On November 26, 1944, a heavy American bomber crashed behind the Oerier Forest after an attack on the hydrogenation works in Misburg. All nine crew members were killed. In the following years or decades after the war, a small story developed about this crash, which is told here chronologically.
November, 26th 1944 – The crash
Around noon on November 26, 1944, 1Lt. David Bennett’s crew of nine were in their bomber B24-„Ark Angel“ on their way to attack the synthetic oil plant in Hannover-Misburg.
The American Air Forces flew their missions to nazi-Germany during the day while the British allies bombed after dark. Flying by day-light offered better possibilities to identify the targets but the Americans had to pay the price of heavy losses.
The B-24, with the serial number 44-40073, belonged to the 491st Bombing Group (BG), 853rd Bombing Squadron (BS). At the end of the war it was learned that among all B-24 Groups the 491st Bombing Group had flown most missions had flown most missions.
Symbol of the 491. BG
Symbol of the 853. BS
Together with the 492nd the 491st BG was based at North-Pickenham. Until August 1944 their air base had been Metfield.
This November 26 would bring the Group the heaviest losses sustained during the whole war, for which after the war they were awarded with the „Distinguished Unit Citation
Over Misburg, the Ark Angel came under German anti-aircraft fire and was attacked by German interceptors. On that day, the German air defense once again mobilized all available aircraft. In addition, the bomber group no longer had any escort, as it had to turn back from Misburg due to a lack of fuel.
The „Ark Angel“ was probably attacked by FW-190 fighters, the pilot was unable to maintain altitude and the aircraft went down.
A pilot in the bomber stream who witnessed that Ark Angel was losing altitude and was leaving the formation later reported:
Shortly afterwards the heavy bomber crashed in a field between the woods of Oerie and Jeinsen. From later eyewitness reports we know that the bomber lost parts of its tail approximately 2km to the northeast. The plane must therefore have been uncontrollable.
Some of the crew members managed to bail-out but were too low for their chutes to break their fall. Some crew members lay in the field, some hung in the trees with their parachutes and others burned to death in their seats.All nine crew members lost their lives:
|David N. Bennett
Ardennes American Cemetery, Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgien
|Jessie F. Blount
|George H. Engel
|Raymond O. McKee
Baton Rouge National Cemetery, Louisiana
|Irving B. Star
State of New York
|Pete Patrick Jr.
Ardennes American Cemetery, Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgien
Ardennes American Cemetery, Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgien
|Charles E. Hixson
|Henry P. Stovall
Some of the inhabitants of Oerie, frightfully disturbed by the crash of the heavy bomber, ran to the site. Some of the dead were burned and still in their seats. The dead were recovered and buried in the Oier cemetery by French prisoners of war and the gravedigger.
After the war, the dead were reburied by the Americans.
That day 96 men of the 491st Group lost their lives, 94 became prisoners of war. The losses on the German side (fighter pilots) were also very high.
In Misburg, at least 45 civilians died that day from the one direct hit on a protective bunker alone. The youngest victim was 7 years old.
1989 Visit from the USA
On a hot summer day in 1989 Hannelore Pohl met three strangers in the cemetery in Oerie.They asked her if she perhaps knew if American airmen were buried there.
Three of the visitors were Danes, the other an American lady. They were looking for a bomber crew. Mrs. Pohl knew that the airmen had been reinterred at the end of the war but had no idea where.
She showed the three visitors the crash site behind the woods of Oerie and told them the story of November 1944.
Mrs. Else Mensing, Hannelore Pohl’s mother, who had been present when the crash happened told them her personal story: The 24 years old had been on her bicycle on the way from Bennigsen to Oerie.
When going through neighbouring village Hüpede she saw several foreign soldiers (probably survivors of the crashed „The Unlinited“) standing in a ditch under guard of a couple of men. She wanted to bring flowers to the cemetery of Oerie on this „Remember the Dead“ Sunday.
On the road leading to the farm of her future husband Heinrich Mensing, she learned that an aircraft had probably crashed behind the woods of Oerie. Driven by curiosity she went with her sister-in-law Hilde into this forest. Having arrived there, they discovered that they were the first to visit the crash site.
