Looking at the names on the Buxton War Memorial, one particularly caught my attention. H Thannhauser. It is clearly not a local name. A search through the CWGC database confirmed that there was no entry for any Thannhauser having been killed with British and Commonwealth forces during the Second World War. There had been German- Jewish refugee families in Buxton during the 1930s, so it was possible that Heinz was the son of one of these. If that was the case, he might well have enlisted in the British Army under a nom di guerre and been killed and buried under that name- in which case finding anything further was going to be quite difficult. The customary Internet search threw up only one match for a H Thannhauser, A Sergeant in the United States Army Air Force who was killed in a plane crash on 15 August 1944. Perhaps, I had missed something fairly obvious, the H Thannhauser on the Buxton War memorial had died fighting with another Allied nation, which would more logically explain why he was commemorated in Buxton but not by the CWGC. Still, I did not have any particularly firm proof of that.
Having acquired the first name Heinz, I did another search, for Heinz Thannhauser, This time, it took me to a Wikipedia entry for Buxton College, which referred to a Heinz Thannhauser who had been at the school in the 1930s, and had been one of the most gifted pupils to go there. So, was this the same Heinz Thannhauser who died with the USAF?
There was another aspect which got me interested, Sergeant Thannhauser had been killed in Italy, where I currently reside. So having been following one little known Buxton College Old Boy, Captain William Howard Lister, who had been killed in Italy during World War One, I thought I would investigate further to confirm whether this was a little known Buxton College Old Boy killed in Italy in the second World War.
According to bare bones of the information, H Thannhauser had been at Buxton College from 1931-35. Now the family of Heinz Thannhauser were very famous and successful art dealers from Germany. One reference indicated that after the NSDAP came to power in Germany, Heinz and younger brother Michel were excluded from the Lycée Francaise in Berlin, and that father Justin Thannhauser had sent them be educated “privately” in England” . To me it originally seemed unlikely that the son or indeed both sons of an extremely wealthy German Art dealer would have been sent to Buxton College, but the evidence started to fit, References were made to Heinz having matriculated at Cambridge at the early age of sixteen, which circumstantially tied in with the reference to one of the schools most promising pupils. At that stage, I was convinced. In the end I found a copy of Mr Roger Bolton-King’ s “ History of Buxton College “ for sale through Abebooks, which supplied the final confirmation. On page 53, it mentions, with reference to the German- Jewish refugee pupils;
“Many of the German boys had high ability and a number of them went to Universities. In 1937 there were four old Buxtonians at Cambridge and three of them were German boys. One of them , Heinz Thannhauser , was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant boys ever to attend the School. When he entered the School in the autumn of 1933, he could speak little English but nine months later he took the School Certificate Examination in fie subjects and passed with distinction in all of them .A year later having completed the two-year Higher Certificate course in one year, he passed with distinction in both of his principal subjects . on these results he was admitted to Trinity Hall, Cambridge , where in 1938, he was awarded first class honours in English Literature and Language and an Austin Fellowship to Harvard University, USA . When America entered the war, he joined the American Air Force and was killed in action not long afterwards. “
Buxton College, Buxton, Derbyshire
There are a couple of brief biographies of Heinz online and a lot of scattered information under articles regarding his father Justin. I have tried to bring them altogether in one place, So here is a brief biography of Buxton’s American airman.
