TFH 2/20 Part 2: The Two Heroes of “Ten Horsepower” – Mathies & Truemper

The annals of American combat history are filled with stories of men who risked their lives to save those of their comrades. Earlier I posted the first of two Medal of Honor-worthy “so that others may live” stories from February 20, 1944, that of First Lieutenant William R. Lawley, Jr. Two other airmen belonging to the United States Army Air Forces predecessor of the present day United States Air Force aboard a single Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, serial number 42-21763 and nicknamed Ten Horsepower, provide us with the second.

Archibald Mathies was born as Archibald Hamilton on June 3, 1918 in Stonehouse, Scotland. He emigrated with his parents to the United States, where they settled in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. His enlistment record indicates that he volunteered for service with the United States Army Air Corps on December 30, 1940 for a three-year term, extended obviously by wartime requirements. Mathies was a naturalized American citizen.

Walter Edward Truemper was born on Halloween, 1918 in Aurora, Illinois. Truemper, a college graduate, was drafted into the United States Army on June 23, 1942 and briefly served in the artillery branch until he volunteered for transfer to the Air Corps. He wanted to be a pilot, but didn’t pass the training and instead earned his officer’s commission as a navigator.

Mathies and Truemper were posted to the 510th Bombardment Squadron of the 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy) in late 1943 as replacements for men who had been killed, wounded, or shot-down and captured. Neither were pilots, but on February 20, 1944, the flying duties of their bomber fell to them. According to the crew member database of the 351st Bombardment Group Association, it was Mathies’ third mission, and just Truemper’s second.

Ten Horsepower left the 351st’s home base of RAF Polebrook to bomb Leipzig, Germany. After successfully attacking the target, Ten Horsepower was shredded by Nazi fighters, killing the co-pilot instantly and wounding the pilot severely enough to lose consciousness. Mathies and Truemper together managed to fly the wounded plane back to Britain, where the crew was advised to bail out. Five men did, and survived (a sixth crew member bailed out over Germany, and was captured).

Even though the two were ordered by the group commander to bail out and save themselves, they radioed that the pilot, Second Lieutenant Clarence R. Nelson (like themselves a relative combat rookie on his second mission), was still alive but unconscious, unable to parachute to safety, and they would not abandon him to certain death. Mathies and Truemper’s selflessness in volunteering to try and land the plane was honored. Sadly, on their third attempt to get the plane down, they crashed and all three men left aboard lost their lives.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Photo from Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*MATHIES, ARCHIBALD

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U .S. Army Air Corps, 510th Bomber Squadron, 351st Bomber Group. Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944 (Air Mission). Entered service at: Pittsburgh, Pa. G.O. No.: 52, 22 June 1944.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which Sgt. Mathies was serving as engineer and ball turret gunner was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged. Nevertheless, Sgt. Mathies and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. Sgt. Mathies and the navigator volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving Sgt. Mathies and the navigator aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, Sgt. Mathies’ commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, Sgt. Mathies and the navigator replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After two unsuccessful efforts, the plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. Sgt. Mathies, the navigator, and the wounded pilot were killed.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (T-Z):

Photo from Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*TRUEMPER, WALTER E.

Rank and organization Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps. 510th Bomber Squadron, 351st Bomber Group. Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944 (Air Mission). Entered service at: Aurora, Ill.. G.O. No.: 52, 22 June 1944

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which 2d Lt. Truemper was serving as navigator was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged Nevertheless, 2d Lt. Truemper and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, 2d Lt. Truemper’s commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, 2d Lt. Truemper and the engineer replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and that they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After 2 unsuccessful efforts their plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. 2d Lt. Truemper, the engineer, and the wounded pilot were killed.

Both heroes’ remains were repatriated to the United States for burial. Staff Sergant Mathies rests today at the Finleyville Cemetery in Finleyville, Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Truemper was buried in St. Paul’s Lutheran Cemetery in Montgomery, Illinois. Truemper’s grave didn’t receive a marker indicating his status as a Medal of Honor recipient until July 2006.

Both the 351st Bombardment Group and the 510th Bombardment Squadron were deactivated after the war. They later saw life in the Air Force as intercontinental ballistic missile units through the Cold War but were retired in the early 1990s with the end of tensions between the United States and USSR/successors and have not been active since.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *