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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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9th Air Force
31.03.1945 353rd Fighter Squadron P-51D ‘Tootsie’, 2nd.Lt. John Patrick Ryan Jr.

Operation: Fighter sweep, Erfurt area

Date: 31st March 1945 (Saturday)

Unit: 353rd Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, 100th Fighter Wing, XIX Tactical Air Command, 9th Air Force

Type: P-51D Tootsie

Serial: 44-63659

Code: FT:?

Base: ALG A-98 'Rosieres-en-Haye'

Location: Near the village of Hopfgarten, Germany

Pilot: 2nd.Lt. John Patrick Ryan Jr. O-716263 AAF Age 22. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the morning of the 31st March 1944 2nd.Lt. Ryan as the wing man to the flight leader of a flight of four Mustangs took off from the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-98 at 'Rosieres-en-Haye' to undertake a fighter sweep in the Erfurt area in Germany.

The after-mission report by 1st.Lt. Warren H. Jolly described the events of the loss of Mustangs of 1st.Lt. Walker and 2nd.Lt. Ryan:

“I was flying No.3 position in Rover Green flight. We had just started our turn back to base when we spotted a train travelling east. It was just west of the town of Erfurt. We made two 180° turns and started our strafing run from the north to the south. 1st Lt. Calvin S. Walker, Green Flight leader, called over the R/T and told me to hit the engine. I was spaced well behind Lt. Walker and saw him and his wingman, 2nd.Lt. John P. Ryan, who was flying close line abreast with him begin shooting at one of the boxcars in the middle of the train. The boxcar exploded as Lt. Ryan's and Lt. Walker's a/c passed over it and I saw the wings come off of one of the ships which I think was Lt. Ryan's. The other ship was just in the edge of the explosion and still going straight toward it when I broke away in a steep climbing left turn. This blacked out the scene for me and when I levelled out and looked back I did not see either ship or any parachutes. They were too near the ground to jump. We called both Lt. Walker and Lt. Ryan over the R/T but received no answer. After this I set course for base with my wingman”.

An association of local historians, amongst whom was Herr Bernd Schmidt of Weimar, gathered evidence from contemporary witnesses of the train explosion on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. Although the witnesses knew the train explosion was caused by a low-level attack of USAAF fighters, they did not know the names of the pilots who were killed when their aircraft were caught in the explosion and crashed. It was Herr Schmidt who found out which Mustangs were lost that day at Hopfgarten and completed the document trail which identified the two pilots. From this research he is about to publish a book which tells the story of that fateful day. It is scheduled to be published some time in 2020. (See acknowledgments).

The following is a summary of the events from the perspective of the residents from Hopfgarten.

Hopfgarten is a village, at that time of 670 souls, some 7¾ km to the west of Weimar, which has a local railway station on its southern edge. On the 31st March 1945, the station manager was advised that a freight train was coming with some of its wagons full of ammunition. At the same time, an air warning sounded and the station manager decided to send the train back along the track so as not to have these dangerous goods in the midst of the village. The engineer and the stoker of the train managed to back up to a point outside the built-up area and quickly took cover in an underpass under the tracks as the aircraft approached.

Three American aircraft dived on the stationary train and wagons. The two leading aircraft strafed the wagons while the third, which was trailing the first two, targeted the engine. The wagons exploded and tore off the wings from the first aircraft, and also engulfed the second aircraft which flew straight into the airborne debris.


Above: The site of the explosion, photographed by the USAAF in April 1945. Credit: Herr Bernd Schmidt

The explosion was so powerful that it wrecked the whole village, thankfully without causing any civilian fatalities. The witness evidence was full of graphic detail, e.g. that the crater was 90 ft long, 150 ft wide and 30 ft deep and that most of the houses and barns in the village lost their windows and roof tiles.

2nd.Lt. Ryan’s aircraft came down near Hopfgarten where he was buried by the villagers. 1st.Lt. Walker, whose aircraft crashed near the village of Utzberg, some 2¼ km WSW of Hopfgarten, was buried there by the villagers. An old inhabitant of Utzberg, Gerda (née Hertel) Stötzer, then a small girl, recalls having been present at the burial, and that a man from Utzberg, Ernst Schachtschabel, even spoke words of mourning, a small funeral speech, for the deceased.

The US Graves Registration Command succeeded in exhuming 1st.Lt. Walker’s remains before the US Army left the then Soviet Zone of Occupation in July 1945. However, it was not until the summer of 1949 that the remains of 2nd.Lt. Ryan were found, identified and repatriated to the USA.

Burial Details

Left: 2nd.Lt. Ryan Jr. Credit of the 354th Fighter Group website, Right: Newspaper clipping from The Paducah Sun Democrat dated Thursday 8th October 1945

2nd.Lt. John Patrick Ryan Jr. Repatriated and buried at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Fleming County, Kentucky on the 16th January 1950. Born on the 6th October 1922. Son of Mr. and Mrs. John P. Ryan from Paducah, McCracken County, Kentucky, USA.






Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this Pilot with thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. These authors are indebted to Herr Bernd Schmidt for liberal access to his vast collection of documents, and for his permission to publish his findings on this web page. Bernd Schmidt has written a brochure covering the incident under the title “Der Tieffliegerangriff und die Zugexplosion von Hopfgarten.”. Thanks also to Daniel Carrizales the site administrator for the 354th Fighter Group website for the image of 2nd.Lt. Ryan Jr.

RS & TV 18.12.2020 - Initial upload

Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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Last Modified: 30 July 2021, 15:55

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