05.09.1944 83rd Fighter Squadron P-47D Thunderbolt 44-19573, Capt. Gray H. Doyle DFC
Operation: Operation Rhubarb*, Germany
Date: 5th September 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 78th Fighter Group, 83rd Fighter Squadron, 65th Fighter Wing, 8th Air Force
Type: P-47D Thunderbolt
Base: Duxford (Station #357), Cambridgeshire, England
Location: Rheine, Germany
Pilot: Capt. Gray Hartwell Doyle O-429621 DFC, AAF Age 28. Survived/Murdered
* Operation Rhubarb – The British designation for any short-range fighter-bomber sweeps, at times of low cloud and poor visibility, crossing the English Channel and then dropping below cloud level to search for targets of opportunity such as railway locomotives and rolling stock, aircraft on the ground, enemy troops, and vehicles on roads.
From left to right: 1st Lt. Philip L. Larson and 1st Lt. Gray H. Doyle, of the 78th Fighter Group, in their quarters at Duxford air base (Credit: American Air Museum)
REASON FOR LOSS:
An after action statement made by 2nd Lt. Edwin H. Miller, #3 of Cargo Red flight, described that after the flight had let down through the overcast near to Metelen they strafed a train. 2nd Lt. Miller was the second to fire on the train and after pulling up had looked for his flight leader, Capt. Doyle, but could not see him anywhere in the air. As he looked under his starboard wing he saw a mass of flames and what looked to him like an aircraft that had crashed into some houses. He tried to contact Capt. Doyle by radio but received no reply. The only aircraft in the area were from Cargo Red flight and as #2 and #4 of the flight were still with him he surmised that the crashed aircraft was that of Capt. Doyle.
A German record reported that his P-47 was shot down by flak and was 98% destroyed when it crashed on the eastern outskirts of Rheine in Germany at 13:20 hrs.
The fate of Capt. Doyle was unknown until a Military Court was held at the Garrison Theater, Osnabruck, Germany from 7th March to the 1st May 1947. In total six German nationals were before the court on ten separate charges.
The second of the charges accused three German nationals of committing a war crime in that they, at or near the Rheine airfield in Germany on or about the 8th [sic] September 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned with the killing of Lieutenant C.H. Doyle, United States Army Air Force, PoW.
The three accused were Franz Schmitt a former Luftwaffe Major (Maj.) and Commanding Officer of the Rheine airfield; Heinz Stellpflug, a former Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt.) and chief clerk responsible to Schmitt and a Karl Henkelhausen a former Luftwaffe Maj. who was Schmitt’s second in command. They were all stationed at the Rheine airfield located 2½ miles NW of the town of Rheine in the province of Westphalia.
In the course of the trial proceedings it was established that a Fritz Bollenrath, a former SA (Sturmabteilung = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party)-Standartenführer (equates to Col.) and and official in charge of the Rheine outpost of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst of the SS) at Rheine, systematically shot a number of Allied airmen who were delivered into his hands. The prosecution maintained that the three accused aided and abetted Bollenrath in the killing of Capt. Doyle.
A witness, a former Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt.), named Roehe testified that on the morning of 6th September he accompanied his Company Commander, Hauptmann (Capt.) Wierlemann, to a point in some woods, called the Bentlage Bush, where they found the body of an Allied airman. Roehe reported this to Stellpflug, who was responsible to Schmitt for the safe custody of PoWs, but was told by Stellpflug that he already knew about the airman.
According to a War Crimes Pathological Section report Capt. Doyle had suffered a traumatic injury to his left arm and several fractured bones and injuries which may have been sustained when his aircraft was hit by flak or during the crash landing. How he had escaped the crashing aircraft has not been established to any degree of certainty. He had also suffered two wounds to the throat which could have been caused by small calibre bullets.
The medical findings left it open as to how Capt. Doyle’s injuries were caused but the fact that his body was found in a ditch with corresponding drag marks on a nearby path, and no sign of his parachute in the vicinity, raised suspicions that he may have died as a result of hostile action after he landed.
The court had some difficulty in determining whether any of the three accused had been involved in any capacity in the death of Capt. Doyle. However, certain evidence heard by the court made a strong case that Bollenrath, who had committed suicide on the 5th December 1945 shortly after his arrest, and an unknown accomplice may have been responsible for the killing of Capt. Doyle.
The court deemed that the evidence presented was not sufficient to convict the three accused and therefore on this specific charge Schmitt, Stellpflug, Henkelhausen were found not guilty and ultimately no one was found responsible for the death of Capt. Doyle.
However, Stellpflug was found guilty on two of the other charges and was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on the 5th September 1947 in Hameln (Hamelin) prison.
German records document that Capt. Doyle was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch, Rheine, Row 1, Grave 14 on the 6th September 1944 at 1900 hrs. A British war crimes team disinterred a number of bodies from the cemetery after the war and discovered that of the eight American servicemen buried there, five including that of Capt. Doyle looked like they were victims of war crimes.
Capt. Gray Hartwell Doyle. DFC (Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal (7 Oak Leaf Clusters (=1 Silver and 1 Bronze)). Reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery Plot S, Row 6, Grave 140 on the 20th June 1946 as X-1778. He was positively identified in late 1947. He was repatriated in late 1949 and buried at the Fergus Cemetery, Rutherford County in Tennessee. Born on the 22nd September 1916. Son to Joseph C. and Edith (née Gamble) Doyle from Morgan, Indiana. Husband to Dorothy B. (née Dobson) Doyle of Luzerne, Pennsylvania, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.