In loving memory of John Steichen, B-17 navigator and story-teller extraordinaire,
and the inspiration behind this web site.

John took his last flight October 5, 2011.

On April 24, 1944, a B-17G from the 407th BS, 92nd BG, piloted by 1st Lt. William "Woody" Parramore, landed at Altenrhein airfield in Switzerland. The plane had been attacked by German fighters about half an hour before their target, the Dornier aircraft factory at Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich. The crew was able to continue their mission, with their  engineer/top turret gunner, T/Sgt. Roy Hommer, very badly wounded. Upon completing the bomb run, a propeller ran out of control, and a second engine lost oil pressure. Parramore decided to try for nearby Altenrhein rather than land in Germany. Bailing out was not an option because of the seriously wounded crewman. The entire crew survived the landing, with Hommer going to a hospital because of his severe wounds. Parramore later wrote a narrative poem about this mission.

'Baby' landing in Switzerland

After an initial quarantine period in Chaumont, the crew was sent to Adelboden to be interned. The officers were eventually separated from the enlisted men and sent to Davos. Under strict orders (from American military attaché Brigadier General Barnwell Legge) not to attempt escape from their internee status under penalty of courts martial, and watched carefully by the Swiss police, the American internees' time in Switzerland was spent playing cards, exploring new bars, playing chess, meeting the local young women, and plotting escapes. Six members of "Baby's" crew eventually escaped, including Hommer! Radioman T/Sgt. Carl D. Stetson attempted escape three times, and was successful the third time. Internees caught while attempting escape were sent to the infamous Wauwilermoos punishment camp for criminals. Swiss civilians found trying to help Americans escape would be imprisoned, then exiled.

The plane was named "Baby" after bombardier 2nd Lt. John Garcia's child born while the crew was in England. The crew was from the 407th Bomb Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group - part of "The Mighty Eighth" - based at Podington. Parramore flew on 21 missions, the first as co-pilot on another plane, and the last 20 with his own crew. The traditional first mission as a co-pilot was the standard qualifier to lead your own crew over Nazi controlled Europe. Navigator 2nd Lt. John Steichen also flew as the navigator on an additional two missions with other crews, thereby gaining the distinction of the most missions (22) of all the crew.

The original crew, Dalhart, TX

Co-pilot 2nd Lt. Oscar "Sammy" Sampson and John Garcia were among the first American internees to successfully escape from Switzerland (via Nazi occupied France, then via Allied controlled North Africa) and reach England, just six weeks after their arrival in Davos. They had the help of sympathetic Swiss citizens and the French underground. The famous incident that prompted their escape has been described in at least three books (see Acknowledgments below).  Parramore and Steichen followed them six weeks later. Many other interned American flyers had attempted escape earlier, before the informal escape network of Swiss civilians was well organized.

For the full story ...

Chapter 1
The Flight Across the Atlantic
Chapter 2
Life at Podington
Chapter 3
The Missions of Baby's Crew
Chapter 4
The Last Mission
Chapter 5
Life in Switzerland
Chapter 6
Escape from Switzerland
Baby's Crew
Retracing History:
The Author's Trip
What's New on the Site
Links to Related Sites


More stories are yet to be told on these pages. Frequent additions are being made.

Come back soon!




The inspiration for this site came from a single paragraph in the book, Strangers in a Strange Land, by Stapfer and Kunzle, where this writer first learned of his uncle Oscar Sampson's participation, along with Garcia, in the theft of the Nazi swastika plaque from the German Consulate in Davos. They were to be sent to Wauwilermoos, but were able to escape back to England, after a brief tour of Geneva, occupied France, and North Africa. Rusty Bloxom, Chief Historian of The Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum, was most helpful in providing the reference to this book.

The same story of the theft and escape is also mentioned in another recent book, Refuge from the Reich, by Stephen Tanner. Tanner describes both the story of the American internees and the history of Switzerland as an armed neutral country.

