392nd Bomb Group

Niedereschach, Croft Crew Crash Site

by Jim Marsteller

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

"Niedereschach, Croft crew crash site"

Reinhard Irion and Carsten Kohlmann
Left to Right: Reinhard Irion and Carsten Kohlmann

This crash took place on the same day as the four liberator crashes. It was also around the same time of day at 3:35 in the afternoon. The aircraft was a B-17 “Flying Fortress” of the 94th Bomb Group, 333rd squadron with the serial number 42-31159. The bomber was returning from an attack on Munich. Five men survived; they were pilot, Ronald W. Croft; co-pilot, Lester D. Krapf; navigator, Glenn E. Likewise; radio operator, Russel W. Malzahn; and left waist-gunner, John Harris. The following report of Reinhard Irion who was an eyewitness to this crash and also the B-24 crash of Lt. Anderson is a chilling eyewitness account of how quickly a quiet town in the Black Forest was thrust into the war with a harsh vengeance. This report is an extract from a regional history book published in 1995 in Germany. The author, Werner Huger, collected reports from eyewitnesses around the crash area of the Flying Fortress.

Although we haven’t researched this crash site in depth, both the location of the site and the day the

plane was shot down made it a very interesting site to visit. It was the fifth crash site we visited, and very similar to the Books plane cockpit wreckage because it came down in a heavily wooded area of the Black Forrest near the town of Niedereschach. The actual wreckage spot was not accessible to us as it is now on privately owned land and we needed permission. However we were told that because of the extreme difficualty in removing the wreckage some of the aircraft may still be in this area.

The following story written by eyewitness, Reinhard Irion, is also part of crash site #4. His account of the B-17 Croft crash includes the Anderson B-24 crash.

"Unforgettable Hours"

We were once again interrupted from our sleep and sat in my uncle’s cellar, since we had no such air raid precautions of our own. The monotone growl of the group of English bombers was without end. Suddenly a muffled detonation could be heard. The cellar door, which was cracked, moved noticeably. Later in the night we learned details of the terrible incident: the crew of a plane, still carrying its bombs and wanting to get rid of them, had dropped them over Lackendorf, 4 km away. The bombs hit Locherhofer Street near the Eschach River and brought a disastrous result. The house of the Griesshaber family was swept away by the explosion; in this way the parents and their three children came to their end. Only the oldest child lived, who at the time was serving his mandatory service to the state. Naturally the neighboring house was also riddled with shrapnel - so much that it looked like a sieve; an elderly couple that lived there met their deaths in their bed from the shrapnel. Today a plaque in the Lackendorf cemetery commemorates the victims of that terrible night. The combined strength of the air raid shelters of the Eschach River Valley began in the night to clean up and put out the fires, (my father was there) but new events were to follow.

The next day was Saturday, March 18, 1944, and the class of 1928/29 was busy decorating the church for confirmation. They were the oldest boys then - the boys from the class of 1926/27 were already serving their service for the state in different places. In the middle of the confirmation preparations, the air raid siren went off and soon many white streams of exhaust appeared in the blue sky like needles that slowly moved southeast. It was American bombers that flew over Flotzlingen at a height of 1000m, so that only the very tiny, shining points of the planes could be seen. I, as an eight year old boy, stood in front of our house and thought to myself where they would go today. At that time it was not yet known that these daily attacks (that were flown by the Americans) influenced the aviation industry in Friedrichshafen. Everything ran normally on the first leg of the fly-over, but on the return flight of the planes, sometime later, it was totally different. As the first wave of planes reached us again, it suddenly became very bright around the exhaust fumes. The straight streams of exhaust became irregular, since a group of German interceptors had picked up the battle with superiority. As a school boy, I would have liked to have followed the air battle - we knew the different types of planes by heart, but we were never allowed to watch because Mother always made sure I never stood in the way of the path to the cellar. The dismissed students (Ludwig Schaible and Albert Stolz for example) were in a better position; their point of observation was under the Linden tree by the church. But this position was not undangerous, as it would soon turn out, since the on-board cannons of one of the planes firmly hit one of the bombers. It plummeted, as eyewitnesses from Oberdorf reported, rather directly over the church tower. The lower part passed over in the northwest direction. Thank God the altitude was high, since this event stretched up until the farm of Borite Harlot. between Stetten and Locherhof, where the crash subsequently followed. The plane of Lt. Anderson (whose name I have learned from his papers) was completely destroyed and the complete crew killed. A curious person is said to have taken a chocolate bar out of the jacket pocket of the dead flier on inspection of the scene. But how poor one was then!

