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Francis Xavier Schwarzenbek

Military

On 14 August 1942, a fire in B-17E #41-9115 forced crew to bail out during a training flight. All Returned to Duty (RTD)
Shot down 21 October 1942 B-17 #41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as the Pilot, Killed in Action (KIA).
According to a condensed Missing Air Crew Report (MACR), Schwarzenbek was a member of the 97th Bomb Group's 342nd Bomb Squadron. Because of his German ancestry and surname, he acquired the nickname “the Baron.” He had survived three near crash landings, two as a result of Fortress forays over France. One of these incidents became well publicized and was dramatized on Gene Autry’s radio show, “Melody Ranch.” It was also depicted in a Sunday “True Comics.”
The 97th Bomb Group history Venit Hora contains the following extract from the 342nd Bomb Squadron War Diary:
Mission #16 Lorient Submarine Base, France, 21 Oct.1942
The last we saw of the Baron’s A/C and crew, it was blazing and only 500 ft. off the ground, and nobody had bailed out. It wasn’t the Baron’s regular crew. There was something wrong with a supercharger on his A/C that morning, and the regular pilot of the Dinah Mite had a severe cold and the co-pilot was green, so the Baron volunteered to replace the sick pilot. We don’t know whether flak or enemy aircraft got the Baron’s plane, but just as it made the turn after bombing, smoke and flames began pouring out of it and it began losing altitude.
Four of the crew did get out, and they survived the war as prisoners. One of them, Kenneth Laud, died only recently (2014).
Schwarzenbek had been anxious to volunteer to replace the sick pilot, trying to acquire enough missions to qualify for home leave in time to be home for the birth of his first child (who turned out to be a boy).
MIA -1st Lt. Francis X. Schwarzenbek, pilot; 1st lt. William L. Tingle, co-pilot; Capt. Joe E. Gray, navigator; 1st Lt.Harry R. Erickson, Bombardier;Sgt. George Whitham, tail gunner;Sgt. Kenneth
K. Laud, radio operator;Sgt. Mitchell Small, ball turret gunner;Sgt. Ned R. Herzstam, waist gunner;Sgt.Kenneth V. Maeran, waist gunner; Sgt. William T. Lynch, engineer.
The following is taken from the book "B-17 Flying Fortress Units Of The Eighth Air Force" (Part 1) by Martin Bowman.
"Altogether, 66 B-17s of the 97th, 301st and 306th Bomb Groups (along with 24 B-24s) were dispatched, the bombers being split into two groups, led by the 97th BG commander, Col. Joseph H. Atkinson. Following the losses of the previous raids, mission planners had drawn up a route which kept the bombers over the Bay of Biscay until the last possible moment to hopefully avoid the German fighters. As it turned out, thick cloud over Lorient at the prescribed bomb release altitude of 22,000 feet caused two thirds of the force to abort the mission short of the target.
Only the 97th BG now remained on course, and once in the target area, Maj. Joseph A. Thomas, as lead pilot, guided the group through the undercast, breaking clear over Lorient at 17,500 feet. The German defenders were caught napping, and before the alarm could be sounded 2000-lb bombs were exploding in the target area, 21 falling within 1000 feet of the designated Mean Point of Impact (MPI).
Five bombs hit the central block of submarine pens, yet did not penetrate more than five feet into the structure. U-Boat pens were poor targets for heavy bombers, being small in area and protected by reinforced concrete 16 feet thick! Indeed, a 1600-lb armor-piercing bomb dropped from 16,000 feet achieved sufficient impact velocity (about 860 feet per second) to penetrate just eight inches of armour. However, three general workshops and a pair of floating docks were destroyed, whilst two U-Boats caught in the open received blast damage.
Having enjoyed the element of surprise over the target, the 97th BG headed for home. Just after re-crossing the French coast and heading north-east into the Bay of Biscay, the formation of 15 Fortresses was bounced by a swarm of FW 190s. The German pilots (almost certainly from III./JG2, which was based at Brest-Guipavas, and tasked with protecting the U-Boats and their French bases) pressed home their attacks in such a manner that the high tails of the bombers actually shielded the fighters from firing positions in the radio hatch and top turret.
A series of ferocious passes was made on the rear of the formation, and three Fortresses succumbed to the incessant attacks. First to go down was "Francis X" (Dinah Mite?) piloted by Lt Francis X. Schwarzenbek. Although he and his crew could have bailed out of their stricken bomber, they chose to remain at their posts when they saw that they were flying headlong into another formation of German fighters. Guns blazing, "Francis X" managed to destroy two FW 190s on its way down. Johnny Reb [#41-24443], flown by Lt Milton M. Stenstrom, and another unnamed Fortress [#41-24344] piloted by Capt John M. Bennett were lost just minutes after "Francis X", and six more shot-up bombers landed at bases on England's south coast.
....the 97th BG had by now suffered the highest losses of any unit to date. This mission proved to be the last flown from England by the group, for on 9 November it commenced a theatre move to North Africa.

Service

People

  • Harry Erickson

    Military | First Lieutenant | Bombardier | 97th Bomb Group
    As a bombardier, Erickson occupied the glass cabin in the B-17's nose. It was his job to release the bombs accurately over the target. ...

