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Story of a Concord Airman

Rueti, July 1, 2003

Concord Historical Society
P.O. Box 404
Concord, CA 94522

Concerns: 2Lt. Roger C. Randles of Concord, California.

Dear Sirs,

When I was a nine years old schoolboy living in Nazi-occupied Holland a B-17 bomber of the 8th US Air Force crashed behind our house in the village called Apeldoorn. That was November 26, 1944.

One of the crew members was killed and another one wounded by German soldiers when they were descending under their white parachutes. The pilot died in the crash. Two months later the wounded tail-gunner escaped from a German hospital with the help of the Dutch underground and was hidden by a family living in the same street as we did. ,

I am presently researching the fate of all thirty-five heavy bombers the 8th Air Force lost on that particular day. Main target was the synthetic fuel plant in Misburg near Hannover, the only remaining plant of that kind in Germany. Another target was the marshalling yard in Hamm, also in Germany.

The 388th Bomb Group lost one aircraft on that Sunday in November 1944. It was the B-17 bomber called “Thunderbird”. It received a direct flak hit over the target, exploded and desintegrated in mid-air. Five crew members could safe themselves by parachute. The four others lost their lives. Among those who died was the Bombardier: 2Lt. Roger C. Randles of Concord CA.

Roger Randles was initially buried near the crash site in Heessen, Germany. After the war he was reinterred in the huge American Military Cemetery near Margraten in the Netherlands.

I would very much like to get in contact with family members of Roger who may still live in the Concord area and I would highly appreciate if you could help me in my search. My aim is to write a book about this particular mission.

I attach a summary of the Missing Air Crew Report pertaining to Roger Randles. Thanking you in advance for your kind cooperation in this matter I remain

Yours faithfully (sig)

John Meurs
Im Gubel 5
CH-8630 Rueti

August 26, 2003

Mr. John Meurs
Im Gubel 5
CH-8630 Rueti

Concerns: 2nd Lt. Roger C. Randles of Concord, California

Dear Mr. Meurs,

We received your letter on Roger Randles and have not been able to locate any family members as yet. However, we have found that Lt. Randles was in the high school graduating class of 1943 and his picture is in the yearbook for that year. Also, several members of his class remember Lt. Randles and are trying to get their recollections together. The 60th reunion for the class of 1943 will be held in about two weeks providing another opportunity for additional recollections.

Assuming that classmate recollections are of interest to you, we will be forwarding that information in the month of September.

Best wishes for your project..


Paul Larson, President

Rueti, September 9,2003.

Concord Historical Society
Attention: Mr. Paul Larson
Post Office Box 404
Concord, CA 94522

Concerns: 2Lt. Roger C. Randles.

Dear Mr. Larson,

Thanks very much for your letter dated August 26, 2003 and for your highly appreciated assistance in my search for more information about Roger.

I look forward to receiving the recollections of Roger’s former classmates.

Enclosed I send you more information about Roger’s last flight. I hope you will receive this in time for the 60th reunion for the high school class 1943, permitting you to circulate my narrative among his classmates. Perhaps some of them do remember family members of Roger who I could trace in order to let them have my account of the November 26, 1944 mission of the 8th USAAF as well.

With warm regards

John Meurs (sig)
Im Gubel 5
CH-8630 Rueti ZH

Roger Randles from 1943 Mt. Diablo High School Yearbook

Last flight of Bombardier 2Lt. Roger C. Randles
Sunday, November 26, 1944.
(Details collected by John Meurs)

Bomber and Crew

Bomb Group: 388th Bomb Squadron: 563 Airbase: Polebrook MACR: 11207

3rd Bomb Group, 8th USAAF

Nose Art: “Thunderbird”, Tail Fin: Triangle-J, Serial Nr.: 44-6626 Aircraft Type: B-17G

Crew: Pilot: 2Lt Wayne W. Daniels (POW) Peoria IL

Co-Pilot: 2Lt Bernard G. Rieth (POW) Syracuse NY

Navigator: 2Lt Alfred Y. Soo (POW) Berkerly, CA

Bombardier: 2Lt Roger C. Randles (KIA) Concord, CA

Top Turret: Sgt Harold R. Saunders (POW) Portsmouth, PA

Radio: Sgt Wilbur A. James (POW) Finelyville, PA

Ball Turret: Sgt Joseph D. Shaffer (KIA) Wyandote, MI

Waist Gnr.: Sgt Philip J. McCaffrey (KIA) Vallejo, CA

Tail Gunner: Sgt Malcolm R. McInnes (KIA) Austin, TX

Total: 4 KIA, 5 POW

Target: Hamm (D)

Crash Site: 1,5 km NE of Heessen, 6 km NE of Hamm on the road from Heessen to Dolberg (Germany)

The overall mission.

