The gunners were able to bail out or were ejected by the second explosion. Waist gunners O'Brien and Wachter escaped through the waist doors. After difficulty opening the tail hatch, suddenly it opened and tail gunner Beckmann successfully bailed out. Ball turret gunner Bebb was in the process of extracting himself from the ball turret when the second explosion ripped the plane apart just in front of him. In some miraculous way he was able to grab his parachute, hook it to his harness and bail out through that opening. No doubt the explosion made possible his escape. Top turret gunner Tagliaferri was knocked unconscious and blown out. He did not remember leaving the plane, but somehow he was able to activate his parachute. Upon landing, his left ankle was broken and he was admitted to a hospital. The other four men seemed to have landed safely.

All five were captured and confined in Stalag Luft #4. Beckmann had some problem with his eyes and spent some time in a hospital. Stalag Luft #4 was near Brandis and they were confined there until evacuated on February 6, 1945.

The other five crew members were in the front part of the aircraft and were not as fortunate as the gunners. The initial flak hit and the subsequent explosion made it impossible for them to have any chance of escape. It was the usual practice for the parachutes to be kept close by so they could be reached and attached to the harness. Even if they had not been injured, it would have been extremely unlikely they could have recovered their chutes due to the force exerted on them from the swift uncontrolled descent of the destroyed plane. All five bodies were recovered and buried in the cemetery at Seegeritz in the evening of May 30, officiated by Mayor Paatzsch. Co-pilot Higgs' body was under the wreckage and possibly not buried until the 31st. German records show the Army Serial Number (dog tag numbers) for each of the five crew members. The Germans developed such a detailed report that it causes me to believe they kept straight the identity of each man.

S/Sgt. O'Brien made a career with the Air Force and passed away in 1990. His widow, Dorthy O'Brien lives in Paris, Texas, and has been most helpful in making this account possible. Leroy Beckmann lives in Mill Creek, Washington, and has given me valuable data. To both I am most thankful.

Front row, left to right: Bert Moran, Pilot; James T. Baird, Co-pilot; Duane A. Kesterke, Navigator; Charles H. Oulahla, Bombardier

Back row, left to right: Nicholas A. Tagliaferri, Engineer/Gunner; Leroy J. Beckmann, Tail Gunner; Eugene E. Wachter, Left Waist Gunner; Charles E. Bebb, Ball Turret Gunner; William P. Mitchell, Jr., Radio Operator/Gunner; Connolly R. O'Brien, Right Waist Gunner

To download a high resolution photo of Crew 5303, click here.