Rammed Over Germany
By W. Budd Wentz, MD, CAPT USAAF
t was my 28th mission and the third and last emergency landing And it was the end of combat missions for our crew. The 487th BG (H) had flown a total of 173 missions since May 1944 and would fly only 10 more by May 8, 1945.
The crew’s first mission ended after we lost all four engines due to flak and I landed (#43-38033) in a pasture in southeast Belgium behind enemy lines. After a hairy encounter with local citizens, the local Belgian resistance group around Rienne arranged for us to hide out in their homes for 4 days until American Troops entered the village. We were taken to a convent to stay for several days until we were flown back to England in an RAF C-47.
European Theater Of Operations for mission #931 of the Eighth Air Force reported “1,314 bombers and 898 fighters are dispatched to hit airfields, oil and munitions depots and explosive plants in C and N Germany; all primary targets are bombed visually; they met 100+ conventional fighters and 50+ jets; the German fighters attack fiercely and in the ensuing air battle down 15 heavy bombers; the AAF claims 104-13-32 aircraft including a few jets: 529 B-17s are sent to hit airfields at Kaltenkirchen (143) and Parchim (134), an oil depot at Buchen (36) and a munitions depot at Gustrow (104); secondary targets hit are the marshalling yards at Neumunster (37) and Schwerin (48); 1 other hit Salzwedel Airfield, a target of opportunity; they claim 26-10-10 aircraft; 14 B-17s are lost and 117 damaged;”
On the morning of my wife, Bette’s, birthday Saturday, April 7, 1945, we set out on a mission to bomb a ME-262 jet airfield at Parchim, Germany. We took off from Lavenham, England (station 137) flying the B-17G-105-BO (#43-39126) we were assigned in March in position #4 under the Group Leader’s plane. The 838th Squadron was leading that day. The weather was excellent with only a few puffy clouds at about 20,000 feet. At approximately 13:10 hrs, I took the controls from the co-pilot while continuing to monitor the Group radio channel. The talk was relatively quiet with no calls announcing any German fighters or flak at that time. [NOTE - The 486th Bomb Group Association indicates that the 486th BG (H) dropped incendiaries on the Me-262 jet base over Parchim, GR at 1357 LST, 7 April 1945.]
Suddenly, while on route to the IP, we received a terrific jolt and bang. I tightened up on the wheel to prevent it from swerving. The waist gunner reported over the intercom that our plane had been hit in the tail by an ME-109 diving down from 4 o’clock high.
The tail gunner, Sgt. Jewell, was shoved forward 4-5 feet, but was only banged around. The plane was functioning okay so I held position for a few moments. The crew reported pieces of the tail and rudder were coming off. The engineer in the top turret reported that the vertical stabilizer was severely damaged. From the left side of the plane the crew observed that an ME-109 had severely damaged its right wing and was spinning down out of control. No parachute was seen while the crew had the ME-109 in view.
Not wanting to damage any other planes, I increased speed and planned to dive forward out of the formation. Unfortunately the plane didn’t dive when I pushed the wheel forward. I flew ahead of the formation and then cut the throttles back and let down in a flat aspect. After leaving the formation, I found that kicking the rudder didn’t turn the plane either. We couldn’t climb, dive or turn; it was apparent that I had no rudder or elevator control. Keeping the airplane level, I let down and turned by cutting the throttle on the outboard engine on that side and skidded around. [NOTE: Photo of the damaged B-17F #41-24406 of the 97th BG on Feb 1, 1943 over Tunesia.]
To prepare for emergency landing we dropped our bomb load in an open area then headed in a westerly direction while making a large circle to keep a flat attitude. The crew continued to report pieces falling off. I felt I had better get the plane on the ground. The navigator and bombardier found an airfield to the north with a single light gray runway. It could be worn asphalt or concrete. Low trees and cut grass surrounded the area. I approached in a northern direction and touched down. It had been only about 20 minutes since we were hit. It was odd that we hadn’t see any other fighters near our plane on our descent. We didn’t know if any other B-17s were hit.
