Karl Allmenröder dissertation
There was a dense fog over West Sweden the night before October 20, 1944. Twenty minutes after midnight, five American courier airplanes passed the sea Anten, north of Alingsås. The radio officer on board of one of the very secret airplanes, Donald Johnston, had his 23rd birthday and was probably congratulated by his five crew members. The six American airmen had only seconds left to live. The rebuilt bomb plane crashed at the Anten chapel and exploded.
All on board, except Sergeant Oakley Ragland, died immediately. When men from the National Home Guard in Älvängen, Kilanda and Alingsås came to the site he was still alive. But the 2nd radio operator on board the mysterious courier airplane could never tell what had happened. He never regained consciousness and died soon of his terrible wounds.
Today there is still mysteriousness over the disaster. Some questions have answers. What were, for example, five American bomb planes doing in Sweden during the war? The concealed truth is that they were included in a classified war operation that was named "Project Sonnie". The operation was so secret and sensitive that after the accident it was claimed in the USA that the plane crashed during a commission in Indo-China.
"Project Sonnie" started in the beginning of 1944 with the purpose to fly out Norwegian members of the Resistance, that had managed to get to Sweden, from Sweden to England in order to train them in the fight against the German occupation of Norway, and also fly out American aircrews that for different reasons had landed in our country.
During fifteen months from April 1, 1944, to June 25, 1945, the "Sonnie-planes" took a total of 4304 passengers from Sweden to England. The flights were most often done in bad weather to keep them secret. It even happened that flights were canceled because the weather was too good. According to the regulations the airplanes were civilian, at least on the paper. Since Sweden was "neutral," a "civilian" transport company was created, The American Air Transport Service.
On the evening of October 19, 1944, contact was taken with Leuchars, Scotland, to stop the six expected "Sonnie planes". The weather was too bad, and Bromma was wrapped in a dense fog. The message came too late. The planes had already left and it was too late to stop them. While flying over the North Sea one of the planes had engine trouble, and returned to the base. When the five remaining planes a couple of hours later reached Bromma they got the order to go to Torslanda in Göteborg (Gothenburg), where the weather was better.
Four of the planes arrived.
What happened to the fifth plane? Why did it crash? The crash report gives no clear answer why. It says for instance: "the survey only showed, that the adjustable propellers' blades were adjusted for normal flight, whereby the conclusion should be possible to draw, that engine disturbance of more serious art has not occurred."
Witnesses from the Anten neighborhood have spoken about yet another unknown plane that was circling over the crash site. This plane soon turned north and disappeared. Later during the night it was reported from Strömstad about engine sounds from an unknown plane.
In the crash report there are some conflicting informations about the cause of the crash. In the part of the report with the heading: "Causes for the crash" intense discussions had arisen and the assessment was postponed. In another suggestion for the cause, it was assumed that the crew had seen the lake Mjörn, and taken this for the river Göta Älv, a completely unreasonable way of thinking with knowledge of the dense fog at the place. When they had radio contact with Torslanda five minutes before the crash there was no report of anything unusual on board of the plane.
Telegrafverkets ("the department of telegraphing") report about the radio service at Göteborg's ground station at the actual time and a clarification of the passage log looks like this:
The call signal of the airplane is NWK
22.15: NWK to Bromma: Calculates to arrive 22.20
22.31: Bromma: Go to Torslanda.
23.07: Torslanda has sent weather to NWK.
23.17: Torslanda asks for the flying altitude. No reply.
During the following time the contact is intensified between the plane and the ground base regarding the true course. Just after midnight the drama reached its climax:
00.22: NWK: True course?
Torslanda: Your sound volume is too weak, try again.
New bearing signal, but the sound volume is too weak.
00.27: Torslanda: You may land as number one (not answered by NWK).
00.42: Torslanda: Are you calling me? (no reply)
00.43: Torslanda: Have sent long bearing signal
00.46: Torslanda: Do you have anything for me? (no reply)
01.02: Torslanda: Are you calling me? (no reply)
01.05: Torslanda: Have sent bearing signal blindly
01.10: Torslanda: Have sent bearing signal blindly
01.16: Torslanda: Have sent bearing signal blindly
01.55: Bromma announces per morse: A plane crashed and is on fire. (Probably NWK).