1000 + Bombers attacked as main target the synthetic fuel plant at Misburg, a suburban of Hannover in Germany. The last remaining plant of this nature in the Third Reich. Secondary targets were the railroad viaduct at Altenbeken and the marshalling yards of Hamm, Osnabruck and Bielefeld, all in Germany. The marshalling yards at Hamm, target of “Thunderbird” were at that time the most important in Europe.

The top brass of the 8th Air Force had decided to try a ruse that day to fool the German Fighter Command. The greatest part of this flying armada of would cross the Dutch border at Egmond, fly over the IJssel Lake, which had been called the Zuider Zee before the Dutch closed it off from the North Sea, and fly east in the direction Berlin. By giving the German Luftwaffe the impression that the Third Reich’s capital was the target-of-the-day, they assumed that the German fighters would be held back to defend Berlin. Then, all of a sudden, the bomber stream would make a sharp turn to the south and fly back to Hannover and Misburg. They would attack the target on the way home.

Unfortunately the ruse only worked partially. Due to various circumstances, the bombers arrived twenty minutes late over Misburg and the German fighters, rushing in from Berlin, met the tail-end of the attacking force: the 491 st and the 445th Bomber Groups. Within minutes the sky was filled with burning and exploding bombers, with airmen dangling under the white canopies of their parachutes and with blazing German fighters. The 491st lost fifteen bombers out of the thirtysix they had sent into the air that day. These being the heaviest losses the group sustained on one day during the whole war, they have rightfully called that day “Bloody Sunday” ever since.

Thirty-five bombers did not return to their bases in England. Six others managed to crash land behind the allied frontline in Belgium.

Out of these 35 crews, 146 were killed in action, 165 were taken prisoner and 8 evaded.

Mission of the 388th Bomb Group

From Bit Sneads book: “The 388th At War”.

Mission # 228 Hamm, November 26, 1944

The 8thAF again going up in strength, dispatched the lst Division to Altenbeken and Misburg

with the 2nd Division going to Bieilefeld and Misburg. The 3rd Air Division, for which the 388th furnished the lead and high groups in the 45th A Combat Wing, attacked Hamm Germany. RAF Lancasters of Bomber Command were dispatched on a daylight mission to Fulda.

23 a/c plus 3 PFF a/c were airborne between 0830 and 0850 hours. Assembly was accomplished with the briefed route to the target followed. The weather was about 8/10 cloud coverage but PFF method was used in bombing. Bombs were away at 12.18. hours from 25.700 feet. The high Groups mickey equipment failed on the bomb run, so they dropped on the lead Group.

Meager to moderate flak was encountered in the target area with one of our crews (Lt. Daniels) being shot down. 11 of our alc received battle damage. Two jet a/C were seen near the target but did not attack 2 a/c failed to drop their bombs due to mechanical problems. 25 a/c returned safely to base by 1442 hours.

Lt. Daniels in a/c 44-6626 “Thunderbird”, was hit by flak on the bomb run and left the formation. With the cockpit filled with smoke, in anticipation of an explosion, the pilot sounded the bail-out alarm. The plane exploded and surviving crew members were apparantly blown from the plane. The following group bombed through the parachutes, apparently taking one crew member down with them, (per German description of a “streamer”)

Summary of MACR made by J.A. Hey, Hengelo (Netherlands). Jan Hey is summarising all Missing Air Crew Reports pertaining to crews lost over western Europe in WW II

The B-17 received a direct flak hit in the fore part of the fuselage near the left wing just 5 -10 sec. before “bombs away”. It exploded in mid-air at 15.000 feet and desintegrated.