Heinz Thannhauser (1918 -1944)
Heinz was born in Munich German, in September 1918 shortly before the First World War Armistice. Father Justin was from a family of Art dealers, who owned the famous Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. At the time of Heinz’s birth, the First World War was dragging to an end. Munich was not a happy place, mutinies and strikes were spreading throughout Germany and on 7 November 1918, King Ludwig III of Bavaria fled from the Residenz Palace with his family. Kurt Eisner, of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), became minister-president] of a newly proclaimed People's State of Bavaria. Eisner was fairly moderate and distanced himself from the Russian Bolsheviks, declaring that his government would protect property rights. However his government was unable to provide basic services and was defeated in the January 1919 election. On 21 February 1919 Eisner was assassinated, Rumour spread that Erhard Auer – the leader of the Social Democrats and the Minister of the Interior was behind the assassination. A supporter of Eisner, shot Auer, seriously wounding him. Armed conflict spread and government in Bavaria effectively broke down, followed by unrest and lawlessness. On 7 March 1919, the Socialists' new leader, Johannes Hoffmann, an anti-militarist, and former schoolteacher, patched together a parliamentary coalition government, but a month later, on the night of 6–7 April, Communists and anarchists, energized by the news of a left-wing revolution in Hungary, declared a Soviet Republic, with Ernst Toller as chief of state. The Hoffmann government fled to Bamberg in Northern Bavaria, which it declared the new seat of government. Initially, the Bavarian Soviet Republic was ruled by the USPD members such as Ernst Toller, and anarchists Toller, who was also a playwright, described the revolution as the "Bavarian Revolution of Love”, the new government became known as "the regime of the coffeehouse anarchists”. Toller’s choice of government members might be described as odd, his Foreign Affairs Deputy Dr. Franz Lipp – who had been admitted several times to psychiatric hospitals – declared war on Württemberg and Switzerland over the Swiss refusal to lend 60 locomotives to the Republic. Other Toller appointments included as commissar for military affairs, a former waiter and a burglar with a conviction for moral turpitude as police president of Munich The new government reformed the arts and opened Munich University to everyone except those who wished to study history, which was deemed "hostile to civilization." One minister declared that capitalism would be brought down by making money free. Toller’s brief experiment did not last long, on 12 April 1919, only six days into Toller's regime, the Communist Party seized power, with Eugen Leviné as head of state. Leviné began to enact more hard-line communist reforms, which included forming a "Red Army" from factory workers, seizing cash, food supplies, and privately owned guns, expropriating luxurious apartments and giving them to the homeless and placing factories under the ownership and control of their workers. One of Munich's main churches was taken over and made into a revolutionary temple dedicated to the "Goddess of Reason." Bavaria was to be in the vanguard of the Bolshevization of Europe, with all workers to receive military training. The government Leviné also had plans to abolish paper money and reform the education system but never had time to implement them. They began to arrest aristocrats and members of the middle-class as hostages. Food shortages quickly became a problem, especially the absence of milk. An attempt by Troops of the alternative Bavarian Government in Bamberg allied with right-wing paramilitaries to overthrow the BSR on 13 April, was put down by the new Red Army, twenty died in the fighting. The two rival Bavarian governments clashed militarily at Dachau on 18 April with the BSR emerging victorious. Hoffmann then made an alliance with the right-wing Freikorps, who together with Hoffmann's loyalist army took Dachau and surrounded Munich. The Freikorps broke through the Munich defences on 1 May, leading to bitter street fighting that in which around 600 people were killed. Around 1,000-1,200 Communists and anarchists, including Levine were tried and executed, and by 6 May, the Bavarian Soviet Republic was over.
Understandably, Justin Thannhauser removed his family from the state of near civil war in Munich to the safety of Lucerne, Switzerland. There, he opened a second branch of what was now called Moderne Galerie/Thannhauser. Which became useful for developing a market for visiting American tourists. Justin ran the Lucerne branch until 1921, when he was called back to Munich to assist his father, who had developed throat cancer. The Lucerne gallery continued to be under Justin's direction until 1928, when his cousin Siegfried Rosengart assumed control and changed its name to Galerie Rosengart. The Galerie Thannhauser survived the collapse of pubic order in Munich and on his return , Justin assumed complete control of his father's gallery and brought the two branches under the name Galerien Thannhauser. He began to slowly rebuild the business's reputation, which had weakened during the war, organizing conservative exhibitions of German paintings and works on paper. He soon returned to the avant-garde, however, showing works by Picasso and Kandinsky in 1922, an exhibition of contemporary American artists in 1923, and paintings by Vlaminck in 1925. Most daring or dangerous in conservative Munich were exhibitions of work by George Grosz and Otto Dix .In 1927, Justin opened a third gallery in Berlin. Munich remained conservative and fairly right-wing , it was after all the home of the nascent NSDAP and where Adolf Hitler had launched his unsuccessful beer hall putsch. The success of the Berlin branch quickly surpassed that of the one in Munich; he thus decided to focus completely on the former and closed the latter in 1928.
