446th BG - B-24 crash near Marcillac on 31st December 1943

On 31st December 1943 464 B-24s from the 8th USAAF based in the South East of England set out on a mission to attack a blockade runner at Gironde, airfields being used by the Germans at Bordeaux-Merignac, Cognac-Chateaubernard and St. Jean d'Angely in the South West of France and two airfields on the outskirts of Paris. Due to bad weather and attack from enemy fire, twenty two of the planes did not make it back to their bases in England.

In "Les deux Charentes sous les bombes" an exhaustive work by Christian Genet, Jacques Leroux and Bernard Ballanger, published in 2008, about a quarter of the book is dedicated to the ten planes that came down in the Charente, the Charente-Maritime and close to their borders in Deux-Sèvres and the Gironde 

With the kind permission of the author Bernard Ballanger I have translated the 13 pages that tells the story of the crew that flew "Flak Bait". They were part of the 446th Bomb Group based at Station 125 near Bungay in Suffolk and one of the 22 planes that were lost during the mission.
The photos are by kind permission of Bernard Ballanger and the two photos of Louis Sortino are with the kind permission of his daughter Barbara Sortino Potter.

Pilot : 2nd Lt Charles V. Frascati
Co Pilot : 2nd Lt Victor J. Swenson
Navigator : 1st Lt Gustavo Kotta
Bombardier : 2nd Lt Richard S. Wilson
Radio Operator : T/Sgt Edward L. Cannon
Top Gurret Gunner : T/Sgt E. Warner
Ball Turret Gunner : S/Sgt Felix L. Anderson
Waist Gunner : S/Sgt Louis C. Sortino
Waist Gunner : Sgt Edwin R. Ashworth
Tail Runner : S/Sgt Bennie J. Ricci

Near the small village of Les Agrières, in the commune of Marcillac in the Gironde close to the border of Charente-Maritime, an American B-24 crashed at 12.30 pm in a pine forest close to the D254. In 2001 a monument in memory of the crew of the B-24 was erected at the approximate place where the plane crashed.

The plane was a B-24 Liberator, named "Flak Bait" (also referred to as "Devil's Dream" - either names have not been confirmed) belonging to the 706th squadron of the 446th Bomb Group of which its initial objective that day had been the bombing of the airfield at La Rochelle.

Before reaching the French coast, the plane's pilot Lieutenant Charles Frascati had worries about one of the planes four engines. While flying over France towards their objective the plane came under attack by German Messerschmitt 109 fighter planes and two more engines were damaged. The B-24 Liberator quickly lost altitude. Lieutenant Gustavo Kotta, the bombardier navigator on board decided to drop their bombs over a river to lighten their load.

Crew of the B-24
Standing from left to right : Bennie Ricci, Edwin Ashworth, Robert Warner, Edward Cannon, Felix Anderson, Louis Sortino. Kneeling from left to right : Gustavo Kotta, Charles Frascati, Richard Wilson, Victor Swenson.
The B-24 left its formation following the coastline to the west of Bordeaux. The plane was in distress and the Pilot gave the order for the crew to bail out and they all put their parachutes on. The Sergeants Bennie Ricci, Louis Sortino, Edwin Ashworth and Felix Anderson jumped from the trap door in the gunner's section. The copilot Victor Swenson jumped through the bomb door followed by the Radio Operator Edward Cannon and the Mechanic Robert Warner. The whole crew had bailed out in less than two minutes, ten men in total. Sadly one of them fell to his death, possibly due to parachute malfunction or shot by Germans during his descent. Eye witnesses differ on this.

The nine other parachutists landed successfully, dispersed over a large area between the villages of Marcillac in the Gironde and Montendre and Courpignac in the Charente-Maritime. Only two of them would be successful in evading capture and cross the Pyrénées over to Spain. They were Gustavo Kotta, who got back to England on 17th April 1944 and Robert Warner who got back to England on 11th May 1944. Their seven fellow crew members would be captured, some of them while trying to get down to the border with Spain.

