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The 28th Man

Twenty-eight American airmen lost their lives on the 25 April 1945 bombing raid on Linz, Austria. Due to tough editorial choices that had to be made, Bombing Hitler's Hometown does not detail the fate of one of those men—Staff Sergeant Jonas Strickland of the 483rd Bomb Group. His story is told here, in solemn remembrance of his sacrifice.


The same devastating flak salvo that devastated First Lieutenant Robert Sinton’s B-17 bomber over Linzleading to the crew's bailout and imprisonment in Mauthausenalso shot out the Numbers 3 and 4 engines on First Lieutenant Charles Church’s Flying Fortress. Before Church could tend to his aircraft’s own wounds, he had to pull up quickly to avoid hitting Sinton’s ship. When Church attempted to return to his position in the formation, he didn’t realize that First Lieutenant Morton Connelly had been unable to slow down quickly enough and had slid under Church’s bomber. The nose of Church’s Fortress collided with the tail of Connelly’s, sheering off the tail gun position on the latter.

“When the tail of our plane was hit by the nose of Church’s plane, we went into a steep bank,” recalled copilot Bruce M. Rogers. “Mort and I were both standing on the rudders but could not move them.” Rogers would later come to believe that some of the Plexiglass nose of Church’s B-17 had become lodged in the control surfaces of the tail of his aircraft, but he would never be able to prove it. He had more pressing concerns on his mind just now.

Connelly ordered Rogers to switch on the autopilot, and the Fortress righted itself, though not before protesting with deep shudders and groans. Outside, flak added to the tumult, and the B-17 lost an engine late in the bomb run. A second gave out not long after. After assessing the damage, Connelly and Rogers decided to make a go of returning to base, and they would pass those tense hours with heavy hearts. A crewman who had gone back to check on the damage in the tail reported that the gunner, Staff Sergeant Jonas D. Strickland, was gone.

Connelly managed to bring his aircraft over the Alps on two engines, but he didn’t want to take any chances on landing back at base. “Mort felt we would not be able to fly a regular landing pattern, so we radioed in and made a straight-in landing,” Rogers recalled. “Connelly was a very capable pilot.” The Army Air Forces agreed, awarding the pilot the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.

The crew’s joy and relief after touching down safely were quickly tempered with a feeling of loss. The men exited the Fort and, surveying the damage to the tail, found the parachute belonging to Strickland. He had fallen to his death on what would have been his thirty-fifth mission, earning him a ticket home.

Jonas Strickland's dog tag

In 1946, US Graves Registration Service personnel recovered Strickland’s body from a grave in the Wegscheid Cemetery in St. Martin, Austria, where Austrian civilians had laid him to rest next to members of the James Denny and Edward Stresky crews, who had been shot down on 25 April 1945. His remains, wrapped in a mattress cover, included his dog tags. At the request of the Strickland family, Jonas’s remains were relocated to the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. He rests in Plot C, Row 23, Grave 5. May his name liveth forevermore.


- Jacob L. Grimm, Heroes of the 483rd: Crew Histories of a Much-Decorated B-17 Bomber Group during World War II (483rd Bomb Group Association, 1997), 42.

- General Order 3275, Air Force Historical Research Agency, microfilm reel A6427.

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