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Edward D. Reuss
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The article “Last Mission Over Berlin” was published on NY Cop Online Magazine in the Winter 2005 issue.    Many responses have been received regarding this story. 
Recently,  I received an email from Dr. Berndt Kasten,  the Director of the city archives of Schwerin,  Germany:

Dear Mr. Reuss,

I am a German historian doing some research about war crimes committed by leaders of the Nazi party in the region of Schwerin in June 1944. On June 21th six members of the crew of a B-24 bomber were murdered. Two of the victims were called Grubisa and Dolocek. I found these names in a story you published in the internet called "Last Mission Over Berlin" . Since Robert Branizza apparently does not know what happened to the other members of the crew "missing in action", I could give you the details, although this happens to be not a very pleasant story. In any case,  I would like to write an article here for the local newspaper about what happened to the American airmen.  I wonder if I could get the permission to use the picture of the crew to illustrate the article?

Yours sincerely

Dr. Bernd Kasten

Director of the city archives of Schwerin
Stellingstraße 2
D-19053 Schwerin

I contacted Bob Branizza who granted permission for Dr. Kasten to use the photo of the crew.   The photo was attached to the article written by Dr. Kasten for the local newspaper.
Dr. Kasten sent an English translation of the article that he wrote:

Standing L. to R.
Pilot 2ndLt. Cleve J. Howell, CoPilot 2ndLt Arthur Majestic, Navigator 2ndLt Bob Branizza, Bombardier 2ndLt Victor Dolecek
Kneeling L.toR
S/Sgt Bertill Johnson, S/sgt Herschel O Hamblin, Sgt Sammie Vinson, Sgt George J. Grubisa, Sgt James L. Vajgyl, Sgt Alexander Istvanovich

Flight without return

By Bernd Kasten

On June 21st, 1944, 5:00 a.m. the 712th squadron, 448th bomb group took off from the air field of Seething in South England. The target to attack was Berlin. Most of the men were young and quite inexperienced. The crew of the B 24 of Lieutenant Howell had flown on four previous missions since their arrival. The crew consisted of nine men. Four were officers, the pilots Lieutenant Howell and Majestic , the navigator Lieutenant Branizza and the bombardier Lieutenant Dolocek. The Sergeants Johnson, Hamblin, Vinson, Grubisa and Vajgyl also belonged to the crew.

Whoever decided to join the bomber divisions in World War II, knew the risks. On some missions the casualties amounted to more than 10 %. Only very few managed to survive 30 missions and could then spend the rest of their time more safely in the rear area. Nevertheless,  the crew members could expect having enough time to jump off by parachute and save at least their life. A heavy 4-engine bomber hit by flak generally did not explode immediately and did not fall down like a stone. Those who landed safely generally came into a German POW camp.

The 712th squadron approaching Berlin encountered severe fire by the flak. The plane of Lieutenant Howell was hit twice. The navigator Lieutenant Branizza saw that “the inboard engine had been opened like a tin can. Fuel was pouring out and covering the wing.” Branizza opened the door to the nose and jumped.  He drifted down into an area that he knew was the famous Tiergarten Zoo.  The idea of landing in a zoo and being killed by a lion scared him. He nevertheless managed to land safely and hide a few days in the forests of Brandenburg.  His plan to make his way to the Baltic Sea and escape by boat to Sweden was not very realistic, since he knew no German.  Exhausted and discouraged he finally surrendered himself to German police and was brought into a prisoner of war camp. He still lives near New York playing golf in retirement and did not know for decades how much luck he had on this day.

Lieutenant Howell first managed to steady the plane, but recognized after 200 km on his way back that the plane would not reach England and ordered the crew to bail out. This was a dangerous action, because the men were flyers, not parachutists. None of the men had any parachute training.

Sergeant Vajgyl died and Lieutenant Howell was severely injured, when he hit the ground near the village of Moltenow. The plane deserted by the crew crashed between Groß Trebbow and Hof Meteln. The injured Howell was brought to a hospital in Schwerin by the Red Cross and later also came into a prisoner of war camp

His fellow soldiers weren’t so lucky.  The regional leader of the Nazi party Friedrich Hildebrandt decided to take revenge on the “terror flyers”.  He gave orders to find the flyers and “finish them off” until evening. The local party leaders obeyed.  The party chief of Passow met Lieutenant Dolocek already caught by a German soldier marching on the road and chewing gum. He took over the prisoner, let him walk 1 km on the road besides his car smoking a cigarette and shot him in the back two times near Veelböken. Then the district leader of the Nazi party drove together with the local party chief of Groß Trebbow, the forester Ewald Haselow to Mühlen Eichsen, where they found the already arrested Sergeants Grubisa and Vinson at the police station. The district leader took over the two prisoners and gave the order to Haselow and his friend Penzin: “Drive a little and then shoot them”. They stopped in the forest of Pingelshagen and asked the flyers, who had no idea what was about to happen, to leave the car. Forester Haselow later reported: „I finished the right by a shot of my hunting rifle and Penzins shot the left in the head with his pistol”.

The three other members of the crew Lieutenant Majestic and the Sergeants Johnson and Hamblin,  who landed in the district of Schönberg, were also dead until evening on this June 21st. The district leader and two SA-men killed one near Rüting, one near Wüstenmarck and the last one close to Rambeel and buried them on the cemetery of Diedrichhagen . As official cause of death always was reported “shot while trying to escape”. All six flyers landed safely on Mecklenburg ground were dead a few hours afterwards. The only survivors of the crew were Lieutenant Branizza, who bailed out near Berlin and Lieutenant Howell, who was saved quite ironically by his severe head injury, because the Nazi party didn’t dare to murder an injured man in a hospital.

Copyright 2011 Bernd Kasten


Dr. Kasten, as a historian and Director of the city Archives of Schwerin also reported the following:

Dear Mr. Reuss,
The six persons (Hildebrandt, Haselow, Penzin and three others) mainly responsible for the murder of Grubisa, Dolocek and Vinson were arrested in 1945 by the American forces, condemned to death and executed in Landsberg in 1948.

Yours sincerely

Bernd Kasten

He did not know of the disposition of the remains of the three flyers who were killed by the SA and buried in Diedrichhagen. When asked about this, he wrote:

Dear Mr. Reuss,

I am not sure about it. The murder of the 3 flyers in the district of Schönberg were not part of the trial against Hildebrandt et al., I read in the research for the article. I am sure there will be another trial in this case in the National archives in Washington. A few years ago two American officers from the war graves commission of the US-Ministry of Defense came to my office and I told them all I knew about the murder of the flyers. But I never heard again from them.

I wrote to Dr. Kasten and inquired who testified to the military court about the killing of the flyers.  He responded:

Dear Mr. Reuss,
in general you are right. In most cases the murderers chose isolated areas to commit the crime.  However, in one case the murder of Lieutenant Dolocek, the local party chief shot him near the road with agricultural workers working on a field only 200 m away. He was the first to be arrested by US military police on May 15th, 1945. But the other murderers were also caught quite soon. The crime had raised an intense sensation among the local German population in 1944. It was widely talked about and many people knew what had happened (policemen, mayors, pastors, farmers). The Conventions of The Hague and Geneva concerning the rights of POWs were generally known, so it was obvious that murder had been committed. Many German witnesses gave testimony and the evidence in Court was beyond doubt.

Yours sincerely
Bernd Kasten

Copyright © 2011 Edward D. Reuss



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