Lt. Burton M. Joseph – Brunswick – 15 Mar 44
|Lt Herbert G. Devore
|Lt Jerry Felsenstein
|Lt Burton M. Joseph
|Lt Louis R. Jaebker
|T/Sgt Harry S. Lenk
|T/Sgt Harrison L. LonghI
|S/Sgt Nicholas Delcimmuto
|S/Sgt John J. Barry
|S/Sgt Darrell R. Dickenson
|15/3/44 A/C/ #42-29934
|S/Sgt Knute Knudson
350th Sqdn. Crew. . On 15/3/44, Lt. Martin Tashjian was flying as TG and was KIA. Capt. Robert Peel, who had flown overseas with the 100th Group as a bombardier without a crew, was flying as BOM and became a POW. Capt. Roland G. Knight, a pilot who had flown over with the Group unassigned to a crew, was this day flying as Command pilot. He was KIA.
It appears that this was the 25th mission for most of the crew.
A T/Sgt Robert D. Longworth was flying as ROG in the place of Harry Lenk and was KIA Longworth was from the original crew of Martin Tashjian which had been involved in a crash at Thorpo Abbotts on 4/12/43. Both he & Tashjian had been injured in that crash and the crew “split up”.
RECORD OF THE 15 MAR 44 BRUNSWICK MISSION OF THE H. G. DEVORE CREW
by BURTON M. JOSEPH, NAVIGATOR
It was 15 March 1944, and we were on our 25th mission with the “Bloody 100th” Bomb Group, flying lead plane for our group in the 13th Combat Wing of the 8th Air Force. This was the last mission required to complete our tour of duty. Our co- pilot and bombardier flew their 25th, with another crew, on the 6 March mission to Berlin and were waiting for us back at Thorpe Abbotts so that we could all return to the States together.
I was a First Lieutenant and navigator of our B 17, “My Achin’ Back, ” and our target was Braunschweig, Germany. Just past the IP (Initial Point of the bombing run), we took a direct hit from what I believe was an 88 mm “flak” shell.
1The shell exploded in the hatchway directly below the cockpit and probably ruptured the oxygen tanks and ignited the fuel transfer system. There was a blinding flash of flame behind me and I knew we were “done. “
After a moment’s hesitation, I ripped off my flak vest, which in turn pulled off my oxygen mask. I then hooked my parachute to the chest harness I was wearing, turned and dived out the already open escape hatch. I was immediately behind Harry “Shorty” Longhi, our top turret gunner/flight engineer. Captain Bob Peel, who was flying with us for just that mission as lead bombardier, exited behind me. The other seven members of the crew, including the command pilot, perished.
I delayed pulling the ripcord until I was fairly close to the solid undercast, figuring that the cloud height would allow sufficient time for the chute to open before landing. This prevented my passing out for lack of oxygen at the higher altitude, and possibly saved me from becoming the object of further German target practice. I guessed that I probably fell free for 20, 000 feet. The chute opened just as I broke through the cloud cover, perhaps 2000 feet above the ground.
Beneath me stretched a vast sea of flames. Our incendiary raid on the target city of Braunschweig was highly successful! However, much to my dismay, I had left a burning plane only to land in the still smoldering ruins of a burned out house! I had been burned about the face and hit by shrapnel while still in the plane. Now, I was burned again, about the hands and head, upon landing.
On leaving the burned out house, I was confronted with a new situation an angry group of German civilians was moving toward me. You can well imagine their feelings with many of their homes destroyed by “Luftgangsters” such as myself.
Fortunately, a Wehrmacht (army) sentry stationed at a nearby air raid shelter got to me before the mob of civilians. He had to hold them off with his rifle, and in so doing, undoubtedly saved my life. This mob would most certainly have torn me apart had they gotten to me first.
It was several hours before someone arrived to give me first aid, and by that time the burns were almost intolerably painful. The medical orderly who finally arrived applied some salve to my face. He then cut off my leather flying jacket sleeve and dressed the flak wound in my left arm. After another look at me, he called for an ambulance.
