On September 26th, 1944 a B-24 Liberator bomber returning from a mission attacking the rail road marshalling yards in Hamm, Germany; crashed near Rijswijk in the Netherlands. One of the witnesses to the crash was a 15 year old boy. When this boy grew up and had a son of his own, he told him about the bomber crashing. His son, Harold E. Jansen, researched the plane named “Lil Max” and the flight crew aboard and subsequently wrote a book titled Vlucht 648, or Flight 648 after more than three years of research and three visits to the United States to interview some of the surviving crew members. The co-pilot/instructor on the flight was my uncle 1/Lt. William G. Rayner. Mr Jansen contacted my aunt Lucille Westrom after being given her address by the Mayor of Everett, William E. Moore in 1982. My aunt provided a picture of 1/Lt. Rayner and some biographical information. When Mr. Jansens book was published he sent a copy to my aunt. However the book was only published in the Dutch language. We found a neighbor of my wife's sister who was from the Netherlands who most kindly translated parts of it pertaining to 1/Lt. Rayner. Her translation follows.
Foreword (in English)
This book is dedicated to the memory of 2/Lt Edward Hopkins Gill, who gave his life for his crew members on September 26, 1944.
On May 5, 1945 the Second World War, that had taken the lives of too many unnecessary and innocent victims, was ended for the Motherland. This same date marks also the beginning of the rebuilding of a new society that slowly needed to put all the fear and shock of the occupation to the background. This book forms the factual reconstruction of what happened on Tuesday, September 26, 1944. The eleven man crew of an American B-24 Liberator bomber was forced to bail out of their crippled and attacked plane by parachute. For two of them it was a jump to their death. Those that were not captured by the Germans found shelter by Dutch families who risked their lives, taking these liberators under their wings. With never before published reports, documents, photos, and eyewitness reports from Dutch, German and Americans. This remarkable document started from this one fact, the crash of a bomber. “Flight 648” was not written in order to make heroes but it was meant as a retrospective view, a remembrance of the countless many that who left their lives unknown. They left us a task after they offered their lives so fascism could never again lift it's ugly head again. By the realization of this work, countless persons gave me tremendous help. Without their help “Flight 648” could not have been captured in this form. My heart felt thanks go first of all to the still alive crew members of the “Lil Max” who during my travels to the United States helped me spontaneously and were so hospitable. (There follows a long list of persons who are also thanked and lastly he thanks his parents for their patience during his research etc).
The following pages were translated from Dutch to English by Mrs. Wilma Jongejan.
Page 40 of the book:
Hamm Bombing Tuesday 9-26-1944
The B-24's in Action
The Second Bomb Division, outfitted with B-24 Liberators, would get 317 Bombers together for the attack on Hamm (Germany). The Bomb groups taking part in this action were 44BG, 93BG, 359BG, 392BG, 445BG, 446BG, 448BG, 453BG, 489BG, and 491BG. The formation planes were going to be escorted by three Fighter Groups consisting of 146 P-51 Mustang chasers, who were to start out between 12:34 and 12:51 o'clock and will follow the 446 Bomb Group. In the early morning of September 26 the airport Bungay, England received a telex message from the headquarters of the Twentieth Combat Wing. It was Field Order No. 243, with the details for the coming mission. Slowly the airport was coming alive. In the meantime Group operations was busy choosing the crews who were going to take part in the attack. They also looked into a new crew, that of Thomas H. Gill of the 707th Bombing Squadron. One of those men, Sgt Mike Kreinheder remembers a few of the details of his first mission. He had been assisting in the hangers the night before. Early in the morning the quartermaster woke the crew plus four other men to get ready for a bombing flight. "Fog was still covering the ground and we shivered with cold while we washed and dressed ourselves. We were both impressed and indifferent about it all. The chow line was long as usual and it was good to see the scrambled eggs and bacon , oatmeal, and apricot, bread, butter and jam with the hot coffee. We hastily ate our breakfast because it was getting late. Soon at 8 o'clock, the briefing for today's mission would begin. A bus took us to the Field and Operations Headquarters