Eye witnesses then and now


Some eye witnesses of the crash in 1943 are still alive like crew member Mr. Ben Roberts, the ball turret gunner.

On the ground, in Eygelshoven I met Mr. Sjir Handels and Mr. Piet Diederen, in Wurm in Germany Mr. Heinz Wilms. I also spoke to Mr. Hubert Walmanns from Hofstad Germany and Mr. Eduard Foitzik from Merkstein-Germany.
All three were boys in October 1943.

The press in October 1943.


Interview with Mr. Eduard Foitzik (*1935)
On Februari 16, 2017 I interviewed Mr. Eduard Foitzik (*1935). Mr. Foitzik and Mr. Wilms from Wurm (see his story below) know each other, because Mr. Foitzik lived in Wurm for a part of his youth. Mr. Foitzik also said that the crater was more near to the rail road - as was said by Mr. Wilms.

Eduard and his father stood in the front door of their house at the Floeßer Straße 78 in Merkstein (G) on this very clear October day in 1943. Together they watched the areal battle that was above Hofstad* from their point of view.

He saw the German fighters dive through the American bomber formations and heard the rattling of the machine guns from both the German and American airplanes.

He saw a bomber being hit, starting to burn and that a wing broke off. He also saw crew members jumping out of the burning plane and descending with their parachutes.

The way he remembers it, the burning plane spiraled down (Mr Handels also spoke of spiraling down) and in this rotating movement he saw a still working propeller hitting one of the parachutists. Mr. Foitzik thinks that this person died there an then.

Later that day of the day after - Mr. Foitzik did not recall that - he and his dad cycled towards Hofstad and further on to Finkenrath. There he saw the huge crash crater with the smoke still coming out of it.

At one moment there his dad said not to look to the right into a ditch** and he shielded Eduard’s eyes from looking. Probably one of the dead crew members found in Finkenrath was lying there - William Martin or Harvey Manley.

Was it the MIA Donald Paul Breeden who was caught by the propeller?

  1. *As the crow flies some 3 km.

** This was confirmed by Mr Günter Ortmanns of Herbach (G) who I spoke with in October 2018. He mentioned seeing one crew member lying in a ditch.


Interview with Mr. Hubert Walmanns (*1934)
On December 14. 2016 I met Mr. Hubert Walmanns who as a boy of nearly 10 years old remembers the crash. Mr. Manfred Etzig - a barber from Herzogenrath and collegae in playing the hunting horn - made it happen. He persuaded Mr. Walmanns to talk to me.

Mr. Walmanns took us without a hesitation to the spot where to the left of the road down towards the railroad the very big crash crater was. He mentioned there were two unexploded bombs lying around and when he for the first time arrived at the spot with some friends the plane was still burning and ammunition from the plane was still exploding.
He has no recollection of how many pilots were found. But he mentioned finding a piece of a jaw on the other side of the road where he told us his history on this sunny almost spring warm December afternoon in 2016.

He afterwards often went to the plane to get metal from it. For they got him extra ‘points‘ at school when they handed in scrap metal. His father - a farmer - helped Hubert to get a part of the wing and some propellor blades to the collection point with the use of their draft-horses.

While talking other memories raised. Like their evacuation in September 1944 to Merzenich in the neighborhood of Düren and the aerial bombardment of that city Düren in mid November 1944. They went with 3 horses and 5 cows, but 2 horses and 3 cows where killed by strafing US pilots. His father saw from the ditch he jumped into getting his 2 horses and car shot to pieces.

After the US ground forces gave his family the permission to go home, Hubert went first to make a fire in their house so that his family could sleep warm. But he found nothing. Their farm was totally destroyed in the artillery barrage and fighting of October 1944. With a sad smile he said that the debris was used to make the new road on which we stood while saying thank you and goodbye.


Interview with Mr. Heinz Wilms (*1940)

On November 17, 2016 I talked with Mr. Heinz Wilms (*1940) from the German Wurm hamlet. He read the article in Aachener Zeitung and contacted me.

As a boy he witnessed the crash. He heard the noise of the aerial battle and saw the burning plane at a height of about 200 meters (600 ft) coming from the direction of Dutch village Chevremont and making a left turn over his head and after that heard the explosion. He mentions it was so low he saw some crew members still in the plane.
Curious as he was he walked towards the crash place – about a 15 minutes walk on his (than) short legs from Wurm to Finkenrath along the road next to the railroad track.

