When I first interviewed Ernest Sands he told of crash landing in France as a crewmember of a B-24 bomber,458th Bomb Group. This he said happened in August or September of 1944. I was interested in this story because I thought it would make for a good painting. Before doing a painting I research the circumstances surrounding the incident to get as accurate a portrayal as possible. I contacted Darin Scorza, historian of the 458th Bomb Group web site and he provided me with all the mission reports from Ernie’s Squadron. I hit a dead end, there were no missing air crew reports, no accident reports, nothing that would point toward a plane crash landing in France for that time period. I started to wonder, had Ernie dreamed up the story?
Could this have happened to someone else and over the years had Ernie adopted the story as his own? I left the story hanging and went on to other projects. Darin Scorza did not rest however. He looked until he found an obscure news item, released by Eighth Air Force public relations in Sept. of 1944.
This is that News item………….
An Eighth Air Force Liberator Station, England: 1st Lieut. Arthur F. Kenyon, of Chicago, Liberator pilot in the Group Commanded by Col. James H. Isbell has won himself the nickname “Lucky” after his experiences of the past week.
A week ago bought a chance on a $1000 war bond that was being raffled by the officers’ club—and won it. The next day a $500 bond was being raffled. Kenyon bought a chance—and won again!
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Kenyon and his crew were returning from a mission to Karlsruhe, Germany, with one engine dead due to mechanical failure. Northeast of Paris he left the formation. When he failed to show up back at his base in England and no word was received, they thought his luck had run out.
But on Thursday evening Kenyon and his crew returned to tell of their experiences in which Lady Luck again played the starring role.
He had left the formation when he found his plane was nearly out of gasoline, spotted an abandoned airfield north of Paris, and landed on the end of a bomb-scarred runway. Midway down the field his left wheel hit a 500 pound bomb which the Germans had rigged as a mine. His left tire blew out and the detonating charge of the bomb exploded, but the bomb failed to go off. Unable to turn off the runway, his right wheel hit a bomb crater which sheared off the landing gear and ground-looped the bomber. As it slid tail-first across the field, the fuselage cracked in three places. Finally as the crew scrambled out, their plane burst into flames and no sooner had they gotten a safe distance when the gas tanks exploded. Not a member of the crew was injured. They contacted a party of US Army engineers working a short distance from the airfield and obtained transportation into Paris where they spent the evening in sight-seeing.
The next day they traveled to a nearby airfield and after encountering some delay in obtaining transportation through official channels, Kenyon spotted a transport plane warming up on the field. “Got room for ten of us going back to England?” He shouted to the pilot. “Sure, hop in”, was the reply.
Other members of the crew were:
COPILOT: F/O William J Boehner, Manhasset, N.Y.
*** NAVIGATOR: 2nd Lt. Ernest M. Sands, Minot, N.D. ***
RADIO OPERATOR: T/Sgt. Glen G. Schuster, Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.
AERIAL ENGINEER: T/Sgt. Fred P. Gonot, Bridgeport, Ohio
AERIAL GUNNER: S/Sgt. Charles S. Angeline, Berkley, Calif.
AERIAL GUNNER: S/Sgt. Edward A. Miklaucic, Millvale, PA.
AERIAL GUNNER: S/Sgt. James C. Robinson, Denver, Colo.
TAIL GUNNER: S/Sgt. Darwin W. Norman, Canton, N.Y.
Here was the proof! It did happen! The crew had gotten back before a missing air crew report could be filed and since the plane had crashed in France, it could not be investigated for an accident report. For some reason it was not mentioned in the Sqd. Records.
Ernie’s side of the story told of a young French boy who called to the crew after the crash. “Masseurs, follow me” he said. The crew followed him away from the field and they were surrounded by about 20 members of the FFI, (Free French) that was led by a woman doctor and questioned. When the French were satisfied that these were in fact American airmen, not German spies, they were taken to the Doctors house and fed. Ernie said they spent the night in the barn and the next morning made contact with the Engineer unit. They were transported to the just liberated Paris and spent the night being entertained by the Parisians. Next morning they were flown back to England.
The Kenyon Crew was not Ernie’s regular crew, he had filled in as navigator for the regular navigator who was sick that mission. Lt. Sands was a bombardier for his crew but he had cross trained as a navigator.
Normal operating procedure for a crewman that went down and evaded capture was that he would be put on non-flying status, no longer flying missions over enemy territory. After missing several missions with his regular crew, Ernie went before the Groups Officers and argued his case to be put back on flight status, he stated that the Air Corp had spent $25000 training him as a lead Bombardier and that would be wasted if he wasn’t allowed to continue doing his job. After consideration of the special circumstances surrounding the crash landing in France (they had never been in contact with the Germans), The Groups Officers decided to let Lt. Sands fly again. His next mission was Oct. 14, 1944, Cologne —-SEE STORY, “DRAMA OVER COLOGNE”
I plan on doing a painting about the crash landing of the Kenyon plane sometime in the future.
In doing the research for this story I was able to contact the radio operator, Glenn Schuster, to corroborate the story with him. Mr. Schuster had an interesting story about the pilot and copilot, Kenyon and Boehner. Kenyon and Boehner were a couple of fun loving kids and it seemed were constantly getting in trouble with the Group and Squadron Senior Officers. One evening they were having a good time in Norwich tell a late hour and then were refused when they tried to get a cab back to base. Kenyon and Boehner walked back with their anger increasing with every step and upon arriving back at the 458th, procured a jeep and a flare gun with plenty of ammunition. They drove back to Norwich and proceeded to shoot up the taxi cab garage with flares, this did not endear them to the good citizens of Norwich. It was for reasons like this that the Kenyon crew ended up being assighned old war weary B-24s for their missions. That in part may be the reason that on September 5, 1944, they crash landed in France. I asked Mr. Schuster if the crew would get angry with the pilots for getting in trouble all the time and he said NO! They were very good pilots and got them through many dangerous situations.
SOURCES: Personal interview with Ernest Sands. Phone interview with Glen Schuster.
Information from Darin Scorza and his web site, www.458bg.com