Bob Penoyer
My Dad and His B-17 Aircrew in World War II

Much of the information available on this page was gathered with the help of the people and publications of the 99th Bomb Group Historical Society. The 99th BGHS was founded by the veterans of the 99th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and their families.

The 99th Bombardment Group comprised four squadrons of B-17 Flying Fortresses: the 346th, 347th, 348th, and the 416th. Flying out of North Africa and Italy from 1943 to 1945, the 99th engaged in 395 combat missions and earned two Distinguished Unit Citations. Their history is dramatic. It was a time that demanded extraordinary things from ordinary men. The men of the 99th met that challenge with great courage and enormous sacrifice. I urge you to learn more about this fine organization.

A Date with Destiny: July 5, 1943

On July 5, 1943, twenty-seven B-17s of the 99th flew a raid against the airdrome at Gerbini, Sicily. Gerbini was the headquarters of the Luftwaffe Air Division III. The raid that day was in preparation for the invasion of Sicily that would begin just five days later.

During the raid, the 27 B-17s encountered more than 100 enemy fighters! The fighters consisted of Me-109s, FW-190s, and Ma-202s. The sky was so filled with enemy fighters that one B-17 gunner reported shooting down a fighter he wasn't even aiming at; it simply flew through his line of fire.

Three of the B-17s were shot down, including my father's. It was his 21st mission. During the fighting the plane exploded. Of the 10 men on that plane, five were killed. Four were wounded, including two who received life-threatening injuries. My father received shrapnel wounds to both legs. All of the survivors were captured and became prisoners of war. After a month of hospitalization on Sicily and the Italian mainland, my father remained a POW for 21 more months. During that time, he escaped twice only to be recaptured each time.

The 99th won the first of its two Distinguished Unit Citations for that raid. This page provides access to all of the information that I have been able to assemble about that fateful day.

  1943 1977  

Read my father's WWII story, including pictures and artifacts, by clicking on the pictures (374K)

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Some of My Dad's POW Mementos

The following items are among the keepsakes that reveal the personal side of my dad's experience as a POW. He was held for almost two years by the Italians and the Germans.

The first two of the items described below are, to me, the most significant. They are placed first for that reason. The remaining items are in chronological order.

You can see a larger view of each item by clicking on the image.

POW Mug Shots

These pictures were apparently taken at Stalag 17. There is a handwritten date on the back of each photograph: "Jan '44". My father told me that the injury on the side of his face was a sore due to malnutrition. He refused to tell me how he came into possession of the mug shots. However, I have been told by those who had been POWs that the prisoners would often get access to the files when a camp was abandoned.

Hand Drawn Escape Map

The concentric circles are centered on Krems, Austria, the site of Stalag 17B. My father refused to tell me how he knew where each town was located. However, I now know that maps, guides, and money were often found inside board games that were sent to the prisoners. This was likely the source of the information.

POW Postcard

The front and back of the card are shown together. This appears to be a postcard prepared by the Italians and designed to permit POWs to quickly note their status. My father apparently filled out the card shortly after he was wounded, shot down, and taken captive. Note that he underlined "I have been slightly wounded" and that there is no prepared notation for more severe wounds. This was apparently a deliberate slant to the news allowed by the Italians to be sent by POWs.

MIA Telegram August 3, 1943

This telegram was sent to my grandfather. Note that my father's rank is given as SSgt. He had been a TSgt. but lost a stripe for reporting 24 hours late from a furlough. He was reinstated to TSgt. sometime prior to his honorable discharge from the Army.

Red Cross Telegram September 14, 1943

This telegram was sent to my grandfather. Note that the date is nearly a week after the Italian capitulation of September 8, 1943. Veterans Administration records in my possession show that my father escaped from captivity on September 14, 1943.

Propaganda Telegram I March 29, 1944, 3:09 a.m.

This telegram was apparently sent to my grandmother as a courtesy based upon an unconfirmed Axis broadcast.

Propaganda Telegram II March 29, 1944, 7:27 p.m.

