392nd Bomb Group

Hardt Germany - Books crew crash site

by Jim Marsteller

News article
This map is roughly 6 miles by 4 miles
site1 site2 site3 site4 site5

"Hardt Germany - Books Crew Crash Site"

"The Kreuz Inn"

For the last 15 years, I have worked towards these days. The reason for my search was about to come to an end. The request that my Grandmother and Grandfather asked 52 years before was about to be answered, " Tell me about my boy."

The town of Hardt is the crash site of Lt. Dallas O. Books and crew. The German report (KU1256) listed the following information: Subject - Crash of 1 Liberator on 18 March 1944 at 1500 hours, 1500 meters northwest of the town of Hardt, Community of Schramberg, County of Rottweil; kind of capture - by fighter; type of aircraft - Liberator; markings - GC; Number on aircraft - 128742; remarks - 6 men dead, 3 unknown - burned - no identification tags, 1 man is prisoner in Rottweil. Burial on 21 March 1944 in the Cemetery of Locherhof.

City Hall
City Hall - L. to R. Kohlmann, Jones, Burgermeister Herbert Halder, his assistant and Marsteller.
Kreuz Inn
Kreuz Inn - The place where Sgt. Strickler was taken for interrogation.

The day was planned well in advance by Carsten Kohlmann. In the morning we met with Herbert Halder, the Burgermeister of Hardt; then we traveled to the home of Georg Laufer (the first man at the tail section of the Books plane) for a visit of several hours. Joining with the mayor again at the Kreuz (Cross) Inn, we met with Roland Haberstroh, the Inn owner, whose father had owned the Inn where the captured airman, Chester Strickler was brought for interrogation 52 years ago. For lunch we were the guests of the mayor at a local restaurant; then with the mayor as a guide, we picked up Hildegard Kattinger for a short drive to the Tischneck, impact area of the cockpit and the spot where Uncle Jim met his death. After having cake and tea at the home of Ms. Kattinger, we went home to the Kohlmann's for a great German meal and a special birthday gift for me.

Herbert Halder, the Burgermeister (mayor) of Hardt ,was once again a big help with my search. As he stated in his own words, “It was natural for me to want to help you.” The Burgermeister then led us to the place which 52 years before was the talk of the town, the Kreuz (Cross) Inn. This was the place where prisoner of war and only survivor of the Books plane crash, Sgt. Chester Strickler, was taken to be interrogated and later was offered a beer by his captors. Sitting down with the inn owner Roland Haberstroh, we were also offered a beer as Strickler had been offered 52 years ago. Carsten Kohlmann suggested that I make a toast to Sgt. Strickler as he was the last American until my visit who was known to have been in the Inn . We all tapped our glasses together, and I made the toast, “To Chester Strickler, may he have a long and healthy life.”

Looking over photographs
Kreuz Inn - Looking over photographs with Roland Haberstroh Carsten Kohlmann translates, Mayor Halder on left.

After the toast Mr. Haberstroh described his memories about that day, March 18, 1944. Carsten Kohlmann translated, “ Sgt. Chester Strickler, the only surviving member of the crew, was taken prisoner by Georg Haberstroh soon after he landed. Georg, who at that time had just returned home on leave, brought the captive Strickler to the Inn. The American was naturally an unusual event in the Inn, and he received a glass of beer from Innkeeper Alois Haberstroh, Roland’s father. This humane gesture was not understood by everyone. A few people from Hardt showed a great hatred towards Strickler, and one man became especially furious and threatened the innkeeper with a stick."

We discussed the war and Mr. Haberstroh's memories as a young man in 1944. He told us that the Inn was not the original because it had burned down years before. I had brought several research books full of photographs and documents that were of great interest to him, and he also showed us a photograph album with photographs we had not seen before of the Books plane and photographs of a B-17 that crashed in Monchweiler on December 9, 1944. Carsten had told me that Roland had a piece of wreckage from the Books plane, a blue paddle with the inscription, Army Air Forces, that was packed in a rubber floating raft. These rubber boats were used for flotation if the plane crashed in water. Unfortunately Mr. Haberstroh told us he had misplaced the paddle in his attic but had a photograph of the rubber boat with the same paddle attached.

