Brookline War Memorial
Richard J. Welsh

United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)

Staff Sgt. Richard J. Welsh
United States Army Air Corps (1943-1945)

Richard Joseph Welsh was born April 8, 1923, to parents James W. and Rachel D. Welsh of 909 Woodbourne Avenue. He had two brothers, William and James, and two sisters, Olivia and Georgia. The Welsh family eventually moved into a new home at 1133 Merrick Avenue. Richard attended Brookline Elementary School and was a 1941 graduate of South Hills High School. After school he got a job working as a surveyor for the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Company.

Sgt Richard Welsh

Richard enlisted on October 13, 1942, and after boot camp opted for duty in the Army Air Corps. Richard was trained as a radio operator and aerial gunner, attaining the rank of Sergeant. He departed for overseas duty on July 28, 1943.

When he arrived at his base in Menzel Teminme, Tunisia, Sgt. Welsh was assigned as a replacement in the eight-man crew of the B-25C Mitchell medium bomber "Shadrach," Serial # 41-13197, a plane that had been in service since the beginning of the North African Campaign, and had already flown well over seventy missions. Rechristened "Old Shadrach," it was one of many Mitchells in the 380th Bombardment Squadron, 310th Bombardment Group, 57th Bombardment Wing of the U.S. 12th Air Force.

                 

During the opening stages of the Italian Campaign, the 380th Squadron was flying sorties in support of the American beachhead at Salerno. On September 29, 1943, Sgt. Welsh was flying his eighth mission, attacking a railroad bridge near the town of Castelvenere when his plane suffered a direct hit by flak, burst into flames and was seen plunging downward. A lone parachute was reported to emerge from the stricken bomber before it crashed.

No one could have known at the time, but that lone parachutist was the radio operator, Brookline's Sgt. Richard J. Welsh. Before the war in Europe came to an end, Richard would endure hardships that would test even the stoutest of men.

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The following article appeared in the Pittsburgh Press, dated November 8, 1943, documenting news of two Pittsburgh boys, Richard Welsh and Ivor Evans, who shared a common harrowing experience as crewmen on the B25 bomber "Old Shadrach."

One Of Two Crash Survivors
Is Deserted By Lady Luck

Two 20-year old Pittsburgh district Army fliers who survived a crash landing in Sicily recently have been parted by the fortunes of war.

One of them is still flying, but the other is now reported missing in action after another crash landing.

The Army told of the crash landing which ended safely for Lt. Ivor P. Evans of Aliquippa and Staff Sgt. Richard J. Welsh, of 1133 Merrick Avenue, Brookline, but it remained for their mothers to tell the sequel.

Missing - All Right

"My boy is now missing in action," said Mrs. James W. Welsh.

"My son is still all right", reported Mrs. Samuel Evans. "We had a letter from him last week."

Lt. Evans, a navigator, and Sgt. Welsh, a radio operator were members of the crew of "Old Shadrach," a Mitchell bomber assigned to raid a target near Rome, the Army reported.

While almost directly over the target, flak "conked out" one engine, and the planed dropped out of formation.

"We threw everything we could overboard," the Army quoted crew members. "We even joked about throwing our bombardier over because he weighed 200 pounds."

Steadily the plane lost altitude until it was a bare 5000 feet over the fog shrouded mountains of Italy.

"Dick Welsh kept in touch with the American Air Sea Rescue Service at Palermo," the Army dispatch continued. "The told us they were sending two Spitfire fighters to guide us in. Then Dick threw the radio out the hatch to relieve the bomber of the weight."

B25 Mitchell Bomber
B25 Mitchell Bomber

Make Crash Landing

"As we prayed, the Spitfires appeared and led the crippled bomber to an airfield at Palermo. The pilot was compelled to crash land the ship, but all crew members got out safely," the Army story said.

"Dick wrote us of that escape." his mother said. "We were very happy."

But last week a letter came from the Adjutant General's office to confirm a telegram which reported Dick missing in action near Benvenuto, Italy, September 29.

" ... your son's plane was seen to crash to the earth," the letter said. " ... a lone parachute was seen to leave the plane as it plunged downward ... you will be notified immediately when further information is received ..."

For Mrs. Evans, wife of a Jones & Laughlin Corporation steel worker, word of Sgt. Welsh's fate magnified still further her own son's "charmed life."

"This is the fourth time he's escaped," she said. "A plane he was in crash landed last January in South Carolina and he escaped."

