The enclosed article is the English translation of the original French text which features in issue 2001 of "Les Carnets du Goelo", the annual journal of the Society for Historical and Archeological Studies of the Goelo.
The action took place throughout the length of northern Brittany (the Brest Peninsula), from the westernmost tip to Normandy.
The Society is indebted to all those who made it possible for this story to be told.
The Lanloup ghost ship
During the afternoon of August 11, 1944, in fine weather, Genevieve Laine (eleven years old), today Mrs. LeGuilloux, was playing in her parents' field at Boulsec'h in Lanloup, near the border with Plouha. Her attention was suddenly drawn to an abnormal noise beyond the fields where she spotted a plane to landward, heading for the sea. But it skimmed the tops of tall trees to the south-east (near Kerdreux/Kerlavarec in Plouha) which it sheared and which caused it to swerve to the left, toward her, grazing the stakes planted by the Germans (1) in a nearby field, then clipped an electricity pylon by the roadside, slewing the plane through 180 degrees, it finally made a belly-landing across the top of the field in which Genevieve Laine stood, on a plot cleared for a building site. (The remainder of the field was cultivated: beetroot and loose sheaves of wheat were spared!)
The aircraft came to a standstill facing east, in a huge cloud of dust, having struck a hedgerow. Two engines appeared to be still running, despite their propeller blades having been twisted by the shock.
Yves Le Chapelain, standing in a field a few hundred yards away from the crash site, similarly reports on the route followed by the plane, speaks of it beheading a beech tree which swung the ship 90 degrees to the left and of its long flight just above the ground, which ended after hitting the poles. No. 2 engine was torn loose by the last of these and hurled into a nearby field. The three-bladed prop which is seen in the picture, next to a young man crouching, probably fell loose from the engine and was recovered.
But what a surprise! The plane, an American B-17G (1) Flying Fortress was empty: not a soul on board, no bombs in the bay, a few machine-guns still in place, some with their belts loaded...
The Germans having pulled out of the area a few days before to regroup in Paimpol, many sightseers, among whom there were Underground fighters, had their picture taken around the plane and on its wings...after having drained the fuel tanks! Local residents own some of these photos, a few of which were loaned to us. Genevieve Laine and her father are in a group posing before the tailfin.
Scraps of the ship, especially broken pieces of plexiglass and odds and ends "made in USA" were much sought after by collectors who flocked to the site for a month or two, trampling Mr. Laine's beetroots. After which the Vandenkerckhove company, then located at Le Sepulcre, now at Plerin, cut up the plane by blowlamp and salvaged the wreck. Oddly, according to the people living in the area, the Plouha-based police did not report the accident (2).
Whence, this Fortress, why did it crash, what had happened to the crew?
The members of the crew were as follows:
Pilot 2d Lt Gerald B. Ross (0-748253)
Co-pilot F/O Samuel W. Sayer (T-2823 )
Navigator 2d Lt Chester R. Tingle (0-720035)
Bombardier F/O Thomas A. Matassa (T-2898)
Radio op. S/Sgt Hulitt O. Kirkhart (15327541) (3)
Eng./top turret S/Sgt Camille H. Blais (11036102)
Ball turret Sgt Thomas S. Maulstesby (34257493)
Tail gunner Sgt Carl A. Adolfson (37554345)
L waist gunner Sgt Richard J. Burdett (33581949)
R waist gunner Sgt John L. Collins (12081558)
____________ (1) The B-17G was the most built model of Flying Fortress, 8,680 units having been manufactured by Boeing, Lockheed Vega and Douglas. The first off the line was handed over to the Air Force on September 4, 1943. Its wing span was 103 ft. 9 in., its length 74 ft., 4 in., and its height 19 ft., 2 in. Its empty weight was 36,134 lbs. Cruising speed was 160 MPH. Its ceiling was 36,400 ft. with a range of 3,750 miles. It carried at most six 1,600 lb and two 4,000 lb bombs. It was armed with 11 to 13 .5 caliber machine guns. Crew of ten.
(2) The Plouha police archives for the years 1939-1945 are not available at the Historical Branch of the Gendarmerie.
(3) Standing in for Sgt Fred E. Lawyer, the incumbent radio operator.
It was easy to identify the aircraft from the data on the tailfin; a white triangle (1st Bombardment Division of the 8th Air Force), the letter "U" (457th Bomb Group), the letter "F" and the figure 238073 (1). Picking up from there we established the progress of the plane, nicknamed "Luck of Judith Ann", with the help of French and US sources.
Flak has the last word
The ship took off from station 130 at Glatton (4 miles south of Peterborough, north of London) and crossed the English coast at Start Point to the south-east of Plymouth. It was part of a formation of three boxes of 12 planes belonging to 457th Bomb Group and specifically to its 750th Squadron. It made for the I.P. (Initial Point) south-west of Brest, where it set course north-eastward (047 degrees) for a six minute run to the target of this, the Bomb Group's 107th mission: a trio of defended areas including a heavy coastal battery. Each plane dropped ten 500 lb. bombs at 25,000 feet in clear weather, at 1708 hours. Flak came up, a shell ripping through "Judith Ann" near the co-pilot's seat, severing the controls of the engines on the right wing. No. 4 (outer) engine feathered itself, No. 3 (inner) lost its oil and windmilled, then No. 2 (left wing inner) had to be feathered. With No. 1 the only engine still running (2) , though at low revs (1,600 RPM) the ship left the formation ten minutes later as it headed north across the Channel.