Life raft
Life raft from the Book plane wreckage laying in field between cockpit and tail section

As we talked with the witnesses at the table, Ben Jones took still photographs and Kipp McCleary ran the video; some of the other customers wandered who we were and began to listen in on the conversation. It seemed that everyone in the place knew of the air battle, and many had seen it taking place. The mayor invited several customers to the table to tell us about their memories of March 18, 1944. After the last witness left, we said our goodbys to Mr. Haberstroh and thanked him for all his help and good will towards us. He asked me to tell Chester Strickler "Hello" and wish him all the best. The mayor promised to make copies of the photographs in Mr. Haberstroh’s album and send them to us in the States. We left with the understanding that we would meet the mayor in several hours at the home of Hildegard Kattinger, another eyewitness and visit the Tischneck, site of the cockpit wreckage. We then headed for a visit with Georg Laufer, the first man at the downed tail section.

"Part 2 of 4 - A Visit with Georg Laufer"

In 1993 on our first visit to Hardt we met Georg Laufer and with him we were taken to the place called "the Steinreute" where the tail section came down. Now three years later I again wanted to meet with Mr. Laufer and clear up some of the my questions about Saturday, March 18, 1944.

This time we were able to sit down with Georg and discuss the crash and his memories in detail. It was one of the most informative meetings of our trip, and after several hours, Georg gave us another surprise by taking us down into his basement and giving us all the pieces of wreckage of the Books plane that we could find and carry,another unbelievable day in the Black Forest.

For Georg Laufer 52 years have gone by, but the memories are in his mind as though it were yesterday. Georg remembers that the airflight over Schramberg was observed by almost everyone in the surrounding areas on Saturday afternoon at 3:00, March 18, 1944. The four-motored bombers belonging to the 392nd Bomber Group were returning from an attack on the Armaments Center at Friedrichshafen. Even from Freudenstadtm and Rottweil, other towns in the area, the planes could be seen well enough in the sky to be recognized.

The Gang
L to R. Carsten Kohlmann, Georg and Martha Laufer, Jim Marsteller and Ben Jones

Carsten translated as Georg recalled, “The planes, which were flying in the locked bomber formation, were suddenly attacked by German fighter planes that had the sun at their backs. The German fighter planes attacked according to the same pattern each time. Altogether, they flew into the bomber formation four times. With every attack a bomber was hit. A late arrival with damage to his plane was eventually shot down by a single ME109. Upon retreat the German fighter pilot came over the Rottweiler meadow and wicked his wings as a sign of victory. As a result some people got the idea that maybe the high ranking Fischbach (Holder of the Knight’s Cross) from Rottewil flew the fighter plane. This has never been confirmed. After the bombers were hit, I heard a humming noise next. The damaged bombers did not burn immediately but staggered in the air. I feared immediately that one of the falling aircraft would strike a farmhouse. One pilot apparently was able to win back control of his aircraft for a short time until all at once it exploded, like it was ignited by a tonque of flame. It then began to burn and break up into various pieces. The majority of the plane wreckage landed at the farmhouse of the Kopp family on the Steinreute..." Jim interrupted, “The tail section, that’s where we were the last time with you Georg.” Carsten nodded, "Yes." Georg continued, “And on the upper Tischneck. In the garden of the farmhouse, an engine and a part of the wing dug into the ground, which was still covered with snow. On the steep drop-off of the slope lay the wreckage of the body of the plane and a little further below was the tail unit. Parts of the wreckage were lying around everywhere. One man even found an inflated rubber boat on the old sports field.” Georg continued as Carsten listened and translated, “ Mr. Laufer said he was wounded and home on leave from the front but had to report back on Monday. After he saw the plane crash down at the Kopp farm,” Georg continued,” I buckled my skis on right away and skied to the crash site. I was the first person to arrive. In the tail section I found a badly injured American airman whose red hair and freckles I can still remember. He was trapped between the pieces of wreckage but still breathing. I tried to pull this wounded man from the wreckage, but it was not possible. Ammunition was exploding all around me. I had no tools with me and could not get this man out.” At this point in the conversation, we opened up the album and showed Georg the photograph of Sgt. Daniel Jones, the tail gunner on the Books plane. Chester Strickler told me that Jones was trapped in the tail and couldn’t get out because of a small fire between him and the waist doors. Georg looked at the photographs but said that after 52 years he was not sure.

