21.11.1944 505th Fighter Squadron P-51D Mustang 44-14092, Capt. Charles W. Dowell DFC
Operation: Escort mission to Merseburg, Germany
Date: 21st November 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: 339th Fighter Group, 505th Fighter Squadron, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51D Mustang
Base: Fowlmere (Station No. 378), Cambridgeshire, England
Location: SW of Schöppingen, Germany
Pilot: Capt. Charles W. Dowell DFC, O-410481 AAF Age 27. Survived/Murdered
REASON FOR LOSS:
Capt. Dowell took off from Fowlmere on the morning of the 21st November 1944 on a bomber escort mission to Merseburg.
An after action statement made by FO. Gerald W. Palmer, flying as ‘Red’ #2, described that after strafing an airfield Capt. Dowell, flying as ‘Red’ #3, and he were flying together at about 2000 feet when they encountered a Bf-109. They both fired at the German aircraft and shot it down. Capt. Dowell then radioed him telling him that he was having problems. FO. Palmer surmised that his aircraft must have been hit by flak when attacking the airfield. Capt. Dowell bailed out at about 1500 feet and his parachute was seen to open and he appeared to land safely.
A German record reported that his P-51 crashed on the 21st November 1944 at 13:00 hrs 4 km SW of Schöppingen which is about 26 km SSW of Rheine, Germany and was 97% destroyed.
The fate of Capt. Dowell was unknown until a British Military Court was held at the Garrison Theatre, Osnabrück, Germany from 7th March to the 1st May 1947. In total six German nationals were before the court on ten separate charges.
The sixth of the charges accused four German nationals of committing a war crime in that they, at or near the Rheine airfield in Germany on or about the 23rd November 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned with the killing of Lieutenant (sic) Charles Dowell, United States Army Air Force, PoW.
The four accused were Heinz Stellpflug, a former Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt) and chief clerk responsible to Franz Schmitt a former Luftwaffe Major (Maj) and Commanding Officer of the Rheine airfield; August Hackethal a former Luftwaffe Feldwebel (Sgt) and clerk; Karl Henkelhausen a former Luftwaffe Major (Maj) who was Schmitt’s second in command; Walter Klöpzig, a former Luftwaffe Maj. and one time adjutant to Henkelhausen. They were all stationed at the Rheine airfield located 2½ miles NW of the town of Rheine in the province of Westphalia.
A witness named Faust, who was a former Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (Cpl), testified that during the winter of 1944 he was in charge of the guard detention barracks at the Rheine airfield. On or about the day in question he had a wounded Allied airman in custody but was not certain of his nationality. He sent the airman to the airfield hospital for treatment which was refused and he was returned to the detention cells. Testimony indicated that the airman’s head was bandaged, however the circumstances leading to his capture are unknown.
Friedrich Hochstätter, who was a former Wehrmacht Gefreiter (L/Cpl) and an assistant clerk to Stellpflug, testified that a conference attended by Stellpflug, Hackethal and a Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (Cpl) named Scheffel took place at about the same time as the wounded airman had been sent to the hospital. He did not known what was said but he saw Scheffel leaving some time later armed with a pistol.
Scheffel visited the Kommandantur (Headquarters building) once a week. He was stationed at a nearby camp in Antekoje, which billeted Italian military personnel*.
*Following the armistice between Italy and the Allied armed forces the Italian soldiers and officers were confronted with the choice to continue fighting as allies of the German army (either in the armed forces of the Italian Social Republic, the German puppet regime in northern Italy, or in Italian "volunteer" units in the German armed forces) or, otherwise, be sent to detention camps in Germany. It is possible that the Italian personnel at Antekoje were some of the 10% that agreed to enrol as “volunteers” as they were reported to be wearing uniforms with German rank insignia.
The court heard that Scheffel went to the guardroom where he saw Faust and asked him to hand over the airman. Faust phoned the Kommandantur and spoke to either Hackethal or Stellpflug who ordered him to hand over the airman. As Scheffel departed with the airman he called out to the guards present in the guardroom, “You won’t see him anymore”.
Hackethal testified that between 30 and 45 minutes after the phone call from the guardroom Scheffel arrived at the Kommandantur without the airman and said “He had shot him after an attempt to escape”. Scheffel apparently told Hochstätter to go back and loot the body which he had left lying somewhere on the edge of the Muniwald (wood).
Hochstätter then ordered a Josef Biegansky, a former Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (Cpl.), to get a squad of two men and bury the airman. Biegansky testified that he had seen the airman in Faust’s custody and that he recognised the body as being the same person whose name he remembered was Dowell. He thought that the airman had been shot in the neck at close range.
According to a War Crimes Pathological Section report Capt. Dowell had suffered a gunshot wound to the base of the skull which, in the opinion of Maj. Mant, RAMC, had been fired from close range.
At the end of the case for the prosecution it was decided that there was no evidence against Klöpzig and he was therefore released.
The court deemed that the evidence presented was not sufficient to convict the three remaining accused and therefore on this specific charge Schmitt, Stellpflug, Henkelhausen were found not guilty. The evidence heard by the court clearly implicated Scheffel in the killing of Capt. Dowell. It is not known why he was not before the court.
However, Stellpflug was found guilty on two of the other charges and was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on the 5th September 1947 in Hameln (Hamelin) prison.
German records document that Capt. Dowell was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch, Rheine on the 23rd November 1944. A British war crimes team disinterred a number of bodies from the cemetery after the war and discovered that of the eight American servicemen buried there, five including that of Capt. Dowell looked like they were victims of war crimes.
(Credit: Linda FindAGrave and the Chula Vista Star, 10 June 1949)
Capt. Charles W. Dowell. DFC, Air Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters). Reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery Plot S, Row 6, Grave 135. He was repatriated and buried on the 3rd June 1949 at the Fort Rosencrans National Cemetery, Plot H-417, San Diego, California. Born on the 22nd March 1917. Son to Charles Oscar and Nellie W. (née Roach) Dowell of San Diego, California, USA.
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’.