that was more than one and one half kilometers from the barracks. From there we went to our lockers to pick up our gear. But first we picked up our parachutes after which we went in small groups to the briefing hall. The navigator 2nd Lt Marvin J. Charwat told us about a strange incident when he picked up his chute. As usual he checked the instruction booklet that had the inspection dates written in it and to his surprise he noticed that this parachute had not been inspected for a long time. The man who had handed it to him thought nothing of it and nonchalantly said “Oh Lieutenant, you don't need to inspect that thing, you surely won't be needing it on this mission, and you'll be back here in no time.” At 8:00 o'clock the briefing hall was filled with a total of 34 flight crews who were anxiously waiting what the target would be. An officer opened the briefing and showed on the map what the route would be to get to the target of that day, the rail road station at Hamm, that was known to be a very important target. The station was the primary target but if for some reason they would not be able to bomb that target the secondary target would be the center of the city of Hamm itself. And if Hamm could not be seen because of cloud cover then they could attack any military object within 80 kilometers from the German border and east of the Rhine river. The 446th Bomb Group would take part in the raid with 34 B-24's who would during formation above the English coast, be accompanied by 2 B-24's of the 489th Bomb Group who were specially equipped with H2X radar and who would lead the formation to the target. The briefing was closed with a prayer service, after which the fliers were transported by trucks to the waiting planes. During the briefing 2nd Lt. Tom Gill was told that on his first flight mission his co-pilot 2nd Lt. Warren Blower would be replaced with an experienced co-pilot instructor 1st Lt. William G. Rayner, who would assist the crew during the flight if anything would go wrong.
William G. Rayner
1st Lt. William G. Rayner was born August 20th, 1920 in Everett, Washington. He finished his schooling and after graduating from Everett High School found work as assistant sales manager at the Sevenich Motor Co. until 1940 when he was drafted for military service. In the summer of 1940 he joined L(?) Company of the 161st Infantry of the National Guard of Washington. He followed his unit to Fort Lewis and on December 6th, 1941 he left the U.S. by boat to Hawaii. The next morning Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. During his stay in Hawaii he requested transfer to the Air Force which was not granted until 1943. In May 1942 he returned to the U.S. and was pleased to hear he was being transferred to officers training in Fort Benning Georgia. After successfully finishing training he was promoted to 2nd Lt. and went to Camp Hood in Texas. After 6 months there he finally got word that he was accepted for flight training. On August of 1942 he met and married Dixie Marie Clark of San Jose, California. Lt Rayner got his flight training in Texas and received his Silver Wings at Pampa Air Field in December of 1943. After one week of leave he was to report at the Salt Lake Crew Replacement Depot in Utah and became co-pilot of the crew of Captain Rex L. Fryer. The unit left for Davis Montham Field close to Tucson, Arizona where their flight training was continued from January till April. On April 5th they left by train for Topeka, Kansas where a brand new B-24 Liberator was assigned to them. In the following months they flew their plane via the Northern Route to Ireland where it was to be delivered. On June 4th, 1944, two days before D Day they were incorporated by the 707th Bomb Squadron of the 446th Bomb Group on Bungay. Lt Rayner made approximately five fighter (combat?) flights as co-pilot of the B-24 “Lil Max”. On the 29th of July his pilot Captain Fryer was transferred to the 705th Bomb Squadron as Operations Officer and later on was promoted to Squadron Commander of the 705th. After some additional training “Bunky” Rayner finally got the command of his own plane and moved over to the left seat in the cockpit. Next to routine missions in enemy territory, he also took part in Trucking Missions that were flown between August 30 and Sept 9, 1944 to replenish stock for the Allied forces in France. In the meantime he was promoted to 1st Lt. And at the end of September 1944 he flew primarily as co-pilot/instructor to assist new crew members with their operational missions. On September 25, 1944; one day before his fateful mission over the Netherlands, he flew as co-pilot/instructor of 2nd Lt. Arthur E. Bersko's crew to Koblenz, Germany.
