www.heemkunde.moerbeke.be

Memorial Tablet celebrating
the 60th anniversary of the plane crash.

On May the 27th 2004 a memorial tablet was unveiled nearby the church at the Kruisstraat by the Patriotic Circle Groot-Haaltert and the municipal authorities of Moerbeke. This was done order to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of a plane crash in the surrounding polders.
Though most memorial plates report facts involving casualties, this story is an exception to that rule; all occupants did survive the crash.

The memorial inscription talks about the following facts:
Everything started on that particular 27th of May 1944 in Glatton, the English base wherefrom the mission began. The shunting-yard on the borders of the Rhine between Ludwigshaffen and Mannheim had to be eliminated, read: bombarded.
Six fighting squadrons of the first division were set in.

The 457th bomb group in charge of the 94th A Combat Wing was leading the 8 airforce units towards their target. The 457th foresaw 36 (light and heavy) aircraft to complete this formation.
Col. James R. Luper as air commander, with Lt. Charles D. Brannon as pilot, Captain Jacob M. Dickinson was in charge of the light aircraft with Lt. Malcolm E. Johnson as pilot.

On their way to the target the group was facing heavy inimical fire of the Me-109s

Messerschmitt 109

Messerschmitt 109


  • The right wing of the aircraft flown by LT. Artie was hit; one piece was loose and engine number 3 caught fire. The plane lost height, began to spin and made a narrow spiral. Then finally crashed in a woody area and exploded. Lt. Whitlow did not survive the accident.


  • The aircraft flown by Lt. William E. Dee was hit. He had to leave the formation and returned heading for the Channel. One crewmember was dead, the others were taken POW. Lt Thomas E. Lee was seriously injured and his board-engineer almost died instantly.

  • Picture of a similar type B-17 aircraft.<br border=0>

    Picture of a similar type B-17 aircraft.



    Lt. Roy W. Allen returned to the base but discovered that one of the landing wheels would not come down. He preferred landing one wheel only to a belly-landing. Touching land, he held the wings tight as long as possible to stand still after making a swing of a 180 degrees. No one was injured.

    The outcome of this successful mission (Mission no 52).
    Of the 36 aircraft that supported this operation, 19 were damaged and 3 were gone. 31 men were missing or killed, 2 were injured.


    We are now going back to that precise aircraft 42-38055 flown by Lt. Roger W. Birkman.
    (2) The airplane had two engines shot into pieces in the midst of the air-fight with ME109s. When the 42-38055 left the group, Lt. Roger Birkman decided to fly towards the neutral Switzerland. But before he could turn these plans into actions he was once more hit by German anti-aircraft gunfire and 3 engines inflamed. The crew was forced to jump parachute over Belgium, more precisely over Moerbeke Kruisstraat. To avoid further casualties during the crash the huge B-17 bomber was sent away from the Kruisstraat at this crucial moment. Roger Birkman was the last person to jump. He did from lower heigth and landed nearby the Papdijk.
    The aircraft finally smacked down a little bit further at the Overslag in the Brandstraat nearby a little barn at the Family Thirion estate.

    Glatton, home base of the crew, Moerbeke, place of the parachute jumps, Mannheim, area that had to be bombarded, Moerbeke is situated on the axis between base and target. This is one of the reasons why the plane crashed there.

    Glatton, home base of the crew, Moerbeke, place of the parachute jumps, Mannheim, area that had to be bombarded, Moerbeke is situated on the axis between base and target. This is one of the reasons why the plane crashed there.

    The enemy took notice of the crash and a search was immediately started. The gendarmery of Moerbeke was able to put the Germans on the wrong track; which made them lose plenty of time.

    (This, so far) is the sole recovered depiction of the storied no42-38055 coded RUW-K.

    457thbombgroup.org/Narratives/Ma52

  • Lt. Roger W. Birkman`s and Lt. David K. Summerville`s airplanes were smashed out of formation. With one engine on fire and losing height, Lt. Birkman left the group.
    The crew could free themselves from the plane before it crashed. Five crewmembers were taken prisoner of war, five others managed to hide and return to England after the invasion.


  • Lt. Summerville flew back to the base after three of the engines were struck by fire.
    Two engines were completely out of order. With a broken propeller and losing plating, he still made it to Glatton on one engine only.