The whole family moved to Berlin, the new galley was a Bellevuestrasse 13, near to the Potsdamer Platz and it was here in 1930, that Justin presented the largest exhibition of works by Matisse ever held in Germany. Heinz and younger brother Michel (born in 1920) attended the Lycée Francaise in Berlin. Strangely, although it taught in French this historic institution was actually a German public school.
The 1920s saw a remarkable cultural renaissance in Germany. German literature, cinema, theatre and musical works entered a phase of great creativity. Innovative street theatre brought plays to the public, and the cabaret scene and jazz bands became very popular. Art and a new type of architecture taught at "Bauhaus" schools reflected the new ideas of the time, with artists such as George Grosz being fined for defaming the military and for blasphemy. Artists in Berlin were influenced by other contemporary progressive cultural movements, such as the Impressionist and Expressionist painters in Paris, as well as the Cubists. Not everyone, however, was happy with the changes taking place in Weimar culture. Conservatives and reactionaries feared that Germany was betraying its traditional values by adopting popular styles from abroad.
Pablo Piccaso, "Woman Ironing" - Thannhauser Collection.. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Although the arts scene was flourishing, Berlin was anything but quiet in the early 1930s, a bitter street fighting between the KPD and the NSDAP, gave the impression of a low intensity civil war. Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor on the morning of 30 January 1933. By early February the government had begun to clamp down on the opposition. Meetings of left-wing parties were banned and some of the moderate parties found their members threatened and assaulted. Measures with an appearance of legality suppressed the Communist Party in mid-February and included the plainly illegal arrests of Reichstag deputies. The Reichstag fire on 27 February was blamed by Hitler's government on the Communists. Hitler used the ensuing state of emergency to obtain the presidential assent of Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree the following day. The decree invoked Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution and "indefinitely suspended" a number of constitutional protections of civil liberties, allowing the Nazi government to take swift action against political meetings, arresting and killing the Communists.. At the Reichstag elections, which took place on 5 March 1933, the NSDAP obtained 17 million votes. The Communist, Social Democrat and Catholic Centre votes stood firm. This was the last multi-party election of the Weimar Republic and the last multi-party all-German election for 57 years. At the cabinet meeting on 15 March, Hitler introduced the Enabling Act, which would have authorised the cabinet to enact legislation without the approval of the Reichstag.
One of the Nazis first anti-Semitic laws was to restrict the number of Jewish children in German Public Schools and it seems that the Thannhauser brothers were excluded from the public Lycée Francaise. As a result and with deteriorating situation in Germany, Justin decided to send Heinz away to school in England. It is uncertain how he might have heard about Buxton College. This had been an independent school up to 1923, when it became a state-maintained Grammar School. A new Headmaster, Mr A D C Mason arrived from the Herbert Strutt School in Belper and effectively reopened and reformed the school. He established a wider offering of cultural and artistic activities at the school – including an orchestra and an increased role for sport. A sixth form was established and in 1931 the first boys passed the Higher Certificate Examination. The school continued to offer boarding places. Mason was sympathetic to the plight of German refugees, and indeed was risking his career and the irritation of the School Governors by accepting increasing numbers as boarders. Apparently he paid some of the fees from his own funds. So Heinz ended up exchanging the Lycée Francaise in Berlin for life as a boarder at Buxton College, in a small town in Derbyshire.
Buxton College, Buxton, Derbyshire
For the 15-year-old Heinz, Berlin to Buxton would have been a long journey by train. The Nord Express left Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse Station and travelled through Hanover, Düsseldorf, Cologne and onto Ostend, before connecting with the steam packet to Dover, then it was a trip up to London’s Charing Cross and across London to get the train to Buxton. Heinz arrived in Buxton in the autumn 1933, speaking German and French but with little English. Nine months later in 1934, he took the School Certificate Examination in five subjects, passing with a distinction in all of them. A year later, having completed the two-year course in one year, he passed the Higher Certificate with distinction on both his principal subjects. Heinz matriculated to Cambridge University in 1935 at 17 years, where he studied the English Tripos as a member of Trinity Hall, which happened to be Mr Mason’s old college. He graduated with First Class Honours in 1938. It was a remarkable achievement to have done all that in five years,
It must have been evident to Justin which way the wind was blowing, since he rented an apartment in Paris and slowly and quietly began to move his artworks and assets out of Germany. In 1937, with Heinz still in England- Justin, Kathe and Michel officially emigrated to France. When the family moved to Paris their address was 35 Rue de Miromesnsil, in the VII arrondisement, between the Champs Elysée and the Boulevard Hausmann, a few hundred metres from the Elysée Palace. Emigration meant having to pay a huge exit tax to the Nazi Regime. The Nazis had let Justin leave with the modern art, which they regarded as decadent and not Germanic.