The nose of the aircraft had plowed into the field and the wings had broken off. When approaching the wreck they saw the burned and still buckled up corpses of the crew.
The pilots were in their seats. Totally upset they cycled home and told the people in the village what they had seen. That was all Else Mensing learned about the crew.
Some weeks later a certain Charles K. Johnson wrote a letter to Hannelore Pohl on behalf of John T. Keen, a former member of the 491st Bomb Group, thanking her for her assistance in the search of the crew members.
The American lady, Sue A. Thornton, later wrote to the Chronicle of the Bomb an account of her visit to Oerie. (Read below)
1990 „The Ark Angel 45 years later“
45 years after the “Ark Angel” crashed, American Sue A. Thornton set out to search for the site of the crash. She wrote down the experiences of her search:
When Fred Thaxton asked that I help find the graves of the crew of „Ark Angel“ 44-40073 that had been shot down over Germany on the last Sunday in November, 1944, I knew only that they were supposed to have been buried in the village of Oerie somewhere north and west of Hildesheim.
When I checked the map, I realised that my Danish family and I would be driving through Hildesheim.
As we could not find Oerie on any of our maps of Germany , I asked some German friends if they could tell us where it was. We were told to look in the area of Pattensen, which is a small town north of Hildesheim and south of Hannover.
The next day as we drove out in the country we thought we’d never find it.At last we came to sighn „Oerie“ pointing down a narrow side road and in few kilometers we were there. As we drove towards the village, we stopped at a cemetery.
Like everything in Germany it was neat, clean and attractive. As soon as we got out of the car, a woman riding a bicycle stopped to ask if she could help us, and minutes later, a man driving a car also stopped.
I’m sure that on a deadend road to a tiny village, it was unusual to see a car with three Danes and one American.
Imagine our surprise when, after being so discouraged about even finding Oerie, two people came along, both of them knew about the plane. The man said that farmers were still finding parts of the plane in their fields.
The woman, Hannelore Pohl, told us, that the graves had been moved by the Allied military authorities about three years after the war. Hannelore told us that, although the plane crashed before she was born, she had heard about it all her life. As it was the only plane to crash near Oerie, it was part of the village folklore.
She also told us that it crashed on property owned by her father, who is dead and who at that time was mayor of the town. She invited us to her house for something cold to drink.
Driving to her house we realised that Oerie is a typical German village consisting of 15 to 20 houses altogether. While we were at Hannelore’s house, we talked about the crash.
She told us that the villagers had never known whether the crew was English or American. By this time the whole village knew about us, and everyone was excited that finally they knew which country the crew was from. Hannelore brought out a large framed aerial photo of Oerie and the fields surrounding it.
I took a picture of it where it showed the crash site. She and I exchanged adresses and she promised, if any other parts of the plane turned up, to send a piece.
For example, just a few weeks before we were there, a farmer had found a piece of a propeller. We then walked the field where the plane had crashed. As we were walking her mother came to meet us and and to tell us her memories of the crash. She said that everyone in the village was very frightened because it was the first crash any of them had seen. They had all ran across the fields to the plane where all of the crew members were still in the plane but they had burned to death. The mother was anxious that we know what they did with the bodies and told us three that they gave each a proper Christian burial.
We thought this was remarkable for a poor village in the middle of a war zone to treat their enemy in such a humane way.
I wish the families of the crew members could have been there to see the peaceful scene. It would have been a comfort to know that the remains were well cared for by the villagers. I would like the people who knew the members of the crew to know how my Danish family and I felt about the experience we had that day.
We began by feeling that we were doing you a favor but one that we were happy to do. By the time we left, we realised that we should feel grateful for being able to be there in the village, to meet the people, to answer a question those people had for 45 years, and to get the information for the American families and friends of the crew.
