30.05.1944 362nd Fighter Squadron P-51B Mustang, 43-12468 ’Southern Belle’ Capt. Fletcher E. Adams DFC
Operation: Bomber escort (Mission #380) to Bernburg, Germany
Date: 30th May 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 357th Fighter Group, 362nd Fighter Squadron, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51B Southern Belle
Base: Leiston (Station #373), Suffolk, England
Location: ¾ km east of Tiddische, Germany
Pilot: Capt. Fletcher Eugene Adams DFC O-740324 AAF Age 22. Survived/Murdered
Capt. Fletcher E. Adams DFC. (Credit: American Air Museum in Britain)
The only known image of Capt. Adams' P-51B Mustang 'Southern Belle' (Courtesy: The National Archives of the USA)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Capt. Adams took off on the morning of the 30th May 1944 from Leiston on a mission to escort bombers on a mission to Bernburg in Germany. Capt. Adams failed to return from the mission.
The following is the after mission statement provided by O-745482 1st Lt. Gilbert M. O’Brian on the 31st May 1944:
“I last saw Capt. Fletcher E. Adams at approximately 1230 hours on the 30th May 1944 in the vicinity of Celle, Germany. I was leading Capt. Adams’ element at about 25,000 ft., trying to over-take our Bombers, when four Bf-109’s came down on us from behind and out of the sun. They were at about seven o'clock. Before I knew what was happening, tracers were going over my wing and into my plane. I broke straight down, calling for the rest of the flight to follow suit. As I broke, I looked up and got a flashing picture of an Bf-109 firing, from close range, at Capt. Adams. I saw him streaming coolant or coolant smoke. Shortly after this Capt. Adams aircraft rolled over on its back and split-s'd*. His ship was in a controlled roll and apparently he himself had not been hit”.
* The 'split-s' is an air combat manoeuvre mostly used to disengage from combat. To execute a ‘split-s’, the pilot half-rolls his aircraft inverted and executes a descending half-loop, resulting in level flight in the exact opposite direction at a lower altitude.
The fate of Capt. Adams was unknown until a General Government Military Court was convened at Dachau, Germany on the 8th and 9th July 1946.
Two German Nationals were charged that they did, at or near Tiddische, Germany, on or about the 30th May 1944, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of an unknown member of the United States Army, who was then an unarmed surrendered PoW in the custody of the then German Reich, by shooting him with guns. The unknown airman was eventually identified as Capt. Fletcher Eugene Adams despite the obvious and deliberate attempt to prevent the identification of his remains.
The two charged were Gustav Heidmann, who was the former head of the Volkssturm (home guard/militia) in Tiddische and a member of the Nazi party, and Erich Schnelle who claimed that he had military status which could not be corroborated.
The court heard that shortly after noon on the 30th May 1944 an American plane crashed near to Tiddische, Germany. The pilot bailed out and landed about 250 metres from his crashed aircraft.
Heidmann, as the temporary commander of the Volkssturm went to the scene of the crash and found the pilot in the custody of three Wehrmacht soldiers. Heidmann took custody of the airman and started in the direction of the village. En route they encountered a man named Funke, who was Heidmann’s superior in the Volkssturm with the rank of Hauptwachtmeister (M/Sgt) in the Gendarmerie (State rural police).
Funke took charge of the airman who was taken to the Gendarmerie headquarters (HQ) in Tiddische. Funke was seen to strike the airman upon entering the HQ. Heidmann left the HQ but was later summoned to return. He was then ordered to detail two men to accompany Funke and execute the airman. Heidmann selected Schnelle after which Funke ordered the pair to accompany him.
Funke, Heidmann, Schnelle and the airman were seen by witnesses to enter some woods in the vicinity of the village. Other witnesses testified that they had heard several shots shortly thereafter and when they entered the woods to investigate came across Funke, Heidmann and Schnelle standing over the dead body of the airman.
Heidmann admitted shooting the airman but claimed that he had fired after Funke had fired the fatal shots. However, by his own admission the airman was still breathing when he shot him.
The court found both the accused guilty of the charge and sentenced Heidmann to death by hanging and Schnelle to 20 years imprisonment commencing on the 28th April 1945. Heidmann’s sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, then reduced to 20 years and he was paroled in January 1954. Schnelle was released in March 1950.
From the testimonies presented to the court it was clear that Funke was the chief suspect in the shooting of the airman, however, it is not known why he was not before the court to answer for the crime.
“Bleeding Sky” The story of Captain Fletcher E. Adams and the 357th Fighter Group - by Joey Maddox
Capt. Fletcher E. Adams was a Fighter Ace with nine confirmed kills. (x4 Bf-109 (x2 in one sortie)), x3 Me-110 (all in one sortie), x1 Fw-190, x1 shared Bf-109, x1 shared Me-410
Above: Newspaper cutting reporting Capt. Adams' repatriation and reburial service. (Credit of John A. Prime - FindAGrave)
Above Grave marker at the Bethsaida Cemetery. (Credit John A. Prime - FindAGrave)
Capt. Fletcher Eugene Adams. DFC (Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal (6 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Recovered during April 1945 and initially interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Plot F, Row 12, Grave 288. Repatriated in 1949 and buried at the Bethsaida Cemetery, Ida, Louisiana. Born on the 2nd August 1921. Son of Noel Lloyd and Blanche (née Shaw) Adams. Husband to Mary Aline (née Yancy) Adams.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’