Kneeling L to R: Sgt. Laurence W. Donnelly (BTG), T/Sgt. Robert J. Steele (ROG), 2nd Lt. Charles W. Staiger (NAV)Sgt. Joseph G. Allen. Standing L to R: Sgt. Richard H. Heritage (NG/TOG), T/Sgt. Charles A. Weiss (TTE), 2nd Lt. Laurence J. Lazzari (P), 2nd Lt. Guiher G. Greenwood (CP), 2nd Lt. Daniel J. O’Connell, Jr. (TG).
100th BG Photo Archives
This website recently received a comment from USAF Colonel Guiher G. Greenwood (retired) who served with the 351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, regarding a picture posted in our gallery. He identified the plane pictured as that of the B-17 E-Z Goin’ piloted by Joe Martin with co-pilot Henry Cervante on the Buchen raid of April 7, 1945. Interestingly, Col Greenwood and Joe Martin lived through one of the more infamous “suicide” attacks by the Germans in their last desperate days of the war.
The Sonderkommando Elbe was a special squadron of the German Luftwaffe, a Luftwaffe task force assigned to bring down Allied bombers by ramming German aircraft into the Allied bombers. Sonderkommando means special command, and Elbe is a river that runs through Germany to the North Sea. The Sonderkommando Elbe was formed at Reichmarschall Hermann Goering’s insistence that the Reich’s defense units should start ramming bombers as a last resort. This group of fighters was not solely tasked with ramming bombers, but that was their last ditch option. In theory this was not a suicide mission, they were only supposed to ram an Allied bomber if there was a chance to bail out alive. Unlike the Japanese kamikaze pilots, the inexperienced German pilots brought a parachute with them while flying their striped-down Messerschmitt Bf 109’s, if the pilot survived the collision, he could use the parachute.
The only documented mission, often called Rammkommando Elbe (ramming) or Werewolf, was on April 7, 1945 when a total of 120 pilots took off in their fighters and attacked several formations of U.S. bombers heading towards the Germany heartland. These young German pilots were motivated to destroy Allied bombers by any means necessary, they had seen their country decimated by the relentless Allied bombing campaign. Although the Luftwaffe had an amply supply of airplanes, even in April 1945, they lacked trained pilots and aviation fuel. Many of the Sonderkommando pilots had only 50 hours of training, and their lack of experience was as likely to get them killed as the P-51 Mustangs that protected the Bomber Armada.
This last ditch effort of the mighty Luftwaffe resulted in only 15 Allied bombers attacked with eight successfully destroyed. Several planes barely limped back to base, these included the E-Z Goin’ flown by Joe Martin’s crew. Their left stabilizer was ripped off, and the rudder substantially damaged. In addition to having little control of the plane, they also lost engine #1. Somehow the crew was able to return to England, and landed successfully.