B-17 42-5251 Capt.Smiley "Bodacious Critter"
I work for over 3 years with the clarification of the losses Bombers B-17 on the raid on Bremen on the 17th of April 1943. Here I have found a small story about Capt. Smiley's 42-5251. "Bodacious Critter" 306BG/368BS (BO-Z) firstname.lastname@example.org
[Among] the missing crews are: Capt. Walter N. Smiley, 2nd Lt. Avery L. Ewan,
1st Lt. Wilbur N. Breunig, 1st Lt. Martin M. Strauss, T/Sgt. Donald B. Hepler, T/Sgt. Raymond C. Clifton, S/Sgt. Roderick C. Clark, S/Sgt. William R. Payne, S/Sgt. Lawrence J. Sliff, S/Sgt. Roy E. Staff
The official version of how Bodacious Critter
was lost was described in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 15518, which states, "This aircraft is believed to have turned back toward the enemy coast at 54 deg 10 min N-06 deg 40 min E, and is believed to have crashed into the sea." MACR 15518 most likely is based on a post-mission debriefing of the sole surviv-ing 368th aircrew, that of Lt. Maxwell Judas. Handwritten notes of this debrief-ing state, "14:05 Lt. (sic) Smiley—turned back toward coast of Germany [at] 540 10' N— 60 46' E—possibly 4 chutes out be-fore Smiley must have hit water (1 B-17 blew up on hitting water—was this Smiley?—it sank immediately) This air-craft [was] at 1000 feet then—apparently [it was] Smiley"
Russell E. Strong in his book on the 306th accepts this version when he wrote that Capt. Smiley's aircraft made it to the target to drop his bombs after being hit in the first FW190 attack. The aircraft then turned back toward the North Sea some 60 miles away. After flying out over the wa-ter, Capt. Smiley apparently decided that the aircraft would not make it back to England and attempted to return to the German coast only to crash at sea with no survivors.
This version, however, raises two ques-tions. First, it fails to account for the pos-sibility there were four survivors from the aircraft. While it is possible that the four chutes reported by Judas's crew were for crew members who failed to survive the jump, a more likely explanation is that this crew saw another aircraft in distress. It is relevant that nearly all remaining B-17s lost that day had at least one survivor and many had multiple survivors. This version also raises the question of why the crew was unable to bail out of the aircraft given the 20 minutes or so it flew under control after the FW-190 attack. A possible explanation is that the aircraft commander initially thought his aircraft was sufficiently flight worthy to return to England only to change his mind once over the North Sea. Once over water, the crew might have chosen not to bail out in favor of a ditch-ing at sea because of the low probability of being picked up before cold North Sea water and the resulting hypothermia took its toll. The aircraft, then, either exploded as it neared the surface of the water or suffered a non-survivable crash on ditch-ing.
But, there is some support for a different version. Robert Seelos, a good friend of Smiley's who also flew with the 368th, told that he had heard that Smiley's aircraft was severely damaged in the initial FW-190 attack and that all crewmembers in the front of the aircraft (including Raymond C. Clifton) most certainly perished in this initial attack. The aircraft then imme-diately went into a terminal dive from which it did not recover. Seelos, who had been shot down and captured during the 5 April mission against Antwerp, wrote that he had been told this by a fellow 368th pilot when they were reunited in a German
POW camp in the summer of 1943. This individual had been shot down on 17 April as well and had witnessed Smiley's crash.
This version, if it were accurate, would suggest that Smiley's aircraft crashed on land or possibly the Weser River and not in the North Sea as we all had been led to believe. While this version seems more consistent with the facts as reported by American observers, it is not supported by German records that normally recorded the serial numbers of aircraft found on German territory.
In sum, we probably will never know the real story.
Volker Urbansky email@example.com