The Captain and the Sarge - Carpetbaggers

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I'm a big fan of happenstance. Look up from the ground at one's feet or listen to a person nearby once in a while and interesting stuff will come to one's attention. A good example of this happened for me over the weekend just past.

In Malmö, Sweden, there is a cemetery; the Eastern Cemetery. It, or at least most of it, was designed by one Sigurd Lewerentz. Lewerentz was an architect and landscape architect of some minor reknown who designed, among other things, at least two remarkably beautiful cemeteries.

Unfortunately I am not in the habit of carrying a camera, nor pen and paper for that matter. It is not important to have any mental picture of this wonderful cemetery other than to know that there is a "central ridge" upon which one can walk and look out over the whole of the cemetery (or nearly so - it is large and has expanded out of sight even from the ridge). If one uses only the internet one would be led to believe that Malmö's Eastern Cemetery's only claim to fame is to chronically make the list of anti-semitic activities. The Jewish portion has been subject to vandalism.

Scandinavians have a thing for cemeteries. They keep them in a fashion that can only be described as "lovingly". The Swedish word for "cemetery" is "kyrkogård" which, translated literally, is "Church garden". Jokes about "dying to get in" aside, they are lovely and inviting places - parks begging one to walk about them. Which is exactly what I was doing last weekend with my daughter and a borrowed dog.

We'd walked about an hour or so and had climbed the central ridge and were on our way toward an exit when my daughter said, "A pilot must be buried there."

About 100 meters or so in the distance was a large propeller. We decided to wind our way over and see what this propeller in a cemetery was all about. It turned out to be a very large propeller. In fact it was a propeller, I learned later, from a B-24 Liberator.

The gravesite was actually a memorial with two graves, one on each side of the propeller. To the left was the grave of Captain Thomas C. Campbell and to the right the grave of Sergeant Oakley J. Ragland of the USAAF. The date of their deaths was Oct. 20, 1944. The memorial stone holding the propeller was between the headstones. The site was immaculately kept like all the others and the central stone had an inscription with words to the effect that it was a memorial to the brave men of the USAAF who fought for their country and gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

I'd been aware that bomber crews had sometimes nursed their damaged aircraft to Sweden and some had crashed and died there. But I'd never given it much thought (I later learned that some forty USAAF airmen died in crashes in Sweden). Each blade of the propeller bore the scars of flak and projectile damage and I assumed Captain Campbell and Sergeant Ragland were part of a bomber crew and died trying to land their plane. But my curiosity had been piqued and I spent a bit of time on the good ol' internet searching for the story of the Captain and the Sarge. I found a story I hadn't anticipated.

I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of the Carpetbagger portion of the story I've pieced together. The B-24 of which Capt. Campbell and Sgt. Ragland were part of the crew was apparently a heavily modified one. Something about halfway between the bomber and it's C-87 "Liberator Express" cargo/transport version. It was not on a bombing mission. It was on a "secret mission". In fact it was flying a Carpetbagger mission. It was not shot down at all but was lost to weather. It was the only USAAF plane lost over Sweden in Operation Carpetbagger.

Operation Carpetbagger flew insertion and extraction missions all over Europe in WWII. The large planes such as the modified B-24s were used for supply drops and in some cases cargo pickups. They were modified for agents to parachute out of into enemy territory. They retrieved downed pilots and escaped prisoners and various resistance fighters.

One of their "routes" was from Leuchars in Scotland to Bromma near Stockholm. This was done under the pretense (which nobody believed) of BOAC civil air operations. Niels Bohr was surely the most famous passenger carried on the Bromma-Leuchars run (Oct. 1943).

Captain Campbell and Sergeant Ragland were not the only ones who died in the crash of that modified B-24 Liberator on Oct. 20, 1944. They were two of six. The complete list is: Captain Truett K. Bullock, Captain Thomas C. Campbell, Lieutenant James Buchanan, Sergeant Donald J. Johnston, Sergeant Oakley J. Ragland, and Corporal Earl K. Nore. The others were either returned to the US or buried in US military cemeteries in Europe. The families of the Captain and the Sarge requested they remain at rest in Sweden. How they came to be in Malmö remains a mystery to me. Neither their destination nor their crash site were anywhere near the city of Malmö.

They were trying to make Bromma airport, near Stockholm, but were turned away due to bad weather conditions and sent to land at Torslanda, near Gothenburg. They didn't make it and crashed in a field near Alingsås. A memorial for the entire crew can be found there.