Each of the crew members possessed an evasion kit pack which contained items to help navigate and to survive. When he had been taken prisoner by the Germans, the Sergeant Edward Cannon had in his possession his two "dog tags", a map of France with a map of Germany on the other side, a plastic map of North Africa, a wallet containing 2000 francs, a survival kit including rations, matches, a compass and some wire.

Sergeant Edwin Ashworth - Waist Gunner
We have mentioned earlier that one of the airmen of "Flak Bait" had died on impact after his parachute failed to open. This was Sergeant Edwin Ashworth. In the report given by the crew, Sergeant Anderson writes : "I had spoken with him just before we put on our parachutes and he was injured. With the help of Sergeant Ricci we had helped the two gunners to jump from the plane". Some witness accounts tell us the story of Ashworth's jump.

Thérèse Lafon, née Bouinot, aged 9 at the time was living with her parents in the village of Chez Marronnier in the commune of Rouffignac to the north west of Montendre. She remembers having seen the plane in difficulty above the village of Chez Georget, being chased by German fighter planes. The parachutists had jumped from the plane and were coming down. One of them had been shot. His parachute, probably filled with bullet holes looked like an egg she thought. Edwin Ashworth fell quickly down to the ground, landing in a stream in the village of Marronniers. His body landing hard on the ground, he had, it seemed, a shot wound to his head just behind the ear.

The Gendarmerie at Montendre had been quickly informed and two French Gendarmes arrived at the location soon after. They searched his clothes and found the identity papers of this unfortunate American. A photo found amongst his papers showed him standing with his wife and young daughter aged 8 or 9 in front of a house covered in flowers. Some of the local inhabitants of the village came out to see him and passed the very moving photo between them. The Gendarmes ordered that the body be taken to a house in the neighbouring village of Chez Beaulon. A cart pulled by a horse belonging to Edward Bouinot, the father of Thérèse Lafon, is for the moment transformed into an improvised hearse. The two Gendarmes following behind them.

The body of Sergent Ashworth did not stay laid out on the bed for long, arms crossed over the chest. Having made their report the Gendarmes left. Later that afternoon, some German Soldiers arrived in an open truck and took the body to Montendre where he would be buried in the local cemetery. (After the war his body was returned to the U.S. and buried at Long Island National Cemetery, New York.) 

Château de la Hoguette in the commune of Chamouillac, South of the Charente-Maritime
Robert Warner at the château de la Hoguette.
Sergeant Robert Wagner jumped from the plane straight after Lieutenant Gustave Kotta. He delayed opening his parachute until he was at 500 metres from the ground, loosing during his jump his pair of military boots which were attached to his harness. He landed in the middle of a farm and was seen by a man and a woman. They continued their work not offering any help to the airmen who had injured his foot landing heavily on the ground. Robert Warner had landed around the town of Chamouillac. It would be the beginning of an adventurous week in that area. He takes up his story in his evasion report number 627 after his return to England on 11th May 1944 :

"I cleared away my parachute. Then jumped a barbed wire fence and headed towards a grove. I hid my parachute in some long grass. My foot was in a lot of pain and I was feeling pretty rough. In spite of the pain and believing that the Germans would arrive at any moment, I started to walk north thinking that the Germans would expect me to head south. On the edge of a copse, another airman was surrounded by some Frenchmen. I went towards him but he was injured. I could do nothing for him. The Frenchmen around him motioned to me to leave the area. I left him knowing it was impossible to help him or to return later to him. Some minutes later in the wood I came across a man who pretended he hadn't seen me. But he returned an hour later with some bread and cognac for me. He then took me  to a neighbour's house".

This kind man was Raoul Joulin, a farm worker who lived in a house in the grounds of the château de la Hoguette, about 500 metres to the west of Chamouillac. The château was an old manor house entirely restored in the 17th century. The owner, the viscount de Roquefeuil, rarely stayed there and only in the summer. He had a couple by the name of Yvon and Madeleine Dugue look after and upkeep the château, who at the same time tended some rows of vines and bit of land. The château was otherwise the responsibility of Edgard Joulin and his wife Marie-Louise, helped by their two sons, Maurice aged 26 who was unmarried and Raoul aged 22 and married to Marcelle Orsonneau. This family lived in a large farmhouse attached to the château and made use of some of the land and had a herd of around 20 cows.

