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                                                     The B-17G Ronny Boy

             The Ronny Boy was in her death throes.  Hit amidships by flak, the B-17G’s bomb bay and right wing were burning.   The date was August 24, 1944, it was 1200 hours and the location was northwest of Merseberg, Germany.[1]  This was the 20th mission for Ronny Boy, this time deep in the heart of Germany.  The target was the Luana Oil Refinery at Merseberg.[2] 

            In the nose of the doomed B-17 the Navigator 2nd Lieutenant Ewan Siddall and Bombardier 2nd Lieutenant Russell Wolfe prepared to bail out.  Siddall said “I only remember the order to prepare to bail out and the order to bail out.  The rest is a blank for me.  I do remember when I exited the aircraft the bombs were released at the same time.  So for the first part of my trip down, I’m nose to nose with the bombs.  I counted to 15 as we were trained to do and pulled my ripcord.  The bombs and I parted company for the rest of the trip down.  I was the first one out of the aircraft.[3]

            Wolfe picks up the story “When the order to prepare to bail out was given, the first order of business was to put on our chutes.  Siddall helped my secure my parachute, then his own.  I went to my position in the nose and released my bombs.  I then made for the exit door behind our compartment and bailed out second.”[4]

            Top Turret Gunner Technical Sergeant Thomas Jewell whose position was right behind the pilots tells his story “We took flak through the bomb bay and the right wing.  I tried to assess the damage, but the heat and flames were too great to enter the bomb bay.  1st Lieutenant Don Bruns our Pilot went out over the intercom with the order to prepare to bail out.  The waist gunner Staff Sergeant Raymond Grow reported that the right wing was on fire.  Bruns then gave the order to bail out.  The last thing I heard over the intercom before it went dead was the radio operator Technical Sergeant Harry Dupee saying ‘take it easy Gammons, I’ll help you out.’[5]  Staff Sergeant Marvin Gammons was the Ball Turret gunner.  I was the engineer on that plane and the Ball Turret had some problems in the past, but I know that it was working for that mission.  The only thing I could figure is the Ball Turret had sustained damaged when the plane was hit.”[6]

            Jewell continues his story, “I was supposed to be third out of the front of the aircraft but was having trouble buckling my chute, so I told the Co-Pilot Lieutenant Teran he should go in front of me.  After securing it, I ducked down between the two pilot’s seats and jumped out right after Lieutenant Teran.”[7]

            This left 1st Lieutenant Donald Bruns flying the aircraft.  Bruns had no way of knowing what was happening in the rear of the aircraft.  The fire was not only blocking access to the rear of the aircraft it had also knocked out the communications system.  Lieutenant Bruns held the plane as long as he could in level flight after giving the order to bail out, then set the auto-pilot and bailed out.  The planes in formation around the Ronny Boy reported seeing only six chutes for nine crew members.[8]  In the rear of the plane, tailgunner Prigmore went out via the tail escape door.  He reported seeing someone in the waist section by the door, but couldn’t identify who he’d seen there.[9]
           
The time is now 1215 hours and the Ronny boy is spinning into the ground carrying three men to their deaths.  The other six men are descending deep into Germany.  Lieutenant Siddall picks up his story “I landed in the backyard of someone’s house.  What I thought was a very nervous 12 year old German boy points a Lugar at my head saying Chicago Gangster, Yankee Rapist, Murderer.  Luckily I landed right next to a German flak battery and the soldiers arrived quickly and took me prisoner.  While being escorted back through the battery I saw a plane crash and explode in the distance.  The Germans gunners let out a cheer, and I decided that there were worse things in the world than being shot down.  6o years later I would learn that the plane I saw crash was most likely the Ronny Boy.”

            Siddall said “The Germans brought me back and put me in a room that had a long narrow bench.  It felt like 90 degrees on the ground that day, and I was wearing my flight suit, so I was very uncomfortable.  I laid down on the bench and promptly fell asleep.  It had been a very exciting day, and I guess it took its toll on me.  The next day I was put on a train to Frankfurt, where I was reunited with the 5 other survivors of my crew.  We were taken to Dulag Luft, and then I was sent to Stalag Luft III after my interrogation.”[10]

            Russ Wolfe landed in a small village and was assaulted by the local townspeople.  He was beaten badly before the military could arrive to take him prisoner.  He ended up in Stalag Luft III as well.[11]

            The Pilots Bruns and Teran were both captured upon landing and put on the train the next day to Dulag Luft.  Teran said “I was picked up in a truck by the military, which was good as there were two civilians coming across a field towards me.  On the truck was Russ Wolfe.  When we tried to speak we were told to shut up by our captors.”[12]  Both Teran and Bruns ended up in Stalag Luft III.  Tailgunner Prigmore ended up with the rest of his crew on the train to Frankfurt.  He spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft IV.

            Jewell continues his story “I landed on top of a flak battery.  Our plane had crashed about ½ mile from their location on a knoll.  They brought pieces of the plane to show me, which had markings on it that I recognized as being from Ronny Boy.  They also brought me a book that Prigmore had left in the tail section.  I was put on the train to Frankfurt and ended up at Dulag Luft.  While there, one of the officers interrogating me told me they had found two crew members in the wreckage.  I didn’t know if he was bluffing me looking for information.  It later turned out to be true.  The bodies of Gammons and Grow were found in the wreckage, Dupee’s body a short distance away.”[13]  Jewell spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft IV.

            When the Germans inspected the downed aircraft they discovered the bodies of Gammons, Grow and Dupee, either in the wreckage or close by.  The aircraft had come down 2 kilometers east of Burgstaden.[14]  When told the of Jewell’s story of that day in the tail section, Siddall said “It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that they died trying to free Gammons.  Whenever the enlisted men had a pass, Gammons, Grow and Dupee would go together.    They were best friends, and they probably thought they had time to get him out.”[15]        The six survivors of the Ronny Boy were liberated the following spring from prison camps across Germany and returned home.  Grow and Dupee were single when they were killed, Grow being an only child and Dupee leaving behind a brother.  Gammons left behind a wife, Ruby, in Nashville, Tennessee.  The three men are buried in the Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands.[16] 

Siddall’s story of his capture and time in a POW camp starts with him landing in a German family’s backyard.

Back row from Left to Right:  Thomas Jewell, Harry Dupee, Marvin Gammons, Raymond Grow & George O’Brien (never flew a mission with this crew, replaced by Prigmore).

Front row Left to Right:  Donald Bruns, Robert Teran, Ewan Siddall and Russell Wolfe.

 

                                             The Ronny Boy in flight.


[1] MACR 8284 page 1.

[2] Casualty Questionnaire Don Bruns.

[3] Author interview with Ewan Siddall.

[4] Author interview with Russell Wolfe.

[5] Casualty Questionnaire Thomas Jewell.

[6] Author interview with Thomas Jewell.

[7] Ibid.

[8] MACR 8284 page 1.

[9] Jewell Questionnaire.

[10] Siddall Interview.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Author interview with Bob Teran

[13] Jewell Interview

[14] German Report of Capture Gammons and Grow

[15] Siddall Interview

[16] American Battle Monuments Commission

 

 


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