Charles Richards
  Author of The Second Was First  & Defenders of Liberty


Contributed by Harold (Diz) Kronenberg

At the request of Charles Richards, Harold (Diz) Kronenberg contributed information for the following part of Richards' book, The Second Was First
It was highly unusual for three young combat men to be assigned to a B-17, Flying Fortress Group, at the same period of time, but more highly unusual, for all three to be assigned to the same Bomb Squadron. 

Such was the case with three men from Eau Claire, Wisconsin in Italy, 1944. Lieutenant Robert "Hooker" Kolstad, Pilot; Technical Sergeant John Egan, and Sergeant Harold "Red" Kronenberg all were assigned to the 96th "Red Devil" Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group (H), 5th Wing, 15th Air Force. 

Lieutenant Kolstad had been a fighter pilot and then assigned as a B-17 pilot, joining the 96th Squadron in July 1943, when the Group was still flying combat missions from a base in North Africa. On January 31, 1944, with only two missions to go, on a mission to Udine, Italy, Lieutenant Kolstad's aircraft was badly damaged by flak over the target and the crew were forced to abandon the ship. Lieutenant Kolstad and six other members of his crew managed to get the aid of local partisans and, eventually, returned to Allied control on March 31, 1944. One of his crew was captured by the Germans and two others perished, when they parachuted over water and were lost. Lieutenant Kolstad was then ordered home. 

Technical Sergeant John D. Egan was a Radio-Operator Gunner and was assigned to the 96th Squadron on October 10, 1943, also in North Africa. His most memorable mission was to Sofia, Bulgaria, on January 24, 1944, flying from a base in Italy. The target was cloud-covered and, in trying to find an alternate target, the plane began to run low on fuel and was attacked by approximately 35 enemy fighters. In the running air battle, Sergeant Egan was credited with destroying an enemy Me-109. To make matters worse, his aircraft and three others ran out of fuel and were forced to ditch on the Adriatic Sea. It was amazing that all men of the four aircraft were saved. Sergeant Egan completed his 50 missions and returned to the United States. 

Staff Sergeant Harold Kronenberg was also a Lower Turret Gunner and was assigned to the 96th Bomb Group in October 1943, while the Group was in North Africa. He flew 21 missions with the 96th from bases in North Africa and Italy. He flew the mission that destroyed the Monte Cassino Monastery and several missions to Anzio, supporting the invasion forces. One memorable mission was to Padua, Italy, when they were jumped by a large force of German fighters and several  B-17s were lost. His crew, in an exchange with a crew  from the Eighth Air Force, found themselves in England. He  found combat conditions quite different in England.  Missions from England were generally longer, and more fighters were seen, but he felt that the missions in Italy were tougher. Living conditions were entirely different.  

His most memorable mission was his last and recalls the day 'before D-Day and seeing the hundreds of ships in the Channel. He recalls that many of his targets were capitals of various countries; Sofia, Bulgaria; Bucharest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Rome, Italy and five trips to Berlin, while with the Eighth Air Force. Sergeant Kronenberg completed his required missions and was rotated to the United States.


In 1991, Harold (Diz) Kronenberg received the following letter from Charles Richards, then residing at 2156 Prestwich Place, Eugene, Oregon 97401

2-4-91

Dear Red:

Received your letter today with all the info and also had one from Jim Weaver about his story. Good to hear from both of you! 

I have written to Cleesattel, Dickson, and Huskins recently and have not had a reply as yet. Keep hoping. The VA has no record on Chapman and the VA said George Crank died 5-7-79. Crank was shot down on the Group's 133 mission to Sofia,  Bulgaria. He was flying with a Lt. Lins.

Interesting about Kolstad, he went down 1-31-44 on mission 138 over Udine and returned from MIA on 3-31-44. An interesting story is regarding a Cliff Magnuson of the 429th went down 3-18-44 over Nillaorba, Italy, landed in Yugo, picked up by Partisans and got out around 4-44. His son is researching the story, has called all over the country, found two British men who met his Dad, A Churchill and a Hillary King. Wants to retrace his Dad's route. I will tell him about Kolstad and Rod Sterling to see if King, who is still alive in Scotland, knew either of them. Will keep you informed. 

The monastery raid was led by Major Evans of the 96th. They led the whole 15th that day. 

The VA said John Egan died 10/22/90. He was credited with a Me-109 on the mission to Sofia, Bulgaria, 1-24-44. 

One mission to Anzio we lost a plane in the water and two men lost their lives. The co-pilot went into the water to save one of the NCOs but the two drowned. The plane was from the 96th. Tom Moriarity, ball turret, was on that one, his 50th mission and told me about it.

In a book called "PLOESTI" the author talks about the mission to kill Hitler. He said the the whole 15th was to go on that mission with his Group (B-24s) picked to bomb the Headquarters and the other Groups to bomb nearby. I think, though that this was not the Breslau raid you spoke of. I read, in one of the mission reports of the Group, about two days of readiness and then canceling. The Breslau mission was No. 155 and 4 March 1944, and it was in conjunction with the 8th AF. Major Evans of the 96th led that one also. They were called back after flying 3:15 hours by Wing due to bad weather. The town was a big industrial center and, yes, Hitler reportedly was there. 

Yes, I remember hearing the guns at night. I would like to see the pictures you have. Crews? Planes? I will get them back to you. Especially if you have one of your crew. 

I see no reason for the reunion being cancelled. We should be getting all info of it in March or April.

Take care

Chuck [signed]