12.09.1944 548th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 42-31638 ‘Big Gas Bird’, 1st.Lt. Ramon H. Newman
Operation: Böhlen (Mission #626), Germany
Date: 12th September 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 385th Bombardment Group (H), 548th Bombardment Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Big Gas Bird
Serial No: 42-31638
Location: Ruppertshütten in the Spessart Mountains, Germany
Base: Great Ashfield (Station #155), Suffolk, England
Pilot: 1st.Lt. Ramon Henry Newman O-748456 AAF Age 28. Survived (1)
Co-Pilot: 2nd.Lt. Harvey Dater O-755290 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Navigator: 1st.Lt. Edward Jay Lower O-753146 AAF Age 23. Survived (1)
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. George William Pearson O-723669 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Robert E. Kuhn 15377048 AAF Age 20. Survived (1)
Engineer: Sgt. John Henry Fuchs Jr. 38422290 AAF Age 22. PoW **
Ball Turret Gnr: S/Sgt. Clifton Daniel Estabrook 31283270 AAF Age 21. PoW **
Waist Gnr: S/Sgt. Claude Henry Lyons 34720529 AAF Age? PoW ***
Tail Gnr: S/Sgt Tom Haston Morrissey 35701189 AAF Age 20. PoW **
One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
** Stalag Luft 4 Groß-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
*** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
REASON FOR LOSS:
The Big Gas Bird took off from Great Ashfield on the morning of the 12th September 1944 on a mission to bomb the Braunkohle-Benzin AG synthetic oil refinery at Böhlen, Germany.
An after mission statement described that the Big Gas Bird was hit by flak shortly after bombs away, causing the loss of two engines. The aircraft could not keep up with the formation and was last seen at around 11:30 hrs at the Lat/Long 51 11N, 12 23E, which is about 1¼ miles due south of Böhlen and 11 miles due south of Leipzig. It was gradually losing altitude but appeared to be well under control. No parachutes were seen to leave the aircraft.
From the available Individual Casualty Questionnaires and German records document that all of the crew were aboard the aircraft and that the force-landing was near to Mömbris, in the district of Alzenau, at around 12:00 hrs. However, the location of the fate of four of the crew placed the force-landing near to Ruppertshütten in the Spessart Mountains, some 17 miles to the east of Mömbris.
In the aftermath of being hit by flak or during the landing 1st.Lt. Newman suffered a serious head injury, 2nd.Lt. Dater a small cut over an eye, 1st.Lt. Lower a bad sprain or broken ankle and T/Sgt. Kuhn had unspecified injuries. The four injured crew were last seen under some trees near to the crashed aircraft.
German records falsely documented that Sgt. Fuchs’ body was recovered by police near Tschirn in the district of Kronach, which is some 103 miles east of the crash site.
S/Sgt. Lyons, S/Sgt. Estabrook and S/Sgt Morrissey were captured two days later on the 14th September 1944 at 17:00 hrs in the Glaswald about one mile SSE of Mömbris.
Where or when 2nd.Lt. Pearson and Sgt. Fuchs were captured is not known.
(1) The circumstances leading to the deaths of 1st.Lt. Newman, 2nd.Lt. Dater, 1st.Lt. Lower and T/Sgt. Kuhn were unknown until two General Military Government Courts were convened.
The first of the two General Military Government Courts was convened at Dachau, Germany, from 15th to the 24th August 1946.
Four German nationals where charged in that they did at or near Ruppertshütten, Germany on or about 12th September 1944, wrongfully, encourage, aid, abet, and participate in the killing of Lt. Edward Jay Lower, Lt. Ramon Henry Newman, Lt. Harvey Dater and Sgt. Robert E. Kuhn, all members of the United States Army, who were unarmed and surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
Those named on the charge were:
Christian Blüm who was a former Kriminalsekretär (detective inspector) at Würzburg and a member of the Nazi party;
Kurt Hans who was a former SA-Hauptsturmführer (Capt.) and the Kriminalrat (detective superintendent) of the Kriminalpolizei (criminal police) at Würzburg;
Gottlob Hohloch who was the former Kriminalpolizei head of personnel at Würzburg;
Karl Memmel of whom nothing has been recorded regarding any military or Nazi party affiliations.
The court heard that following a bombing attack on the interior of Germany on the 12th September 1944, a disabled American bomber made a forced-landing near Ruppertshütten in the Spessart mountains.
A search and pursuit unit known as a “Jagdkommando” was despatched from Würzburg. It comprised eleven men, four from the Kriminalpolizei, two from the Gestapo, four Ordnungspolizei (regular uniformed police) and a driver.
When the unit arrived at the location of the aircraft, they found a Gendarme (state rural policeman) and a crowd of between 80 and 100 people standing near to four airmen, two of whom were wounded.
All four airmen were collected and taken into nearby woods by members of the unit where they were shot and killed. Blüm was in command of the Jagdkommando and was identified by a number of witnesses as being present at the location. He was also present when two of those under his command assaulted two of the airmen and present when Hohloch said that each man was to take an airman and “bump him off”.
