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Maiden America
723rd Squadron

"They gave their live to save our village" says the inscription on that simple stone standing alone under a small tree just outside the town of Wuerenlingen, Switzerland.
That's where the B-24G "Maiden America" (42-78356) of the 723rd Squadron crashed on December 25, 1944.
After a raid against a supply depot in Innsbruck, Austria, "Maiden America" was on its way back, severely damaged after being hit by flak over the target.
With two engines on fire pilot 1st Lt Vincent F. Fagan tried to reach the airport in Basel, Switzerland.
Due to fog the crew headed for the airfield in Duebendorf, a town near Zurich. In the Wuerenlingen area Swiss flak – for unknown reasons - opened fire against the crippled bomber.
The crew was unable the lower the landing gear and was afraid of shooting flares because gasoline was leaking out of the damaged tanks.
After the B-24 got a direct hit, pilot Fagan ordered the crew to bail out. Then he increased the power of the two remaining engines. Doing so, he avoided that the aircraft crashed right into the village.

After leaving the bomber, navigator 2nd Lt Martin A. Homistek's chute got caught by one of the horizontal stabilisators. Left waist gunner Sgt Ralph L. Coulson didn't leave his position.
Both crew members were killed when the aircraft hit the ground. Co-pilot 2nd Lt Nicholas Mac Koul came down on the nearby "Aare" river and drowned in the ice cold water.
The rest of the crew landed safely.
Today, only this small memorial reminds of this war tragedy from 64 years ago. On the internet I've noticed that the 450th BG celebrates its 65th anniversary and its reunion.
That's why I visited the memorial recently, placed a small American flag and took a few pictures for you.

Though I don't know if 1st Lt Fagan an his fellow crew members of "Maiden America" are still alive today, I'd like to give them or their families an impression of how the site (built in 1965) looks today.
But above all I'd like to express my deep respect for the brave crew. Trying desperately to find a safe place to land, they were shot down by flak in neutral Switzerland!
I really wonder what made those Swiss soldiers shoot at a heavy damaged US-bomber.
Unfortunately only few people know about that site and the sad story behind it.
In these days, the U.S. government is criticized often around here, especially due to the military engagement in Iraq and elsewhere.
No matter which opinion people have about this issue, they should never forget one thing:
Whether in the skies over Europe or on the beaches of Normandy, there were hundreds of thousands of brave young Americans like 1st Lt Fagan and his crew fighting to liberate Europe.
And memorial sites like the one in peaceful Wuerenlingen should remind further generations like mine that so many of those young guys gave their lives in those days – for the peace that we're living in to this day and for our freedom.
This, dear members of the 450th BG association, is my small and very personal part of saying thank you. May god bless you.

Crash Site, December 25th, 1944

Crash Site today looking North

Translation of Newspaper article

50 years ago Swiss flak shot "Maiden America" out of the sky

Wuerenlingen remembers the shooting of an airplane in 1944

At the memorial built in 1965, Wuerenlingen's residents will lay a wreath and remember the horror that the village went through on Christmas day 50 years ago. Then, flak shot down a heavy damaged US-bomber. The B-24 Liberator crashed on a field near Wuerenlingen. Three of the nine crew members died.

The tragedy began in Tirol [Austria] 50 years ago on Christmas day just before noon when sirens warned of an air raid in Innsbruck [Austria]. Bombers of the 15th USAAF approached from Italy. One of them was hit by flak. With two (of four) intact engines the crew tried to escape heading west.

Searching for Duebendorf

About half an hour later antiaircraft guns of the 89th flak detachment of the Swiss Army, securing the Aare valley, started firing. Their target was an American bomber: It was "Maiden America", hit by Innsbruck's flak and heavy damaged, with their nine-man crew trying to land save on neutral ground at the airfield in Duebendorf.

By aircrews, Switzerland was known as neutral with a secret sympathy for the Allies, explained the pilot of the shot down bomber to a journalist of the "Aargauer Tagblatt" [local newspaper] five years ago. In 1989, Vincent Fagan traveled to Switzerland with his wife Rose. Then at the memorial, he put some flowers for his dead comrades. The wild shooting on Christmas day made them doubt the Swiss neutrality, said Fagan. There was no chance to reach Duebendorf.

"We waited for a signal of the bomber crew about their friendly intentions and the will to land", remembers Heinrich Speich. He was the commander of the flak-guns, located near the village of Baldingen, that shot the Americans. 45 years later the shot down airmen and the successful flak crew shook hands at the crash site. By this occasion they also learned why the bomber flying with open bomb bay doors didn't show any reaction. They weren't either able to fire flares nor to wave with the wings as a sign for friendly intentions - the condition of the airplane didn't allow that anymore. It was hardly maneuverable and above all, the rudders that would have allowed waving, jammed, remembers 1st Lt. Fagan. After that one engine was ripped off by a flak shell.

Not maneuverable anymore

An eyewitness of the crash told the "Aargauer Tagblatt" [local newspaper]: "…all of a sudden, seven bubbles appeared in the sky". Those were the parachutes of the crew bailing out. Suddenly the engines of the burning plane made a loud wailing sound. This created the story about the self-sacrificing pilot. Revving up the engines for a last time, he avoided that the airplane crashed into the village, it says. Years later the residents of Wuerenlingen showed their gratitude by building the memorial. According to 1st Lt. Fagan the crippled airplane wasn't maneuverable anymore. In addition to that, the two killed comrades wouldn't have been able to fly the airplane at all.

Navigator Martin Homisteck was 18 years old and Innsbruck was his first mission. On the memorial stone he is honored as the savior of the village. According to the notes of the pilot, the crash probably was delayed rather due to the fact, that he shot down one engine while revving up the other, what made the airplane fly more stable. The crew could bail out easier that way. Before the pilot bailed out, it was his co-pilot who left the plane. He drowned in the Aare River what is also registered in the final report of the Swiss army officials. Sgt. Ralph Coulson, waist gunner, probably got caught up in the plane with his parachute. The "savior of Wuerenlingen" probably died in the airplane from flak shrapnel. The seven survivors were detained, stayed in Adelboden [a village in the Alps] until February 1945 and returned home before the end of the war.

"Maiden America" wasn't either the first nor the last US-bomber that crashed in Switzerland. Between 1943 and the end of the war, about a dozen allied airplanes were shot down by Swiss flak. Mostly they were in a bad flying condition and their crews were looking for place to land. Understandably the allies protested, declaring the shootings as an "unfriendly act". Also Swiss flak soldiers didn't agree with the shootings. They valued those actions as support for Hitler-Germany. On March 21, 1944 [Swiss army] Colonel Werner Mueller expressed his regrets in a letter to the supreme commander of the Swiss Army.

On the other hand, the nervous reactions of the Swiss flak was somehow understandable. Anyhow the Americans had bombed Schaffhausen and Zurich. Only two hours after the shooting in Wuerenlingen, American airplanes attacked the village of Thayngen [Switzerland]. The bombing killed one resident, several got hurt and damage was caused. Probably on the same day an American bomber "lost" a bomb near the village of Effingen. This bomb was possibly jettisoned due to an emergency.

Airforce Attache at the commemoration

The memorial where the residents of Wuerenlingen will lay a wreath next Sunday morning wasn't only raised for the three dead Americans 29 years ago. It also shall be a warning to future generations. The US Air Force attache is expected to attend the short commemoration.

Bernhard Graser

You can download the original article in PDF format by clicking HERE

Information courtesy of Bernhard Graser

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