18.03.1945 338th Fighter Squadron P-51D 44-14598 ‘Lady Lorene’ 2nd Lt. Robert L. Van Horn
Operation: Ramrod (Mission #894) to Berlin, Germany
Date: 18th March 1945 (Sunday)
Unit No: 338th Fighter Squadron, 55 Fighter Group, 8th Air Force
Type: P-51D Lady Lorene
Base: Wormingford airfield (Station #159), Essex, England
Location: Near Reichelsheim, Germany
Pilot: 2nd Lt. Robert Leslie Van Horn O-715064 AAF Age 27. Murdered
Photograph dated 15th November 1944 of P-51D ‘Lady Lorene’ shortly after being recovered from a wheels-up landing. The aircraft was assigned to Capt. Richard C. Herbst O-767227. (Credit: American Air Museum, the Roger Freeman Collection)
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of the 18th March 1945 Lady Lorene took off from Wormingford on a Ramrod mission to Berlin Nord railway station. 219 fighters were tasked on this mission and P-51D Lady Lorene one of two fighters MiA.
Ramrod = American long-range strategic bomber strikes with fighter escorts
Capt. William F. McGill * reported in his after mission statement that:
While leading Yellow Flight with Lt. Van Horn on my wing, his engine suddenly conked out. This happened at about 12:35 hours, 18 March 1945. We had been chasing four bogies about five minutes before, pulling quite a bit of manifold pressure for about five minutes. At the time Lt. Van Horn’s engine quit, however, we were throttled back to about 35 inHG** and 2500 RPM, and had been this way for a couple of minutes. Lt. Van Horn was in string with me and a little behind at about 11 or 12000 feet, apparently trying to catch up. I was flying behind White Flight. My number three and four men had gone home a few minutes before, number three’s engine being rough.
When number two (Van Horn) called saying that his engine had quit, I answered him and turned around to look for him but investigated the wrong man and then could not locate him. The whole squadron stayed in the area and Captain Sims*** tried to get a fix, but was unsuccessful. We continued to orbit, but could not locate Lt. Van Horn. However, we did have radio contact with him and told him to make several cockpit checks, all of which were unsuccessful. I last contacted him at 6000 feet and told him to bail out if he could find a suitable place to set it down. He acknowledged and said he thought he could set it down. Later attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
We think he went down about 20 miles east of Trier, but we were not certain of our position. We had been in a fight some 15 minutes previous, but I don’t think Lt. Van Horn suffered any battle damage.
* Capt. William F. McGill O-727513 Air Medal, Purple Heart. KiA 3rd May 1945. His aircraft was hit by another P-51. He was the last wartime casualty from the 55 FG. Repatriated to Connecticut, USA.
** inHG = inches of mercury, which is the unit of measure for boost ratings used by the Americans.
*** Capt. Hal B. Sims, O-677017. Completed tour of duty.
The fate of 2nd Lt. Van Horn was unknown until a General Government Military Court was convened at Dachau, Germany on the 25th April 1947.
Two German nationals were charged on two counts. On the first count, that they did, on or about the 18th March 1945, at or near Winterkasten, Germany, 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. Robert L. Van Horn, ASN O-715064, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
The second count, of being members of criminal organisations, namely Die Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo = Secret State Police) and the Schutzstaffel (SS = Protection echelon of the Nazi party) was stricken from the charge sheet.
The first named on the charge sheet was an Erich Hinkel, who was a former SS-Sturmscharführer (notionally a Sgt/Maj), a member of the Gestapo since 1932 and of the Nazi party since 1938. The second named on the charge sheet was an Adolf Schmidt whose name was stricken from the charge sheet and was not before the court.
The court heard that on the 18th March 1945, in the vicinity of Reichelsheim, Germany, an American airman crashed in his aircraft. The airman was captured by several people and a German policeman.
Hinkel was employed by the Gestapo as a driver and on the day in question he received orders from Girke*, the chief of the Gestapo office at Bensheim, to proceed to Lindenfels, some 5½ km SW of Reichelsheim, by motorcycle and sidecar with Schmidt, a Gestapo agent, to secure a captured airman. Both had received orders to shoot the airman.
* Richard Fritz Girke, the head of the Darmstadt Gestapo in Bensheim, his deputy Heinz Hellenbroich, and two other SS Gestapo members named Franz Karl Stattmann and Michael Raaf were sentenced to death by a US military tribunal at the Dachau Trials in 1947. All four were executed by hanging in Landsberg Prison in October 1948.
En route to collecting the airman Hinkel told Schmidt to watch for a suitable spot in the woods. Near Lindenfels they took over the custody of the airman from a German policeman. With the airman in the sidecar, Hinkel as the driver and Schmidt seated behind him they proceeded in the direction of Winterkasten, about 2½ km due north of Lindenfels.
As the road entered a woods near the Winterkasten cemetery, Hinkel told Schmidt to shoot the airman. Schmidt drew his pistol and shot the airman three times in the back of the head. They removed the airman’s body from the sidecar and carried him several yards off the road into the woods where they left him. Hinkel and Schmidt then returned to Bensheim and reported to Girke that the airman had been executed.
Hinkel admitted to his participation in the events leading up to the killing of the airman but claimed he had no knowledge that the airman was an American or that there was an order to kill him. The court rejected his defence and found him guilty of the charge. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment commencing on the 8th May 1945. He was paroled during April 1954.
From the extrajudicial sworn testimonies presented to the court it was clear that Schmidt was the chief suspect in the shooting of the airman, however, it is not known why his name was stricken from the charge or why he was not before the court to answer for his part in the killing of 2nd Lt. Van Horn.
Above: (Credit: of and in memory of the late Steve Edquist - FindAGrave)
2nd Lt. Robert Leslie Van Horn. Purple Heart. Recovered and interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St Avold. Repatriated and interred on the 16th February 1949 at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Section C-2, Site 12791, South Minnesota. Born on the 23rd February 1918 in Webster, Iowa. Son of Edith May Van Horn of Hampton, Iowa, 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’.