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William Patrick Maher

Military

Aged 21 in 1940 William P. Maher was eligible for the Draft and, as at that period a one-year stint in the National Guard was considered to fulfill that requirement, he enlisted in the 27th New York Division on September 15th 1940. He was sent to Fort McClellan Alabama for the initial 13 week training which closely mirrored that of the Army, later going on manoevres in the South in the summer of '41. Post Pearl Harbour the entire 27th Division was shipped to Riverside California to guard the many reservoirs in that area. Maher had earlier 'spotted a piece of paper issued by the Army Air Corps' that as a high school graduate he could apply for Aviation Cadet training. He passed the entrance exam and - as the 27th was bound for Hawaii in April '42 -obtained his Honourable Discharge from the Army and was sworn in as an Aviation Cadet. Maher writes in his memoir 'I didn't realise it at the time but the decision to get out of the New York National Guard......and the security blanket of being with the 'home town boys' was the first major decision I had made independently...' and so it would be for thousands of other young men.

Flying training, intensive and long, was centred in California and Maher was not to get his wings and Commission until 30th August 1943, having been held back with a medical problem which unfortunately separated him from his companions of the past year; something he always regretted. He was posted to 2nd Air Force HQ at Euphrates in Washington state, a replacement depot 'repple depple' and checked out on the B-17 Flying Fortress. Mid September he was assigned to the newly formed 401st Bomber Group which was assembling in Great Falls Montana, consisting of 60 crews (of 10 men) 150 support staff, two chaplains and endless 'gravel crunchers'. Maher was then posted to No 613 Squadron 140 miles distant where he was immediately thrown in at the deep end by the officious and over-eager flight commander of the B-17 'Betty J' for a further period of intensive training.

The group equipped with brand new aircraft was eventually posted to the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) which they reached after a hazardous Atlantic crossing - one aircraft completely disappearing en route - landing initially at Nutts Corner Belfast, 'the RAF's welcome as a warm one' . William Maher was to fly his first mission as co-pilot on 13th December from the home base of Deenethorpe in Norfolk, target Kiel. His descriptions of the hazards of these missions are very powerful. Many aircraft were lost during the initial assembly of squadrons in limited air space often made even more perilous by low cloud. As soon as they crossed the Channel anti-aircraft fire 'flak' was a constant threat backed up by enemy fighters. Maher says the 'most gut-wrenching phase of a combat mission' was th French Resistance but to a reception committee of 'some ten German soldiers all pointing their Mauser machine pistols at me.....' His account of the days and weeks following his capture until he arrived on 3rd May 1944 at Stalag Luft 111 near Sagan in Lower Silesia mirrors that of many others. He was certainly not the only one who would find in the fact of his survival a greater faith in God. It would support him for the 375 day duration of his captivity.

Stalag Luft 111 was a camp for some 10,000 airmen POWs; the location of the 'Great Escape' (76 British officers escaped in a mass break-out of who 73 were recaptured and 50 executed) The North and South compounds were allocated to the RAF and the West compound comprising some 17 barracks, to the Americans. The newcomers were thoroughly briefed on arrival by both their captors and the Senior American Officer (SAO).

Their was a 'Kriege' (POW) code of conduct and any escape plan had to be cleared by the SAO. In September Maher traded 'a D-Bar and a few packs of cigarettes' for a British Diary. He notes that morale was higher and there was a distinct change in attitude of the German guards - mostly older men and often 1st World War veterans - after D-Day. By January 1945 as the Russians advanced on Berlin the infrastructure began to break down; delivery of Red Cross - the lifeline- ceased, guards were deserting and the prisoners were ordered by their SAO to 'prepare for possible evacuation'. On 27th January they began the harrowing march westward in freezing weather, arriving at their destination Kirchenlaibach in Bavaria after an arduous journey - 160 miles on foot and 300 jammed into box cars - losing surpisingly few POWs and guards along the way. Situated near Nuremburg the temporary camp was filthy, badly equipped and very vulnerable to air attack by both sides. Food was scarce and many of the men sickly, exacerbated by malnutrition.

