For those who haven’t read the Grossenritte story, I quote:
"September 13th, 1944: the flak batteries in Grossenritte shot down a bomber. The aircraft crashed in a forest near Besse. Three men of the crew were rescued; five were dead (this was incorrect). Of this incident, a resident writes, ”I asked my dad if he remembered something about the bomber which was shot down September 13th, 1944. He told me, that several engines of the plane and the plane itself were damaged and it was flying very low and slowly. Residents of the village and my dad came to see what happened there, because the low flying bomber and all the flak guns were very loud. He said, that every gun from the flak batteries opened fire of this bomber. The plane lost several parts and crashed into a forest near Besse, 3 Kilometers away. Residents of the surrounding villages of the crash area ran to the wreck and rescued some of the crewmembers. The wreck was laying there for some years afterward.” RAF records do not record any raids on Kassel for this date, so speculation is that this downed bomber was American.”
This mystery airplane fascinated my new German friend and myself. Together, we did some more digging, and found the answers. At least what we thought was the correct answers. Later new facts came to light, and thanks to a nice phone call from Carl V. Nielsen, former navigator of the downed plane, who had read the story here; it would be now possible to write the true story of “Liberty Run’s” last mission. Thanks also to Larry C. Mathis, son of the former crewmember Henry C. Mathis Jr., who sent us very important information. This article includes also true background information from different sources. Today, some of it is hard to believe.
This article based also on old official American-German documents, witness reports of people who were involved and reports of former crewmembers of the “Liberty Run”.
On September 13th, 1944, while Patton’s Troubleshooters were battling it out at the Moselle River in France, other battles were taking place.
From September 11th until September 13th, the 8th Air Force flew raids against different targets in Germany. The result was many heavy air battles in Central Germany. Many American and German pilots and aircraft were downed and a lot of pilots and crews never saw their home base again.
(Note: For the German Luftwaffe, these three days were a disaster. With less fuel and only some groups of fighter planes, they had no chance to stop the bomber fleets. The German fighter planes hardly arrived the near the American bombers, and they were attacked by the bomber escort, Mustang long distance fighter planes. For the German pilots, these were nearly suicide missions. From September 11th until September 13th, they lost 160 fighter planes and 117 pilots. In the last months of WWII, the battles in the sky got progressively worse for them. In mid 1944, most of the top German fighter aces had been killed or became prisoners of war, so they sent young pilots with less experience in combat into the battle. It was reported that these young pilots flew very aggressively, but with less combat experience and fuel limited, they couldn’t match the well-trained American Mustang pilots).
On September 13th, the 8th Air Force sent 854 bombers on the way to Germany. Targets were the synthetic oil plants in Leuna and Luetzkendorf in the Merseburg area. The Merseburg area was well protected by nearly 500 flak cannons. In use were 88 mm, 105 mm and mighty 125 mm cannons. Pilots were talking about the ”flak hell Leuna”. On this windy, clear September day in 1944, a B-17 aircraft and its crew were on the way to fly into American-German history. B-17 G, Serial Number 44-6076, otherwise known as “Liberty Run”, was an aircraft of the 359th Bomber Squadron “Hell’s Angels”, 303rd Bomber Group, 1st Division, 8th Air Force.
On September 13th, crewmembers of “Liberty Run” were:
1st Lt. Lewis M. Walker- completed 30 combat missions
2nd Lt. Joseph J. Doyle- completed 31 combat missions
1st Lt. Carl V. Nielsen- completed 31 combat missions
2nd Lt. Donald B. Beers- completed 26 combat missions
T/Sgt Albert J. Lunday- completed 29 combat missions
T/Sgt James W. Sublett- completed 23 combat missions
S/Sgt Walter L. Hundley- completed 24 combat missions
S/Sgt Henry C. Mathis Jr.- completed 28 combat missions
S/Sgt Arthur L. Reckert- completed 28 combat missions
Lt. Walker’s crew was an old combat crew. They used various B-17’s on their missions. Their first aircraft was the “Scorchy II”; their latest was the “Liberty Run”.
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