  • Joe Gray

    Military | Captain | Navigator | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as Navigator. Killed in Action (KIA).

  • Ned Herzstam

    Military | Sergeant | Waist Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 41-24441 'Francis' as a Waist Gunner. Prisoner of War (POW)

  • Kenneth Laud

    Military | Sergeant | Radio Operator | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17F 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as Radio Operator. Prisoner of War (POW).

  • William Lynch

    Military | Sergeant | Top Turret Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    On 12 August 1942, a fire in a/c B-17E 41-9115 forced crew to bail out during a training flight. Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as Engineer/Top Turret Gunner. Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Kenneth Maeran

    Military | Sergeant | Waist Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as a Waist Gunner. Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Mitchell Small

    Military | Sergeant | Ball Turret Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as Ball Turret Gunner. Killed in Action (KIA)

  • William Tingle

    Military | First Lieutenant | Co-Pilot | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17F 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as Co-Pilot. Killed in Action (KIA).

  • George Whitham

    Military | Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 41-24441 'Francis X' while serving as Tail Gunner. Killed in Action (KIA)

Show more

Units served with

  • 379th Bomb Group

    379th Bomb Group

    Group
    The 379th Bomb Group (H) (heavy), based at Kimbolton, flew more sorties than any other Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force and dropped a greater bomb tonnage than any other Group. The B-17 Flying Fortress Group was awarded two Distinguished Unit...

  • 97th Bomb Group

    97th Bomb Group

    Group
    The 97th Bomb Group flew the Eighth Air Force's first heavy bomber mission from the UK when they bombed a marshalling yard at Rouen on 17 August 1942. Just a month later though the Group were reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force and left England for the...

  • 342nd Bomb Squadron
  • 526th Bomb Squadron

Aircraft

  • 41-24441 Francis X

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Assigned 326BS/92BG at Bangor 31-Jul-42; Transferred to 326BS/97BG Polebrook 12-Aug-42. Missing in Action 21-Oct-42 while on a mission to bomb the U-Boat pens at Lorient . 6KIA 4POW. FRANCIS X. ...

Missions

  • VIII Bomber Command 15

    21 October 1942
    German U-Boat pens are Lorient, France are the Primary (P) targets for this mission along with the German airfield at Cherbourg, France. 93BG despatches 24-B-24s to Lorient, but cloud cover prevents them from bombing. The main attack force to Lorient...

Associated Place

  • Polebrook

    Military site : airfield
    Polebrook was laid down for RAF Bomber Command use in 1940-1941. Built by George Wimpey and Co. Ltd, it had short runways which were lengthened for USAAF heavy bomber use. The RAF used the base for operational trials - including of B-17 Flying...

Events

Event Location Date
Born 1919

Nutley, New Jersey

Lived in 1941

Essex County, New Jersey

Enlisted 9 July 1941

as an Aviation Cadet in the Air Corps, in Newark, New Jersey

Killed In Action (KIA) 21 October 1942

Killed in action as pilot of the B-17 Flying Fortress “Francis X” October 21, 1942 against a U-Boat base in Lorient, France.

Memorialized at the Tablets of the Missing

at the Cambridge American Cemetery. Still listed as Missing In Action (MIA)

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
23 April 2020 02:11:01 jmoore43 Changes to biography
Sources

Added a "#" to the A/C serial numbers in the "Summary biography" to aid clarity & consistency.

Date Contributor Update
22 March 2019 10:52:59 ED-BB Changes to service number, biography, events and person associations
Sources

NARA WWII Enlistment records
Corrected typos in names in the Biography section

Date Contributor Update
28 June 2017 15:26:46 general ira snapsorter Changes to service number, highest rank, role and unit associations
Sources

Merged with duplicate entry to include details from:
- 379th Bombardment Group (H) Anthology, 1942-45; p. 157;
- the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia

Date Contributor Update
03 January 2016 08:09:01 bfrice Changes to media associations
Sources

1Lt Francis X. "Bart" Schwarzenbek

Date Contributor Update
03 January 2016 07:49:19 bfrice Changes to middlename, nickname, biography, awards and events
Sources

Sources were the 97th Bomb Group history Venit Hora and the book "B-17 Flying Fortress Units Of The Eighth Air Force" (Part 1) by Martin Bowman.

Date Contributor Update
16 January 2015 12:47:25 Tom Changes to events
Sources

corrected KIA date typo

Date Contributor Update
17 November 2014 21:13:22 Lee8thbuff Changes to biography and events
Sources

Lee Cunningham 17-Nov-2014. Added KIA event and description; edited biography for format.

Date Contributor Update
27 October 2014 18:33:13 Lee8thbuff Changes to place associations, aircraft associations and mission associations
Sources

Lee Cunningham 27-Oct-2014 "Losses of the 8th & 9th Air Forces" Stan Bishop & John A Hey MBE.

Date Contributor Update
27 October 2014 18:30:14 Lee8thbuff Changes to service number, biography and events
Sources

Lee Cunningham 27-Oct-2014. Service number from 97BG historian, other details from "Losses of the 8th & 9th AIr Forces" Stan Bishop & John A. Hey MBE.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:09:44 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / Roll of Honor, Losses of the 8th and 9th AF by Bishop and Hey pp. 26, 38

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