Paul Gaugin, "In the Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse", Thannhauser Wing, Guggenheim Museum , New York.
The United States
After Cambridge he crossed the Atlantic where he was admitted to a post graduate course in Art at Harvard. US immigration records show him arriving in New York on the SS Champlain arriving from Le Havre, France. (Possibly that was after a visit to the family in Paris, rather than his original arrival. But it appears to be his only recorded entry into the United States). As the SS Champlain sailed out of Le Havre, Heinz must have thought he was leaving Europe well behind- he may well not have imagined that he would be back thee in less in four years. From New York, Heinz headed north to Boston. In September 1939, he applied to be naturalized as a US Citizen. He was then living at Fairfax Hall, Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, a five-story brick building which rented high class rooms to Harvard students. At Harvard, Heinz studied under another European émigré Wilhelm Koehler. As had Justin Thannhauser, Koehler served in the German military in World War I in Poland and later researched in Belgium. After the war (1918) he was offered a position as director of the new art collection in Weimar (Staatlichen Kunstammlungen). He developed contacts with many Bauhaus faculty including Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger. The product of his war years research on Carolingian art appeared in 1923 as Belgische Kunstdenkmäler. From 1924 he also held a professorship at Jena University. The first volumes of his Carolingian manuscript study, Die Schule von Tours (School of Tours), appeared between 1930-1933. His association with modern art brought him into increasing conflict with the national socialist government and he left Germany. Koehler arrived at Harvard in 1932 as the Kuno Franke Visiting Professor of German Art and Culture. When Harvard's well-known medievalist A. Kingsley Porter died in a drowning accident the following year, Koehler was asked to replace him in the Chair of Art History
Having finished his post graduate degree at Harvard, Heinz was appointed Instructing Professor at the Newcomb Art College, Tulane University in New Orleans. Here he worked for Robert Durant ( “Robin”) Feild who had recently taken over running the school. Robin Feild seems to have been responsible for a great shake up in the arts world of Newcomb, not all of it very popular. He even ended up writing a monograph apart the Art of Walt Disney.
In January 1941 Heinz must have felt relieved as the rest of his family made it to New York from Europe. By some good fortune, the family were in Geneva, Switzerland when the Germans invaded Poland. At least part of the purposes seems to have been to accompany, the American actor Edward G Robinson on an art buying mission. The choice was either to sit the war out in Switzerland or try and get to America from neutral Lisbon. It was not an easy decision to make, although Switzerland was neutral, it was by no means certain that the Germans would not violate that neutrality and invade. Getting to Lisbon was no easy task and required crossing Vichy France, Francoist Spain and arriving in a Portugal, that was increasingly less well disposed toward Jewish refugees. In the end Justin chose to take the family to the United States. The family would have crossed Vichy France and Spain to get to Portugal and the trip would have needed exit visas, entry visa, transit visas for each country . By this time both Portugal and Spain were admitting only Jewish refugees who could prove they were in transit. It must have been with extreme relief, that the Thannhauser family boarded the SS Serpo Pinto and sailed up the Rio Tagus towards the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving Europe did not mean immediate safety, there were 3000 miles of U -Boat infested Atlantic to cross, and even being ion a vessel, flagged in neutral Portugal did not guarantee safety. Nevertheless, on 9 January 1941, the Thannhauser family are recorded as arriving in New York. Justin purchased a town house at 165 East 62nd Street, which became the family’s American base for the next few years.
