Saturday, May 21, 2011

ATROCITY SITE VISITED BY FAMILY OF LT. ARLEN R. BALDRIDGE, A PILOT WITH THE 359TH FIGHTER GROUP

Right: Lieutenant Arlen R. “Baldy” Baldridge in front of his P-47 Thunderbolt. He flew P-47s until 3 May 1944, when the 359th FG transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. Baldy flew his first mission on 13 December 1943, the first mission flown by the 359th FG, and his last on May 21, 1944, a 'Chattanooga' mission. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Helen Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.
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The three members of Arlen Baldridge's family (brothers Bill and John, and John's wife Char), who made a trip to Bad Doberan, Germany in May 1993, in search of more information about Baldy's murder, were quite successful in their quest. Prior to making the trip Char had written to the Mayor of the town asking for his help in locating the crash site, seeing the Courthouse and Jail where the atrocity took place, and visiting the cemetery where Baldridge was originally buried. Upon their arrival the following events took place.

FRI - May 21, 1993 - BAD DOBERAN! We got up early and had breakfast at our hotel in Wurnemunde. Then we headed for Bad Doberan via the road along the coastline, arriving at Bad Doberan about 10:30 am. Traffic was a problem for getting into town, as they had a circus going on. Also, we didn't know how to find the Burgermeister's [Mayor’s] office. We parked our car in the shade beside a nice city park. Then we got out of the car and thought, where do we go from here? Char approached a pleasant looking woman who appeared to be sixtyish and ask if she spoke any English. She didn't, so we tried to ask her in our "limited" German where the Burgermeisters office was. This lady tried very hard to give us directions by gesturing and we did understand some of her words. We headed off in the direction she had pointed, but were stopped by an older man on a bicycle. He had overheard us trying to communicate with the woman and in German (he also spoke no English) asked, Burgermeister? We said "ya", and then he motioned for us to follow him. So we set out trailing along behind him as he wheeled his bicycle along. As we were walking he tried to talk to us. He asked, "Bruder Piloten" (brother pilot)? We said, "ya". He asked, "Amerikanerin?" We said, "ya". He asked, "flugzug Mustang" (flew Mustang)? We said "ya". We all looked at each other wondering, how does this guy know all of this? He certainly seems to know who we are and what we're here for. This is going to be an interesting day!

He led us to a large old building on the town square, took us to the second floor and knocked on a door. A very pleasant, lady in her late fifties opened the door. Herr Hans Wegner, the man who led us here, spoke briefly with her and she emerged into the hallway where we were standing excitedly exclaiming, "9 uhr, 9 Uhr" (9 o'clock). We try to ask, "you mean come back tomorrow"? She then says for us to [‘sitz’] sit on a bench in the hallway and disappeared into an office. She returned shortly with the Burgermeister in tow. He greeted us in German and motioned for us to enter. We followed him through a large room into his office, where there was a round table where he motioned for us to sit. We sat down and took the bottled water he offered to us. Meanwhile the German lady, Frau Inge Bruhn, is very excitedly talking and gesturing.

She then handed us a booklet with the title "Nachforschunger uber den Tod des Arlen Richard Baldridge" (Investigation into the death of Arlen Richard Baldridge) which she, the city historian, had researched and prepared for us. Char had faxed a list of specific questions, about what we wanted to find out, to the mayor's office a few weeks before leaving on our trip. Frau Bruhn attempted to answer these questions by researching various sources and had prepared a written report of her findings for us. Needless to say at this point we are overwhelmed by their efforts and willingness to help. It literally brought tears to our eyes.

And the reception continues, the Burgermeister picked up the phone and made some calls. In a few minutes a newspaper reporter showed up and he can speak fair English. He tells us that they have several things for us and that an interpreter is on his way to assist us with this meeting. We now realize that we've left our tape recorder in the car. John immediately left to get it, as we wanted to record the session that would be taking place when the interpreter arrives. Shortly he arrived and introduced himself as Achim Stracke, legal counsel for the city and local interpreter. By this time John had returned with the tape recorder and after some false starts we got it operating and are ready to ask questions, get answers, etc. Unbeknownst to us the Mayor of the town, Berno Grzech, had given the letter Char sent to him, stating the time and purpose of our visit, to the local newspaper to publish. Our letter was published under the heading "Wer weiss etwass uber den Tod von Arlen Baldridge?" (Who knows something about the death of Arlen Baldridge?) and it generated a lot of interest. Actually it was the talk of the town for several days. The newspaper got many responses, including a man who was an eyewitness to Dick's forced landing and capture. This man, Franz Bruhn, was thirteen years old at the time and was very willing and eager to share his story with us. The newspaper had already interviewed him and had also published his account in the paper on May 5th, 1993. He was also the husband of Inge Bruhn, the city historian who prepared the report for us. Arrangements were then made for all parties; the Mayor, the eyewitness (Franz Bruhn), the newspaper reporter, the interpreter and the three of us to meet tomorrow morning in front of the Burgermeister's office. From there they will take us to Dick's actual forced landing site at Bahrenhorst and Herr Bruhn will recall for us what he witnessed and answer our questions. We at last find out that Bahrenhorst is simply a cluster of about five houses making up a rural community about 7 km from Bad Doberan. They will also take us to the cemetery to visit Dick's first grave site. They gave us a packet of tourist information on Bad Doberan and environs and a gift of a picture book about the city.

