The Russelsheim massacre.

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The Russelsheim massacre.

Berichtdoor Tandorini » 16 aug 2012, 14:27

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]/b]


[b]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.

When the Third Army took Russelsheim in March, 1945, only seven months later, they were told that eight British airmen had been murdered by the citizens of the town. Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States established a military tribunal which would put on trial anyone involved in commiting a crime against Allied POWs. They would be classified as war criminals. The U.S. Army would investigate the beating deaths of the eight airmen in Russelsheim. Captain Luke P. Rogers was assigned to investigate any alleged crimes. He chose the Russelsheim crimes as his first investigation. It was still believed the crew members were "British", not Americans. Rogers proceeded to Russelsheim with his assistant and a group of interpreters. He was presented with a list of twenty-one alleged conspirators. Gathering eyewitness accounts of the "Death March" Rogers was sickened by the brutality of the event. He had many of the instigators in custody, but was actively searching for Josef Hartgen, the reported leader of the mob. Rogers released four of those he arrested for lack of evidence. His next step was to dig up the bodies of the crewmen. His team was shocked to find only six bodies after expecting to find eight. They were further shocked to learn that they were Americans, not British as previously assumed.

Rogers gathered all his evidence, and turned it over to the War Crimes Branch. Lt. Col. Leon Jaworski would present the case against the Russelsheim civilians. Finally the much wanted instigator, Josef Hartgen, was captured and rushed to Wiesbaden for interrogation. While in jail he attempted suicide by slashing his wrist on the mattress springs. He was rushed to the hospital, and after recovering was returned to jail.

Part of the Geneva Convention of 1929 states that "Prisoners must at all times be treated with humanity and protected particularly against acts of violence". Also, the Hague Convention stipulates that "In addition to the prohibitions provided by special conventions, it is expressly forbidden to kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer any means of defense, has surrendered at discretion". It was specified that "German civilians are bound to observe the laws of war".As Loen Jaworski was the Trial Judge Advocate, the defense was led by Lt. Col. Roger E. Titus. He had the unenviable position of defending the enemy. A group of eleven of the accused, including Hartgen, were first on trial. All pleaded not guilty. Testimony against them was by 21 witnesses. The trial lasted six days, with eyewitness testimony to the cold-bloodied assassinations by Josef Hartgen, and chilling accounts of the bludgeoning of the airmen. They could not account for the two missing men, as everyone was certain there had been eight originally. As the trial proceeded Josef Hartgen was accused of extreme brutality, and vicious and unthinkable conduct in the execution of the defenseless airmen. Five of the group, including Hartgen, were found guilty and sentenced to death. The remainder were given varying prison terms.


The question lingered as to what happened to the two crewmembers, Sgt. William M. Adams, and Sgt. Sidney E. Brown. The crew originally consisted of nine, with S/Sgt. Brininstool wounded and sent to a German hospital, and six executed.

Three weeks after the trial General Davidson received a letter from Sgt. William M. Adams, and Sgt. Sidney Brown. Both had been returned to the U.S. The letter fully explained their experience during the "Death March", and their miraculous escape, only to be captured four days later. They offered to supply any information they had concerning the ordeal. They had survived the beatings. While the cart with the bodies was at the cemetery awaiting burial, Adams and Brown were able to crawl from under the bodies and escape. After their recapture they were sent to Stalag Luft IV, a POW camp for airmen. Both were liberated in May by the Ninth Army and the British Army. They Returned to the U.S. and gave the authorities what information they had. In the meantime Hartgen and four others were hung on Nov. 10. Otto Stolz was convicted of beating the airmen and helping Hartgen load the bodies in the cart, and accompanying the cart to the cemetery where he fatally beat some of the airmen who were still alive. He was sentenced to death and hanged. It must be noted that none of the women were executed even though they were the primary instigators who excited the crowd to riot and helped in the beatings. The bodies of Austin, Dumont, and Sekul were transferred to their respective hometowns, while the bodies of Rogers, Williams, and Tufenkjian are buried in France.

In August of 2001, the tail gunner, Sidney E. Brown of Florida was invited back to the town of Russelsheim to receive a formal apology.
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