Heinz enlisted in the US Army on February 10, 1943, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was noted, at the time of his enlistment, as being single, without dependents and resident in Orleans Parish Louisiana. (the location of Tulane University). Heinz ended up with the 441st Squadron of the 320 Bomb Wing of the US Army Air Force. (it became the US Air Force in 1947). In November 1942 the 320th was at Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida preparing to go to Europe. Their ground support had already crossed the Atlantic in September on The Queen Mary, where they underwent training and awaited developments in England. . On the 9 November the ground crews joined up with the great convoy heading to Africa to launch Operation Torch arriving at Oran in Algeria on 21 November . They marched through the city to the railroad station and then to Tafaraoui, a former French naval airfield south of Oran to prepare for the planes and pilots to arrive. The 320th’s Marauder bombers flew out from Morrison on a route that took them via Puerto Rico, British Guinea, and Belem and Natal, Brazil across to Ascension Island then to the African Gold Coast. Proceeding north up the coast, they stopped in Liberia, Bathurst, Gambia, and Marrakech, French Morocco. After this epic journey the first Group Marauders reached Tafaraoui. on 27 December 1942. After Algeria, the 320th moved to El Bathan in Tunisia "The Dust Bowl." The men pitched their tents and--despite the usual hot dry wind--continued operations. The morning of September 9th Fifth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, went ashore at Salerno just south of Naples.
For the next six days Group Marauders flew many missions over Salerno in close support of the invading forces. Their bombing was instrumental in helping to secure the beachhead. . By late October the Italian front had advanced to the point where Tunisia was almost out of range of targets and the 320 Bomb Wing ordered to move to bases in recently liberated Sardinia
The 320 Bomb Wing’s new home was at Decimomannu ("Decimo") Air Base, close to Cagliari on the southern tip of Sardinia. To start with the men lived in "tent cities” in the olive groves around the base, these were later replaced by adobe "casas" ranging from one-man huts to homes for eight. Impressive Officer and Enlisted Men Clubs were built, together with an outdoor Chapel. The Group flew its first mission from Sardinia-- on 12 November, later in the month the Marauders got over France for the first time, bombing the aerodrome at Salon de Provence north of Marseilles. For much of November and December, bad weather disrupted operations. Towards the end of the month weather improved and missions could be flown on nine straight days. Targets were generally railways and bridges in Central Italy. In preparation for the Allied spring offensive, a series of air attacks were mounted against marshalling yards in Central Italy. Rome was hit again March 3rd with Ostiense terminal being bombed with great precision. In a "first ever" raid the 11th, the Florence rail yards were accurately bombed, proving the Group was able ability to pinpoint military objectives within Italy's historic, culturally rich cities without causing collateral damage. During April bridges were knocked out at places like Arezzo, Incisa, Mantua, Cancello, and Albenga, severely disrupting rail and road communications. Early in May, as rolling stock backed up in Italy, the bombing switched to attacking packed marshalling yards.
I have not been able to locate any records as to where Heinz was between the date of his enlistment and May 1944. However, the 320 Bomb Group has an extensive archive online with copies of the original documentation of each mission scanned and uploaded. The first record, I could find of Heinz was from 10 May 1944 when, he is listed as being part of the crew (Radio Operator/ Gunner) of a B-26 on Mission 225 in which 40 B26s took off from to bomb the S. Giovanni Railroad bridge.
As mentioned above, the 441st Squadron was using the B-26 Marauder. Designed by Glenn Martin, the B-26 was a shoulder-winged monoplane of all-metal construction, its streamlined, circular fuselage housed the crew of seven, consisting of a bombardier in the nose, armed with a .30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun, a pilot and co-pilot sitting side by side, with positions for the radio operator and navigator behind the pilots. A gunner manned a dorsal turret armed with two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and an additional .30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun was fitted in the tail. Two bomb bays were fitted mid-fuselage, capable of carrying 5,800 lb (2,600 kg) of bombs, although in practice such a bomb load reduced range too much, and the aft bomb bay was usually fitted with additional fuel tanks instead of bombs. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines driving four-bladed propellers. Although the B-26 apparently had the lowest combat loss rate of any US aircraft used during the war, it remained a challenging aircraft to fly and continued to be unpopular with some pilots throughout its military career. B-26 crews gave the aircraft the nickname "Widowmaker, “Martin Murderer",or "Flying Coffin". In 1944, in answer to many pilots complaining to the press and their relatives back home, the USAAF and Martin took the unusual step during war, of commissioning large articles to be placed in various popular publications, "educating" and defending the so-called flying/accident record of the B-26.
