24.12.1944 362nd Fighter Squadron P-51D Mustang, 44-11198 ‘Libby-B’ Capt. William H. Mooney Jr.
Operation: Bomber escort (Mission #760) to Frankfurt, Germany
Date: 24th December 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 357th Fighter Group, 362nd Fighter Squadron, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51D Libby-B
Base: Leiston (Station #373), Suffolk, England
Location: 1 km west of Freienseen, Germany
Pilot: Capt. William Henry Mooney Jr., O-451859 AAF Age 28. Survived/Murdered
REASON FOR LOSS:
The ‘Libby-B’ (Credit little friends website)
Capt. Mooney Jr. took off in the Libby-B on the morning of the 24th December 1944 from Leiston as one of two airborne spares on a mission to escort bombers on a mission to Frankfurt in Germany. Capt. Mooney Jr. failed to return from the mission. He and his fellow pilot were not required but continued with the other fighters on the mission.
The following is the after mission statement provided by O-821727 1st Lt. Jesse R. Frey on the 25th December 1944:
“Lt. William H. Mooney, Jr., O-451859, 362nd fighter Squadron, and I were flying Dollar spare, above and behind Dollar Red leader. When the Fw-190's were called in below us in the vicinity of Fulda, Germany Lt. Mooney split-essed into the trailing gaggles of 190's. A 190 from the right side crossed in between Mooney and me and broke into me. I broke into him, but the 190 reversed his turn into another P51. By this time I had lost Mooney. When I last saw him, he was tacked on to an Fw-190. Several pilots of this squadron testify that they saw an olive drab P-51 of this unit on fire and saw its pilot bail out. Since Lt. Mooney's ship was painted this colour, it was possibly he. All of the foregoing took place around 1425 BST on 24 December 1944.”
The abandoned Mustang crashed at 14:30 hrs, about 1 km west of Freienseen and 200 metres from Bundesstraße 276 in a forest close to the Hungen/Laubach/Freienseen/Mücke railway track.
The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL = Luftwaffe High Command) fighter claims for the Reich, West & Südfront for the day in question has claims for nine P-51 Mustangs. However, it has not been possible to associate a claim for this Mustang.
The aircraft was completely destroyed by fire. The location of the crash was marked by a crater of about 5m in diameter and 2m in depth with small parts of the aircraft scattered around the crater.
German documents record that Capt. Mooney Jr. was killed and buried in the Community Cemetery of Laubach, some 3½ km SW from the crash site.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Capt. Mooney Jr. were unknown until a General Government Military Court was convened at Dachau, Germany between 15th and 21st April 1947.
Three German Nationals were charged that they did, on or about the 24th December 1944, at or near Freienseen, Germany, 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.
The unknown airman was later identified as Capt. William Henry Mooney Jr.
The three charged were Kurt Hartmann, Otto Heene and Emil Hofmann. Hofmann was a former Ortsgruppenleiter (Local group leader of the Nazi party). No further details were documented for Hartmann and Heene.
The court heard that Hofmann arrested an American airman on the 24th December 1944 at Freienseen, Germany who was in the custody of Heene. After winning an argument with an unnamed German military NCO for the custody of the airman Hofmann left him with Heene while he returned to his home.
Hofmann returned shortly thereafter wearing his Ortsgruppenleiter uniform with his sidearm. They and another unnamed German then proceeded, Heene to the airman’s left and Hofmann to his right, to march the airman towards Laubach ostensibly to hand over the airman to the Kreisleiter’s (Nazi County Leader) office.
En route Hofmann fell behind the airman and shot him in the back. As the airman staggered Hofmann grabbed him by the arm and shot him again in the upper part of his chest after which the airman fell to the ground. Hofmann then went to Freienseen to collect his horse and wagon and returned to take the airman to Laubach where he was buried.
After the airman’s body was exhumed and examined a pathologist’s report revealed that the airman had suffered two gunshot wounds to the body.
Hofmann claimed that he was walking four metres behind the airman and saw the airman make a move towards Heene as if he was going to attack him so he shot him once and fired a second shot in an excited state. Heene testified that some time after the shooting Hofmann reported that he shot the airman because he was trying to escape.
The court rejected Hofmann’s version of the events and found him guilty of the charge. He was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out at Landsburg War Criminal Prison No.1 on 22nd October 1948.
The court acquitted Hartmann and Heene of the charge.
Capt. William Henry Mooney Jr. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Recovered and reinterred at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Plot PP, Row 11, Grave 256 as X-1879. Repatriated to the United States, arriving on the 17th November 1948, aboard the US Army Transport Service vessel, the SS Carroll Victory. He was initially buried at the Riverdale Cemetery, Muscogee County, Columbus, Georgia. His grave and his parents Tombstones were later relocated to the Pulaski-Bleckley Memorial Gardens in Bleckley County, Georgia. Born on the 3rd October 1916. Son of William Henry and Elizabeth (née Langdon) Mooney of Hawkinsville, Pulaski, Georgia, 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’.
The capture and murder of Capt. Mooney was written by amateur military aviation historian Hans-Peter Kollar and published in German. Der Fliegermord von Freienseen. Eine Dokumentation, Gießen 1995, ISBN 3-87038-271-6. Bill Mooney’s younger brother Arch found this book and with the help of the author translated and published an English language version. The story was also published by Joey Maddox in the "The Great Rat Race For Europe" 2011, ISBN 978-1-4628-8628-9.