Tail section of the Books Plane
Tail section of the Books Plane

We looked all through the Books crew album and must have asked a million questions. After we took a short break, Georg said to follow him to his basement. He then surprised us by dumping a wooden box , full of metal parts of all kinds, onto the concrete floor. Georg picked up one of the pieces and said, “This is from the bomber, and this... here take what you want." One by one we began picking through the metal parts picking out the Books crew wreckage. It was not very hard to identify with the chromate green paint the airforce used which was still evident on many of the pieces. Part numbers in English and dirt from the crash still covered other pieces. We were glad to have Ben Jones along because this was his opportunity to show us what he knows about identifying aircraft wreckage. He passed the test with flying colors.

Wreckage parts, bomb door gear
Wreckage parts, bomb door gear
Wreckage pieces from the garden
Wreckage pieces from the garden

It was another memorable experience visiting with the Laufers. We thanked them for being such wonderful hosts and especially for all the wreckage pieces from the tail section of the Books aircraft. We then went outside for some group photographs; then we said our goodbyes. It was a short drive to the home of Hildegard Kattinger, who as a young girl watched in horror as the cockpit from the Books plane, with 6 men inside, slammed into the trees on the hillside in the Black Forest. We were about to see the place that my grandparents only dreamed about. The place where their son was killed 52 years before.

"Part 3 of 4 - The Tischneck"

At the home of Hildegard Kattinger, we were joined by Mayor Halder, and we all left together for the short drive to the area known as the Tischneck. Mrs. Kattinger, another eyewitness to the air battle, was watching from the road as the cockpit from the Books plane slammed into the trees on the hillside. Her father wouldn’t let her go near the crash until the bodies of the crew were removed from the wreckage.

cockpit crash
Hildegard Kattinger points to the place where the cockpit crashed down
Cockpit impact site
Cockpit impact site, 30 Sept, 1996

We parked the car and walked down a narrow path through the Black Forest. It was noticeably dark because the tops of the trees blocked out the light. Several hundred yards into the forest, the path made a sharp bend to the right and led into a field. We could see the edge of the forest as it continued down the side of the slope. Mrs. Kattinger pointed to a spot that was still several hundred yards away, as Carsten translated, "You see the “V” in the trees; that is the place...that is where the cockpit came down. Come, Mrs. Kattinger will show us." Walking across the field towards the place where my uncle and his crew had perished, I found it hard to believe that I was actually there. If only my grandmother had been still alive to see this.

View from field
Cockpit Books crew, 18 March 1944 View from field looking into woods
View from inside woods
Cockpit Book crew, 18 March 1944 View from inside woods looking towards field

Reaching the edge of the tree line, Mrs. Kattinger continued to talk as Carsten translated, “This is the spot. Do you see that the trees are gone?” Carsten continued. “Jim, Jim, come here! Do you see? This is the place-I am sure- this is where your uncle was killed." Kipp McCleary was filming the group and could be heard to say in an awed voice, “My God, look at that!" It took me a few seconds to focus on the spot; but finally it came together. A huge, wide hole had been gauged into the forest floor; there were no trees in a 50 foot circle except for small brush that was waist high and small scrub trees. Around the outside of the circle, the trees towered into the sky. Pushing back brush I made my way through the tree line towards the spot. Mrs. Kattinger went to the left to find an easier way in but stopped 10 yards short of the spot. Carsten called, “Jim, Jim, come here, please. Mrs. Kattinger says this is also a very emotional moment for her. She says in the past she has placed flowers at this place where the airmen were killed." We all stood in a semi-circle in silence looking around the area. My mind was spinning around trying to make sense of the moment. Except for the noise of the wind blowing through the pine needles, the Black Forest was silent, almost peaceful; then a sudden flash found me in the cockpit as it tumbled from the sky. I could here screams, then silence. It was over; my search had come to an end. I remember taking a deep breath. I don’t know how long we stood there as time seemed to stop. My mind also flashed back to Fawn Grove and my grandparents, knowing how long they had tried to find answers and never did. And here I stood, years later, at the place. This experience was emotional and draining. I turned to Mrs. Kattinger and said, “A very sad spot." Carsten translated her response, “Yes, and how many other spots like this are there all over Germany?”