Raoul Joulin talks about the circumstances of his meeting with the American Aviator Robert Warner : "We were quite close, my brother and I, to where the plane crashed. In fact, we were chopping wood in the pine forest, away from the château de la Hoguette, about two or three kms as the crow flies towards Marcillac. Seeing all the parachutists in the sky I jumped on my bike to get back to the farm and see what was going to happen. My mother and my wife told me that an airman had landed nearby. I went out to try and find him, which I did.

When the airman saw me he hid, which saved him as the German Police were patrolling on motor bikes all around the area. But I made some signs to him to show I was friendly. The American came towards me and I told him to hide in some bushes telling him that he would be safe. There was no way he could walk to the château without being spotted.
It was necessary that he stayed where he was for security. I had also made a sign for him to stay hidden and not move. Returning to the farm I untied one of our horses and hooked it up to a cart filled with cabbages and returned across some fields to the wood. The parachutist got onto the cart and hidden under the cabbages he could not be seen. Nobody suspected anything. When we got to the house my mother and my wife took the fugitive and hid him in a bedroom in the château".

S/Sgt Louis C. Sortino
Raoul Joulin points out that his father was busy carrying out his work on the farm. On returning from the fields, he had seen the American and at first was not at all happy with the situation. He was thinking of his family and was worried that the Germans would search the buildings and find the airman. He went to meet the American and on seeing him welcomed his new guest.

Another Parachutist had also landed close to the château de la Hoguette in the small village of "Chez Sirouet". Having been shot by German fighter planes while in the air he landed seriously injured. This information has been provided by Maurice Joulin and other habitants of Chamouillac and fits in with Robert Warner's statement. In his evasion report he speaks of seeing another parachutist looking in a pretty bad way and obviously unable to flee the scene. The Germans had then quickly captured him on the spot where he'd landed. The facts known would suppose that the seriously injured Airman would have been Sergeant Louis Sortino.

Gustavo Kotta rejoins his fellow crew member Robert Warner.
Lieutenant Gustavo Kotta, bomber on board "Flak Bait" had jumped from the plane just after the Navigator Richard Wilson. In his evasion report no. 570 he speaks of the events that followed. "I had immediately opened my parachute. I saw two others, one unopened and a second below. (It is very likely that the unopened parachute is that of Sergeant Edwin Ashworth). Mine balanced itself quite quickly and I landed quite heavily in a forest. As I was hiding my parachute and equipment in the undergrowth a Frenchmen, probably a lumberjack passed along a lane followed by his dog. I dropped flat to the ground, the dog came over and sniffed me but the man who had certainly seen me continued to walk on.

I had established approximately my position using the maps and my compass from my evasion kit. Having put on my military boots which had been attached to my parachute and removed my badges and being close to the Sea I started to walk in the direction south-east away from the coast as per my instructions. Some minutes later, at the edge of the wood, I noticed two young men coming along on their bicycles. Having called over that they knew who I was they came over and shaking my hand said "camarade". These two men hid me in the wood, brought me some clothes and some food and then later that night took me over to the house of a farmer.

Lieutenant Kotta had landed in the woods near the small village of "Le Mandin", near the coast and in the direction of Marcillac, not far away from where the plane had crashed. A young man by the name of Georges Lalande, had seen the plane crash a few kms away from his father's farm at Sénégal, close to Montendre and decided to go and help the airmen. He took his bicycle and got one of his friends, Jean Plaisance, to go with him. These are the two young men that had called over to Gustavo Kotta in the wood. The parachutist had slightly injured his ankle. So they had hidden him in the thicket and went for help.

Georges Lalande returned to the house to let his father know what he'd been up to. His father, René, without any hesitation, went with the two boys, taking bottles of wine and hot drinks. But the area was swarming with German motorised patrols. René Lalande weighed up the danger of helping an American fugitive. Such an operation could only be done at night and with extreme precaution.

However, in the course of the afternoon, the news had spread. André Faurie, living at Chez Pignon, had heard that an American had parachuted nearby. His curiosity won over the need to be prudent. With two of his friends, Jacques Rousseau and the sister of Jean Plaisance, a student who knew a little Spanish, went looking for the American. They found him, made sure he was okay and promised to return later that evening. André says that he and his father walked for a few kms in the dark to the hiding place, but it was empty and the American was no where to be seen. René Lalande and his son Georges had arrived earlier. When the evening had fallen they had left for the wood with Jean Plaisance and Jacques Rousseau. The airman was frozen with cold in the place where he'd been left. With his ankle in pain he had to be moved sitting on the cross bar of a bicycle. En route the five men had to lie flat in the undergrowth to evade being seen by enemy patrols. Finally they arrived at René Lalande's farm where a wood fire had been lit and hot drinks were awaiting the new guest. With all the kindness and welcome he had been given he practically cried with joy showing his gratitude to all in the room.

"The next morning" René Lalande goes on to say, "I went into his bedroom and wished him a happy New Year. We both felt that we had to give each other a big hug. At that moment I heard the sound of a big motorbike stopping in front of the house. I went out to see who it was. An officer sitting in the side car asked me in a gruff voice if I had seen any parachutists. I replied I hadn't and he left without suspecting anything. However, with such a high alert in the area I knew that I couldn't look after my guest for long. I had to find a solution. Using a trusted friend as an intermediary I contacted Fernand Couillaud, the mayor of Chartuzac and a member of the local Résistance. This man came the follùowing day and took the American on his motorbike to a place unknown to me". This account was given by René Lalande on 13th January 1946 and addressed to the préfet of the Charente-Maritime. Correspondance began after the war between the Lalande and Kotta families. The Kotta family were keen to show their gratitude to Gustavo's helper from the Charentes and sent a jewellery box containing a dozen silver spoons made in the U.S.

Fernand Couillaud, in his capacity as the Mayor, was able to help any young men who were refusing to work over in Germany (Service du Travail Obligatoire). He would obtain false papers, ration cards and direct them to farms where members of the Résistance held out. Equally he was interested in helping any American airmen hiding from the Germans. Gustavo Kotta, hidden at the home of René Lalande would be taken under his wing. In the meantime the Mayor of Chartuzac had learnt that another parachutist was being hidden at the château de la Hoguette. How did he know ? The secret had not been well kept and tongues started to wag quite quickly. So, he asked the Joulin family if they would look after a second American under their roof. The transfer was organised by motorbike during the day of 2nd January 1944. But instead of going directly to the château de la Hoguette, Fernand Couillaud felt the need to ride with his passenger through some roads of Montendre and to stop at a few cafés. A brave man but very risky. Perhaps by showing off he had wanted to show that he could behave like this freely without the Germans knowing.

The Café de Paris, well placed across from the market, was run by Jean Cazes and his mother aged 75. It's the main meeting place for all the locals. They had a kitchen at the back of the bar with a side exit onto a back street. The waitress at this time was Lucette Lebrun, who had concerns when Fernand Couillaud had brought the American into the kitchen to hide him from unwanted attention out front and present him to his friends. The American was dressed in blue workers clothes, a little rough looking and a little too large for him. Madame Cazes and the waitress hugged him and wished him a happy New Year. They were at the same time surprised to see him there knowing there were Germans sitting out in the café bar. All of a sudden his visit was cut short, and he was ushered out by Fernand out the back of the building.

The Mayor of Chartuzac arrived at the château de la Hoguette. The Joulin family were not aware of what had been going on in Montendre and the risks being taken. Would they have agreed to look after another American if they'd known ? Gustavo Kotta was reunited with his fellow crew member Robert Warner. A room had been been set up for them with two beds situated at the back of the château. In case of danger, the two men could escape by a door which lead out to the woods.

Robert Warner and Gustavo Kotta.
Photo taken by Henry Baudry at the château

It was winter and very cold. The bedroom had no chimney and wasn't heated. Marcelle Joulin remembers giving some heated bricks so the Americans could warm their feet and hands. They were not allowed to leave the building. They had their lunch in the bedroom, which the Joulin family prepared for them. In the evening the Dugue family provided their meal. From time to time they would be invited down to eat in the dining room in one of the wings of the château.

His son-in-law Henry Baudry aged 23 and his daughter Marie-Yvonne aged 17, recently married and living in the village of Tuilerie, in the commune of Chamouillac, came regularly to visit their parents. During the time that the Americans were staying there, the young couple stayed their too and joined everyone for dinner. One evening, Madeleine Dugue prepared a rabbit and shallot stew. With the help of a French-English dictionary the word "game" had been explained to the aviators who were amazed by the friendship they were being shown. After the meal, the evening was generally rounded off with a game of cards played with a few French friends.

After two or three days, it was decided to kit the Americans out properly. Some shopkeepers in Montendre, well known to the Joulins for their discretion, had no hesitation in offering some civilian clothes that fitted the Americans properly. The clothes shop 'Anglade' provided each of them a ready to wear grey suit. The shoes came from the shop 'Tuffreau' and the shop 'Mignot' completed the new look by donating shirts, socks and ties.

The two Americans were very happy to now be dressed in their brand new French style clothes. Gustavo Kotta was a little smaller than Robert Warner, and perhaps more comfortable in his clothes than his fellow American. Some photos taken by Henry Baudry on his old Kodak illustrate this well. The son-in-law of Yvon Dugue had taken several shots, individual and in groups, in the drawing room, with a backdrop of period furniture. One of the photos shows the Joulin brothers and Marie-Yvonne Baudry at the sides of their new friends dressed in their new clothes.

Photo taken in the drawing room of the château.
From left to right : Raoul Joulin, his wife Marcelle, Marie-Yvonne Baudry (daughter of Mr and Mrs Dugué, her husband Henry took the photograph), Robert Warner and Gustavo Kotta.

They stayed around eight days. Fernand Couillaud organised their departure after having contacted a Résistance network around the area of Bordeaux. This clandestine group took charge of them sending over a car to a place that had been arranged earlier, on the road to Reignac. Before they left it was necessary to hide their American made wrist watches. Raoul Joulin's wife had the idea of unpicking a sleeve of each jacket and inserting the possibly compromising objects in the shoulder pads.

The regional branch of the Résistance network 'Brutus' took charge of the two Americans once they left the château de la Hoguette. Doctor Pierre Auriac, a Doctor at Pont-de-la-Maye, in the suburbs of Bordeaux, was one of its influential members. He was in touch with another résistant, Georges Tissot, from one of the evasion lines for allied airmen down to Spain.

Gustavo Kotta and Robert Warner were initially looked after by Pierre Auriac who did not hesitate to have his photo taken alongside Gustavo. This photo was found and published by the Doctor Dartigues in his book "Les hommes en blanc dans la clandestinité, la résistance médicale à Bordeaux et en Gironde", published in 1996.

Gustavo did not stay with him long. The two airmen were taken over to a local résistance group situated close to Miramont-de-Guyenne, in the département of Lot-et-Garonne. Some weeks later, the résistants Pierre Auriac and Georges Tissot, whose network was probably being tracked down by the Germans, decided to cross clandestinely into Spain. All four of them then made it down to the Basque region by car where they were hidden for eight days with the Chango family at Saint-Just-Ibarre. With the help of guides, essential in the Pyrénées covered in snow, they crossed successfully. The four fugitives found themselves safely and in a neutral country, but a little worried about the red tape of the Spanish authorities. After a stay in an internment camp at Miranda de Ebro the two Frenchmen were allowed to leave and managed to get over to North Africa where they joined the French Commandos. As for the Americans, they were helped by their consulate in Spain and taken down to Gibraltar. Their return to England was organised for 17th April 1944 for Gustavo Kotta and 11th May 1944 for Robert Warner.

Sergeant Bennie Ricci at Boisredon then at Jonzac
At the village of "Chez Rhodes", in the commune of Courpignac, Marcel Brifaud ran a smallholding which included some rows of vines. His son Marcel, aged 24, helped him in his agricultural work and doing all that was necessary on a daily basis for a modest sized livestock. The two men were in the middle of chopping wood in the pine forest around Bondou when the american bomber found itself in trouble above their heads. Some airmen had parachuted out. One of them landed quite near to the two Frenchmen. They immediately went to his aid. It was Sergeant Bennie Ricci, the tail gunner, a young man of around 20 years of age of Italian origin.

The buildings of the smallholding run by the Briffaud family were about 1 km away from where the American airmen had landed. He was taken quickly across fields up to the house. All were a little anxious as this was done in daylight and the Germans had began to patrol the area and interrogate the locals. A German side-car pulled up in the village of "Chez Rhodes" and Marcel Briffaud, standing on the step of his home, answered their probing questions as calmly as possible. At the same time, Benni Ricci was taking a few moments of rest in the bedroom of the young Marcel.

Mr and Mrs Briffaud had dressed the American in their sons old clothes who was the same size. They had to explain to him that it would not be possible to look after him for long. Communication was not easy and they had to use gestures and drawings to let me him know that he would be taken during the night away from the house using back roads over to Boisredon, a village about 2 kms away. In the meantime Marcel junior let his young fiancée know that he would not be able to take her to the cinema that evening, putting her in the picture of his new secret and of the goings on that evening planned by his father.

Raphaël Robert, from Boisredon, welcomed Bennie Ricci at his house. Marcel Briffaud knew that he was part of the local Résistance. From 1943, this patriot from the Charente became the chief of the 'Navarre' network in the area around Mirambeau. His clandestine activities had multiplied, welcoming young men who had refused to go to Germany as enforced labour under the Service du Travail Obligatoire (S.T.O.), distributing false identity cards to some and food ration cards to others, as well as providing financial aid to Jews in need of help. In spite of many arrests in the area he had not been discouraged and continued to work for the Résistance right up to the liberation of his area at the end of August 1944.

Raphaël Robert was a mechanic at Boisredon, his wife Laurentia had worked at a grocery shop in the town. Since her death in 1941, Raphaël lived alone with his sister Ginette, born in 1930, who has provided the following account of the welcome given to the American parachutist :
"My father had collected the aviator during the night of 31st December / 1st January. I had written the words Happy New Year in English on a card placed next to a hot cup of coffee made especially for him. This was to give him confidence and to make him feel welcome. In spite of the coffee and the card and in spite of our efforts to speak to him in English, he was frozen with fear and wouldn't or couldn't say a word. We had hidden him in a house nearby that was uninhabited. He stayed there the night. We took him a meal during the day and in the evening he joined my father and I for dinner. If anyone knocked at the door he had to quickly hide under a cover behind a partition that been put up by my father".

Bennie Ricci stayed four days with Raphaël Robert. Then it was decided to get him to an escape line. Nelson Fumeau, from Jonzac, received a call asking him "to go collect a 'parcel' at Boisredon". In the language of the Résistance, the meaning is clear. The 'parcel' is no other than the escaped parachutist that he would need to give a new hiding place. Nelson Fumeau dropped what he was doing and without any worries collected and brought back the American to Jonzac. There, he was hidden for four days and then moved again, this time to Ozillac, quite close, and hidden again for four days. (Bennie Ricci never forgot the help that Nelson Fumeau had given him. Nelson received on 31st December 1979, thirty six years later, a long letter, very detailed, telling him that the young airman at the time was now a furniture upholsterer and a had a grand-daughter. The years may have passed but the memories had remained close to Bennie's heart). Next a reunion is organised at Etauliers where Bennie met up again with three of his fellow crew members, pilot Charles Frascati, co pilot Victor Swenson and sergeant Felix Anderson. The full story of this group's evasion is given in the following paragraph.

