Original U.S. WWII B-24 Liberator Lil Peach 791st Bomb Squadron KIA Pilot Trunk Grouping
Original Items: One-of-a-kind grouping. First Lieutenant Rufus B. Stephens ASN 0-795501 from Madison, Georgia was the Pilot who flew the B-24 LiL PEACH in the USAAF 8th Air Force, 467th Bombardment Group, 791st Bomb Squadron based out of Rackheath, England. He and his crew were shot down over the Baltic Sea close just off the coast of Germany on May 29, 1944. Stephens was Killed in Action and his trunk full of belongings was shipped home to his family where it remained largely undisturbed until recently coming to the market.
The 467th Bomb Group, or the "Rackheath Aggies" as they came to be known, flew B-24 Liberators on missions from April 1944. Its air crews became known for their accuracy and the Group had the best overall standing for accuracy within the Eighth Air Force. The Group bombed strategic targets in Germany and later, supported the ground invasion of the Continent by bombing enemy installations at Cherbourg in support of the Normandy landings and concentrations of enemy troops and supplies at Montreuil as Allied soldiers moved east across France.
Near the edge of the Baltic Sea, returning from a mission to Tutow, Germany, flak burst by number four engine of Lt Stephens' aircraft which seemed to catch fire and was smoking badly ... The plane banked to the right and lost about 1500 feet of altitude ... it spun out about the last 3000 feet until it splashed in the water and smoke started to rise ... no parachutes were observed.
The result of the crash for his crew were as follows:
Lt. Rufus B. Stephens - Pilot (KIA)
Lt. E. A. Beasley - Co-Pilot (POW)
Lt. Walter Mitchell - Bombardier (POW)
Navigator - Not Present
Sgt. Charles Peacock - Engineer (KIA)
Sgt. Kenneth M. McCracken - Tail Gunner (POW)
Sgt. John Rabenold - Nose Gunner (POW)
Sgt. George Walther - Gunner (KIA)
Sgt. Champ Clark - Radio Operator (POW)
Sgt Fred Jenkins - Gunner (POW)
He is a transcript of an interview given by Stephens Co Pilot
"SHOOT DOWN - 29th May 44" by Andy Beasley, co-pilot
Lt. Rufus Stephens crew, 791st Bomb Squadron.
May 29, 1944, 56 years ago, is the day I was shot down after an effective strike against a Focke-Wolf assembly plant in Tutow, Germany. It was the 2nd raid against that particular facility, since damage the first try was minimal. We didn’t have any "smart bombs" those days and if the target was important enough, we kept trying until we got it right. The second try whomped it good, but the antiaircraft guns were good too ! The Germans had two kinds of AA. One was 88mm they used mostly for ‘barrage’ or box fire. The batteries fired shells in the pattern of a box in the air, and depended on our flying into that box. Altitude for the box wasn’t always too accurate, even though azimuth was pretty effective. These boxes were fired from large concentrations of guns, deployed based on their concept of the importance of the target. For instance, Berlin was truly frightening . The aiming was done using mechanical measurements, and thus subject to how well they could see us, and set the firing sequences. The 88mm stuff did provided more misery than we needed The real problem came with 108mm guns, radar controlled. You knew when they were being used. You’d see one burst, right at your altitude, then a second at about the same place in front of you. They always had your altitude on the money, were tracking you (radar), but if you saw the bursts you knew they didn’t quite have the azimuth locked in. These 108's were deployed in four gun batteries controlled by the same radar - and as their larger size indicates, had considerably more bang for the buck.
