The Crash of B-17 44-8444 'Treble Four'
The Death of Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle
In December 1944 Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle was the Commander of the 4th Combat Bomb Wing of the 3rd Air Division, 8th U.S. Army Air Force in England. 4th Bomb Wing headquarters was located at Rougham Field near Bury St. Edmunds, but General Castle lost his life while flying with the 487th Bomb Group at Lavenham. On 24 December 1944 he commanded the 487th Bomb Group and led the Air Task Force in the largest 8th Air Force action of the war. This was 8th Air Force Mission #760, which involved more than 2,000 B-17s and B-24s, including formation assembly ships, war wearies, and almost anything else that could fly and carry a bomb load.9 The mission was to bomb German airfields and supply lines to stem the German offensive in the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 487th Bomb Group's target was the airfield at Babenhausen, Germany. As Air Leader, General Castle flew in the copilot's position with pilot Lt Robert W. Harriman's lead crew. Their aircraft was Pathfinder B-17G 44-8444 of the 836th Squadron (2G:C). The crew called the aircraft Treble Four after the last three digits of its serial number.13 In the 487th Bomb Group formation, the 838th Squadron was the lead squadron. Treble Four flew in the number 1 position of the lead element. Pilot Lt John H. Edwards and Deputy Air Leader Captain Mayfield R. Shilling flew Pathfinder B-17G 44-8021 in the number 2 position off Harriman's right wing. Pilot Lt Richmond C. Young and copilot Lt Lawrence N. Bross flew B-17G 43-38028 in the number 3 position off Harriman's left wing.4, 15 See the formation flimsy for this mission (Image 13).
Captain Shilling wrote:
I was flying deputy lead to General Castle. Wing and Division assembly was made on time and in perfect weather. The climb was started on leaving the English coast. We reached Belgium at 1130, still climbing. We reached altitude at CP 3 and had just leveled off when we were attacked by fighters, causing the lead aircraft to abort.11
Richmond Young wrote:
About 15-20 minutes before our fighter cover was to rendezvous with us for protection over the target area, the formation was attacked by a large number of German fighters.15
German Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Focke Wolfe Fw-190 fighters attacked the formation just south of Liege, Belgium. The 836th Squadron was the Low Squadron. It lagged behind the rest of the formation, and was attacked by a German Focke Wolfe Fw-190 Sturmgruppe squadron. The Germans attacked in company front formation and decimated the 836th Squadron. The other two squadrons were also attacked. German fighters shot out at least two engines on Treble Four and set the plane on fire. Lt Procopio, the radar navigator, and Lt Rowe, the tail gunner, were wounded.2, 6, 9 Either Lt Harriman or General Castle ordered the crew to bail out. Bombardier Paul Biri did not salvo the bombs because the plane was over troops of the American 1st Army. As Harriman or Castle guided the plane toward an open field away from American infantrymen, another attack caused the right wing auxiliary fuel tank (the Tokyo tank) to explode. The right outer wing was lost and the plane entered a violent right spin at 12,000 feet. The waist and tail sections separated from the aircraft during the spin. Treble Four crashed in an inverted position and the bomb load detonated. Lt Harriman was unable to bail out, and he and General Castle were killed in the crash.2 Eyewitnesses reported that copilot Lt Claude Rowe, the Officer Tail Gunner on this mission, was hit by German strafing in the air after he bailed out. He died at the scene. Radio operator T/Sgt Lawrence Swain fell to his death and was found without his parachute.2, 11 Radar operator Lt Bruno Procopio bailed out and died of his wounds at a military hospital in Liege. Five men survived.2 After Treble Four was shot down, the 487th Bomb Group, commanded by Captain Mayfield R. Shilling, went on to successfully bomb the German airfield at Babenhausen.11 General Castle, Lt Harriman, and T/Sgt Swain are buried at the American Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.1, 7, 8 General Castle was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His portrait hangs in the Swan Hotel at Lavenham, and in the Mayors' Parlour of St. Edmundsbury Borough Council at Angel Corner, Bury St. Edmunds.5
REFERENCE POINT NORTH EAST TIME ALTITUDE COMMENTS LATITUDE LONGITUDE (GMT) (Feet) (Sources in parentheses) LAVENHAM AIRFIELD 52:07:44 00:46:54 0900 226 TAKEOFF (HARBOLD, MAP) ASSEMBLY 7,000 PERFECT WEATHER ALOFT (HODGES, SHILLING) FELIXSTOWE (CP1) 51:57:48 01:21:05 7,000 START OF CLIMB (HODGES, SHILLING, MAP) OSTEND (CP2) 51:13 02:53 1130 STILL CLIMBING (HODGES, SHILLING, MAP) CHECK POINT 3 (CP3) 50:35 05:00 1223 22,000 LEVELED OFF (HODGES, SHILLING) 1st ABORT CALL 50:33 05:23 1229 (HARBOLD, HODGES) 1st ME-109 PASS 1230 (HODGES) 2nd ABORT CALL 1232 (HODGES) 1st ME-109 FIRING PASS 50:30 05:15 1232 22,000 10 MILES SOUTH OF LIEGE (HODGES) 50:30N 05:15E IS 17 MILES WSW OF LIEGE (MAP) MACARTY BAILED OUT 1236 (CRICHTON, HARBOLD, HODGES) BIRI BAILED OUT 12,000 (HARBOLD, HODGES) TREBLE FOUR SPINNING 1237 (HODGES) TREBLE FOUR CRASHED VICINITY VA 400180 1250 (DETERLY) CRASH SITE 50:31 05:28 300 YARDS FROM CHATEAU ENGLEBERMONT (HARBOLD, IMAGES 14 AND 15. HODGES, HARBOLD, AND CRICHTON ALL AGREE ON THIS, BUT CRICHTON SAID 5013N-0528E, AND HODGES SAID 5031N-O5E.) CHATEAU ENGLEBERMONT 50:31:21 05:28:50 800 COORDINATES FROM GOOGLE EARTH (EST) SWAIN'S WATCH STOPPED 1252 (CRICHTON)
Details of the Crash
26 December 1944
The tail section coordinates were 50:31N 05:28E. The main crash site (Nose, Bomb Bay, Left Wing, Right Inboard Wing, and Engines) was approximately one-half mile northeast of the Tail Section, and was said to be 300 yards from the Chateau d'Englebermont, which is at 50:31:21N - 05:28:50E.2, 6, 9 See Images 15 and 16.