Several hours later, I was placed on a stretcher and carried into an ambulance. My head was completely covered with bandages and I was unable to see any of my surroundings.
After a moment, I heard Shorty’s voice “Is that you, Burt?” I nodded my head in the affirmative. He asked if I was all right. To this, the M. O. replied “G’brendt” (burned). Shorty told me that he’d been hit in the thigh by the flak burst that got us, but didn’t know how bad it was.
We were taken to a hospital at the Luftwaffe airfield outside Braunschweig. There a doctor had a nurse dress my burns with wet bandages (tannic acid solution, I believe), while he cleaned out Shorty’s wound. The hole in his leg appeared to be 3″ to 4″ in diameter.
We were kept in a locked room while waiting further disposition. During our two day stay there, we were visited by a number of German airmen who were curious to talk to us. One thing that proved amusing to me later on was the fact that they were mislead as to my rank. I tried to tell that I was a First Lieutenant, but they thought I was a Lieutenant Colonel. In German, First Lieutenant is “Oberleutnant” and Lieutenant Colonel is “Oberst Leutnant”, so my sudden “promotion” becomes understandable. Anyhow, they thought that I was a “lot of brass” and were quite respectful of my pseudo rank.
Although neither Shorty nor I could speak German, and the Luftwaffe pilots could not speak English, we swapped some interesting combat stores in my meager and their excellent French. I’m sure you’ve seen a wartime flyer start a story by holding out both hands to indicate aerial maneuvering and then say, “There I was at 20, 000 feet, on my back, with two fans out, and the tail shot away, etc. , etc. “
I thought that I had been terrified on some of our missions but these Germans had each flown more than 100 missions over England. Their fear of attacking London was just as great as my feeling toward hitting “Big B” (Berlin). London’s terrific anti aircraft and fighter defense put the fear into these fellows.
On 19 March, we departed this Lazarette and were transported in the baggage cars of five different trains on a miserable two day journey to Frankfort am Main. Here the Luftwaffe had located their primary interrogation center, called Dulag Luft, and here Shorty and I spent several days in solitary confinement cells, notwithstanding our wounds. The only furnishing in my cell was a straw filled “paliasse” (mattress), but after our miserable trip, this filthy tick looked like a Beautyrest to me.
I now started to feel the first full impact of the situation: I was a prisoner of war in Germany! After the many fears that I had swallowed while flying combat missions, the sudden loss of my close friends on our crew and my doubtful future seemed more than I could bear. My wounds were an unwelcome, painful addition to this crisis.
I must have been too aggravated to remember where I was, because I told the English speaking “Unteroffizier” who tried to interrogate me “Go to hell and I won’t answer any questions until you get me to a hospital. ” Evidently my burns appeared fearful enough that the “Feldwebel” thought I was out of my head. In any case, he limited further questioning to name, rank and serial number.
Here I was officially booked as Kriegsgefangenen (POW) #1843. I was issued a German dogtag and a set of records that were to follow me around until I was finally liberated. Here, also, the Germans liberated all my personal belongings: watch, wallet, shoes and my escape kit which I had kept under my bandages until now.
From Dulag Luft we went to a nearby dressing station where we spent a week and a half waiting further German assignment. We were furnished with our first Red Cross supplies including some very much needed clothing. This gave a big boost to our morale. Then, to my great good fortune, we were shipped to a POW hospital at Obermassfeld. On arrival, we found that the Lazarette was staffed by members of the British Royal Army Medical Corps, who had been captured at Dunkirk and in Africa. We knew that we would get the best possible medical attention from these doctors. Although they were eligible for repatriation under the Articles of the Geneva Convention, this medical group chose to stay in Germany in order to treat the ever-increasing stream of wounded Allied prisoners.
In my mind’s eye, all of the Lazarette staff and one other man who helped me in another way, were genuine heroes. Without the skill of an excellent plastic surgeon such as Major Sherman, it is likely that I would have remained one of those horribly disfigured scarfaces that came out of the war.
Here at Obermassfeld, I underwent a number of operations for the removal of burn scar tissue about my upper face, and subsequent skin transplants from my arms to my face. The other wounded prisoners under treatment around me told me that I was one of the lesser beauties of our surroundings. This did not bother me though, since I could not look at myself.
