20.03.1945 407th Fighter Squadron P-47D Thunderbolt, 42-26285 2nd Lt. Jack Rives DFC
Operation: Armed Reconnaissance, Germany
Date: 20th March 1945 (Tuesday)
Unit No: 507th Fighter Squadron, 404th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force
Type: P-47D Thunderbolt
Base: A-92 at St. Trond (Sint-Truiden), Belgium
Location: Near Quirnbach, Germany
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Jack ’Snow’ Rives DFC O-832696 AAF Age 23. Murdered
REASON FOR LOSS:
2nd Lt. Rives took off, as part of a four aircraft flight, from the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), A-92 at St. Trond (Sint-Truiden), Belgium on the morning of 20th March 1945 on an armed reconnaissance mission into Germany.
The following was the after mission statement by 1st Lt. Lee A. Branch O-767098, which describes the circumstances of the forced landing of 2nd Lt. Rives:
“I was leading the second element in White flight with Lieut. Rives on my wing. We had already dive-bombed a target and were flying a course of 350 degrees at 8,000 feet when I spotted a truck on a highway. I dove to 50 feet for a strafing pass, and when I got back to 7,000 feet I saw Lieut. Rives behind me at 6,000 feet. He had about a mile of black smoke trailing him, so I called him and told him to take a course of 270 degrees which he did immediately. Lieut. Rives reported that he was losing 1,000 feet of altitude per minute with the prop running away. I kept calling Sweepstakes for a fix and safe heading to our lines, but he was too low to read them. Four minutes later Lieut. Rives made a wheels up landing in a field two miles square as I continued to circle at 5,000 feet.
Lieut. Rogers, leader of White flight, and Lieut. Stephens, his wingman, had continued circling at 8,000 feet. When I could not read Sweepstakes, I told Lieut. Rogers to switch to ‘B’ channel and get a fix, which he did.
After Lieut. Rives bellied in I dropped down to 1,000 feet and circled, trying to see him but could not. I then buzzed his ship but I am positive there was no one in it. The ship appeared to be in good condition and it was obvious that Lieut. Rives had done a good job of bellying her in. I then headed for home”.
Note: Sweepstakes was the call sign for the area controller.
The circumstances leading to the death of 2nd Lt. Rives were determined by two General Military Government Courts which were convened in Dachau, Germany on the 18th April 1947 and on the 7th, 8th August 1947.
The charge in each trial was the same for two German nationals, one in each trial, in that they did, at or near Quirnbach, Germany, on or about the 20th March 1945, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States Army, believed to be 2nd Lt. Jack Rives, O-832696, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
The accused in the first trial was a Karl Hans Dressler who was a former member of the Gestapo and earlier a member of the Gendarmerie and before that an SS-Stabsscharführer (M/Sgt).
The accused in the second trial was a Hans Heitkamp who was a former Kriminaloberassistant (Assistant crime detective) in the Gestapo and before that a SS-Hauptscharführer (T/Sgt).
The court heard that on or about the 20th March 1945, an American airman made a forced landing in the vicinity of Quirnbach, Germany and was taken prisoner by a man named Figel, a member of the Gestapo, and then turned over to Dressler and Heitkamp. They escorted the airman through the village to the office of the Chief of Gestapo at Quirnbach.
The head of the Gestapo in Quirnbach was a man named Wurstdorfer who was probably a Kriminalkommissar (Detective Superintendent) which equates to his reported rank of Captain (SS-Hauptsturmführer).
After Wurstdorfer interrogated the airman he ordered Dressler to take the airman away and shoot him. Some 15 to 20 minutes later the airman was escorted out of the village by Dressler accompanied by Heitkamp, on the orders of Wurstdorfer. They marched the airman into some woods near to the village and there Heitkamp ordered Dressler to shoot him with his machine pistol.
It was claimed that Heitkamp was close to Wurstdorfer and may have been his aide or adjutant.
After Dressler had shot and killed the airman Heitkamp they both returned to the village with the airman’s personal effects including his flying jacket which had label with the name “J. Rives” sewn on the front which they tore off. The next morning Dressler and Heitkamp returned to the scene of the killing and buried the airman in a shallow grave at the same spot. Upon the orders of Wurstdorfer Dressler made a written report falsely claiming that the airman was shot whilst attempting to escape.
Approximately 3 weeks after American forces entered the village of Quirnbach Heitkamp helped in the exhumation of the airman’s remains.
Dressler testified to the court that if he had not carried out the orders of Wurstdorfer he himself would have been shot for disobeyed those orders and that his family would be taken into custody with the implied threat that that they would also suffer the same fate. He further claimed that he had twice requested Wurstdorfer to rescind the order which he refused to do.
When they arrived at the woods Dressler told Heitkamp that he did not wish to kill the airman, but Heitkamp insisted that he carried out the order and stood behind Dressler armed with a pistol again ordering him to shoot the airman.
Despite Dressler’s claim that he was acting under orders with the implied threat of death the court found him guilty of the charge and he was sentenced to death. In the review of the trial proceedings it was considered that there was evidence which indicated that there was some degree of reluctance to carry out his superior’s orders. Whilst the real purpose of Heitkamp accompanying Dressler was not apparent it could have been concluded that as he was close to Wurstdorfer he may well have been present to supervise the execution of Wurstdorfer’s orders. This presented a degree of immediate compulsion. Consequently, the findings of the review board agreed that the findings of guilty were warranted but the sentence was excessive. The sentence of death was commuted to life imprisonment which later was reduced to 25 years imprisonment. He was paroled in August 1954.
Although the real purpose of Heitkamp accompanying Dressler was not clear the court may have concluded that his presence, in light of his friendship with and that he appeared to serve as Wurstdorfe’s aide, this presented a degree of immediate compulsion. In their testimonies they attempted to place the blame of the shooting on one another. However, the court concluded that Heitkamp was also guilty of the charge and sentenced him to life imprisonment. His sentence was later reduced to a period of 25 years. The final disposition of his sentence is unknown.
It is not known if Wurstdorfer was ever traced or apprehended so that he could answer for his role in the killing of 2nd Lt. Rives.
Above Cutting from the Clarion Ledger, dated Sunday November 13th, 1949
2nd Lt. Jack ‘Snow’ Rives. DFC, Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Repatriated on the 19th July 1950 and interred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Plot 34, Grave 4734. Born on the 30th July 1921 in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Son of George Dabney and Ellen Clare (née Moore) Rives from Sunflower County, Mississippi, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this Pilot with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.