As far as he remembers he was alone at the crash site. There he picked up piece of metal and saw a flying cap lying under it. As he picked it up he saw the goggles attached to the cap. One glass was OK and one was broken. The cap felt heavy and than to his horror he saw that a part of a head still was in it. He dropped the cap and ran off home.

Mr. Wilms thinks the crash site of the front part was more close to the Martini Café than shown on the map of Mr Oswald Ortmanns. The Café Martina was close to the – still existing - railroad crossing. Opposite of that café there was an orchard and Mr Wilms says the crash site was in the meadow just beyond that orchard.

He also mentioned that 3 bombs were dropped/landed across the railroad and later there were 3 pools there where moorhens lived. As a hunter – we talked in at his house in his room with his antlers/trophies - he often went there. On these walks he also found a piece of metal about 1 square meter in a dense bush close to the 3 bomb craters. He often saw it and also saw it weather away but never took it home.

The crash site he mentioned is now gone – buried/filled with land from the Nivelsteiner Sandwerke shoved aside to get to the sand. And the 3 bomb crates disappeared as the river Wurm got channelled.

At a walk after the talk with a cup of coffee, Mr. Wilms showed me the places he mentioned.

In a book about Finkenrath Mr. Wilms loaned to me I found a simple map showing this crash site and the Café Martini.
In the top part the tail piece, in the lower the crash site of the cockpit part.

Below Mr. Wilms’ and Mrs. Wauters-Martini’s information in perspective with the
map of Mr. Ortmanns. See the red oval.
The little dots in the middle square are the trees of the orchard mentioned.

3 bomb craters

After our initial interview I met Mr Wilms more often like with the book presentation on 23 November 2017. On 19 April 2018 I again spoke with him. Because earlier he mentioned the 3 bomb craters and the waterbirds on it and I was curious where they were back then.

So with a enlarged areal photo we sat I sat down at at the kitchen table of his cosy house in Wurm-Wildnis.

He had to look for some orientation marks, but after that he was very sure where these 3 bombs fell down and in which direction. In his opinion the 3 bomb craters were some 20 - 30 meters from each other.

He also showed me the route he took from home passing the Hamacher house towards the crash site.


More than 2 bodies in Finkentrath?

In this book I also read the account of birthday boy Mr. Heinz Michels (see below) and a - for me - new witness report from Mrs. Klara Wauters-Martini.
She was on her way back from school in Herzogenrath on the road from Nivelstein towards her parental home - Café Martini - as first heard the bombers flying high but then also the air raid alert and the rattling machine guns close by.
As she heard very frightening noise right above her, she dropped her bike and lay down and at that moment the burning plane crossed her village and crashed right after that in a meadow in front of her parental house...

Translation text in red rectangular

What I saw there was terrible: dead bodies - 2 or 3 - and everywhere parts of corpses (hands, legs....). The adults there moved us away quickly. Also on the other side of the Wurm a part of the plane did crash. Wing of Tail? I do not know.....

From: ‘Nivelstein und Finkenrath - versunken, aber unvergessen!‘ page 149.


Mr. Heinz Michels story from the book mentioned above

An unforgettable birthday experience - told by him in 2005.
pages 147-148. He was in one of the trees in the orchard show on the plan and the

picture of the aerial view.

We saw a big bomber coming from the west and much lower than the others.... Smoke coming from its tail end......a German fight flew past the boys and took a shot at the belly of the bomber... then flames came out of the bomber and it fell apart.... from the tail crew bailed out and bombs fell out of the fuselage... the tail end crashed down on the other side of the Wurm, the bombs very close to my parental house... then it became hot as in hell.... the front part passed so close above us that we could almost touch it... it was ablaze and gave a lot of heat... it started to spin... will it fall on Finkenrath or my house... I got very scared... but it staggered past us with a howling sound and crashed into te meadow before us with a horrible detonation... the impact was deafening... there must have been the bombs still in the plane... a huge stinging flame went up from the cash site some 100 meters from us... as a lightning we were out of the trees... we ran to the farm of the Hübben family... in the air dirt and metal parts we swaying around making scary noises... I do not want to speak about the horrible things we saw afterwards like corpses and parts of them.



