to keep his workers busy and as the two parachutes disappeared to their north, he told the men to get busy. He heard the roar of the damaged engines fade and then, the sound got louder as if the Fortress was flying back toward Germany. All this happened within three minutes and then, he heard the sound of an explosion, not an explosion of bombs, but one that sounded like he had thrown a can of gasoline over a pile of limbs and threw a match on the pile. It was a whooshing noise, not the sharp sound of bombs going off. At the same time, a column of smoke rose above the National Forest two miles to the west of his position. The farmer went back to work and except for discussing the Fortress in the bars for some years, he had forgotten about it, until the author found him in the same field, many years later. Aboard the “Lady Jeannette,” Gott and Metzger had realized they were going to crash immediately. They had now lost too much altitude to fly over the hill in front of them where they could see a field on top where they might have safely slid into a soft crash. Now, if they maintained the same flight pattern as they had since regaining control, they were going to crash into the village at the top of the hill or into the side of the hill or a village at the bottom of the hill. Gott, told Harms to go back and tell the men to be ready to bail as soon as Gott ordered it. He wanted them to bail out where they would not land in the forest, instead they could land in an open field in front of them.
As Harms crossed the bomb bay into the radio compartment and started to open the door, all of a sudden the bomber began a sharp climb and Harms held on to keep from falling down and possibly out of the open bomb bay. He managed to start to open the door and when he looked down through the radio compartment and waist, he could see that there was only two men there and one of them was going out the hatch as he looked. Harms turned around to go back to the cockpit, suddenly, he had to hold on again, as the bomber started another dive, that became a climb and was followed by another dive. As the plane began to level out, Harms entered the cockpit and told Gott, that one man was gone, another was leaving and the last man was ready to bail out when he began to come back to the cockpit. Gott told Harms and Gustafson to get forward be ready to bail out, as soon as they cleared the woods. Fross was the first survivor to land, he landed in an open field and saw an American army tent with a red cross on it some distance away. He wrapped up his parachute and began to walk to the tent. As he approached the tent, Americans walked out to meet him, as civilians from the near by village approached both groups. They took him to the tent and realized his “bell had been rang.” After a physical check, they put him in an ambulance to take him to the nearby hospital that could be seen on the hill to their south. Robbins saw he was going to land in a woods and he crossed his legs and arms with his hands in front of his face as he had been instructed for such a landing. He only felt light limbs brushing against him as he landed standing up in the middle of the woods. He was near the edge of the woods and he hear a motor coming and then he saw a jeep coming across the field toward the woods. Robbins released his parachute harness and left the parachute hanging in the trees, as he walked out to meet the jeep.Just before he landed, Robbins had heard the bombers engine noise getting louder and then, as he entered the woods, he heard the whooshing explosion. As he walked out of the woods, he looked to the west and realized the smoke column he saw, had to be from his B-17. When the jeep arrived, the driver told Robbins to get in and he started back across the pasture toward some houses. The direction was in the direction of the smoke and Robbins thought the man was going to take him to the crash site. Instead, as they passed between the house and a barn, the driver turned right onto a road and started driving north, away from the crash site. When Robbins asked where the man was taking him, he told Robbins, that he was stationed at the Etain Army Air Base and he was taking Robbins there, so the medics could check him out. Upon arrival, about 15 miles north of the crash site, the man dropped Robbins off at the medics and as they were checking him, the unit commander came in and Robbins told him all about his B-17, its crash and the condition of the men on board when he bailed out. He also talked about the man who was hanging under the tail.
The commander told him, as soon as the medics were finished with him, he was to go to the flight line, where they had made arrangement for a light airplane to come and pick him up. As, they had direct orders to get downed flyers back to their base as soon as possible. Robbins arrived at the control tower and they told him, it would be some time before his ride arrived. He saw two P-61 Black Widow Night Fighters close to the control tower and he told the operator he was going to go look at them, as he had never seen one. When he arrived at the two planes, the men working on them saw the blood on his clothing and asked what had happened. Suddenly, they were more than anxious to show him their two night fighters. After a while, they heard a light planes motor, he shook the men’s hands and arrived at the small plane, as it came to a stop. The pilot told him to get in and told him, they were on their way to Paris, where he would be set up for a flight back to his base in England. His 9th of November, 1944, was not complete. Inside the “Lady Jeannette,” Harms was out of the escape hatch before Harland, who was at the hatch could out. Gustafson had thought about what he could do to get to the hatch, so he picked up his right leg by the cuff of his pants and crabbed down into the nose and followed the others out. Gustasfson was the last survivor to leave the “Lady Jeannette” as it approached the village of Hattonville. The hill was now less than two miles away and the B-17 could not clear the hill.
By that time, in the village, the Americans were beginning to drive their vehicles out of the village and yet, some were held in place by what they were watching happen. These men were ground pounders, who helped aircraft conduct their missions, but most of them had never seen a B-17 or B-24 up close. Especially, one that was flying directly at them and each thought, it was targeting them. The Battalion doctor was standing at the village hall/school house, which had been taken over to become their operations plotting center and when the first man bailed out, he told the ambulance driver to head to where that man was going to land. As the ambulance driver headed toward the road out to the field where the man would land, he saw one of the women of the village, with her son in her arms, running to the south away from the village center and he told the author, he remembered her skirts was flying and she was really moving. Then, just as he was ready to turn off onto the road to the field, she stopped, and was gazing at the bomber as it was now very close to the village. When the author first visited the village in September, 1998, he met the boy who had been in his mother’s arms, he was now the Mayor of the village. As everyone watched the approaching bomber, they were realizing it might crash on them. Many found, they could not move as they watched the flaming smoking bomber approach them. Then, they saw another man fall from the bomber, followed by a third and at that time, none of them knew if anyone was left in the bomber. Was it under human control or just continuing toward them? After the second sudden climb, dive and bringing the B-17 back under control, the two pilots realized something had changed. All of a sudden, they did not have to hold the controls to the right, now they could feel the possibility of actually turning the bomber to the right. Now, as the last three survivors bailed out, the sudden loss of weight, was going to allow them to fly a short distance further. As Gustafson left the bomber, they were about 1.75 miles from the village. The pilots thought they had no choice, they were either going to crash into the village or over fly it. Obviously their conversation had to be, with each agreeing, they now had the possibility of flying further and with the sudden, additional control of the bomber, they could continue toward the village. They quickly agreed, if either of them thought they would not clear the village, they would dive into the ground before reaching the village!
Based on all the members of the Battalion, the author was able to contact and those French still living in the village, all of them were amazed as the flaming, smoking “Fortress” began a turn and passed over the village church steeple with no more than three hundred feet clearance. All of them had expected the bomber to fly north toward the fields there, but it continued its turn until it was flying back toward Germany. Back along its flight path, the three survivors, still hanging under their parachutes, saw their bomber was now flying back east, about a thousand feet north of where they were going to land. Before the turn, both Gott and Metzger had realized they were passing over a large field complex where they could have slid in for a crash landing, if only they could control their altitude. Then, as they made the turn to the north, they saw the area in front of them was full of trees, offering no safe place to slide in. So, they completed the turn, thinking they could make another turn to the right and slide into the field they had passed over, to make a safe crash landing. As they completed the turn, Metzger looked out at the field and realized there were people in the area where they would have to crash. In that area were Americans from a radar unit that had moved the day before, who were completing the move. With the vehicles and people, it was obvious they could not attempt a safe crash there. So, they continued to the east and out in the distance, they saw large fields where they might crash, if only they could clear the forest they were now flying over. Both realized, they did not have the altitude to do that and their last opportunity to save their lives was to immediately turn to the right and crash into the field just beyond the forest below.