This telegram was also apparently sent to my grandmother as a courtesy based upon an unconfirmed Axis broadcast.

Registration of RAMP

RAMP is Recovered Allied Military Personnel. This appears to be a form filled out by liberated POWs. According to the information provided by my father in this document, he was at "Ranshafen" at the time. This was undoubtedly Ranshofen, Austria, a town very near Braunau on the Austria-Germany border, along the River Inn. Ironically, Braunau was Adolf Hitler's birthplace.

Camp Lucky Strike Letter May 11, 1945

This was sort of a "welcome back from prison" letter that gave the soldiers some idea of what to expect next. Camp Lucky Strike was located near Le Havre, France, a coastal town on the English Channel.

"Be seeing you soon" June 16, 1945

In this telegram, my father announced to his father that he would be home soon. He had been a POW from July 1943 to May 1945, 22 months.

The Crew's Story
The Devane Crew
Aircraft 229486

Morrison Field, Florida
January 1943
 

1st Lt. Edward B. Drueding, Navigator

Survived the Gerbini raid. Suffered a rib injury while parachuting from the aircraft. Was in the same Sicilian hospital as my father. My father reported last seeing him on a prisoner train in Italy on 31 August 1943. William Craton reported he was held in Stalag 3A at Moosburg, Germany, for 2 years. William Craton also said he last saw him at Stalag 7A near Munich, Germany. His widow reported he was held at Stalag Luft III. He was killed at Godman Air Base, Kentucky, in 1947 when his T-6 trainer was hit from behind by another aircraft.

1st Lt. Martin J. Devane, Pilot

Killed at Gerbini when the aircraft exploded. Stayed aboard as long as there was a chance of anyone in the crew getting out. He is buried in grave E-267 in a group burial at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, 4701 Brownboro Road, Louisville, KY.

2nd Lt. Howard L. Freeburg, Copilot

Killed at Gerbini. Was without a scratch while waiting to exit the aircraft when it exploded.

2nd Lt. George J. Doyle, Bombardier

Member of crew when aircraft was ferried to Africa. Possibly replaced later by Bostoni, who was replaced by Lavine on the Gerbini mission.

TSgt. William I. Craton, Engineer & Top Turret Gunner

Shot down 4 enemy fighters during Gerbini raid. Sustained a severe head wound and other wounds to the body when the aircraft exploded. Wounded in right leg by a fighter firing at him while he parachuted from the plane. He met my father in Stalag 17. After discharge from the Army Air Forces in 1945, he re-enlisted in the USAF in 1947 as a SSgt. He eventually received a field promotion to Lieutenant and retired as a Major. Last living member of the crew. I received an audio tape from him on October 4, 1994. He reported that he was 71 years old and in good health. Mr. Craton was reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to have died Saturday, May 24, 2008 at age 84. He is buried at Powder Springs Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Powder Springs, GA.

SSgt. Harold A. Yorton, Tail Gunner

Shot down 5 enemy fighters during Gerbini raid. My father saw him in Austria (probably at Stalag 17B) in 1945. He died January 21, 1969 and is buried at Central Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Wisconsin Veterans Home, N2665 County road QQ, King, WI.

TSgt. Harold E. Penoyer, Radio Operator & Left Waist Gunner

Shot down 2 enemy fighters during Gerbini raid. He was wounded in both legs by shrapnel. He may have been in the same Sicilian hospital as Lt. Drueding. He last saw Lt. Drueding on a prison train in Italy. Held in Italian and German POW camps for 2 years. Met William Craton at Stalag 17 in late 1944. Last saw William Craton and Harold Yorton on prisoner march in Austria in April, 1945. He died November 1978 from lung cancer. He is buried at Palm Eastern Mortuary & Cemetery at 7600 S. Eastern Ave., near Las Vegas, NV.