Memmel testified that Blüm had told him:
“That Albert Ferdinand Hammer and Heinrich Baumann had escorted the airmen towards the woods, that he (Blüm) and Hohloch remained behind to hold back the people, and then he heard the shots in the woods. After that the officials came out of the woods and ordered a vehicle in the village, which fetched the bodies from the woods.”
Hans testified that Blüm was the senior man on the Jagdkommando, which included Hohloch, Heinrich Baumann and Hammer, and as such was in charge of its activities on the day in question. Also that Blüm had made a written report to him stating the airmen had been shot, while trying to escape.
Hohloch stated in his sworn testimony:
“We then went to the mountain where the plane had crashed. There we found one uninjured American soldier who showed us where in the vicinity there were two injured and one uninjured American soldiers. There we divided up in order to search the woods, while the Jagdkommando (pick up squad) of the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei), as well as the men Blüm, Hager, Hammer and Baumann, Zwingmann and Stolz remained with the Americans. When we returned the four soldiers were fatally shot and we were told that they had been shot while attempting to escape, although the two injured ones could hardly move.”
Despite the inconsistent and contradictory statements from the accused it was clear that they played a part in the shooting of the four American airman. However, it appears that the evidence was insufficient to prove the charge and the court decided to acquit Hohloch and Hans and enter a “nolle prosequi” in favour of Memmel.
“nolle prosequi” is a declaration that may be made because the charges cannot be proved because vital witnesses have become unavailable or uncooperative, the evidence is too weak to carry the burden of proof or the evidence is fatally flawed in light of the claims that are brought.
Blüm was found guilty but was only sentenced to one year imprisonment commencing on the 24th August 1946. His sentence was initially disapproved and set aside by an attorney in the Post Trial Branch with a recommendation that a new trial be held for him. However, upon further review, the findings and sentence of the court were approved and Blüm was ordered to be confined at War Criminal Prison No.1, Landsberg, Germany for a period of one year commencing the 24th August 1946.
Although Kurt Hans was acquitted of the charge he was found guilty in an associated case regarding 49 Sqn Lancaster I NG352 and sentenced to death by hanging. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, then reduced to 27 years and he was paroled in September 1954.
The individuals named Zwingmann and Stolz were not before the court and no information concerning them or their whereabouts has been found.
Heinrich Baumann and Hammer were charged for their part in the shootings at the second General Military Government Court which was convened at Dachau, Germany, from 17th September 1947 to 10th October 1947.
A number of German nationals were charged on four separate counts. On the 2nd count of the charges five German Nationals where charged in that they did at or near Ruppertshütten, Germany, on or about 12th September 1944, wrongfully, encourage, aid, abet, and participate in the killing of four members of the US Army, who was then unarmed and surrendered PoWs in the custody of the then German Reich.
Those charged were:
Georg Baumann who was a former member of the Gestapo at Würzburg;
Heinrich Baumann who was a former Kriminalsekretär (detective inspector) of the Kriminalpolizei (criminal police) at Würzburg;
Oswald Gundelach who was a member of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD = Security service of the SS), a policeman and a Gestapo official. His military status was not established;
Albert Ferdinand Hammer who was a former member of the Kriminalpolizei and a SS-Untersturmführer (2nd.Lt.) in the Waffen-SS;
Dr. Richard Schulze who was a former SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt.Col.), the Chef der Gestapo (head of the Gestapo) in Darmstadt and Oberregierungs-und Kriminalrat (Lt.Col.) in the Berlin office.
The court heard that on about the 12th September 1944, a local Jagdkommando was organised to apprehend the four American airmen who had bailed out [sic] in the vicinity of Ruppertshütten and allegedly had received orders to shoot all Allied airmen that it apprehended. The unit included Georg Baumann, Heinrich Baumann, Gundelach and Hammer.
The unit was guided to the location of the crashed aircraft and where one airman had already been captured. The airman was taken to the site of an old camp where two other injured airmen were tending a fourth who had a bandaged head and was unable to lift himself from the ground. They were all searched and found to be unarmed. Georg Baumann was then directed by Christian Blüm (see serial 1 above) to return to the site of the aircraft crash to await the expected arrival of a Luftwaffe unit and to act as a messenger.
Testimony was presented that at the time that the airmen were being shot Georg Baumann was in the company of Blüm and a substantial distance from where the shootings took place.
Heinrich Baumann took one airman into the woods and slapped him about the face before bringing him back to the others. He then took another airman into the woods where he shot and killed him. At no time did the airman attempt to escape. The gunshots were heard by Gottlob Hohloch, who later saw the airman’s dead body.
Heinrich Baumann admitted that he shot one airman twice in the head but claimed that the airman was attempting to escape. He also claimed that when he returned to the site of the old camp, he found Gundelach and Hammer together with the remaining three airmen who were dead, although not at the same spot where they had been when he left.