Co-pilot 2nd Lt. Warren Blower had planned to go along as extra passenger so he could watch the whole mission over the shoulders of Gill and Rayner. But this didn't work out that way for, shortly after leaving the briefing building, 2nd Lt. Blower was addressed by the Operations Officer of the 707th Bomb Squadron and was told that he Blower was not going to go with his own crew because the co-pilot of the crew of 1st Lt. Donald F. White had gotten a head cold and had doctors orders not to fly. Warren Blower said goodbye to his crew and instead went to the B-24 Liberator 42-7649 “Jertie the Gremlin” JU-G, not realizing that his goodbye to his friends would be a good bye forever. In the meantime all the other crews went to their planes, as did Tom Gill's crew. He flew the B-24 Liberator 42-100347 JU-M “Lil Max”. This plane was one of a series of fifty built in 1942 by Consolidated Aircraft Corp. in sunny San Diego, California. The “Lil Max” had flown a total of sixty three missions and only twice did it need to cut out early from an attack. Co-pilot Lt. John Madge of the 446th Bomb Group had suggested to paint that name on the plane, since he was a fan of the feisty 'Lil Max' of the comic strip Joe Palooka. Next to the new co-pilot 1st Lt. Rayner an eleventh man was also added to the crew of “Lil Max”; he was T/Sgt David G. Smith who was a radar observer, and he would work with the radar apparatus that was known as the H2X “Mickey” so the operators were known as “Mickey operators”.
When the whole crew was present, they were busy inspecting the entire plane. At 10:50 Major Hurr ascended in formation plane of the 446th Bomb group “Fearless Freddie”. As soon as the 34 B-24's would ascend he would lead them in formation. At 11:25 the starting signal was given, everyone was in position and ready for the start. Sgt. Mike Kreinheder relates: “We were on our way to “Lil Max”, our Liberator plane. We looked at the ground crew who had worked all night to get all the planes ready, they were finishing up and did their final inspection. Everyone took his position for the start. Tom Gill, our pilot and instructor pilot Rayner (the first mission of each crew to enemy territory was always flown with an instructor pilot on board) began starting the motors, according to instructions from the traffic control tower via our radioman Edwardsen. Joe kept an eye on the instrument panel and made sure that each motor reached its maximum RPM's. The rest of us, Marv, the navigator, Kirch, Dave, Wally, Jack, Shorty, and Kreinheder took our positions on the flight deck and in the front part of the bomb bay in order to distribute the weight in the right places. With about 7000 pounds of bombs, eleven crew members with all of their gear, including the heavy flak suits, it was not easy to get the plane off the ground, even with more than a three kilometer runway. At last we were on our way. A yellow colored Liberator that stuck out like a sore thumb, got our attention and formed the squadron while circling over England. In about an hour we were on course over the North Sea. We were prepared for everything, each man was in his place, did his job, listening to all the orders that came in on the intercom. It was a beautiful flight, all the formations of “Libs” and “Forts” as far as the eye could see in the glistening sun. We now had our oxygen mask and flak suits on, turned the regulator knob of our warmed overalls higher to compensate for the cold as we climbed to a height of 24,000 feet.”S/Sgt Malcolm Edwardsen can add a little to the story:
“We in “Lil Max” were number three in the first elements of our squadron, we went up a little later, the formation had taken a little longer than planned that's why when we reached the coast of Holland, we were an hour off schedule. Our plane was one of the crafts that carried an extra bomb, we had seven while the others six 1,000 pounders. This was my second mission and the pilots' first. We left England at 20,000 feet and climbed to the height of 24,000 feet while crossing the North Sea.The navigator 2nd Lt. Marvin Charwat remembers the following:
Our crew had come together around “Lil Max”, the plane for the mission of today. The coming flight would bring the total attack missions to 64 for “Lil Max”. It seemed that some of the crew did not feel at ease with the coming attack. It was the first attack mission for the officers and the second for most ot the other crew. Our co-pilot for today was a first pilot who had finished all his flights. He brought our escape kits and candy bars to the plane. We went up and were soon above the airfield and joined the right formation. Before we knew it we were on our way on course. Within thirty minutes we were greeted by light flak over some of the islands on the north west coast of Holland. We were at 20,000 feet around 1:30 PM and climbing to 24,000 which was the prescribed flight altitude over the target. My pilot 2nd Lt. Thomas H. Gill was not satisfied about the way “Lil Max” was flying. It took too much power to stay in formation. Shortly after leaving the English coast the bomb F/O Harold Kirchblum took up his position in the nose turret to keep possible enemy