Interview with Sjir Handels (*1937) on July 28th 2016

As a boy Mr Sjir Handels saw the aerial battle above the village of Eygelshoven from the backyard of his parental home in the Koningin Emmastraat (now Eiswinkel) where he stood watching this fight together with his father.

‘I heard the machine guns rattle both from the 3 German planes and from the B17 crew. The German planes circled around the B17 trying to shoot it down. But he B17 crew fought back because at one moment we saw that a German 109 was hit and passed over us with a smoke trail in the direction of Chevremont. My dad said: 'Richtig zoe' (All right). That was the 109 of Brinkmann. Shortly after that we saw 6 parachutes and the wing braking off. The 6 parachutes first were together, but at a certain moment one drifted away in a SE-direction towards Haanrade - in the direction of the 'Gasfabriek' (then Spoorstraat - now Wijngaardsberg). Then this parachute disappeared from our view because of the houses on the Spoorstraat and the Julianastraat (now Mirbachstraat). I think it must have landed in the 'beemden' where I often went to collect fresh rabbit feed like wild clover. There where meadows there but also a lot of mud, marsh-land and pools. And very small trails to keep your feet dry if you knew them. If Breeden did fall into this 'wilderness' of water and marsh he could have drowned.'

In the beginning of October 1944 - before the attack on the German city of Aachen - this part of the Worm valley area was heavily bombarded - with nearly 350 artillery guns and P38’s - to get the Germans out of the bunkers in their Siegfriedline/Westwall. The river Worm was and still is the boundary to Germany.

After the war the Eygelshoven Municipality used this wilderness as a dump for their garbage and after that the owner - the mining company 'Laura en Vereeniging' - filled it up with stones from their mines after taking out the coal. So there is no situation that is favorable to explore this site for Donald Paul Breeden. If he bailed out and if that is where he landed.

Sjir: 'We were lucky that the crew did not release their bombs over our village.'

From Mr Handels and others I also have a report of a collective interview made on June 18 2012 at the Eygelshoven Historical Society ‘Eygelshoven door de eeuwen heen’.


Piet Diederen (*1928)
On Memorial Day in May 2017 - my first time at Margraten - I met my uncle and his friend Piet Diederen. Piet his parents had an ODB grocery store in Eygelshoven on the Hoofdstraat (now Veldhofstraat); next to the Ladies Brull’s shoe shop.
When I told him I was there was because of Donald Paul Breeden and his fellow crew members, I immediately got a response from Piet on his 14th of October 1943. On the next Tuesday I sat at his living room table.

On the 14th of October 1943 as a 15-year-old boy he was working for his uncle butcher Zef Diederen bringing butcher’s wares to his clients in a cargo bike. On that day from the butchery Diederen next to the church of Chevremont up the hill ‘de Vink’ and than down hill towards the family Edixhoven in Eygelshoven at the Rimburgerweg. Edixhoven then was the director of the coal mine Julia.
On his way Piet saw the air battle above him and arriving at the Rimburgerweg, how the American B17 fell apart. That seemed too dangerous to him and he quickly got off his bike and sheltered against the wall surrounding the coal mine until it was quiet again.
On his way back to his uncle at Chevremont he tried to have a look into the hole in which the German fighter plane had disappeared. That was near the farm Benders. But he did not get a chance to get a good look.


Ger van Megen (*1928)
I met my uncle Ger van Megen and his friend Piet Diederen who are friends since their schooldays at Margraten on 28 May 2017.
My uncle Ger was on his way back to the Mulo school in Kerkrade after his mid day meal at home at Op de Kamp in Eygelshoven on 14 October 1943.
Halfway between De Vink and Chevremont he witnessed the German and American fighters shooting at each other; ‘They flew that low, they flew in between the houses.’
He realized that being that close was dangerous and ducked for cover. At a certain moment he heard a big bang to the right of him and looking up he saw a cloud of dust and the tail part of an airplane sticking out of the ground. About 1,5 meter of the grey green tail was visible. ‘And there was hair on the top of that tail. Must have been hair from the pilot.’
Uncle Ger thinks the crash location was some 10 meters from the road. He tried to get closer to have a better look but he was sent away by the police.
He also went to see the tail part of the B-17 near the rowing pond in Eygelshoven. He thinks the tail was some 4 to 5 meters away from that pond.


