RICHARD E. HARLEMAN|
World War II
Memories and Biography
Lost 27 March 1944
Story written by Joe Benoit
February 22, 1994
I have received your letter asking for information regarding the fate of pilot 1st Lt. Richard E. Harleman of Lehighton, PA. Let me start by giving a history on how we came together and how he was assigned as our pilot
My name is Joseph G. Benoit and was the assistant engineer and right waist gunner. We were assigned to the 66th Squad, 44th Bomb Group in January 1994. It was the group policy at that time that new crews would make their first mission with experienced crews for final training. My pilot, Lt. Jorgensen, navigator Lt. Liddell, bombardier Lt. Gatens and ball gunner S/Sgt. Hawkins (Etheridges) were shot down on their mission flying with other crews. This left the rest of the crew, 1st Lt. Melvin J. Johnson copilot, S/Sgt. Wood, S/Sgt. Lawyer, S/Sgt. Crane, Sgt. Petricevich and myself without a pilot, navigator, bombardier and ball gunner. This was when 1st Lt. Harleman, 1st Lt. Cobane, and Lt. Baum and S/Sgt. Fields were assigned to replace my missing crewmembers.
We made eight bombing missions together. I can't remember all of the targets. We made three missions during the "Big Week" -- Furth, Gotha and Munster. We made the first and second American daylight mission on Berlin. One mission was a V2 Rocket Bomb Sight on the French Coast. The next mission was Brunswick.
Our final mission was Mont de Manson Airdrome located in southern France. This was a long mission, but was not supposed to be a rough mission. There were only 12 flak guns in the target area but they were very accurate. The target was the home of German recon aircraft that were spying on our ground operations in Italy.
We dropped our bomb load over the target and seconds later we were hit by flak in the right wing just behind the No. 4 engine. The fuel tank was also hit. The engine stopped and we could not keep up with the formation. We decided to hit the deck and fly to Spain (a neutral country). As we flew over the French Coast, we were hit by machine-guns and small arms fire. Our plane caught fire and Lt. Harleman ditched the airplane. The plane broke in half at the waist windows. The four survivors were standing just behind the break and were thrown into the water. Lt. Baum got out from the front of the plane, but did not live. He had seven bullet holes, one which was in his neck.
The front part of the airplane stayed afloat long enough for the rest of the crew to get out. I don't know why no one else got out, whether they were knocked out or hit by the gunfire. They went down with the front section about a half-mile to a mile from the shore in the Bay of Biscayne just out from the French town of Biarrity.
The four survivors were pretty banged up and sent to hospital in Bayonne, France. We were prisoners of war for 13 months.
I hope this letter answers some of your questions and if I can help in any way, let me know. I am the only one alive from Lt. Harleman's crew.
Love, Joe Benoit