Punchboard Boeing B-17G-10-VE (42-39974)

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The Crew of Punchboard
Image and information about Punchboard 's crew.

Photos of Punchboard
Images of Punchboard after landing at Vaerlose

Punchboard Information
Information about the B-17G Punchboard
USAAF MACR
US Army Air Force Missing Air Crew Report
German KU Report
German KU report on the capture of the crew
Sources
Sources and Acknowledgements
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On the morning of April 9, 1944, 151 B-17 bombers were dispatched to hit the Focke-Wulf plant at Poznan, Poland and the Heinkel plant at Warnemunde, Germany. According to official records, 12 B-17s are lost that day, including the B-17G Punchboard, serial number 42-39974.

The crew of Punchboard consisted of the following members of the Eighth Air Force, 452nd Bomb Group, 731st Bomb Squadron based in Deopham Green, England:   Lieutenants Harry Dukes, Arthur Wagner, Clyde Freeman, Ernest Racener and Sergeants Robert Hazelton, Charles Cook, Robert Carlson, Charles Garrett, Vernice Wilson, Herbert Rosenberg

Punchboard arrived at Deopham Green on January 11, 1944 and the 452nd entered the air war over Europe on February 5, 1944. According to Lt. Freeman, the airplane was named "Punchboard" by Lt. Racener. Freeman had wanted to name the plane “Nasty Pants.”  According to Sgt. Garrett, there was a "punchboard" consisting of 25 spaces painted on the nose of the plane.  With each mission the crew would "punch" another square until all 25 of the crew's required missions were completed.

After participating in 12 previous missions, Punchboard participated in the Pozen/Warnemunde mission. It was a 14-hour flight in severely overcast sky conditions which became worse over the mainland. Bomber command recalled the mission because of the weather, and although the radio operator aboard Punchboard claims to have heard it, the group did not receive the order and proceeded to the target.

The flak over the target was light but very accurate. After dropping bombs over the target, the small group turned back toward England. It was at that time that the crew noticed a hole in the right wing near the fuel tank, presumably a result of flak, and the aircraft was losing fuel.

A group of Focke-Wulf 190s then attacked the formation. Lt. Freeman personally counted 32 fighters and described the group as looking like “a swarm of bumblebees.” The fighters flew past the formation and then turned back in to attack. During the attack Punchboard’s cockpit glass was destroyed. The formation was still too far from England to receive coverage from Allied fighter planes.

Thirty to 45 minutes before the final landing at Vaerlose at 16:01 local time, realizing that they were low on gas and would not be able to make even the English Channel, Punchboard and several other bombers turned north toward neutral Sweden. According to Freeman, the navigator did not have the maps specific to the area and they had only a general idea that Sweden was north of their present position.

Punchboard’s tail gunner reported that they were being pursued by a JU-88, which had already knocked down several other aircraft. Punchboard tried taking evasive action but the JU-88 stayed with them. The JU-88 had fired one rocket at the plane, but the bomber crew assumed that the reason they hadn’t been hit was because he hadn’t gotten a good shot at them. Why the tail gunner did not open fire on the JU-88, which was well within range of his guns, remains a mystery.  According to Sgt. Garrett, because they had jettisoned the ammunition moments earlier they were unable to return fire.

According to Lt. Freeman, the crew did not know what the Swedish flag looked like but believed that they were indeed flying over Sweden. That is, until they were shot at. Punchboard was now flying at about a thousand feet above ground level to avoid German radar. As they were flying over a river or lake they began taking fire from a small boat. The crew was unsure of what type of watercraft was below them but they noticed tracers coming up at the plane, and based on Lt. Freeman's memory, the waist gunner on that side returned fire.  (At some point prior to landing, all unnecessary weight was jettisoned from the airplane - including ammunition and parachutes.
As is remembered above, the crew returned fire at the watercraft, and this incident may have occurred prior to the gunners' jettisoning their ammunition.)

