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T/Sgt Robert Black – POW

compiled by Mike Faley 5/1/2001

T/Sgt Robert Black (2nd Lt Clarke T. Johnson Crew) Story of first and only mission (mpf)

“I was radio/gunner on Clarke Johnson’s crew that went down on May 24, 1944, BERLIN! That morning our Group had difficulty in forming and we were behind the others as we crossed the Channel and on into Germany. No fighter protection. At 10:30AM, we were hit head on by 40 FW 190’s. I had a 15 inch square piece of steel metal that I stood on at my gun position in the radio room. The plane jumped and shook violently…the piece of metal, other loose items, and I were flung through the air bouncing to the ceiling, the walls and the sides of the plane. When the plane finally settled down Dave Scofield jumped out of his ball turret and lay on the floor of the radio room. He had been hit in the hand, arm, the shoulder and neck on his left side. Larry Barger had vacated his tail gun position and was now sitting on the floor beside the left waist gunner. He pointed to his stomach area. A piece of metal from his flak vest had gone through his body and was sticking out the front and back. He called to me…he wanted us to take it out. I held him while our left waist gunner, Bobby Brooks, put his knee on Larry’s hip and pulled it out. Larry sat down.”

“I reconnected my throat mic and tried to call the pilot. No answer. Finally our bombardier, Will Hahn answered: Calm Down, calm down, what’s our situation back there?… two guys badly injured, our vertical tail is gone, heavy smoke in the bomb bay…both wings have large holes”

BOMBARDIER: “I want to salvo the bombs…let me know when they are gone.” Bombs Away!

Hahn: 5,000 feet, 5,000! Get out! Get out! I called to the other four to get their chutes and bail out.

None had their parachutes near them. Barger crawled back to his tail gun position to get his. All four of us were in line waiting for Barger to get the side door open. It was stuck. He lunged with all his weight and the door flew off with Barger going out also. Four of us ready. The plane went into a steep dive…we were pinned to the floor.”

“I was falling through the air…everything very quiet. I pulled the ring…nothing happened. I ripped the cover off, grabbed the silk and flung it over my head. The parachute opened. I saw one parachute a mile or two away from me. I was over a pasture. A town on one side, a road on another and wooded area. I hit the ground near a dozen black and white cows. One knee twisted under my body…sharp pain but no breaks. I pulled my parachute together and threw it behind some willow trees in a wet area. As I did this, I saw the wing part of a B-17 twisting down, down, down. It hit, a large explosion and a huge ball of fire and smoke. I was stunned. Then from the area of the plane crash a voice weakly called, “Help”. A pause then “Help”. I heard muffled voices then a single pistol shot.”

“I ran through the field towards the woods…Just as I got there two young Germans, twelve or thirteen, came out of the woods with long WW1 rifles…pointed at me and yelled…halt…halt.

We stood there looking at each other. Four civilians ran toward me from the road yelling. They had hand tools and they started beating me. I went down and got up. Went down and got up, went down and stayed down. Two German GI’s ran up and pushed the civilians away. They pulled me to my feet and marched me to the roadside where a jeep like vehicle waited with its driver. I climbed in the small back seat with a German soldier pointing his burp gun at my face. A second jeep pulled along side with Larry Barger in the back seat.”

“I was taken to the town jail, Rottenhahn, Germany. Several hours later, I was fed fish and bread. The jailer’s wife cleaned and bandaged my split finger. Dave Scofield had somehow rolled out of the plane as I did. He was taken to a German hospital (Schleswig) and was returned to the USA after several weeks. Larry Barger was taken to hospital also (Vismars). He had nine major operations while there and was released in May 1945.”

My other seven crewmembers were KIA. I believe my Pilot, Co-pilot, TTE were killed by fighters as they raked us going by. Our Navigator may have been hit also. It appears our Bombardier, two waist gunners, and I were the only ones not hit. In a conversation with Barger years later he mentioned that our plane had exploded. I told him this was not so that it had come apart near the radio room and the ball turret. I then told him about the large wing section that had falled and burned…with no tail section. Tom Tracy was not a member of our crew…we did not have a navigator as ours “washed out” while we were at Langly Field VA. Tracy climbed aboard our plane as we were in take off postion…calling out to me as he hurried through my radio room…I’m your navigator, Lt Tracy…lets get this plane in the air…”

Note from Robert Black to Mike Faley (May 2001)

Your question regarding the shooting of one of my crew is an interesting one.

I saw our plane (less the section back of my radio room) coming down. It turned in the air and looked like a large boomerang circling. It crashed (it had no bombs, remember story?) and burst into a large fireball with much smoke and noise. I believe there was a fence of some sort near the plane that blocked my vision somewhat. I must have been a mile or so away. I did hear muffled voices after the weak “help…… ;help…

I believe the German G.I.s found our G.I. in such poor condition they just shot him. I’ve always felt it was a blessing.

Which crewmember, you asked. Scofield, Barger, and I landed safely. St. Johns and my very good buddy Bobby Brooks, who were terrified, were in the waist as the plane went into its dive. They rode it down.

I think Johnson, Lund, and Beveridge were killed while in the air. That leaves Tracy and Will Hahn. Hahn was alive when we were at 5,000 feet. My guess is they shot Will Hahn.. May God bless him.

In 1989 I located Hahn’s half brother in Helena, Montana. I told him Will had very likely saved my life and the lives of two others. He said he had never thought of his brother as being a hero. I do.

T/Sgt Robert Black