"Shortly after he reached Tunisia last summer he escaped death again when he was the only soldier to come out uninjured after their army truck was sideswiped by a big civilian truck."

Brothers in Army

Sgt. Welsh, son of a general contractor, is one of two brothers in the Army. His older brother, Lt. William Welsh, 30, is a flight instructor in Oklahoma. A 17-year old brother, James, is now trying to persuade his parents to permit him to enlist in the Navy.

Sgt. Welsh graduated from South Hills High School in 1941 and worked as a surveyor for the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Co. prior to enlisting October 13, 1942. He went to war last July 28.

Lt. Evans graduated from Aliquippa High School in 1941 before enlisting in January, 1942. He went overseas last June, and has two brothers in the Army, Pvt. William P. Evans, a paratrooper in England, and Cpl Gomer Evans, in Ordnance at Philadelphia.

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The Eight Missions Flown By Sgt. Richard Welsh

1. September 12, 1943 - Bomb road junction at Castelnuovo, Italy
2. September 13, 1943 - Bomb Battipalglia, Italy
3. September 16, 1943 - Bomb Highway and Railroad Bridge NE of Capua, Italy
4. September 18, 1943 - Bomb Ciampino Airdrome
5. September 22, 1943 - Bomb road bridge and switchback north of Grottaminarda, Italy
6. September 24, 1943 - Bomb road north of Grottaminarda, Italy
7. September 25, 1943 - Bomb road bend north or Mignano, Italy
8. September 29, 1943 - Bomb road bridges SE of Castelvenere and south of Amorosi, Italy

B25 Mitchell Bomber

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First-Hand Account Of The Crash Landing of "Old Shadrach" At Palermo
Squadron Mission #128 - September 18, 1943

1Lt. Levi B. Freeland Jr, of Mobile, Alabama, was traveling light when he recently crash-landed his flak riddled B25 Mitchell bomber at Palermo, Sicily. After a direct hit in the left engine when almost over the objective near Rome, the B25 had bee stripped of all surplus weight to make possible a return flight into a friendly field.

The twenty-four year old pilot and his crew had almost seriously considered the joking suggestion of Navigator Lt. Ivor P. Evans, that they dump the 200 pound bombardier, "Bronco" Mizerski, to give the battling B25 a chance to maintain altitude. However that was not quite necessary and all crew members were in good condition after the crash landing.

The crew members related, "It was just after we reached landfall and were on course to bomb Ciampino Airdrome near Rome that the ground defenses got our range. Bursts of flak appeared all around us. Jerry was accurate as hell and put a string of bursts right alongside of the plane. One hit the left engine which conked out at the same time as the holes appeared in both wings. The left engine controls were shot out although we were able to feather the prop."

Lt. Freeland then continued, "I then fell out of formation and headed straight out to sea, hoping that some stray enemy fighter hadn't seen our crippled ship. I called to Lt. Richard C. Mizerski, my bombardier from Chicago, Illinois, through the interphone, 'Get them bombs out, Bronco,' and he quickly salvoed then into the sink. All this time my co-pilot, 1Lt. Victor N. Wilson Jr., of Camden, Texas, kept reassuring the rest of the crew that everything woult be allright, and assisting me in piloting old "Shadrach" to friendly soil."

"We were steadily losing altitude not dropping from 11,000 feet to a scant 5,000 feet. Calling back to my gunner, SSgt Cyril L. Thomas, of Royal Oak, Michigan, who by the way is a proud possessor of the Distinguished Flying Cross for meritorious action in a previous crash landing during the Tunisian Campaign, and my radio operator, Richard J. Welsh, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I asked them to rid the ship of all extra radio apparatus which they did along with 1200 rounds of ammo. Later, after Sgt. Welsh had contacted the American Air Sea Rescue Service at Palermo, the radio intact went sailing ot of the hatch. In the nose, all the ammunition was cast out by Lt. Mizerski, along with the protective armor plate in the bombardier's compartment."

"We were now able to hold an even altitude. Upon contacting that Air Sea Rescue Servies, I was given a heading and was asked to keep talking so that they could obtan a "fix" on our ship. We were told that two Spitfires were on their way to meet us in three minutes as weather was closing in on Palermo. We could see a solid bank of clouds before us and it looked like even old man weather was on the Axis side."

"Just like clockwork at the end of three minutes two single fighters dove out of the coulds, circled around us and signaled me to follow them into the airdrome. I know now that we would never have made it without their help as they expertly led us through the haze and billowy white into a mountain pass straight for the field. I began to let down about this time, my gas being almost gone, I knew I would get but one chance to bring her in safely.