July 23, 1943, at the Diamond Horseshoe in New York City. On left: A.R. “Dick” (Baldy) Baldridge, 368th Fighter Squadron and his girlfriend Millie. On right: Ralph Kibler, 370th Fighter Squadron and his wife Janice. Dick's diary entry for July 23, 1943: "Kibler and I went to NY. I dated Millie. We started out at the Diamond Horseshoe and Millie and I ended up at the American. I talked to Duke Ellington at the American." Neither pilot returned. Ralph Kibler was KIA on May 11, 1944, and Dick “Baldy” Baldridge ten days later, on May 21, 1944. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Helen Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.
The newspaper reporter asked a few questions, and Char gave him a copy of the "Statement" made by Willi Selk, the cemetery caretaker that buried Dick, during a preliminary atrocity investigation. The reporter asked if we would sit with him and his boss tomorrow after our visit to the crash site and the cemetery for an interview as they want to do a story in their newspaper in the next three or four issues of the paper.

We left the Mayor's office about 12:15 to go back to our car and check out the town, investigate Bahrenhorst on our own and maybe find the cemetery. The newspaper man walked with us, asking and answering questions. He walked us to the Courthouse and took us inside and showed us the Festival hall room in this former Palais (Palace). He left us there and we snooped around in this building for a few minutes.

Baldy was taken to this Courthouse in Bad Doberan, Germany, after his capture by the SS. This building is now a Government Administrative Office for what we would call the County of Bad Doberan. Photo courtesy of John S. Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.
After this we took pictures of the Courthouse where Dick was delivered to, and the jail house which is behind the Courthouse. We believe Dick was probably murdered in the jail and not the courthouse. The jail is very old, and is now an apartment house, so we had no access to the interior of it.

Now it is time to check on our hotel accommodations at the Kurhouse. As "luck" would have it this hotel was right next door to the "Courthouse" that Dick was delivered to in 1944, and right behind it the "jailhouse" where he was more than likely murdered. This is how it "happens" that, 49 years later, on the anniversary of Dick's capture and murder, we three family members are staying next door to the scene of the atrocity.

After checking into the hotel we had dinner in the dining room, and then went exploring on our own. The first place we headed was down the road to find Bahrenhorst, approximately 7 miles northeast of Bad Doberan, to see if we could figure out which field Dick's plane would have landed in. It was lightly misting and turning dusk as we returned to Bad Doberan. We decided to drive around to explore the town a little in the remaining evening light. Without realizing it or any conscious planning on our part we found ourselves in front of the cemetery. It is now somewhat foggy and the mist is getting heavier. We decided that since we are here, we will go in and see if we can find the spot where Dick was buried on May 22 or 23 in 1944. There were lots of trees and it was very quiet, the only sounds being our hushed talking and the echoes of our footsteps on the gravel pathways.

On 18 Sept. 1946, a Disinterring Team removed two bodies of American flyers from the civilian cemetery of Bad Doberan. These were plots #33 (to the left) and #34 (to the right). Baldy's body was removed from plot #34. Photo courtesy of John S. Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.
The foggy mist and hush of evening shade created a very ethereal atmosphere and all of us were very much aware of a "presence". We will never forget what we experienced there in this cemetery. Almost as if being led we found a large empty bare spot between graves along the fence at the cemeteries edge. After several minutes of hushed silence, each of us lost in his own thoughts, we left the cemetery in the gathering misty darkness. We returned to our hotel, went to the Ratskeller lounge in the basement and reflected on the day. AND WHAT A DAY IT HAS BEEN.