In a third book, Gast Feind Schaft, author Urs Gredig describes this same incident in the context of the history of the German Nazi party in Switzerland. Davos had become home to many German citizens since the earliest days of the tuberculosis sanitariums in the late 19th century. During and after World War I, many German soldiers with tuberculosis were sent to the several German-owned sanitariums, including one Wilhelm Gustloff, who remained as a resident in Davos. He was an early follower of Hitler, and when the Nazi party came to power in Germany in 1933, Hitler appointed Gustloff as the head of the German Nazi party in Switzerland. Gustloff naturally established his headquarters in Davos. After Gustloff's assassination in 1936, his successor was both the head of the party for Switzerland AND the consul in residence at the German Consulate in Davos. The theft of the swastika from the German Consulate building takes on added political significance, if only symbolic, in this setting. Note: the title of this book, literally "Host Enemy-ship", is a play on words of "Gastfreundschaft" (literally "guest friendship"), the German word for "hospitality". "Feindschaft" means "enmity". To German speaking people, the pun is obvious.

Most of the information and photographs of the crew of 'Baby' have been provided by navigator 2nd Lt. John Steichen, storyteller extraordinaire.

Additional details of the escape of Sampson and Garcia were supplied by F. Rene Garcia, the nephew of John H. Garcia.

The letters and some photographs are from the collection of Oscar Sampson's sister, Dorothy Rathje.

Pauly Scherrer-Buol and her family befriended the officers while in Davos, and has kindly supplied additional information about the events during the summer of 1944 in Davos. She also wrote an article on this subject for the Davoser Revue. I was privileged to meet her this past Summer. See some of her photographs in the new additions to Life in Switzerland.

Kata Straub, a Swiss high school student, an avid fan of WWII history, and a proficient linguist, has supplied, with the able assistance of Dr. Timothy Nelson, director of Dokumentationsbibliothek Davos, several references about Davos during WWII. These recent articles, all mention the famous swastika theft by Garcia and Sampson.

Dr. Daniel Bourgeois of the Swiss Federal Archives in Bern kindly provided key documents regarding the adventures of Sampson and Garcia. He and his assistant, Marie-Helene Guex, also provided complete documentation on the escape and repatriation dates of all of the crew members.

Additional information and photographs of the actual landing at Altenrhein have been provided by Harald Rauch and Alfons Eigenmann, both of Fliegermuseum Altenrhein. Harald is the editor of the museum's magazine. Alfons is a guide at the museum, and his wife Sonja was a witness to the landing at Altenrhein in 1944. She was 11 at the time, and Alfons was then a 17-year-old glider pilot at Altenrhein.

Mr. Robert Long, President of the Swiss Internees Association, has been invaluable in keeping me honest, pointing out errors in the books noted above, and steering me in the right direction. He is my "navigator." Robert Martyr of England, an associate member of this organization, has also supplied photographs.

Mr. Fredy Peter, who grew up in Davos, has supplied details of the swastika theft and other information about Davos during 1944-45. Fredy's father, a soldier in the Swiss army during WWII, helped rescue several American flyers after they had bailed out over the Alps near Davos. One incident took place close to the Swiss-Austria border. Fredy has written a book, to be published in September, 2002, about the landings and crashes in Switzerland during WWII. The title is Jump Boys, Jump .

Stan Nordsted has supplied photographs of Podington airfield as it looked in 1961.

Phyllis Drees and Jack Kleinsorg provided photos and the mission log. Phyllis's uncle was the copilot of the B-17 flying on "Baby's" left wing, and Jack was the navigator of the B-17 on the right wing, during the mission on April 24, 1944.

Lt. Col. Robert D. Elliot, historian of the 92nd BG, has supplied details of the aircraft flown on the missions of the crew.

Dr. Gerhard Winkler has provided color photos of the B-17 "Lucky Lady" at a 1988 airshow at Altenrhein.

Finally, a "thank you" to Edgar Schmued, designer of the P-51 Mustang, perhaps the most famous fighter of WWII. Before the long-range P-51 was available for escorting bombers all the way to the target and back, the Eighth Air Force suffered horrendous casualties, even forcing a  temporary stand-down in late 1943. Without the P-51, perhaps thousands, or even tens of thousands, more American flyers would have been killed, wounded, or captured on long flights into the heart of the Third Reich. The P-51 started flying  missions in December, 1943, and rapidly built up strength during the first half of 1944, just when the crew of 'Baby' was flying deep into Germany. John Steichen remembers seeing P-51's strafing ground targets in Berlin during one mission. Ray Wagner, an archivist with the San Diego Aerospace Museum, is the author of my reference: Mustang Designer, Edgar Schmued and the P-51. Schmued went on to lead the design of the F-86, which won the Korean air war, and the T-38, still in use by the U.S. Air Force and flown by the astronauts. Read The War Pony, a poem about the P-51.

