Operation: Escort mission to Hannover, Germany
Date: 26th November 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 355th Fighter Group, 357th Fighter Squadron, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51B Mustang
Base: Steeple Morden (Station #122), Cambridgeshire, England
Location: In the vicinity of Darfeld, Germany
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Charles W. Kelley O-826462 AAF Age 25. Survived/Murdered
REASON FOR LOSS:
P-51B 42-106910 took off at 10:13 hrs on the 26th November 1944 from Steeple Morden as part of the four aircraft Custard Yellow flight on an escort mission to Hannover.
Capt. Fred R. Haviland Jr., was leading Custard Yellow flight on the return leg at 25,000ft when Custard Yellow #2 called and requested to descend to a lower altitude as his engine was running exceedingly rough. 2nd Lt. Kelley flying Custard Yellow #4 was slightly behind the rest of the formation and did not hear the plan. When the other aircraft in the flight had reached 20,000ft 2nd.Lt. Kelley descended rapidly to catch up with them and was travelling faster than the others. In order to reduce speed 2nd Lt. Kelley started to fishtail his aircraft (Sliding from side to side in a series of mild wing overs) and did not see 1st Lt. Bernard R.J. Barab’s aircraft (P-51D, 44-13574, OS:A) with the sun at 10 o’clock.
Capt. Haviland Jr., shouted for 1st Lt. Barab to break left but the warning was too late and 2nd Lt. Kelley’s aircraft hit him from the below on the starboard wing. The starboard wing of 1st Lt. Barab’s aircraft was severed level with the wing guns and the starboard horizontal stabilizer was torn off. The port wing of 2nd Lt. Kelley’s aircraft came off at the root and the entire tail section broke off at the star (National Insignia). Both aircraft fell out of the sky and crashed in the Rheine area of Germany. No parachutes were seen in the air.
The precise location of 2nd Lt. Kelley’s aircraft is not known but a witness on the ground claimed an aircraft, what is believed to be 1st Lt. Barab’s aircraft, crashed about 4 km north of Darfeld which is about 26 km SSW from the Rheine airfield.
1st Lt. Bernard R.J. Barab O-796643 died in the crash and was buried on the 27th November 1944 in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch, Rheine. He was reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium, Plot JJ, Row 11, Grave 274. Relocated to Plot C, Row 6, Grave 52. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Son of Samuel and Mary (née Curran) Barab of Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA.
The fate of 2nd Lt. Kelley was unknown until a Military Court was held at the Garrison Theater, Osnabrück, Germany from 7th March to the 1st May 1947. In total six German nationals were before the court on ten separate charges.
The seventh 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 27th November 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned with Bollenrath in the killing of Lieutenant Charles Kelly (sic), 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.
In the course of the trial proceedings it was established that a Fritz Bollenrath, a former SA (Sturmabteilung = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party)-Standartenführer (equates to Col) and official in charge of the Rheine outpost of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst of the SS) at Rheine, systematically shot a number of Allied airmen who were delivered into his hands. The prosecution maintained that the four accused aided and abetted Bollenrath in the killing of 2nd Lt. Kelley. Bollenrath committed suicide on the 5th December 1945 shortly after his arrest.
The circumstances of 2nd Lt. Kelley’s escape from his doomed aircraft and his subsequent capture are unknown. However, it was possible to reconstruct the events for the morning of the 27th November from evidence which described how Bollenrath had arrived by car at the Kommandantur (Commandant’s Office) with an Allied airman. He had a conversation with Stellpflug and Hackethal during which Bollenrath stated that the airman must be shot.
They apparently drank some Schnapps after which they all went down to Bollenrath’s car and drove into the nearby Muniwald (Muni woods) where they stopped. Hackethal and Stellpflug made conflicting statements to the court as to what transpired next. However, after the airman was made to exit the car, by his own admission, Stellpflug fired a shot at the airman. Additionally, both Hackethal and Stellpflug testified that Bollenrath had also shot at the airman. It was not possible to establish who fired the fatal shot but according to a War Crimes Pathological Section report 2nd Lt. Kelley’s death was the result of two gunshot wounds to the head and there was no mention of any other injuries.
In the Judge Advocate’s summing up of this case he concluded that Bollenrath ordered Stellpflug to shoot the airman, which he refused to do as did Hackethal when ordered to do so. In a rage Bollenrath fired one shot at the airman and then viciously kicked him in the side. The airman fell to the ground and Bollenrath fired a second shot into him. Bollenrath and Hackethal carried the dead airman into the woods and left him there.
At the end of the case for the prosecution it was decided that there was no evidence against Klöpzig and he was therefore released. On this specific charge Schmitt and Henkelhausen were found not guilty.
Stellpflug was found guilty of this and Charge 10 of 10, and was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on the 5th September 1947 in Hameln (Hamelin) prison. Hackethal was also found guilty on this charge and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment but was released in 1956.
German records document that 2nd Lt. Kelley was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch, Rheine, Row 1, Grave 8 on the 27th 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 2nd Lt. Kelley looked like they were victims of war crimes.
(Credit: Carolyn Clark-FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Charles W. Kelley. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster). Reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery Plot S, Row 6, Grave 139 as X-1703. He was repatriated in June 1949 and buried at the Mount Bethel United Methodist Church Cemetery, Crimora, Augusta County in Virginia. Born on the 2nd August 1919. Son to William R. Kelley of Grottoes, Harriston, Virginia, USA.
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’.
RS 07.11.2019 - Editorial update
RS 03.05.2019 - Initial upload
RS 07.05.2019 - Update to Bollenrath details.
RS 28.06.2019 - addition of link to other war crime
RS 07.11.2019 - Editorial update
Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them. Franklin Delano RooseveltAll site material (except as noted elsewhere) is owned or managed by Aircrew Remembered and should not be used without prior permission.