Thursday, March 27, 2014

That Old Photograph Revisited


Since I wrote that post a couple of days ago I've received further information on those men in that old photo that Bob sent me. I wanted to follow up and let you all know, as Paul Harvey liked to say, "the rest of the story." Well, at least as much as I know.

From my Lexican buddy RRL (who brought 1Lt Schindler, the co-pilot, to my attention) I am in receipt of the MACR* reporting the loss of this aircrew. It's a pdf file, a copy of a copy, so much of it is faded and hard to decipher. Much of the report was handwritten which renders some of it rather cryptic. But, all that being said, I have a much better picture of the fate of some of those gentlemen above. (You'll see why I say "some" soon enough.) From here on out, I'll refer to them as 1Lt Starkey's crew. He was the pilot (he's the man on the far left) and he gave his life for his men, as you'll see.

Now a careful reading of that MACR will reveal inconsistencies, I have tried to provide a synopsis of the contents. Any errors herein are my own.

B-26G-25-MA from 397th BG, most probably the 599th Bomb Squadron.
Photo probably Spring 1945, either Peronne, France or Venlo, The Netherlands.
The same group, squadron and aircraft type as 1Lt Starkey's crew.

Their unit:
The 599th Bombardment Squadron - Established in early 1943 as a B-26 Marauder medium bomber group. Initially was an Operational Training Unit under Third Air Force in the southeastern United States. Realigned as an operational squadron and deployed to European Theater of Operations (ETO), and assigned to Ninth Air Force in England in early 1944.

Engaged in tactical bombardment of enemy targets in France and the Low Countries in the spring of 1944, also participated in the extensive bombardment of the D-Day invasion area in preparation for the Operation Overlord landings in France. After D-Day, moved from England to Advanced Landing Grounds in France, providing tactical bombardment of enemy strong points as well as bridges, railroads and other targets in support of Allied ground forces during the Northern France Campaign. Supported the Western Allied invasion of Germany during the spring of 1945, continuing combat operations against enemy targets in Germany until the German Capitulation in May 1945. Squadron demobilized in France during the summer of 1945, returning personnel and equipment to the United States. Inactivated as a paper unit during December 1945.
Lineage
  • Constituted 599th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) on 20 Mar 1943
  • Activated on 20 Apr 1943
  • Inactivated on 31 Dec 1945
Assignments
  • 397th Bombardment Group, 20 Apr 1943-31 Dec 1945
Stations
  • MacDill Field, Florida, 20 Apr 1943
  • Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida, 14 Oct 1943
  • Hunter Field, Georgia, 1 Nov 1943-13 Mar 1944
  • RAF Gosfield (AAF-154), England, 5 Apr 1944
  • RAF Rivenhall (AAF-168), England, 15 April 1944
  • RAF Hurn (AAF-492), England, 4 Aug 1944
  • Gorges Airfield (A-26), France, 30 Aug 1944
  • Dreux/Vernouillet Airfield (A-41), France, c. 16 Sep 1944
  • Peronne Airfield (A-72), France, c. 8 Oct 1944
  • Venlo Airfield (Y-55), Netherlands, 25 Apr 1945
  • Peronne Airfield (A-72), France, 30 May-c. Dec 1945
  • Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, 30-31 Dec 1945
Aircraft
  • B-26 Marauder, 1943-1945
599th Bombardment Squadron Patch

Derived from MACR 14263 -

On the 8th of April 1946, the crew of aircraft serial number 44-68148 departed Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-72 near Peronne/St Quentin, France for a mission to bomb military targets in and around the town of Nienhagen, Germany.


Over halfway to the target 1Lt Starkey's aircraft encountered German anti-aircraft batteries in the vicinity of Peine, Germany. According to one survivor of the crew, SSgt Doane, the batteries were made up of 88mm anti-aircraft cannon. The weather in the area could be characterized as heavy haze, with visibility from 2 to 3 miles. Seems like a lot, but not if you're cruising at 200 mph  through a flak filled sky.

The Mission
H = Home Base
C= Crash Site of 
44-68148 
T = Intended Target
According to SSgt Alfred L. Rhoades, the armament gunner on another B-26: Lt. Starkey's aircraft suffered a direct hit in the bomb bay. At the same time, it blew off the left wing and engine. About twelve feet of the tail was blown clear of the aircraft. I then saw two men jump from the aircraft. I saw several burning pieces of the aircraft hit the ground.

SSgt Doane indicated that he saw his aircraft impact the ground with a violent explosion. Once on the ground (SSgt Doane had been able to bail out of 44-68148) no one would go near the burning wreckage of the aircraft as it wasn't known if the bombs had been jettisoned or not.