The author managed to return the favor to Edgar Schmued this past year, when the software products of his company, JMI Software Systems, were used on the T-38C avionics upgrade program. A curious arc of history, indeed.

Author's notes

The biggest challenge in creating this web site was determining the correct spelling of Oberpfaffenhofen. The spelling variations among the various personal and official records of this (characteristically six syllable) German name are quite varied. Without the correct spelling, of course, it was difficult for this writer to find the town on any map. One might  imagine the conversations among the Eighth Air Force targeting group,  especially with novice personnel fresh from America's heartland, when they initially tried to locate the Dornier aircraft factory: "Ober what??"

One can assume that during a mission all navigators, bombardiers and other airmen, while busy with their routine chores (including firing their machine guns at German fighters), simply called it "the target". Besides, pronouncing all six syllables would have used up too much of their precious bottled oxygen.

Upon further consideration, the target name problem is not specific to German cities. Try pronouncing a few of the target towns in Pas de Calais.

Contact Information

To obtain more information or send comments, send email to Ed Rathje, using the following  email address, verbally encoded so only a human, not an automated email address scavenger, can use it: user name - "ejr", domain name - "".  Just put an "at sign" between the user name and the domain name.

Web site created April 24, 2001 - the 57th anniversary of Baby's landing at Altenrhein.

Copyright ©  2001, 2002, 2003 by Ed Rathje. 



October 29, 2003 - corrected SIA URL in Acknowledgments.

February 2, 2003 - using notes written by Woody Parramore, recently provided by John Steichen, the story of the escape was updated in Escape from Switzerland .

October 24, 2002 - added links to Swiss Internees' Association web site.

August 31, 2002 - added a third book reference to Acknowledgments. This new book tells of the history of the German Nazi party in Switzerland, headquartered in Davos! Also added the insignia of The Swiss Theater of Inactivity as the site logo (see a large version and explanation in Escape from Switzerland). Moved pointer for Winston Churchill section to Life at Podington.

August 25, 2002 - updated the story of the theft of the swastika, with a new photo from Paula Scherrer-Buol, in Escape from Switzerland. Added photographs of  the Buol family farm in 1940 to Life in Switzerland .

August 21, 2002 - returned from my second trip to Switzerland, where I met  Pauly Scherrer-Buol, who acted as my tour guide in Davos. I also met with Dr. Timothy Nelson, director of the document department of Bibliothek Davos. I visited old friends from last year, Dr. Maurus Pfister and Harry Rauch, and met new friends, the Straub family - Geof, Verena, and their daughter Kata. Finally, I visited the Swiss National Archives, where Dr. Daniel Bourgeois and his assistant Marie-Helene Guex provided help with my research. Look for full details in September. Many thanks to all my Swiss friends for their generosity and hospitality.

July 27, 2002 - Kata Straub sent a postcard from Normandy (her second visit). Added an image from the envelope to Dedication. See the postcard.

July 27, 2002 - added part of a letter from Carl Stetson's sister Erma. See "Letter from Carl's sister" in Baby's Crew.

July 24, 2002 - added some of the famous WWII speeches of Winston Churchill.

June 27, 2002 - updated the Acknowledgments section on this page for Fredy Peter and Edgar Schmued.

June 26, 2002 - added a new story about John Steichen's encounter with a chess champion  to Life in Switzerland .

June 24, 2002 - met the family (sisters Erma and Mona) and friends (Thelma and Dorothy) of radio operator Carl Stetson, who died in March of this year. Carl escaped 3 times, the last time all the way home. He suffered very harsh treatment during his stays in Wauwilermoos, and contracted pneumonia while there. His successful escape story can be found in Escape from Switzerland.

June 22, 2002 - added documents received from the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin describing the theft from the Consulate and repercussions within the German government. Fredy Peter is working on translations. See the original documents, courtesy of Herr Gunter Scheidemann of Auswartiges Amt.

April 24, 2002 - visited John Steichen, who told me some more stories, on the 58th anniversary of the landing at Altenrhein.

April 23, 2002 - added new site of landings in Denmark and Sweden to Links to Related Sites.

April 6, 2002 - updated Escape from Switzerland with the help of John Garcia's nephew, F. René García.

March 3, 2002 - learned that radio operator Carl Stetson has died. Navigator John Steichen and ball turret gunner William Dorsa are the only surviving crew members.

January 29, 2002 - added photographs of  the B-17 "Lucky Lady" flying at the 1988 Altenrhein Airshow to The Last Mission.

