B-17 Flying Fortress B-17 42-31308

B-17 Bomber Flying Fortress – The Queen Of The Skies 42-31308


MACR: 2766 / KSU/ME/KU: 965


History of
B-17 42-31308

Delivered Cheyenne 18/10/43; Gr Island 29/10/43; Wilmington 4/11/43; Assigned: 364BS/305BG Chelveston 23/11/43; MIA Schweinfurt 24/2/44 Pilot: Harry Patterson, Co-Pilot: Ray Davis, Navigator: John Briggs, Bombardier: Vernon Price, Engineer / Top Turret Gunner: Elwood Mather, Tail Gunner: Carl Neighbors (6KIA); Radio Operator: Bob Hartshom, Ball Turret Gunner: Rich Gibbs, Waist Gunner: Estol Copley, Waist Gunner: Vince Pulido (4POW); flak KO’d #3, gas leaking, headed for Switzerland but crashed Geisselhardt, 15 miles E of Heilbron, Germany. MACR 2766.

Last updated: 22. May 2020


B-17 42-31308 Details

Crash of a B-17 Attack Bomber near the Rappenhof-Farm in Southwest-Germany on February 24, 1944 – by Walter A. Wiedmann

On February 24, 1944 an armada of 300 American B-17 Bombers filed an attack plan on Schweinfurt/Germany. Among these attack aircraft were aircraft stationed at the military airport of Chelveston north of London. The bomber piloted by 1LT Harry A. Patterson with the serial number 42-31308 from 364th Bomb Squadron/305th Bomb Group was hit by anti-aircraft flak. The damages to one engine and one fuel tank caused the pilot, to abort the 650 km return trip to the Channel coast near Dover. The decision was made to redirect the aircraft 280-290 km toward neutral Switzerland. The MACR 2766 states the coordinates 49°55’N / 10°25’E for the position where the B-17 was last reported. So the aircraft at this time was about 20 km southeast of Schweinfurt.

The status of the plane and perhaps an attack from a German fighter plane forced the pilot to an emergency landing only 110 km into the alternate flight plan in the mountains south of the town of Öhringen. The crash landing (49°07’05.30’’N, 09°33’31.30’’E) besides the Rappenhof-Farm (49°07’02.40’’N, 09°33’23.60’’E) caused the front section of the plane to be totally destroyed. The pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator and flight engineer lost their lives. Five members of the crew, whose positions in the fuselage behind the wings (radio operator and four machine gun operators) survived the crash, albeit some were seriously wounded. The tail gunner at the time was treated and nursed in the Village school house. He died next night in the reserve military hospital at the town of Schwäbisch Hall. Four crewmembers were guided by the son of the Rappenhof farmer, soldier in the German Army at home on leave, into the kitchen and were given milk and water by the farmer’s wife. These four men were captured and placed into prisoner of war camps. Following the war they were returned into the United States of America.

The tail gunner was buried at the cemetery of Schwäbisch Hall. The five others with military honors were buried in the local cemetery of Geisselhardt village. In 1946 the exhumation of the soldiers remains and the reburial at the American Military Cemetery St. Avold in Lorraine (France) was authorized by the United States Military. For three of them this would remain their final resting place. The other three in 1948 were transferred to their respective home towns in the United States for final interment.


Background Information to the B-17 Research of Walter A. Wiedmann

(Source: Narrative handed over to the Colleton County Museum of Walterboro, S.C., hometown of 2nd Lt Price)

Thursday 24.02.1944, Germany’s fifth winter in World War II, the landscape was covered with snow. Far away from battlefields, the war came into the Swabian Mountains in Southern Germany. Around 02:30 pm an American B-17 bomber crashed near the Rappenhof-Farm in the County of Schwäbisch Hall.

The crash caused considerable interest among the residents of the local village, Geisselhardt (now part of Mainhardt), about one hour northeast of Stuttgart. The day after the crash a young mother from a neighboring village called Untersteinbach took her son of 2 years and 7 months to look at the crashed airplane. Although a very young boy, Walter Wiedmann never forgot the experience. In 2009, now retired from the German forestry service, he decided to research the details of the crash.

