The fate of the B-17 bomber “Katie’s Boys” and its crew

A contribution in a series of contributions relating to Fläminger Geschichtsbeiträge
(c) 2001 Andreas Trotz

Before Russian soldiers marched into Lower Fläming in the spring of 1945, 10 American soldiers had already arrived a year earlier. Forced to parachute out of their plane before it crashed, they landed in the fields just southeast of the town of Jüterbog. Explorers in the Sernower Heide (Sernower heath) between Hohengörsdorf, Fröhden and Riesdorf, might still be amazed to find pieces of black rubber and clumps of aluminum in the woods today. Only a few decades after it happened, people in the surrounding villages can’t explain the details of the crash. What they do remember was that sometime during the spring of 1944, a big plane crashed and all of the crew might have survived. So quickly history passes away or is almost not present. After the incident, the Americans wrote a report on the aircrew and the aircraft that were missing; the Germans wrote a report on the aircrew and the aircraft that were found. This contribution, with a culmination of research from the USA, England, the Netherlands and Germany, encompassing eyewitness accounts, all existing official reports and personal narratives, gives a thorough rendering of the details of that event.

On the morning of March 8, 1944, pilot Norman Chapman of the American 100th Bomb Group, started out for his received mission of the day. Leaving the English airfield, Thorpe Abbotts, mission number 252 was to take him and his crew to Erkner (located near Berlin) to target a ball plant factory.

Since their usual aircraft, a 4-engined B-17 named “Katie’s” was under repair they were forced to fly a replacement plane named “Holy Terror III”. Pilot Chapman wife’s name was Katie, and Chapman quickly renamed the new plane (serial #42-40056) “Katie’s Boys”. On its fuselage the code EP-F was written and on the fin the letter “D”, the short form of its serial number – 240056 and a yellow “F” of the aircraft’s code. It belonged to the 100th bomb group, the 351st bomb squadron.

Already during the crew reached western Germany where large batteries of German anti-aircraft lie waiting for bomb plane formations, one of the plane’s four engines starting having problems. In spite of this the crew was able to accomplish their mission, making the bomb run on the target. But the airplane was still straggling. After their raid, their engines continued to have problems, and they left the formation making them an easy target for the waiting German fighter planes. Fighting ensued to protect this Flying Fortress, and for a while it looked as if they had it under control and might be able to make it back to England. They all should not fly the shortest distance back home, because of the dangers of more German anti-aircraft in the Potsdam area, so they fly a southern loop around Berlin in the direction of the Fläming area.

Near the town of Jüterbog, another enemy attacked on the plane occurred while they were out of formation. The German sergeant Werner Rubel attacked the plane in his Messerschmitt 109-G, appr. 6 miles east of Jüterbog. One of the engines on the B-17 caught fire. Since staying any longer in the aircraft would have been dangerous, Pilot Chapman gave the order for the crew to bail out. Rubel, who was stationed in Jüterbog at this time for the 53. Jagdgeschwader (II. Group 6./JG53 - Pik As -), got a confirmation of his rushing down for this attack happened at 2:17 p.m german time that afternoon. Katie’s Boys’ probably flew a loop towards the south after the bombardment. All ten crewmembers bailed out and landed safely with their parachutes in the fields between the villages of Hohengörsdorf, Fröhden and Markendorf. As seen by eyewitness G. Hannemann, the B-17 continued on its course but in a big spiral, with the engine No. 3 ablaze, near the village of Riesdorf. Approximately 1.2 miles from Riesdorf in the northern part of Sernower Heide, the B-17 crashed into the woods and airplane fragments scattered over the ground. The fire continued and the plane was nearly completely burned and heavily telescoped.

Co-pilot, Rex Ellis, landed in a field north of the village of Hohengörsdorf. He remembers the villagers coming after him with shovels and pitchforks ready to fight. There were only two members of the Wehrmacht present to stop the villagers and take Ellis into custody. The other nine crewmembers landed near the same area and were also captured and taken as prisoners of war.

Co-pilot Ellis, in the summer of 2001 at the age of 81, told the story of his parachute jump: “As I parachuted from our aircraft and was floating down, I could see other members of the crew descending and then the aircraft spiraling down near by. The crash site was at most a mile from my landing site.”

Ellis still believes today that his parachute jump originated northeast of Berlin. Maybe it is because his plane was last seen about 15 miles east of Berlin. But it is documented that this event took place about 35 miles south of Berlin near the town Jüterbog.

Around 5 p.m. that day the salvage team of the second group of the NAG 102 (Nahaufklärungsgeschwader 102) from Jüterbog-Damm, lead by von Rüxleben, reached the crash site and made a complete report of the damage. A comparison of the American missing aircraft report, the German salvage teams report (KU) and other German capture reports are as follows:

march 8, 1944
10 crewmember missed in action (MIA)

Norman Chapman No. 0-746292
Rex Ellis No. 0-752187
Glenn Lindbom No. 0-809659
Wilson Clark No. 0-750274
Milton Scharf No. 12188872
George Silverman No. 31153017
Durward Hutchings No. 12171577
Frank Yzenas No. 12161945
Leon Hill No. 38273822
George Dobbs No. 39406131
last seen about 15 miles east of Berlin
serial number: 240056 (42-40056)

13 machine guns
4 engines with serial numbers

KU and capture reports
march 8, 1944
10 crewmember captured,
- 8 from HQ Jüterbog-Damm and
- 2 from HQ Jüterbog-Waldlager,
wounded/dead: none
Norman Chapman No. 0-746292 near Fröhden
Rex Ellis No. 0-752187 near Hohengörsdorf
No. 12188872 Jüterbog area
No. 31153017 Jüterbog area
a/c found 9,5 km (6 m.) ese of Jüterbog
on the fin “2400” on the right side, and a “6” on the left side, “2400” possibly followed by a “6”
13 machine guns (Browning)
condition of plane: crash damage 95%
bombs not determined or reported
4 engines, beaten deep into ground/heavily damaged

This data along with testimonies from some of the crewmembers and an identifiable serial number on the wreckage confirms without a doubt the identity of this B-17 aircraft.

On March 8, 1944, the American airforce lost a total of 27 B-17s in this mission. The 100th bomb group only lost one plane. These were very satisfactory results after the high losses experienced on their mission two days earlier.

The officers, Chapman, Ellis, Lindbom and Clark, were taken to intermediate stations first and later sent to prison camps in Barth/Ostsee (Stalag Luft I). The other six crewmembers were sent to different prison camps. The flight engineer, Silverman, and the radio operator, Scharf, were sent to Heydekrug (Wehrkreis I Königsberg, Stalag Luft IV – the current place name Silute/Litauen – Lativa), a prison camp in East Prussia at that time. All 10 crewmember stayed prisoners of war until their liberation at the war’s end in the late spring of 1945.

Even though co-pilot Ellis survived air combat, nearly died after his parachute jump from the plane, spent over a year as a POW, he remained true to the US Airforce. In spite of his bitter personal adventures he had in Germany fighting against the Nazi regime, Ellis later flew supplies and food to the people in Western-Berlin during the Berlin blockade in 1948/1949 (Luftbrücke/air bridge). A very high repected story of a Veteran.

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