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Crew of B-24 J liberator #42-100374 (Suitch's Bitch).
Once the crew was ready for combat, several members of the crew flew missions as replacement personnel with experienced crews. This included the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, engineer, and radio-operator. The Gotha mission of 24 Feb 1944 was their first combat mission as a crew, but there were last minute personnel changes. The co-pilot on this mission was a seasoned member of the 445th staff, Captain Eugene Waldher, instead of Lt. Murphy. Waldher was a member of the original cadre that had formed the bomb group in April, 1943. He served as operations officer of the 700th BS during its subsequent combat training and was working in a staff position at the time of the Gotha raid. It was standard procedure to substitute seasoned veterans for key positions in an inexperienced crew on their first few missions. Additionally, in an attempt to cut back on casualties, the group would be flying without ball turret gunners that day. S/Sgt. Vic Panconi would remain behind and the ball turret would be retracted within the fuselage for the entire raid.
The 445th Bombardment Group dispatched 25 bombers to attack the Gothaer Waggon Fabrik AG in Gotha on 24 Feb 1944. This was another installment in the "Big Week" assault on the German aircraft manufacturing industry. The Luftwaffe rose in force to defend the factories, and the bombers from the 445th sustained particularly heavy attacks. Thirteen of the 25 B-24's from the 445th were shot down that day.
On the way to the target as they passed over the Zuider Zee, Lt. Suitch's bomber lost an engine, possibly due to enemy fire. The decision to press on or turn back belonged to Lt. Suitch and he chose to carry on with the mission. 11 of the 25 planes from the 445th were shot down before they got to the target. At 1317, Lt. Peterson began the bomb run over Gotha. Two minutes later it was all over: the fourteen remaining bombers of the 445th had “cleared their racks.” The formation turned south to a heading of 85 degrees; ten minutes later they turned due west. German fighters were still tearing through the group, and their attacks were hitting with devastating effect. The tail gunner, S/Sgt. Ulmer, reported that he was out of ammunition. About the same time, the bomber in front of them exploded in a ball of flame. It was the twelfth (and next to last) bomber from the group to go down. Moments later, Lt. Suitch's B-24 lost a second engine. The bomber crippled and flying on two engines, next suffered a catastrophic explosion up front and Lt. Suitch gave the order to bail out. Three crew members did not survive. S/Sgt. Ulmer, the tail gunner, failed to get out of the plane. The parachutes of Lt. Suitch and the navigator, Lt. Eckard, were damaged by flak (or they malfunctioned) and both men were killed by the impact to the ground.
Only later would the men from Suitch's crew learn what they had accomplished that day. In the face of “the fiercest and most determined resistance the enemy was able to muster,” the 445th hit the target at Gotha with “extreme accuracy and devastating results.” As General Marshall put it in the Presidential Unit Citation, “the courage, zeal, and perseverance shown by the crew members of the 445th Bombardment Group (H), 2nd Air Division, on this occasion were in accordance with the highest traditions of military service of the United States and reflect great credit on themselves and the group, and the Army Air Forces.”

Connections

Units

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force


    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 2nd Air Division

    2nd Air Division

    Division
    In December 1944, the 2nd Bomb Division was redesginated the 2nd Air Division.

  • 445th Bomb Group

    445th Bomb Group

    Group
    The 445th Bomb Group flew B-24 Liberators from Tibenham, Norfolk. The crews' first mission was bombing U-boat installations at Kiel on 13 December 1943. The Group continued to hit strategic targets in Germany, including the aircraft components factory...

  • 700th Bomb Squadron

People

  • Howard Bohn

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Top Turret Gunner
    Howard J. Bohn was born in New Jersey in 1922. He was 19 or 20 when he enlisted on December 1, 1942, in New York City, New York. He had completed 4 years of high school, was single with no dependents, and listed Queens, New York, as his place of...

  • Robert Eckard

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Navigator
    Shot down by fighters just after bommbing the mission target at Gotha, GR and crashed SW of Gotha on 24 Feb 1944 in B-24J #42-100374. Killed in Action (KIA). PH

  • John Hurst

    Military | Sergeant | Right Waist Gunner, Waist Gunner
    Shot down by fighters just after bommbing the mission target at Gotha, GR and crashed SW of Gotha on 24 Feb 1944 in B-24J #42-100374. Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • James Murphy

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Co-Pilot
    Shot down by fighters and crashed N of Furstenau, GR on a mission to Genshagen, GR on 6 Mar 1944 in B-24J #42-109796 'Balls of Fire'. Prisoner of War (POW). ...

  • Harold Palmer

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Radio Operator
    T/Sgt. Harold G. Palmer was the radio operator. He bailed out of the aircraft and spent the remainder of the war as a POW. ...

  • Victor Panconi

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Bombardier, Enlisted, Nose Gunner
    27 September 1944 in B-24 #42-110022 'Patches', Killed in Action (KIA).

  • Robert Peterson

    Military | First Lieutenant | Bombardier
    Bob loved God, family and his country. He grew up during the depression and began working at age 8 or 9. He lettered in 4 varsity sports in high school (Football, Basketball, Tennis and Track) and went to Michigan Tech on a football scholarship in...

  • John Suitch

    Military | Lieutenant | Pilot
    Pilot of B-24 J # 42-100374. Shot down by fighters just after bombing the mission target at Gotha, Germany and crashed SW of Gotha on 24 Feb 1944. Bailed out, but did not survive. Possibly descended too fast due to flak holes in parachute. PH

  • Robert Teichgraeber

    Military | Sergeant | Left Waist Gunner, Waist Gunner
    Shot down by fighters just after bombing the mission target at Gotha, Germany and crashed SW of Gotha on 24 Feb 1944 in B-24J #42-100374. S/Sgt. Robert (Bob) T. Teichgraeber was the right waist gunner. He broke his ankle while bailing out of the...

  • Frank Ulmer

    Military | Sergeant | Tail Gunner
    Frank H. Ulmer was born in Canada in 1924. He was 18 when he enlisted on November 6, 1942, at Ft. Thomas, Newport, Kentucky. He had completed 3 years of high school, was single with no dependents, and listed Cabell county, West Virginia, as his place...

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Aircraft

  • 42-100374 Suitch's Bitch

    B-24 Liberator
    In mid-December, 1943, Lt. Suitch received orders to proceed to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take possession of a newly-built B-24 Liberator bomber. The bomber assigned to Lt. Suitch's crew was built at the Consolidated plant in San Diego, California, as part...

Locations

  • Tibenham

    Military site : airfield
    Tibenham was built in 1941-1942 by W and C French Ltd with a standard 2,000 yard main runway, and two other runways both 1,400 feet in length. Accommodation was provided for a full USAAF heavy bomber group in dispersed sites. Personnel of the 320th...

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
21 April 2021 20:59:52 bombardier_daughter Changes to caption
Sources

Nancy Wilson

Date Contributor Update
21 April 2021 20:01:37 bombardier_daughter Changes to caption, unit associations, person associations and place associations
Sources

Nancy Wilson

Date Contributor Update
21 April 2021 14:07:12 bombardier_daughter Created entry with collection and caption
Sources

Nancy Wilson

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