Here's what the MACR says about the crew, as related by SSgt Doane:

1Lt Starkey, the pilot and aircraft commander, did not bail out of the aircraft. According to SSgt Doane, the pilot was desperately trying to regain control of the aircraft after it was hit. SSgt Doane's last communication with 1Lt Starkey was when the pilot instructed him to go to the bomb bay and remove the safety pins from their bomb load. (The safety pins were removed inflight as standard practice. The bombs were carried internally.) 1Lt Starkey was apparently uninjured by the AAA impact on his aircraft. 1Lt Starkey had flown "about 25" missions with this crew.

2Lt Poulson, the bombardier, was apparently in the nose of the aircraft, a rather cramped place. He did not have his parachute, it was stowed in the radio room (aft of the cockpit). According to SSgt Doane, 2Lt Poulson was unable to reach the radio room to get his parachute due to the aircraft being in a spin. Apparently 2Lt Poulson may have been slightly injured. The last SSgt Doane knew of the bombardier was the co-pilot pounding him on the legs, trying to "hurry him up." (No doubt to get to his 'chute.) This was 2Lt Poulson's first mission with this crew. Therefore he is probably not in the photograph above. (So now I wonder who the men are in that photo. Other than 1Lt Starkey who was positively IDed as the officer on the far left and SSgt Doane as the photo was attached to his obituary in 2012.)

SSgt Neal was seen to jump from the aircraft by SSgt Doane, but "He got out OK but his 'chute failed at about 6000 feet, He went to hell in a hurry. I did not get a chance to go over to him." (After SSgt Doane had landed in his 'chute.) SSgt Neal had flown "about 26" missions with this crew.

There was no "Individual Casualty Questionnaire" from SSgt Doane regarding SSgt Thomas, other than the mention that SSgt Thomas was still in the aircraft upon impact.

Furthermore SSgt Doane related that their aircraft was occupying the Number 4 (The Slot) position in their flight when their aircraft was hit. He witnessed 1Lt Schindler and SSgt Neal leave the aircraft and indicated that the co-pilot, 1Lt Schindler, jumped from the aircraft "thru hatch into right prop" and he himself jumped from the left waist window.

SSgt Doane said that he saw his aircraft impact the ground approximately 100 yards from "the 88 that shot us down". 1Lt Starkey, 2Lt Poulson and SSgt Thomas were still onboard the aircraft when it crashed, still in or near their combat positions. According to him, there was no possibility of anyone surviving the crash of the aircraft.

Both SSgt Doane and 1Lt Schindler spent time as POWs, however briefly, as they were shot down exactly one month before the Germans surrendered. SSgt Doane indicated in his questionnaire that 1Lt Schindler had been liberated by the 2nd Armored Division.

No further details (relevant to this followup) were contained in the MACR. Other than this listing of the crew's next of kin. (I give the relationship and the hometowns of the next of kin only. While the names are listed in the MACR, it's still hard, 70 years later, to think of the grief those families suffered. I couldn't bring myself to list those names here.)

Next of kin
  • 1Lt Starkey - Wife in Louisville, KY
  • 1Lt Schindler - Father in Davenport, IA
  • 2Lt Poulson - Father in Williamsburg, IA
  • SSgt Doane - Mother in Yakima, WA
  • SSgt Thomas - Mother in Colonia Del Valle, Mexico
  • SSgt Neal - Mother in Shawnee, OK
Three of the crew of B-26 Marauder, serial number 44-68148 - 1Lt Starkey, 2Lt Poulson and SSgt Thomas rest here -

Margraten - the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial
Along with many other Americans, who gave their lives.

For us.







*MACR = Missing Air Crew Report

10 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It was a fascinating story, quite a few folks pitched in to help me tell it.

      I will never forget those who gave all. I know you're the same way.

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  2. Thank you, Sarge and friends for finishing the story. I never expected this from one old picture. I found it in a box of family photos that I rescued way back in 1968 when we were cleaning out my grandmother's house. I have no idea why it was there. Maybe some distant relative is in it. Maybe a family friend. It doesn't really matter. It will now be framed and take a place of honor in my home. That's the least I can do for these brave men.

    Bob aka taminator013

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    Replies
    1. That sounds awesome Bob. That generation is passing quickly. We need to remember them and teach our children and grandchildren of their sacrifice and heroism. Thanks for sharing that photo with us.

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    2. Hi everyone. I don't mean to butt in, but Robert Starkey is my grandfather. The Margraten site didn't have any pictures of him. I sent them his individual pic and that one of a crew in front of a B26. That particular one is at a training facility and supposedly isn't the same crew . S/SGT Diane was alive a couple of years ago. I found him in Washington and my dad went to see him . He passed away a couple of months later. What a shame these men are all leaving us now.

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    3. Doane. Stupid autocorrect.

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    4. It's not butting in when you bring new information to light.

      We owe so much to men like your grandfather and SSgt Doane. Yes, those men are leaving us quickly and the sad thing is that there are those who don't notice it.

      Thanks for getting in touch.

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    5. FWIW, I despise autocorrect.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)