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Brightwood Boys, The History of the Men from the North End of
Springfield, Massachusetts, During World War II
by Christopher P. Montagna



On November 2, 1944, Bert Sitek and the aircrews of the 457th Bomb Group set off for the synthetic Leuna oil plant at Merseburg. It marked the fiercest battle the Group engaged with the Luftwaffe.   About 15 minutes after bombs away, the formation was attacked by approximately 40 enemy aircraft, mostly FW-1 90s. The enemy attacked the low box in closely spaced waves of 10 abreast, pressed the attacks to within 100 yards and then broke away in all directions. In a ten-minute air battle, the sky over the area became an inferno of falling, burning planes. Seven B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 457th were shot down.

Aircraft of the 749th Squadron of the 457th Bmob Group on a bombing run


Bert Sitek, who was flying as a ball turret gunner recalled his role on the mission to Merseberg, Germany:


"Everything happened pretty fast that day, as it usually does when the Germans offer any opposition.  “We had been off the bomb run about 10 minutes when vapor trails from fighters started to fill the sky.  Friendly or enemy aircraft?, was the question in everyone's mind. But we soon learned the answer. There were FW-190s and Me-109s forming for one of those wolf-pack attacks.  At first, it appeared they were on the same level as our box, but as they came closer, they lowered themselves for an attack on the low and lead boxes. Every one of them followed his course except the leader who must have liked the looks of one of the planes in our box."


"I got my sights on him from about 600 or 700 yards as he made his attack from 7 o'clock. I could almost see the bullets hit home. As he got closer I could feel his 20mm burst around me. At about 200 yards he seemed to stop dead. The ship rolled over and the pilot came out. A second later the plane burst into flames and broke into several pieces. The pilot did not wait long to open his chute, as I could see a chute open not too far beneath me. The chute attracted my attention because of the peculiar color.   Other gunners had quite a day, too, as I could see several other enemy aircraft burning and exploding beneath me."


The original aircraft manned by Bert Sitek, which was damaged in an accident at Dow Field prior to his departure to England, was repaired and assigned to a new crew and designated for the 452nd BG on June 7, 1944. The bomber would be named the “LADY JEANNETTE” and its pilot Donald J. Gott and co-pilot William E. Metzger, Jr. would make history on November 9, 1944:


On a bombing run upon the marshaling yards at Saarbrucken a B-17 aircraft piloted by 1st. Lt. Gott was seriously damaged by antiaircraft fire. Three of the aircraft's engines were damaged beyond control and on fire; dangerous flames from the No. 4 engine were leaping back as far as the tail assembly. Flares in the cockpit were ignited and a fire raged therein, which was further increased by free-flowing fluid from damaged hydraulic lines. The interphone system was rendered useless. In addition to these serious mechanical difficulties the engineer was wounded in the leg and the radio operator's arm was severed below the elbow. Suffering from intense pain, despite the application of a tourniquet, the radio operator fell unconscious.


Faced with the imminent explosion of his aircraft, and death to his entire crew, mere seconds before bombs away on the target, 1st. Lt. Gott and his copilot conferred. Something had to be done immediately to save the life of the wounded radio operator. The lack of a static line and the thought that his unconscious body striking the ground in unknown territory would not bring immediate medical attention forced a quick decision. 1st. Lt. Gott and his copilot decided to fly the flaming aircraft to friendly territory and then attempt to crash land. Bombs were released on the target and the crippled aircraft proceeded alone to Allied-controlled territory. When that had been reached, 1st. Lt. Gott had the copilot personally inform all crewmembers to bail out.


The copilot chose to remain with 1st. Lt. Gott in order to assist in landing the bomber. With only one normally functioning engine, and with the danger of explosion much greater, the aircraft banked into an open field, and when it was at an altitude of 100 feet it exploded, crashed, exploded again and then disintegrated. All 3 crewmembers were instantly killed.


This heroic action earned Lt. Donald J. Gott, and co-pilot 2nd Lt. William E. Metzger, Jr. the Medal of Honor.