Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, Off Ballydavid, Co. Kerry, May 1944
The morning of the 29th of May, 1944, Kerry farmer Maurice O'Connor and family were awoken by visitors to their home in Ballycurrane townland on the Dingle Peninsula, Kerry. Outside he would find four tired and wet Allied airmen who had just survived the ditching of their Flying Fortress bomber some miles off the coast. The O'Connors took them in and provided warmth and shelter. Not only that but upon hearing that there were four other airmen still at sea, Maurice promptly gathered three other boatmen, Thomas Kennedy, Maurice Leahy and Patrick Leahy and rowed out into the early morning to find the missing men.
The aircraft was flown by the United States Army Air Forces Heavy Reconnaissance unit, the 25th Bombardment Group. At this particular time the unit was known as the 802nd Reconnaissance Group and within that the aircraft and crew flew with the 8th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy). They were based at Watton in Norfolk, but the large B-17's sometimes flew from the nearby North Pickenham airfield which had better runways. The story of what happened on that flight was recorded at the time by the Captain of the aircraft during a debriefing in the days following the ditching and subsequently fifty years later when various members of the crew provided their memories to researchers in Ireland and in the United States. The Irish Army Archives also contained the files on what had happened on the ground during the incident.
The flight began from the airfield at North Pickenham on the evening of May 28th, bound for the Atlantic on a weather observation mission with the operational profile code named 'Epicure'. A brief description of this type of mission was given by Bill Young in a letter to author Norman Malayney. "The normal programme for such a flight was to fly from base to St. Eval and then head out over the Atlantic on a track of 260 degrees from true north. Meteorological observations were to be made at a pressure level of 950 millibars at 14 numbers positions along that track each 50 nautical miles apart. 950 millibars does not always equate to the same height since sea level pressure and air temperatures vary bit it usually equals roughly 1,800 feet. At positions 4, 8, 12 and 14 we would also descend to measure sea level pressure usually from a height of 400 feet as recorded on the radio altimeter. Then we would climb quickly to 950 millibars again to make observations at that level.
This mission however began to go wrong when the No 1 engine had to be feathered around midnight, forcing 2/Lt Lorenz to abandon the mission and return to base on three engines. Suddenly engine No. 3 also began to give trouble and that two had to be feathered, so that the propeller blades were rotated edge on to the airflow to reduce draft. They flew for two hours on the two remaining engines until the dark shadows of Ireland were made out. Knowing that there was high ground, the Captain elected for a ditching and the non flying crew members braced themselves into the radio compartment behind the bomb bay. Lt Lorenz and Lt Ketterer successfully brought the stricken bomber to halt in the thankfully calm waters. The map below shows the basic layout of key places mentioned in the text. The town of Dingle is referred to in its Irish name, Daingean Ui Chuis.
Having ditched the aircraft, the crew then had to abandon the floating aircraft and take to the two life rafts built into the aircraft's spine. This was managed but only to reveal that one of the dingies would not fully inflate. Four of the men struggled to shore and raised the alarm with Maurice O'Connor. Following the successful rescue of the men in the dinghy, all eight men were given food and shelter at the O'Connor household until the morning.
This wonderful photo supplied by the Swerdlowe and Westerlin families, shows the seven American members of the crew of the Boeing Flying Fortress which ditched off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula in 1944. From the left- (At rear, standing, The Commissioned Officers), : Lorenz, Swerdlowe, Ketterer - (at front, kneeling, the enlisted men) Richardson, Bubulka, Westerlin, Tarvin. They are seen in front of a B-17G Flying Fortress, serial number 42-39959. This aircraft had been assigned to the 385th Bomb Group until May 1944 when it was transferred to the 802nd Recon Group. This particular aircraft survived the war.
Lt Michael J. LORENZ O-804695 Pilot
Michael John Lorenz Jr was born in 1918 and came from Ohio. He joined the Army Air Forces in July 1941, prior to the beginning of the war. His prewar employment being as a steel worker in Cleveland. He married his wife Leona in Florida in 1943. Michael returned to his home state after the war and passed away in Parma, Ohio in September 1996. His wife and daughters joined Larry Ketterer and Allen Swerdlowe during their visit in 1999.
Lt Laurence J. KETTERER O-751548 Co-Pilot
Lt Nathan SWERDLOWE O-688480 Navigator
S/Sgt Arnold W. ""Wes"" WESTERLIN 17164938 Top
S/Sgt Joseph J. BUBULKA 33468840 Radio Operator
S/Sgt Lee W. RICHARDSON 15337989 Waist Gunner
Sgt Harold TARVIN Jr 36448995 Waist Gunner
Sgt William Brotherston YOUNG 1870237 RAF Weather
His name is found listed in the ORB for the RAF's 518 (Met) Squadron flying from RAF Tiree in the Hebrides, Scotland. He was commissioned as an officer in the Meteorological Branch in the later part of 1945. Following the war, he continued his career as a Meteorological expert with the RAF but as a civilian. He was posted to Libya for a time in the 1950's. He appear to have married Agnes Dawson Wingate in Springburn in 1959. He was involved in the various research activities during the 1990's into the story of 'badger Beauty'. He appears to have died in 2002 in his native Edinburgh.
The aircraft on which this crew flew was a Boeing B-17F-40-DL Flying Fortress. This aircraft came from a batch of the famous bombers built under contract by Douglas at their Long Beach, California plant. It was delivered to the Air Force in April 1943 and by June it had been flown to England and assigned to the 100th Bomb Group. Arnold Westerlin's son found that the aircraft only flew six missions with the Bomb Group before receiving battle damage on July 10th. During its time with the 100th Bomb Group it appears to have carried the nose art 'Badger Beauty' painted on the nose, and also the name Hells Bells. Arnold Westerlin's memories seem to indicate that the aircraft was not known by either name when it was in the 802nd Group, it may have been repainted or removed during repair and maintenance.
Allen Swerdlowe was able to provide copies of the following three images of airmen.
This photo taken in front of a B-17G shows eight individuals, including one RAF airman standing at the left. It is not known if this is William B Young. Confirmation is required. It is thought that this aircraft may be B-17G-1-BO serial number 42-31130, an aircraft listed as assigned to the 25th Bomb Group in 1943.
This photo of ten airmen includes the three officers involved in the ditching in Ireland, kneeling from the left. This photo includes a Bombardier in the crew but also duplicate engineer and radio operator crew members. The airman standing at left may be Arnold Westerlin. The tall airman next to him (2nd from left) would seem to be Harold Tarvin. The third man standing form left, may be Joseph Bubulka. The fifth man standing may be Lee Richardson. The aircraft behind them carries the serial 42-29510, indicating it was a Boeing B-17F-55-BO. According to Dave Osbourne's Master Log of B-17's, this aircraft remained in the United States throughout its life. Its posting history is mainly to Base Units, indicating that it was used as a training aircraft. This source suggests it was written off in October 1944 but also that it was serving with Selman Field through 1945. In any case, this probably explains the 10 man crew photographed, this would likely have been the original role the crew trained for, but upon arrival in England were assigned to the 802nd Provisional Recon Group. Hence a Bombardier would not be needed and the compliment of gunners reduced for the weather missions.
This wonderful image appears to be taken on the occasion of the award to six members of the crew the Air Medal. The three men standing are the Officers, Ketterer, Lorenz and Swerdlowe. Kneeling are three of the sergeants, the first having the arm stripes of a Staff Sergeant, the remaining two being Sergeants. The first airman may be Lee Richardson, the third may well be Harold Tarvin, the middle airman is not yet confirmed.
This image which came from the Bubulka family shows their father Joseph, seated at front, center with a group of Airmen. The interesting thing about this image is the aircraft in the background, a British Vickers Wellington of 172 Squadron, Royal Air Force. This particular aircraft, serial number MP789, can be seen to be carrying D-day 'Invasion Stripes', the black and white identification strips applied to all Allied aircraft for a period after the landings in Normandy. This would place the photo sometime after June 6th 1944 at least. On June 13th 1944, this aircraft attacked a German U-boat, U-270 in the Atlantic. The other airmen in the photo are not recorded on the original photo and may contain some of the crew members from 42-3279.
The above image comes from the Bubulka family of their father seated in the center flanked by it is thought, Westerlin (right) and Tarvin (left)
During 1998 and 1999, from an idea of Allen Swerdlowe, son of the aircraft navigator, the Travel Channel produced a documentary covering the return to Ballydavid in June 1999 of Larry Ketterer with his daughters, accompanied by Allen Swerdlowe and his son and also by the widow and daughters of Michael Lorenz. The show has been uploaded to youtube by Allen Swerdlowe and can be watched online.
It should be pointed out that in almost every occasion of an aircraft landing during the war where there were survivors, the survivors were always taken into the care of the local police and thereafter by the Irish military once they arrived on the scene. The commentary claims that the crew were protected from the authorities at the risk of arrest and imprisonment. While this might make for interesting television, it is recorded that Maurice O'Connor brought four members of the crew to the Garda Station in Dingle on the morning of the 29th May, direct to the care of the state authorities. The narrator claims that "by law, 'captured' soldiers were to be turned over to authorities and imprisoned." This is at complete variance with the fact that the airmen in this case were at the very first opportunity brought to the local police station! There were only very few occasions during the war when foreign airmen evaded the Irish authorities, either by taking off in undamaged aircraft or by slipping over the border into Northern Ireland since they were so close to that. There is no evidence that any sanction was ever taken against Irish civilians for giving assistance to airmen who were not apprehended. It should perhaps be taken in the context of what was known of Ireland's wartime history in the late 1990's, it had only been in the past decade and a half that the archives from that period were becoming available. The documentary takes Victor O'Sullivan's comments about the route to the border a little out of context in this regard. Ireland was neutral during the Second World War and was not a combatant nation. Officially the Irish government needed to make the appearance of being as equally neutral toward Germany as it did toward the Allied nations. In reality, a line was taken that greatly favoured the Allied side. This was purely practical due to the proximity of Great Britain and the entry of the United States into the war. No member of the American armed forces was ever interned in Ireland during the war. It was prudently decided by the Irish government that the potentionial fall out from doing this far outweighed any negative reaction from Germany. In the case of the crew of 42-3279, they were accommodated in Benner's Hotel in Dingle town on the night of 29th of May. The following morning, the 30th, they travelled in Irish Army vehicles including an Ambulance for Sgt W B Young, via Tralee and Limerick to Loughrea in Galway, from where they were taken to the border and handed over to Allied authorities.
documentary makes a brief mention of the commemorative plaque
mounted on the wall of An Cúinne Pub in Feohanagh Village. This
was installed in July 1989 when William Young, the then RAF
Meteorological Air Observer (MAO) visited the area and unveiled
the plaque on behalf of the Warplane Research Group of Ireland
(WRGI). He as presented with a model of the curragh boat that
had figured so prominently in his rescue. The photograph at left
shows part of the ceremony and was published in the Kerryman
newspaper. If anyone should have a clear copy of this image a
scanned copy would be much appreciated.
Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2017, Dublin and Sligo. Information Sourced from the Irish Military Archives, Martin Gleeson and the US NARA, the families of the crew of B-17F 42-3279, and ancestry.com records.