From Panatella to Ploesti
The 15th Army Air Force, based in Italy, sent hundreds of B-24 Liberators against the Romanian oilfields at Ploesti on June 6, 1944. This target, one of the main suppliers of oil to the war machine of the Third Reich, had been attacked many times before, but always managed to remain in operation.
Flying out of Panatella, Italy, the 465th Bomb Group, part of the 15th AAF, lost 4 crews, for a total of 41 men, on this raid.
B-24 tail # 42-52449, nicknamed “Patches”, was hit by enemy aircraft over Bucharest. One witness observed “ . . . almost immediately, I saw two chutes leave the plane. The plane made a left bank 90 degrees from my position. At this point my attention was attracted by the fighters…the last time I saw the plane it was only a small spot . . .”
Fortunately, the entire crew was able to bail out. They were held as Prisoners of War in Bucharest, Romania until August, when they were returned to the United States. The “Patches” crew were:
- 1st Lieutenant Kenneth M. Martin (Denver, CO)
- 2nd Lieutenant Rex L. Struble (Otisville, MI)
- 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Williamson (Alexandria, VA)
- 2nd Lieutenant Morris E. Finley (Durant, OK)
- Staff Sergeant Donald L. Merkel (Glenvil, NB)
- Staff Sergeant Thomas Scalese (Reading, PA)
- Staff Sergeant Gerald J. Simmons (Reynoldsburg, OH)
- Staff Sergeant Kenneth G. Foden (New York, NY)
- Staff Sergeant Francis P. Little (River Rouge, MI)
- Sergeant Wilburn Vorheir (San Macos, TX)
“Hell’s Belle,” B-24 tail 42-52505, suffered a nearly identical fate. Hit by anti-aircraft fire near the target, the entire crew of this bomber also safely bailed out. Like the crew of “Patches”, they were also held as POW’s in Bucharest, and liberated at the same time. The crew was:
- 1st Lieutenant John F. MacFarlane (Arcadia, CA)
- 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. George (Tyler, TX)
- 2nd Lieutenant Sidney Weiss (Governors Island, NY)
- 2nd Lieutenant Howard L. Sapenoff (Brooklyn, NY)
- Technical Sergeant Albert P.McQuaid, Jr. (Salt Lake City, UT)
- Technical Sergeant Thomas R. Jackson, Jr. (Salt Lake City, UT)
- Staff Sergeant John R. Duke (Tampa, FL)
- Staff Sergeant Hoyt F. Adsit (Sherburne, NY)
- Staff Sergeant Ralph C. Finch (Old Greenwich, CT)
- Staff Sergeant Jarmer Jancarik (Cudahy, WI)
- Technical Sergeant Melton L. Crawford (Jasper, MO)
A third crew, aboard B-24 tail # 42-52456, had a similar fate to the two others. A witness observed “. . . the fire was caused by flak hitting between the number two engine and the fuselage. LT Funk (the pilot) pulled out of formation before any bailed out. . .”
The entire crew survived as POW’s in Romania. They were returned home in September of 1944. This crew was:
- 2nd Lieutenant Glenferd E. Funk (Wichita, KS)
- 2nd Lieutenant Marvin E. Hoffman (Hollywood, CA)
- 2nd Lieutenant John A. Leins (Brownsburg, IN)
- 2nd Lieutenant Richard C. Kline (Long Beach, CA)
- Technical Sergeant Elwyn L. Loomis (Canton, PA)
- Staff Sergeant LeRoy M. Drane (Louisville, KY)
- Staff Sergeant Matthew J. Mroczkowski (Brooklyn, NY)
- Staff Sergeant Otis W. Dunderdale (Houston, TX)
- Staff Sergeant James A. Shaughnessy (Watertown, NY)
- Staff Sergeant Nicholas Stetz (New York, NY)
The fourth crew suffered a different fate. B-24 tail # 42-52575, went down over the Adriatic Sea, between Hersignova, Yugoslavia, and Barletta, Italy. A witness reported that “. . . almost immediately after leaving the coast of Yugoslavia he (42-52575) fell behind the formation and started to descend. His descent was 130 to 135 miles per hour and losing approximately 1000 to 1300 feet of altitude. On the descent the crew was throwing things overboard. Ammunition bolts were the only things that I could distinguish for sure but several other objects were thrown out also…..at 1210 the plane hit the water. It held together and floated for approximately five minutes . . . . I did not see any life raft come out of the ditched airplane . . . . I circled the position until 1308…and flew close to the ditching position . . . . I definitely saw four men in the water-three were together and one was by himself. The bombardier thought there were six or seven men in the water. None of them were in the dinghy at that time.”