SAT, May 22nd - BAHRENHORST. We got up early this morning and drove to Kuhlungsborn to pick up the newspaper reporter, Lutz Werner, at the Ardensee Hotel as he will accompany us on our visit to the crash site. Back at Bad Doberan we meet the Mayor, Berno Grzech; attorney-interpreter, Achim Stracke; and the eyewitness to the incident, Franz Bruhn, at 9:30 in front of the Burgermeister's office.

Meeting at crash site. L-R: Berno Grzech, Mayor of Bad Doberan; Franz Bruhn, eyewitness to Baldy's crash; Achim Stracke, interpreter (city attorney); John Baldridge, Dick (Baldy's) youngest brother and Char Baldridge (with back to camera). Photo courtesy of John S. Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.
We followed them to Bahrenhorst where we turned into a farm yard and parked beside a cement barn. This was the farm that Herr Bruhn lived on as a 13 year old boy where he witnessed Dick's forced landing, capture and being turned over to SA officers and Military Police. He narrated his story in German with Achim Stracke interpreting. We asked many questions, which he answered to the best of his ability. They all seemed willing to share as much as they knew, until we ask about the SA man Peters, who was a "local building contractor" and lived with a family of Peters in Bad Doberan. We were told by the Mayor that he would now have to be over ninety years old and would be dead. Also, that he had fled Bad Doberan in 1945 never to be heard from again. The following account of Dick's story is what we learned from the on-site interview and Franz Bruhn's newspaper interview.

INTERVIEW with Herrn Franz Bruhn, eyewitness to Dick's emergency landing and capture:

"It was a warm day, Sunday, the 21st of May in 1944 and the Bruhn family was outside enjoying the quiet of the day. Then they heard planes coming from the direction of Bad Doberan and saw several American fighters pass over in the direction of Rostock. The air alarm for the town sounded and the Bruhn family went inside their house to take cover. Then they heard the bark of the Flak guns at Bargeshagen. My sister and I ran upstairs to watch out the window. Before long we saw three planes flying together returning from the direction of Rostock. At first it was not evident that any of the planes were having trouble. As we continued watching out the window, we saw one of the planes was getting lower and lower and at first we thought it might crash on top of our house, but then it veered off. We ran down stairs to the front window and saw that the plane was landing in a grass field right in front of our house. The plane made a good landing with wheels up and skidded to a stop with the tail resting in a shallow ditch. The pilot immediately got out of the plane and started running. The tall grass and his heavy leather boots and flying garments were hindering him. He ran across the road, headed for a forest some distance away.

Meanwhile the two other American planes had already come back and shot up the disabled plane setting it on fire. The front of the plane where the engine was burst into flame and burned only a short while before going out leaving the cockpit, wings and tail intact.

By this time the Bruhn family had gone back outside to watch what was happening. The pilot (Dick) who was being slowed down by his heavy gear continued to run, throwing off his cap, leather jacket, belt and pistol, and other gear as he ran to help himself go faster. He was run-ning towards a forest a long distance away to take cover in.

At the same time there was a soldier home on leave walking down the road through Bahrenhorst on his way to Bad Doberan. When he heard the planes and air siren he jumped from the road and took cover at a neighbors place across the road from the Bruhns. As it was known that all things military were targets. When the soldier saw that the American plane had made a safe forced landing and the pilot was escaping on foot, the soldier grabbed the neighbor’s motor bike. He took the motor bike as well as the neighbor for support and the two of them took up pursuit of the pilot. They traveled down the main road and then up a narrow path along the field and cut off the escape route of the running pilot. Dick at that point was exhausted and surrendered himself to the soldier, who was armed, without any resistance.

Meanwhile another neighbor woman down the road had called the police station in Bad Doberan to report the planes forced landing and whereabouts of an enemy pilot. Shortly after Dick was arrested by the soldier the military police and SS officers arrived in two black limousines. There were at least two officers per car. Strumfuhrer Peters was one of them, and he along with Police Sgt. Gosch took charge of the pilot. They got Dick into the car and drove away in the direction of Bad Doberan. At this point Dick was walking under his own power and was uninjured.


Now an apartment building, Baldy was incarcerated in the Jailhouse. This would be where he was beaten and then shot through the heart. Photo courtesy of John S. Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.
Rumors circulated through the town of Bad Doberan and the village of Bahrenhorst a couple of days later that the pilot had been shot. It was known by the locals that POW's were mistreated in this area. There were several fascists in the town.

For the next two days the plane, which had burned out only in the engine area was guarded day and night by the Wehrmacht. When the military guards left, the local children swarmed all over the plane for several days. The plane sat for about two weeks before a detail from Rerik came to salvage what was left. They had a very difficult time moving it out onto the road. The road was lined with large tall trees and the plane had to be winched over them.”

