(article by David Pratt)
Just to add some additional context to what happened on that fateful 25th December 1944, I thought I’d tell you about the other USAAF bomber aircraft that went down during the bitter air fighting over this part of Belgium that day. As well as 42-50612 KING SIZE being lost from the 389th BG there were two other B24’s that the group lost during the fighting and in the same area. These were 42-95028 also from the 565th Bomb Squadron, the Pilot was 2nd Lt. Marion Hutchens who with 3 other members of his crew were killed when their aircraft crashed in the Bois de Ronce near Bovingny 5 miles south of Vielsalm. 1 crew member later died of their injuries in a German hospital and the rest of the crew made it back to Alied lines.
The other 389th BG B24 was 42-100372 OLD GLORY also from the 565th Bomb Sqn. The pilot of this aircraft was 1st Lt. Oral Chippeaux who with 3 other crew men managed to bail out and became POW’s. Lt. Chippeaux managed to hold the bomber for a while but it went into a steep dive with the No2 engine on fire before he levelled off at around 10,000ft before it again went out of control and then also blew up similar to KING SIZE. The remains of OLD GLORY came down near to Regne 5 miles west south west of Vielsalm. The 467th Bomb Group also lost a B24 in the area too. This was 42-95220 X7-H being piloted by 1st Lt. William Truxes. X7-H exploded in mid air with 3 of the crew being blown clear including Lt. Truxes and became POW’s and the wreckage falling near to Rettingny 9 miles south of Vielsalm. Two other 467th ships were badly damaged which the Luftwaffe claimed as ‘Kills’. One of these (42-50675 BOLD VENTURE III) had an incredible ‘ending’, the crew began bailing out over the area north of St. Vith but some of the crew tried to keep the aircraft flying before they also bailed out 35 minutes later over France after they’d set the autopilot so they could all escape but instead of falling out of the sky it carried on before crashing at Lower House Farm, Vonchurch in…..Hertfordshire England after it ran out of gas !!! The other B24 (42-94963 4Z-N) 467th BG 791st BS was also in the same attack as the rest of the aircraft near St. Vith and was badly damaged, the pilots managed to keep the aircraft flying and made it to St. Trond where they bellied in but sadly careered off the runway hitting a parked B24 and then caught fire killing the brave pilot 2nd Lt. Ray Hann and 2nd Lt. Pat McEwen co-pilot. The bravery of these crews cannot be underestimated. The 8th AAF had flown the biggest mission of the war the day before and due to bad weather on their return, many groups ended up landing at different airfields in appalling weather with many aircraft being lost trying to get down and many with badly damaged aircraft. The aircraft of the 389th and 467th BG’s that flew on 25/12/44 were turned around against the clock, took off again in freezing fog with aircraft icing up and in poor visual conditions until they got to height, some 8th AAF groups couldn’t even take off that day due to the conditions. They set off to support the ground troops who were locked in bitter fighting and were in desperate need of support and then after turning away from hitting the target at Wahlen, Germany (for the 389th BG) they came under attack from two of the Luftwaffe’s finest Sturmgruppe who unusually at this stage of the war were able to put up a high number of mainly Fw190 fighters with some Bf109’s in support. In that short 5 minute attack they wreaked havoc with the cold and tired crews and this was the ensuing carnage that ended up with both groups ultimately losing 3 B24’s each and the sky being black from explosions and smoke trails of falling aircraft and debris.
(article by David Pratt)