planes away. Right from the start he had the idea that this plane should really be rebuilt for different things did not work right. For instance the doors of the turret were in bad condition, they wouldn't close properly because the lock was broken. It was risky to turn the turret to the right or left because the door would then open up inside the nose section instead of outward which would make the risk of falling out without a parachute much greater. The only solution was to keep the turret in its neutral position so the weapons would point forward and he would not be able to answer any attack from the left or the right. Tom Gill called Jack Cullbertson via the intercom and asked him to help Kirchblum with the turret because Jack was a specialist with weapons and firing turrets. Many of the boys had mixed feelings about “Lil Max”, most of them agreed that this plane should have been taken out of circulation a long time ago; but this was only the beginning of the problems. Around 1:36 the formation reached the coast of the Netherlands above the island of Texel where they were shot at by flak. The crazy part of all of this was that the formation leader was flying right over Texel even though the orders had been clear to avoid it. And since the weather was crystal clear it was more difficult to understand. The plane with 2nd Lt. Blower had problems with the cold, the temperature was thirty degrees below zero and the prop of motor no. 1 was uncontrollable. They decided not to hold the formation up unnecessarily and turned back to base. They left the 4th position and 2nd Lt. Gill who was in fifth position took that place then. The formation was getting closer to the target, at 1:45 the problems for “Lil Max” started. At that time, motor no. 2 was having problems with its propeller running wild. They could not control it but luckily Gill and Rayner could control its position. At 2:49 the first bombs were falling on the railway depot of Hamm. A total of 8,248 tons of bombs fell on it. The target was cloudy and they used radar as well as sight for dropping bombs. Flak varied from light to heavy and was, especially over the city, very accurate. If “Lil Max's” crew had unpleasant problems now, what happened to some of the other Liberators was a real tragedy. During the attack on Hamm three B-24's were shot down, for most of the crews it was their last flight because this would have been their thirtieth flight and after that they could have returned to the US.
“Lil Max” In trouble:
Because of the problem with motor no. 2 “Lil Max” had gotten a little behind in the formation but, just as the rest of the bombers, it had started on the bomb run. What happened then can best be described by Malcolm Edwardsen:
“Above the target the flak was quite heavy and since it was cloudy we had to bomb with the help of radar. Our bomb Group had appointed radio operators to who, during the run had to go to the bomb hold to open the doors. It sometimes happens that a strong gust of wind slams the door shut and at the same time I had to make sure that all the bombs actually left the hold. While I was busy with that I realized that the wires of my headset and the oxygen tube were not quite long enough and were stretched taunt. After the order “Bombs Away” I called Kirchblum to let him know that some of the bombs had not gotten out. When I didn't get an answer I called the pilot to let the bomb go and when I still didn't get any reaction I realized that the wires and tubes were all disconnected, I immediately connected them because it's very dangerous to be in such a small walkway without oxygen at a height of 24,000 feet, without a parachute. I called them again right away and nervously asked them to get the bombs out. After the last two bombs were gone I closed the bomb bay doors and quickly went back to my position.”Kirchblum relates:
“When we were above the target, two of the bombs were staying behind at the moment I said “Bombs Away”. I heard Kutzar saying : “Bullshit, they are still in here.” When I realized that they were not gone I immediately went to the back to get them out in a different way but it didn't work.” Tom Gill decided to make a sharp turn in order to get the bombs to fall out and that plan was successful.Mike Kreinheder:
“Flak was showing in the distance when one squadron neared the center of the target. Other squadrons were North and South of us. “Hey Mike, transfer the Tokyo tanks for ten minutes to the main supply. (Tokyo tanks = extra fuel tanks) Roger. See any fighters Wally? No just FLAK !!!" A flak particle just missed his tail turret. "Flak was heavy now and we were right in the middle of it. Puff, puff, small clouds of smoke, black, white, and yellow colored. So close that you could almost touch them. We heard the slivers slam into the rump, one of them came up under my chair just at the moment that I was pouring gasoline into a tank. Oh oh, problems, a motor stops and another is running away. We were forced to lower out of the formation and hobble home on two motors. There was a “Fort” formation that flew a lot slower and we thought that maybe we could keep up with them but alas, we did not have such luck.”