After flying further, the crew did spot some flags, but it began to become increasingly clear to them that they were in the wrong place. They were approaching an airfield, and while still hoping they were in Sweden, realized that their options were limited. They could either land the airplane or get into a dogfight with the JU-88, which the Flying Fortress was not capable of at that time. In addition to the wing damage that was causing their loss of fuel, they had sustained damage to one of the engines. The engine damage had not created a fire but was causing them to lose oil and had diminished the effectiveness of that engine. Lt. Freeman recalls damage under the co-pilot’s seat as well.

Lt. Racener then made the decision to land the plane at the airfield presently below them.  The airfield turned out to be Vaerlose Airfield in occupied Denmark - where the Luftwaffe was operating an aerial gunnery school.

Before their capture, the crew managed to destroy the Norden bombsight and the radio as well as maps and instructions to the bombing target that day. The Germans on the field were there when they landed and took all 10 crewmen as prisoners of war. Upon landing, Sgt. Garrett remembers  looking back through the fuselage from the radio room and seeing a "Luger poking his nose through the door."  All crewmen were uninjured at the time of their capture.

As was remembered by Lt. Freeman, the crew were taken into a building at the airfield and separated into different rooms within the complex and were soon given food. Later a man "dressed to the nines" in full military uniform - wearing many decorations - approached Lt. Freeman. He introduced himself as the pilot of the JU-88 that had pursued their airplane prior to landing. He advised Lt. Freeman that the decision to land the airplane was their best choice as he would have had to shoot them down had they not done so.  The pilot of the JU-88 was Hauptman Walter Barte of the Stab III./NJG 3 night fighter group.  Barte and his crew were awarded the claim for Punchboard.

They spent one night at Vaerloese, and the next day, 10-APR-1944, the crewmen were then taken by train to the Danish coast to board a ferry to Germany.  They were taken by train to the Dulag Luft at Frankfurt to be interrogated.

Both Lt. Freeman and Sgt. Garrett remembered that at the train station in Hamburg waiting for the train to Frankfurt, the captive crew drew a considerable crowd.  Realizing who these men were and what they were doing there, the crowd began to become agitated and began cursing the crew.  The German guards accompanying the crew restored order and kept the angry crowd from the crew.

The crew spent two or three days at Frankfurt under interrogation.  According to both Freeman and Garrett, the interrogations at the Dulag Luft were not intimidating, and the interrogators knew vast amounts about the men and operations of the Air Force.

As the Germans were very strict about separating the officers and enlisted men, after the interrogation at the Dulag Luft, the officers were transferred to Stalag Luft I, a Luftwaffe Camp, near Barth, Germany and some or all of the enlisted men were taken to Stalag 17b, a Wehrmacht camp, near Vienna.

The liberation of the camps - at least that of Stalag Luft I and Stalag 17b - are intensely interesting.

Six weeks prior to the end of the war, when the Russians entered Austria, Sgt. Garrett remembers that the prisoners at Stalag 17b were set on a forced march to the west by their captors.  It was a "loose" march with little supervision, but no one was attempting to leave the formation.

The Allies were advancing on Germany from the west, and as the formation of prisoners were in camp one day, an American plane flew overhead.  Unsure whether the plane would recognize the camp as American POWs, one of the prisoners took out an American flag and placed it on the ground to alert the pilot.  Seeing this, the plane flew over the camp again waggling his wings.  For the next five to six days, the plane would fly over them to check on their progress.

The column of prisoners marched to the Innes River where they stayed for two weeks.  Sgt. Garrett remembers that the US Army was immediately on the other side of the river, and finally crossed one morning.  The German guards were then themselves taken prisoner and the American POWs were liberated.

The POWs were flown back to France and Sgt. Garrett stayed at Camp Lucky Strike for two weeks.  He then went from La Havre to Southampton where he boarded a troop ship to Boston.

Lt. Freeman remembers that Stalag Luft I was liberated in May of 1945 by the advancing Russian Army.  Several days before the liberation, the German guards had left the camp.  Freeman recalls being liberated by “a couple of drunk Russians” in a jeep who came “barreling down a hill shooting at anything that moved.”

The POWs were airlifted out of Germany in B-17s from a nearby airport and were taken to France where he made his way home.


This Site Was Last Updated 13-Oct-2005