Oerie in Summer 1989Reprinted by permission from the Ringmasters‘ History“ and authorised by Nelson Leggette, Editor, Ringmasters‘ Log, slightly adjusted by John Meurs where the original document was unreadable
1991 A letter from Mr. Keene
Mr. Keene, chief of the ground crew of the „Ark Angel“, thanks the Oerians in a letter after Sue A. Thornton’s visit:
Febr. 11. 1991
Hello Hannelore: I am sorry have not written you before now.
Excuse me for this, have put it off so long. I was the crew chief on B-24 aircraft that crashed in your village Nov. 26. 1944.
Have not at present time located any family member of the crew that perished.
Hannelore, we were not enemy of German people, only leader and form of government we were not for. As for your people we have always respected and thought well of before and after the conflict.
I want to thank you and your people who were so kind and humane to give these men a Christian burial, minister and coffin.
You can rest assured that God almighty will reward each and everyone of you. The quite, beautiful cemetery where your people buried this crew was a beautiful sight. I enclose a small photo of the Ark Angel.
If you have any photo or find a small part of aircraft, I sure would be grateful for this. Hannelore, the remains were moved from your cemetery to a National Cemetery in Belgium One Part of the translation mentioned that the Church Congregation desires to erect a memorial stone in the Oerie Cemetery.
I ask of your please send me a picture of this and translation, also I would if allowed to make a donation to this effort.
Last Oct. we had our group memorial in Dayton, Ohio to those at the group. At long last this has been done. In this reunion I gave all facts to members attending, of the humane and Christian deed the people of your village did for this crew.
Every one was so thankful and appreciative. Hannelore again I want to thank you, your family and the people of your village.
Many thanks for this Christian and human deed.
God bless all of you.
Again many thanks
John T. Keene
1998 Contact on the Internet
Having gained access to internet, I tried using the different searching engines to find if somewhere on the net something could be found about Oerie.
I arrived on a web site of veterans of WW II or, more precisely, on an extensive site where people were looking for information about B-24 aircraft. I searched this site for „Oerie“ and found a message from a certain John R. Robinson.
He was looking for information about a B-24 „Ark Angel“ that had been shot down between Oerie and Sarstedt.
John Robinson had read the story of Sue A. Thornton about Oerie, and was looking on internet for more details about the crash. I could not believe my eyes, and immediately sent him immediately an e-mail. I told him everything I knew about Ark Angel. (At that moment in time, I had no idea that the bomber was „Ark Angel“, to me it was just the B-24).
We exchanged some e-mails and told each other what we knew about „Ark Angel“. The Tail-Gunner of „Ark Angel“, Henry Paul Stovall, was a relativ of John R. Robinson. On the initial handwritten lists, only 7 of the 9 crew members were mentioned and the Robinsons were hoping that Paul had somehow survived the crash.
I had to tell him, alas, that all 9 airmen had lost their lives.
On February 14, 1998 I received the following e-mail from John Robinson:
While I am not a veteran of WWII, I am a retired US Air Force Colonel and I have experienced war myself. I know what war does to people. When I read Hannelore’s story in the 491 Bomb Group history about the villagers giving the crew of this enemy bomber a christian burial, I was deeply moved. By November 1944, the Allied air offensive was inflicting immense suffering on the German people. For the people of your village to treat the crew members of the Ark Angel in that way shows that they understand that all men are a part of the body of christ, and that all believers are brothers on his church. The villagers of Oerie are a shining example of what it means to be a Christian…“
2001 The crash goes „online“
When I set up the Oerie.de site in April 2001, I thought about which topics I should take up and which stories I should tell. Since the crash was always present in my family, I decided to put everything I knew about it online. In the summer and fall of that year I contacted John Meurs via the veterans website, who wrote a book about the crashes of November 26, 1944. Through him I received an incredible amount of information about the aircraft and its crew.
Even after publishing my site on November 26, 2001, I met many people with whom I was able to exchange information. Now that was over 20 years ago (as of 2023), but it was unbelievable how many friends, relatives and former comrades looked for information on the Internet.
While compiling the information for this page, I met many people who, almost 60 years later, are still interested in the fate of the soldiers on both sides who died back then.
At the same time, I also became aware of many horrific details about the tragedies that occurred among the flight crews and those on the ground. To research these pages, I also contacted a Misburg resident who survived the nights of bombing as a child.
