25.04.1944 355th Fighter Squadron P-51B Mustang 43-12486, 1st Lt. William J. Simmons SS
Operation: Fighter sweep, Germany
Date: 25th April 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit No: 355th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, 100th Fighter Wing, XIX Tactical Air Command, 9th Air Force
Type: P-51B Mustang
Base: Lashenden (Station #410), Kent, England
Location: SW of Michelfeld, Germany
Pilot: 1st Lt. William Junion Simmons SS, O-744781 AAF Age 22. Murdered
P-51B 43-7065 ‘Wild Bill’ was the Mustang which 1st Lt. Simmons flew up to the 13th April 1944. (Courtesy American Air Museum in Britain)
1st Lt. William J. Simmons was a fighter ace with six confirmed kills to his credit (3 x Bf-109, 3 x Fw-190). He also had five damaged (4 x Bf-109, 1 x Ju-88) and one shared probable kill (Fw-190) to his credit.
REASON FOR LOSS:
1st Lt. Simmons took off from Lashenden on the morning of the 25th April 1944 on a fighter sweep mission over Germany.
At about 09:45 hrs, Mustang 43-12486 was hit by flak from the Light Flak Unit 3./72 and crashed.
The after mission report by 1st Lt. William I. Davis described that 1st Lt. Simmons was leading the 2nd element of the flight which was the first to strafe the airfield (believed to be the Schwäbisch Hall airbase, aka Hessental). He did not see 1st.Lt. Simmons’ aircraft hit by anti-aircraft fire. When he had passed the airfield he saw an aircraft catch fire and its tail break off. The pilot bailed out and the last he saw was the parachute which was half inflated at around 2000ft.
On the 25th April 1944 the Schwäbisch Hall airbase suffered a low level attack which destroyed one Do 217 M-1 from Erprobungskommando 36 on the ground (Luftwaffe Airfields 1935-45 Germany (1937 Borders) - Henry L.deZeng IV)
1st Lt. Davis then endeavoured to pick up his flight but they had climbed up through the overcast. He then circled around looking for any airborne enemy aircraft to engage. He then spotted a parachute on the ground so circled overhead at about 200ft. He definitely saw a person standing next to the parachute, but as far as he could make out, this individual was not wearing a Mae West although it appeared that he was wearing a leather jacket but had no head covering. This person looked up and sort of half waved at him as he flew over. This happened about 1½ to 2 minutes after the pilot who had bailed out had landed but he did not recognise the individual who waved as being 1st Lt. Simmons.
According to a German message the P-51 was 98% destroyed and carried on its nose a diamond playing card and the name ‘Bill’ in white*. The pilot was taken to the Reservelazarett (Hospital) at Schwäbisch Hall but died of his injuries.
* It is known that the Ace of Diamonds was the symbol on P-51B 43-7065 ‘Wild Bill’ which was 1st Lt. Simmons’ Mustang but he flew a different Mustang on this mission. The only other known aircraft with a playing card symbol was the Ace of Clubs on P-51D 44-63711 'Killer' flown by Maj. Bob Stephens, the 355th FS Commanding Officer. It may have been possible that the symbol of the Ace of Diamonds and the name ‘Wild Bill’ was transferred to 43-12486.
The extent of 1st Lt. Simmons injuries and how they may have been inflicted came to light when a General Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany on the 11th June 1947.
A German national named Karl Mack was charged with committing a war crime in that he did, at or near Michelfeld, Germany, on or about the 25th April 1944, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States Army, believed to be 1st Lt. William J. Simmons, ASN O-744781, who was then and there a wounded, surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the German Reich.
The court heard that on the 25th April 1944 an American airman parachuted from an aircraft in the vicinity of Michelfeld in Germany. His parachute collapsed about 300ft from the ground and landed heavily in the soft dirt making a hole in the ground about 18 inches deep. It was reported that the first man to arrive at the scene was a man named Hartmann who struck 1st Lt. Simmons about the head with a pole. Three witnesses testified that Mack was not at the scene, however, all four witnesses for the prosecution had heard that Mack had beaten the airman.
Mack’s extrajudicial sworn statement showed that he was mentally incompetent but he admitted that he had hit the airman once in order to make himself look important before his fellow citizens. 1st Lt. Simmons died the same day from a fractured skull but he was alive when he was taken to the hospital. It is probable that 1st Lt. Simmons was severely injured from the landing. It is not known whether being struck about the head by Hartmann and Mack caused his head injuries or the blows exacerbated the injuries sustained during the hard landing.
The court acquitted Mack of the charge. It is not known why the individual named Hartmann was not before the court.
(Above: this is location of the crash site as superimposed upon a modern map of the area)
Manfred Wolf (Reference 1) has researched the shooting down of 1st Lt. Simmons and determined that his aircraft crashed between Leoweiler, a small hamlet of three houses, and the Straßenmeisterei, a maintenance depot which is about ½ mile WSW of Michelfeld and about 5½ miles WSW of the Schwäbisch Hall airbase.
He also established that 1st Lt. Simmons landed near to his crashed aircraft. Additionally he believed that the individual who waved at 1st Lt. Davis, as he circled overhead, may have been Karl Mack.
Left (Courtesy: Jon Strupp-FindAGrave); Right (Courtesy: James R. Mason-FindAGrave)
1st Lt. William Junion Simmons. Silver Star, Air Medal (11 Oak Leaf Clusters (2 Silver)). No initial burial location is recorded. He was interred in the American Lorraine Cemetery before being repatriated and buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Graceland, Lot 6205-4 in Glendale, Los Angeles County, California. Born in 1923. No further details.
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’. Many thanks also to Manfred Wolf for his permission to use his research.
1. Manfred Wolf, Heimatgeschichtliche Blätter der Gemeinde Michelfeld Nr. 64 Jg. 18 (November 2011)