As luck would have it the field was hidden behind a slight rise in the ground and I didn't see it until I was almost to it. The landing strip was to the right of me so I quickly 'Half banked, half skidded' the tired bomber over and nosed her down. The emergency runway, the main runway being in use. Lt. Wilson called to everybody to brace themselves and get set for a rough landing."

"I cut all the switches and prepared to set the ship down, but an eighty foot slant in the new runway prevented us from touching the ground until we were halfway down that little field. It was a fast landing, three pointed, and I immediately hit the brakes. Then lo and behold, I saw two solid stone gate posts staring me in the face directly in front of the me at the end of the field."

"I knew I'd have to stop, and fast! I 'tromped' on the brakes again and again and blew out the left tire. The plane staggered crazily in that direction so I hit the right brake, this time being rewarded with the right tire giving out. This action once again straightened the bomber up and she finally slushed up to a stop at the very edge of the runway. I'm proud of the boys that were with me today as they behaved in "top form" and worked hard to get old 'Shadrach' home."

"The Air Sea Rescue Service, operated exlusively by contingents of the United States Air Corps, overwhelmed us with their hospitality upon landing. In the words of Lt. Evans, 'They couldn't do enough for us.' After a good night's rest, the following eay we boarded an Army Transport that carried us back to out home base, with all the boys eager to get into the air to get another cradk at 'Jerry.'"

Operating with General Doolittle's Strategic Air Force, the combat crew members have the following number of missions to their credit: Lt. Freeland (11), Lt. Wilson (10), Lt. Mizerski (43), SSgt. Thomas (45), Lt. Evans (9) and SSgt Welsh (4).

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Report On the Raid At Castelvenere and Amorosi
Squadron Mission #132 - September 29, 1943

Keeping up a steady, daily precision-like bombing of all lines of travel, 36 B25's or our Group struck at the highway and RR bridge 1/2 mile south of Amorosi and at the bridge three miles SE of Castelvenere. Of this number, but two of out aircraft succeeded in participating and they filled in the gap of the formation as spares. The former target of the two assigned was well hit, with strings of bombs walking across the road south and north of the bridge. Both approaches were severed and the road leading sough of the town of Amorosi was believed hit.

The bridge at Castelvenere was not hit although the south approaches are believed severed. A number of strings of bombs were reported to have cut the two roads SW of the southern end of the bridge.

The formation was forced to run a gauntlet of heavy accurate flak of a moderate intensity. Accurate firs from the ground defenses scored a direct hit on the B25 piloted by Lt. Strunk. The plane burst into flames and only one chute was seen to open. All other aircraft returned safely to base.

The crew of the doomed old "Shadrach" consisted of Pilot 2Lt Clifton W. Strunk, Co-Pilot 2Lt Arthur G. Ligget, Bombardier SSgt Lester A. Miller, Radio Operator SSgt Richard J. Welsh, Gunner Sgt Burke Himes and Tail Gunner SSgt John H. Revis.

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The Story Of POW Camp #091 Stalag Luft IV

Sgt. Richard Joseph Welsh, the lone survivor of the B25 Mitchell bomber that crashed near Benvenuto, was taken prisoner by the Germans. After interment at a temporary camp in northern Italy, he was transfered to POW Camp #091 Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow in Pomerania, Prussia.

The camp was opened in May 1944. In July of that year a military report was released which described such problems as inadequate shower facilities, unfit distribution of Red Cross parcels, and that prisoners complained about the food situation often. Two letters and four postcards were permitted per month. These letters were harshly censored, with prisoners forced to tell families that they were being treated well and that there were no problems whatsoever.

Stalag Luft IV Memorial
The barracks at Stalag Luft IV in Pomerania, Prussia

A report by the International Red Cross in October 1944 described camp conditions as generally bad. The camp was divided into five compounds (A-E) separated by barbed wire fences, with the POWs housed in forty wooden barrack huts, each containing 200 men. Prisoners in compounds A and B had triple-tiered bunks, but there were no bunks at all in compounds C and D, and POWs slept on the floor.

None of the huts were heated, with only five small iron stoves in the whole camp. Latrines were open-air, and there were no proper washing facilities. Medical facilities and supplies of food and clothing were also inadequate.

At this point there were 7,089 American and 886 British POWs (of these 606 were from the British Isles, and included 147 Canadians, 37 Australians, 58 Poles, 22 New Zealanders, 8 South Africans, 5 Czechs, 2 French and 1 Norwegian). By January 1945 the number of Americans held in the camp had risen to 8033.

