The excavation of North American P-51C Mustang 42-103007,
and the repatriation of 2ND Lt Charles (Butch) Moritz.
the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group.
On 7th June 1944, two P-51s allocated to the USAAF’s 555 FTS/496 FTG took off from RAF Goxhill on solo instrument training flights, onboard were 2nd Lt’s Robert Magnuson in P-51C 42-103036 and Charles R. Moritz in P-51C 42-103007. The weather was cloudy and somehow the two aircraft collided. 2nd Lt. Magnuson stated that he never saw the aircraft that hit him, and with the right wing torn off, he bailed out successfully. 2nd Lt. Moritz was unable to get clear and died in the smoking hole that 007 made in the English countryside. Sadly, this would appear to have been Moritz's first flight in a Mustang.
The incident was originally brought to the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group’s (LARG) attention in 2007 by Mr. Jan Hey from Holland. Mr. Hey was researching the burial locations of all American airmen killed in the Second World War, with the intention of producing a book listing all known locations and the circumstances around their death. He could not understand why 2nd Lt Moritz was listed Missing in Action (MIA) on all official records. On reading these records it stated that Moritz’s aircraft came down half a mile from Owmby-by-Spital. Following discussions with local aviation historian Mr. Fred Robinson of Market Rasen, it became apparent that the aircraft crashed in to a flowing beck and was immediately covered in water. The other aircraft involved, piloted by 2nd Lt Magnuson is stated as coming down half mile North of RAF Faldingworth. A full report given by him was also obtained, claiming what had happened. In a booklet produced by the villagers of Normanby-by-Spital and Owmby-by-Spital called ‘Voices of 39’, residents recall their personal accounts of the time; the incident is mentioned but they have a Spitfire colliding with a Mustang whilst ‘dog fighting’.
An application was submitted to the Ministry of Defence, Joint Casualty & Compassionate Centre (JCCC) to recover 2nd Lt Magnuson’s Mustang located half a mile north of RAF Faldingworth. However, as two aircraft were involved in the incident, LARG were asked to submit a second application for the other P-51 (42-103007) using the same map reference, as there was a possibility of parts of both aircraft existing in the same location. Moritz’s P51, 42-103007, was stated as crashing half a mile south of Owmby. Two licenses where therefore granted to recover the aircraft half a mile north of Faldingworth. The Spatial Planning Group from Lincolnshire County Council accepted the Project Design submitted by LARG.
During LARG’s initial visit to the site all that was done was a brief metal detect of the field to establish the area in which the aircraft came down so that the MoD licence could be applied for. There was an area of ‘intense’ reading from a magnetometer metal detector but there was no ‘defined area’ to say if an engine, or other large items, could lie below the surface. It appeared to be all mangled together underground.
The day before the dig an area of approximately 20 metres square was cleared off the top soil to a depth of 500mm so that the area to be dug would not get any deep subsoil on the surface of the field.
On the 10th September 2011 the dig commenced with the digger. Within a short time aircraft parts started to appear and one of the first recognizable pieces was a single propeller blade. As the hole started to get deeper it was considered that it was not safe for the recovery team to be down the hole. So as the wreckage came out, via the digger, the spoil would be sorted on the surface. The pictures below show the first signs of deeper wreckage with the oil stained subsoil about two metres deep.
As the dig continued, several interesting pieces were being found in the black, oil and fuel rich soil. It was unadvisable to have a naked flame near the hole and all smoking was banned, as is with all LARG digs. The hole had been cleared of all wreckage, with the surrounding soil in the hole now being of the natural clay colour.
Sorting through the mixture of wreckage and black soil members of LARG were shocked to find human remains. So as to comply with the license conditions, the sorting was stopped and the relevant authorities informed by mobile phone. A Detective Inspector and the Duty Coroner attended and by the end of the day the site was considered a crime scene and all wreckage impounded with a 24 hour guard put on the site - LARG had to leave the site whilst the authorities sorted things out.
By noon on Monday 12th September, JCCC had decided to close the site down and fill in the hole. The US Military Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, (JPAC) in America was notified and they were to come over to England to collect the remains. All wreckage was then released and transported back to the LARG workshop at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (LAHC), East Kirkby. An embargo on the story had to be applied as the relatives in America were not aware of the discovery.
Once the wreckage was back at East Kirkby it could be sorted through and cleaned. From the internet, LARG member John Marshall-East, obtained a parts list for a P-51. This would help LARG greatly in identifying parts that had a number printed on them. Some parts (shown below) were self explanatory just by recognition from LARG's experience of recovering aircraft. Parts included, Oxygen Bottles, Fuel Gauge, Altimeter, Rudder/Brake Pedal, Engine parts.