On 19 May, Heinz flew in a mission of 54 B-26s which left Sardinia to bomb Vado Railway Viaduct and Grizza South Viaduct. On 29 May 1944 – he was listed as among the crews of the 29 B26s which took off to bomb the Terni Viaduct. The following day he was in the air again for the bombing a road bridge at Monterotondo- . During July the bombers struck deeper into Northwest Italy , bombing a road bridge in Perugia (12 June), fuel depots at Savona and Vado Ligure on 3 and 5 July, and a road bridge at Asti on 7 July.
On 4 June 1944, the Allies had liberated Rome, sometime between this date and his death, Heinz paid a visit to the eternal city on a furlough. Although the suburbs of Rome and its transport infrastructure had been severely damaged by bombing, for the most part the historic and artistic centre remained untouched. On his tour, he wrote in a letter home that he had visited:
The Church of S. Luigi dei Francesi, to look at the Caravaggio pictures; but there was a mass and celebration there by French troops of the 5th Army, so he was unable to see them. Next, Heinz went to the Sapienza (University) and got into the courtyard and looked at St. Ivo; unfortunately, the inside was closed, so he couldn’t see more. From there it was on to the church of S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, and had a good look at Bernini’s Four Rivers . Next on the quick artistic tour was S. Andrea della Valle. Heinz found that ther Palazzo Farnese, was now a French headquarters building. After asking some Sudanese guards for directions, a maid showed them into the Galleria. Next was, S. Maria in Vallicella, with another terrific ceiling, and the Rubens altar piece with the angels holding up the picture of the Virgin The next day of this whirlwind art tour of newly liberated Rome, Heinz visited Santa Susanna and then to S. Maria della Vittoria, although the Bernini Ecstasy of St. Theresa he had gone to see was still walled in for protection, the figures of the onlooking Cornaro family in the two side boxes were still visible. Then it was on to S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, which he described as “ Borromini’s tours de force”.
From there the tour continued the short distance to Sta. Maria Maggiore. This reminded Heinz of a paper he had written for Koehler for his Master’s at Harvard:
“…that unending paper I wrote for Koehler on the mosaics there. I was afraid they’d probably have them walled up like most of the apsidial mosaics in Rome, but lo and behold, they were all there in their full freshness! It was one of the most terrific artistic impressions I got on our stay in Rome. I had not expected anything like the strength of color that remains just gleaming out at you, – especially so, of course, in the case of the Torriti work but amazingly bright too with the old mosaics. We walked round the whole church looking at the mall: the walls of Jericho falling down, God’s hand throwing stones down on the enemy, Lot’s wife turning to salt, the passage over the Red Sea, etc. I really was happy we had been able to get into Sta. Maria Maggiore. “
Then it was on to San Clemente, to see Masaccio’s chapel. An Irish priest Father McSweeney took them around, the mosaics were covered over, but they had plenty of time to study all the details of the other Masaccio and Masolino works. Father McSweeney’s delightful and enlightened descriptions made this one of most memorable visits in Rome. Finally, they went to St. Peter’s and straight to the Sistine Chapel.
“ Well, there just aren’t any words to tell how overwhelming it was. Here I’d written a paper, God knows how long, about the Prophets and Sibyls and the interrelation of figures on the ceiling, but I hadn’t known a damned thing about the ceiling. It is so unbelievably powerful that you can’t say anything. I kept looking, irresistibly, at the Jonah, which epitomizes tome the whole of Michelangelo’s life and torture, and really is, in the last analysis, the culmination and cornerstone to the whole ceiling. What a piece of painting – what a piece of poetry, or philosophy, or emotional outburst, a whole age expressed in one movement of a body! “
It seems poignant, that in his last days Heinz was able to visit Rome and renew his enthusiasm for Art History, from his descriptions he sounded both enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable. By the beginning of August his furlough was over, and he was back in Sardinia. By now the 320 Bomb Wing was bombing targets in the South of France, in preparation for the Allied landings there. On 6 August, Heinz was on mission to bomb the Tarascon Road Bridge in the South of France.