Although this story describes the fate of a single American crew, it is dedicated to the victims on all sides who died in this terrible war.
My special thanks go to John Meurs, who helped me complete my information about the Ark Angel. I would also like to thank Allan Blue, John R. Robinson and Bob Godshall for the recordings, and everyone else who helped me with my research.
And in 2001, with the knowledge of 2023, it was impossible to foresee what would follow in the following years. After initial contact with family members, a small memorial stone was finally inaugurated in the Oerier cemetery in the summer of 2010….
2009 The visit of the McKee family
Arrival in Oerie
„My father and I are headed to Munich on 20 Oct 09, and are planning… of coming by train to Hannover, then by car to Oerie so see where his oldest brother died in the Arch Angel….“
With this simple e-mail the McKees announced their trip to visit our little village in 2009. I had no idea which amazing development was arise from this visit…….
Thursday, October 22, 2009, was a gloomy day: temperature hardly over 6°C and with an unpleasant breeze blowing.
At 10.00 o’clock, I had an appointment with Larry, Barney, Kevin and Shawn McKee. The two brothers Larry and Barney as well as their sons Kevin and Shawn originate from Louisiana and Mississipi.
They had travelled thousands of kilometers from that nice and warm State to that small, unobtrusive and, on that particular morning, chilly village called Oerie. They came with a purpose: to visit the places where Raymond Otto McKee had lost his life in 1944 and where he had originally been buried.
Raymond Otto McKee had been a member of an American B-24 bomber called „Ark Angel“. After the attack on the synthetic fuel plant in Misburg the „Ark Angel“ crashed behind the Oerier Woods. Raymond was one of the many victims of this ruthless war.
Shortly after 10 o’clock we were waiting for our visitors on the Oerier Square. Also present were two eyewitnesses to the crash, Mr. Fritz-Otto Kreipe and Mr. Horst Swischenko, who were 10 and 12 years old when the bomber came down, Ms. Kim Gallop, journalist with the Leine-Nachrichten, Ms. Sabine Müller, journalist with the Herold, and the Local Mayor Hans-Friedrich Wulkopf. They represented the German side of the story.
The McKees had spent the night in Hannover after having travelled the previous day from Atlanta via Paris to Germany.
When shortly after 10 o’clock a car with Dortmunder plates arrived from the direction of the War Memorial, I knew that this would be the McKee family. We waved and indicated that they should park on the Square.
It was a warm welcome, although it was the first time we met. Until then, I had only be in contact with Kevin via e-mail.
After a short explanation of the planned visit to the crash site and the cemetery of Oerie, our small convoy of cars got on the way.
At the crash site
We parked our cars near the woods. At this moment, the McKees must have realized that they were nearing the spot where almost 65 years ago their brother and uncle had lost his life.
We were standing close together. Behind us the woods, in front of us the empty fields A cold wind was blowing. Larry asked his son Kevin, a preacher, to say a short prayer, and all those present participated, silently and each in his own way.
We then went, accompanied by Mr. Kreipe and Mr. Schwischenko, to that exact spot in the field where almost 65 years ago the bomber had come down. The two German gentlemen, who had been schoolboys in 1944, described where and how they had found the wreck and the bodies of the crew.
The cold wind kept blowing. The eyewitnesses confirmed that, contrary to this day’s chilly weather, November 26, 1944 had showed a clear blue sky. However, the woods and the field haven’t changed since 1944.
There was nothing in the surrounding area, apart from the hidden parked cars, to tell which year you were there. This is what it could have looked like back then.
After the impressive explanations of Mr. Schwischenko and Mr. Kreipe, Larry and Barney asked the two gentlemen to join them on the spot where the main body of the bomber had come down. They deposited nine white roses there; one for each of the deceased airmen . . . .
At the cementery
The Oerie cemetery is small. To the right of the entrance you’ll find a water-pump and right and left along the short gravelled path the graves are neatly laid out. At the back and to the left there is a small chapel built after WW II.
