This is the story of the last mission of the King Size, flewn on Christmas day 1944.
Hethel Airbase, England
On december 25th 1944, the crew of the King Size was assigned on a mission to Wahlen-Kall/ Germany. Their target was a industrial zone in Kall, with a railroadstation and communication center. On that date, the battle of the bulge was raging for 9 days and on most place American troops managed to stall the German attack.
On december 24th 1944, one of the biggest air raids of WW2 on German soil took place. Thousands of airplanes attacked many vital targets. The 25th was the second part of it, but with less airplanes. The King Size joined both days.
In that B24, 9 guys were preparing fort their mission. One of them, Peter Ferdinand, was a replacement. The month before he was one of the two survivors of a midair collision over England. Two other members of the plane, Henry Maxham and Walter Eberly where the two with the most flight-hours and battle experience. Maxham, as a tailgunner, and Eberly as a top turret gunner, flew many mission in the “Wabash Cannon Ball”. We know from Maxham that he flew 51 or 52 missions and was sent back home. But he enlisted again and was sent back to England. Mission 761 was his 63rd flight!
The King Size is part of Mission 761: 422 bombers and 460 fighters are dipatched to hit communcations centers and rail bridges west of the Rhine River. (Numbers are not correct; BK)
248 B-24 bombers are sent to communications centers at Hallschlag, Prum, Pelm, Murlenbach, Pronsfeld and 12 B-24’s are sent to Wahlen. Targets of opportunity are Communications centers at Budesheim, Hillesheim, Marmagen, Nettersheim and Mechernich.
174 B-17’s are sent to railroadbridges at Ahrweiler, Bad Munster, Kaiserlautern railroad and the Hermeskeil Simmern communications center and Marscheid railroad bridge. Targets of opportunity are railroad bridges at Bad Kreuznach and Eller and other.
The B-24’s are escorted by 144 P-51’s.
The Fatal Miles
On their way to Wahlen (over 400 km/ 270 miles) there are no incidents reported. Apperantly no damage was done by enemy airplanes or Flak cannons. It is after they dropped their bombs on Wahlen-Kall, they got into trouble.
After the drop, the King Size made a turn and got back in the direction of Hethel Airbase when the King Size got attacked by approximately 15 Focke Wulf 190’s.
Peter Ferdinand: “They were throwing 20 mm canon shells our way. They got in some Lucky hits and our plane started burning. That 100 octane gas is just like cigarette lighter fluid!”
The B-24 gets into a spin, but pilot Raymond Price manages to get it under control again. It got behind the other planes and was flying alone. The plane was on fire and the motors were running away.
All of a sudden the King Size was attacked again by approximately 5 or fighters. Several crewmembers got seriously wounded. Robert Ball shot one of the FW-190’s out of the sky.
Peter Ferdinand and Walter Eberly are at the bomb bay and are trying to kick open them open, in order to leave the plane. But it is without succes. Ferdinand then goes to the cockpit and hears Price saying that they have to leave the plane. Price is realising he can’t hold the plane much longer. But co pilot Edward O’Rourke gives Price the finger, making clear he is not going anywhere. According to the statements, Price, O’Rourke and navigator John Tiedemann stayed in the plane. It is unclear what is the correct following order of what happend then.
Tiedemann helps a crewmember to get out of the plane: he puts a parachute on a wounded gunner and pushed him overboard. Peter Ferdinand later stated this was Robert Ball. But this could have been Leon Liscomb too.
Meanwhile Peter Ferdinand tried to get out of the plane, together with Walter Eberly. According to Peter, Eberly was in such fear, that he didn’t dare to jump out of the exit via the nose wheel. To help Eberly in his fears, Ferdinand decided to go as first, hoping that Eberly would follow directly after him. Robert Ball jumps out of the plane before those two, also using the nose Wheel exit. We know this because Peter stated that the nose Wheel was already empty when he came there with Eberly.
Based on the reports and statements of Victor and Raymond Yansenne, we know that Walter Eberly and tailgunner Henry Maxham got out of the plane, shortly after that, but they jumped to late, because the plane was already to low in altittude and they fell to death.
In this short period of time, the German fighters left the plane alone, because it was clealry that it was finished. Flying over the valley of La Fosse and Freyneux, the King Size started to make a turn. According to Victor, avaition expert David Pratt and myself, it is good possible that Price had seen the long and wide prairies on the ground and decided to give it a shot and wanted to try a crashlanding in those meadows. Just before the last turn, right waste gunner Owen Fox, Walter Eberly and Henry Maxham jumped out. All three of them jumped to late and fell to death. This means that Peter Ferdinand and Robert Ball had left the plane shortly before that. According to the papers there is an explosion on board. If so, we believe Owen Fox is blown from the plane, based on the type of woundngs he had. (see also Owne Fox’ page)
Losing much altitude and flying over “le Chalet” the plane loses an engine. Making it’s last turn to the meadows, parts are falling of the plane. Crossing the “route de Chaumont” the plane hits the ground, losing parts of the landing gear and after 70 meters, crashes into the meadow, killing Price, Maxham and Tiedemann.
Peter Ferdinand and Robert Ball are the only ones who bailed out safely and survived the crash. They are picked up by US troops and brought to the rear.
For each personal account and more details, please see the crewnames.
On the ground:
From the ground, the B-24 Kig Size is seen as well. It is Victor Yansenne, with his brother Raymond, who see the plane gets chased by 5 or 6 Focke Wulf’s. Victor descibes some sort of grey/black puff, what could be smoke or a Flak explosion. Victor claimed he never saw an explosion. This does not mean there wasn’t any, but it could be that the explosion occured while the plane was flying over the forest “La Georgotte”, out of sight of Victors vision.
Alfred Roxburgh, also sees the plane coming down. “Vapor trails criss crossing here and there. It was beautiful watch wave after wave of B-24’s and P-47’s move overhead until a yellow flare marked the end of one of our buddies. Shortly later a 24 spun to earth, two chutes came out. It makes one’s blood boil as one guy landed on enemy ground and the other on our side.”
Another civilian, Jules Collignon, witnesses the plane coming down. Some time after that, while walking through the woods to his home in Vaux Chavanne, he finds a man “with a leather suit and a leather cap on the ground in a fetal position and his eyes wide open.” He runs of and tells the story at home.
After the crash, Owen Fox is found by a civilian. Instead of taking care of this crewmember, he takes away his gun and does not report him. In 1950 Owen is found by a farmer, named Jules Everard. For his full story: see the personnel account of Owen.
Soon after the war, the wreckage of the plane was sold to a scrapheap company. One of the wings was taken by on of the neighbourhouses. When the scrapheap company found that out, they came back and took the wing with them. “We bought a whole plane.”, the man said.
During the raid on wahlen two other planes where shot down:
– The Old Glory, 42100372; Oral C. Chippaux’ crew. (see: MACR 11681). The plane crashes somewhere in Luxembourg.
– The Daddy Rabbit, 42-95028; Marion A. Hutchens crew (see MACR 1114). This plane was also attacked by FW-190’s and crashed near Bovigny.