The sun sank lower, and the Black Forest became darker as we headed back towards the path. I looked around and picked up 6 pine cones, one each for the boys who were killed at this place. I hoped that these cones would be important to the families when I returned home.

We spoke briefly to the Mayor and thanked him for all his help during our trip. He told us he would see if it would be possible to take photographs of the windshield from the Books plane that was now in a chickenhouse on a farm near the Tischneck. Back at the home of Mrs. Kattinger for discussions with tea and cookies, we said our goodbyes. This was the most special visit of my life. Someday I would like to return to this place and meet with Mrs. Kattinger again.

Dieter watches
Dieter watches as Jim opens his birthday present.

That evening at the Kohlmanns we finally were able to relax. I was exhausted in body and mind when suddenly those familiar words rang out, “Happy birthday to you”! Yes, it was September 30, and I was 50 years old. What could possibly top a birthday like that day. Carsten's father Dieter came into the room with a wrapped present as Carsten made the presentation, “ Jim, please stand along side my father and open your present after I read your birthday card." Everyone was getting a kick out of this as they scrambled for cameras and video equipment. Jim, I will now read the presentation, 'In honor of your 50th birthday and 10 years of research on your uncle Everette Morris, we would like to present you with this gift. May it be in memory of all airman and those who lost their lives. During the war this thing that we want to give you showed pilots the way. May it now show you and your family and our family the right way for a life of peace.'" The bottom of the card was signed by the Kohlmanns: Dieter, Carsten’s father; Roamarie, Carsten’s mother; Petra, Carsten’s sister; and Aunt Elsie from Long Island, who was visiting for a few weeks. Carsten continued, “Please Jim, open your gift." Fumbling around I unwrapped my present. It was the compass from the cockpit of the Books plane. I looked at Dieter and asked, “Is this from the bomber?" Carsten said, “Yes, today while we were at the Tischneck, a man came to our home with the compass and gave it to my father with the words, 'Give this to Jim Marsteller; it belongs to him.' My father then wrapped it up, and we made this card; that’s it”! Everyone laughed, “That’s it!” We all gathered around as Dieter put the compass under the light. “It works, and it still has the fluid inside that makes the dial go around," he said in German. Words for the correct way to say "Thank you" were not in my vocabulary, but nothing needed to be said. Everyone knew my feelings. I just shook my head in disbelief and thought to myself," Perhaps this is just a dream or a movie script.

Happy birthday from the Black Forrest
"Happy birthday from the Black Forrest."

Looking back now and putting my experiences that day in the Black Forest into words is very difficult so I’m not going to try. I’ll let the people of Schramberg do it for me. They were watching us and actions speak louder than words. Here are the two (translated) articles that appeared in the Schramberg newspaper the day we left for home. The headline reads:

Moving moments at the crash site - visitors from the United States go back with a lot of impressions - Found a great resonance of dialogue

Schramberg - Jim Marsteller and his friends from the US experienced impressive meetings and a great resonance of help on their research about the crashed bombers in the region of Schramberg in 1944. They were overwhelmed with the great number of reactions of the newspaper reports. The three Americans flew back on Thursday after one week. They have not only memories and photographs in their luggage, but even wreckage parts of the crashed bombers. Jim Marsteller, a nephew of the crew member Everette N. Morris, who died at the crash 52 years ago, celebrated during his visit in Schramberg his 50th birthday and received from the Kohlmann family the compass from the cockpit of his uncles bomber. The visitors say also the crash site at the Oberer Tischneck in Hardt, was “a moving moment”, describes Carsten Kohlmann the feelings of the visitors. Until today it is possible to see this crash site on the ground. There are smaller trees, because of fires in the forest when the bomber went down and exploded. Carsten Kohlmann, a student of history of Schramberg and researcher in regional history, also researched the crashes, attended the US visitors and organized the contacts with the eyewitnesses. The Americans also want to say “thank you” to these people for their open-minded readiness to help and talk about their memories. A special thanks goes to Herbert Halder, the local mayor of Hardt. Jim Marsteller learned that the research must go on and one day he wants to come again for a visit. In the States, Marsteller has contacts with other family members of the dead airman. After his return he would inform them about his trip. In the past he holds lectures about the fate of the men on the crashed bombers. Now he has more information for this job.

