Paul's Sentimental Journey


The Crew


Black Thursday

Stalag 17B

The March

Jake Martinez's logbook

World War II Memorial

In Memorial Of







"Ruthless" 42-30043

The B17F “Ruthless” serial number 42-30043 was Paul’s plane on his 4th mission.  This was October 4, 1943, since they were a “new” crew they got the refurbished old B17s. The pilot 1st Lt. “Junior” Giles Kauffman took the plane up for a test spin, “Ruthless” just had her engines overhauled and only had about 10 flight hours on them. When Junior returned Paul heard him talking to the co-pilot 2nd. Lt. “Hap” George Molnar he was telling him that they were not going to have enough gas for the mission.  Lt. Kauffman saw the ground crew chief passing by and asked for more gas for the plane. At first the chief said “Can’t, you know everyone gets an allotment of 3000 gallons”. Kauffman pleaded with the crew chief to give them a break and the chief relented. The chief sent the ground crew to the wing to start filling the tanks. As the ground crew began hooking up to the wing tanks a young engineering Lieutenant came riding by on a bicycle. He stopped and asked them why they were getting gas?  Lt. Kauffman told him that he wanted a little extra so that they can get back home. The young engineering lieutenant  officiously said, “You know what the orders are.” and he waved the ground crew off the plane.  In those precious few minutes the ground crew probably only got to put in an extra 50-60 gallons of gas before they disconnected. A B17 burned  50 gallons or more an hour for each engine or approximately 200 gallons per hour. "Ruthless" got an extra 15 minutes.

On Oct. 4, 1943 with only a little extra gas in their wing tanks the crew of Ruthless took off for the raid on Munster Germany. As they were flying in formation over Belgium, Paul happened to look up towards the cockpit and saw amber warning lights dotting the control panel. Paul said a prayer crossed his fingers and continued to return fire from his right waist gun position to help keep his plane safe.

The 547th Squadron 1st Air Division made it to the target and dropped their bombs. After bombs away the B17s goes like  bats out of hell to get out of the drop zone. No one wanted to hear the ack, ack, ack of more flak or have German fighters dancing around them trying to shoot them out of the sky. However for the crew of Ruthless as soon as La Croix the bombardier dropped their bomb load “Junior” (the pilot) cut out the 2 outboard engines to conserve gas and were going to go home on the 2 inboard engines. They tried as best as they could to keep up with the squadron but with flying on only 2 props they were soon lagging behind. 

As they limped back home they were again flying over Belgium. This time Paul happened to look up to see the radioman Beck tearing off his earphones and throwing radio parts out of the plane! Then Paul turned in time to see the other waist gunner Peter Seniawsky pitching his gun and ammo out the gun port. ( Paul had disconnected from the intercom to get more ammo and  could not hear what was going on) Lt. Kauffman had given the order to get rid of everything that was not nailed down. Paul, and the rest of the crew threw out everything jackets, boots, rags, plane parts, anything to make the plane lighter to conserve gas. Paul thought to himself, if any German fighters came after them now they were sitting ducks with no protection. By that time they happened to see 5 or 6 spitfires flying along side of them they must have realized that “Ruthless" was in trouble. "Ruthless" continued to putter on home feeling a little better with having an escort to protect them. They flew over the Black sea to where the English Channel meets. Hap wanted Junior to go up over the white cliffs of Dover, but the gas was almost gone and they were losing altitude, therefore there was no chance of clearing the cliffs.  Paul and the bombardier, James La Croix were looking out the window and saw another B17 just skimming the water next to them, when all of a sudden that plane hit the water and went under. Paul said to Jim, “Jim she didn’t come back up she probably went to Davy Jones Locker.” Both men knew that they were next…

Kauffman battled to keep "Ruthless" airborne, with resignation, he told everyone to take their ditching positions. The aft crew went up to the radio room and took their positions. Beck, the radioman started to say, “it’s coming, it’s coming”. Then they heard a hissing sound as the tail of the B17 started to drag on top of the water. The crew looked at each other for one quick second before all hell broke loose. Ruthless hit the water hard.

The sound of screeching metal twisting and water pouring in greeted the crew. Paul took in a lot of salt water when he finally bobbed up trying to catch a breath. The bombardier La Croix who was sitting next to Paul was nowhere to be seen. When La Croix stood up he was standing over the camera hatch, which broke during the crash. He fell through it and the only thing to grab onto was Paul’s head, so Paul ended up going down under again. Paul popped up sputtering. The water was getting higher and higher in the radio room. They tried to make a run to the back several times to no avail. Finally, they found a way out. Paul got out on the wing with a Turkish towel wrapped around his neck. To this day he doesn’t remember his neck feeling wet! Now both Paul and Jake the ball-gunner were standing on the wing.  The life rafts had deployed and were tethered to the side of the plane by the wing. Jake decided to get in first.  Paul was standing there on the wing watching him. The ball-gunner looked like a Buddha sitting in the middle of the un-inflated  raft. Jake pulled the levers to inflate the raft…nothing! He was just sitting there looking at Paul with a dumfounded look. The next thing Paul saw was Jake going under the water with the raft. Paul was thinking to himself that he better jump in and get him. But before he could get ready to jump there was a big whoosh! Jake and the raft shot out of the water about 4 feet into the air. He looked like Aladdin and his magic rug.