Also at the back of the cemetery you’ll find a relatively large lawn without graves in the shadow of a big weeping willow. On this spot the nine Americans had been buried in 1944 (According to American military documents)
In 1946, the remains were exhumed and re-interred in American military cemeteries in Belgium (Neuville-en-Condroz) and in the Netherlands (Margraten). At a later stage ,Raymond O. McKee found his final place of rest on Baton Rouge National Cemetery in the State of Louisiana.
When we arrived at the cemetery, the McKees were astonished that the part where the crew of „Ark Angel“ had been originally buried had remained unused. We did not spend much time there because of the cold and the wind.
But all of a sudden, Larry asked Mayor Wulkopf if it would be permitted to place a small monument on that particular spot in the cemetery.
The rest of the afternoon we spent in a convivial small party.
The next day, the McKees continued their journey towards Switzerland, where they were received by John and Carien Meurs.
2010 Eddeana und Raymond
It had been the same location but the circumstances were completely different as compared with our first visit in October: the sun was shining and the wind gently touched the green wheat stalks.
Our group (Kim Gallop, Eddeanna Hixson Moore, Raymond Otto McKee, John Meurs and his wife Carien and me) were to meet with Fritz-Otto Kreipe and Horst Swischenko, who as kids had witnessed the crash of the American bomber.
Eddeanna, Raymond, John Meurs and his wife had come to visit Germany, to be more precise Oerie. They had arrived that week-end to unveil on Sunday a monument in the Oerie cemetery. This monument had been presented by the McKee family, of which some members had been in Oerie the previous year to visit this particular spot. (Visit of the McKees)
Sixty-five years earlier the fathers of Raymond and Eddeana had lost their lives in Oerie. Raymond O. McKee and Charles E. Hixson were two of the nine airmen who died in the crash of „Ark Angel“ and these children had made the long trip from the U.S.A. to attend the ceremony in the Oerie cemetery.
But also the presence of John and his wife was something special as he had researched the details of this almost forgotten crash in WW II, paving the way for this gathering on this special location in this small village called Oerie.
And now they were all here. Eddeanna, called Eddi by her mother after her father, came into this world on December 25, 1944, almost a month after her father’s demise. She and Raymond McKee, who was born in April 1945, never knew their fathers.
For both of them it was a very special moment to see the spot where their dads had lost their lives.
The meeting of the guests from the U.S.A and Switzerland with the two eyewitnesses was very friendly and warm. Horst Swischenko had placed a white wooden cross on the exact spot in the field of wheat where the burnt out wreck of the bomber then had lain. When I was here in autumn together with the McKees and heard the stories of the then nine and eleven year old boys, I really had the feeling that this is a special spot of land.
They gave detailed descriptions of the crash site and where some of the bodies had been found. And now a white cross had appeared in the field: like a cross in a cemetery indicates a grave. Also for me it was a poignant sight: what before had looked like an ordinary field had now become a place not only of violent death but also a place of commemoration.
Horst Swischenko and Fritz-Otto Kreipe talked about the crash they witnessed in 1944. While we listened attentively to what they had to say, Eddeana discreetly separated herself from our little group and went straight through the green wheat stalks toward the white cross. There she spent several minutes on the spot where her father lost his life. It was a poignant scene.
It was a poignant scene. Again I realized that each of the fifty million victims of WW II carries a story worth being told, stories that honor and remember those who died, and hopefully to serve as a warning to the present generation.
To the dead as a reminder and to the living as a warning.
2010 The memorial on the cementery of Oerie
The wish associated with the McKees‘ visit to the cemetery in October 2009 to erect a memorial stone in the Oerier cemetery was to be fulfilled in May 2010.
In the spring, the preparations for the selection of the appropriate boulder and the inscription on the plaque as well as the installation were made and implemented:
At the end of May, people were invited to the official inauguration of the memorial stone. Together with Eddeana and Raymond, a memorial stone with a small plaque was unveiled at the end of May 2010.