02.35 Torslanda: Have sent bearing signal blindly
02.46: Torslanda: Have sent bearing signal blindly
03.50: Bromma announces that service for NWK has been cancelled.
At the same time as radio connection was held with NWK, communication was held with four other courier planes. Weather information, landing direction, bearing signals etc were sent to them, which should have been able to receive for NWK as well.
The following can also be read in the crash report: About the radio operator on board on NWK must unfortunately be said that he was very inexperienced, especially regarding reception. The sound volume was sometimes below audibility. The ground station receivers and sending utilities worked without remark.
Even from Bromma there was a report for these hours. The conclusion was: "Nothing is known why the airplane was flown on such low altitude at the time of the crash. It is not unlikely that there were navigation errors when the crew had the understanding that they were in the area of Göteborg. The time for the crash correspond with the time the airplane crew stated as estimated arrival time to Torslanda. Likely the lights from the nearby Alingsås had been visible through the low fog- or cloud-layers and may have been considered as the lights from the town of Göteborg. Possibly the lake Mjörn had also been visible and was considered as the mouth of the river at Göteborg."
The last assumption is totally absurd, as SMHI (the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute), had given me the information that at this time: "were western Sweden and the whole Göteborg region covered by approximately fifty meters (165 feet) of land fog", and as everyone knows, much fog always appears at water like seas, rivers, creeks and so on.
I have also from Major Hinnersson, by then the airport manager, got a confirmation that the fog was so dense that the last plane in this group got the question if they wanted to go to another airport or try to take down on Torslanda despite the terrible fog. Captain Linday replied: "I have no choice. No fuel left."
After some half minute his plane, a Dakota (DC-3), was heard coming in over the airport, and the thump from the landing plane was heard. However, nothing was visible, and they had to send out a car in order to guide the plane as the sight was equal to zero.
Regarding the radio operator on board of NWK, it can be mentioned about his so called lack of experience that he, on at least five earlier occasions, had been on similar commissions here. So the conclusion about the reason of the crash seems to be hided with intention.
These many cases of unreasonable explanations, along with other witnesses, have got me wondering if it was an accident where the crew aboard NWK could be given the blame. My answer must be no. The reasons for this are the difficulties I have had in some cases to get existing information.
1: There were bullet holes in some of the wreck parts that were found on the site of the crash. This was at first denied when I asked about it. But when I pointed out that there are several persons that can swear an oath that this was the case, then they confessed that it was true.
2: What unknown airplane was it that flew over the crash site? I have not been able to get any answer to this. One witness stated that he heard shooting just before the plane passed over the place where he lived by then.
3: Why did they want to give the radio operator on board the blame, because of insufficient routine?
4: Why was I told from a certain direction: Stop searching in old stuff?
Yes, there exists some strangeness regarding the crashed airplane: NWK, registration number NC 18618.
There is material about the crashed airplane that would be enough for an entire book, but I have here told some of the most important parts.
May 27, 1945 a monument was erected on the site of the accident. On one side it is written (in Swedish): "Here died the 20th of October 1944 six airmen from the United States of America / They fell for their country, for freedom and right in the second world war".
On the other side of the monument are the names of the deceased men:
Captain Truett K. Bullock
Captain Thomas C. Campbell
Lieutenant James Buchanan
Sergeant Donald J. Johnston
Sergeant Oakley J. Ragland
Corporal Earl K. Nore
On the same side as the names of the crew there is also a propeller from the crashed airplane. Funds for the monument were gathered from the local population on the initiative of the former sawmill owner E Johansson, and Hilmer Andersson from Alingsås.
Comrades of the crew have donated a box for sacramental wafers in silver with the same text as is found on the monument. When it became known that the accident had occurred, then the church bells in Östad were ringing for the souls of the victims. Therefore this fine gift was donated to the church.
Author: Karl Allmenröder
Sources: American defense head quarter Pentagon / US Air Force / The Swedish Embassy, Washington / The American Embassy, Stockholm / Alingsås Tidning / Landsarkivet, Göteborg / Riksarkivet, Stockholm / Krigsarkivet, Stockholm / Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm / Göteborgstidningen / The Police, Alingsås / Svenska flygvapnet (The Swedish Air Force) / The Police, Älvängen / The Red Cross, Alingsås and Älvängen / The National Home Guard, Alingsås and Älvängen / Several persons in and around Anten