On 4th April as the Allied victory is a foregone conclusion the entire camp is evacuated This time the march is a rout; the men are able to barter with the locals, sleep where they can, guards are going AWOL and deserting German soldiers - including aggressive SS men - mingle along the way. Maher goes to Mass in Barnsdorf Cathedral 'cheek-by-jowl with our German guards'. His diary entry for 9th April ' we roamed the countryside bartering chocolate, tea and cigarettes for eggs, meat and fresh milk; people warm and hospitable.....11th April Had six eggs for breakfast'. The final leg of the long march was to Moosburg north of Munich where they were jammed into yet another camp. On Sunday 29th April 1945 three Sherman tanks of Patton's 3rd Army crashed through the camp gates. On 1st May Patton himself paid them a visit urging them to stay put - the camp now totally under American control. VE Day was celebrated 8th May and Maher notes of Hitler's suicide 'I was shot down on his birthday 20th April 1944 and liberated 29th April on the day he died.....I had survived that son-of-a-bitch who had caused such misery to millions..'

William P. Maher went on to do a degree in Business Management and worked as a defence contacts manager for some 36 years. One of seven siblings himself he fathered seven children with his first wife who died in 1970. He remarried in 1973, a contented man who had been 'Fated to Survive'.

Summary and further information:

Born in 1915 in New Hampshire, William Maher was working for the Manchester City Street Railway Company as a bus repairer in 1940. He enlisted in April 1942 and was sent overseas. Assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group/358th Bomb Squadron in England. Shot down over France in B-17 42-29635 'Augerhead' on the 31 August 1943 mission to bomb the Amiens/Glisy airfield, France. After bailing out, he landed just South of Abbeville, France. Helped by French patriots and the Belgian Comet evasion network, he crossed into Spain on 22 September 1943, reached Gibraltar on 1 October and was back in England on 5 October 1943. The full story of his evasion : http://www.evasioncomete.org/fmaherwp.html

Maher was a member of the William Monahan crew, which usually flew B-17F #41-24577 'Hell's Angels'. After WWII, William Maher returned to the US and stayed in the Air Force, serving last as a Navigator/ Observer on RB-36 aircraft out of Rapid City. He was Killed in Service on 18 March 1953 flying in a RB-36H Peacemaker #51-13721 of the 28th SRW (Strategic Reconnaissance Wing)/ 718th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. The plane was on a low-level overwater training flight, just 1,000 ft over the ocean whitecaps, from the Lajes airfield in the Azores to its base at Rapid City, South Dakota. The RB-36 became lost in bad weather, had problems with its jet engines and crashed into a frigid wilderness hillside on Random Island, near Burgoyne Cove, Newfoundland. All twenty-three men aboard were killed, including Captain William Maher who was flying as an Observer, Radar Operator. Details at http://www.air-and-space.com/b-36%20wrecks.htm#51-13721

The Senior Officer aboard was Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth, CG of the 28th SRW. The Rapid City AFB, South Dakota, was renamed Ellsworth AFB after Brig. Gen. Ellsworth by order of President Eisenhower on 13 June 1953.

Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters

Service

People

  • Louis Benepe

    Military | First Lieutenant | Co-Pilot | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 31 August 1943 in B-17 42-29635 'Augerhead. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Alfred Buinicky

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Ball Turret Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    Alfred Buinicky was a bench worker in a machine shop in Claremont, New Hampshire when he enlisted in August 1942. Sent overseas, he was assigned as a Ball Turret Gunner in the 303rd Bomb Group/358th Bomb Squadron in England. Shot down 31 August 1943 in...

  • James Comer

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Left Waist Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    S/Sgt James Comer Jr was Left Waist Gunner on B-17 "Augerhead" # 42-29635 of 303rd Bomb Group/358th Bomb Squadron when it was shot down on the 31 August mission to the Amiens/Glisy airfield. Prisoner of War (POW) - Missing Air Crew Report - MACR 470.

  • Walter Gasser

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Top Turret Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 31 August 1943 in B-17 #42-29635 'Augerhead'. Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Walter Hargrove

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Bombardier | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 31 August 1943 in B-17 42-29635 'Augerhead. ' Evaded.

  • Marion Ignaczewski

    Military | Technical Sergeant | Engineer | 303rd Bomb Group
    Marion Ignaczewski was an Engineer in the 303rd Bomb Group/358th Bomb Squadron. He flew missions on the William Monahan crew, but was not flying with his Pilot when Monahan's B-17 "Augerhead" #42-29635 was shot down on 31 August 1943. It is possible...

