Lost US Bomber crash site verified, WWII Battlefield Research and Preservation Group changes history through discovery

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384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) in World War II website

The story of two planes and events leading to the discovery is long and is still a work in progress. The details are filled with twist turns, highs, and lows. It started out as a two-part mission in 2017.

1. Locate and verify the identity of a US Army Air Force bomber (A), which its location is still undisclosed and unverified.
2. Establish facts and evidence to support the probable location of two missing crew members from it (A). For simplicity, we’ll say BOMBER A.  Bomber B is the aircraft site now verified.

The groundwork of the research began from a short summary of the incident written in the book Crash I/Crash II, John Derneden. In Crash band I, 1999, a location of the aircraft (A) crash site is near Weicherdange. In Crash II, 2004 the location was changed to 1.4 KM to the southwest based on local input from villagers and photos of the wreckage. This was not the first mention of the crash sites, aircraft (B) was first mentioned in a book written by E T Melchers, Bombenangreff  Auf Luxembourg in Zwei Weltkriegen, 1984 as a US bomber, 30 November 1944, near “Wolfshof” Eselborn.

 The search began in 2017 with the limited knowledge that (A) was somewhere in a 4.5km square area of dense forest and open fields. Over 6 months this area was 80% searched with just 5 pieces of debris being found that fit in a ziplock bag. Confident as to the location as it’s where a significant piece of wreckage was photographed and the remains of 3 crew members were found and removed. After the 2017 season, a change in direction of search in 2018 was as follows: to the NE in a direction with known wreckage/remains found at the furthest point north (12 km) in February 1945 by US forces, also evidence and remains removed in March 1945 to the SW, to include found wreckage evidence of 2017 in the SW area.

It was advised that there was another wreck site nearby of an aircraft of the same type, downed 30 November 1944. Information and location were requested, but no information was known as to site location, name of crew members,’ the serial number of the ship, and there was no Missing Air Crew Report available. Of course one had to wonder how then this would be known. Thoughts turned to it could very well be the aircraft (A) in search for. It was told that it was not, but again without any data to support it. For aircraft (A), I had the Missing Air Crew Reports, names, serial number, and exact date of the crash, plus numerous more documents.

In March 2018, contact with a family of one of the MIA, they sent me on request every piece of information they had on the case plus, personal documents, as I wanted a personal touch to the story for a book when the case is closed. In the documents was an article translated from German to English about the crash site near Weicherdange, and it was presented as aircraft (A)! which I was searching for. Long story short, I tracked down the man who wrote it and asked what his evidence was. His father had been there during the salvage, and he had in his possession several pieces. I checked the site and verified it was indeed a bomber type that I searched, B-17. He said it was a B-17F, how did he know, because he had found a piece with the data tag on it saying B-17(F). He told me I could see the tag as he had it at the local museum

 


 

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I went there and sure enough, there was a piece of the exhaust with the plate and a tag saying  Engine piece, B-17F, crashed near “Wolfshof”  Eselborn, 30 Nov 1944, just like the ET Melcher book said. The problem is that the piece does not identify the aircraft or type or date built/delivered, only that the engine was first built for a B-17F, April-28, 1944, the engines were swapped almost daily and many F models were used as parts from summer 44 on as they were old stock. The other confusion was that another piece was a chair, labeled as navigator chair, B-17F Weicherdange 3 November 1944. The chair was actually a radio operator. Also, evidence discovered in summer 2018, showed the aircraft to be a B-17G model, not F.

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My suspicions were that we had two aircraft, two different dates, one Nov, 44 and one Jan, 45 and several locations, or one aircraft spread over several locations. The only way to be sure was to recover non-disputable evidence from the crash site to verify the identity of the site and establish a fact-based presentation of events.

With a permit granted from the Luxembourg state Ministry of Culture, vetted by the office of Center of National Archaeological Research I began my quest in a new location. The 2018 goal was to establish with no doubt the true identity of the aircraft in question, and if it was aircraft (A), hope to find evidence of two missing crew.

Over 3 summers I found 500Kg of wreckage, as well as so many close calls of identifiable evidence; the inside of a USAAF Elgin watch – no ID# or name, one engine data plate with non-matching to aircraft (A) list of engines, 3 more oil sumps where other engine plates were, but not found, I found a small piece of the dash where the main aircraft data plate used to be, a fragment of the .50 cal gun, no serial number; frustration to the limit. I also found the half of a map divider tool that a navigator would use that had name and initials scratched into it, this name did not match any crew nor could find this person in the bomb group, till this day is not known.