SSgt. James A. "Jay" Harold, Right Waist Gunner

Killed at Gerbini when his parachute got caught on the horizontal stabilizer and he could not work his way free. He is buried in grave E-267 in a group burial at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, 4701 Brownboro Road, Louisville, KY

SSgt. Frank A. Curley, Ball Turret Gunner

Seriously wounded at Gerbini. Unable to evacuate aircraft. My father and possibly others threw him out the door. He was repatriated to the U.S. due to his wounds. His wounds caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He died of a massive heart attack in March, 1977, per March, 1984, 99th BGHS Newsletter.

2nd Lt. Sanford V. "Sammy" Lavine, Bombardier

Killed at Gerbini when aircraft exploded.

Because Lt. Lavine was not part of the original crew, he does not appear in the crew picture. However, through the help of a niece and nephew, this image was made available.

No Picture

Sgt. Louis A. Snitkin, Gunner

Killed at Gerbini. Was added to crew as 10th man after bomb missions started. Was supposed to be Left Waist Gunner, but my father assigned him to the Radio Operator's gun position. He was directly behind my father when my father bailed out. He is buried in grave E-267 in a group burial at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, 4701 Brownboro Road, Louisville, KY

That Fateful Day – A Contemporary Report

Read a contemporary newspaper report of the 99th Bomb Group and the events of July 5, 1943. The report, filed July 6, tells of the bombing raid, the German fighter attacks against the B-17s, the couragious fight of the B-17 crews, and how the crews of the three downed B-17s were "still firing away when their planes were burning all around them." The report was taken from the September 1, 1988 edition of the 99th Bomb Group Historical Society newsletter, page 38. Click here to read the article.

If the print is too small to read, you can still read the article. If you are using Mozilla Firefox, the mouse pointer turns into a magnifying glass with a "+" sign when it passes over the article. Simply click on the image and it will expand to a readable size. If you are using Internet Explorer, a toolbar appears when the mouse pointer is placed over the image. Simply click the diskette icon to save the image to your computer. Then double-click on the file that you have saved. The image should appear in a viewer capable of displaying JPG images. You should be able to zoom in on the image to read the story.

Life in Stalag 17B

What was life like for an American POW? Stalag 17B held Air Corps NCOs and was the POW camp featured in the movie Stalag 17 (1953) starring William Holden. The movie has its critics, but the following sites offer accounts of life at the camp.

Bill Doubledee provides a tremendous amount of information about Stalag 17B. His site was created to honor his father, SSgt. William J. Doubledee, who was a POW there. Anyone interested in Stalag 17B or the experiences of American airmen who became POWs is well advised to pay a visit:

http://members.cox.net/stalag17/index.shtm

Here is another site that offers a vivid description of life in Stalag 17B, with photographs.

http://www.b24.net/powStalag17.htm

Here is still another interesting site:

http://www.americainwwii.com/stories/stalag17b.html


Aerial Photograph of Stalag 17B

Click here to see an aerial photograph of Stalag 17B. To see the image full size, save it to your computer and open it with a program that can view JPG images.

Per the text at the bottom of the photograph, it was taken August 16, 1944 and the information in the image was as of January 30, 1945. The information contains references to Staff Quarters, Exersizing Areas, Double Wire Fence & Watchtower, Camp Cemetery, Road to Krems (pointing roughly south), Road to Langenlois (pointing roughly north), and Hospital. One building is labeled "37" presumably indicating it was Barracks 37. There is an arrow near the center of the picture at the extreme right that indicates the direction of North.

PLEASE NOTE

Some of the information offered here was found on the back of the crew photograph. Written in my mother's hand, it was apparently written from my father's dictation. You may view those notes by clicking on the photograph below.

A Map of POW Camps

This is a map of German prison camps. The file is large (608K) but detailed (600 dpi). Unfortunately, it was produced from a photocopy. However, it is relatively readable for those who are interested in the details of its contents. Simply click on the image.

You can probably view the image using Netscape but you might not be able to view it using Internet Explorer. If you cannot view the image with Internet Explorer, you can save it to your computer for later viewing off-line: simply right-click and select "Save Target As ..." to save the full-size image. In Netscape you can right-click and select "Save Link As ..."

 
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