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Group History

Dutch Newspaper Article on Salvo Sal

 
Lt. William H. McDonald 

Endstation Opsterland 

By Ernst Huisman June 5th, 1975

The end of the two Flying Fortresses

After the disaster with the Wellington at Terwispel in September 1941 more than two years passed before another aircraft found its end in the municipality Opsterland. In the meantime the American Air Force started to participate on the war in Europe at August 17th, 1942. The aircraft that on Friday October 8th, 1943 as fourth crashed in Opsterland at the Poasen (road) near the village Hemrik was an American Boeing B-17, a four motor bomber also named “Flying Fortress”. 

In total there has been build 12. 677 of this type of aircraft in America. These machines had a length of more than 22 meter and a wingspan of almost 32 meter. Each one of the motor had a horsepower of 1200. The top speed was 480 kilometers per hour. For that time it was a big and fast aircraft with a heavy armament to keep of hostile fighters. 

On October 8th there were 399 attacks by bombers on Bremen and the nearby Vegesack. Of these 30 aircrafts crashed, 26 were heavily and 150 were light damaged. The heavy losses were partly due to the fact that the American, in opposite to the English, attacked at daytime for reason of more precision. 

One of the hit aircrafts had that much damage that it came into difficulties when it came to our environment. It made, from south east flying in formation, a wide bow around Gorredijk, hereby accompanied by a second aircraft, probably also hit, that disappeared in north western direction. The aircraft lost altitude when flying for the direction of Beetsterzwaag and Hemrik and where it, after flying some rounds, at ca. 16:00 hr (4 pm) grounded. 
It came flying from the north east side of the Oud Diep, touch ground just south of the Heawei (road) at Wijnjeterp, taxied jumping for 400 or 500 meters over a field with potatoes, crossed the Poastwei (road, was the village boundary) and stand still at a corner of a farm field at Hemrik. 

Landing on a harrow
At the farm field where the aircraft stand still two men where lifting potatoes. A part was already done and that afternoon harrowed by a farmer, to make the field ready for seeding of rye. Because it was time to milk the cows the farmer had brought at ca 15:30 hr the harrow to the corner to the field and took the horse to the farm at the Heawei (road). Half an hour later the aircraft stand still on the harrow. The two men in the field obvious run away when the aircraft approached. 

The touch with a thick oak tree in the verge caused that the oak was cut off to one meter probably causes the stand still. The left wing of the aircraft snapped off and was lying on the road causing that the German Wehrmacht has to reroute the traffic. The closest motor to the body of this left wing overturned a ditch and ended against a heap of silage. 

Almost immediately after stand still the Flying Fortress set at fire. Exploding munitions made an awful noise, the bullets whizzed through the air. Years later still cartridges of bullets were found when the ground was plowed up. 

The crew had bailed out on the last piece of the flight except for one. This was the 19 years old sergeant and Waist Gunner Douglas Agee from Texas who was stuck by a bombarding. 

A young maternity nurse living at Tijnje and visiting a house nearby was soon at the aircraft that at the front already heavily was at fire. She managed to pull out the man of the tail of the aircraft and lay him on the ground near the aircraft. Later other bystanders put him on a more save distance from the fire. 
The landing of the pilotless aircraft most likely has been on the automatic pilot. 

The Germans of the enemy aircraft warning service at the tramway southern of the Compagnonsvaart (canal) under Wijnjeterp were soon at the spot. They left the body for a couple of days at the roadside as a deterrent, as pointed by one of the watchman. 
The young American was buried on October 11th, 1943 at the Reformed Church at Beetsterzwaag and after war at the beginning of November 1945 reburied at the American War Cemetery Margraten (province Limburg), the Netherlands. The remains of SSGT Douglas H. Agee were returned to the U. S. for interment at a private cemetery in the state of Texas. 

During the landing the aircraft lost several parts of the tail and also a filled fuel tank on the field with potatoes at eastern of the Poasen (road). Farmers nearby gratefully used this fuel thrown into their lap. 

The Germans ordered a driver to take the rests of the parts of the aircraft to the tram on the switch at Wijnjeterp. The harrow, that was pushed inside the ground but not damaged, made one the German watchmen remarking that even the enemy will kill them by a harrow. 

The ground on the spot where the aircraft has landed was soaked by oil in such a way that years afterwards nothing would grow on that spot. Later after the top layer was removed and other soil was put on growing was again possible. 

Shelter in the church
All others bailed out. The crew of a Flying Fortress usual existed of ten men. A pilot, a copilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator / gunner, top turret gunner / engineer, and 4 gunners: ball turret gunner, waist gunners, tail gunner. Most likely nine men bailout. Usually the number of six or seven is mentioned by people who had seen the landing. This can be caused because the first ones came down near Oosterwolde – Makkinga. Others came down near Hoornsterzwaag – Jubbega. The last at one came down southern of Ikenhiem near Gorredijk, were today the road Nijlân is. He broke his leg. The Germans on the watch post at the Lijnbaan (road) at Gorredijk mentioned him and he was soon caught and a prisoner. 
The last one who bailed out was Lieutenant William Mc. Donald from Louisiana. He landed on a farm field with beets northern of the Compagnonsvaart (canal), just western of the Pluzerswyk under Lippenhuizen. He hided his parachute and hided himself in the field with beets. A member of the resistance looked for contact and when it was dark he took him to the Reformed Church of Lippenhuizen where the man stayed for the night. After a day in church the same man of the resistance took him into his home, where was also a hidden Jewish woman who spoke English. 

Lost in a snowstorm
Later on he was brought to Drachten in civilian clothes and with a false identity card where he stayed till December. Than he went on the so called “Pilot line” together with the navigator Carl Spicer from Ohio and the bombardier Frank McGlinchey from New York who were after their landing came together at Wolvega and than brought to Drachten. They all went under guidance by train southward to the neural Spain and should go from thereon return to their base. They succeeded to go over the Pyrenees and thus be on neutral ground, but got lost in a snowstorm. So they came back on France ground and ran up straight against a German patrol. They were sent as prisoners to a war camp in Poland and stayed there for the rest of the war till the liberation. 

Lt. William H. McDonald