However, both realized, this would required them to fly into the location where the last men who had bailed out, who were still suspended in their parachutes were going to land. Gott and Metzger realized, if they managed to fly between two of their men, the prop wash and air disturbance caused by their passage would probably cause the men’s parachutes to collapse. Neither Gott or Metzger were prepared to risk another man’s life to save their own and they continued east. Watching closely, as soon as they thought they might circle back to the field and avoid the first man who bailed out, they started the turn. They were about half way through the turn, when the bottom of the B17 began to clip the top limbs of the forest. What neither pilot knew, was what had enabled the additional control, was their tail gunner, S/Sgt. Krimminger. He had been the first man out of the waist because he had accidently opened his parachute inside the waist and as it blew out the hatch, the parachute went over the tail and pulled Krimminger out of the arms of Robbins and Fross. As he cleared the hatch, his body swung down and under the tail, where his body slammed up into the tail control plane. Forcing it up, which caused the sudden climb. Then, as his body fell down and away, the dive began. Only to have his body slam up against the control plane again, forcing the second climb. Both Robbins and Fross told the author, there was nothing they could do and they had to bail out, listening to the screams of Krimminger, asking them to help him. As the bomber lowered into the wood, the limbs began to tear at Krimminger’s body as it hung under the tail. He had been pulled out of the B-17, still wearing his helmet with its ear protective clam shell ear flaps.
Fifty-five years later, the author found one of those flaps, which was found about 400 feet from where the B-17 came to rest in four large pieces. Both wings had broken off and the tail had broken free of the forward fuselage. The forward fuselage had stopped about 135 feet from the broken end of the tail. Lt. Harms had watched after bailing out, as the B-17 flew to the west, turned and flew back toward them. He was just above tree top level, when it began its turn to his north and he followed the ongoing crash and suddenly, the nose of the B-17 was pointing right at him. It stopped moving 227 feet from where he was now landing. The fuel cells in one wing had broken and spread fuel over part of the crash site and suddenly, a large whooshing sound occurred covering a large part of the crash site with fire. Harms, hit the earth, not being sure he was in a friendly area and having seen two men running toward him, he dropped his chute and ran to the north to get into the forest and hide for a while. Harland landed seconds later and he too, dropped his chute and ran to the north into the forest where he found a German WWI artillery position at the edge of the woods and took cover there. Gustafson, who still to this day, does not think he passed out, woke up to see the bomber to his north and then, he watched it start a turn, disappear into a woods and he saw and heard the flashing explosion as he hit the ground. The pain was extensive when his right leg hit the ground and he fell over, to find himself being pulled across the freshly plowed field by his parachute. He was attempting to follow the instructions on what to do, when a Frenchman and an American ran up to him. The Frenchman grabbed him and had stopped his movement, when Gustafson pulled his favorite hunting knife out of a sheath on his parachute harness and handed it to the American to cut his parachutes shroud lines to stop the wind from pulling him across the field. The American cut the shroud lines and was rolling up the parachute when an ambulance pulled up and two men got out and approached Gustafson.
