13.04.1944. 384th BG 545 BS B-17G 42-31433, “RUM POT II” 1st Lieutenant Stearns. Location: Odenwald Forest (east of Worms/Germany).
Mission: Schweinfurt. (Ball bearing plant Germany)

Date: 13th April 1944.

Unit: 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force.

Type: B-17G.

Serial No: 42-31433, “RUM POT II”

Coded: SO-V

Location: Odenwald Forest (east of Worms/Germany).

Pilot: 1
st Lieutenant Clarence (Charlie) G. Stearns. (P.O.W.)

Co-pilot: 1st Lieutenant Joe Bedsole (Killed)

Navigator: Lieutenant Bob Hock. (P.O.W.)

Bombardier: 1st Lieutenant Don Ackerson. (P.O.W.)

Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Technical Sergeant Dave Barkhurst. (P.O.W.)

Radio Operator: Technical Sergeant Ed Hill. (P.O.W.)

Ball turret gunner: Staff Sergeant Pierre Joseph. (P.O.W.)

Waist gunner: Staff Sergeant Theo Corrigan. (P.O.W.)

Waist gunner: Staff Sergeant John Robinson. (P.O.W.)

Tail gunner: Staff Sergeant Warren Martell. (P.O.W.)

Reason For Loss:

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1stLt. Clarence (Charlie) G. Stearns with his crew in front of their B-17 G "RumPot" in England, (Stearns standing 2nd from left) Kneeling lower right the right-waist gunner Sgt. Corrigan.

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The 384th Bomb Group taxis out for a mission over Germany. Defenders of the Reich by Mark Karvon

3 minutes over the Odenwald Forest (east of Worms/Germany).

The 384
th Bomb Group put up seven B-17’s from Graffton Underwood to attack the ball bearing plant at Schweinfurt, the first attacks from the Luftwaffe took place in Belgium airspace, where the 384th lost one B-17. After 25 Minutes the German fighters were gone and only AA fire was visible.

1:45 pm: The bomber stream reach the area Bensheim/Bergstrasse (east of Worms, north of Mannheim), when a large amount of German fighters were reported by the gunners.
At 1:47 pm the first Focke Wulf opened fire on a B-17 of the 545. Sq., which flew right lower side of the formations, by 1:50 pm only the B-17 of 1Lt. Dewayne Bennett the Squadron Leader was on course to Schweinfurt, the other 6 B-17 of the Squadron falling in flames or exploding midair, as they fell to the ground, the sky between Bensheim and Reichenbach was full with parachutes.

Lt. Charlie Stearns remembers:
"In my earphones somebody shouts "Bandits 2 o´clock" the same moment our gunners opened fire and I view left and see between engine 1 and 2 little fire balls dancing on the wing, the top turret gunner shouted "the left wing is on fire", - the German fighter pilot hit the tank between the engines-, the aircraft becomes unstable and we start losing height, burning fuel streams from the wing in the fuselage and also in the cockpit starts fires. – all this happened in a few seconds - I gave order to bail out, I see then how Lt. Bedsole tries to put on his parachute and I remember that over the channel I told him to wear his parachute but he refused saying it was uncomfortable” - but then I only want to get out of here, I don´t know how but suddenly the chute opened over me and I see our "RumPot" go down over the burning left wing, the tail broke away and then there was silence, just me hanging on my chute over Germany and I was really happy to be still alive, curiously I never thought about the fact that this was my 25th mission and after this I would have gone back to the States…. I landed without any problems in a field close to a Forest, I had just got my parachute off when some people arrived, one in uniform (I learned later he was a forest ranger). They took me to a small village (Gumpen in the Odenwald Forest) nearby. In a garden beside a piggery (the garden was the working place of the carpenter there I learned), there were some tables, around which there were 10-12 people, they all were very nice, and told me to sit at a table and gave me a plate with some Pea Soup, somehow everything was very strange, some minutes ago I was sat in the cockpit of my B-17 several 1000´s meters above wanting to take my part to finish this war, now I´m sitting between my "enemies" and eat Pea soup with them as I watch the black clouds from my burning B-17 at some distance."
All of his crew had survived except Lt. Bedsole, his body was found later near the crash site, he had finally bailed out without his parachute, he could have bailed out safely and survived the war if only he had taken Charlie Stearns advice.

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The remains of the B-17 at the "Teichberg" (small Mountain) near Gumpen/Odw.,

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Photo taken near Winterkasten/Odw. around 7 km north, where the right waist gunner Sgt. Corrigan was captured.

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Photos taken in 1993, left Dewayne "Ben" Benett pilot of the only 384th B-17 to survive that day, and Clarence "Charlie" Stearns (Michael Balss)

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Ben Bennett and my grandfather Franz Heck (former Sgt. in a German AA unit) in the cockpit of a B-17 in Tucson/Arizona, talking about their experiences.....(Michael Balss)

Sadly it was not possible to confirm who the German pilot was that shot this aircraft down, as the five B-17’s crashed in an area over a few square miles,
German pilots with confirmed "kills" that could be possible matches in the area at this time were: Uffz. Kirchhoff 3./JG 1, Oblt. Ehlers, 3./JG 1, Uffz. Swoboda, 5. JG 1, Oblt. Eder 6/JG 1, and Uffz. Zimmermann, 6./JG 53.

Below the wrecks of two other B-17’s lost from the formation by the 384th that day.

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42-37816 JD-A, BIG STUPE V, 545th BS, 384th BG. Shot down on 8th AF mission 301, 13 April 1944.

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42-38112 JD-J, MRS GEEZIL, 545th BS, 384th BG. Shot down on 8th AF mission 301, 13 April 1944.

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1st Lt Joseph L Bedsole, Jr in the cockpit of the B-17. Nose art on 42-31433, “RUM POT II”

Burial Details:

1Lt Joseph L Bedsole, Jr.
Born in 1921 Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama, USA.
Buried Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial. Plot E. Row 8. Grave 12.
Saint-Avold, Departement de la Moselle, Lorraine, France.

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Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial.

Details, photos and research for this page provided by Michael Balss. Page construction and additional photos by David King.

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