In addition to many inhabitants of Oerie and Hüpede, Pastor Stuckenberg also came. She said a short devotion to those present:
God, you source of life, you make us dream of a new world. There the water of life will flow, there trees will bear green leaves and nations will find healing. We thank you for every sign, every appearance of this world: for people who work for peace do the steps – no matter how small they are – towards others. We thank you, that there have always been and are people at all times, who act humanely: without looking for your own benefit or damage to ask.. Here in this cemetery let us think of the events of 1944, think of the soldiers, who lost their lives and think of those which they buried in their midst. From all this you, God, new relationship, new friendship let arise, forgiveness and understanding, as we wish all over the world. So we ask you for all people, who suffer from the wounds of our world of lovelessness and inhumanity, at every blow, at every shot, at every bomb; ask you for the countless victims of violent conflicts, for the families who fear for people, for the women and children, who suffer from violence and catastrophic conditions and become innocent victims, for the soldiers who are afraid of death: Give to them and to all of us Signs of your new world. Let's keep doing new things together pray for peace and put ourselves in place through connecting words and actions, by sharing, by breaking down what separates us by resisting violence. God, you source of life, you make us dream of a new world. There the water of life will flow, there trees will bear green leaves and nations will find healing. We rely on this image of hope. You give us the courage already from you, the source of life, to draw strength, God from eternity to eternity. Amen
There is a small plaque on the memorial stone with a few words about the event and a thank you from the McKee family:
At this point, it is my responsibility, who is responsible for this website and has accompanied the entire development history from the establishment of the first contacts with the relatives to the inauguration of the memorial stone, to explain that the content of the inscription was carefully considered. This means that I made a conscious effort to indirectly take into account the realities of the time during the last months of the war when expressing the McKee family’s gratitude.
I already knew from German documents in 2010, when the text for the inscription was coordinated with the McKees, that burying Allied pilots in German cemeteries was a form of burial accepted by German authorities. It is also known from German witness statements that the local gravedigger buried the bodies of the crew with the support of French prisoners of war. That’s why it was important to me when we formulated the inscription that we talked about a dignified burial iat the cemetery. This formulation best summarizes the circumstances of Nazi Germany in decline.
2010 Visit of the Robinsons
Unfortunately, John Robinson, the man who got me interested in the bomber crash in 1998, didn’t make it to the day the memorial stone was unveiled. Now he had arrived in Oerie a day later. Now, within six months, several Americans had come to Oerie to look at the bomber crash site. Fritz-Otto Kreipe kindly agreed to tell the story of the crash from his perspective at the time.
2013 The red oak
And anyone who thought that the story was now over was wrong:
It shaped the image of the Oerier cemetery, but a storm in the fall of 2013 tore it down so badly that a large branch broke off and it ultimately had to be felled: the large weeping willow at the Oerier cemetery.
The willow stood in the back right corner and gave the cemetery a peaceful appearance with its expansive crown and long willow branches.
And since 2010, the large boulder has stood in front of its mighty trunk.
The boulder fit perfectly under the willow but now the boulder stood alone… The idea of planting a new tree came up within the small circle of those who had come together to erect the boulder and the plaque . And after long discussions about the type of new tree, it was decided at the beginning of 2014 that an American red oak (Quercus rubra) should be planted behind the boulder. The oak and its planting were donated by the McKee family from the USA and the Pohl family from Oerie.
After the political committees gave their blessing to the new planting, the oak was planted in March 2014.
Since the oak had to maintain a distance from the existing cemetery fence, the boulder also had to be moved before planting. The gardening company had brought a small excavator with them, which first carefully pushed the boulder, which weighed several tons, including the plaque, forward.
The hole was then dug and the red oak, which was already an impressive size of over 3m, was professionally planted.
Here’s to the oak becoming a beautiful tree in the next few decades and shaping the appearance of the Oerier cemetery.
Pictures and documents
There is an “Individual Deceased Personal File” (IDPF) for every fallen U.S. soldier. These IDPFs contain all surviving documents related to the soldier’s death. There is extensive correspondence at Jessie Blount’s IDPF regarding the transfer from the Belgian mass grave to his hometown of Gainesville, Texas. His IDPF also contains many documents from his wife and parents. If you are interested in further information, please contact me.