Here Died, 20 Oct 1944, six fliers from the United States of America. They fought for their country, for freedom, and for righteousness in the Second World War.


Update: If I left any impression that Operation Carpetbagger was entirely a US effort it was an unintentional error. The RAF was, to the best of my limited understanding, the driving force behind Carpetbagger and - again to the best of my limited understanding - flew at least as many missions if not far more. The Niels Bohr extraction, as just one example, was executed using a Mosquito and, presumably, a British crew. The Brits paid dearly for the wonders of Carpetbagger and lost numerous craft and crew.

Update #2: I hope to someday dig deeper into this flight. The internet is a useful but far from thorough research tool. The only references I can find about this flight on the net leave me with the definite impression that it was part of Operation Carpetbagger. Yet Operation Carpetbagger seems to have gone dormant in September of 1944 and flew no operations for several months until the last months of the war. That would put the October 20, 1944 mission somewhere outside of Carpetbagger. This one will require some digging in a library or two.

Update #3: Apparently operations out of Leuchars, Scotland, and flying to Bromma (Stockholm, Sweden) were not part of Carpetbagger. Operation Sonnie and Operation Ball flew out of Leuchars. Their missions were similar to those of Carpetbagger but came under a different operational group. A brief snapshot of these operations can be found here (scroll down to near the bottom). Interestingly, Operation Sonnie was run by a rather famous aviator: Bernt Balchen. An amusing little story (scroll down to Helpful Enemies) about how Balchen got the Germans to provide a spare part he needed while operating out of Bromma.

8 comments:

Jamie Irons said...

Knuck,

Great story!


***

Completely OT and in an irreverent tone that i hope you'll forgive...

The Mosquito reminds me of that old WWII ditty:

We'll tie Hirohito
To the inboard magneto
Of our RAF Mosquito!

Jamie Irons

terrye said...

Knuck<

That was a wonderful story.

Maybe the families knew what a nice place it was and that is why they wanted the men to be there.

I read a similar story about some Americans who died in Australia on a mission like that. The locals went to the expense and trouble themselves to make a monument for the men.

It is sad and sweet.

Rick Ballard said...

Knuck,

Bromma in Sweden? Wouldn't landing there be a little compromising to Sweden's neutrality? The epitaph seems a bit ironic given Swedish neutrality - "and for righteousness in the Second World War."

Great story.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Rick,

They all take credit for the "righteous" side once the shooting is over.

chuck said...

Knuck,

I found the Mosquito info interesting, not least because of the reference to the testing of various aircraft, both allied and enemy. The Germans did that too and I recall speaking to a fellow who was a pilot in the Luftwaffe who did such testing. Among other allied planes, he had flown the P47 and P51. Naturally, I asked him which he preferred. He liked the P47 because of the armor (he had done a lot of ground attack on the Eastern Front), but did mention that the laminar flow wings of the P51 made it difficult to tell when a stall was imminent as the stick didn't shake -- a fact that he was able to use in combat. His overall favorite was the FW-190, although he also flew Me-262's towards the end of the war.

Knucklehead said...

Rick,

Swedish neutrality meant they were free to "do business" with whomever they wished. As far as I can tell some of the missions to Bromma were quite "commercial" - picking up purchased Swedish goods such as ball bearings.

The Swedes sold iron ore and steel - and other products - to whomever would come get it. The Wehrmacht ran troop trains through Sweden enroute to Denmark and Norway. The Swedish army would place guards aboard the trains to prevent German troops from jumping off.

Swedish sympathies in the war were a mixed bag that ranged from strong Nazi sympathies through devout neutrality to strong sympathies with the Allies, but as far as I can determine they did a bit more "looking the other way" for Allied activities than they did for Axis activities.

I'm a "pick a side" sort of guy so I've never felt the modern wonder and reverence for "neutrality" that so many modern Citizens of the World seem to, but the Swedes by and large manage theirs about as well as one can hope for.

Denise, Ned, Sarah and Hannah said...

I am a dear friend of Mary Johnston Baker, the widow of Donald "Jim" Johnston, who was killed on October 20, 1944. Go to http://www.flygmonumentet.langared.se/crew.htm for more information. The wonderful people in Sweden lay a red, white and blue rose each year at the site of the crash.

BMW HACKER said...

My Father, now 94, was a "Carpetbagger" Navigator flying into Stockholm in April 1945.
Some photos & history @
555navigator.blogspot.com

D. Smith