The Last Mission

The Target - Oberpfaffenhofen   The Mission Log         The Safe Haven - Altenrhein

The B-17 Landing of April 18  Baby's Landing   The Official MACR    Woody's Poem

B-17 "Lucky Lady" flying at the Altenrhein air show in 1988


Oberpfaffenhofen - the Target of the Last Mission

Oberpfaffenhofen was the home of Dornier-Werke GmbH, the builder of a wide variety of bombers and seaplanes, the Do217N-2 night fighter, and the unique Do335A-1 twin engine fighter. A few of these were designed and/or manufactured at Dornier's subsidiary in Altenrhein, AG für Dornier-Flugzeug. See lists of Dornier aircraft. Dornier is now known as Fairchild Dornier and is a major manufacturer of business jets and commercial airliners.

The main purpose of the April 24, 1944, mission was not the above-ground factory, however, but the underground jet engine assembly line. In this subterranean workspace (still in use by Fairchild Dornier today!), jet engines were being assembled for the dangerous Me262 twin jet fighter, which was to enter service during the summer of 1944.

The bombardier's aiming point was the tunnel entrance to the underground factory, which was located by following one of the small taxiways from the end of the main runway. See the former Fairchild Dornier airfield and factory at Oberpfaffenhofen (now RUAG Aerospace) as it looks today from approximately 5000 feet. What's your estimate?

Map of the Oberpfaffenhofen and Munich area.

Oberpfaffenhofen is now the home of the German Space Operations Center.

Footnote to History: The Dornier Oberpfaffenhofen/Altenrhein Connection
Professor Dornier, the founder of the aircraft company that bore his name and that was the target of Baby's last mission, went to Altenrhein in 1926 to start the construction of a brand new aircraft, the DO-X. He opened a new factory and named the new company FFA (Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke Altenrhein). The new company both manufactured and repaired aircraft. In addition, FFA had scheduled flights to Basel (Switzerland), Düsseldorf and Munich (Germany), and Innsbruck (Austria). When Baby landed at Altenrhein, Professor Dornier's FFA employees may have witnessed the safe landing of a B-17 that had just bombed his factory in Germany!


Altenrhein - the Safe Haven

Alfons Eigenmann's description of Altenrhein airfield,
as translated by Harald Rauch and edited by Ed Rathje:

Construction of the Airfield

The Altenrhein airfield was built in the years 1927-1928 by pumping mud from nearby Lake Constance (Bodensee) onto a swampy area close to the shore line. Almost in the middle of this area a turf runway of 600 x 100 meters was built, laterally marked on both sides by a ditch 240 cm wide and 80 cm deep, which was filled up with yellow gravel from the Jura (the mountain range bordering France in the west of Switzerland). The grass taxiway areas were on both sides of the runway. As the airfield was certified for light single engine aircraft only, it was not capable of heavy bomber aircraft operations.


Visit by a Mysterious Spitfire

As a glider pilot, my friends and I used to camp over the weekends on the Altenrhein airfield beside our glider planes.  I remember a peculiar incident which happened towards the end of World War II.  At dawn we saw a Spitfire landing from the west and taxiing at high speed back to the western end of the field. With the engine still running, a man (who must  have been sitting on the pilot's lap during the flight) emerged from the cockpit and ran immediately to a car which was standing by with its engine idling.  It was a black Citroën which took the passenger and then immediately disappeared into the direction of the Rhine Valley. The aircraft immediately took off and flew away westbound in a huge arc. Because of the poor visibility and the great distance from the objects, we could see neither the aircraft's insignia nor the car's license plate.

(End of Alfons' comments)

Maps of Altenrhein airfield, showing Lake Constance (Bodensee) to the west, and the Alten Rhein to the northeast, just a few hundred yards from the airfield. The Alten Rhein formed the border with Austria, which was, of course, part ofthe Third Reich. There were several flak batteries close by, which dictatedapproaches from the west, and consequent tailwind landings with the prevailingwesterly wind. Roy Hommer was taken to the hospital in Rorschach.


Photo of Altenrhein airfield, looking north towards Lake Constance. Note the Dornier factory buildings between the western edge of the airfield and the shoreline, and the Alten Rhein (and Austrian border) very close to the northeast. The Alten Rhein is actually the old bed of the Rhein river, which was moved to a new man-made river bed to the east, in Austria. Alten Rhein means the old (bed of the) Rhein river. Photo circa 1940-45.

Photo of Altenrhein airfield, looking south, with the shore of Lake Constance on the right. The town of Rorschach, where Hommer was taken to the hospital, is just out of the picture off to the right. Photo circa 1940-45.

Map of the Altenrhein and Oberpfaffenhofen/Munich region, the area of Baby's last flight.

The missing Altenrhein chart that would have helped. Note that Austria ('Osterreich'  in German), then part of the Third Reich, is just beyond the end of the runway! The landing pattern covers both countries.

See today's approach to runway 10 at Altenrhein! Note the Austrian Alps in the background.

Visit the Altenrhein airport.

Visit the Altenrhein airport museum, Fliegermuseum Altenrhein.

Photos and maps above courtesy Alfons Eigenmann.


The B-17 Landing of April 18

An earlier forced landing at Altenrhein dramatically
affects the subsequent landing of Baby.

