2nd Lieutenant Harold N. Sheaffer (1920–1944)

2nd Lieutenant Harold N. Sheaffer (Courtesy of the Sheaffer Family)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Born in Pennsylvania, moved to Delaware around age threeAccountant for Continental Diamond Fibre Company
BranchService Numbers
U.S. Army Air ForcesEnlisted 12012739 / Officer O-739227
TheaterUnit
European527th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 379th Bombardment Group (Heavy), U.S. Eighth Air Force
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Purple HeartEuropean Air Offensive (17 missions)

Early Life & Family

Harold Newton Sheaffer was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1920, the son of C. Harold Sheaffer (Christian Harold Sheaffer, 1897–1969, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of World War I) and Esther Kurtz Sheaffer (1896–1991).  He was the second of five children.  It appears that Sheaffer went by his middle name, although he was known as “Willie” among his B-17 crew.

The Sheaffer family moved to Delaware around 1923.  A 2015 article in the Newark Post stated that Harold Newton Sheaffer’s grandfather Isaac Newton Sheaffer “established a contract painting and supply business in the building that has come to bear the family name” at 75–77 East Main Street in Newark; his father also worked there.

On April 8, 1930, the younger Sheaffer was recorded on the census as a 9-year-old boy (under the name Newton H. Sheaffer) living with his family at 26 Prospect Avenue in Newark.  He was recorded (as a 19-year-old man under the name H. Newton Sheaffer) during the next census on April 15, 1940, now living with his family at 38 Prospect Avenue.  His occupation was listed as “Paper Hanging” for a contractor.

According to an October 9, 1945, article in Journal-Every Evening:

He was graduated from Newark High School in 1939 where he played football and basketball. He attended the University of Delaware and then attended Goldey College here. […] He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church at Newark. At the time of his enlistment in the Army Air Forces he was an accountant for the Continental Diamond Fibre Company of Newark.

An Individual Military Service Record, filled out around August 1946 by an unknown member of his family for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, indicates that Sheaffer was in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) at the University of Delaware.


2nd Lieutenant Harold Newton Sheaffer (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

U.S. Army Air Forces Training

Shortly after that attack on Pearl Harbor, Sheaffer volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Forces along with a friend, Leroy C. Hill, Jr. (who became a P-47 fighter pilot in the European Theater).  He was inducted as a private in Wilmington, Delaware, on January 15, 1942, and began training at Lemoore Army Air Field, California.  Sheaffer’s younger brother, Robert (1923–2020), followed him into the military the following year, becoming a U.S. Navy pilot.

In July 1942, Harold N. Sheaffer became an aviation cadet.  On March 6, 1943, he graduated from Bombardier Class 43-4 at the Advanced Army Flying School, Deming Army Air Field, New Mexico, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant.  He subsequently attended navigator training at San Marcos Army Air Field, Texas, graduating in July 1943.  Soon after, he was assigned to join a new B-17 crew as a navigator.

Bombardier Class 43-4 graduation announcement (Courtesy of the Sheaffer family)

In a 1998 letter, Robert W. Haston (1923–2001), the crew’s pilot, recalled meeting the other nine men in his crew in Ephrata, Washington. Haston continued: “We were transferred to [Geiger Field in] Spokane, Wash. for combat training with the Skaer Provisional Bomb Group. After the training at Spokane, we were transferred by railroad to Grand Island, Nebr.”  It was there that they received a B-17F (serial number 42-31031) fresh from the factory.  Orders for the crew’s overseas journey indicated that they departed Presque Isle Army Air Field, Maine, for England—with an intermediate stop in Iceland—around October 19, 1943. 

2nd Lieutenant Sheaffer with his crew in July 1943 during training in Ephrata, Washington. Standing, from left to right: Gordon D. Fisher, Royce D. Taylor, Robert W. Haston, Harold N. Sheaffer, Foy R. Clingman, Kenneth E. Raack. Kneeling, from left to right: Thomas Grange, Robert Spisak, Lester B. Adriansen, James W. Bittenback (Courtesy of the Sheaffer family)

Involvement in Glide Bomb Testing?

A combat crew readiness report stated that Sheaffer’s crew arrived in the United Kingdom on November 6, 1943.  After arriving in England, the crew was assigned to the 527th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 379th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the Eighth Air Force, based at Kimbolton, a Royal Air Force field in Cambridgeshire, eastern England.

Curiously, an article in The Newark Post stated that Sheaffer “survived experimental testing of new type radio-controlled bombs[.]”  Details of this episode—presumably involving early experiments in what would be referred to today as “smart bombs”—are intriguing, but limited.  The 379th Bomb Group was involved in testing a new weapon, the XM-108/GB-1 “Grapefruit” glide bomb.  (The GB-1 was only equipped with an autopilot, although there were plans, later abandoned, to make a version that was radio-controlled.) 

One document in a 1944 U.S.A.A.F. report about glide bombs stated that four 379th Bomb Group aircraft were part of a composite group involved in a November 18, 1943, practice mission to launch glide bombs at a bombing range at Scare Rocks, Scotland, though the “379th Group squadron did not get any bombs off due to rack malfunction.”  Later that day, four B-17s from the 379th Bomb Group launched glide bombs (two each) at an altitude of 14,000 feet over the North Sea.

The GB-1 was first employed in combat in May 1944—after Sheaffer’s loss—though its performance proved disappointing. A B-17 could carry two GB-1s, one under each wing.  The increased drag slowed the bomber and limited its combat radius.  Though equipped with a powerful 2,000 lb. warhead, the GB-1’s accuracy was poor.


Lieutenant Sheaffer (third from left), probably in England (Courtesy of the Sheaffer family)

Combat Missions

Per standard practice, Sheaffer’s crew did not get to keep the B-17 they’d crossed the Atlantic on.  Indeed, Sheaffer flew on eight different B-17s during his 17 combat missions.  He flew six missions (including his first) aboard B-17G 42-37888, nicknamed Aces n’ eights.

Sheaffer’s first mission was a raid on the port of Emden, Germany, on December 11, 1943.  Subsequent missions targeted ports, chemical works, and aircraft/engine factories in Germany, as well as V-weapons sites and an airfield in France.  During Sheaffer’s eighth mission, on January 14, 1944, the crew had a close call during a raid on the V-1 launch site at Gueschart, France.  The 527th Bomb Squadron’s January 1944 diary stated that “Lt. Haston in [42-29802 Ruthie II] returned and made a perfect landing with his #3 and #4 engines shot out.  Lt. James P. Mulkhern finished his tour of ops on this mission with Lt. Haston in the crippled ship.”

February 20, 1944, was the start of what came to be known as Big Week.  The raids targeted German aircraft factories.  Even more important than the factories themselves was the opportunity to engage and decimate the German Luftwaffe.  German fighters had little choice but to oppose the raids and were pounced on by escorting Allied fighters.  Although British and American loses were heavy, German losses were proportionally far higher—an important step in the Allies achieving air supremacy prior to the invasion of Normandy that spring.

During Big Week, Lieutenant Sheaffer in his crew flew three missions in as many days.  They flew aboard Aces n’ eights during the first two missions of the offensive.  On February 20, 1944, the 527th Bomb Squadron crew bombed the Junkers aircraft factory at Bernburg, Germany.  The following day, the squadron bombed Quakenbruck and Bramsche.

Lieutenant Sheaffer flew six missions aboard the B-17 nicknamed Aces n’ eights, including the first two missions of Big Week. (Courtesy of the Sheaffer family)

​On February 22, 1944, Lieutenant Sheaffer and his crew took off from Kimbolton aboard B-17F 42-29829, nicknamed Sons o’ Satan, piloted by 1st Lieutenant Haston and 2nd Lieutenant Foy R. Clingman.  Their target was the Junkers factory at Halberstadt, Germany.  The raid was Sheaffer’s 17th combat mission.

According to the 527th Bomb Squadron history for the week,

Navigation proved very difficult on the trip due to cloud conditions[.]  This in turn made dodging of enemy flak implacements [sic] impossible.  As a result intense and accurate flak was encountered along the route and most of the ships were damaged.

Fighters were also up in numbers on this raid.  All types were met and their attacks were persistent and often approaching the fanatical point.

Most of what is known about Lieutenant Sheaffer’s fate comes from a Missing Air Crew Report (M.A.C.R.) based largely on accounts of the five survivors.  Lieutenant Haston recalled later that Lieutenant Sheaffer “called up after bombs away saying we had a bomb hung up.”  Sheaffer was last seen in the bomb bay without a parachute attempting to release the bomb.  Haston estimated that “Three minutes after ‘Bombs Away’” the B-17 was hit and severely damaged by 20 mm cannon shells fired by enemy fighters.  Survivors recalled that engines numbers 2 and 3 as well as the bomb bay were all on fire.  The flight engineer, Technical Sergeant Kenneth E. Raack, was hit while manning the top turret and killed instantly.  None of the crew saw what happened to Lieutenant Sheaffer.  Haston wrote that the survivors’ “conclusions are that Sheaffer was either forced out by the fire or that he was hit and knocked out by 20 mm fire from the attacking fighters.”  Half the crew, five men, were able to parachute to safety and were liberated from captivity at the end of the war.

Another Eighth Air Force officer, Paul J. Collins, provided some insight into Lieutenant Sheaffer’s fate, based on a similar incident that he experienced while serving as bombardier aboard a B-17.  Collins explained that most B-17 crew members wore only the harness for the parachute in combat, keeping the parachute itself nearby.  He recalled that he was unable to look through the bombsight while wearing one.  Like Sheaffer, Collins experienced an incident (in his case, during a raid on Saint-Lô) in which not all the bombs released from his plane, an extremely dangerous situation.

Collins recalled that when that happened, he quickly grabbed a portable oxygen tank and removed his helmet and flak jacket; like Sheaffer, he was not wearing a parachute, just the harness.  To release the hung-up bombs, he had to lean from the narrow catwalk—across the open bomb bay—to manually release the clamps with a screwdriver. He recalled that took about three minutes for him to release the bombs, but another 10–15 minutes to recover from the ordeal.

Collins noted how difficult the task was even with the plane flying straight and level. He said that even though the B-17’s navigator was helping to steady him by holding onto the straps of his parachute harness, that he had little doubt that he would have fallen if the plane had jolted for any reason: fighters, flak, even turbulence.  Based on the timing established by Lieutenant Haston, Sheaffer would likely have been in the middle of the task when the plane was hit.

During his military career, 2nd Lieutenant Sheaffer earned the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters (a total of three awards) and the Presidential Unit Citation during his 17 missions.  He was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.  Sheaffer was buried in Plot D, Row 2, Grave 7, at what is now known as the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial in Liège, Belgium.


Telegram reporting 2nd Lieutenant Sheaffer as missing in action (Courtesy of Sheaffer family)

Crew of B-17F Sons o’ Satan on February 22, 1944

The following list was adopted from Missing Air Crew Report No. 2870 with grade, name, service number, position, and status (killed or captured). 

1st Lieutenant Robert W. Haston, O-801597 (pilot) – P.O.W.

2nd Lieutenant Foy R. Clingman, O-745297 (copilot) – K.I.A.

2nd Lieutenant Harold N. Sheaffer, O-739227 (navigator) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant Stanislaw Burblis, 10600659 (nose gunner) – K.I.A.

Technical Sergeant Gordon D. Fisher, 36709441 (radio operator) – P.O.W.

Technical Sergeant Kenneth E. Raack, 33293798 (flight engineer) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant Robert Spisak, 12208872 (ball turret gunner) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant Conrad J. Gemmecke, 35562857 (right waist gunner) – P.O.W.

Staff Sergeant William G. Nixon, Jr., 32565622 (left waist gunner) – P.O.W.

Staff Sergeant Lester B. Adriansen, 16155620 (tail gunner) – P.O.W.


October 11, 1945, issue of The Newark Post including a story reporting the death of Lieutenant Sheaffer (Courtesy of The Newark Post)

Notes

Crew & Position Details

2nd Lieutenant Sheaffer was trained as both a bombardier and as a navigator.  He was assigned to the Haston crew as a navigator, with 2nd Lieutenant Royce D. Taylor (1921–1943) as bombardier.  Lieutenant Taylor was killed in action flying with another crew on December 20, 1943.  It appears that the Haston crew was not assigned a replacement bombardier.  On Sheaffer’s final mission, Staff Sergeant Stanislaw Burblis (1916–1944) was listed as the nose gunner.  No bombardier was listed, though if present, he would have been responsible for operating the nose gun. 

By that phase of the war, B-17s would typically drop their bombs when the lead crew in their formation did, rather than having each bombardier aiming and releasing the bombload.  Presumably, since Lieutenant Sheaffer was also trained as a bombardier, squadron leadership believed he could step in to perform that role in the event that it became necessary.

Ruthie II

During Lieutenant Sheaffer’s eighth mission on January 14, 1944, his plane, B-17F 42-29802, nicknamed Ruthie II, made it home despite losing two engines.  Ruthie II had a storied career, most notably involving a mission on July 28, 1943, in which Flight Officer John C. Morgan (1914–1991) earned the Medal of Honor.  The plane’s pilot was mortally wounded by German fire, suffering a head injury that caused him to attack Morgan, his copilot.  Although Morgan could have disabled the pilot by severing his oxygen supply, he still held out hope that the man could be saved.  Morgan continued the mission, flying—and holding the pilot at bay—for two hours before other members of the crew intervened.

Front of a bracelet that belonged to Lieutenant Sheaffer (Courtesy of the Sheaffer family)
Front of a bracelet that belonged to Lieutenant Sheaffer (Courtesy of the Sheaffer family)

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Sheaffer family, the Delaware Public Archives and The Newark Post for their photographs of 2nd Lieutenant Sheaffer, to the 379th Bomb Group Archives and Lieutenant Colonel Scott Taylor (2nd Lieutenant Royce D. Taylor’s grandson) for their documents, and to Major Paul J. Collins for valuable background information.


Bibliography

“2Lt Harold Newton Sheaffer.”  Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56360839/harold-newton-sheaffer

379th Bombardment Group (H) Combat Crew Report.  Reel B0366.  Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency. https://delawareswwiifallen.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/haston-crew-from-b0366.pdf

“527th Bombardment Squadron (H) AAF Week of February 20 to February 26 Inclusive.” 1944.  Reel A0634.  Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“B-17 42-29802 / Ruthie II.”  B-17 Bomber Flying Fortress – The Queen Of The Skies website. https://b17flyingfortress.de/en/b17/42-29802-ruthie-ii/

“January Diary 527th Bombardment Squadron (H) AAF.”  Reel A0634.  Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Collins, Paul J.  Interview in Wilmington, Delaware, July 14, 2020.

“Deming Army Air Field New Mexico 1942 – September, 1946.” http://www.angelfire.com/dc/jinxx1/DAAF/DAAF.htm

“2Lt Harold Newton Sheaffer.”  Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56360839/harold-newton-sheaffer

“Flier Missing In Europe Raid.”  Journal-Every Evening, March 10, 1944.  Pg. 10. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/55399517/harold-newton-sheaffer/

Harold Newton Sheaffer Individual Military Service Record.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/20780

Haston, Robert W.  Letter to Scott Taylor, May 5, 1998.  Courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Scott Taylor.

Headstone Inscription and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942–1949.  Record Group 117, Records of the American Battle Monuments Commission, 1918–c. 1995.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_1521003238_0910-00450

“Glide Bombs.”  1944.  Reel B5320.  Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“Missing Air Crew Report No. 2870.”  Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985.  The National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/28744593

“Robert W Haston.”  Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/75517126/robert-w-haston

“Sheaffer Building — 1954.” The Newark Post, March 27, 2015.  Pg. 11. http://udspace.udel.edu/handle/19716/23360

“Sheaffer Killed in Bombing of Germany.”  The Newark Post, October 11, 1945.  Pg. 1 and 8.  https://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/19003/np_036_35.pdf

Special Order No. 198 (extract), Headquarters North Atlantic Wing, Air Transport Command, Presque Isle, Maine, October 19, 1943.  Collection of Robert W. Haston.  Courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Scott Taylor.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531890_00841

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00546-00201World War II Army Enlistment Records.  Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=12012739&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=483916


Last updated on September 27, 2021

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