On April 15, 2009 Wiedmann visited some farms in the area where he suspected the crash must have happened. He was able to locate a surviving first witness to the crash. This was Mr. Erich Auwärter, the Rappenhof landowner. In February 1944 he was 18 years old and for a few days at home as soldier on leave. Auwärter showed Wiedmann the location of the crash about 200 Meters besides the farm and reported, what he remembered.

In the following weeks Wiedmann without success tried to find documents from archives and newspaper reports. But he did not give up. He heard about a journalist, who had already investigated other plane crashes around Schwäbisch Hall, and contacted him. This was Mr. Michael S. Koziol, whom still possessed pictures of the crashed B-17. One of the pictures was taken by an unknown photographer shortly after the crash, while seven other pictures were taken the following day by Karl Schickert, then 18 years old. Koziol also procured two documents: The report of the Regional Head of Gendarmerie to the District Administrator and the record of its questioning by the so called “Spruchkammer” (denazification court). Due to his good contacts to US-archives he also could obtain the relevant MACR (Missing Air Crew Report No. 2766, including Casualty and Individual Casualty Questionnaires of the four survivors) and the IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel Files) of the six fallen airman.

Next Wiedmann posted a request in the weekly official journal of Mainhardt, for witnesses of the crash if still surviving to contact him for assistance in his research. Three men and one woman responded to the posting. Thus inclusive of Mr. Auwärter and Schickert, Wiedmann could make interviews with 6 witnesses. They have been ages 8 to 18 in February 1944.

Now Wiedmann started the evaluation. Here, he benefited from his knowledge as a former Reserve officer in the Air Force. Over a period of 6 years he put together the puzzle, consisting of written, oral and pictorial information.

Most helpful were the pictures and the report of Mr. Kircher. He was the only witness, who directly watched the approach, the impact and the 270° turn of the plane. The memories of the other witnesses were fragmentary, partly contradictory, and required many targeted inquiries. Two witnesses, who came to the crash location the following day, had made up their own story out of what they saw and what they heard.

The questionnaires were not very revealing, perhaps the 4 surviving gunners in the tail of the plane did not have the overall view. Also the psychological shock from impact until leaving the wreck and the hardships during the captivity may have caused a certain loss of memory. The last remaining question, whether the B-17 was shot down by a German fighter plane, could not be solved based on the reports. A corresponding German air battle report could not be found.

The research of Wiedmann met with great interest. In the meantime, he reported at the Historical Association of Schwäbisch Hall, at the Community Hall of Mainhardt, and in his Rotary Club of Esslingen about his “Search for Traces”, using his Power Point Presentation.

Wiedmann is especially grateful to the journalist Michael S. Koziol. Without his support he would have found no entry into the research. And Koziol in turn praises the cooperative and generous attitude of US-archives, of which he could refer documents uncomplicated. And both, Koziol and Wiedmann, are deeply touched and express great respect and recognition to the dignified and warm manner, how the memento of the war dead is preserved by the people of the United States of America.


German researcher reveals details of fatal WWII crash of Clemson men

(Source: “Scroll of Honor” in “The Echo”, eNewsletter of Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., February 25, 2015)

There are many stories of Clemson alumni serving together during the wars of the past 100 years. One such story includes First Lieutenant Raymond D. Davis who attended Clemson from 1936 through 1938 and Second Lieutenant Vernon L. Price, Class of 1941. Davis was born in Calhoun County, SC, and Price in Walterboro in nearby Colleton County. After departing Clemson both pursued civilian careers, but then answered the call to military service.