Three of the crew were saved by an air-sea rescue launch. The other seven were listed as Missing in Action and their remains never recovered. The crew was:
- 2nd Lieutenant Ralph L. Pemberton, Jr. (Scott, AR) -Missing in Action
- 2nd Lieutenant Edwin B. Boehme (Rochester, NY) -Missing in Action
- 2nd Lieutenant William Leppla, Jr. (Long Island City, NY) -Rescued
- 2nd Lieutenant William L. Claytor, Jr. (Petersburg, VA)- Missing in Action
- Technical Sergeant Walter A. Rolek (Bayonne, NJ) -Rescued
- Technical Sergeant Thomas R. Whyte (Tyler, TX) -Missing in Action
- Staff Sergeant Paul Ledney (Winober, PA)-Missing in Action
- Staff Sergeant John R. McGrath (Eagle Grove, IA)-Missing in Action
- Staff Sergeant Cecil L. Sammons (Eads, TN)-Rescued
A number of other B-24s belonging to the 15th AAF were lost on June 6, 1944, and will be discussed in future posts.
Do you have any info on the B24 Halo Joe in the 465th? Capt. was John Joe O’Leary & Flight Engineer/Gunner was Staff Sgt Edmund Terpilowski.
I befriended a man by the name of Pat Barbene from Bridgeport, PA. He was a waist gunner on a B-24 based in Italy. He told me his plane flew to Ploesti on June 6, 1944. The plane developed engine trouble near the target and returned home alone. He told me that he heard of the Normandy invasion on the radio on the way home. I have a picture of Pat if you are interested. He passed away in 2011.
Hi Joe: yes, I’d love to see a photo of Mr. Barbene. Best, Bill
The father of a school aged friend was a co-pilot on a B24 that was shot down during the Ploesti raid.
As young boys back in the late 50s my friend told me many second hand stories that I always considered as half truths.
Several years ago I was on a work related trip that took me to Ploesti. I recalled those boy hood memories and now am curious about the detail.
My friends father’s name I believe was Robert Wayne Snyder.
I recall my friend showing me a book written about the raid with his dad’s name in it.
Any chance you could point me at details that would validate my old friends claims about his dad?
Thank you in advance for your help.
Hi Michael: I just sent a response to your personal e-mail address.
I know it’s been several years since you’re article posted…but do you know if any of the Patches crew is alive. Thank you
Regretfully, I do not know if any of the Patches crew are still with us. Best, Bill
HI BILL A FRIEND OF MINE HIS GRANDFATHER WAS ONA B-24 LIBERATOR CALLED: NEVER A DULL MOMENT , IT WAS SHOT DOWN AFTER THE MISSION OVER POLESTI I’M DOING RESEARCH FOR HIM HE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT THE NOSE ART LOOKED LIKE ON THAT PLANE, IM LOOKING FOR THE TAIL NUMBER OF THAT PLANE WOULD YOU KNOW WHERE I MAYBE ABLE TO FIND IT ?
Bill, I would also be interested in any information on Never A Dull Moment. My uncle’s father flew on it and survived the war. His name was Preston Angleberger.
My grandfather was a bombardier for 460bg . He flew 50 flights and was apart of the raid. I have not been able to find his crew though.
I’m looking for information on My Great great GRANDFATHER WAS ON A B-24 LIBERATOR CALLED: