It never ceases to touch me deeply how Europeans are so much more linked to memories of the air war than Americans and to the extent people will go to preserve the memories of the men who flew the skies in World War Two. The latest example of this is found in the Czech Republic. I became acquainted with a pilot and historian by the name of Michal Holy about a year ago due to our mutual interest in WWII aviation history. Michal put me in touch with a museum in the Czech Republic called The Museum of the Air Battle over the Ore Mountains on 11th September 1944. The museum is located in the town of Kovarska, in the northwest part of Bohemia in the Chomutov district, about 120 km from Prague. The town is nestled up against the German border, a very short distance from the German city of Dresden (it appears to be less than 150 km between them on a map), which explains how the area became a pivotal location in the air war. More on that later. The museum was created in 1997 to honor the veterans--both American and German-- of a classic air battle that raged in the skies over the eastern Czech Republic on September 11, 1944.
The booklet about the battle, written by Dr. Jan Zdiarsky of the Museum, reports that the day started like any other day, and that "the intense thunder of war had so far not touched the mountains that defined the border between Germany and the remnants of Czechoslovakia, but this day was fated to bring the realization that war had come even here. This day saw the meeting of the American 8th Army Air Force and the Luftwaffe in a particularly violent encounter. Only a few minutes of combat produced the loss of over fifty aircraft on both sides."
In fact, casualty figures for this battle run a full four pages in Dr. Zdiarsky's book Black Monday over the Ore Mountains. This book can be ordered by emailing the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org. To quote the website, "On September 11, 1944, high above the Ore Mountains, on the Czech-German frontier, a formation of B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 100th Bomb Group, 3rd Bomb Division...escorted by P-51 Mustang fighters of the 55th and 339th Fighter Group...clashed with a formation of German Me109 and FW190 intercept fighters of the II. (Sturm) and III. Gruppe Jagdeschwader 4...Due to the furiousness of the combat, most of the shot-down aircraft fell in a very small region of the Czech and German Ore Mountains...This sunny September day entered the history as Black Monday over the Ore Mountains."
Also involved in this battle were aircraft from the 95th Bomb Group (H), though the 95th's losses were much lighter. Michal Holy and Dr. Zdiarsky sent me some pieces from the recovered crash of B-17 42-97334 of the 95th Bomb Group, known as Haard Luck, that crashed during the air battle.
One 100th BG B-17, piloted by Lt. Albert E. Trommer, actually fell on the small town of Kovarska. The plane, 42-102657, came apart over the town and the tail section landed on the roof of the town school, impaling itself into the roof. In the minutes directly after noon, four B-17 bombers from the 100th fell into the town of Kovarska. Most of these planes either broke up in the air or were crippled when the crews bailed out. As a result, 23 of the men on board were killed and only 13 survived to become POWs. Another 10 B-17s fell nearby. The vast majority of the men on these planes also perished. In fact, total losses ran to 52 American airmen KIA. The 100th's 350th Squadron lost all nine planes dispatched, and the 100th as a whole lost one-third of its planes.
The German fighter pilots fought valiently and also suffered losses, though due to the fact that each fighter carried only one man instead of ten, the totals were lower. 21 German fighter pilots were killed in the battle. Losses were high because of the fact that American P-51 Mustangs also joined the battle. The 55th FG lost two pilots killed and one POW.
Total losses, KIA, WIA, or POW ran to 143 Americans and 32 German.
Townspeople tell of the rain of aircraft parts, parachutes, and men from the terrible battle overhead. Many men jumped from low altitude and hit the ground before their chutes could deploy. Men were impaled on trees and one dead airman even landed in a shop on the town's main street. Carnage was everywhere. It was a day that the young children of the town would never forget, and this is perhaps why the town to this day sees this battle as such an important part of its history.
I have only scratched the surface of this amazing story. I highly recommend a visit to the website, which has an English translation as well. It is very easy to navigate and one could spend several hours there. It is also an excellent site for researchers for the 100th BG or for the German researchers of the two Luftwaffe fighter groups involved.
Here is a link to the museum's virtual tour
Here is a link to the museum's Parts Identification Project
Veterans of both the 8th Air Force and the German Luftwaffe meet as friends at the ceremony on September 15, 2007.