Alfons Eigenmann's description of the incident,
as translated by Harald Rauch and edited by Ed Rathje:

On April 18, 1944, on a mission over the south of Nazi Germany, a B-17 (Serial no. 42-30233) came under heavy fire from the flak emplacements around the city of Augsburg and was so heavily damaged that the aircraft couldn't hold her position in the group. The pilot in command decided for a forced landing at Altenrhein, which was not far away from the target area. The bomber approached the field from the west over Lake Constance under tailwind conditions. With a broken down engine and the wind from behind, the pilot obviously couldn't  keep the flaring bomber under full control, so that the plane drifted to the left, straight into the taxiway area beside the runway. The heavy aircraft cut into the turf where the undercarriage got stuck. The aircraft, which had to be towed away, left deep ruts in the turf.

(End of Alfons' comments)

B-17 SN 42-30233, under guard after its forced landing. The glider belongs to Alfons Eigenmann, then 17 years old.

Photo courtesy Alfons Eigenmann.


Baby's Landing at Altenrhein

Alfons Eigenmann's description of the landing,
as translated by Harald Rauch and edited by Ed Rathje:

On April 24, 1944, another B-17 (Serial no. 42-97203), which had taken off from Podington, Great Britain, was attacked by German fighters on her mission to bomb Oberpfaffenhofen airfield.  With a seriously injured airman aboard who was actually bleeding to death, the pilot headed for a forced landing in Altenrhein. As his predecessor did, commander Parramore approached Altenrhein from the west. With a far too long landing, this B-17 also drifted to the left. When the aircraft was rolling to a halt on the taxiway it hit the ruts which SN 42-30233 had left 6 days before. With the sudden halt, the bomber was  tipped over and the nose section was heavily damaged. The aircraft then fell back into a normal position.

(End of Alfons' comments)

'Baby' after the forced landing.


'Baby' with a broken nose.

The crew of 'Baby' surrounding Roy Hommer, lying on a stretcher on the ground, waiting for a ride to Spital Rorschach. A large crowd had gathered by this time.

Photos courtesy Alfons Eigenmann.

'Baby' touching down at Altenrhein airfield, Switzerland. The plane landed downwind on a relatively short grass field. With one tire blown, normal braking could not be accomplished. Civilians had gathered to watch several stricken AAF bombers land in Switzerland that day, and one of them took the following series of pictures. Note that the plane is just touching down on its main gear - good timing by the photographer!

The plane after landing at Altenrhein. Note the snow-covered Alps in the background. Runway 10 was used, avoiding an approach over Austria, but forcing a tailwind landing.


The crew being loaded onto a truck to be taken away to quarantine. Note the nose of the plane, including the chin turret, hanging down.

One bomb had hung up in the bomb bay. Before the landing, some of the crew had tried to replace the fuse pin in the remaining bomb, so it wouldn't explode during a bumpy landing on a grass field (hard surface landings with possibly live bombs were dangerous enough!) The crew wasn't sure if the bomb was successfully disarmed, so when they emerged from the airplane after the plane came to a stop, they waved and yelled (in English, of course) for the gathering crowd to stay away from the plane. Most of the Swiss soldiers and civilians did not understand this behavior at first, since they expected the crew to be smiling after a safe landing in neutral Switzerland. Imagine the crew's thoughts during the moments when the plane's tail was thrown in the air and then fell back down, knowing the hung bomb might still be armed!

During an emergency landing, everyone except the two pilots are normally in the radio room. Because the wounded Roy Hommer was lying on the catwalk, blocking access to the radio room, the bombardier and navigator both stayed at their stations in the nose of the plane. Garcia and Steichen were both thrown to the ground, along with the broken nose of the plane, when the plane had nosed over.

John Garcia cut his thumb in the crash. Steichen remembers that Garcia stood up and  saw his own blood on his thumb and promptly fainted (after 20 dangerous bombing missions!) They were among the first to board the truck to be taken away. When Parramore didn't see them around the plane and saw the nose broken off, he assumed the two had been killed and taken away. He was pleasantly surprised to see them when he was led onto the truck.


The Official MACR
(Missing Air Crew Report)

B-17         (no aircraft  name)        42-97203  92NDBG  407THBS  (DAMAGED - FIGHTERS)
                                                            CRASHED IN SWITZERLAND    MACR  4149

(CP)2ND LT. OSCAR C. SAMPSON                 INT
(N)2ND LT. JOHN W. STEICHEN                     INT
(B)2ND LT. JOHN H. GARCIA                          INT
(TT)T/SGT.  ROY A. HOMMER                         INT
(R)T/SGT. CARL D. STETSON                          INT
(BT)S/SGT. WILLIAM A. DORSA                     INT
(RW)S/SGT. WHEN L. McKEE                          INT
(LW)S/SGT. CHARLES R. GASS                       INT
(TG)S/SGT. LLOYD H. BRADSHAW                INT


A B-17 at an Altenrhein Airshow, 1988

"Lucky Lady" taking off at Altenrhein    "Lucky Lady" landing at Altenrhein

This was the first appearance of a B-17 at Altenrhein since WWII. Unlike the wartime grass field, the runway was now paved! Air show photos kindly provided by Dr. Gerhard Winkler, of Feldkirch, Austria.

B-17 S/N 448846 arrived at Polebrook March 25, 1945, and was transferred to 305th BG Chelveston on May 23, 1945. It returned to the US and was then sold to the French IGN (surveying) as F-BGSP) December 7, 1954. It then became (F-AZDX May 1985) and was used on the airshow circuit as "Lucky Lady".

Chapter 1
The Flight Across the Atlantic
Chapter 2
Life at Podington
Chapter 3
The Missions of Baby's Crew
Chapter 4
The Last Mission
Chapter 5
Life in Switzerland
Chapter 6
Escape from Switzerland
Baby's Crew
Retracing History:
The Author's Trip
What's New on the Site
Links to Related Sites

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Copyright © 2001 by Ed Rathje

Web page created by Ed Rathje - last updated June 20, 2002.