NOTE: We got no details on what happened to Dick after his capture, from the time he was turned over to the SA officers and military police in the limousines. We do know from records in his deceased personnel file that he was beaten. A form completed at the time of disinterment showed a fracture complete zig zag on right side of skull. Also right lower arm bones were broken. The tooth chart further disclosed that six teeth were missing since death, and that several bottom teeth were either rotated or overhanging.

The SA man, Strumfuhrer Peters was a local building contractor living with a family by the name of Peters in Bad Doberan. The military Police Sergeant Gosch, was thought to have come from the Wehrmacht unit in Rostock. Also living in Bad Doberan at the time was Walter Kittmann the Gaultier (Branch Air District Leader) of the area. Police Sgt. Gosch was transferred from the town some time after Dick was murdered, and Peters and Kittmann fled Bad Doberan as the Red Army advanced toward the area.

We strongly suspect that the LOCAL SA man PETERS was the trigger man since Dick was turned over to him and Peters took him to the jail. PETERS also delivered Dick's body, with a shot through the heart, to the cemetery a short time later. According to Willi Selk, the cemetery worker who the body was delivered to, the soldier’s blood was still flowing.

What actually became of these Nazis is being further researched through German Red Cross Records, Nazi and Gestapo Records, and Wehrmacht records that may now be available. If it's at all possible WE WILL FIND out who did the killing. In a newspaper interview for an article published in the Charleston Gazette, Charleston, WV, John Baldridge was quoted as saying; "If he's alive, I want to see him eyeball to eyeball. Knowing how Dick died, the condition his body was in, this guy has to be pretty cruel. He'd be in his 70’s now [in 1993], but I don't think I'd mind pushing him down on the ground and saying, 'Hey, tough isn't it? You're defenseless aren't you?'….. If the man is dead, I want to see his grave, just to verify it."

After the interview at the crash site, the entire party went back to town and to the cemetery. From Inge Bruhn's research of church and cemetery records they knew where Dick's grave had been and led us to the same spot we discovered last night. This spot has not yet been reused and is large enough for the two graves of enemy airmen. They asked us if we knew anything about or the identity of the other American pilot who was buried next to Dick. Char told them as of yet we had not been able to get this information, but she is still working on finding out the facts about this pilot as well. (We have since learned that he was Lt. John R. Rudnicky, a bomber pilot with the 95th Bomb group. From official records he was supposedly KIA on 11 Apr 44, a day the 8th AF launched 828 bombers against the Oschersleben, Stettin, and Rostock areas. On that day 64 bombers were MIA, with casualties of: 19 KIA, 31 WIA, and 652 MIA. On that day the 359th FG suffered 3 losses.)

Lt. Rudnicky was buried on the 16th or 17th of April, and was reported as dead when he landed in his chute from being wounded in his plane (a statement made by our infamous Chief of Police, Gosch). I have since located the Rudnicky family in Ottawa, IL, and spoke with a family member [his brother]. His family told me that after the War was over a crew member on the same mission who had also parachuted the disabled bomber, but survived to become a POW visited them. He told Rudnicky's mother and brothers that Lt. Rudnicky had parachuted safely, but was shortly mobbed by German citizens and beaten to death.

Researched and written by Char Baldridge
Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association
(Sister-in-law of Arlen Richard Baldridge)
Cemetery Chapel at Bad Doberan Cemetery, where Baldy's body was delivered on May 21st, 1944, with blood still pumping from his heart (according to the cemetery caretaker Willi Selk). The body was left there until the 22nd or 23rd of May, when he was eventually buried. Photo courtesy of John S. Baldridge: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.

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Transcriptions of the Composite Pilot Encounter Report as reported by Olin P. Drake upon return from the 'Chattanooga' strafing mission of 21 May 1944 and the Confidential Certificate by Olin P. Drake dated 22 May 1944, were posted on this blog on 19 May 2011.

Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association, from records at HQ USAF Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Atrocity Site Visited by Family of Lt. Arlen R. Baldridge, a Pilot with the 359th Fighter Group" was published in the March 1994 issue of
The Outer Circle, the newsletter of the 359th Fighter Group Association. Text and photos archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.

2 comments:

  1. Just read this last night. What they did is very disturbing, but we all know what they were capable of. I was wondering if they were under orders or simply took matters into their own hands. What a terrible loss. I am so sorry.

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    1. I read somewhere that Hitler had given orders that any pilot captured who had been strafing should be executed. I can't remember where I read it.

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