History, but not forgotten

”Freedom is expensive” - this impression of the American Jim Marsteller has intensified in the last days. together with the Englishman Ben Jones, cameraman, Kipp McCleary and Carsten Kohlmann of Schramberg was this week on the footsteps of his uncle, Everette N. Morris who had to pay with his life on 18.3.1944 when his b-24 bomber was shot down by German fighters and died at the Tischneck. As we have reported detailed of the visit on Tuesday, the researchers met a lot of eyewitnesses. The resonance was very good, and the readiness of the population to help was very moving for the American. “Mentally exhausted”, he said after the many meetings in the region of Schramberg. Hildegard Kattinger of Hardt attended him at the site, where his uncle died, Egon Lamprecht of Schramberg gave him the compass from the “death machine” of his uncle Everette Morris who at that time was 23 years old. “I’ve now a very important part of the aircraft”, says Marsteller, and Carsten Kohlmann agrees: “The heart of the bomber”. the Americans want to say “thank you” to all eyewitnesses. 52 years have passed since the crash. A long time, some people would possibly ask: “Is it worth and necessary to look back on this old story”? It brings certainty and people together. The many eyewitnesses of the crash, who’ve showed that the air battle over Schramberg is history, but not forgotten. Ben Jones says on the question after his impressions of the last few days: “The people here also had to suffer under the nazi-government, and this should never happen again”. Only for this realization it was worth all of this research.

We packed up our bags and headed home with more memories and wreckage parts then one could imagine. We didn’t know at the time, but as we were leaving the Black Forest town of Hardt, one of the most important eyewitnesses to the crash of the Books crew was coming into town. Mr. Johannes Storz was a 12 year old boy on March 18, 1944 and was in the mayor's office when prisoner Chester Strickler was brought in. At the time Mr. Storz could speak English and was asked by the mayor to help translate Strickler’s interrogation. What a coincidence in 1996 on the same day we were leaving, Johannes (Hans) Storz was coming into town for a visit with his sister and happened to pick up a daily paper. On the front page was the story of our visit to the crash site in Hardt that included the story of the only survivor Chester Strickler. Of course Hans recognized Strickler’s name as the prisoner he helped interrogate some 54 years before. The article also mentioned Carsten Kohlmann as being one of the researchers. Hans quickly contacted Kohlmann and the wheels started turning for the following incredible story told in the words of Mr. Johnannes Storz. The details of the crash on 18 March 1944 that he has brought back in his memory are a testimony to the impressions left in his mind even after 54 years and the harsh realities of the war.

"Part 4 of 4 - The Realities of War by Johannes Storz"

The events of March 18, 1944 in the Air Space Over "Hardt" in the Black Forest, Germany, as witnessed by Johannes Storz, who resided at Hugswald 99, Hardt bei Schramberg, Germany until 1952. His current address is Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It was a wintry day with bright sunshine and about 2 feet of snow on the ground. The conditions and the weather were ideal for skiing. I was twelve years old and lived in the village of "Hardt" on our farm with my parents, brothers and sisters, and attended the Oberschule or high school in "Schramberg" where I had been studying English for two years.

Hans (left) and his brother on 18 March 1944
Hans (left) and his brother on 18 March 1944

On this sunny Saturday, March 18, 1944 wave after wave of Liberators or B24s or other bombers emerged on the horizon to the west of our farm, and they flew straight east towards the "Schwaebische Alb", and out of sight in the distant horizon. They flew in intervals in convoys of 40 to 50 bombers. There usually were 4 to 6 bombers across the formations and 8 to 10 of these rows followed one another. The inbound flights began around 12:00 and continued for about an hour or longer. Altogether there may have been over 1,200 Liberators or Flying Fortresses that were involved in this air raid. Occasionally I could see smaller fighter planes to either side of these bomber formations as protective escorts.