On the right side of the runway, in the southeast quadrant, there was one or two small 1-story low buildings. Several new looking ME-262s were lined up under the trees. It was definitely a small facility in a very rural location without much fanfare. In 2005, I learned it was Wernershohe.
We were in Germany and expected to be in a Stalagluft as POWs in short order. At least we were on the ground unharmed. I came to a stop and taxied toward a building. To my surprise American soldiers came running out to the plane. “What the hell are you doing? You aren’t supposed to land here.”, shouted an American Army Major standing in his jeep. We learned that the Americans had just occupied the airfield only 2-3 hours earlier that day.
Upon examining the plane we saw the movable rudder was completely gone and the vertical stabilizer was damaged. The right horizontal stabilizer was reduced to less than one third its size while the left and right elevators were completely gone. The tail of the fuselage was crushed including the tail turret. The tip of a ME-109 wing was embedded in the fuselage. We pulled the tip of the ME-109 out and kept it as a souvenir. [NOTE-A piece of the ME-109 wing section is on display at the Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, Georgia.]
Under some trees at the edge of the runway was another B-17. It was an old camouflaged plane with no markings and no chin turret, probably a B17-E or F. It was in rough shape, but no FLAK holes. The plane was pretty beat up, but after inspecting it we ran up the engines from a jeep generator then we took off and flew back to our air base in England. We flew at 3 - 4,000 feet keeping watch for airfields along the way just in case we needed to land again quickly.
Photo of the captured B-17, with Balkenkreuz, is B-17F #41-24485 Wolf Hound of the 303rd Bomb Group.
We landed at our home airbase in Lavenham several hours after the group had returned. By now it was late in the day and starting to get dark. Somewhat reminiscent of our earlier landing that day an American officer came racing out to our plane, “What the hell happened to my new 17? You were supposed to be here hours ago.” I told the Major that we left his new plane back in Germany and traded it for this one instead.
We were driven to the mess hall but were never officially debriefed or interrogated. Later that evening I was taken to the Squadron Commander, Capt. “Pete” Riegal, and gave him a short version of our events that day. He told me that we would not have to fly any further combat missions in this war, but he would not ground us. We had crash landed 2 times in 28 missions as well as returned 5 times on two engines.
ince 2003 I have corresponded with Dr. Fritz Marktscheffel, archivist of Schulungskommando (schulungeslehrgang) "ELBE" and Arno Rose, both members of an organization in Germany dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of accurate information regarding a little known group in the Luffwaffe called Rammflotte Elbe. Through numerous exchanges and research, their group deduced that the pilot of a BF109 who rammed our B-17 was Klaus Hahn and that I crash landed at Wernershohe. [Marktscheffel, Fritz, Dr., email@example.com, Nachtigallenweg 8, D-61479 Glashütten/Ts.; Rose, Arno, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Uffz Klauz Hahn took off in his Bf 109G, nicknamed “Beule”, from Sachau with his squadron, but lagged behind because of a mechanical problem in the early minutes of his flight. Arriving at a height of 10,000 meters (~32,000 feet) over the area east of Weser, Klaus ran into a swarm of P-51 Mustangs. He was shot at from the left and behind. His face was cut from splinters from the instrument panel, his left upper arm was broken by a bullet, and left hand was badly mangled.
In Klaus’ personal account he writes; “ I rolled my plane sideways and dived towards the bombers for an attack. On nearing the height on which they flew, I clearly identified them as B-17s. I did not dive straight at my target, but a little from the side. I pulled my machine out of the dive as steeply as I could and charged at the side of the bomber. With the high speed that I had built up in the power dive, I approached the bomber very rapidly. What actually happened during the actual ramming, I cannot tell from my own observations. My last thought was: ‘Get out now!’ and I must have acted accordingly. An eye witness on the ground later explained that my machine was trailing smoke immediately after combat with the Mustangs.”
The Fortress that Klaus Hahn rammed was a B-17 of the 487th BG which was observed rammed from a four o’clock high position at 1315 hours in position 52° 40’N-09° 50’E, after which the wing of the Bf109 came off and the fighter exploded. Although damaged in the tail unit, the bomber started limping back to base.
