Wee Willie and the photo that started it all
Above is B-17 “Wee Willie” going down over Berlin on April 8 1945, just one month before the end of the War in Europe.
This photo inspired my World War 2 research and my novel, although my novel is about a B-24, not a B-17. I originally viewed the crash of “Wee Willie” in a TIME-LIFE history of World War 2 around 1971 at the age of 13.
The bomber was crewed by:Pilot: 1st LT Robert M. Fuller (Hollywood, CA)
Co-Pilot: 2nd LT Woodrow A. Lien (Brockton, MT)
Navigator: TSGT Francis J. McCarthy (Nashville, TN)
Bombardier: SSGT Richard D. Proudfit (Grenada, MS)
Top Turret Gunner: SSGT Wylie McNatt, Jr. (Corpus Christi, TX)
Ball Turret Gunner: SSGT William H. Cassidy (Brooklyn, NY)
Radio (Radar) Operator: SSGT Ralph J. Leffelman (Seattle, WA)
Waist Gunner : SSGT James D. Houtchens (Kearney, NB)
Tail Gunner: SGT Lemoyne Miller (Butler, PA)
Only the pilot, LT Fuller, survived the crash
Another gunner in the Squadron (401st Bomb Squadron), SSGT George Little, witnessed the B-17 as it was hit:
“I observed [the bomber] receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb-bay and the No. 2 [in-board motor on the left wing] engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The aircraft fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet from the ground it exploded, and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew members leave the aircraft or parachutes.”
I’m including a link to a web site dedicated to the 91st Bomb Group to which “Wee Willie” belonged, with a brief history (excerpted below) related to the image that started it all.
The pilot in this photo is Lt. Paul Jessop. The photo was taken on February 14, 1944. Wee Willie’s last mission was on 8 April 1945. A direct flak hit and tore off a wing. The pilot of this mission was 1st/Lt. Robert Fuller and he survived along with some of the crew. Wee Willie was the second or third from last lost to the 91st durning [sic] WWII to be downed in action and was credited with 120 missions. Skunkface III was the last 91st B-17 lost, with the Harry V. Camp crew on board. Shot down by ME-262 Jets on 17 April 1945. Only the tail gunner survived.
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The World War II Dead of University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)Hi Bill, Thanks for putting this together. My grand uncle, 2nd Lt. Robert L. Woolfolk attended UCLA and I believe he graduated in 1936. He was on the waterpolo team. He was a bombardier in the 571st Bomb Squadron, 390th Bomb Group and his aircraft "Decatur Deb" was shot down on May 28, 1944. He and six others perished while three were able bail out and became POWs. This is written up the in the book "Bloody Skies: U.S. Eighth Air Force Battle Damage in World War II." There is a B-17G tail gunner's compartment on display at the 390th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, which is dedicated to this crew. Regards, Nick Veronico
Bill’s WW2 Almanac for January 21: Featuring Col. Randy’s Flying CircusHi! Randall Col Randy is actually my great grandfather and I was wandering if you ever new him? I am curious to know more about him.
Women in WWII: Cornelia Clark FortInteresting....very hard to know the 'who hit who'.....Fort had enough flying time to be a instructor, I know nothing about the other pilot. If Pastor Jeff had information on her being talked into a situation, I would love to know if reliable. Regardless, so many losses in so many ways.... My take is the WAFS/WASPS deserve a bit more of history's 'time in the books'. Many thanks for the commentary, Starr
Remembering the Fallen: WWII Veterans of UCLA, Major Robert C. MazeBill, Are you still working on this blog? Rosemarie is my mother in law. She passed away 10 years ago. Her (and Roberts') son Robert Maze Jr is alive and well. I was googling Admiral Radford and ended up googling links... Thank you for your efforts here. Kim Woods
From Panatella to PloestiI’m looking for information on My Great great GRANDFATHER WAS ON A B-24 LIBERATOR CALLED: Diamond li
Incoming Message: Classified, Ruth-lessHi Bill. So this is dredging up an old report, but I'm very curious... We just found out about this. The only thing we know about my grandfather is that his name was James Lee Wilson, and disappeared during the war. DNA research has led to Wilson family in South Carolina, just hoping to try to piece together more information.
