16 November 2012

Crew of B-17G "Flatbush Floogie" is Captured Near Schillig, Germany


Image size: 1600 x 1067 pixel. 331 KB
Date: Tuesday, 11 April 1944
Place: Schillig, Niedersachsen, Germany
Photographer: Kriegsberichter Vorlander from PK-Atlantik

The crew of Boeing B-17G-40-BO Flying Fortress 42-97083 "Flatbush Floogie" of the 8th Air Force, 45th Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy), 3rd Bombardment Division, 452nd Bomb Group, 728th Bomb Squadron, are arrested by Luftwaffe personnel from the Jever airdrome near Schillig, Germany on April 11, 1944. On a mission to Rostock, "Flatbush Floogie" lost her left elevator to flak en route to the target. After the bomb run, she was hit again, causing a fire in her Number 1 engine and Number 2 to smoke. The Engineer, Technical Sergeant Lee A. Varner (March 24, 1914 - March 8, 1992), was on the flight deck attempting to help the command crew feather the props when a flak burst caught his face and shrapnel entered his eye. The pilot, First Lieutenant Thomas Leonard Gardner (January 16, 1917 - July 15, 2002) made it over the North Sea before realizing that they couldn't make it home. He turned back. "Flatbush Floogie" impacted on the mud flats near Schillig, 27 kilometers north-northwest of Bermerhaven. While the wreck was in no danger of sinking, tidal forces quickly saturated the aircraft with sand, and the Germans broke up the wreck in situ. All ten crew members survived, as you can see them in this view. Initially they were held at Jever Air Base before being interrogated. Gardner can be seen talking to the Germans on the far left; from Stockton, California, he enlisted on January 5, 1942 at Stockton Field, California. Gardner was interned in Stag Luft I outside of Barth, Germany. His Co-Pliot, Second Lieutenant Carl Lewis West, Jr. (February 27, 1919 - May 19, 2007) was from Bridgeton, New Jersey. West Enlisted On June 20, 1942 In Fort Dix, New Jersey and was also interned in Stalag Luft I. Bombardier Second Lieutenant Jack Ralston Bonham (March 4, 1921 - August 20, 1973) was from Bluefield, West Virginia and enlisted On April 1, 1943, in Charleston, Virginia. Bonham trained In Midland, Texas in class 43-05 and was also interned in Stalag Luft I. Bonham was possibly the tall man in the center of this view as Army induction records his height at six foot four inches (1.93 meters). "Flatbush Floogie's" Navigator, Second Lieutenant Jacob R. Brown (August 5, 1920 - October 9, 2005) was from Houston, Texas. Brown enlisted On August 14, 1942 at Harlingen Army Air Force Base in Harlingen, Texas. All the officers were interned together in the North 1 Compound at Stalag Luft I. Engineer Varner was taken away from Jever for medical care but another bombing mission the next day prevented the Germans from bringing him to a doctor. He lost his sight permanently in one eye. Varner was from Hamilton, Montana and enlisted on January 20, 1942 In Missoula, Montana. Varner and the rest of the crew were interned separately from the officers in Stalag XVIIB. "Flatbush Floogie's" Radioman/Dorsal Gunner, Technical Sergeant Lucious C. Birbeck (May 2, 1918 - July 22, 2001) was from Grand Island, Nebraska. Birbeck enlisted on November 20, 1942 In Portland, Oregon. Sergeant Henderson H. Head, Jr., (March 20, 1922 - August 8, 1996) the Left Waist Gunner, was from Appalachia, Virginia; he enlisted On November 13, 1942 at Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Right Waist Gunner Sergeant Alex E. Shewchuck, Jr. (January 3, 1924 - May 13, 2001) was from Bridgeport, Pennsylvania; he enlisted On March 15, 1943 In Allentown, Pennsylvania. Tail Gunner Sergeant Raymond C. Cutchall (October 31, 1917 - April 26, 2003) was from Los Angeles, California. Cutchall enlisted On January 9, 1942 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Ball Turret Gunner Sergeant Raymond Chester "Tuck" Stewart (February 26, 1913 - December 27, 1998) from Hastings, Nebraska; he enlisted On October 17, 1942 in Denver, Colorado. This view was taken by Propagandakompanie Vorländer, a Kriegsberichter (war correspondent) who had photographed the Low Countries for the Wehrmacht since the invasion of France in 1940. Vorländer's photo was printed in the Netherlands newspapers Utrechts Nieuwsblad on June 1, 1944 and Dagblad Van Het Zuiden on June 2. The Germans ran these papers as propaganda organs. The approved caption read, "A four-engine landing in a mudflat. Immediately after landing the 10-man crew jumped from the supposedly sinking craft. Appalled and indifferent Americans are now on German soil for the first time - to captivity they go." The Officers in Stalag Luft I were repatriated by May 15, 1945. The Enlisted Crewmen had longer to wait - they weren't allowed to leave until after May 29, 1945. The Soviets had forcibly stripped the noncommissioned officers of most of their possessions. Gardner moved to Nevada and is buried in the military cemetery there. Lieutenant West returned to active duty, eventually earning the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He retired after a long career after transitioning to fighters in 1958. Brown became a businessman after the war. Bonham was recalled to Air Force duty at the end of the Korean War and served until 1964. Varner passed on a deep interest in the story of "Flatbush Floogie" to his son James, whose research helped this posting. Birbeck received a Presidential Unit Citation for his first tour with the 301st Bombardment Group on April 6, 1943. Stewart moved to Oregon after World War II. Head was discharged November 16, 1945, and remained in his native Virginia. Shewchuk was separated on October 30, 1945. Cutchall was buried in Indiana. His son also in interested in the story of "Flatbush Floogie".

Source:
http://www.worldwar2database.com/gallery3/index.php/wwii0042

3 comments:

  1. amazing detailed story. Good on you to remember these brave guys.

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  2. My father, Lucius C Birbeck, was the radio operator on this aircraft. My mother says this B17 was not the crew's normal A/C. I am researching his
    missions over Germany. I will be traveling to Germany in the late summer
    of 2013 to do more research. There is another photo of these guys standing
    in water with the A/C in the background, I saw it once but don't know where
    the print is. Anyone out there have it? or any other info? Thanks

    Glen C Birbeck (veteran of USAF and USN but sadly not retired from either)

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  3. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
    The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

    ReplyDelete