While waiting for my grafts to heal, I became acquainted with several of my fellow prisoner patients, one of whom had a considerable stabilizing effect on me. Captain Arundell was his name and he had been a prisoner for more than two years before my arrival. I later learned that Captain Arundell was Lord Arundell of Wardour and that he had developed tuberculosis after several years in a Nazi stone dungeon. Because of his condition, Captain Arundell was almost a total bed patient and had been listed for repatriation.
His illness, however, did not prevent us from having many hours of pleasant conversation. During discussions about his home and his feelings regarding nature, I began to learn about tranquillity and peace of mind, although I probably did not realize it at the time. Arundell of Wardour was a never failing spirit and was as serene an individual as I have ever encountered. I was pleased, when permitted to take a parole walk through the fields around the hospital, to pick wild flowers for Arundell’s bedside. It was a great satisfaction to see his face light up when I brought in a few bright blossoms.
I was dismayed when informed months later that Arundell died upon his repatriation and return home. I have always regretted that I was unable to thank this wonderful man for the way in which he helped me to regain my composure. Without this “calming down, ” I certainly would have had an even more difficult time facing the long year of prison camps and forced marches ahead of me.
When my recuperation was about complete, I was sent to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, on 18 May 1944 but that’s another part of my story.
Now, almost half a century later, I decided to try and find Lord Arundell’s family and Major Sherman, or his surviving family, and personally express my gratitude.
To start my search, I visited the British Consulate General’s office, here in Chicago. I was fortunate in obtaining the assistance of Vice Consul Caroline P. Cracraft. With her diligence, she was able to find a lead to Lord Arundell’s nephew, Major General Patrick F. Fagan (Ret. ) CB MBE. As a result of my writing to General Fagan, I received beautiful letters from him and his mother, The Honorable Isabel Barker (Lord Arundell’s sister).
Ms. Cracraft further suggested that I contact the Royal College of Surgeons of England for help in locating Major Sherman. She pointed out that my contacting the Royal Army direct would undoubtedly be turned down since they only respond to next of kin.
The Royal College of Surgeons was unable to locate Major Sherman in their records, but sent my inquiry to the Ministry of Defense and The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. Mrs. Judithe Blacklaw, at the Ministry of Defense, wrote to me listing two names: Lt. J. B. Sherman and Lt. S. Sharman, both on the 1944 and 1945 Army lists under the section “Royal Army Medical Corps Regular Army Emergency Commissions. “
Ms. S. M. Dixon at The Wellcome Institute suggested my contacting the head of the Royal Army Medical Corps, The Director General Army Medical Services, Major General Brian Mayes. I wrote to General Mayes requesting his assistance and sent him a copy of Mrs. Blacklaw’s letter listing the aforementioned two names. General Fagan also stated that he would check with his army contacts.
I am still in the process of following several further suggested leads while waiting to hear on any of the foregoing.
Burton Joseph continues from an article in Jackonville’s Own Success Guide, fall 1994 issue.
After following a number of leads for almost a year, a “last ditch” letter of mine was forwarded to Dr. Shereman’s daughter in Scotland. To my unbelievable surprise, she wrote me advising that her father was alive and living with his son and daughter-in-law in St. Augustine, Florida. After writing to him, I phoned and spoke to his daughter-in-law. She advised me that he was 90 years old, legally blind, hard of hearing and “very” much with it!”
On January 26, 27 and 29, 1944, I visited with Dr. John B. Sherman in St. Augustine, Florida. I found him to be a truly remarkable man and we had an interesting series of discussions. It is hard to describe the emotional feelings arising from our reunion.
Unfortunately Dr. Sherman passed away this past April (1994). But I feel fortunate in having succeeded in tracking down both Dr. Sherman and Lord Arundell’s family. It is never too late to say ‘than you’.
After the war Dr. Sherman returned to England where he was reunited with his family. Upon his return he was award many honors. He received an MBE from King George VI. He received a letter of commendation from President Eisenhower, on behalf of his activities during the war.