Shortly after leaving the target area flak hit the other two motors. Joe Mennitto managed to keep motor three going but couldn't do anything for motor no. one which was on fire. Motor two had already been out of order since before we approached the target area. Luckily motor three and four kept going until we came close to the Dutch border over Enschede. In the meantime the crew had lost sight of the formation and was left quite aways behind. At 3:12 PM was the last time the formation of the 446th Bomb Group could see “Lil Max”. Two pilots of the group saw Lt. Gill's Liberator disappear from sight near the area around Enschede. It was easy to see that “Lil Max” was having problems. Because of their loss of motor power they also lost a lot of altitude. By the time they reached the Ijsselmeer (lake) they could take off their oxygen masks because altitude was only ten or twelve thousand feet. Once over the waters of Ijsselmeer Tom Gill gave orders to throw all heavy equipment they could spare out hoping that would help their chances of making it to England. After that he called over the radio for an escort and soon three P51 Mustangs appeared to escort them over the Ijsselmeer. When the tail gunner Kasievich first noticed the escort planes he called over the intercom that he could not identify them and almost started firing at them. He thought that they were being attacked by Germans. Malcolm Edwardsen started firing identification flares after that time so there would be no mistake. After about a dozen flares he was ordered to send an emergency signal over his radio. During training in the US it was mandatory before every flight to test the radios. But in England, for safety reasons, it was necessary to omit these tests otherwise the Germans could easily find out how many aircraft were involved in an air attack, so Malcom's radio had not been tested and by the time he had to send the emergency signal he could not get it to work. Over the province of North Holland the three escort Mustangs were forced to leave them because of fuel shortage, they disappeared to go over the North Sea. The navigator 2nd Lt. Charwat suggested to change course to an emergency airport in Belgium but Gill and Rayner were hoping with a little luck they might make it to Bungay. It was very difficult to keep the craft on course but when they reached the coastline at IJmuiden they found that they were not far off the original flight plan. Harold Kirchblum was assisting Charwat with navigation. Altitude was now close to 7,000 feet. A few kilometers past the coast line motor three konked out and a decision had to be made quickly. They debated; an emergency landing at sea was too risky, the only alternative was to find the emergency airport. Slowly the Liberator was gliding back to the Dutch coast. They were now flying Southward to Belgium.But first let's go back to Mike Kreinheder's story:
“We asked for escorts because we were taking the shortest route over Holland and saw how other “Libs” passed us. Now we had to cross the water. Wait, something's wrong with motor no. two, it's burning, what a smoke trail! What are we going to do now, make an emergency landing on water or jump out? We were too close to the coast to be picked up by our sea patrol. Better turn around and jump with the parachute. We had to make the plane lighter so we threw whatever we could in the water. Our weapons, munitions, flaksuits, emergency equipment, no Paul, not your parachute. We opened the bomb hatch and the escape hatches, put on our parachutes and waited for the bell to sound. I had not fastened my shoes to the chute harness yet and was just going to do that, but no, it was time; too late, the bell went. “Well good luck fellas” there goes Wally. I was next but everything went so fast we didn't have time to be nervous.”
South of the Hague the situation of the “Lil Max” became hopeless and at an altitude of 4500 or 5000 feet 2nd Lt. Gill gave the crew orders to leave the plane by parachute.
Page 53: An eyewitness on the ground.
One of the many eyewitnesses on the ground was then 14 year old A.J.C. Bercudsen: “It happened one afternoon, a big plane came from the sea towards us. It was obvious that something was wrong with it because it flew so low with hardly any speed at all. Our house was then at the corner of de Bovendijk at Kwintsheul and I was about the only one outside at that time, because close to us on the Heulbrug (bridge) was a German barricade that was the entrance to the fortress Hoek van Holland. The barricade was very strict in those days and the Germans would punish any actions they didn't like. At the moment I saw the plane coming I could see several persons jumping out of it after which their parachutes opened and they were gliding down. I believe there were about six of them, but I am not sure of that. What puzzled me were that small objects were flying at them and made little holes in the white chutes. At the same time I heard rapid rifle shots and I carefully walked to the highway to see where it came from. When I looked around the corner of our house I noticed that a light cannon was being set up across the street. I wondered how come all of a sudden so many soldiers were around there because usually there weren't very many in the area. Then I noticed several military vehicles arriving and a lot of German soldiers jumping out of them, laden with all kinds of weapons, slings of bullets around their necks and grenades in their boots. Next I saw two soldiers on the roof of an old store who were shooting at the parachutes with a machine gun. It was all very scary for a 14 year old boy but also fascinating. Just when I had decided I had better get out of there, because I was getting kind of scared, another military truck stopped and a bunch of armed soldiers jumped out and one of them came right up to me. Good grief, what now! But I was afraid to run away. This German asked me which way to the place where the fliers had fallen. In my confusion, because I didn't understand German, I just pointed down the road and straight on. Some time later I went to look at the plane that had crashed close to a farm on the outskirts of the city of Rijswijk. When my dad came home from work he told us that they were searching for the person who sent all those German soldiers the wrong way. I guess that must have been me because I don't remember seeing any other persons outside except for the heavily armed soldiers."
Rob Steinbruch lived in Rijswijk during the war and was fascinated by what happened in the air. He made notes of all his observations in a diary that has been saved all these years. One of his observations is about our story. Tuesday September 26, 1944 Approximately 5:15 PM: Flying Fort. Shot down by German Air Defense (This was a mistake, it was not a B-17 Flying Fort. But a B-24 Liberator.)
City Police of Delft 26 Sept 1944 5:20 O'Clock Captain Donk announces that according to headquarters of the Air Defense a four engine bomber went down northwest of the city. Chief van Dongen went there to see. 6:15 O'Clock Chief van Dongen reports that the plane landed in the city limits of Wateringen (this was a mistake, it was in the city limits of Rijswijk.) The mayor was informed. He ordered that a watch be placed around there till 10 PM in case of possible parachutists.
Copy of report from Air Defense, Wateringen.
Minutes of sighting of parachutists on 26 September 1944 from a crashed bomber at city of Rijswijk . On September 26, 1944 at 5:25 PM parachutists were seen floating West to East. Immediately I gave the order to sound the “Air Alarm”. Soon after we found that an airplane had crashed close to Rijswijk, Holland. The ambulance and fire truck immediately set out. Investigation showed that the plane had indeed crashed in the city limits of Rijswijk and also that the body of a parachutist was found a few hundred meters from the plane. German military authorities came out and gave orders that the body was to be transported to the cemetery at the Kerkhoflaan in the Hague. The driver of the ambulance and one of the firemen took care of that. The fire department did not need to do anything else, there was no danger of fire since the plane was located in a pasture. The other parachutists had fallen in the city limits of Wateringen and Rijswijk. It is not known whether any had fallen anywhere else. The German military and Griine Police have conducted a thorough search for eventual other parachutists. We have not heard the results of that search although we know that some have fallen into German hands, and are now prisoners of war. The parachutes and other gear were taken by Germans. The local police have orders to keep looking for eventual parachutists.
These notes were made and signed by JYA vander Binden, Commander of Air Defense of the City of Wateringen.
Rijswijk, South Holland.
Police day report from Tuesday 26 Sept 1944 7 AM
till Wednesday 27 Sept 1944 7 AM
17:30 A 4 engine bomber has crashed in this city on a plot t 51 Kleineg. The plane was completely destroyed. One crew member was found dead near the plane. The others had left the plane by parachutes. 20:45 Field officers requested to investigate the possibility of a second dead parachutist in this area. (nothing was found)
Page 55: The Last Moments
On the 26th of September the inhabitants of the Hague and surrounding Westland were startled by the heavy sound of a bomber in trouble. It was around 6:30 PM Netherlands time – the plane was constantly attacked by anti aircraft artillery fire from German positions on the ground and shortly thereafter they could see the crew leave the plane by parachutes. One of the countless people watching was the amateur photographer Nico L.van Duier who had made many pictures with his fathers Leica . In this particular afternoon he was upstairs in his bedroom of the family home on 23 Crispijnstraat in the Hague when he heard the sound of the plane and looked out of his window to see what was going on. To the left of the smoke stack of the bread bakery nearby he could see the B-24 Liberator flying along the coastline. It was quite low and in a flash he grabbed the camera that was always close at hand and snapped a picture. A few minutes later he could see the plane starting to make a left turn while still barely visible above the house across the street and snapped another picture. (These photos are on pages 55 and 57 of the book.)
What exactly was happening on board after Lt. Gill had given the order to jump? The radio operator Edwardsen and the radar observer Smith had already gone to the bomb hold. The bomb doors were opened again and Smith went out first, followed by Edwardsen. The navigator Charwat jumped third: “The words of the pilot Tom Gill still echo in my ears, “Prepare to bail out”, “Bail out”.
We had turned on a course east about 25km west of Rotterdam. Harold Kirchblum looked at me and said: “It doesn't matter who goes first”. There wasn't much time for words so I let myself fall out of the nose wheel flap and was outside. Harold Kirchblum remembers the following; While we were in the Air Force I always wondered why we had to do so much marching when you were going to fly. At the moment the order was given it was just a question of following orders without thinking. When we opened the wheel flaps we saw two opened parachutes below the plane most likely Smith and Edwardsen. Charmat and I were at the flap, I pushed Charmat out and followed immediately. Number five to leave the plane was Walter Kasevich. His story is as follows: “ I think the most difficult part of the flight was to definitely to just leave the plane. I remember that we were in the hold ready to jump but stiff with fear, knowing that maybe this might be the end for all of us. Nobody wanted to be first to jump but I can still see us when I replied “I'll go first and lets all try not to deploy our chutes too soon. We knew we were targets if we had to float in our chutes for some time. After Kasevich followed Kreinheder and Jack Culbertsen, He remembers real well that Tom Gill had just said “Bail Out” when he already saw a parachute through the flap of the hold. This must have been Smith, who jumped without waiting for the word “Out”. The last to leave the hold location was Paul Kutzar. After those crew members left the plane there were only three men left on board, the pilot Tom Gill, the co-pilot William Rayner, and Sgt. Mennito. Joe Mennito relates: “Everyone except Gill, Rayner, and I had jumped. I asked Rayner to jump before myself because Tom Gill and I had trained together and I didn't want to leave him. Lt. Rayner understood and left the plane, I was to hear later from the Germans that he was killed in his parachute by German ground fire. Tom was holding on to the wheel because it had been very difficult to keep the plane in control. Tom held the plane up till everyone was out, every time he let go of the wheel the plane would go into a dive. The automatic pilot wasn't working either. Tom was very calm, he knew he had a job to finish and did it. The only thing he said was that it was a bad time to go down now, Tom was on his first mission and the co-pilot on his thirtieth. But it doesn't really make any difference which mission it is when it happens. He asked if everyone got out, I said yes, with both hands on the wheel he got out of his chair and ordered me to go, “Get the hell out of here, I'm right behind you”. This were his last words except for yelling “Good Luck”. The last I saw of him he only had one hand left on the wheel while getting ready to go to the bomb hold.” Joe Mennito jumped at 1100 feet from the bomb hold of the “Lil Max”. He pulled the cord and it seemed like a long time before the chute opened but it finally did with a snap. Immediately the Germans started firing at him, a bullet hit his leg, The wound was bleeding but didn't seem very serious. The earth seemed to come up to him at fast speed and he made a landing close to the Lammersbridge on the Sammersweg (road) in Wateringen. He was in a pasture and started rolling up his parachute. One of the people who saw Sgt. Mennito come down was Mr. H.C.J nan Steekelenbusg, Sammersweg, Wateringen: “We had heard the plane also and were standing in front of our house by the Sammersweg bridge to watch. One of theose flyers landed right in front of our house, just across the bridge. This flyer was rolling his parachute and with his hand above his eyes was trying to see where he was. At the same moment the German soldiers came out of their bunker. They jumped across the canal and with their guns at the ready they took the man prisoner. He was taken to Overvoorde.” It was a group of five to ten Germans and Mennito was surprised to see how young these men were. They took his package of cigarettes away and after they took some they gave it back to him. They took him to a villa in Overvoorde that was being use as headquarters. Ten minutes later they took him outside and was ordered to identify a body that was brought there on a farmer's wagon. It must have been a terrible moment for him to be confronted with the dead body of his pilot Thomas Gill whom he had spoken to just a moment before. The Germans told him that his chute had not opened and he could see that it was only partly opened and now covering him. Mennitto asked if he could bury him but was told the Dutch people would take care of it. They also told him that Lt. Rayner had been found dead. On September 29th, 1944 2nd Lt. Thomas Gill and 1stLt. William G. Rayner were buried at the military cemetery at The Hague in graves no. 90 and 91. On March 4, 1946 the bodies of both flyers were transferred to the central American military cemetery in Margraten. 