January 23, 2002 - added photo of Sampson's graduation from Basic Training to Baby's Crew.

January 20, 2002 - corrected details in The Missions of Baby's Crew with the assistance of Lt. Col. Robert D. Elliot, historian of the 92nd BG.

January 13, 2002 - added and corrected details in Life in Switzerland and Escape from Switzerland with the kind assistance of Pauly Scherrer-Buol, a friend of the crew while in Davos.

January 3, 2002 - added 2 new sites to Links to Related Sites about three other B-17's on the same mission of April 22, 1944, two of which also landed in Switzerland.

December 14, 2001 - added a new site to Links to Related Sites about the man who started the American internee cemetery at Münsingen, Switzerland, and who also helped hundreds of internees escape.

December 12, 2001 -  added details to the escape of Steichen and Parramore, added information about Stetson's and Hommer's escapes and the repatriation of the rest of the crew, in Escape from Switzerland. Thanks once more to Dr. Daniel Bourgeois and his staff at the Swiss Federal Archives.

December 11, 2001 - added link to Arthur Glenn Foster's story to Life in Switzerland and Links to Related Sites . Foster, of the 91st BG, entered Switzerland from occupied France, after evading capture. Foster spent time visiting Davos.

December 9, 2001 - revised escape narrative for Garcia and Sampson in Escape from Switzerland.

December 8, 2001 - added map of the Allied front lines in southern France to Escape from Switzerland, and moved description of the war situation while in Davos to Life in Switzerland.

November 30, 2001 - added official escape report for Carl Stetson to Escape from Switzerland.

November 5, 2001 - added a photograph and article excerpt about Garcia and Sampson to Life in Switzerland. The article is from the Davoser Revue, December, 1998. The adventure is still talked about today!

October 12, 2001 - added official letters regarding the theft of the German Consulate insignia to Escape from Switzerland .

October 8, 2001 - added a photograph of the crew of 'Lil Brat' to Mission Log in The Last Mission.

October 7, 2001 - added Mission Log to The Last Mission.

October 5, 2001 - added Woody Parramore's poem to The Last Mission.

September 27, 2001 - added official Letter of Regret about the theft to Escape from Switzerland.

September 21, 2001 - added photographs of Podington Airfield circa 1961 to Life at Podington.

August 31, 2001 - added a hiking map to Life in Switzerland, showing Davos Platz and neighboring Davos Dorf.

August 30, 2001 - updated Links to Related Sites with additional sites about the same mission of April 24, 1944.

August 27, 2001 - updated this page, Links to Related Sites, and Dedication. Added Missing Air Crew Report to The Last Mission.

August 24, 2001 - added squadron codes to Life at Podington.

August 20, 2001 - added more details to Escape from Switzerland, updated Acknowledgments, and added a link to the story of 'Toonerville Trolley', which made a forced landing in Germany during the April 24 mission to Oberpfaffenhofen. Great photographs! See Links to Related Sites.

August 11, 2001 - added to "Series of German Language Lessons" in Life in Switzerland.

August 10, 2001 - added photograph of the German Consulate to Life in Switzerland.

August 5, 2001 - added a "Series of Letters" to Escape from Switzerland, updated "Series of Letters" at both Life at Podington and Life in Switzerland, updated Life at Podington, and updated Escape from Switzerland.

August 2, 2001 - added a "Series of Letters" to Life in Switzerland.

July 31, 2001 - added another photograph to Baby's Crew, and added notes to the "Series of German Language Lessons" in Life in Switzerland.

July 29, 2001 - added a "Series of German Language Lessons", from the 1944 Davos newspaper, to Life in Switzerland.

July 26, 2001 - added Dedication.

July 24, 2001 - added a photograph of Dr. Max Richard to Baby's Crew, Roy's Story.

July 23, 2001 - added more photographs and stories to The Last Mission.

July 22, 2001 - added Duxford Air Show link to Retracing History.

July 21, 2001 - added more content to "Series of Letters" in Life at Podington.

July 20, 2001 - added a "Series of Letters" to Life at Podington.

July 15, 2001 - added The 92nd Reunion section to Retracing History.

July 14, 2001 - added enlargement of La Chapelle Rambaud picture to Retracing History, The Escape Route. It makes a nice wallpaper!

July 13, 2001 - updated this page and Life in Switzerland; added Retracing History section.