Dr. Sherman and his family were intent on settling down somehow. He went on to utilize is skills and training in an area of the world were they were sorely needed.
He and his pediatric-nurse wife and two children left England to staff a one doctor hospital in Mazinde; a remote part of what was then Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He was a medical officer to a large sisal estate.
While in Africa he became an accomplished wildlife photographer, choosing to use a camera rather than a gun. He published a book on the subject, titled Africa on Safari.
After almost ten years, he and his family left East Africa and went to Canada, where he worked in private practice.
He headed the department of preventive medicine for the State of New Mexico and latter fo the State of Michigan. Eventually his work brought him to Jackonsville’s Naval Air Station; doing the Naval equivalent of industrial health research.
Dr. Sherman lived the remainder of his life in St. Augustine, Florida where he died this past April (1994). Dr. Sherman was a man who spent his life saving the lives of thousands of people, literally from all over the world.
Burton Joseph returned to Chicago, Illinois where he married his wife, Sylvia. Burt studied Chemical Engineering a the Chicago Institute of Technology. For many years he was a Chemical Engineer with various chemical companies in Chicago.
He went on to work for the Federal Signal Corporation, where for 25 years he was an account executive for such companies as Goodyear, Hertz and Allied Signal. He retired the first day of 1990.
Mr. Joseph and his wife have two daughters and one son.
He is now writing his WWII memoirs and serves his old group, the 100th Bombardment Group (H) Association as a regional Vice-President.
He is remembered by his old comrades as one of the best Navigators in the unit and was, for many of his missions, a Lead Navigator. He is well known for being the 100th’s Lead Navigator on the Group’s March 4, 1944 Berlin mission. This was the first time the German capital had been hit by the 8th AF. There was a recall on the mission but parts of the 100th failed to hear the recall and Joseph directed them to the target and back to Thorpe Abbotts with no losses.
Two days later on March 6, 1944, Joseph again was the Lead Navigator for the 100th. This was the famous mission #250, as counted by the 8th AF. It was also to Berlin and is the subject of several publications and at least one work of art.
The 100th was to lose the services of Lt. Joseph only 9 days later (15 Mar 1944) at Brunswick. As was so often the case, or so it seems, this mission to Brunswick would have completed his combat tour.
The Persistence of “Bitter Burt”
Major George W. Gunderley, USAF Retired
My first meeting with Burton M. Joseph (Once Capt. B. M. Joseph, USAAF) was at a belated medal presentation ceremony, in the base commander’s office at O’Hare International Airport Air Reserve Station in Chicago. Burt was presented the Purple Heart for wounds and injuries that he suffered on his 25th bombing mission during WW II. He was the navigator, and one of three survivors, of a B-17 from the 100th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, flying out of England. Their plane was shot down while returning from and incendiary bombing raid near Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, on 15 March 1944. The plane received a direct flak hit and exploded. During the subsequent conversations, while he and I traded stories of POW experiences, a fascinating story evolved that is worth telling.
During his parachute exit from the plane, Burt received a flak wound, and was severely burned about the upper face and hands. He also had the misfortune to make his parachute decent and landing into a blazing building where his face and hands were further burned. He was rescued from an angry mob of civilians by a member of the Wehrmacht, who captured him, and had to hold off the mob with his rifle.
After capture, he and the engineer-gunner were taken to the hospital at a nearby Luftwaffe Base, where they were given first aid for their wounds and burns. Subsequently, they were transported to the Luftwaffe interrogation center near Wetzlar. Burt’s stay here was brief, due partially to his fearsome appearance, and also probably due to his truculence with the German interrogators for not getting him in a hospital for treatment. His attitude and appearance apparently impressed the Germans because they transferred him to the German Lazarette (hospital) near Obermassfeld, which was used for the treatment of severely injured Allied POWs.
The Lazarette was staffed by members of the British Army Medical Corps who had been captured at Dunkirk and in North Africa. Although eligible for repatriation, they had chosen to remain in Germany in order to treat the ever increasing number of Allied prisoners. It was hear, at Obermassfeld, that the really interesting part of the story begins; it was to end — more or less — in the United States in October 1993.
