The Massacre of Saint Rémy
After my Dad, B-17 bombardier Herman F. Allen, joined the 306th Bombardment Group at Thurleigh Airfield in November of 1943, two of his first missions (December 5 and 13, 1943) were with pilot Lt. Willard D. Reed. I was curious about Lt. Reed and began an internet search for more information. Lt. Reed’s B-17 was called the “Rationed Passion.”
The 11th of January 1944 was a rough day for the 306th. Herman was grounded with a burst eardrum but the rest of his regular crew flew with Charles W. Smith piloting a B-17 called “Weary Bones.” Their destination was a fighter aircraft factory at Halberstadt. Herman’s good friend Charles L. Stevenson, navigator, was killed on that mission. The rest of the crew returned unharmed.
On that same day Lt. Reed and his crew flew the “Rationed Passion” for Halberstadt. Hit hard by flak the damaged plane went into a spin then, on fire, broke up in the air. The crew was reported as “Missing.” I have found conflicting accounts of what happened next. I am going to do the best I can and mention everyone with as much detail as I have been able to find. I hope that my readers will edit and/or confirm.
Those who died January 11, 1944 on the “Rationed Passion”
- 1st Lt. Thomas J. Brady, co-pilot
- S/Sgt. Albert C. Schaeffler, waist gunner
“Rationed Passion” crew members who were able to parachute out and safely landed in the Netherlands. Of course, all these areas in the Netherland, France, Belgium were occupied by Nazi Germany.
- Lt. Willard D. Reed, pilot, was captured by the Germans and became a POW at Stalag Luft 1. Lt. Reed died on October 30, 2000. Long a resident of Hot Springs, AR, his veteran grave marker, showing he was a Major, is in Dayton, TN.
- 1st Lt. Myron J. Dmochowski, bombardier, after landing near a small Dutch town became a POW.
- 1st Lt. Ivan E. Glaze, navigator and S/Sgt. Warren W. Cole, tail gunner managed to evade capture. Members of the Dutch resistance helped the men get to the Franco-Belgium border, then finally to Paris where arrangements were made by the French underground to get them to England. They arrived there on the 28th of June.
- S/Sgt. Joseph G. O’Donnell – I have not been able to find confirmation of what happened to Sgt. O’Donnell. I do believe he survived.
- T/Sgt. Orian G. Owens, engineer
- T/Sgt. Charles A. Nichols, radio
- S/Sgt. John J. Gembrowski, waist gunner
The last three airmen, Sgts. Owens, Nichols, and Gembrowski eventually made their way to Belgium where they were fed and housed by sympathetic farmers. They may also have been trying to get to Paris where they might have had a better chance of being returned to England.
Almost a month later, on February 8, 1944 the 306th BG went to Frankfurt, Germany. 1st Lt. Howard J. Snyder was the pilot of the B-17 “Susan Ruth.” After bombing he was unable to get the bomb bay doors closed and fell out of formation. A German fighter knocked out engines 2 and 3. The oxygen tanks in the cockpit exploded, and the inside of the plane filled with flames.
Those who died February 8, 1944 on the “Susan Ruth.” Both men were killed instantly under Focke-Wulf fire on the way back from the target.
- T/Sgt. Ross L. Kahler, radio
- Sgt. Louis J. Colwart, Jr., ball turret
“Susan Ruth” crew members who were able to parachute out and landed somewhere in France.
- 1st Lt. Howard J. Snyder, pilot – Lt. Snyder was able to parachute out of the burning plane right before it exploded. First farmers, then the Underground helped him evade the Germans. For a while Snyder fought with an active Maquis unit. He made it back to London by November. On August 27, 1989 he was in Belgium along with Slenker, Musial and Holbert the day a monument was inaugurated there.
- T/Sgt. Joseph J. Musial, waist gunner. When Musial landed he discovered that one of his feet had been severed. When he landed in a field a French farmer helped him make a tourniquet and rushed him to a French hospital. The next day he was transferred to a Luftwaffe hospital in Brussels where he received excellent care. Musial was on his 2nd tour of duty. He had already flown more than 70 missions with the 13th AF in the South Pacific.
- 2nd Lt. Richard L. Daniels, bombardier, was wounded by exploding shells. He and Musial were treated together before becoming POWs.
- T/Sgt. Roy K. Holbert, engineer, became a POW at Stalag Luft 4 and was a part of the 86-Day March across Poland and Germany. He, Daniels and Musial were the only men from Snyder’s crew to go to prison camp. By the time Musial met up with Holbert he discovered that his jet black hair had turned snow white. Holbert died in Knoxville, TN on Jan. 30, 2010.
