The Kassel Mission Memorial
The Kassel Mission Memorial at Friedlos, Germany, was made possible in large part by the leadership of Walter Hassenpflug, who was a 12-year-old boy and a member of the Hitler Youth at the time of the Kassel mission. He was living in Bad Hersfeld and watched bombers of the 445th fall out of the sky.
The following account of the inauguration ceremony was written by Bill Dewey who piloted a B-24 during the mission and crash-landed at Manston emergency field, Kent, England .
On 1 August 1990, over 400 people gathered near Bad Hersfeld, Germany to dedicate a Memorial to American and German airmen who perished in a spectacular air battle over that Hessian town 27 September 1944.
Deep in the Hesse State Forest, where 445th Bomb Group Captain John W. Chilton’s Lead Liberator crashed, a beautiful monument, composed of three huge imported Norwegian granite stones, was prepared by the Germans. A foreground of heather, carefully planted by German townspeople, is surrounded by a circular gravel walkway leading to the imposing memorial stones. American donations paid for half the cost and provided three bronze plaques which list the 136 fallen airmen. The 8-foot high center monument bears the plaque describing the air battle of 27 September 1944.
On that fateful day, 35 B-24 Liberators of the 445th Bomb Group, 2nd Combat Wing, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force, were assigned to bomb the Henschel Factory at Kassel, Germany. At the Group IP, for some unknown reason, the Group Leader deviated 30 degrees from the main bomber stream of 1,200 planes protected by friendly fighter cover. Within three minutes, 25 B-24s went down in flames as they were attacked by up to 150 German Fw 190 and Me 109 fighter planes. Before the day was over, 5 more B-24s crashed en route to England, and only 4 Liberators returned to the home field at Tibenham. The Germans lost 29 fighters to 445th gunners and late-arriving P-51s, and one American fighter was lost in a mid-air collision with a German plane. Total casualties for the “Battle of Kassel”: 60 aircraft destroyed, 188 American and 18 German airmen killed, 7 German soldiers killed when debris from a German fighter fell into a hospital, 121 Americans taken as prisoners of war.
The Men’s Choir of Friedlos and German Air Force Band 3 from Muenster provided beautiful music which was interspersed between moving speeches by German and American Spokesmen.
As the German Air Force Trumpeter played “Taps”, the three monuments were uncovered by 4 American airmen and 4 Luftwaffe Combat Veterans and survivors of the Kassel mission. The Americans were: Frank J. Bertram, George M. Collar, William R. Dewey, and Reginald R. Miner. The German pilots were Heinz Papenberg, Oskar Romm, Ernst Schroder, and Werner Vorberg.
Wreaths were laid by the German Fighter Group West and by three American next-of-kin: Jima Schoen Sparks, daughter of Liberator Pilot James Schoen, killed on the Kassel Mission, together with Kay Brainard Hutchins and Leuita Mathiowetz, both of whose brothers were also killed in the air battle.
At this deeply emotional moment, the former German and American enemies shook hands, formed a circle of friendship with hands joined and raised. Benedictions were offed by German Pasto Rubolf Jacobi and US Army Chaplain/Major Michael D. Mantooth. The ceremony closed with the band playing the American and German National Anthems.
It is difficult to put into words the feeling of genuine brotherly love we all felt for each other during the three days at Bad Hersfeld. We all came away with a sense of sharing an experience that comes once in a lifetime. The hospitality offed by our hosts, Mayor Winfried Blum and Walter Hassenpflug, and their wives, was gracious and beyond description. And our translator and interpreter, Gunter Lemke, was absolutely outstanding. We urge all interested to visit the Kassel Mission Monument. Bad Hersfeld is 2 hours north east of Frankfurt and the memorial just twenty minutes away from this historic town in the heart of Grimm’s Fairy Tale Country. You will be impressed and inspired by your visit. (Note: the closest town if Friedlos)
For more information, please visit http://www.kasselmission.org.