While the confirmands continued further under danger, hit after hit came. Christian Trion came running, out of breath, and cried, “Come on boys and help put out the fire - Schreiner’s house is burning!” A burning bit of the plane, that was probably attacked from above, had hit the house of Schreiner Cammerer and set it in flames. Someone quickly got a water pump used as a fire extinguisher, and we systematically battled the flames side by side with older women and men. The miller Hans Haag from Berneck near Nagold, who came here for the confirmation of his godchild Ludwig, knew as soon as he arrived. He helped us so that the flames didn’t spread to the living area of the house.

The men in Lachendorf were also hurried towards Flotzlingen at word of the crashed plane. They hurried across the countryside to the site. But while they neared the smoking and burning wreckage and saw that there was nothing more here to salvage, a second column of smoke rose into the air. But when they came into the village, they established that the women and men had done a good job and that the house was no longer in danger. Meanwhile the fighter plane had further success. While working to put out the fire, the helpers saw how an American plane moved out of its position in its convoy and headed it the southwestern direction, losing some altitude. Attentive observers didn’t let it escape their attention that the Liberators were coming down near bodies and stretchers on the ground. A part of the team succeeded in getting out, because the parachutists descended into the Teufen stream valley. The plane (B-17 of Lt. Croft) crashed to pieces in the part of the forest called Bubenholz (boys’ woods). Brave citizens succeeded in capturing the Americans. Anti-aircraft soldiers from Stetthohe overtook the prisoners and led them through Flotzlingen, where it also almost came to a serious incident. An agitated citizen wanted to go after the Americans with a pitchfork and only the energetic intervention of the anti-aircraft soldiers stopped him. At the Hirsch guesthouse the line of prisoners made a stop and we children also got a look at the fliers. That was the Americans of whom we had already heard so much, and they made a resolved and satisfying impression, carrying parachutes under their arms. Less satisfying were they by the examination. They reported that it would have been technologically and timewise possible to have rescued those injured, but their comrades were tragically already dead by the time they got to them.

B-17 crash site
The above photograph shows what the B-17 crash site may have looked like. No photograph has been found of the Croft crash.

It was very interesting to learn about the event from the point of view of one of the fliers. Shortly after these events a participating German pilot searched for the Cammerer family. He discussed his regrets and explained how everything happened from his point of view. Their squadron took off near Mainz and held the orders to follow first and foremost the orders of the Association of Liberator bombers. These fliers were to be attacked first, after their accompanying planes had to turn back concerning fuel. Danger still threatened the Germans from the on-board and sniper weapons of the bombers themselves. The whole thing was played out rather passionately over us, as in the close surrounding area 5 shots (crashes) were registered. In contrast to the armored fortress planes, the Liberators were able to fight with shots (damage). In this way the incident at the Cammerer house occurred. The flier explained he had just seen what happened. He marveled at the fact that half the village didn’t burn.

Even when 52 years have passed since those events, I still think often of what would have happened to our peaceful village if the planes had crashed in the residential area.

In addition, an English Lancaster crashed on a February night in 1943 only 1 1/2 km away from the Stettener farm. That’s truly luck in bad luck! A small occurrence is still to be reported after the successful parachute jumps in the Teufen Stream Valley. The dismissed student, Albert Stolz, who hurried to us, found it so nice when a bailed out American flier extended his hand towards a somewhat older German anti-aircraft soldier so that this man could better cross the little stream. Was there German-American friendship even then?

With Sincere regards,

Reinhard Irion
translated 7/1997 by Courtney Wirwahn