26.09.1944 375th Fighter Squadron P-51B Mustang, 2nd.Lt. Daniel F. Knupp
Operation: Escort mission to Hamm, Germany
Date: 26th September 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: No. 375th Fighter Squadron (361st Fighter Group), 8th Air Force
Type: P-51B Mustang
Base: Bottisham (Station #374), Cambridgeshire, England
Location: East of Hauenhorst near Rheine, Germany
Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Daniel Francis Knupp O-824654 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
REASON FOR LOSS:
P-51B 42-106738 took off as Blue #3 on the morning of the 26th September 1944 from Bottisham as part of ‘Blue’ flight on a Bomber escort mission to Hamm.
2nd.Lt. Robert K. McCandliss’* after action statement described how at approximately 1420 hours in the vicinity of Gütersloh, whilst flying as Blue #2 in 1st.Lt. Urban Leonard Drew’s** Blue Flight, they were ‘bounced’ by a German twin-engine jet aircraft. The flight dropped their external tanks but could not close on the German aircraft which had dived to the ground and flown over a town loaded with flak batteries. As the flight passed through the flak, he looked over his right shoulder and saw another twin-engine jet plane coming out of clouds toward them. He warned the flight and turned his Mustang into the oncoming German aircraft but it was gone before he could engage it. As he continued his turn he saw a Mustang below him with smoke coming from its wings. He thought that it was firing its guns but the smoke worsened. He saw the aircraft spin twice, recover and then roll over on to its back and enter a dive. He saw the pilot bail out and clear the aircraft just high enough for his parachute to open, swing once or twice before hitting the ground. He saw the Mustang crash about a ¼ mile away and explode. He then flew back over the crashed aircraft but did not see the parachute or the pilot. At the time he did not know which aircraft from the flight had been lost but a minute later he heard Blue leader calling him.
German records confirm that a Mustang crashed at 1530 hours (local) about 550 yards east of Hauenhorst, which is about 3¼ miles south of Rheine, and was 99% destroyed. This aircraft was claimed by the 22nd Flak division.
*2nd.Lt. Robert K. McCandliss O-704693: P-51B 42-106830: Shot down 10 miles north of Rheine on the 7th October 1944. PoW Stalag Luft 1.
** 1st.Lt. Urban Leonard Drew arrived in England in October 1944 and joined the 361st Fighter Group (FG). 1st.Lt. Drew completed 75 missions with the 361st FG and became an Ace, claiming 6 kills. He was notably the first Allied fighter pilot to shoot down two Me 262s on 7th October 1944. After a mission in early October 1944, he was grounded for performing a victory roll. His punishment was repealed when Allied intelligence reported Me 262s near Brussels, Belgium. As 1st.Lt. Drew had previously encountered the aircraft (after the encounter described herein), he was tasked with leading the mission. He was awarded the AFC for heroism, but as his gun camera failed during the destruction of the two Me 262s, his appeal for the DFC was denied. He was eventually presented with his DFC on the 12th May 1983 after German Luftwaffe and American Air Force archives confirmed both kills.
After completing his tour of duty in the European Theatre, he returned to the United States, working at various training bases. In 1945 he was transferred to Iwo Jima, Japan in the Pacific Theatre of Operations flying P-47 Thunderbolts with the 413th Sqn., 414th FG, 10th Air Force.
He left active duty in 1950 with the rank of Major. Urban Leonard Drew died on the 3rd April 2013 at Vista, California and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery on the 19th December 2013.
(1) The fate of 2nd.Lt. Knupp was unknown until a Military Court was held at the Garrison Theater, Osnabrück, Germany from 7th March to the 1st May 1947. In total six German nationals were before the court on ten separate charges.
The fourth 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 23rd September 1944 (sic), in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of Daniel Knupp, 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 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 2nd.Lt. Knupp. Bollenrath had committed suicide on the 5th December 1945 shortly after his arrest.
The court had some difficultly with this case due to the lack of concrete evidence and the conflicting witness testimonies. The only certain piece of evidence was submitted in a War Crimes Pathological Section report which had determined that 2nd.Lt. Knupp had been shot in the head.
A witness named Roehe, a former Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt.), testified that he was told by Stellpflug that Bollenrath had picked up the airman, from an unknown location, and en route to the Rheine airfield stopped the car and made the airman leave the car. He was about to shoot 2nd.Lt. Knupp when the airman realized what was about to happen and allegedly punched Bollenrath in the face. Bollenrath’s unnamed companion, who was apparently a friend and also a gamekeeper, shot and killed the airman.
A second witness named Josef Weber, the former Kreisleiter (District leader) of the Kreis (District) of Burgsteinfurt and a member of the Nazi party, testified that he was at the Rheine airfield when Bollenrath arrived in his car on the day in question. When he stepped out of his car he looked as if he had been in a fight. Weber asked him what had happened and Bollenrath replied that an airman he had captured had attacked him and in defending himself he shot and killed him. Schmitt was convinced that Bollenrath was truthful as he appeared to have been in a fight. Additionally, Schmitt testified that on his way to his command post, when an alert had sounded, he saw the body of an American airman who has bloodstains on his chest.
It was clear from the evidence presented that Bollenrath had shot and killed 2nd.Lt. Knupp. However, the nature of the wounds described in the War Crimes Pathological Section report could not be reconciled with Schmitt’s testimony. It was decided that the evidence presented did not implicate Schmitt, Stellpflug or Henkelhausen on this specific charge and they were therefore found not guilty. Additionally, the question of whether Bollenrath shot 2nd.Lt. Knupp in self-defense or not was not proven.
However, Stellpflug was found guilty on two 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 2nd.Lt. Knupp was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch, Rheine, Row 1, Grave 16 on the 27th September 1944. 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 2nd.Lt. Knupp looked like they were victims of war crimes.
2nd.Lt. Daniel Francis Knupp. Reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery Plot S, Row 6, Grave 143. He was repatriated and buried at the Weller Cemetery, Somerset, Pennsylvania on the 18th June 1949. Born on the 10th April 1922. Son to Jay Edward and Julia C. (née Carmody) Knupp of Somerset, 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’.