HELLO; JUST READ THIS INTERESTING ARTICLE; THE BOMBADIER DUVALL PROUDFITT ON THIS WEE WILLIE WAS CONNECTED TO MY FAMILY; MY STEPGRANDMOTHERS BROTHERS ONLY SON. I DID NOT KNOW THE DETAILS OF. VERY TRAGIC CASE, ONLY A MONTH FROM END OF WAR. FROM WILLIAM TURNER COLUMBUS, MISS. 2012 OLD ABERDEEN RD 39705. (662)329-9924 thank you for posting this data. my late father was with pattons 3rd ARMY, AND IN BATTLE OF BULGE. BRONZE STAR AWARD, AND OFFICER.THE GREATEST GENERATION INDEED AS WE OWE THEM OUR FREEDOM.
Duvall Proudfitt (or Staff Sergeant Richard D. Proudfit, according to Air Corps records) was indeed the bombardier of “Wee Willie”. The bomber went down over Stendal, Germany, on April 8, 1945. It was piloted by 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, of Hollywood, CA, who was the only survivor of the crew.
There is a great deal more specific information that can be located on SSGT Proudit and last mission of “Wee Willie”.
I am researching final burial place of my father, F/lt E.S Vale of Sqn 692 who’s Mosquitto PF466 was shot down near Stendal on 27th March 1945.
I understand his body was buried in Stendal cemetery alongside American airmen who whose bodies were later transferred to an American cemetery end of April 1945.
I would be very grateful if you have any information on which cemeteries the American airmen may be buried as this may well be where my father was buried.
With thanks and kind regards
My grandfather’s crew was shot down April 8, 1945 on 91st BG B-17 42-102504. The bodies of the crewmen were buried in a cemetery next to a small church in Jarchau. Not sure if your father would have been interred here or not, but may be a good place to start.
I am the niece of 2nd Lt Woodrow A. Lien from Brockton, Montana. Woodrow (Woody) was not supposed to be on that flight. He filled in for the co-pilot who was too sick to fly. My nephew, Thomas Woodrow Sukut (Woody) now co-pilots cargo planes after graduating from the Air Force Academy with high honors in 2011. (?) He loves his job but originally studied to be a fighter pilot. My father lost a brother in this war and also a piece of his heart. I pray every day that this does not happen to my uncle Woodrow’s name-sake.
Sorry for the slow response. I have researched hundreds of downed American flyers from WW2. I may be able to provide you with a lot more information on your uncle. Please visit my website at http://www.ww2research.com and go to the ‘Services’ page to see what I can locate for you. I see that your uncle came from a very small town in Roosevelt County, MT. What kind of work did he and his family do up there? Best regards, Bill
My Grandfather, Harry Lerner, was a Lieutenant and Navigator on the Wee Willie, but not when it was shot down. I understand that crews moved planes a lot. He was shot down in 44 but on which plane, we don’t know.
Hi Mike: you’re correct, crews and pilots did move around between different aircraft. I’d love to work with you on locating the details of the mission on which your grandfather was shot down, including the plane in which he was flying, the target being attacked, the names of his crew mates, and much. Please visit https://www.ww2research.com/locate-individual/ (my website) and submit an inquiry. Best regards, Bill
My grandfather, S/Sgt M.E. Cisney BT gunner with the 322, 91st… flew in this plane approximately a month before, wrote in his journal “today we went up in Wee Willie, an old plane with 104 missions…”
The photograph is completely and utterly disturbing to think that could have been him and I wouldn’t be here…
He kept a detailed journal of all his missions, date, time, plane, payload, temperature, target, bombs away, flak density….
There’s some lines in his journal that just blow me away…
“I was in the ball for 9 1/2 hours” “flak knocked out No. 2 and No. 4 engines we dropped out of formation and flew back, it was a very lonesome feeling, thankfully we didn’t see any fighters, we would have been sitting ducks…” “the target area was ablaze, it was the most fire I’ve ever seen in one place (Dresden)”
In my opinion not enough credit and publicity is given to the men of the 8th, they destroyed Hitler’s war machine from the inside out…
With minimal effort I googled the pilot’s name and he died one month after the crash so in my mind not one crew member survived this crash.
My mother’s first cousin survived the Wee Willy when it was shot down over Germany. The American military came in the next day after he had been captured by the Germans. Do you know WHERE in Germany the Wee Willy went down? Near what city did it crash?