They quickly checked his wound, got a stretcher out of the ambulance and was lifting Gustafson onto it, when Harland came walking up. With both in the ambulance and unable to seen anyone else, the ambulance driver left for the hospital near the World War One cemetery. It had not gone very far, as Gustafson told the author, when he realized that SOB had not given his knife back. In about 15 minutes from the time he had landed, Gustafson and Harland arrived at the 109th Mobile Hospital. They were the patients who were remembered years later when the author attended their reunions. Of the over 25,000 patients they had treated during the war, the survivors of this B-17 crash, that many of then had watched take place, were the only aviators the hospital had treated. As the ambulance arrived at the hospital, PFC Lindsey helped remove the man on the stretcher and watched as two nurses talked to him and sent him to the casting tent. As he was being taken away, Lindsey asked, if he could have a piece of the parachute as a souvenir. Gustafson, told him sure, go ahead. And, when he arrived in the casting tent, he was put to sleep and 9 November, 1944, became a memory. Harland, had stood by while the nurses checked Gustafson out and both had said their goodbye, never to meet again. Harland’s face had been stripped by the parachute shroud lines as it opened and he was told, they were going to keep him overnight for a complete check out and then he would be evacuated in the morning, up the line to the next higher hospital located in Paris. When done, they put him to bed, gave him a sedative and 9 November, 1945, quickly ended for Lt. Harland. Lt. Harms had continued to hide it the forest. However, as he went from tree to tree, he saw an
access road running through the forest and he moved east along the road, still hiding and making certain anyone on the road would not see him. He did hear an motor in the distance, which sounded like an American motor, however, he was still not sure if he was safe. As he went along the road, he reached a point were he could see through the trees and see in the distance, some large pieces of his B-17 and he could hear people talking. He moved closer and then, he heard someone speaking American English and he started to walk through the trees toward the crash site. Off to his side, to the east, he began to see tree limbs and pieces of the bomber spread along the forest floor leading to the crash site. There were some very white and red items, however, he did not realize what they were.
Soon after Harms had run away to the north from the approaching Frenchmen he had seen, the first Frenchman soon arrived where Harms had landed and he could see the nose of the bomber in the smoke of the fading fire. The fire had lasted for less than five minutes, though an engine was lying near the front and it was still burning and to its left, he could see a tire that was going to burn for some time. His friend had not arrived yet, so he went into the woods and with the fire burned out he walked up to the fuselage and he could see through the tree limbs that had broken into the cockpit, the two pilots were in their seats. As he moved some of the smaller limbs and could actually reach the man in the copilot seat the Frenchman realized the man was obviously dead, as his face had been smashed by the limbs and in the other seat, he could see the same had happened to the other pilot. His friend arrived and they walked around to the open end of the fuselage and saw it was spattered all over with blood. He told his friend, that he was going to crawl up into the plane and go to the front and check again on the pilots. His friend, said he was not going to do that, but he was going to the broken off tail to see if anyone was there. The man had just reached the two pilots and verified how they had died, when his friend called and said, he had found another body. He went back to the opening and his friend took him to see a man who had landed between the tail and the forward fuselage and was lying there, also dead. They discussed it and thought, he must have bailed out very late and had landed in the fire which had killed him. At that time, the Frenchmen heard English and they turned and walked out to meet the Americans who were arriving at the site. He saw the Commander, the second in command and the doctor. All the French in the village knew the medics and the doctor, as they had never had better health care than when the Americans were stationed there during World War Two. No matter, what was wrong, if they went to the building where the doctors were at, one of them would find out what was wrong and bind cuts and burns, or give them medicine which always helped. If, one of required more attention, they would bring the doctor who wore the gold leafs on his shoulder. They had been there for two months now and everyone in the village, knew everyone of the Americans, if not by name, by the job they were doing. The Frenchman who was the Americans translator was with them and he filled the Americans in about what the two men had found. As soon as they arrived at the site, the Commander told one of the enlisted Americans to build a fire, not too far from where the wing leaning a tree had came to rest. The six men stood by the cockpit and discussed the two dead men inside and then, they showed them the body they had found. The officers asked the Frenchmen to help get the dead men out of the cockpit and recover the man lying in the bush. The American doctors (enlisted and officer, medics were thought of as doctors) entered the cockpit and started remove the bodies. As they pulled the first one clear of the seat, another man grabbed his flying jacket at the collar and began to pull him through the cockpit and radio compartment. There, the two Frenchmen helped lift them off the deck and carried the bodies to place them on a canvas the officers had placed near the fire. Then, they went back to help with the second body found in the cockpit. The medics had been unable to free his safety belt clasp, so they cut through the seat belting to free him and then, they pulled him out.