With only half a Mae West inflated Paul took a deep breath and jumped praying that he would not become dinner for “Jaws”.  Paul swam to the life raft that was bobbing in the water. However when he got to the raft, he could not get up and in because his boots were full of water.  So he hung onto the side. As he was treading water next to the raft he looked back over to the plane and there was the radioman Beck climbing up the rudder. The prop and wings were the only other things left above the sea. The props were bent back from the force of hitting the water. Paul could hear the rivets popping as the plane was being beaten and twisted by the waves. As the plane was loosing the battle to stay afloat Paul could see Beck standing on the tail as the plane was going down, Paul yelled to Beck to jump and swim over to them. Beck called out, “I can’t swim!” (his may west didn’t inflate) then someone yelled to Jules, “Well you better learn fast or you are going to meet Davy Jones”. As Paul was getting ready to go back and get Beck, when Beck overcame his fear and jumped off the plane. As Beck was paddling for all he was worth Paul first got him by the hair then by the neck and pulled him to the life raft.  The others helped get them into the raft. While they were in the raft they could see all kind of debris floating in the water like jackets, plane parts, and cigarettes.

The spitfires continued to circle in the air to guard the men in the life rafts. Those planes came in so low to drop smoke bombs that the men  could almost touch the underbelly of them with the oars from the raft.  The Ruthless crew also dropped dye markers to mark their position. Beck broke out the radio to call for help.  As they waited to be rescued, the whole crew sat in the raft watching Ruthless screech and twist in her final death throes. She went down in less than 41/2 minutes.

A short distance away an English trawler HM Drifter (the English used it for a radar picket boat) was coming toward them. They were coming to pick them up. The sailors got the crew on board and below deck.  Once below deck the pitch and yaw of the boat was magnified. To help warm the crew up the Englishmen offered them Grog. Not everyone drank the ale, Beck the radioman was sick and throwing up.  Others were quite trying to get themselves together. They remained on this boat  for only for a short time. The picket boat could not leave its station to return the crew to land so it radioed for another boat. 

The RAF sent out a 40-foot motorboat “Lord Keith” made out of mahogany with 4 303’s manned by the RAF in a turret. When the 2 boats got next to each other they were violently pitching back and forth  against each other. Paul and the rest of the men had a hard time transferring to the motorboat with out getting crushed.  “Lord Keith” conveyed the Ruthless crew to ST443.

When they got to a coastal base the men were put in a barrack. A group of English officers with stripes all the up their arms came to check on them. Paul and the rest of the men were treated like heroes and were congratulated by the officers. The Englishmen broke open a bottle of scotch and offered a drink up to the men. The crew was given dry clothes and food. That night no one really slept. Everyone had the heebee geebees from their ordeal, Paul could see in the dark as men sat up in bed yelling out and Paul was no exception. The next morning Paul and his crewmates were flown back to Grafton Underwood in a C47.

Usually when a crew ditched they got a seven-day leave, however the raids on Germany were being stepping up and Paul’s crew only got a 3-day leave. Then 10 days later was to be their last mission…


Paul’s crew photo Oct. 5, 1943 the day after their return to Grafton Underwood England after being rescued from the North Sea after ditching “Ruthless”

Top Row Left to Right

Staff Sgt. Jacob (Jake) M. Martinez

Staff Sgt. Peter Seniawsky

Tech. Sgt. William Jarrell

2nd Lt. "Hap" George Molnar (Co-pilot)

Lt. James LaCroix (in the white sweater)

Staff Sgt. Stanley T. Ruben.


Front Row Left to Right

 2nd Lt. Frank Pogorzelski ( Lt. “Pogo” )

Staff Sgt. Paul Spodar

Tech Sgt. Jules T. Beck 



This water color picture of Ruthless ditching was done by the co-pilot George Molnar while incarcerated as a POW at Stalag III. On the top of the picture he wrote:

“Down for the last time after completing last mission on October 4, 1943. She hit the water at 1:01 in the afternoon. She was coming back after her 19 * successful missions. The last one was a tough on ____ __ on the ___. A propeller works was her target. Here is to another Queen that died proudly. She led the groups first ___ on enemy soil. I went down with it.”

George wrote her (Ruthless) 19 missions. That is what the plane did. However the Kauffman crew always got loaner planes so I think that for George and the crew it was their 4th mission flying “Ruthless”.  ~~ Sharon ~~



This artwork came from Jake Martinez's War Time Log Book. It is a rendering of "Ruthless" when she ditched in the Black Sea. The artwork was done by a POW from Stalag 17B.





I would like to thank my good friend from England , George Brinkley for sending me this wonderful rendition done of Ruthless ditching in the sea. This painting was done by his friend Peter Caines an accomplished artist. Mr. Caines is a member of the Guild of Aviation Artists and has had many of his works shown in exhibitions. I am honored that he chose to preserve the memory of Ruthless and those who flew her through his art.  I am also privileged that Mr. Caines granted me the permission to share this fantastic painting on this site.