SATCHA LASS Memorialized in German History
by Cindy Goodman
A cold, bright February 4, 1944 found the 100th Bomb Group (H) headed for Frankfurt, Germany. Carrying loads of incendiaries and high explosives, the bombers flew a path straight through the heart of the German Flak positions known to the young flyers as “Flak Happy Valley.” The intense and accurate flak took its toll that day, and the 100th lost three planes. One of them, a plane known as Satcha Lass, would fly into the history of a small German village. There she would be forgotten for a time.
Fifty-two years later, in November 1996, Grant Fuller, Association Executive Vice President, began receiving correspondence from Dr. Alfonso Rooster of Bonn, Germany. Since 1991 Rooster had been seeking information on the crash of Satcha Lass. He began his letter stating that he was only four years old the day aircraft D230758W went down in a light crash on Feb. 4, 1944. Though small, he remembered the big glass nose of the engine, and that it was transported away some days afterward. He learned later that the Cologne plant where she had been taken was destroyed by Allied air-raids, and according to Rooster, “That is how the story of the B-17 Satoshi Lass ends.” Thankfully it is not the end of the story for her crew, or for the small village she touched.
Fuller searched the 100th historical data and sent the information to Dr. Rooster. Century Bombers stated only that Satcha Lass was lost on 4 Feb. 44. It was believed that the crew had successfully bailed out and been taken prisoner. Through further correspondence, Rooster revealed that Satcha Lass had crashed landed near the small town of Roedingen where the crew was taken prisoner. In the course of reconstructing a history for it’s 1150 anniversary, the town was very interested in learning what happened to the young fliers who had touched their lives 50 years ago.
Two of these townsmen are Father Josef Mueller, and 83 year old Catholic Priest who took pictures of the downed aircraft, and 73 year old Abraham Vroegop, who also took pictures. Another is Franz Felix Schueller, the grandson to the Farmer Wilhelm Fliessgarten, who first met the crew when they crashed in his field.
Quickly, members of the 100th went to work. Fuller contacted Paul West to check the data base for further information on the Scatcha Lass crew. West confirmed that five of the crewmembers had been listed in TAPS. Ross McPhee (P), Martin Keker (NAV), Herbert Shope (ROG), Gordon Scarlett (TTE), and Blon Pate (WG). The other five are Fred Nelson (CP), Bernard Levine (BOM), Leberto Bergagozzi (BTG), David Shaw (WG), and Jacob Delamar (TG).
Subsequently, Dr. Roedingen, on behalf of Roedingen, has contacted surviving crewmembers or their widows. The German television station WDR became interested in the story and has begun work on a documentary of the Scatcha Lass saga.
Dorothy Scarlett, the widow of Gordon Scarlett was still a member of the Association and was contacted. Mrs. Scarlett was able to give addresses for three surviving crewmembers. When I talked with her, she was full of enthusiasm for the project. Crewmembers Nelson and Levine were especially helpful, and we send great thanks to them for their inspiring interviews.
In his Chronicle of Roedingen, published in 1996, Franz Felix Schuleller wrote:
From 1942 on, the attacks of allied bombers increased, and many people still remembered the nights they had to spend in cellars due to the growing number of air alerts. One of the most noteworthy war events was the emergency landing of a four-motor bomber on a field close to the Muehlenend, which was equipped with a crew of ten persons. The German air defense (most probably in the Cologne area) had damaged the control stick of the airplane, which had flown an attack on Frankfurt, so that the “Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress II” could only fly in vast circles and the crew was forced to decide an emergency landing. Farmer Wilhelm Fliessgarten from Muehlenend, who had been working on a field nearby, observed the landing maneuver and hurried to the machine, which was marked, which was marked with the labeling “Sahcha Lass – D 230758W.’ It was Friday, February 4, 1944. (See Maps 1 & 2)
Eight crewmembers had already left the airplane. One of the Americans, who was able to speak and understand some German, asked Wilhelm Fliessgarten, if they were in Belgium. The clarification of the facts provoked considerable irritation among the Americans, who now seemed rather shocked. The speaker indicated to Wilhelm Fliessgarten, that two or more crewmembers were still on board preparing the blasting of the machine. Fliessgarten tried to convince them to give up this idea and in spite of communication problems he was successful. After a short debate among the Americans, they renounced on the blasting and contented themselves with destroying a device, which they evidently wanted to prevent from falling into the hands of the enemy. Moreover, they burned some documents. Finally, they joined Wilhem Fliessgarten, who brought them to the village, where they were first of all accommodated in a camp for prisoners of war in the “Saal Sons”, where, however, they stayed for a short tome only. Unfortunately, nothing more is know about their future destiny.”