Four American airmen reunited at Etauliers.
Several crew members of "Flak Bait" had landed around Reignac-de-Blaye, in the Gironde. One of them, pilot Charles Frascati had landed close to the cemetery. Having been shot in his thigh, he was picked up by some locals who gave him new clothes and fed him. (In the book "Chroniques de souffrance et de lumière" by Pierre Boyriez published by Burgus in 1995, the author mentions some of the people from Reignac-de-Blaye who helped Lieutenant Frascati, they were Arthémis Mazaubert, Raymond Villesot and Henri Amoux. But, above all, it says that he had been helped by Pierre Sardot and Madame Dard). Because he was being troubled by his injury, he was taken to Dr Vaux, who declared that he would be unable to extract the bullet. The airman who was in a bad way was then put in the hands of André Garbay, Dr Vaux's chauffeur, who took Frascati over to his parents at Etauliers who would look after him for the moment.

The injured American had a fever and he urgently needed help. André Garbay decided to take him over to the hospital at Saint-André at Bordeaux where a group of practitioners were working for the Résistance. The two men took a train from Le Blayais which passed by Etauliers. As a disguise, Lieutenant Frascati wore dark glasses and walked with a white cane to appear to be a blind man and would hopefully reduce the chance of being asked questions or entering into any probing conversation.

Returning from Bordeaux the same day around the 1st / 2nd January 1944, André Garbay took Frascati over to a family friend, Yvonne Miaille, who lived in an isolated house on the edge of Le Marais at Le Mazerat, a few kms from Etauliers. The lady was divorced and lived with her two daughters, Claude and Huguette. Huguette was a teacher at Pleine-Selve and at the time of the arrival of the American she was staying at her mother's house as it was during the school holidays.

Two other airmen, Lieutenant Victor Swenson and Sergeant Felix Anderson had also landed around Reignac-de-Blaye. One of them landed in the small village of Mouillots, not far from Marcel Medart's house. Avoiding being found by the Germans and having the luck of receiving immediate help, they were finally taken in by the family of André Garbay who a little later took them over to Yvonne Miaille. This courageous lady was now looking after three of the airmen and in a few days an escape line was found for them. A tricky mission that would involve her two daughters.

The three parachutists had at their disposal two bedrooms with a bed each. For food Claude Mialle had to manage to buy enough bread for six people using fake ration cards. It was necessary to avoid the attention of neighbours as there was more housework to do than normal and more daily excursions. The three men were forbidden to leave the house and they had to stay the whole day in one room a few metres square, this was sometimes a little too much to ask.

This situation probably lasted around 12 days. The time came to leave for their attempt to get to the Pyrénées and over into Spain, a voyage probably organised by some friends of André Garbay who were in the Résistance. A fourth airmen joined them. It was Bennie Ricci, recently hidden at Ozillac and then taken to Mazaret. He did not stay long at the house, Claude Miaille points out, perhaps only an hour. Next, the four Americans were taken in charge by Monsieur Macaud and Pierre Gramont from Etauliers, and driven as far as Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. From there they began their attempt to cross the Pyrénées but they were stopped by the German Police and taken prisoner. They were then made prisoners of war in Germany and would be liberated at the end of the war.

Commemorative monument at Marcillac.
Close to the crash site near the village of Bondou, a monument in memory to the ten airmen was erected by the municipality of Marcillac. The small stone monument, made by stone masons at Reignac-de-Blaye, consists of a plaque in marble with the names of the ten crew members of "Flak Bait". Its inauguration took place on 3rd March 2003 in the presence of Jean-Marie Huchet, the Mayor of Marcillac, and Nancy Cooper, U.S. Consul at Bordeaux.
After the war, Charles Frascati kept in contact for a long time with the Miaille family. The author Bernard Ballanger thanks Raymond Gay from Marcillac for the numerous pieces of information that he had been very happy to share in the writing of the book.

An airmen is welcomed by Marguerite Freuchet.
At the time, Marguerite Freuchet was 32 years old and lived in the village of Chez Faure in the commune of Courpignac. Julien, her husband, was a farmer. But to earn extra money he worked during the week at a factory that made fire bricks at Montendre.