Warned against the dangers of ditching, 2d Lt Ross veered to the right, and set course eastward, soon crossing the coast and overflying land, in the region of the Abers. The plane was loosing altitude at the rate of 2,000 feet a minute, despite jettisoning some of its armament.
Believing themselves to be above freed territory, and having spotted only a single landing-strip full of bomb craters (3) , unable to make it back to England and still wary of having to ditch at sea (Saint Brieuc Bay lay ahead of them), the pilots decided to abandon ship at 12,000 feet.
The crew baled out at random, the bombardier ahead of the two pilots, after having made sure that everyone else had gone (4). He jumped at 10,000 feet, pulling the rip-cord at 5,000. The pilots went out last, at 8,000 feet, after having switched on the auto-pilot...which did not prevent the plane from fast loosing height.
Overnight in Brittany
The pilot, Gerald Ross, landing in the vicinity of Lanvollon, was conveyed to Guingamp by motorbike. The town had been liberated four days earlier, the last German strong points having been reduced by 2000 hours on August 7 by Task Force A of VIII US Army Corps. Co-pilot Sayer, who had injured his ankle and whose head had been snapped by his parachute harness as the chute opened, was picked up by civilians who invited him to cups of €œburned wheat €¾ (roasted barley) coffee, which was the best he had tasted in a long time! He was also escorted to Guingamp, where he met up with his comrade. They spent the night at a lawyer's, whose name Rose recollected as "Yves" and "Leclerc", and with whom he chatted about masonic lodges. Sam Sayer remembers the house being near the town center, an oblong area, where the Underground had corralled their German prisoners. He was told that the bed he had slept in was previously that of a German colonel.
_____________ (1) The complete serial number was 42-38073. the first digit, in this case a "4", was not shown on the tailfin.
(2) Witnesses to the crash may have thought a second windmilling engine was still running.
(3) Probably Mortaix-Ploujean airfield.
(4) According to a reliable eyewitness. Louis Le Gallou, his father had seen one of the flyers land in the village of Saint-Billes-les-Bois, near Lanvollon and Guingamp.
In an attempt to identify the Americans' host, an appeal was launched in the local press which prompted many responses. Two stood out: Maitre Yves le Roux and Yves Lavoquer. We are inclined to opt for the former. A well-known lawyer, he lived near the town center, at 19 rue Saint Nicolas, nowadays a branch of the "Mission locale". A church-goer, it is unlikely that he was a free mason, but his wide ranging knowledge and his command of English would have made it possible for him to express an opinion. Compelling evidence however lies in that the German Army Catholic chaplain, a colonel, was quartered in Maitre Le Roux' requisitioned home. We managed to locate the lawyer's daughter, Mrs. Christiane Marcie, who was eight at the time. She well remembers certain details but cannot summon up the overnight American guests. Yves Le Roux was born in 1905 and died in 1958, after having served as a judge in Berlin and Konstanz in the French Occupation zone of Germany. He is buried in the Trinity Cemetery in Guingamp.
As for Yves Lavoquer, whose name was put forward by a single reader, he was a free mason and a patriot, whose name could have misled 2d Lt Ross (Lavoquer: "avocat", lawyer in French). Nonetheless, we do not believe he was the person concerned. (1)
The following day a US Army Jeep drove our two flyers to a field HQ of VIII Army Corps near Saint-Malo, whence they were flown to chervourg-Maupertuis by tandem two-seater Stinson L-5 Sentinels. They hitched a ride there back to England on a twin-engined C 47. Having made their way back to base at Glatton they were greeted by their colonel, who was welcoming back the day €™s mission, with the words: "How in hell did you two return on this mission?" (The ground crew chief was certainly put out for he was counting on his ship safely completing its 49th trip!)p Bombardier Matassa landed in a hay field where he was surrounded by Frenchmen who kept repeating the word "camarade". They led him to a small house where they arranged his onward journey to England, where he was the first to arrive. He reported having made use of his escape kit, to feed himself and get his bearings.
We don't know how the other crew members got back, but all were soon home, other than ball turret gunner Maulstesby who broke both ankles and who was admitted to a French hospital.
The crew were interrogated by USAAF Intelligence upon their return to England and given special (Escape and Evasion) serial numbers, a procedure no doubt called for by the proximity of the fast-changing front line (2). Having baled out over liberated territory and having reported back in record time our band was more fortunate than their buddies shot down over hostile soil. The other ships in the formation returned without incident, having flown 822 miles overall.
Ross tells us that the crew having been in contact with the Underground (even after the liberation of the area), was ineligible to fly more missions, for fear of falling into enemy hands. This despite the fact that it was only his second mission, as it was for Matassa, and Sayer's first (3).
Many Allied Airmen, shot down in Brittany, have returned to the scene of their crash. However, it seems that none of the crew of "Judith Ann" undertook the journey, not knowing where their crippled plane had ended its flight. Our having put the event in the limelight may tempt them to go on this pilgrimage.
Thus, after other such cases, is a World War II mystery solved. --Gordon Carter
____________ (1) Neither of the two persons are on record at the Bar at Guingamp or at the Departemental Archives.
(2) It seems that due to their very nature these €œevasions €¾ did not stir up too much attention.
(3) The USAAF was not short of crews at this stage of the war. Two crews for each ship were available on all 8th Air Force bases.
___________ (1) To impede airborne landings, facetiously called €œRommel €™s asparagus €¾.