In another history, called “Iven Report”, first published in 1995, mayor Iven of Elsdorf reports his part in the drama. Iven was the last representative heading the council offices (Stadtverwaltung) at Elsdorf during the period of National Socialism. Due to circumstances, his duties were of a more practical nature. His report on an emergency landing of a damaged American plane of 4 February 1944 is as follows.
At noon on Friday, 4 February 1944, I was phoned at 12:12 p.m. by my department in Elsdorf. They informed me, that a damaged American plane heading west had just passed over the village of Elsdorf and would probably be landing near Oberembt where I live. When the plane passed at an altitude of about 30 meteres (90ft) over my house, I saw the pilot retract again the gear, which was already extended by half, and start a belly landing. As I had to assume that they were going to land inside my district office, I didn’t wait till the plane was down but immediately set off by car to where I expected it to land. I crossed the hamlet of Bettenhoven and then saw the machine lie on a newly plowed field east of Rodingen. I left my car at the roadside and ran there immediately. An elder Landwacht Member (roughly equivalent to a British homeguardsman; the translator) had already arrived at the place of landing from the west, and after a short discussion we severed the crew, ten of number from their plane. Three of them had already piled up life jackets, parachutes, caps, flares etc. under the right wing from which some fuel was running. They apparently wanted to set the plane on fire and destroy it. This could be prevented. After we had forced the crew to move about 30 metres towards the village of Rodingen, their commander, in the rank of a Lieutenant, suddenly stopped and asked in hardly intelligible German: “Are we in Holland?” I replied in German that he was in Germany and was to continue walking. (Mayor Iven inserts here that he spent some time in Canada and the U.S. and spoke some English.) Then the other crewmembers stopped too, as ordered by their commander and I heard him say: “Damn, so it was the Rhine and not the Meuse !” He then told one of his crew: “Now run back and make the business okay.” In response I drew my pistol and said: “Not a step back or I’ll shoot!” Then the commander said: “That’s not what I meant. The guys just left his cap in the plane and would like to have it back.” I replied: “Come on, don’t do anything stupid and walk on.” In the meantime, some other inhabitants of Rodingen arrived. I had the airmen close in and checked them for weapons. Nothing could be found. The man had been ordered to run back, I made take off his boots as a precaution. I instantly instructed the Landwacht, who had by then arrived, to deliver the prisoners to the soldiers guarding the French forced-labourers at Roedingen. On the country road, the airman got his boots back. When an AA patrol led by a Major showed up, I briefly gave report and then went home. It was superfluous to introduce further measures of my own, as the point of landing was few hundred metres outside my district so that I had no more duties. (See Map 2A)
Co-Pilot, Fred J. Nelson recounted that after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during the bomb run, Satcha Lass was attempting to reach Holland with two engines running away and one on fire. They were losing altitude fast and the plane was all but unmanageable. They didn’t know exactly where they were, but a decision had to be made quickly. Lt. Nelson indicated that the crew was aware of the Frankfurt area’s reputation for killing downed flyers.
The consensus was reached. They would take their chances with the plane, and if they got the fire out before she blew up they would stick with her. Even with that settled, options were running out fast for the crew. When they finally broke through the clouds, they were very close to the ground. The Co-pilot reported that the windshield was completely iced over and visibility was nil, forcing him to find a new path of vision. With great difficulty he was able to get the right side window open and to stick his head out. With Nelson’s head thrust out the window and the wind slapping his face, he and 1st Lt. McPhee belly landed their crippled ship. “We were very lucky,” Nelson understated. Bombardier Levine put it another way, “Fred Nelson saved our lives. He landed that plane with his head out the window.” Thanks to God and an innovative crew, all survived the crash without injury.