However, in a statement made by Gundelach he claimed that Heinrich Baumann had shot two of the airmen. Hans testified that Heinrich Baumann admitted to him that he had shot the airmen but Hans could not recall whether he shot two or three.
In a statement made by Hammer he recalled that Hohloch asked him what was to happen to the airmen and to which he replied that they were to be killed. After one of the airmen had been shot by Baumann, Hammer ordered Hohloch to accompany him and another airman into the forest. After they had gone about 100 metres into the forest, Hammer sent Hohloch to determine if the airman that was shot by Baumann was dead.
Hohloch had gone about 15 to 20 metres when he heard a shot from behind him. He turned round and saw the airmen lying on the ground and Hammer standing over him with a pistol in his hand, The airman had a bullet hole in his head and was dead. Hammer told Hohloch that the airman was shot because he was trying to escape.
Hammer then returned to the old camp and took a second airman into the woods and there shot him. The two remaining airmen at the old camp were shot by Gundelach and Heinrich Baumann.
Although the statements differ in detail it was clear that three of the accused participated in the shooting of the four American airmen.
The justification for these murders stemmed from the summer of 1944 when a regular meeting of police leaders at which Kurt Hans was a guest speaker. The gist of the speech was that enemy airmen had bombed non-military targets and that the airmen were therefore outside the protection of international law.
The original orders had been for police to apprehend downed airmen and take them to the nearest Luftwaffe airbase or if that was not possible, to notify the Wehrmacht. Hans told those at the meeting that weapons were to be used immediately when “Terrorflieger” (Terror flyers) attempted to escape but no action could be taken if the military authorities had been informed.
He also informed the meeting that a “Jagdkommando” (a hunting team comprised of Kriminalpolizei, Gestapo, SS and Nazi party members) was available for apprehending any downed airmen and that the presence of downed airmen in the district was to be reported to the Kriminalpolizei. The “Jagdkommando”, was an agency supervised by Schulze, and it was alleged to have orders to shoot all Allied airmen that it apprehended.
Heinrich Baumann, Hammer and Gundelach were found guilty on this charge and the 1st charge and were sentenced to death. Heinrich Baumann and Hammer were both executed on the 26th November 1948. Gundelach’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, then reduced to 20 years and he was released in March 1953.
Georg Baumann and Schulze were found not guilty on this charge;
Georg Baumann was found guilty on the 1st charge and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment commencing 15th February 1946. He was released in February 1948;
Schulze was found guilty on the 1st and 4th charges and sentenced to death by hanging. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment then reduced to 33 years and he was paroled in December 1956.
Addendum: A book published in 2020 by Schulze‘s grandson (reference 1) points out that the only evidence which connects Dr. Richard Schulze with the airmen murders as detailed in charge numbers 1 to 4 is the witness Kömm who testified that Schulze allegedly issued that killing order to the assembled participants of the meeting at Berlin. However Kömm was the only participant of the meeting who claims to have heard this order issued. Eight other men present, high-ranking CID officers from Düsseldorf, Kiel, Bochum, Recklinghausen, Flensburg, Bremen and Frankfurt, according to their post-trial sworn statements, testified that Schulze had said nothing of the sort but rather the contrary.
All those that perished were initially buried at the Ruppertshütten cemetery.
1st.Lt. Ramon Henry Newman. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Reinterred at the American Lorraine Cemetery, Plot DD, Row 8, Grave 185. Relocated to Plot A, Row 20, Grave 6. Born on the 23rd March 1916 in Eldorado, Schleicher County, Texas. Son of Henry Offie and Verna l. (née Kirkpatrick) Newman from Coleman, Texas, USA.
(Right: Courtesy Gilly - FindAGrave) 2nd.Lt. Harvey Dater. Reinterred at the American Lorraine Cemetery. Born in 1921. Repatriated and buried at the Congregation Beth Tefilo Cemetery Nusach Hari Grave: F-008, Ferndale, Oakland County, Michigan. Husband of Anne Dater from Lansing, Michigan, USA
(Left: Courtesy William Cunningham - FindAGrave) 1st.Lt. Edward Jay Lower. Reinterred at the American Lorraine Cemetery. Born on the 12th September 1921, Tyrone, Blair County, Pennsylvania. Repatriated at buried at Pine Hall Cemetery, Section 5, Row 3, Stone 15, State College, Centre County, Pennsylvania. Son to Robert Piper and Emma M. (née Harris) Loser from Nittany Village, State College, Pennsylvania, USA.
T/Sgt. Robert E. Kuhn. Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Reinterred at the American Lorraine Cemetery, Plot DD, Row 8, Grave 184. Relocated to Plot A, Row 19, Grave 6. Born in 1924, Ohio. Son to Raymond E. and Emma Virginia (née Moreland) Lucas from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
1. Torsten Meyer, In schwierigen Zeiten. Annäherung an den Großvater, Norderstedt 2020, ISBN 9 783750 478275.