The bombers returned between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. They emerged in the east and flew on to the west over the mountains of the Black Forest. Again, they were bunched in waves of 40 to 50 in one formation. Towards the end of their return flights the intervals between formations became longer. One formation emerged that consisted of about 30 four-engine bombers with the characteristic tail sections of Liberators. The bombers were flying at an altitude of about 3,000 meters. They did not have any fighter protection, but I could see all of a sudden that 3 or 4 small fighter planes streaked down on them from higher altitudes. With the emergence of the small fighter planes, many of the bombers in this formation started to fire guns; I could see thin streaks of fire coming from different parts of the bombers. As a result four of the planes started to spit smoke and dropped below the formation and then began to fall out of the sky. I recall one Liberator tumbling head over tail away from the formation, another one veered off and lost altitude and then exploded in a ball of fire in the sky at half the previous altitude. Prior to the explosion, I could see that airmen jumped out of the plane and some parachutes opened. A third bomber hit the ground intact and burst into a ball of fire in the vicinity of the neighboring village "Mariazell". Another plane separated from the formation and flew eastward constantly losing altitude and speed. Smoke from the engines trailed as it slowly flew towards the direction of "Rottweil", our county seat. All of a sudden it tipped over and fell, cockpit first, straight to the ground.

Hans Storz photograph
Hans Storz photograph, 18 March 1944
>Church tower at Mariazell
Church tower at Mariazell October 1996

We were watching all this from the front of our farmhouse. Suddenly, I saw a parachute falling down in front of the house. About 200 yards further away fell a leather bomber jacket that burned as it sailed from the sky. Another parachute was visible towards the west of our farm. One could see that an airman was coming down on the fully deployed parachute. This airman touched the ground about 2 kilometers from our farm in an area called "Oberhardt."

My brother and I collected the parachute that had fallen in front of our house. The lines of the parachute were charred because it caught fire as it deployed, and the airman fell about 2 km in the distance. We carried the leather jacket and the partially burned parachute to the "Buergermeisteramt" or City Hall of our village, "Hardt". Our Mayor, Gregor Haberstroh, who was a World War I veteran and had lost his left arm in the war, was in the office with an American airman who wore his flight outfit with big boots. He had brown hair and appeared to me as a very tall man. The Mayor did not speak English. I knew some English from my two years of studying English in high school, but my command of English was limited. We began a halting conversation. The airman asked me: "Where are they going to take me?" I did not have any idea about the POW camps in the region. I asked him, "Which town did you bomb?" He evaded this question. He evaded this question. Later on we learned that the targets were the aircraft factories in the city of Friedrichshafen and other towns on Lake Constance. I also asked him, "From which state in the U.S. are you?" I recall he may have mentioned Indiana or Pennsylvania, but I am not absolutely sure about this. I noticed that they had checked the airman for weapons and other possessions. On a table in front of him were several chiclets-type chewing gums, candies and some other personal possessions. He wanted to offer me some of the chewing gum, but the Mayor told me not to accept.

Chester C. Strickler 1944
S/Sgt. Chester C. Strickler 1944 (England)
Chester C. Strickler 1993
Chester C. Strickler 1993 (California)

More people came to the center of the village, and they asked the airman to go to the "GasthofKreuz" across the street from City Hall. I went over there with him where a crowd of 30 to 40 people had gathered. Some went into the restaurant with the airman, and the "Gastwirt" or owner of the restaurant offered him a beer. The son of the restaurant owner was Erich Haberstroh. He was a school friend of mine in the same grade, and he joined in the English conversation with the airman. At this time Dr. Helmut Junghans, the well-known local industrialist, arrived in a car. He was obviously in charge of air defense matters because he was the director of a large watch factory in Schramberg. This factory manufactured components of timing devices for bombs and torpedoes and other weapons during the war years. Dr. Junghans spoke English fluently. Part of his factory was called the "Hamburg Amerikanische Ubrenfabrik" (HAU) or Hamburg-American Watch Factory which had a branch in the U.S. Dr. Junghans talked with the airman and asked him if he would be willing to help search the airplane wreckage in a valley nearby for survivors of the air crash. This airplane had broken apart when it exploded in the air. The fuselage and the wings fell in the "Steinreute," very close to a farmhouse, almost on top of it, while the cockpit had come down in the area called "Tischneck," a kilometer further to the south. The airman was willing to help in the search of the wreckage. Different volunteers went to the crash site, but the undertaking was a dangerous one because ammunition continued to explode in the wreckage.