Mrs. Dorothy Scarlett recalled that her husband Gordon had been sure that the Germans were about to shoot them on the spot after their crash landing. This would lead credence to the Mayor’s account of holding the group at gunpoint.
(NOTE: Fred Nelson confirmed that at one point a crowd had gathered outside the building where they were being held and pelted it with rocks. The German soldiers told them they would not shoot the crows if they decided to come in and take the Americans. Mr. Nelson was very reluctant to impart this information and I assured him that THIS WOULD NOT BE USED IN ANY PUBLICATION.)
After they crashed the crew crawled out of the plane. They were in a field which was bordered with trees and a farm house about 300 yards away. A farmer came out and began walking toward them. To Levine this was a good sign. Hoping to have contacted someone with the resistance, he tried to communicate with the farmer. While the Bombardier was trying to ascertain where they were, the farmer was telling about relatives he had in Salt Lake City and Chicago. This somewhat lopsided interchange went on until German soldiers arrived. An angry Levine accused the man of stalling for time. The wise farmer answered, “Don’t feel badly, for you the war is over. You will see your families again.”
The crew was taken to a small official looking building that looked to them like a schoolhouse. Here they were questioned by some young pilots of the Luftwaffe, one of which spoke English. At this point they were treated more as curiosity than anything else. This lasted for a couple of hours until an imposing-looking Major showed up. To Levine he was the caricature of the German “Bully” Officer. They were forced to stand at attention while being searched. Their escape kits drew quite a bit of attention. And Levine had quite a bit of money on him. He was the one who held all the money for the crew in the event that Thorpe Abbotts was fogged in and they had to land at an alternate base. The Major was adamant that none of the Germans keep any of the money. In the next few hours the crew was transported near Cologne to Gulag Luft (see map 3). Here the men were interviewed individually and there that a German Sgt looked at Levine’s name tag and said, “You are Juden.” He seemed rather excited at this bit news, but the Captain in the room did not especially respond, and Levine was returned to the cellblock.
Three days later a well-spoken officer came to interrogate the Bombardier. Levine simply stated, “I’m a soldier and you’re a soldier. All you get from me is my name rank and serial number.” To this the German responded, “With a name like Lavine, you might want to comply.” At that point the German opened a folder and began to tell Levine just exactly what he did have on him. Levine was astounded as the Lt read to him the names of every school he had ever attended, the name of his base and every mission on which he had flown. The Germans even knew that Levine’s grandparents had come from Russia. Bernie complimented the Lt on the efforts of his espionage agents. The Lieutenant retorted that US espionage was better because they had more money for the effort. The 10 man crew was kept together at this location for several days before being transported to Frankfurt, the site of their earlier bombing mission.
They were held in solitary confinement and questioned for several more days before being split up. The officers were taken to Stalag Luft I near Barth (see map four). From her the officers could often see the test firing of the huge V2 rockets being produced at Peenemunde. At one point, Levine and all other Jewish POW’s were removed from their fellow prisoners and encamped separately. They were told this action was in anticipation of the final solution. Every night as he lay there, Bernie recalled, he would hear the noise and wonder if this was the time they were coming for him. He said the top American officer of Stalag Luft I told the German commander that he would go to the top of the war crimes list if any Jewish American POW were killed.
April 30th, 1945 the Germans fled the camp. The first week in May the Russians arrived. At one point Levine invited some Russian officers to eat a meal with him. They sighed a book for his Russian Grandparents. Even today he has it. the Satcha Lass officers remained at Stalag Luft I until prisoner exchanges could be made with the Americans.
AC 42-30758 was originally named “Rosie’s Riveters” and was flown by this crew for several missions. However they had decided to rename her, and February 4th was the first time she flew with Satcha Lass painted proudly on her side. When asked how the name was derived, Co-Pilot Fred Nelson just laughed and said, “The “F” series had a tail end that looked like a satche! (Source: Jan Riddling)