Before the D-Day invasion
As ground troops
awaited orders to cross the English channel,
the AIR WAR from English bomber bases increased.
Thousand plane raids by both America Army Air Corps,
and the English Royal Air Force, were frequent
over occupied Europe and into Germany.
As the invasion of Europe neared, targets shifted from strategic
to tactical. Bombs were now being dropped on targets such
as railroads, highways, and fuel storage facilities:
all critical to Germany's defense against
the expected Allied invasion.
A fateful day in the
lives of one American Army Air Corps crew
was destined to take place only eight days before the
now-famous D-DAY invasion of Normandy
Their story on that fateful day would be known
as the "Last Flight of the Spirit of LSU".
The Crew of the "Spirit of LSU" B-24 Liberator Bomber
8th Air Force, 832nd Squdron,
486 Bombardment Group
left to right -
Alfred Sanders -Pilot - Louisiana
Daniel O'Connell - Bombadier - Maryland
Thomas Zobelein - Navigator - New York
Fred Morley - Co-Pilot - Illinois
James Sizemore - Turret Gunner - West Virginia
A.B. Smith - Nose Gunner - Mississippi
William Kozulak - Upper Gunner - New York
Louie Lujan - Waist Gunner - California
John Lawrence - Radio Operator - Alabama
Robert Swaffield - Tail Gunner - Ohio
Their mission that day was to bomb a synthetic fuel plant
at Lutzendorf, a suberb of Leipzig, Germany.
This would be their fifth bombing mission over enemy territory
from their 486th home base in England.
The B-24's official name was "Mike - the Spirit of LSU"
Mike was the LSU mascot, nick-named the "Fighting Tiger".
This B-24 had the destinction of being the only plane in
World War 11 named for Louisiana State University.
The pilot, Al Sanders and Nose Gunner, A.B. Smith were especially
proud of their B-24 for they had chosen the name for the plane.
Both men were Louisiana State University alumni
and their choice for naming the plane had
won out over the remainder of the crew.
The intelligence breifing before take-off that day
said that the bombers on the raid
over Lutzendorf should experience
"light" anti-aircraft fire from the ground;
This, however, would not be the case, for intelligence
was not aware that the Germans had set up at least seven hundred
anti-aircraft guns to defend Lutzendorf against air raids.
Bombers over Lutzendorf
May 28, 1944
"As the B-24 formation approached the target on the bomb run
the explosions of FLAK from the anti-aircraft guns was
so thick that it formed a solid gray cloud so dense
you felt that you could walk on it".
"The lead plane in the bombing formation
was named Robin the Cradle
piloted by 2nd Lt, Eugene Hicks".
"His plane had the bomb sight,
and it was his plane that determined
when our formation was over the target".
"Everyone in the formation was watching Hick's plane,
when he dropped his bombs, all planes
would then release their bombs."
"As we approached a column of smoke, caused by an earilier
bomb run, rising to our altitude of thirty-thousand feet,
our planes began taking hits from the metal scrapnel
of the flak explosions".
"Robin the Cradle was hit first, their number three engine
took a direct hit, causing a vapor trail of gasoline.
They immidiately fell out of
formation without dropping their bombs".
"As Robin the Cradle began losing altitude, they launched
a red flare, signalling for fighter protection
as they left the target area".
"The Spirit of LSU was next to be hit...flak punctured
some of the fuel lines and hydraulic control lines,
and we began to lose power".
"We immidiately turned our plane towards England,
hoping to possibly limp back to our base".
Comments of A.B. Smith - nose gunner.
As the Spirit of LSU headed toward England the pilot
struggled to keep it flying. The controls, however, were so
damaged, that the plane became almost
impossible to fly, and the plane was
gradually losing altitude.
As the Spirit of LSU left Germany and entered
into Belgium air space, the plane's
remaining engines began to fail...
It became evident to the crew,
that it was time to bail out...
The crew of the Spirit of LSU bailed out over Belgium
just minutes before their plane went down.
They were thirty
miles south of Brussels Belgium
when they bailed out.
Germans troops immidiately began to search
for them after they landed.
Five of the crew successfully avoided capture,
including Sanders and Smith, but the remaining
five crewmen were captured by the Germans
What happened to Robin the Cradle ?
Everyone in the Spirit of LSU thought that
Robin the Cradle had probably crashed
It was later discovered, however, that Robin the Cradle
had also headed toward the England.
They had managed to nurse the B-24 along on three engines,
and attempted to cross the North Sea at Ostende, Belgium.
They lost power at this point, and had to parachute
into the North Sea. Eight of the eleven
men on board were lost at sea.
After a harrowing three days in the North Sea,
the three remaining survivors drifted ashore at Ostende
and were captured by the Germans.
The fate of Robin the Cradle would reveal the tragic
story of love lost to war, for Robin the Cradle
was named for the Co-Pilot's eighteen
year old bride named Robin.
Robin lost her husband on this mission,
for the Co-Pilot was one of the eight
crewmen lost at sea.
Five of the crew of the Spirit of LSU successfully avoided
capture, including Sanders and Smith, and were rescued by
courageous Belgium patriots, who risked their lives,
as well as the lives of their families to hide
the five crewmen.
The remaining five crewmen were captured by the Germans
and held prisoners until the war's end in May, 1945.
The five crewmen who were hidden by the Belgium people
were liberated in September, 1944
by the American Army.
All ten crewmen of the Spirit of LSU,
miraculously survived the war.
1944 Flight Map of the Lutzendorf Mission
These two crash sites on that fateful day of May 28, 1944
were only a small portion of crashes that occoured
that particular day of World War 11;
They are recorded here to make all aware that those
who fought in World War 11 were not just part
of group of a massive war machine....
But each person was an individual whose lives
and the lives of those that they loved
were changed forever by the
sacrafices that they made.
About the artist and the painting
"Last Flight of the Spirit of LSU"
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