Stalag Luft IV Memorial

The Black March

On February 6, 1945 some 8,000 men of the camp set out on a march that would be called the "Black March". The prisoners were given the remaining Red Cross parcels; they were allowed to carry as much as they could. The march from Gross Tychow lasted approximately 86 days. They were forced to march under guard about 1520 miles (2432 km) per day. There was much zigzagging, to escape the encroaching Soviet Red Army from the east.

The treatment was very bad. The sick were mistreated when dysentery and diarrhea set in. The Germans could not be collaborated with. Some prisoners were bayoneted; others were kicked and hit. Shelter might be a barn or under the stars, in the rain, snow, or whatever was available.

As for the food, a bushel or two of steamed potatoes for a barn full of men was the best ever received at the end of a day. Often, the food was placed in the barn in the dark of night for the men to get what they could. The German government provided no clothing. They carried two blankets, and an overcoat for bedding.

The average POW lost a third of his body weight after capture. They drank water, often contaminated, from ditches beside the road, or ate snow when available. They used cigarettes, watches, rings or whatever they had to trade with the farmers along the way, for food.

However, in doing so risking the farmers and the POWs' lives. The POWs ate charcoal to help stop dysentery, and they all became infested with lice. Pneumonia, diphtheria, pellagra, typhus, trench foot, tuberculosis and other diseases ran rampant among the POWs.

Stalag Luft IV Memorial
Prisoners make their way through the snow and bitter cold during the "Black March" through Germany.

Acts of heroism were virtually universal. The stronger helped the weaker. Those fortunate enough to have a coat shared it with others. The Germans sometimes provided a wagon for the sick. However, there seldom were horses available, so teams of POWs pulled the wagons through the snow.

When a wagon was not available and a POW fell out along the road, a German guard would drop back and a shot would be heard. The guard would then come back into formation alone. However, not all Germans were hated. The guard Shorty was carried by several prisoners after he couldn't go on.

They reached Stalag 357 (Stalag XI-B), near Fallingbostel around April 3, 1945. Many camps on the eastern edge of Germany were combined into one large camp there. The treatment was a repetition of that at previous camps, with the exception of food, of which there was virtually none. There were no beds or bedding in the buildings.

The prisoners, and the Germans as well, knew liberation was close at hand. The sounds of the encroaching American artillery could be heard getting louder and louder at this camp. When the sound of Allied artillery grew closer, the German guards were less harsh in their treatment of POWs, because the prisoner roles might soon be reversed.

The POWs were only in this camp for about a week, when lagers A and B from Stalag Luft IV were taken out on their final march, this time east. This last march lasted approximately three weeks, but was just as harsh as the previous march except for the treatment by the Germans, which was somewhat better.

Stalag Luft IV Memorial
A memorial on the site of Stalag Luft IV, now in Tychowo, Poland.

There was still little or no food available, and the pace was much slower, advancing 45 miles a day. On the morning of May 2, 1945 the POWs were all sitting in a ditch next to the River Elbe near Lauenburg, Germany, when the British arrived and liberated the camp.

Along with Sgt. Richard Welsh, two other Brookline natives of the Army Air Corps, also held as prisoners-of-war by the Germans, were interred at the same POW camp, and both survived the "Black March;" Staff Sgt. Peter Kost of 424 Linial Avenue and Staff Sgt. David A. Watkins of 500 Fordham Avenue.

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Sgt Richard Welsh

When all was said and done, it seemed that Sgt. Richard Joseph Welsh of Brookline wasn't deserted by "Lady Luck" after all. After nearly two years in captivity, he eventually made it back home to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Welsh of Brookline. As for Lt. Ivor P. Evans, the former crew mate of Sgt. Welsh from "Old Shadrach", he also survived the war to return home to his mother, Mrs. Samuel Evans of Aliquippa.

After a brief recovery in a military hospital in Germany, Staff Sergeant Richard Welsh returned to the United States on June 12, 1945 and was discharged four months later. He was married to June Lindner on February 5, 1948 and the couple settled on Middleboro Road in Castle Shannon. They had one child, Kathleen Ann. Richard passed away on May 28, 1989 at the age of sixty-six. He is buried in Jefferson Memorial Park Cemetery in Pleasant Hills.

* Originally published by Clint Burton - May 09, 2011; Updated and expanded - September 3, 2019 *

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Brookline Veteran's Park - April 26, 2014.

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