Russelsheim, Germany, is a typical industrial town, producing Opel cars in partnership with General Motors. The town, just east of Mainz, with a population of 60,000, has a historic district, and is not unlike any of the hundreds of towns throughout Germany. This town, chartered in 1437, is the center for the assembly of autos, and is the sixth largest engine producer in the world. Walking through the town it seems typical with the hustle of busy townspeople and the attractive homes. Underneath this calm existence enjoyed by the citizens, one would not suspect that Russelsheim hides a dark secret better left untold.They hope someday to outlive the horrible massacre, so terrible as to defy description.

The Opel plant during World War II was producing aircraft parts, making it a prime target for the thousands of Allied bombers hitting industrial complexes on a daily basis. The British Royal Air Force on Aug. 26, 1944, launched a massive air raid against the Opel factory. Much of the city was destroyed, and hundreds of it's citizens killed. This raid created a growing hatred of the daily death from the sky. The weary townspeople wanted revenge.

On Aug. 24, 1944, the 8th Air Force launched a massive raid from North Pickenham, England, on an area just North of Hanover, Germany. Over 2000 planes were involved. Among them was the B-24 Wham! Bam! Thank you, Ma'm.

The crew consisted of:

  • Pilot- 2nd Lt. Norman J. Rogers Jr.
  • Co-Pilot- 2nd Lt. John N. Sekul
  • Radio Operator- S/Sgt. Thomas D. Williams
  • Belly/Gun- Sgt. William A. Dumont
  • Left/Waist Gun- Sgt. Elmore L. Austin
  • Nose/Gun- Sgt. William M. Adams
  • Tail/Gun- Sgt. Sidney E. Brown
  • Flt. Eng.- S/Sgt. Forest W. Brininstool
  • Nav. Bombardier- Flight Officer Haigus Tufenkjia

Nose art of the B-24 Wham Bam shot down over Germany.
AF Museum Archives.

The Wham! Bam! At that time was part of the largest formation of aircraft ever to leave England: 485 B-24s, 834 B-17s, and 739 fighters. Approaching the target they ran into heavy anti-aircraft fire. Just after releasing their bombs right on target the plane took several burst of flak. One direct hit in the bomb bay area knocked out the hydraulic system, one engine, and damaged two other engines. The Wham! Bam! was mortally wounded. The bail out order was given. The crew landed in a farm area. Brininstool had suffered a shrapnel wound in the stomach, and was very fortunate when a farm couple took him in and cleaned his wound. The rest of the crew was rounded up by Luftwaffe personnel and placed in a cell in the town hall. Dumont and Rogers suffered ankle injuries. The entire crew was taken by train to an unidentified German Air Force base near Munster. Brininstool was taken to a clinic where a Doctor operated on his stomach wound, then placed in a hospital in Munster for further treatment. He was then taken by guards to a POW interrogation center near Frankfurt. The remaining eight crewmembers while on a 12 hour train ride ran into a bombed out section of track near Russelsheim and were forced to detrain. The guards began escorting the airmen toward Russelsheim expecting to catch another train beyond the damaged track area.

The town of Russelsheim on Aug. 26 had been subjected to a massive attack by the British RAF which dropped 2000 pound bombs, many hitting the Opel plant, and thousands of incendiary bombs that fell in the Historic section of the city doing immense damage. Air crews reported the fires visible from 100 miles away. The Opel plant was reduced to rubble. Such raids had cost the city of Russelsheim the destruction of half it's housing. So the eight B-24 airmen were headed for Russelsheim, still burning, with the smell of death and destruction everywhere, leaving the townspeople agonizing over their losses.

The aircrew was about to be taken by their guards on a journey through hell. As soon as the townspeople saw the crew they thought they were the one's responsible for the terrible bombing the previous night. A large violent crowd quickly formed and immediately turned into an uncontrollable angry mob who started beating the airmen with sticks, rocks, and shovels. The group was joined by a German air-raid warden, Josef Hartgen, who was armed with a 6.35mm pistol. He would later prove to be the crew's worst nightmare. The attacks were getting worse, with the men being beaten with a 2x4, and even struck in the head with a hammer. The men collapsed from the brutal beating. Josef Hartgen pulled the limp bodies to the curb and lined them up. He was screaming to the frenzied mob that he was going to put them out of their misery. As he walked along the bodies he had lined up, firing point blank he shot four in the head. Apparently lacking ammo to finish off the last two he ordered the bodies thrown in a cart and taken to the cemetery. The Luftwaffe guards had never made the slightest effort to try to stop the mob from carrying out the massacre. Hartgen alone could have prevented the slaughter, instead he chose to lead it. Upon arrival at the cemetery there were moans and some movement which inspired further attacks with the 2x4 upon anyone who appeared to still be alive. Suddenly an air raid siren sounded and everyone left the cart and ran for shelter. It was reported that later some members of the crew were buried alive.

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