On 15 August, Heinz’s B-26 took off early in the morning at around 0455, Heinz was in his usual role of radio operator/ gunner. In the poor early morning light, the plane crashed on take-off into Monte Azzo near to the airfield, all of the crew were killed. The USAF incident report mentions that the pilot was unwell and perhaps should not have attempted to fly. In a report dated 15 August 1944, Captains Sidney. P Smith and Ralph Berge attest the following ;
“Aircraft #42-1076711, piloted by Lt. Paul E. Trunk, took of in a 3 ship formation element with us, Captain Berge, lead ship and Capt. Smith on the right wing. We both observed this aircraft collide into a hill about 3 ½ minutes after take-off. At tat time he was about 200 feet below us and several miles to the left of us. We cleared a higher hill by a safe margin , but he appeared to have been attempting to pull up and over this lower peak having clipped trees 100 feet below the top and finally striking the top part. The cause of the accident cannot be accurately attributed. The aircraft may have been deflected causing him to stray from the formation. On the other hand , Lt. Trunk was reported to be quite sick this morning, vomiting and experiencing stomach cramps, His determination and physical courage may have caused him to proceed on this combat mission when his physical condition should have forbid it. “
There were eight crew members on board. Only three identifiable bodies were recovered from the wreckage of the plane, the Pilot Lt. Paul Trunk, the co-pilot 2nd Lt. Rolland Michell and the engineer Sgt William Barron. The individual remains of Heinz and four other crew members could not be identified, so they were buried together in a common grave, After the war, they were exhumed and reburied in a common grave at Jefferson National Cemetery in Missouri.
Sadly. in 1952 eight years after Heinz’s death, Heinz’s younger brother Michel committed suicide at the of 32, he had apparently suffered from mental issues for many years. Having lost both his sons, Justin Thannhauser donated most of his art collection to the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1963. The Thannhauser Wing is named in his honour. Heinz Thannhauser is remembered at Jefferson Cemetery and the Memorial church at Harvard University in the United States and on the War memorial in Buxton , Derbyshire the peaceful English market town, which afforded him a safe haven from the turmoil ,of Nazi Germany.
Heinz is also remembered at Buxton College. For three or four years 1n the 1970s , we used to attend daily assemblies in the school hall at Buxton College, there was a wooden memorial on the wall, somewhere high up, where you could not see it to well. H Thannhauser’s name is also on that memorial. As far, as I can recall nobody ever mentioned the rather extraordinary story of a Jewish refugee from Germany who went to both Cambridge and Harvard and ended up being killed flying for the US Air Force.
Guggenheim Museum , New York
Writing this, I now realise that I have also seen the Thannhauser name elsewhere. In 2019, there was a touring exhibition of works from the Thannhauser collection in Milan , I remember seeing the publicity in metro stations, I did not go. The same year, I was with the children in New York. We went to the Guggenheim Museum, I am pretty sure I went in the Thannhauser Wing – at the time I had no idea that the name Thannhauser had any connection with Buxton, I wish I had. After we were at the Guggenheim, we were walking in the upper East Side , we would have crossed 62nd Street at some point. Previously, I had been in Munich and now having seen the photos have a vague recollection of the building in the centre which housed the original gallery. Unknowingly, I had crossed the tracks of Heinz Thannhauser without ever knowing anything about him. In his tragically short life Hans had walked the streets of Cambridge, Cambridge ( Mass) , New York, New Orleans , Paris, Rome, Munich and Berlin. He had also walked the streets of Buxton, Derbyshire,
As usual, any mistakes or errors are entirely my own. If anybody is able to fill in any gaps in Heinz’s life story, I would be happy to hear from them. It would be especially interesting to hear from anybody who could shed some more light on his time in New Orleans or his early days in the USAF before he got to Sardinia.