Sgts. Shaffer, McCaffrey and McInnes were killed by the flak burst or in the ensuing explosion. Lt. Daniels reported that Lt. Randles also bailed out but his parachute capsized; possibly due to the explosion of the aircraft.

Harold Saunders also blown out. Injuries of eye and thigh, brain concussion. To Reserve Hospital Eickelborn near Lippstadt/Westfalen.

The author believes that Lt. Randles’ chute capsides due to bombs dropping through the bailed-out airmen.

From Wilbur James unpublished book “Fate of the Thunderbird”

Long after the war Radio-Operator Wilbur James, Pilot Wayne Daniels, Co-Pilot Bernard Rieth and Navigator Alfred Soo sat together and discussed that fateful day. Wilbur then wrote the story “Fate of the Thunderbird”. The author had an extensive e-mail exchange with Wilbur, starting in March 2003. Wilbur died at the age of 79 in Wales (UK) while visiting relatives.

DANIELS– “Pilot to crew, we’re approaching the bomb run, so everybody keep your eyes open, and be alert. No chattering on the inter-comm, unless you see something important. ”

DANIELS– “As we turn onto the bomb run, barrage flak appears ahead, increasing in intensity as we enter its cloud of black and red. ”

JAMES– “When the pilot announced that we was approaching the “bomb run” the first thing that came to my mind was the warning that S/Sgt. Steve Longtine had given me, that somehow I had to find a way to put on my parachute. I put on my very heavy Flak Suit and it completely covered my parachute harness, and extended down between my legs. There wasn’t anyway that I could attach my parachute while wearing the Flak Suit, in its present form. I then unsnapped the Flak Suit on my left shoulder, and let the left front and rear of the Flak Suit fall away from my shoulder. This exposed my left shoulder and a portion of my back, and the left front portion of the harness, that exposed one of the two parachute harness snaps. I immediately snapped the ring on the left side of the chute to the harness snap, and left the chute dangle down my left side. This was the best that I could do for now. At least my parachute would be on me, even though it was only partially snapped on.

In the meantime, AI Soo, up in the nose of the Fortress was snapping his chute onto the strap that he got in the parachute shop and Ray Saunders had already done likewise in the Upper Turret.

Pilot to Crew, we’re starting the bomb run. II

DANIELS– “We entered the bomb-run, the bomb bay doors were opened, and the plane was turned over to Randles, the Bombardier, for the bomb run. The Pilots were simply monitoring the flight of the airplane, while he was steering it. Since we were high on the left wing, the Co-Pilot had the best viability of the lead plane [to our right] and had his hands on the wheel. I was probably not even touching the controls – I was looking around. I do remember the Upper Turret rotating around – we were probably just checking all around – looking around and saw the shadow of the guns coming across the windshield, a couple of times.

RANDLES– “Bombardier to Radio. We have about one minute until bombs away, and I’m getting a reading on the bomb bay door lights, that the bomb bay isn’t opened properly. Could you check it out?”

JAMES -“Immediately upon Randles request, I quit throwing out Chaff’, stood up, turned ; around, and opened the bomb bay door that was behind me. I looked at the doors on both sides of the bay, and they looked normal to me. I turned around, and called the Bombardier. “Radio to Bombardier, over. ”

RANDLES -“Ok Radio, this is the Bombardier, Go ahead. ”

JAMES -“Bombardier, this is Radio. I checked the bomb bay doors, and they are ok Over.

RANDLES– “Bombardier to Radio. Ok”

Those were probably the last words that Randles uttered in his life.

DANIELS -” We were very close to bombs away and the first jolt of a near miss is followed closely by a second, lifting the aircraft. It came up again, but it was without the pilots help. It moved up past twenty feet again, and a third burst that destroyed the Thunderbird and decided the lives of the nine members of its crew. It was approximately 30 seconds to bombs away. Here our individual experiences begin. ”

RIETH -“Since our flight position required us to stay in close to the plane to our right, I was flying the plane, trying to keep a tight formation. The flak was getting more intense and I could see the black bursts out in front of us. I could see two puffs right in front of us, and knew that we were going to get hit, but I couldn’t alter our course. I was praying.”