At the POW Lazarette, Burt underwent a series of skin grafts to his upper face by British doctor Major J. B. Sherman. In Burt’s words, “all of the Lazarette’s staff and one other man who helped me in another way, were genuine heroes. Without the skill of an excellent plastic surgeon such as Major Sherman, it is likely that I would have remained one of those horribly disfigured scarfaces that came out of the war. “
While waiting for his skin graft to heal Burt became acquainted with a fellow prisoner-patient who, in Burt’s words, “had a considerable stabilizing effect on me. ” It should be mentioned here that because he had been shot down on his 25th mission, and had expected to be rotated home upon his return to England, Burt had become so distressed that he had earned the appellation of “Bitter Burt. “
The prisoner-patient with whom Burt had become acquainted was British Captain John Arundell, who had been a POW for several years. He had escaped several times and was finally confined by the Germans in Colditz Castle, an infamous POW facility, where he contracted tuberculosis in the stone dungeons. He was at the Obermassfeld Lazarette being treated prior to, and in preparation for his repatriation to England. Here again Burt’s word; “His illness however, did not prevent us having many hours of pleasant conservation. During discussions about his home and his feeling regarding nature. I began to learn about tranquillity and peace of mind, although I probable did not realize it at the time. Arundell was a never failing spirit, and as serene an individual as I have ever encountered. I was pleased, when permitted, to take a parole walk through the fields around the hospital, to pick wild flowers for Arundell’s bedside. It was a great satisfaction to see his face light up when I brought in few bright blossoms. ” Burt was to learn later that Captain Arundell was Lord Arundell of Wardour, and that he died within two weeks of his arrival in home in England following his repatriation.
After his recuperation, Burt was sent to Stalag Luft III, near Sagan in what is now Poland. There followed the usual POW camp experiences of starvation, forced march evacuations, liberation, and eventual return home to a successful civilian career.
Nearly fifty years later, and about the time that he was awarded the Purple Heart, Burt decided to try to find Lord Arundell’s family and Major Sherman, or his surviving family, to personally express his gratitude. He started his search with the British consul’s office in Chicago, who in a rather short time was able to locate Arundell’s nephew, Major General Patrick F. Fagen, Ret. , CB, MBE. , and his mother the Honorable Iabel Barker, Lord Arundell’s sister. This resulted in correspondence that continues today.
Burt next turned his efforts to locating Major Sherman. At the consular office’s suggestion, he contacted the Royal College of Surgeons. This resulted in their sending an inquiry to the Ministry of Defense, and to the Wellcome Institue for the History of Medicine. The Wellcome Institute suggested contacting the Head of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Burt also received the assistance of General Fagan in his contacts with the Army. After much correspondence and cross referencing, he finally received a copy of the Medical Register from the College listing Major John B. Sherman’s last known address, from 1977, in Bedforshire, England. It also listed previous addresses for him in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Peace River, Alberta; Lansing, Michigan; Birmingham, England; and the Mazinde Estate, Tanganyika. It was obvious that Burt had tackled a difficult gentleman to track down.
In a letter marked “Last Ditch Effort” to the Bedfordshire address, Burt pursued his subject. His letter was forwarded to Dr. Sherman’s daughter in the North of Scotland on the Isle of Islay. She informed him that her father was now 90 years old and living in St. Augustine, Florida, with his son and daughter-in-law, and provided the address and phone number. Burt followed up with letters and a phone call to St. Augustine, and hopes to visit Dr. Sherman in the near future.
Bitter Burt is bitter no longer. His dogged persistence in pursuit of those who aided him and the opportunity to express his gratitude has resulted in great personal satisfaction and the tranquillity he sought. Was that not one of the lessons he learned from Captain Arundel in the Lazarette in Obermassfeld? A POW camp is a strange place to expand your knowledge of humanity.
From The Friends Journal published by the USAF Museum Foundation, Inc.
Burton Joseph did visit with Dr. Sherman in 1994, just prior to the death of Dr. Sherman. . pw