1st Lt. William G. Rayner's grave is now in the American Cemetery by the city Luxemburg, at Plot F, row 19, grave 13. As mentioned before, he was found dead in a field at the Kleiweg not far from the railroad Rijswijk, Delft. Mrs. van Ruiten was on that 26th of September on her way to take a friend home. On the way to the railroad. There were in those days manholes to take cover in in case of air attack but those were just then full of water. When they saw that plane coming she and her friend ran into a field that was owned by Peter Olsthoozen. They laid flat on the ground with their hands over their heads. A short while later they heard something drop and thought it was part of the plane. They turned and saw about three meters from them the body of a flyer bounce to the ground. It was a horrible experience to watch this close up. She went right away to that flyer to try to find papers on him but sadly enough was chased away by the Germans who arrived within five minutes. But in the meantime she had a good look at the flyer who laid on his back, he was not injured, she didn't see any shot (bullet) wounds. The body seemed in normal condition. She noticed that the man was wearing a soft flyers cap and he looked young. He was wearing an unopened parachute and chute harness and his shoes were fastened to his harness. The Germans chased the women away and she said without thinking “drop dead”. Unfortunately it was impossible to ascertain what the exact cause of death was for Lt. Rayner. Around 5:30 the firetruck and ambulance of the city of Wateringen had come out to the wreckage of the plane. The Germans gave orders to F.J. Van Ooyen, the ambulance driver to pick up the body of Lt. Rayner. The land where the dead flyer was laying was quite wet and they had to make a detour to get there. The body was laid on a stretcher and transported to the Kerkhoflaan in the Hague where it was delivered to the chapel.
A note from city police The Hague:
Mr F.J. Ooyen 4 Noordeveg, Wateringen delivered on orders of the German military the body of the American Flyer: William G Rayner O-1289804 T4244 who jumped from a crashing plane and fell to his death. Mulder
Mr. Loomans account:
The following account was sent by Harold Jansen to William Rayners sister after the book had been published in 1983.
On Jan. 19, 1988 I was contacted by Mr. Looman who informed me that he was a member of the International Red Cross during World War 2 in Rijswijk, Holland. He told me that he was an eyewitness of the crash of 1/Lt Rayner's Liberator. He also saw how 1/Lt. Rayner bailed out of the crippled airplane and that his parachute only opened partly. Mr Looman took his bicycle and drove to the Kleiweg (a road near the railroad track Rijswijk to Delft) where 1/Lt Rayner had landed. He told me that he found 1/Lt Rayner lying on his back in a marshy grass-land and that he was still alive. He asked Mr. Looman if he was working for the Germans or if he was a Dutch patriot. Mr. Looman confirmed that he was a patriot and 1/Lt Rayner said: “you are my friend”. Lt Rayner insisted that he should check his pocket for military papers and that he should also take his his watch, so that the Germans wouldn't find it. Five minutes later 1/Lt Rayner died in his arms. At about the same time the Germans arrived and Mr. Looman was able to leave the area without being stopped by the Germans. If they had stopped him and found the items 1/Lt Rayner asked him to secure, the Germans would have shot him immediately. After the war Mr. Looman handed the personal effects over to the proper authorities, and they assured him that it would be returned to the family. They gave Mr. Looman a receipt of returning these items such as an army watch, a paybook and some sort of logbook with flight details. As you will notice he wasn't able to remove all items carried by 1/Lt Rayner. During my visit to Mr Looman he told me that for years he had a photo from 1/Lt Rayner that he had found in the logbook. But during a move to another house the photo was unfortunately lost.
The picture of Lt. Rayner, the unfortunate co-pilot of the B-24J, 42-100347 “Lil Max”, who was found dead close by the railroad Rijswijk-Delft:
1/Lt. Rayner is buried
in the Luxembourg American Cemetery. Enter name in the search box to see details.
William Rayner burial info at Luxembourg
Photo of 2nd/Lt. Thomas Gill
Lt. Gill is buried in the
American Cemetery at Ardennes in Neupre, Belgium. Enter name in search box for details.
Thomas Gill info at Ardennes
Photos taken by Nico L.van Duier (page 55)
Enlargement of photos from page 55Link to map of flight track of the plane:
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Created on ... September 25, 2014