Lou Prucha WWII Service
Pilot's Flight Log
12th Army Group Situation Map
Group, Unit and Historical Extracts for Mission 246
"416th Bombardment Group (L) - Group History 1945"
Transcribed from USAF Archives
[The remainder of page 20 and the first line of page 21 are missing. ]
A maximum effort of 31 planes attacked road junctions at Vreden and flak positions that afternoon. Due to the similarity of targets and terrain, two flights attacked the town of Stadtlohn with excellent results. The rest of the formation scored excellent to superior results on the primary target, dropping 1,000-pounders. Results on the three flak positions were unobserved because of the type of bomb used. Weak to moderated flak was encountered from the bomb line to the target. Major Ferris, Lts. Royalty and McNutt, B&N, and Captain Rooney, recently promoted, Lt. Kirk, B-N, were the box leaders.
Coming back over friendly territory about 25 miles northeast of St. Trond, Captain Anderson, leading the second flight of the first box, was attempting to regain his position in the first box. He slid his plane over the plane flown by Captain Rooney and chewed off its tail. The two planes collided in mid-air and fell to the ground and burned. Lt Kirk, B-N in Capt Rooney's plane, bailed out safely with only minor injuries. All the others were killed in the crash, which happened without warning. Captain Rooney was completing his 65th mission when the accident occurred. The reason for the crash is unknown. Flying with Captain Anderson were Lt W. Babbage, Lt. L.J. Roman, and S/Sgt S.L. Heitell. Captain Rooney had Capt C.C. Slaughter of the Infantry and Sgt. R.J. Kamischke flying with him. Lt W.E. Downing's gunner, Sgt. A.D. Sgroi, flying in #4 position behind Capt Rooney, realized that a collision was imminent. He opened the bomb bay doors, preparing to bail out. The drag on the plane was sufficient to slow it down and keep it out of the way of the colliding planes. Had it not been for his action, his plane might well have been struck by Captain Anderson's plane. Sgt Sgroi was slightly injured in the eye during the collision.
"Attack Bombers, We Need You! A History of the 416th Bomb Group"
Pages 234 - 237
Mission #246 - 21 March - PM - Vreden Communication Center. Major Ferris with Lts. Royalty and McNutt, BNs in Box I and recently promoted to Captain, Rooney with Lt. Kirk, BN leading Box II. The flights in Rooney's box were each assigned a different target to bomb. Flights were led by Lt. Anderson and Lt. Babbage, BN, - Lts. Brown and Kerns, BN,- Captain Tutt and Lt. Orr, BN. Captain Rooney had another Infantry Observer riding with him, Captain Chester C. Slaughter.
The second box was to have each of its flights to bomb different targets and then join up behind Rooney's flight to go back to base. After dropping their bombs, Captain Anderson leading flight B was coming in to rejoin behind Rooney, all flying west, into a setting sun. The gunner in Lt. Downing's ship, who was flying in the #4 slot right behind and below Rooney's ship called Downing, telling him Anderson was leading his flight straight into theirs, and before any correction could take place, Anderson's plane got into Rooney's flight. This is the story as related by Lt. Robert Bower who was flying on the left side of Rooney, in the No. 3 position of Box B, known as position B-1-3.
Bower, now a Reverend in Maryland, wrote on 19 February, 1999 as follows:
Today I rechecked my diary. Now I wish my writing had been more, much more detailed. The date is recorded for my 28th mission with a good bomb report encountering flak going in and exiting. Flight leaders did fine evasive action.
A clear day, away from flak, it had every appearance of being a Sunday afternoon family ride home. It was that, except for flying into the sun necessitating a lot of squinting.
While flying number B-1-3 on Rooney, I was flying my usual formation mode, style, or what have you? One gunner, Ike Hummer said of one mission with me, 'My God, you scared the hell out of me.' 'How did I do that?' 'You flew so damn close, I could count the rivets on the lead ship.' I was in a close position to Rooney. I was in tight enough to readily see him.
The flight was proceeding without incident, figuring we would soon be on the ground without having to do an instrument let-down. My unworried state of mind was abruptly, suddenly, instantaneously alerted when from somewhere a strong command type voice hit my ear phones, 'Bower, move out!' I could tell it wasn't Rooney. Who? Where did it originate? Responding to what I sensed was an urgency in the voice as well as the nature of an order, I instantaneously jammed left rudder and right aileron and slid out!
As I did, I looked to my right. Dumfounded, I saw the nose of an A-26. Immediately, it was obvious that something bad was going to happen. Consequently, pulled back on my power setting while pulling back on the wheel. This retarded my air speed to the point where I could observe and not fly beyond what was an ensuing tragedy.
The invasive ship had flown into my spot and at a speed that surpassed us. The right wing of the invasive ship struck the tip of Rooney's left wing. About that time, Rooney looked over to where I had been. As he did, I saw a smile on his face - seeming to say 'I'm glad it isn't you.' I can see that handsome face today. The invasive aircraft proceeded in an upward angle, something like a gentle stall. As it did, it fell off on the right wing toward Rooney. The invasive aircraft continued to fall toward Rooney's left wing. I watched the left prop of Rooney's ship cut through the aft bomb bay of the invasive ship. Whirling away that prop looked like a giant pair of scissors.
The empenage of the invasive craft flew over my plane. Both ships then fell off to the right. Someone called out, 'All ships continue on in formation!'