  • Ripley Joy

    Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot | 303rd Bomb Group
    Ripley W. Joy was assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group / 358th Bomb Squadron. Starting as a Co-Pilot, he was upgraded to Pilot on 4 June 1943. After completing 25 missions with the 303rd, he was sent back to the US. He was assigned as a pilot in the 21st...

  • Frank Kimotek

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Radio Operator Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 31 August 1943 in B-17 #4229635 'Augerhead. ' Evaded.

  • David Miller

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 31 August 1943 in B-17 #4229635 'Augerhead. ' Killed in Action (KIA).

  • William Monahan

    Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 31 August 1943 in B-17 42-29635 'Augerhead. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

Show more

Units served with

  • 303rd Bomb Group

    303rd Bomb Group

    Group
    The 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on 3-Feb-1942 at Pendleton Field, Oregon. They assembled at Gowen Field, Idaho on 11-February 1942 where it conducted flight training until 12-Jun-1942. The Group then moved to Alamogordo Field, New...

  • 358th Bomb Squadron

Aircraft

  • 41-24539 Jersey Bounce

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Assigned 358BS/303BG [VK-K] Kellogg Fd 15/9/42; Molesworth 16/10/42; CCRC Bovingdon 27/7/43; 384BG Grafton Underwood 22/9/43; Salvaged NBD 31/5/45. JERSEY BOUNCE.

  • 41-24577 Hell's Angels

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    B-17F 41-24577 "Hells Angels" was assigned to 358BS/303BG [VK-D] Bangor 14-Oct-42; arrived at Molesworth 24-Oct-42; in landing accident with Irl E. Baldwin 26-Apr-43; slated to RAF 100 Squadron, but retained by 803rd BS ATD (American Training...

  • 42-29635 Augerhead

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 24/1/43; Salina 7/2/43; Assigned 358BS/303BG [VK-M] Molesworth 26/3/43. 18 missions. Missing in Action on the mission to bomb the airfield at Amiens-Glisy, France on 31 August 1943. Pilot: William J. Monahan; Co-pilot: Louis M....

Missions

  • VIII Bomber Command 88

    31 August 1943
    This mission is composed of two elements. The first element is composed of 170 B-17s from: 91BG (16); 92BG (19); 303BG (20); 305BG (18); 306BG (18); 351BG (21); 379BG (21); 381BG (19); and 384BG (18). The primary target for this element is German...

Associated Place

  • Molesworth

    Military site : airfield
    Molesworth was one of the early stations used by the Eighth Air Force in the UK, first occupied by the 15th Bomb Squadron’s Douglas Bostons in June 1942. Built in 1940 and extended and improved in 1942, Molesworth is most associated with the 303rd...

Events

Event Location Date
Born Manchester, New Hampshire 19 October 1915

the son of Irish-born Mary Maher

Enlisted Manchester, New Hampshire, United States 13 April 1942
Evaded (EVD) France 31 August 1943 – 3 October 1943

Landed about 2km from the center of Epagne-Epagnette, southeast of Abbeville, Pas-de-Calais, France.
Helped by French patriots and the Belgian Comète network, he crossed into Spain, reached Gibraltar on 1 October and was flown back to England on 4 October 1943, arriving in Bristol, England the following day. Escape & Evasion Report E&E 118

Died Nut Cove, Newfoundland (Terreneuve), Canada 18 March 1953

Killed in the crash of RB-36H # 51-13721. He served as a radar operator on a training flight

Enlisted
Buried Old Saint Joseph Cemetery, Manchester, New Hampshire, United States

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
25 May 2018 08:40:03 Carl Changes to biography
Sources

Notes compiled from articles on file at IWM by historian and volunteer Helen Millgate.

Date Contributor Update
21 April 2017 14:32:52 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography
Sources

Merged with duplicate entry to include details from:
- MACR 470 ;
- Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database

Date Contributor Update
13 November 2015 15:05:06 ED-BB Changes to biography
Sources

23 men on board the RB-36

Date Contributor Update
13 November 2015 15:01:54 ED-BB Changes to awards
Sources

Added Awards

Date Contributor Update
13 November 2015 15:00:29 ED-BB Changes to middlename, service number, biography, events, person associations, place associations, aircraft associations and mission associations
Sources

NARA WWII Enlistment records
MACR 470
Escape & Evasion Report E&E 118

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:28:35 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / MACR 470, son 2009

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