SOO -“Well, I can recall as we approached the target, I could see flak up ahead and I was commenting, I think I commented, that I thought we were going to have very little flak, and just before I said it, that was it !”

JAMES -“As soon as I gave the message, over the inter-comm to Randles, I started to bend back down, to throw chaff’, and never quite got to it —–

DANIELS -11 The flak was more intense, then there was a violent explosion! For myself, I cannot say with certainty that my mind, in those moments, was able to accurately differentiate intentions and actions. I carried for years the impression of a few moments after a concussion, the cockpit filled with smoke, convinced that the aircraft would explode, initiating a bank to the left, and attempting to activate the bail-out alarm I recall the cockpit being silent – that meant that it was silent in my ears. [ silence before the curtain rang down on consciousness. These events, later consolidated by other information, depending upon the availability of time – only if the exploding shell and the ignition of the aircraft fuel were not simultaneous events, but separated by a few seconds. I couldn’t hear anything, and that there was smoke in the Cockpit. These things probably didn’t take but a few moments. ”

” The overwhelming miracle is that anyone survived. This book is dedicated to the memories of four brave men who were called upon to give their lives. I am reminded of how close I came to sharing their fate.

” When the curtain raised, I was in the wreckage of the cockpit, semi-reclined and still in what remained of my seat, flight boots under the rudder bar, instruments dancing on their cables in the open air; clouds rotating meant upside down, spinning! The silence and peace of a near-death experience; I was an observer in a bizarre world. Then, detachment quickly shifted to thought of the consequences of my death to my mother – of my responsibilities to her and to the crew. Sensation returned; and I looked across the cockpit – nothing but a wall of red – Bernie blown to bits? No top to the cockpit and no upper turret – has Ray suffered the same fate? I quickly turned away as an oxygen bottle exploded sending flame shooting over me. Now clearly convinced I was very much alive and the smell of burned hair in my nostrils, I knew I had only seconds to escape. Sensing the possibility of a suction over the cockpit I struggled to get up but realized that my seat belt was securely fastened across my legs. I released the belt, and as I pushed myself into the slip stream, I was suddenly airborne with wreckage whizzing by and other object ahead I instinctively rolled into a ball, then sensing I was losing consciousness; I reached for the D-Ring (parachute release) and the curtain lowered on the most memorable moments in my new life. The next scene opened with boots swinging into and out of view over a white back ground. I had to force rational thought through a loud ringing in my ears, but regained consciousness, hanging in my parachute, my boots swinging over the clouds far below. I looked above to see a canopy of rips and burn holes, and through it.

” I received the first evidence that other crew members may have escaped four chutes several thousand feet above, so high they seemed above the approaching formation of B-17s, and one chute moving closer, its occupant hanging motionless. That these were the chutes of fellow crew members seemed confirmed as I believe I recognized Roger Randles. [James comment: -it is doubtful as AI Soo in subsequent conversations through the years said that Randles definitely did not have his chute on and probably went out of the fortress without a chute. Perhaps it was McCaffrey or McGinnis??] My efforts to call out to him were unsuccessful. Suddenly, death reappeared in the form of bombs falling from the formation above. My chute swung with an impact and then the bombs arched away, trailing a strange screaming sound. The other chute and its occupant had disappeared; apparently swept away with the bombs. Now the possible survivors numbered five. I had lost all sense of time and checked my watch,. as I recall approximately 10 minutes had elapsed since our scheduled bombs-away on that Sunday in November, 1944.

“I checked the pockets in my flight suit and tore up the notes from our pre-mission briefing. It took a surprisingly long time to reach the cloud layer below, and then the trip was over as I landed with a jar, then rebounded into suspension a few feet from the ground with the canopy over a pine tree. I quickly jumped down and ran to the cover of bushes to assess my situation.

” Soldiers passed nearby. Checking the compass in my escape kit, I headed west through the forest.

” Shortly after exiting the trees into the open, I was captured by civilians, taken to jail in a village perhaps 15 kilometers east of our target. This began my stay as an unwelcome guest of the Germans – a keiegsgefanginin, their word for
P.O. W ”

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