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The moment came just this month, June 2020, when the RADIO CALL plate was found. The call plate read 46141, what, what was this? It was at first dismissed as a radio ID. The RADIO CALL tag is put on at the time of the building of the aircraft with the serial number of the plane it represents and is located on the dash of the cockpit in front of the pilot and co-pilot. Further research at the office turned up the number in the B-17 Boeing Fortress Registry, data compiled by Joe Baugher. It listed the serial number as 44-6141, Sneakin Deacon, 384th BG, 544th BS, crashed 30 November 1944, what? but crashed in France. Now is the confusion, what’s a radio call tag doing here if the aircraft went down in France and was salvaged? Through conversing with the great folks at the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) in World War II website, the issue was solved. I suggested that the plane had to have come down over Luxembourg, and the survivors probably were picked up by Belgian nationals, who speak French and they assumed they were in France. All crew did survive and returned to Army Air Station 106 back in Grafton Underwood England as noted on the squadron Morning Report, 7 December 1944. As far as documentation goes, it was found that they bailed out over Luxembourg, and were picked up in Belgium as thought.* (Fayers-Hallin and Bland), the crew reported that they had bailed out over "no man's land" in Luxembourg and were safe in Belgium*.

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MISSION DATA:

DATE                     384th BG Mission #               8th AF Mission #    384th PRIMARY TARGET
1944 11 30              233                                          731                          TARGET: SYNTHETIC OIL REFINERY

TYPE: OIL INDUSTRY

LOCATION: ZEITZ, GERMANY


TRAFFIC AND WEATHER: THE INITIAL BOMB RUN USING PFF WAS TERMINATED WHEN TRAFFIC CONGESTION FORCED THE FORMATION TO ALTER COURSE. A SECOND (VISUAL) BOMB RUN WAS MADE AFTER SIGHTING THE TARGET, BUT IT TURNED OUT TO BE THE TOWNS OF MEUSELWITZ AND WINTERSDORF, GERMANY, ABOUT 5 MILES SOUTHEAST OF THE PRIMARY TARGET. THE HIGH SQUADRON BOMBED THE 'LAST RESORT TARGET' OF FULDA, GERMANY, USING PFF.


SORTIE DATA:
COMBAT CREDIT             STATUS                TARGET ATTACKED (MODE)
YES                              COMPLETED MISSION

COMMENTS: FORCED LANDING IN FRANCE DUE TO BATTLE DAMAGE; SALVAGED.          LAST RESORT TARGET (PFF)


LOCATION: FULDA, GERMANY

SORTIE AIRCRAFT DATA:
TYPE      SERIAL NUMBER                SQ CODE               NAME
B-17G     44-6141                                   SU*F                      SNEAKIN DEACON

History:   44-6141 Del Tulsa 12/5/44; Kearney 25/5/44; Dow Fd 1/6/44; Ass 544BS/384BG [SU-F] Grafton Underwood 10/6/44; b/d Merseburg 30/11/44 w/unknown pilot; c/l France, Sal.

CREW DATA:

POSITION             CREW MEMBER                                                  
PILOT                     FLESHMAN, WARREN GRAY                         
CO-PILOT              LANEY, JOHN NEAL                                         
NAVIGATOR        COCHRAN, JOHN EDWARD, JR                     
TOGGLIER            DECKER, FLOYD VIRGIL                                 
RADIO OPERATOR  RICHARDSON, WILLIAM H                       
ENG/TOP TURRET WOODRUFF, WALTER C, JR                         
BALL TURRET     MITCHELL, OREAL H                                        
TAIL GUNNER     GALETTO, ANTHONY J                                    
WAIST  GUNNER, BAUMANN, FREDERICK H
 

Search efforts are still ongoing for Aircraft (A), 2 locations are suspect for investigating, and when more data develops announcements will be sent out. Case details will be put into the final mission report consisting of data generated by evidence found and documents obtained.

Conducting research is the never-ending discovery of facts, clues, and evidence that can take you further into the unanswered, create new mysteries solve some old ones, and support or take a turn to theories and ideas till the final outcome is established, there’s no right or wrong answers, justified closure. That’s the driving force to do it.