All aircraft pieces landed within one half mile of each other, less than 1 minute of arc apart.3 (1 minute of arc = 1 nautical mile = 1.15 statute mile = 1.6 kilometer)
The crash site was approximately 4 miles (7 km) from the first abort call point on an azimuth of 122 degrees. This is 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Hody, and just south of Rotheux-Rimière.
NAME RANK SVC NUMBER POSITION OUTCOME Castle, Frederick W. Brig Gen O-319375 Air Leader/Copilot Died in crash Harriman, Robert W. 1st Lt O-695257 Pilot Died in crash Auer, Edmund F. Captain O-795170 Pilotage Navigator Bailed out; Survived; "A left knee wrenching later required ligament surgery."(Hodges) Biri, Paul L. 1st Lt O-667235 Bombardier Bailed out; Survived MacArty, Henry P. 1st Lt O-712624 Dead Reckon Navigator Bailed out; Survived Procopio, Bruno S. 1st Lt O-700148 Radar Navigator Wounded in aircraft; Bailed out; Died at military hospital Liege Rowe, Claude L. 1st Lt O-819325 Officer Tail Gunner Wounded in aircraft; Bailed out; Hit by German strafing in air; Died on the scene. Hudson, Lowell B. S/Sgt 16113290 Waist Gunner Bailed out; Landed in tree; Survived Jeffers, Quentin W. T/Sgt 16131444 Engineer Gunner Bailed out; Survived Swain, Lawrence H. T/Sgt 39279733 Radio Operator Gunner Bailed out; Found dead without parachute; Parachute may have caught fire
NAME N LAT E LONG COMMENTS CASTLE 50:31 05:28 DIED IN CRASH (HODGES, HARBOLD, CRICHTON) HARRIMAN 50:31 05:28 DIED IN CRASH (HODGES, HARBOLD, CRICHTON) AUER 50:29 05:30 NEAR HODY (HODGES, MAP) BIRI 50:31 05:28 100 YARDS FROM CRASH SITE (HARBOLD, CRICHTON) MACARTY 50:24 05:41 7 MILES SOUTHEAST OF XHOS (HODGES, HARBOLD); 50:24N 05:41E IS 11 MILES ESE OF XHOS (MAP); MACARTY LANDED AT SPARMONT. (ROGISTER); SPARMONT IS 3 MILES (5 KM) SE OF XHOS (MAP) PROCOPIO BETWEEN SPARMONT AND XHOS (CRICHTON, ROGISTER) ROWE BETWEEN FRAITURE AND SENY, 10 KM FROM THE CRASH SITE (ROGISTER) HUDSON 50:26 05:21 IN A TREE NEAR TERWAGNE (ROGISTER, MAP) JEFFERS MACARTY, JEFFERS, AND AUER BAILED OUT, IN THAT ORDER (HARBOLD); THIS PLACES JEFFERS' LANDING SITE BETWEEN SPARMONT AND HODY. SWAIN 50:29 05:27 NEAR MOULIN (ROGISTER, MAP)
Source: How Far Is It? DISTANCE HEADING Lavenham Airfield to Felixstowe (CP1): 27 miles 115 deg 52:07:44N 00:46:54E to 51:57:48N 01:21:05E Distance 27 miles (43 km) (23 nautical miles) Heading east-southeast (115.0 degrees) Felixstowe (CP1) to Ostend (CP2): 84 miles 127 deg 51:57:48N 01:21:05E to 51:13:00N 2:53:00E Distance 84 miles (136 km) (73 nautical miles) Heading southeast (127.1 degrees) Ostend (CP2) to CP3: 102 miles 115 deg 51:13:00N 2:53:00E to 50:35:00N 5:00:00E Distance 102 miles (164 km) (88 nautical miles) Heading east-southeast (114.7 degrees) CP3 to 1st Abort Call Point: 17 miles 98 deg 50:35:00N 5:00:00E to 50:33:00N 5:23:00E Distance 17 miles (27 km) (15 nautical miles) Heading east (97.6 degrees) 1st Abort Call Point to Crash Site: 4 miles 122 deg 50:33:00N 05:23:00E to 50:31:00N 05:28:00E Distance 4 miles (7 km) (4 nautical miles) Heading east-southeast (122.1 degrees) Total Distance 234 miles
Map Reference Sites
Paul M. Webber
File created Friday, 14 March 2003