Miss Lace's BoysNov 01, 2020 11:30AM ● By Bruce P. Schoch
There was a full moon, a bomber’s moon, though that did not matter for daylight bombing missions. But the folk wisdom of craziness and strange behavior during the lunar cycle did prevail. It was also Saint Andrew’s Day, for the patron saint of Scotland, among others, celebrated by launching the largest and last battleship for the Royal Navy, the HMS Vanguard, at Clydesbank. Nazi Germany celebrated by striking Shadow Hill in southeast London with a V-2 rocket, killing twenty-three; in their tradition, it was the beginning of vampire season.
It was on this day, November 30, 1944, that the 8th U.S. Air Force launched 1,281 B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers and 972 escorting P-47 and P-51 fighters in a continuation of the Oil Campaign and the Transportation Campaign against industrial targets in the Third Reich. Mission 731 would involve thirty-eight bomber groups in three air divisions against the remaining functioning synthetic oil plants, rail yards, and terminals, largely in eastern Germany. These massive raids, begun in 1943 against armaments factories, had shifted to logistics targets by 1944. Twenty-nine bombers would be lost that day, and ten more would be scrapped as non-repairable. About a third of the aircraft involved would suffer battle damage.
Eleven squadrons from four or perhaps five bomber groups (mission logs are inconsistent about targets) attacked the Bereinbohle-Benin synthetic oil plant just north of Zeitz. One hundred thirty-two bombers attacked it as their primary target, nineteen more as a secondary. A third of the total losses (ten) would be at this one target, leading to thirty-eight killed in action and fifty-two as prisoners of war. Six of these aircraft came from a single squadron—the 527th of the 379th Bomb Group. Eight of the KIA were from the Miss Lace (Miss Lace was a cartoon figure in the Army’s Male Call newspaper during WW II), including the uncle I never knew, SSGT Stewart Welton Schoch.
Stewart was drafted in 1943. His brother, my dad, had enlisted in 1942. Stewart became a waist gunner on a B-17, and was wounded on his first mission, a strike on an aircraft engine plant in Sindelfingen, but returned to the air. Stewart’s parents—my grandparents—in Troutville, Pennsylvania, were notified by telegram on February 13, 1945, of his death. They and my parents were celebrating my birth, just three days earlier.
During 1944, Germany had moved a large number of anti-aircraft units (flakabwehrkanone) into the Zeitz region. The 14th Flak Division (Luftwaffe), based in the city of Leipzig, had 540 large caliber guns covering the area. Its 120th Flak Regiment was based in Zeitz; that November, it apparently had four battalions and two separate batteries with over 100 anti-aircraft guns of all calibers. Unit organizations had become more robust; the four-gun batteries of 88 mm had morphed to batteries of six to eight, and had been grouped in gross-batterein of sixteen to twenty-four guns. This arrangement allowed gunners to put more fire on individual aircraft, typically those in the lower-flying squadrons.
A post-war assessment by RAND Corporation noted that overall, strategic bombing had been relatively ineffective in affecting German morale, and that German countermeasures limited the impact of bombing damage. For instance, replacement rail stockpiles often meant the trains were running again the next day; in the case of the synthetic oil refineries, the losses were often limited to a day’s production in above-ground storage tanks.
The plant at Zeitz was apparently not significantly damaged in the bombing operation that killed my uncle, but a German Wikipedia site notes that 139 civilians and thirty-two forced labor personnel were killed, along with public and private property damage. This target would be repeatedly attacked until March of 1945.
Army Graves Registration recovered the remains of the Miss Lace crew in Threna, Germany, on June 30, 1945. This was the day before the entire area became the Red Army zone of control for the USSR. No personal effects were found with the remains. Seven sets of remains were noted on the back of the Luftwaffe form KU 3401, which named the two unrecoverable remains, and, later, the radioman. A special on Fox News, April 24, 2019, included an interview with ninety-three-year old George Ciampi, who served in the Army Quartermaster Graves Registration program from D-Day past V-E Day in Europe. He said the decision was made then not to leave any American servicemen’s remains in Germany, and that they used German POWs to disinter all the temporary cemeteries (American and German), ID the remains, and move them to France and Belgium.
The remains from Miss Lace went to France. Memorial plaques were made for the two still missing at the Henri-Chappelle military cemetery in Belgium. The other five, including Stewart, were reburied in the also relatively new American cemetery in Lorraine. Stewart was laid to rest in a temporary grave, Plot M, Row 6, Grave 1792, on July 8, 1945, where he would remain for three and a half years. He was re-interred in Plot A, Row 25, Grave 40, on January 13, 1949. Three of his comrades would then be disinterred and returned to hometowns in the United States for reburial in family plots, including his good buddy Griff. The turret gunner remains in France with Stewart; his family declined repatriation when advised that remains may have become “co-mingled.”
Repatriation of remains is a very slow process and averages between three and seven weekly, according to the weekly report of the VFW Journal, and the number remaining is in the tens of thousands.
I learned of the Repatriation Program, “Until They All Come Home,” on Valentine’s Day, 2018. I and my sisters subsequently submitted DNA samples to the Army for eventual use in confirming our Uncle Stewart’s identity. It prompted me to engage in a personal genealogy search, during which I discovered the most German part of me was my family name, and to research my family involvement in WWII, during which my Dad and my uncle served in the Army Air Corps, and my Mom, the Scottish immigrant, served in the British Army as an anti-aircraft gunner.