    The attack by the "Luftwaffe" ultimately lasted 25 minutes. The group continued and bombarded Ludwigshaffen and Mannheim productively. The Luftwaffe succeeded breaking the formation as heavy aircraft were replaced by light ones. The heavy aircraft made a full circle and a short time after the target area was covered in a smoke screen of more than 900 feet high. The German anti-aircraft guns operated strongly over the stricken area and 13 planes were seriously damaged. To compensate their loss, the 257th group destroyed one more enemy airplane and heavily damaged 5 other.



    457thbombgroup.org/Fate/RLF027
    457thbombgroup.org/Fate/RLF027

  • Birkman, Stanko, Koch, Toney and Cochran could take hiding within the local community of the Kruisstraat and were helped by the Resistance later on. The five others were taken POW.
    Birkman knew to hide in the cornfields nearby the Rode Sluis and, as the story goes, was found by Ciriel Haentjes. Charles Buyck and Frans De Bock would have also played a role in this event. The pilot took a hide in the arc of Theofiel Walbrecht, where a makeshift shelter of straw was made. A couple of days later he was brought to Miss Odile Cattoir in the Statiestraat to be transported per tandem to the city of Sint-Niklaas.
    Crew member John Toney was shortly after his parachute jump given a hand by Frans d`Hooge, (Spelonkvaart in Moerbeke-Waas) and Willy Van Damme before going into hiding with the De Windt family. John Toney was brought together with pilot Roger Birkman and Alexander Kucherenko via the city of Aalst to the premises of George Desmet (director of NIKO factories) and coal merchant Mr. Van Kerkhove.
    Before the Liberation the trio left their shelter (to great discontent of their benefactors) heading for the American forces, where John Toney could meet his brother and colonel within the American Infantry division.
    Four crewmembers were shortly after their jump captured by the Germans, but for Koch, Kochran and Stanko the gates to freedom were ajar. After many detours this threesome ended up in Gijzegem (nearby Aalst) and stayed about five weeks with the family of Widow Waegeman. During a risky journey towards the City Park of Aalst, the Gestapo arrested Stanko.
    The other two were quickly brought under the safe hand of the escape group "Comete", and waited for the Liberation in Brussels.

    Some of the American members "Roger Birkman"-crew could return home with the liberation of September the 3rd 1944. Those taken POW in camps, known as "stalags" had to wait until early 1945 before they could return to their fatherland.

    The crew. Standing are from left to right: Toney, Beuchel, Jones, Baily, Koch, Kafka. Kneeling from left to right: Cole, Birkman, Cochran, Stanko. Lt Alexander Kucherenko is not on this photograph.

    The crew. Standing are from left to right: Toney, Beuchel, Jones, Baily, Koch, Kafka. Kneeling from left to right: Cole, Birkman, Cochran, Stanko. Lt Alexander Kucherenko is not on this photograph.

    Information Vaderlandslievende Kring Groot-Haaltert

    The crew of the B-17 s/n 42-38055

    Pilot

    Lt Roger W. Birkman

    Hid

    Co-pilot

    Lt Alexander Kucherenko

    POW

    Navigator

    Lt Micheal N. Stanko

    Hid

    Bombarder

    Lt James Cochran

    Hid

    Aircraft Engineer

    Sgt Raymond Koch

    Hid

    Radio Operator

    Sgt Andrew Kafka

    POW

    Center-Left Artillerist

    Sgt John L. Tooney

    Hid

    Center-Right
    Artillerist

    Sgt James C. Jones

    POW

    Cupola-Artillerist

    Sgt John Buechel

    POW

    Tail-Artillerist

    Sgt Errol Bailey

    POW

    On the 27th of May 2004, in presence of Sgt John. L. Toney and the daughter of Lt Roger W. Birkman, the Vaderlandslievende Kring Groot-Haaltert and the municipal authorities of Moerbeke unveiled a memorial tablet nearby the church at the Kruisstraat.

    Many thanks to:

  • Web site of Willard Reese "457 Bomb Group"
  • Vaderlandslievende Kring Groot-Haaltert
  • Luc Van Hove
  • Erna De Windt
  • and all other people who contributed by bringing in the little pieces the enabled us to complete this jigsaw puzzleÖ


    Geert de Schepper

    Translation by Marc De Fleyt, AKA Mr. Page 84.
    _____________
    (1) 457thbombgroup.org/Narratives/Ma52
    (2) 457thbombgroup.org/Fate/RLF027
    (3) Information Vaderlandslievende Kring Groot-Haaltert



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