Toon Stams (*1930)
He was a pupil at the Ambachtschool (technical school) in Kerkrade and witnessed the arial battle raging on in the clear skies over Kerkrade in his mid day break from the school yard - now the Old Hickory plein. He heard the machine guns rattling and canons popping on board the airplanes. He saw how a plane was hit and went down. Mr Stams made a gesture turning his out stretched hand down with a half roll.
After school he walked home to the Molenweg in Eygelshoven and passed the crash site but could not approach it. I asked him where that was.’You know where the parking lot of the Lückerheide Clinic now is? There some 20 meters beside of the road the plane had crashed.’ He also told me that at the start of the war there was a Dutch MG-post dug in at that spot.
From hear say he told me that one of the gunners hands still was on an MG in de B-17 but Mr Stams never saw it  himself. No admittance there either. And he heard that some body took a shot at the crew members descending on their parachutes.


Eye witnesses on the ground in 1943

My fathers uncle - Jozef/Joep Haeren - told that he ran up and down his farm field on which he was working - seeing the loose wing falling in his direction like a leave from a tree - left then right, left etc.
He had all reason to be afraid because on the night of 30/31 July 1941 his farm was bombed by accident. His house was totally destroyed.
The RAF pilots must have thought that they were all ready over Cologne in Germany.

One house furher at the corner of Torenstraat en Kerkberg in the Heckmans café 5 people died - they drownded in their cellar because their water main was hit and bursted and the cellar door blocked by the collapse of the house.

Oswald Ortmanns - then a small (German) boy - told me that the burning nose was passing so close to the tree top from where he was looking that he felt the heat of the burning nose part. I listened to the presentation of the crash he made for his historical research group ‘Eygelshoven door de eeuwen heen’ in 2012.

Heinz Michels - 14-10-1943 was his 10th birthday - and friend of Oswald as was Hermann Nöhlen were playing in trees that stood opppostite to the Martini Café. ‘When we looked west we got very frightened. From Holland a very big four engine bomber came right at us. Smoke billowing from the tail...’

‘Als wir einmal den Blicknach Westen richteten, überkam uns ein fürchterlicher Schreck. Von Holland kommend näherte sich ein riesengroßer viermotoriger Bomber... Rauch strömte aus seinem Heck.’

Leni Lataster(-van Dijk) then living in the Bergeikstraat: “Over us was a hellish noise. An aerial battle was going on right above us. We saw parachutes coming down. My dad said: ‘This plane is going to crash. When it falls downs we will all die.’ But because of the left wing tearing off, the plane made a turn to the artificial boating lake behind the coal mine. We heard a big bang...  we were relieved ourselves.”

‘Über uns war ein höllischer Lärm. Ein Luftgefecht war direkt über uns. Wir sahen Fallschirme herunter kommen.
Papa sagte:“ Dit vliegtuig stort neer! Als het vliegtuig neerstort, zijn we allen samen dood!“ Durch das Abbrechen eines Flügels hat das Flugzeug jedoch eine Drehung in Richtung Ruderweiher gemacht. ... Wir hörten einen harten Aufschlag...Ein tiefer Seufzer entfuhr uns allen...“

Hubert and son Sjir (then 6 years) Handels saw it all happening from their backyard in de Koningin Emmastraat (now Eiswinkel). Hubert thought the plane would fall on the coal mine Julia.

People saw 5 or was it 6 parachutes of which one drifted in the direction of Rolduc and Haanrade and the ‘beemden’ - meadows near the river Worm. 5 landed safely.

The Dutch protocol says: 5 crewmembers landed in Eygelshoven.

Parish priest Father Franck told that a member of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) on leave shot at one of the crew members while descending with his parachute.

Mr Rien Sanders was one of the many who the Americans - in their flying gear - being marched into Eygelshoven by the Germans. One of the crew still had the time to say ‘Hello babe’ to one of the girls along the street.

Most parts from the war diary of Sjir Handels.


Stories heard in 2016
I heard from Sjeng Dassen that his older sister Tiny had her dress on first communion made from a parachute and about his grand dad his US bomber boots size 46-47.

Jo Engels mailed me that for more than 25 years he is interested in this crash. From his father he got the cap from Sgt Leonard Henlin. On every October 14th he goes to Margraten to remember Henlin and his other crew members. Jo worked for more than 30 years at Eygelshoven US-POMS-site - the crash site of the tail part.


Back to the story of all of the crew members of B-17 # 42-3436.
A story I started to find out why and how
Donald Paul Breeden could get missing.