Klaus passed out several times while tumbling though the sky and then again when his parachute opened. Uffz Hahn was taken to a hospital at Munster-Lager, where both hip joints had twisted out of their sockets. They operated on his left arm, but had it had to be amputated a few weeks later due to a fever. [NOTE: Details from Klaus Hahn’s report can found in RAIDERS OF THE REICH by Martin W. Bowman and Theo Boiten, Airlife Publishing, ISBN 1 85310 746 8, Chapter 10 Fighter Finale, pg. 208.]
Two German TV-stations made a film of the last efforts of the German fighters, titled “Das Letze Aufgebot”. Fritz assisted the producer. Part of the film is a report by Klaus Hahn of his mission and his ramming action.
There was a secret unit within the German Air Force which took captured allied aircraft and adopted them for secret service flights (to France, the Netherlands, Spain, Great Britain, etc) transporting foreign spies and supplying resistance people to undermine enemy regimes. The first group of this unit, KG200, had B-17s and a B-24 at Hildesheim and Wernershöhe, 30km south of Hannover. Wernershöhe was surrounded by woods and was an auxiliary airstrip to the bigger airfield of Hildesheim. This is where they hid the B-17s with swastika’s on the tail.
In 1945 the Luftwaffe airfield at Wernershöhe had a paved Northeast-Southwest runway, low buildings and some Me 262's. It was a satellite field of the airbase Hildesheim. The Luftwaffe stored and repaired captured B-17s then painted them tan with swastika markings on the wings and rudders. On April 6th six or seven captured Bombers took off from Wernershöhe. On April 7th the airfield was captured by American troops. This was the place we landed and found the old B-17.
Red = 5400-6000 ft runway. Blue = Location of Me109 or Me109F
e never found out what happened to the B-17 we commandeered from Germany and flew back to England. Much later we learned that our new B-17G #43-39126 was repaired and returned to the USA by boat and finally sent to Storage Depot No. 41 in Kingman, Arizona. B-17s were collected at Kingman AAF Depot 41 in Arizona where they waited to be cut up by the salver’s knife. 5,748 warbirds were eventually sold as surplus, or melted down into ingots.
any published accounts of this incident are not true and quite inaccurate. Adrian Weir correctly writes in his book; “At least 2 reports from the 3rd Air Division mention the attack upon the 487th Bomb Group on April 7th. The reports say the attack was by a single Bf109 at approximately 13:10, (position reference 5225-0910).”
Weir incorrectly wrote, ”Damage was reported to aircraft in positions 5, 4 & 2 of the leading Squadron. The gunnery report says that the nose-gunner of aircraft 6 caused damage to the Bf109 causing it to crash into the tail of the bomber in position 7. This was the B-17 39126 of Budd Wentz.”.
I believe the author was confused and incorrectly put two separate incidents together. It is interesting that at that time and since then the air force has never reported these incidents as planned ramming attacks, but stated once as some “fanatical actions”.
Parchim,GR (53:25:37N 11:47:00E)
Latitude 53.43333 Lat (DMS) 53d 26m 0s
Longitude 11.85000 Long (DMS) 11d 51m 0s
Latitude 52.0500 Lat (DMS) 52° 2' 60N
Longitude 9.9167 Long (DMS) 9° 55' 0E
Altitude (feet) 541 Altitude (meters) 164
Straight line distance from Wernershöhe,GR to Parchim,GR is 125 miles.
Straight line distance from Wernershöhe,GR to Lavenham,UK is 388 miles.
Analysis of the time frame, distance, speed, and relative descriptions shows the following route may have been taken to the Wernershohe,GR.
1. Last turning point to Dömitz: 63 km, heading 360°
2. Turning point before the last one ( approx. 5 km SSO Klötze) to last turning point: 129 km, approx. 270°.
3. Next turning point approx 10 km SSO of Nienburg
4. Further heading approx. 228/230 ° to the area od Oelde /Aalen.
*Boeing C/n: 10104
*Boeing Type: B-17G-105-BO
*Boeing Line: xxx
*Boeing Regs: 43-39126
Lavenham: Station 137
487th mission: #174
Markings: Square [P]
[* 104th plane produced at Boeing Seattle (Part 06)”. Data from “Boeing Production List]