On that infamous day, we were under fire from 108's, saw the first 4 rounds detonate and then all hell broke with the next firing sequence. On the starboard wing, the outboard engine was blasted away, and the inboard engine was hanging maybe 45 degrees downward and sheeting fire over the wing back to the tail assembly. The two waist gunners bailed out at that time. They landed in the Baltic and with the cold water, died of hypothermia before the Germans could pick them up.( I briefly talked with an Oxford educated colonel who said he felt the war was already over. He gave me the information on the waist gunners and said the A/C was yet to be examined.) The AC was now in a wind-up tight spiral and came back to the Baltic shore. The pilot, Ruphus Stephens appeared wounded, seriously. We had a very loud bell system and it was here I punched the ten-ring abandon ship sequence. Meanwhile, S/Sgt. Peacock, crew chief and top turret operator. anticipating the move, moved onto the narrow catwalk of the bomb bay and hand cranked the bomb bay doors open - the only route of exit except the waist gunners windows. With hydraulics shot out, hand cranking was the only alternative. All of us working in the nose section, had chest packs needing to be snapped on to the harness. . When I went out, Peacock was still on the catwalk and I can only surmise he tried to help Stephens. Another factor could explain why neither Stephens nor Peacock got out. With time, the AC, now in a spin, created crushing centrifugal force which may have pinned either or both to the degree they couldn’t make it out. What Peacock did always seemed heroic to me. He could have retrieved his chest pack and got out with the rest of us. I always presumed he went to see if Stephens needed help and got caught by the centrifugal forces. Even though wounded Stephens must have known the AC was a goner and had he been able, made it out. He was a good ‘ole Georgia boy and had a touch of stubbornness in his bones that may have led him to believe he could fly out of the situation - but that’s not logical, and he couldn’t see all the damage very well from his left seat. It was all clearly visible to me from my right seat We had both been putting a maximum effort on the yoke and rudders to hold level flight, the hanging engine was ‘running away’, meaning the RPM controls weren’t at work and the engine speed would soon destroy it even if it hadn’t been on fire. With a section of the outside end of that wing also shot away, the likelihood of regaining control of the AC was zero. Even with 3 operating engines, but with a good part of the right wing gone and the fire under control, unlikely here, descent to a lower altitude was mandated, leaving one lonely bird prey to fighters, and high fuel usage - not enough at that rate to make it home, especially with the wing fuel cells ruptured feeding that all-consuming fire. The AC was mortally wounded. Destroy the aerodynamics of any AC and just won’t fly !
We had only a nine man crew that day, normally ten. Our navigator was in the hospital with a pineal cyst, however our bombardier was dual rated and could do both tasks.
So, from the story I so frequently think about, you can see that 5 of us made it, and even with the POW status, making it makes it a celebrated anniversary.
The following spring Gen. Patton’s forces liberated us at Moosberg. The Germans had marched us, poorly prepared, west, away from advancing Soviet troops. Some of the coldest weather of the winter saw POWs and guards dropping by the wayside. Most of us, poorly shod to begin, were able to ward off frostbite by tying rags around our feet. We marched to the area of Chemnitz, were put in the old 40X8s of WWI - only this time about 80 per car - detrained at Nuernberg and put in a flea ridden former detention camp to watch the RAF night saturation bombing with the Mosquito target finding fireworks display that guided the heavies to target. During the days we could watch the contrails of the 8th. Some bombs fell quite close and the Germans allowed us to dig slit trenches where we squatted, folded blanket over your head. The concussion of the bombs was felt as much as heard. The falling pieces from AA bursts provided a sound like no other in the world. Following this flea-picking stay, on the road again to Moosberg, the truly moving day there was the day we could see the U.S. flag raised over Moosberg !
When Patton came through the gates with pearl handled pistols, the POWs lifted him from his jeep and wanted to honor him by carrying him around on their shoulders but he must have thought this below his dignity. He repeatedly said, "Put me down, GD it, put me down !" Not for a while, anyhow.
We were transported by C-47's to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Harve. Deloused, uniformed and sent on otherwise empty Liberty ships to, in my case, Boston.
To borrow from the French, now laissez les bon temps outer !
Included in this incredible grouping are the following items:
- OD Green Class A Dress Uniform tunic is named in internal pocket to R.B. Stephens and dated 11/42 with 8th AAF Patch, Sterling Silver Pilot wings, Air Medal ribbon with Oak Leaf, American Campaign Medal ribbon, European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one star, Lieutenant Bars and more.
- Khaki Uniform with trousers and shirt with 8th AAF Patch and more.
- UM41 Field Jacket with leather embossed name tag on left chest that reads R. B. Stephens.
- Visor "Crush" Cap that reads Property of R. B. Stephens inside the leather sweat band.
- Original Purple Heart and Ari Medal in cases.
- Original Dog Tags
- Genuine WWII ZIPPO brand lighter (rare!) with AAF wings to front.
- Dozens of books, photos, manuals, papers, official wartime documents and more.
- Officer overseas garrison caps (one OD one Khaki) OD has DI.
- 2 x extensive grooming kits
- One pair of boots and a pair of shoes
- Dozens and dozens of original photos, official wartime documents, correspondence and more.
- Bible, books, wallet, gloves and on and on (huge grouping!)
- Wood foot locker named Stephens on the lid (faint)
This is very much like a time capsule, as you look through the piles of paper work and photos you feel like you've stepped back in time. It is certainly one of the most wonderful comprehensive well researched WWII airmen groupings we have ever offered!
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