Not far from their house a creek supplied a watermill thanks to a diversion. It is there, in a meadow surrounded by water that an unidentified parachutist landed from the Frascati crew. Locals from the village had followed by eye his descent. But only Marguerite had gone to his aid in spite of all the warnings and advice not to by her neighbours and the pleas from her two daughters, Lea, aged 11 and Huguette, aged 9 who were trying to stop her.

The airman was taken to the house and comforted. A large meal was served to him. Marguerite thought he must be given some civilian clothes. The flight suit was swapped for some of her husband's old blue work clothes. The trousers were a little short and the jacket a little tight. However, this was all they had and it would mean that if he was seen outside he would not stand out.

During the afternoon, the gendarmes at Mirambeau turned up at the village of Chez Faure to make enquiries. But Marguerite forewarned had hidden the airman safely in the hay barn. He did not need to stay there long but after the gendarmes had gone he left his hiding place without Marguerite noticing. Two farm workers working the nearby fields had seen him making his way to the river and then disappeared.

During the night, someone knocked softly on the shutters of the bedroom on the ground floor of Mr and Mrs Freuchet's house. It is not known if it was the airman, who may have stayed in the area and was asking again for shelter. Thinking of their young daughters, Marguerite did not want to take risks. She did not answer and was not able, if it was the airman, to offer shelter.

Knowing the point where the airmen had jumped, to the west of Montendre, it is certain that this parachutist on the run was part of the crew of "Flak Bait" which crashed in the woods at Lamourette, close to Marcillac. The only two airmen that successfully managed to evade capture were Gustavo Kotta and Robert Warner, one can therefore deduce that the American sheltered for that short period by Marguerite Freuchet had then soon afterwards been made prisoner. It could possibly have been one of three airmen, Richard Wilson, Edward Cannon or Louis Sortino, no information is known on how they were captured.

Memories of Sergeant Cannon.
Louis Sortino
Sergeant Cannon's children very kindly shared some memories written by their father before he died in 1990. 
After he landed, he kissed the ground and thanked God for allowing him to be safe and well. He met two Frenchmen who gave him some bread and jam, which he accepted with gratitude and thanked them. These two kind men advised him to head quickly to a wooded area. This he had hoped would be the start of a long journey across France to reach Spain and gain his freedom. However, he was picked up by the Police when he passed through a town. 
On 7th January he slept in a cell having received the assurance that, he believed, that we would be taken to a Résistance group the following day and then eventually taken over the Pyrénées. The next morning, accompanied by the Police in a small restaurant, he was handed over to the Gestapo. He was arrested and imprisoned for the night. The next day he was interrogated and the following day he was taken down to Toulouse where he was put in isolation for three weeks. 
Around 15th February, along with some other prisoners, he was transferred by train to the prison at Fresnes and put in a cell. He stayed there a month and then again transferred, this time to Wiesbaden in Germany. A few days later he was taken by truck to a temporary camp and then finally taken by truck to Stalag 17b near Krems in Austria. He would be liberated the 9th May 1945 by Russian troops.

Lieutenant Navigator Richard Wilson.
He evaded capture for a while and was hidden at the home of Roger Ladepeche at Saint-Yzan-de-Soudiac, in Gironde. He had hidden eleven American Airmen. It is not known how Lieutenant Wilson was captured and subsequently imprisoned.

Monument in memory to the ten airmen.
The monument states that the plane was known as "Devil Dream" but the authors research shows that it could have been known under the name of "Flak "Bait". However, its true name has not been confirmed. 
To the left of the monument are part of the landing gear from the B-24.

On the same mission the 446th BG lost another plane, "Buzz Buggy" flown by Lt. L.V. Allen which crashed for an unknown reason in the vicinity of Mimizan, southwest of Bordeaux, all 10 crewmen were killed. (Missing Aircraft Report #1679).

Other stories concerning mission no. 171 31st December 1943 (link)
Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum and home of the 446th BG memorial at Flixton (link)
Each year on 31st December a ceremony is held in France at the monument dedicated to the crew from the 446th BG : 2012 / 2016

Further reading :
"The History of the 446th Bomb Group 1943 - 1945" compiled by Harold E. Jansen (1989)