Bullock > Keith's Projects > Story of Rutzenberg and Penideralm

Account of the B-17 Flying Fortress serial number 44-6652 301 Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force based in Southern Italy that crashed on the Rutzenberg Mountain, also on Mt. Plose on December 29, 1944

This B-17 flying Fortress was on a bombing mission to Innsbruck, the capital city of the Austrian Northtirol and or Castelfranco Veneto in Northern Italy. Before reaching their target and over Brixen they ran into heavy and accurate flak with one of the group receiving a direct hit causing it to explode in mid-air with the fuselage and cockpit portion falling in front of the farm house of the Oberzifflerhofes. On the Rutzenberg above the village of St. Andra near Brixen.

Sgt. Farrell B. Haney , S/Sgt’s Charles A. Williams and William Vuyanovitch were all killed in the action by the impact when unable to bail out of the crashing bomber. S/Sgt Robert J. Halstein died near the crash site but his body was never found, ONLY HIS DOG TAGS. The three known dead airmen were buried on the 3rd of January 1945 in the village of St Andra’s church cemetery. In July of 1945 their bodies were exhumed and reburied in the American Military Cemetery in Mirandola. Again, later, they were exhumed and finally buried in the United States. The rest of the crew was able to save themselves by parachute. Navigator Arthur Frechette spun through the air unable to get his parachute to function properly and landed on an extremely steep slope of the snow covered mountain and, although badly injured, escaped death, and lived to tell the tale. Still alive was the pilot 1st. Lt. Lyle Pearson and Gunner S/Sgt. Charles T. Lyon who were present and taking part in the dedication on these Monuments in remembrance of their dead comrades.

An eye witness account of theB-24 Liberator serial Number42-52075 454th Bomb Group crash on February 28, 1945 on the Penideralm Mountain.

On this date US Heavy Bombers of the 47th and 304 Bomb Wings of the 15th US Air Force based in Southern Italy bombed the railroad bridge over the river Eisack at Albes (Albeins) during which one B-24 Liberator was brought down by a direct hit by Flak and crashed 200 meters north of the Penideralm above Brixen. The bomber broke up in mid air and completely lost its tail section. The falling bomber struck the tail fin of a close by Liberator and spiraled uncontrollably to Earth - - it splintered into pieces on the crash site. From the crew of twelve only one was able to bail out. 1st Lt. Leonard Clyde, the Bombardier, landed by parachute near the Schammaches below the summit. He dragged himself a few hundred yards down the slope and lit a fire to attract attention.

It is thought that his sign of life must have been seen by someone from the circumstances later evident. For all of his personal belongings were missing and the body had been robbed of its clothing and half buried near a burnt tree. This discovery of the crash sites was made by a local herdsman on the slope in July of 1945. His dog tags were found a short distance away.

One crew member was flung out of the exploding bomber and his body was never found. The other ten (there were twelve crew members on this flight) bodies laid charred and smashed in and around the wreckage.

(1) Penideralm - Liberator
(2) Rutzenberg - Flying Fortress

It was only possible to identify with certainty four of them. Temporary burial was made by the local people at the foot of the Ackerboden Weather Cross which to this day is kept in order and adorned with flowers. After the war ended the bodies were exhumed and eventually found their final resting place in the United States.

Ist Lt. Charles W. Wherry, Jr. had, with this mission, his stateside furlough ticket already in his pocket since this was to be his last mission - - but tragic circumstances prevailed and indeed it was his last mission. On February 27, 1945 he had written in his diary, “I can’t believe tomorrow’s mission is my last. Home! Good food! Sleep! So many things going through my head. I should see you in 21 days”. He had previously written that their losses were about one bomber for every 10 and with as many as 850 bombers over the target how many men die! There are very few wounded cases just Death. WAR IS HELL! A few days later a telegram arrived at his home in Modesto, California and stated: “ Regret to inform you, your Son, Lt. Charles W. Wherry, Jr. was killed in action on February 28, 1945. Yes! For those that dropped the bombs and for those they were dropped upon, WAR WAS AND STILL IS “HELL”.