All four of men had helped carry that body and placed him next to the first, then they went to get the body they had found in the brush. The Frenchmen saw the second in command, take the coat off the body of the man they had just recovered. Soon the French from the village began to arrive. After some time, three boys who were pushing their bicycles arrived. One of the officers, now wearing a flying jacket, reached into a pocket and pulled out a stick of gum for each of the boys, then he told the French, they had to leave. At the same time, he told the other Americans to place the site under guard and keep any more the French away from the site. As the boys walked their bikes out of the wood, they told arriving French people to turn around and go back to their homes. As they rode toward the village, after clearing the woods, they told everyone they met to turn around and they talked about what they had seen. There were three bodies lying on a cover in the woods, two had broken faces and the only damage the other seemed to have suffered was a light burning, except for where his coat had been and they each remarked, seeing one of the Americans wearing a matching, slightly burned jacket. After helping move the bodies, the two Frenchmen went down the slight hillside to where the broken off tail was lying and another wing was leaning against a tree. They found the door in the broken off tail opened easily and they climbed in, walked down the fuselage and climbed out the opening at the tail end. They were standing by the wing leaning against the tree and talking about the crash site and looking up the debris trail, when they saw an American walking toward them. Both thought, it must be the man that had ran away. They stood there and watched him come toward them. The American had walked around the leaning wing on the forest side and he could not see the whole tail until he was almost in front of them. He looked toward the tail and the ripped parachute lying on the top of the tail plane and suddenly, he began to jump up and down and scream swear words as loud as he could. They looked up and saw the officers by the fire looking at them, so they each grabbed one of the man’s shoulder and half walked and half carried him toward the officers, as he continued to scream and swear. As they approached the three officers standing by the fire, they pointed toward the edge of the forest and indicated they should carry the man out of the forest. When they reached the edge of the forest, a jeep was pulling up with two of their friends in the back who got out as an officer got out of the front seat and told the Frenchmen to place the man, who was no longer screaming and swearing, in the seat he had just got out. Then, he gave each of the Frenchmen some of his cigarettes, got in the back seat and told the drive to head to the hospital.
The officer told Harms, he was the Executive Officer of the 109th Mobile Hospital and they were on their way there. On the way, the officer, 1st Lt. Williams, asked Harms how he would like to trade his flight jacket for a magnum bottle of Cognac. They had plenty of coats at the hospital and as this one had blood on it, he would make certain he got a new jacket before he left the hospital. Harms thought that was a hell of an idea and agreed. When they arrived, he took off the jacket and gave it to Williams, as they took him to see a doctor. The doctor was worried about the way Harms eyes looked and his manner, so he told the nurses to take him to a bed and keep his sedated for three days, which was the normal treatment for a shell shocked infantry man. Thus, for Lt. Harms, the 9th of November, 1944, ended. For the French, all of them were told to leave the site and not to come back until the Americans released it. The “Fortress” event was discussed that afternoon, evening and night, in the bar and while they ate and then, the 9th of November, ended for them. Back at the crash site, the three officers decided to walk to the tail and check out the debris path. They had only walked a short distance up the debris train when the doctor told them to stop, as he went and retrieved a bright white and red relic from the broken limbs. He realized, it had to be part of a fourth man who had died during the crash. He hollered for the head medic to come and bring a bucket. When the medic arrived they put the human remains in the bucket and walked a bit further along the debris trail, where they realized the track of human remains led some distance from where they were standing. The doctor told the medic to go back and get the other two medics and begin to recover the remains spread along the debris trail. With that, the officers walked back to the fire and discussed what they had found. They had three complete bodies lying by the fire and now, a fourth spread along the debris trail and that was going to take some time to recover. The commander and executive officer decided they would go back to their headquarters to call in and report the crash and the death of the three men, all of whom had been identified, one was an officer named Gott, the second was an officer named Metzger and the third was an enlisted man, named Dunlap.
