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Lt. William A. Rautenbush, born 1920, KIA 1944

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Verden’s 1990 local almanac includes an article by Dr Peter Clasen, a physician with interest in local history, with further information about Lieutenant Rautenbush – Verdener Heimatkalender, 1990, pages 198 – 203.

Lieutenant William A. Rautenbush set out from Southern England in a P-51 Mustang  early on May 8, 1944, to fly escort for B-17 Flying Fortresses. They flew in formations from somewhere above the North Sea and reached the mainland at the height of 20,000 feet. The groups came from the North West, with Berlin as their destination, and were attacked by German pursuit planes above Verden, Luttum, and Neddenaverbergen. Rautenbush, an experienced pilot, tilted his plane and started chasing the German machines. He apparently expected his adversaries ahead, but one German pursuit plane came from behind and opened fire.

Rautenbush’s plane crashed into a small forest near Hohenaverbergen. Water rose in the crater where the actual hull of his P-51 had hit the ground, and after the war, his remains were recovered and taken to the American military cemetary in the Belgian Ardennes: site D, row 5, grave number 53. In 1983, local residents found more fractions of the hull, the landing gear, and cross-ties, but when finding bits of a leather uniform jacket with a legible name badge, they cancelled their search and put it all back into the crater.

crash site

crash site

Dr Clasen found some additional information. Rautenbush’s army number was -08-803453, and he belonged to the 375th Fighter Squadron. His awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.

He was born on April 11, 1920, lived in a Chicago orphanage until he was eleven, and then lived with foster parents, Mrs and Mr Arthur Ritchie, Greenwood Farms, Route 3, New London, Wisconsin. His stepbrother, Mr Donovan Ritchie, remembered him well, and in 1988, a memorial was inaugurated in 1988, with American military, among them Lt Colonel Horn, participating. Horn’s father had flown a B-17, one of the planes the P-51’s were escorting on the day when Rautenbush lost his life in their defence.

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Colonel Ihlefeld – just another Ejection, 1945

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Related Story: 1st Lieutenant William A. Rautenbush, KIA May 8 1944 near Verden, Aller

A physician from Verden or around, Peter Clasen, researched the crash site of a Messerschmitt BF 109 K, about five kilometres from the crash site of Lt. Rautenbush one year earlier (see related story above). The ME 109 crashed between 12 and 13 h on 10 April, 1945 and bogged into the Neddenaverbergen farmer’s swampy grassland. Eyewitnesses saw no parachute, and it was assumed that the pilot had been killed.

— Update: An alternative version is that Colonel Ihlefeld bailed out on 8th May 1944 near Langwedeler Moor instead – see Jabo’s comment. —

In an account published by the Heimatkalender Verden, Dr. Clasen describes how he made the search for the plane his concern, and how he and others tried to dig the machine up several times in the 1970s. As water ran into every excavation very quickly, several tries to locate the cockpit failed.

On 7 April 1945, some 70 young German pilots, poorly trained, had lost their lives in a big air battle. The Messerschmitt in question crashed three days later in another operation. As it turned out after the cockpit was finally found in 1983, without human remains or a parachute, and the seatbelt open, the pilot was Colonel Herbert Ihlefeld, still alive.
According to Clasen’s article, some 80 German planes fought against American bombing planes that came from the direction of Berlin on 10 April 1945. The German pursuit planes started from Stade and Rotenburg/Wümme. Above the Teufelsmoor (“Devil’s Moor”) they met the Americans and attacked them from above in an altitude of 7000 to 8000 metres.

More than 30 American bombers are said to have been lost during this attack, two of them shot down by Ihlefeld. As it befits a kick-ass pilot like him, it took 12 Mustang pursuit planes to down his plane. Take that bit of the story with some salt, if you like.

Old Post Office, Verden

Old Post Office, Verden

Anyway, Ihlefeld parachuted into a field near the village of Luttum, from a remaining height of his plane of about 400 metres. He then sort of hitchhiked to Verden, where he was taken to the Postal Office next to the train station, where 25 American pilots were held. (My guess is that they were held there as a tacit retaliation by their guards, as the train station was the main target for British fighter-bombers.)

The author in the Heimatkalender (something like “local home calender”) is struggling with his apparent contempt for the war as deemed politically correct on the one hand, and admiration for the colonel (who had allegedly downed 130 planes himself, the first of them during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s on the other – on the side of the Fascists, of course). After finding the empty cockpit in 1983, the author and his team concluded with delight that the Lord had resurrected, and found out about his identity and whereabouts soon after that.

All combined, Ihlefeld apparently survived being shot down eight times during some 1000 combat missions – the one near Neddenaverbergen and Luttum included.

Written by taide

August 24, 2008 at 6:56 pm