B 17G-BO 42-31561 - Near Øster Højst - The long version På dansk Updated: 22 FEB 2010
The long version about B17 42-31561 from Frede Gotthardsen´s account in Yearbook 1996 of the Historical Society of the Municipality of Løgumkloster based on many interviews and written sources,
This crew came from the USA to Scotland on 18 October, 1943 and flew fra Hornham Airfield on their first mission to Ludwigshafen on 30 December.
They were on a number of bombing raids. In February they got a new B-17G plane, which the crew called ”Elmer´s Tune” to honour their Pilot, Elmer Costales. On 20 February they flew to Poznan in Poland. Next day the target was Frankfurt, and next day again Schweinfurt. On 23 February they were called back due to bad weather.
Then came the fatal day 24 February, 1944. At first they were to be one of a number of planes in the reserve. The wake up call was at 02:00, and they realized it would be a long mission. As several planes dropped out, the reserves replaced them. Costales and his crew were assigned to the upper place at the rear of the formation – absolutely the most dangerous position.
The route was up along the west coast of Jutland and across Denmark. The Baltic Sea was hidden under clouds. Northeast of Berlin the course was changed to the southeast. The target was Poznan once again. The result was the same as the last time. The target was covered by dense clouds. They flew to the secondary target, Rostock. Fighters attacked violently. The group lost a few planes, but after the bombing they were able to increase their speed considerably. The bombload was nearly 5 tons.
Then they headed northwest, and they were to have fighter cover over the North Sea. “I asked George to open a carton of pineapple juice when hell broke out,” Costales tells. The plane took a number of hits, in the left engine which started smoking, in the instrument panel and other places. The Pilot and the Co-Pilot were severely wounded, as well as Navigator Sahner.
They dived to keep up with the group, but it did not help much, and the 3 (4?) fighters were still attacking. They dived down into a mass of clouds to put out the fire in the engine and to get rid of the fighters, but they did not succeed, and now smoke came from the other left engine.
B-17 Flying Fortress, the queen
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Hays and Carnie bailed out west of Mårbæk Bjerg, and as Johannes Ulrich noticed the parachutes, he hurried on his bike to help the airmen. A little later Anton Lund arrived, and the two of them took Hays, whose leg had been injured, on a bike to Lund’s farm. Here Mrs Lund was celebrating her 40th anniversary, so they had coffee with an abundance of cakes in the traditional manner of Southern Jutland. Doctor Højholdt was called by telephone and he drove them in his car to Løgumkloster Hospital.
Just after the two airmen landed at Mårbæk Bjerg the fighters attacked twice at Alslev. There was a heavy duel witnessed by many people on the ground. The plane shook violently as it was hit. It was filled with smoke. Engines on both wings were burning.
In the meantime the severely wounded Bombardier Skoug came crawling from the front end. He expressed his fear of bailing out and stiffened in the doorway. Joyce relates that they had to push him out, when they had put the rip cord in his hand. McCulloch was next and Joyce himself closed his eyes and bailed out. His parachute managed to unfold a few seconds before he hit the ground. Unfortunately Pechachek’s parachute did not do that, so he was killed on impact.
Because of intense pain Skoug gave himself a shot of morphine. He handed over his watch, a photo of his fiancée and other personal papers to Marius Hansen´s father and blacksmith H.P. Lange. Later they sent these items to England.
Both Skoug and McCulloch, who landed close to each other, were taken to Alslev School in Christian Toft´s carriage with a provoking German escort, Marius recalls. From here they made a telephone call to Doctor Højholdt. The Germans wanted to witness the treatment of the wounded, but Højholdt demanded to work without German guards, and finally the guards went out again. From there the wounded were driven to Løgumkloster Hospital.
Joyce and Seelig tried to evade. They spent the night in a stack of straw, but they had a very cold night. Next morning they came to a road, and they were taken along on a carriage with German workers to Tønder, where they were handed over to the staff at the police station. The 2-day stay here formed a glaring contrast to the stay in the German POW camps where they spent the following 16 months.
In the plane Cliff Sahner at the front end was severely injured. He could not move himself, and that made Costales decide to make a crash landing rather than telling all to bail out. Costales tossed his parachute away and asked Kish to bail out. In the meantime Kish had taken his pocket knife and had started cutting up a trouser leg of his suit. Costales did not until then realize that his Copilot had an open fracture of the leg. Costales again took control of steering the plane – till he suddenly fell forward on the instrument panel, so Kish had to push him away and land the plane. A bullet from the first engagement had passed through his chest and the loss of blood made Costales lose consciousness.
While the plane took a rough belly landing – one wheel was torn off – Costales regained consciousness, and he ordered Kish out. Costales tried several times to get Cliff out by opening another door – but in vain. Cliff handed his 45 gun to Costales and asked him to shoot him. Costales said, “No!” And while he was trying once more the fuel tank exploded. Costales was severely burnt and seriously injured. Dazed he got out of the side door and tumbled down into a little ditch. (The crash was here.)
Village constable E. Johansen, Løgumkloster, quickly came to the spot and called more help. Doctor Glaven wanted to have Costales sent off to tønder Hospital as the first, since the chance of saving his life depended on a blood transfusion. Then Kish with the broken leg. 400-500 m from the plane the village constable found an airman that he with certainty could declare dead. That was Pechachek, whose parachute had only partly managed to unfold before he hit the ground.
While all of this happened Clifford Sahner died in the fire in the plane – and the people present could not do anything!
The first 4 who bailed out from the plane were all driven to Løgumkloster Hospital. Doctor Højholdt had a heavy discussion with the German noncommissioned officer, who demanded armed guards in both the X-ray department and in the operation room. Even after he had talked to Hauptmann Hansen from the German HQ in Århus, the noncommissioned officer refused to take orders from officers unknown to him. He also prevented the injured from getting other clothes, something to eat and drink and from surgical operations. This meant a delay of 2 hours till a German military person from Tønder arrived! Then the 4 could get on to Tønder Hospital.
Next day at Tønder Hospital the consultant told Costales that two of his mates were dead, but that the rest of the crew would survive. Skoug, Kish and McCulloch were to be taken to a hospital in Schleswig, and Hays, Joyce, Seelig and Carnie were to be sent to the interrogation centre in Frankfurt. Some months later Costales too came to Frankfurt. It was hard to be a prisoner of war!
Kish, Hays and Joyce have visited the memorial grove in Øster Højst many years after the war.