As to the torn apart man, they would have to find some identity before all four could be identified. After they took off, the doctor went out to the medics searching for remains and he was told, they were having a very difficult job recovering the man’s pieces as he had really been torn-apart and they were finding small pieces were covered by the limbs and plane debris. The doctor went back to the fire and told the enlisted, head military policeman, to go in and talk to commander and tell him, they needed to place guards at the site that night to protect the three complete bodies and the torn-apart remains spread through the forest. Soon, he arrived back at the woods and told the doctor a guard detail was being set up and he was going back to set up transportation. The doctor told him to wait a minute, he walked out to the searching men and told them, to shut it down when it was too dark and they would finish it up in the morning and he was heading back in with the MP. He was not gone 15 minutes, when the head medic called the other men to gather up their stuff and head to the fire. There, they told the guard who was there, they were calling it a day and would be back in the morning
The day of 9 November, 1944, at the 563rd SAW Battalion HQ, ended with the men discussing the B-17 flying so close overhead and the crash site, the dead and the newly discovered torn-apart man. As this had happened after the French had been ordered to leave, the French never learned of the fourth man’s death and until the author arrived in 1998, they had thought only three men had died at the crash site and all three of them consisted of a complete bodies who were buried at the close by, Limey American WWII military cemetery. Back at the mobile hospital, not too long after that ambulance with the flyer had left, another arrived with another airman lying on a stretcher. As the nurses were checking him out, PFC Lindsey got another stretcher to replace the one the man was lying in and watched as the nurses got him up and walked off with him. As the ambulance had just left, he picked up the stretcher and folded it up to put on the spare pile. As he lifted it to the top of the pile, something fell out. When PFC Lindsey picked it up and looked at it, he realized, he had a second souvenir of the crashed B-17. Along with his handkerchief sized piece of the man’s parachute, he now had a flyer’s silk escape map. As the nurses had taken the first man away to the cast tent, Lindsey had picked up the parachute to get a souvenir piece cut out. Just then, one of the pharmacy men walked by, who always had a pair of scissors in a sheath on his belt. He asked him to cut out his souvenir, and the man asked if he could have one for himself. Than, another asked for a souvenir and they decided to cut the parachute into enough pieces to give everyone in the unit a souvenir In Paris, still wearing the flight clothing covered with Dunlap’s blood, S/Sgt. Robbins had been given an evenings pass and he had stopped in front of a famous Paris perfume store thinking, if he had not forgot to get the escape money attached to his parachute that he had left hanging from the trees in the forest, he could have bought his wife a large bottle of fancy French perfume. Other men in the temporary living quarters he had been taken to, once he landed near Paris that afternoon, had given him enough money to eat and buy some drink. Now he was broke, so he headed back to the his quarters and went to bed, thinking about what had happened the “Lady Jeannette” and his friends after he had bailed out. Thus, ended S/Sgt. Robbins, 9th of November, 1944.
At their air base back in England, the men and officers discussed the loss of the “Lady Jeannette.” All of them were certain it was going to crash and instead, it came under control and was last seen, heading west with no parachutes seen. It was another day of combat and another day of what was considered fairly light casualties, thus the 9th of November, 1944, came to an end. The author and his wife, Carol, asked each survivor of the “Lady Jeannette” to sign the drawing to show they agreed with the author’s research. Each did, except for S/Sgt. Fross, who died before the drawing was completed.
- 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.
- B-17 Lady Jeannette, Part II.
- B-17 Lady Jeannette, Part III.
- B-17 Lady Jeannette, Part IV.
- B-17 Lady Jeannette, Part V.
- Memorial to the “top secret B-24 and nearby B-26 crash site
- Memorial to the “Lady Jeannette.”
- Grave of the B-24 crewmen hidden remains, recovered and properly buried by the French
- Memorial to Lt. Noble and F.O. Dube, RCAF – Pilot of another shot down 452nd BG B-17
All are memorials put in place by author’s organization and French citizens.
- Cole, Willis Samuel: The Last Flight of the Lady Jeannette (Paperback). Btry Cpl W S Cole Military Museum.
- Cole, Willis Samuel: The Best Kept Secret of World War Two! (Paperback). Btry Cpl W S Cole Military Museum.