- S/Sgt. William O. Slenker, Jr. , tail gunner, was handicapped by a knee wound after the jump. He was courageously hidden by a Belgium family who nursed his wounds and cared for him for seven months until Liberation. They celebrated his 20th birthday there. Forty-five years later, in 1989, Slenker was reunited with this family. He died in Naples, FL on July 9, 2001.
- 2nd Lt. George W. Eike, copilot
- 2nd Lt. Robert J. Benninger, navigator
- Sgt. John K. Pindroch, waist gunner
Airmen Eike, Benninger and Pindroch all evaded capture once they were on the ground and were helped by the French underground.
The Massacre of Saint Rémy
On April 22, 1944 eight American airmen were having breakfast together in a shelter in Saint Rémy, a small heavily wooded Belgian village near the larger town of Chimay. The Americans were:
- T/Sgt. Orian G. Owens, engineer – from “Rationed Passion”
- T/Sgt. Charles A. Nichols, radio – from “Rationed Passion”
- S/Sgt. John J. Gembrowski, waist gunner – from “Rationed Passion”
- 2nd Lt. George W. Eike, copilot – from “Susan Ruth”
- 2nd Lt. Robert J. Benninger, navigator – from “Susan Ruth”
- Sgt. John K. Pindroch, waist gunner – from “Susan Ruth”
- Sgt. Vincent J. Reece, waist gunner. On December 30, 1943, the B-17 “Women’s Home Companion” from the 303rd BG crash landed at Cerfontaine, Belgium, in a field near the Luxembourg-French-Belgian border. After evading capture Sgt. Reece joined and fought with the underground.
- 2nd Lt. William H. Huish, navigator of the 91st BG’s B-17 “Skunkface” which had crashed on February 20, 1944. (The pilot of his plane was 1st Lt. Ernest B. Kidd. He along with most of the crew became POW’s.)
As they were finished breakfast, the men heard the sound of automatic weapons being fired. They, along with farmers who had helped them, were taken prisoner by men in German uniforms. They had been betrayed. At the same time thirty Belgian citizens from Chimay were also arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The airmen were undressed and searched. Because of their dogtags they could never have been thought to be Freedom Fighters.
That afternoon the Americans, hands tied behind their backs, were taken into the woods near where they had been captured. Each was accompanied by two armed men in German uniform. The eight men were separated, and on a signal each was shot several times in the back by gunfire. Their bodies were put into a mass grave at the military airfield near Gosselie. Later their remains were transferred to the military cemetery at Margraten, the Netherlands where they were buried with honors.
After the war was over Belgian military authorities prosecuted many of those who committed this heinous crime. They were either sentenced to death or served time in jail.
This has been a long post. I want to pay tribute to these airmen as well as the brave resistance fighters who helped them in their efforts to evade capture by the Germans. It is one more example of how much terror these young men had to endure above and beyond the murderous flak and enemy fighters. In a matter of seconds they could be forced to parachute from a plane on fire and ready to explode, only to land in enemy country, then once there struggle to hide from Germans and crazed traitors.
It’s a miracle that I’m even here. We can never thank our veterans enough.
My two main sources of information:
- Downed Allied Airmen and Evasion of Capture: the Role of Local Resistance Networks in World War II by Herman Bodson. 2005
- First Over Germany: A History of the 306th Bombardment Group by Russell A. Strong. 1982.
Important Update: I have now received additional information from the son of Lt. Snyder, pilot of the “Susan Ruth.” He shared with me a letter written in 1947 by the father of Lt. George W. Eike, one of the boys who was murdered that day. Mr. and Mrs. Eike, with help from their Senator and others, were able to push for a complete investigation of the incident. They went to Washington, D.C. to read it and wrote to each boy’s next of kin to relate basically what I described above. I use the word “boy” because that is the word they used. The Eike family had two sons, and both died in the war. Their other son Richard was the pilot of a B-17 that was shot down and exploded in September 1944.
We pray that they did not die in vain and that generations to come will never forget their great sacrifice. (Derwood W. Eike, father of George and Richard)
Lt. Snyder’s son Steve explained that family members have attended celebrations of the Belgium Liberation and some will be going back in 2014 for the 70th. There is a monument to the “Susan Ruth” and crew in Macquenoise as well as a museum with many pictures and artifacts from the war. A local organization called the Belgium/American Foundation puts on parades, speeches, and parties every year which are wonderful, moving events. Even American military dignitaries headquartered in Brussels attend. All to keep their memories alive.
I have written more about Howard J. Snyder and the “Susan Ruth” here.