While the two aircraft spun to the right, I continued to hold back on power and went to my left. In no time, I saw them. Realizing that each aircraft was doomed, I hit the mike and called out 'Rooney, for God's sake, jump, jump, go, go!'
I floated around and saw Kirk's chute blossom. What a lovely sight! I understood Kirk called Rooney at 5,000 feet to say he was going. 'Go ahead, Good Luck!' Rooney was reported to say to Kirk. When both aircraft hit the ground, they exploded. A ball of fire formed out from underneath each aircraft. Then I left.
Why didn't Rooney jump? I've wondered. He was conscious. He was functioning. Did the canopy get jammed? Could be quite possible if the invasive craft continued to fall toward the nose of Rooney's craft. Did Captain Slaughter panic - possible and yet he too may have been trapped.
My diary has a note - 'I fell sick and weak - so near and yet so far - it was really wonderful to get back on the ground.
If I differ from other accounts you'll have to overlook my memoried observations of what? A greatful survivor.
Lt. Downing, flying behind and below Rooney in B-l-4 spot reported the two planes, Rooney's and Anderson's props were slicing up each other's aluminum fuselage, with pieces of metal dropping all over him. Downing said he knew enough not to pull out to right or left, which would be the natural thing to do, because he would crash into the number 5 or 6 plane. Going down would have been out and certainly flying up would be right into the two merged aircraft. Downing held his position, watching all the pieces of both planes going down. Fortunately for him, nothing severely damaged his plane. Downing's gunner, Sgt. Sgroi was injured in the mishap from falling debris.
The massive irony of this incident is that Captain Rooney was on his last, 65th mission, having just received his Captain's bars, and a celebration awaited him by his tent mates, cake and all. The second irony, Captain Slaughter, the Infantry observer, lost his life. Rooney's gunner Sgt. Robert J. Kamischke went down with the plane. The gunners in Anderson's plane perished with Anderson, so six fatalities resulted from this act of God. Was that it? Rooney's flight undoubtedly was flying right into the setting sun, which was blinding Anderson.
"668th Bombardment Squadron (L) History"
Transcription from USAF Archives
A tragic accident on 21 March deprived the Squadron of one of its outstanding combat crews. Captain Charles J. Anderson, leading a flight on the return lap of a combat sortie, had dropped behind his position in the first box, and was endeavoring to bring his flight into its proper place. Flying directly into the sun, which may have blinded his vision, and passing beneath an element of the second box, Captain Anderson pulled up, and in so doing his aircraft collided with the lead ship of the second box flight, piloted by Captain Rooney. Both ships crashed. Captain Anderson, 2nd Lt Westmoreland Babbage, his bombardier, 2nd Lt Leo J. Roman, and Staff Sergeant Stanley L. Heitell were instantly killed.
"History of 670th Bombardment Squadron (L)"
Transcription from USAF Archives
That afternoon another mission took off and bombed the Vreden Road Junction and communication center with excellent results. Fourteen of our crews took part. Captain Rooney was leading his flight homeward into the setting sun, at about 12,000 feet, when another flight leader, who was also flying in the sun , collided with him. Apparently Captain Rooney tried to get his airplane under control in an attempt to save his crew, but it went into a spin and crashed near Peers, Belgium. All personnel in both airplanes were killed instantly when the aircraft crashed into the ground, with the exception of 1st Lt. Robert L. Kirk, Caption Rooney’s bombardier/navigator, who successfully parachuted to the ground. Captain Chester C. Slaughter of the 29th Inf Div, who was riding as an observer with Capt. Rooney, and Sgt. Robert J. Kamischke, the gunner, were killed. Three officers and one enlisted man in the other airplane were also killed. This was Captain Rooney’s 65th mission and constituted his tour of combat duty.
"671st Bomb Squadron (L) Unit History"
Gordon Russell and Jim Kerns
The afternoon mission which saw the communication center of Vreden take a sound beating was marred by a mid-air collision coming off the target. The lead aircraft of Box II, flown by Lt. Roney of the 670th Squadron, and the lead ship of Flight B, Box I, flown by Captain Anderson of the 668th Squadron, collided in mid-air as the latter was attempting to regain hi position in Box I. The reason for the crash is undetermined. Both ships had completed operations and were over friendly territory when the collision occurred. Lt. Kirk, Capt. Roney’s bombardier, bailed out and returned safely, but all the other personnel, including an Infantry Captain, were found dead. This was Captain Roney’s 65 mission and he had just made Captain…and ironical fact.
Fifty-one aircraft were dispatched on this maximum effort mission, 42 dropping thousand pounders on the primary, 6 ships dropping frags on flak positions and three ships throwing window. Four excellents and a superior were annexed and three undermined, all of which were believed to have caused severe damage, but all except the two, which crashed, returned safely.
TACTICAL OPERATIONS (Ninth Air Force): In Germany, 580+ A-20s, A-26s, and B-26s strike 6 communications centers and a marshalling yard E of the Rhine River, along with several casual targets, in the interdiction campaign to obstruct enemy movement; fighters fly patrols and armed reconnaissance, attack railroads and bridges, support the US VII Corps as its units reach the Sieg River near Siegburg, cooperate with the XII Corps as more of its elements reach the Rhine River at various points between Boppard and Worms, and support the XX Corps as additional units reach the Rhine between Worms and Mannheim.