Garden at the Kopp farm
Hans Storz, with friends looking over wreckage in the garden at the Kopp farm

I stayed in the village for some time and noticed that adults had carried in some of the dead airmen and some were brought on a horse-drawn wagon. The bodies of the airmen were placed in front of the Fire Station that was converted to a morgue. I recall that I saw 6 bodies. The uniforms were all intact and did not appear to be burned. The watches on the wrists of the airmen were still running, and I saw one watch indicating the time of around 5:00 o’clock. The watch of one airman had a blue face, which I found interesting. These soldiers were the first dead people that I had ever seen in my life.

We gradually learned where the other three bombers had crashed. It was a wintery day with snow on the ground. On the following day, Sunday, March 19, 1944, I went together with my brothers on cross country skis to the next village Mariazell which is about 3 kilometers from our farm. Coming down the small hills I could see that the airplane had crashed into a snow covered pasture with a forest in the far distance about a kilometer southeast of the village. We skied to the crash site and found that the whole plane had fallen to the ground and then burned. The wings were still attached to the fuselage. The four engines of the bomber were ripped from the wings and were in the ground. The fuselage and the cockpit and the wings had burned, melting the metal at some sites, but the tail section had not collapsed. The tail rudders had a big "D" on the outside and the numbers 252465 that I recorded on photographs. I looked through one of the window openings and saw three charred bodies. They were close to windows on the floor of the fuselage. I could not distinguish the uniforms or the faces of these airmen. I had a simple box camera with me and 7 exposures on the film. I took four exposures of the crashed airplanes from different angles. I also took pictures of my brothers and one from the crash site in the direction towards the village of Mariazell which has a beautiful church with a round steeple in the Romanic style. It is a classic for the area as far as church architecture is concerned.

Johnson crash site
Photograph taken by Hans Storz at the Johnson crash site

I attended high school in the town of Schramberg which is 6 kilometers from Hardt. At that time public transportation was minimal, and we had to walk to school. On the way home from school in Schramberg, my school friends and I inspected the crash site of the airplane that had broken apart and hit the ground in the "Steinreute" and the "Tischneck" of Hardt. Not much could be seen of the fuselage and wings which were next to the farmhouse in the "Steinreute," but I found the cockpit of the bomber on the "Tischneck" quite interesting. It had not collapsed, and we could walk into the cockpit with all the instruments, control dials, colorful wiring, and large amounts of broken plexiglass. Rounds of ammunition were strewn throughout the wreckage. The dead airmen whom I saw at the morgue of our village Fire Station were the crew of this airplane. There was only one survivor, the airman with whom I talked in the Mayor’s office and in the "Gasthaus Kreuz." I wondered all along what happened to him.

We learned that one other airman survived from the crews of the four bombers that were shot down and crashed in our neighborhood. People were deeply concerned about the death of the young men of these bomber crews, but they also learned that the town Friedrichshafen, that was bombed, had hundreds of victims who died during this air raid on March 18, 1944.

March 18, 1944 was for us a sunny Saturday with clear skies filled with the roaring sounds of an armada of four-engine bombers. The conditions at this time in our part of the Black Forest had been peaceful and wholesome, but the harsh realities of the war literally fell into our neighborhood with these four bombers and their crews whose faces were as human as those of our relatives who had to serve and suffer in the war.

Mr. Jim Marsteller of New Park, Pennsylvania and Mr. Carsten Kohlmann of Sulgen, Germany gave me the name of Chester Strickler, the airman who survived the crash of his plane by parachuting to safety in our village. I had a most interesting conversation on the phone with him on Thursday, December 5, 1996.