Davis enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1940 and was accepted into the Aviation Cadet Program. He graduated pilot training in late 1942 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Price enlisted in May 1942 and followed a similar path into the Aviation Cadet Program. He completed training as a Navigator and received his commission in July 1943. Their paths were joined when they were assigned as members of the same B-17 crew in England. Davis deployed to the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305th Bomb Group in February 1943. Price deployed to the same unit in October 1943, and they began flying bombing missions over Germany as part of the same crew.

On February 24, 1944, the crew was assigned as part of a bombing raid on Schweinfurt, Germany. Over the target, their aircraft was hit by flak and heavily damaged. The pilot, realizing he could never make the planned withdrawal and return to England, elected to divert to the nearest safe-haven in Switzerland. He then ordered all gear possible thrown out to lighten the aircraft, but a German fighter intercepted the aircraft. There is no evidence to show whether the fighter attacked and fired at the aircraft. At any rate, the fighter was observed by eyewitnesses and a German pilot did claim the shoot-down when he came by car to the crash site from the nearby airfield at Hessental. However, the four surviving members of the crew did not report an attack. So, perhaps, the pilot 1LT Patterson decided to try a forced landing because of the status of the aircraft, because of signals from the fighter, because of hits, or because of a combination of these reasons. The touchdown was in hilly terrain close to a farm named Rappenhof, only 600 meters from a very suitable flat surface ahead in the direction of the flight. Upon impact, the aircraft made a right rotation of three quarters of a circle and the front section and wings broke away. The aircraft came to a stop and began burning. Five crewmembers in the front section, including 1LT Davis and 2LT Price, died in the crash. The five men in the waist did survive, albeit wounded. One of them, the heavily wounded tail gunner, died the next night in Schwäbisch Hall´s military hospital. The four survivors were captured, and given milk and water in the nearby farmhouse. They spent the remainder of the war in prisoner of war camps.
The crash caused considerable interest among the residents of the local village, Geisselhardt, about one hour northeast of Stuttgart. The day after the crash a young mother from a neighboring village called Untersteinbach took her son of 2 years and 7 months to look at the crashed airplane. Although a very young boy, Walter Wiedmann never forgot the experience. In 2009, now retired from the German forestry service and the German Army Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel, Walter Wiedmann decided to research and document the details of the crash from the perspective of the German citizens who witnessed it.

Lieutenant Colonel Wiedmann found and interviewed five men and one woman who were eyewitnesses to the crash, ages 8 to 18 in February 1944. One of these witnesses produced photographs of the crashed airplane which provided significant information about the timing and direction of the doomed flight and the fate of the crew. As part of his research Wiedmann also obtained copies of official U.S. military records which included some corroborating details from post war interviews of some of the crew members who survived.

A Luftwaffe detachment from the airfield at Hessental honored the crew members who died in the crash with full military honors. The deceased, including 1LT Davis and 2LT Price, were laid to rest in the local cemetery at Geisselhardt. Their grave, a “comrades” or common grave, was marked by a large cross with the inscription “Here lies five American Flyers.”

The remains of 1LT Davis and 2LT Price were returned to the U.S. after the end of the war. Raymond Davis is buried in the Pine Hill Methodist Church cemetery in Cameron, South Carolina. Vernon Price is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in Walterboro, South Carolina.

Because of their selfless service and sacrifice, Lieutenants Davis and Price are included on Clemson’s Scroll of Honor. But, even though our countries were at war, these Clemson alumni were treated with dignity and respect by German citizens 71 years ago. Most recently they have been honored by the research of a comrade-in-arms who was at the impressionable age of less than 3 years at the time of the deadly crash.


B-17 42-31308 Crew

Position Rank Name Status Note
P 1LT Harry A. Patterson KIA
CP 1LT Raymond D. Davis KIA
BOMB 2LT Vernon L. Price KIA
ENG/TT T/SGT Elwood J. Mather KIA
RO T/SGT Robert W. Hartshorn POW
BT S/SGT Richard L. Gibbs POW
WG S/SGT Estol D. Copley POW
WG S/SGT Vincent Pulido POW
TG S/SGT Carl H. Neighbors KIA

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