22.02.1945 504th Fighter Squadron P-51K 44-11745 ‘Happy III’, Capt. Ray Francis Herrmann DFC
Operation: PTWS mission to Eger, Hof and Saalfeld, Germany
Date: 22nd February 1945 (Thursday)
Unit: 339th Fighter Group, 504th Fighter Squadron , 8th Air Force
Type: P-51K Mustang
Serial: 44-11745 Happy III
Base: Fowlmere (Station #378), Cambridge, England
Location: Vicinity of Worms, Germany
Pilot: Capt. Ray Francis Herrmann DFC, O-695168 AAF Age 20. Survived/Murdered
Capt. Ray Francis Herrmann (Credit: US 8th Air Force Little Friends Site)
Note: 44-11745 Happy III was allocated to Lt Col. William C. Clark who was the Commanding Officer of the 504th Fighter Squadron.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The 339th Fighter Group took off from Fowlmere on the morning of the 22nd February 1945 at 08:50 hrs tasked with a penetration, target, withdrawal, support mission (PTWS) to Eger, Hof and Saalfeld in Germany. No flak or enemy aircraft were encountered during the escort mission. En route back to base the escort fighters broke away from the bomber stream at about 11:45 hrs to strafe targets at Coburg, Geislingen and an Aerodrome at Ganacker before returning to base. (Reference: 339th Fighter Group-Turner Publishing Company).
Capt. Herrmann and his flight attacked targets in the vicinity of Coburg. 2nd Lt. Krueger, his wingman, describes how they flew around the area and strafed three trains and two radio towers before turning west to head for home. En route Capt. Herrmann spotted a locomotive in an unidentified station. They orbited a few times without being shot at so they attacked the locomotive and the buildings in and around the station. Whilst attacking the station buildings 2nd Lt. Krueger observed flak strikes on the port wing and fuselage of Capt. Herrmann’s aircraft and saw him pull up but then lost sight of him in a thick ground haze.
2nd Lt. Krueger called him on the radio to ask how badly his aircraft was hit. Capt. Herrmann replied that his engine was losing coolant fast and that he would call him when he was going to bail out. About 3 minutes later at about 12:15 hrs Capt. Herrmann radioed to say that he was bailing out. Nothing more was heard from him.
The fate of Capt. Herrmann was unknown until a General Military Court was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 10th January to 21st March 1947.
Seven German nationals were charged (Charge No. 6 of 10) that they did, on the 15th February 1945 at or near Bensheim, Germany, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States Army, believed to be Ray R. Hermann [sic], ASN O-695168, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
One of the accused testified that the date was between 22nd and 25th. Capt. Herrmann bailed out on the 22nd at about 12:15 hrs, and the testimony of one of the accused recorded that the airman was at Gestapo headquarters in Bensheim at about 08:30 hrs, therefore this date could not have been earlier than the 23rd February 1945.
Those charged were Jürgen Stroop, the former Higher SS (Schutzstaffel) and Police Leader in the SS main district of Rhein-Westmark and former SS-Generalleutnant (Maj Gen) of the Waffen SS; Hans Trummler who was a former SS-Oberführer (Notionally the same level as a Brigadier General), an Oberst (Col) in the police and the commander of the Security Police and the SD (Sicherheitsdienst = Security Service of the SS) in the district of Rhein-Westmark; an Otto Somann who had been Trummler’s predecessor.
Also charged were Fritz Girke a former Chief of the Gestapo, an SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj) and an SA-Hauptscharführer (S/Sgt); Heinz Hellenbroich who was a former Gestapo Assistant Commander and an SS-Hauptscharführer; Karl Franz Stattmann who was a former Gestapo Kriminalassistent (Criminal assistant) and an SS-Hauptscharführer (T/Sgt); and a Michael Raaf who was a former Gestapo Kriminalsekretär (Criminal secretary) and an SS-Sturmscharführer (M/Sgt). All four were members of the Nazi party and stationed at the former Gestapo headquarters (HQ) in Bensheim, which was where the office had been relocated after being bombed out at Darmstadt.
The court heard that on a morning no earlier than the 23rd February 1945, an American airman, captured by the Gendarmerie (Rural police) in the district of Worms, was brought to the Gestapo HQ in Bensheim. Girke telephoned Trummler, his superior, for instructions regarding the airman and was informed that the airman was to be shot. Girke then ordered his assistant, Hellenbroich, to detail Stattmann and Raaf to kill the airman.
The pair left the Gestapo HQ with the airman and walked toward Schönberg which is about 3 km to the east of Bensheim. En route they took a path into a forest in the vicinity of Bensheim where Stattmann shot the airman who then collapsed but did not appear to be dead. Raaf then fired a second shot at the airman’s head killing him.
They returned to their HQ and reported the execution of the order and then completed a report to that effect. Raaf was ordered to arrange the airman’s burial in the cemetery at Bensheim. The airman’s remains were disinterred by the 46th Quartermaster Grave Registration Company and identified as Capt. Ray F. Herrmann.
The court found Stroop and Trummler guilty of transmitting orders regarding the illegal treatment of captured Allied airmen for which they were sentenced to death by hanging. Stroop was also found guilty on charge 9 and both Stroop and Trummler were additionally found guilty on charge 4 and charge 5.
Stroop was subsequently extradited to Poland and executed there for other crimes on the 6th March 1952 and Trummler was executed on the 22nd October 1948 at Landsberg in Bavaria.
Girke, Hellenbroich, Stattmann and Raaf were found guilty of this charge and 3 of the other 10 charges. The four were sentenced to death by hanging. Girke and Hellenbroich were executed on 15th October 1948; Stattmann and Raaf on the 22nd October 1948. The sentences were carried out at Landsberg in Bavaria.
Somann was found not guilty on this charge but was found guilty of 2 of the 10 charges and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment commencing on the 30th May 1945. He was released in May 1949.
Capt. Ray Francis Herrmann. DFC, Air Medal (9 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. He was reinterred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, Plot C, Row 12, Grave 24. Born on the 2nd June 1924 in Charleston, West Virginia. NoK details unknown.
Capt. Herrmann (Promoted on the 11th February 1945) was credited with 3 aerial combat victories. The first was a Bf-109 on the 2nd November 1944 during an escort mission to Merseburg. The second and third were FW-190s on the 31st December during an escort mission to Hamburg. (Reference: 339th Fighter Group-Turner Publishing Company).
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this Pilot. Thanks also to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.