29.06.1944 364th Fighter Squadron P-51B 43-6974 ‘Mr Period’, Capt. Richard C. Smith
Operation: Bomber escort to Leipzig, Germany
Date: 29th June 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: No. 364th Fighter Squadron (357th Fighter Group), 8th Air Force
Type: P-51B Mustang
Serial: 43-6974 Mr Period
Base: Leiston (Station #373), Suffolk, England
Location: Seesen, SW of Brunswick
Pilot: Capt. Richard C. Smith O-742909 AAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Capt. Richard C. Smith standing on the wing of ‘Mr Period’ (Credit: US 8th Air Force Little Friends Site)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Capt. Smith and his fellow pilots took off from Leiston on the morning of the 29th June 1944 to escort a bomber mission to Leipzig, Germany.
An after-action report from 2nd.Lt. Allen Jr., Capt. Smith’s wingman, reported an encounter with three Bf-109 fighters. Two of the flight of four Mustang’s engaged the Bf-109’s whilst he and Capt. Smith provided top cover. Two other Bf-109’s appeared and as they were being engaged by himself and Capt. Smith they in turn came under attack from a lone Fw-190. The two Mustangs broke away from the enemy aircraft which placed 2nd.Lt. Allen’s aircraft in a position to fire on the Fw-190 and observe hits to its engine. After the engagement was over 2nd.Lt. Allen reported that there was no sign of Capt. Smith’s aircraft and he did not hear him on the R/T. However, another pilot from the 363rd Fighter Squadron reported that at about 0900 hours he heard a voice over the R/T saying “This is Rick Smith, I’m bailing out” which was repeated twice.
The last known position of Capt. Smith and his aircraft was about 20 miles SW of Leipzig.
(1) It was established that Mr Period crashed 3 miles NE of Seesen which is some 25 miles SW of Brunswick. Capt. Smith had successfully bailed out and landed in a field between Seesen and some woods. He was captured and handed over to the Gendarmerie (District rural police). Capt. Smith was killed by a member of the Gendarmerie and was later buried near his crashed aircraft.
After hostilities ceased a US Army investigation resulted in Eduard Karl Ludwig Curdts, and Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Warneke, both German nationals, being tried before a General Military Government Court convened in Dachau, Germany on the 22nd and 23rd January 1947.
The court charged Curdts and Warneke, that they, at or near Seesen, in or about June or July 1944, willfully, deliberately and wrongfully encouraged, aided, abetted and participated in the killing of an unknown member of the United States Army who was an unarmed, surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich. At the time of the trial the identity of the unknown airman had not been established as Capt. Smith.
The charges against Warneke were withdrawn and he was not tried by the court. It has not been possible to establish the reason why the charge was withdrawn.
The court heard that during the month of June or July 1944 a plane crashed, and an unidentified American airman was captured near Seesen. Three members of the Rural Police (Gendarmerie) took charge of the airman. Two of them, Curdts and Cleve, held NCO ranks in this police force with Cleve being the immediate superior of Curdts. The third, Warneke, was an officer. The US trial papers give their ranks as “Master Sergeant", "1st Sergeant" and "Lieutenant", respectively. A witness named Mackensen testified that Curdts and Warneke took the airman by car to the location of the aircraft wreckage. Here Warneke gave Curdts the choice to shoot or not shoot the airman. They then took Capt. Smith into the woods some 200 yards away from the crash site where Curdts shot the airman in the head, killing him instantly. The accused had admitted to the killing in an extrajudicial statement but claimed that he was acting on the orders of Warneke. Another witness described how he and others buried the airman’s body the same day.
The court found Curdts guilty of the charge and sentenced him to death by hanging. The sentence was approved by the Reviewing Authority and carried out on the 15th July 1947.
Capt. Richard C. Smith. DFC, Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. He was reinterred on the 13th May 1945 in the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands in Plot R, Row 1, Grave 115 as ‘Unknown X-512’ before final interment in Plot D, Row 11, Grave 22. Born in 1922 in Iowa. Son to Emily Kimble and step-son to George E. Kimble of Otego County, Colorado, USA.
(credit: 357th FG Yoxford Boys site & Fields of Honor)
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of the Pilot with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report.