As of February 2013, parts are slowly being cleaned and identification continues. Using the parts list, LARG have been able to identify many other pieces, for example, the two undercarriage door actuating rams and the hydraulic hand pump used by the pilot in emergencies. LARG have also been able to assemble the front half of the fuselage from the engine bulkhead to the pilot seat armour, all of which were badly smashed up in the crash.
Below: The instrument panel proved LARG had the correct aircraft as a small plate on it contained the aircraft serial number 2103007.
During the excavation of P-51 42-103007 LARG did not find the three other propeller blades, the prop boss, any armaments, the main undercarriage legs or parts from the wings. It was therefore thought that there must have been some attempt by the US military authorities to recover part of the aircraft after the accident.
After the American JPAC had sorted through the remaining spoil, using sieves with a mesh of about 10mm square, all of the aircraft wreckage was given to LARG, which came in several bags.
It is now possible to understand why the pilot, 2nd Lt Charles R Moritz, who was listed as missing, was in the aircraft that LARG applied for permission to recover. LARG applied to recover 2nd Lt Magnuson’s aircraft, P-51, 42-103036, but from a careful study of the crash reports, Magnuson’s aircraft is stated as crashing ½ mile North of Faldingworth, the location LARG had located on its first visit. JCCC granted two licences to cover the eventuality that it was possible that parts of both could remain in the same site. In the report on Moritz’s aircraft, 42-103007 it states that it crashed half a mile South of Owmby and parts of the ‘tail’ with the number 007 on it and two pieces of skull were found proving that this was Moritz’s aircraft. Both reports from the wartime had been reversed for some reason, thus the misunderstanding.
A review of the individual aircraft record card shows that 42-103007 had been delivered to the AAF at North American’s Dallas plant on 23rd October 1943, and six days later was ferried to a modification centre at Buffalo, New York. The record card does not say for what reason, but it was possibly to have an 85-gallon fuselage fuel tank installed.
On 13th December 42-103007 was flown to Newark, New Jersey. Disassembled and crated, the P-51 departed onboard a merchant ship destined for the United Kingdom. By the 5th of January 1943 it had arrived at Burtonwood and is noted at Leiston airfield around ten days later, in time to fly the group’s first operation.
Initially named Swoose, 42-103007 is thought to have flown between 15-20 combat missions, although the actual records are currently unavailable. The assigned pilot was 2nd Lt. Robert Wallen, who flew the aircraft on the 8th Air Force’s historic first raid on Berlin, on 4th March 1944. (Actually the first U.S. fighters over Berlin were P-38s of the 20th Fighter Group on 3rd March.)
On 4th March the 357th was among the first single-engine fighters to escort bombers to Berlin. Although some 20 German fighters made one pass through the bomber formation, there was little combat. The 357th scored two victories; one by Chuck Yeager (his first) and the other by Bob Wallen in 42-103007. Wallen had renamed his aircraft Joan, this appearing on both sides of the engine cowling, first in white, then in yellow. In early April the aircraft had the red and yellow nose markings of the 357th applied.
Though Wallen did destroy an FW-190 on the ground later on, no explanation for the second victory symbol at this early date can be found. (Wallen might have had an unconfirmed claim or the victory possibly belonged to a pilot who usually flew another Mustang.)
Four days after the Berlin mission, 2nd Lt. Bryant Anderson flew Joan on a radio relay mission. When the group’s P-51s were deep in Germany their SCR-522 radios did not have range to contact home base, so one or two P-51s were assigned to orbit just off the enemy coast at high altitude to relay messages from, and to, the group leader. Upon returning from this mission, Anderson made a bad landing, damaging the propeller. Anderson had only six hours in P-51s, and 42-103007 had about 50 hours total flight time. The damage was minor.
There are no records to indicate any special occurrences for the next month, although the group flew 12 missions during that period, including two more to Berlin, and Joan would have flown most of them.
Following an incident where a taxying Mustang destroyed its tail, the now repaired Joan returned to flying missions. Early May saw 42-103007 transferred to the 496th Fighter Training Group at Goxhill, north Lincolnshire - Goxhill served as the location where all fighter pilots new to the European Theatre of Operations underwent acclimatisation to the European weather and its busy skies.
Above left: 2ND Lt Charles (Butch) Moritz Above Centre: Swoose ~ P-51C, 42-103007/G4-P complete with two kill marks. In the photo (left to right) are armourer Harry Baily and Crew Chief Ray Morris. Above right: Rare picture of Joan (with thanks to the late Ron Parker of Goxhill for the image).
It was not until 5th May 2012 that ‘Butch’ Moritz was given a full military funeral at his home town of Effingham Illinois, attended by his many nephews and nieces. Sadly his last surviving sibling, sister Ruth, had died in August 2010. The funeral was also attended by John & Cathy Marshall-East representing LARG. All flags in Effigham were flying at half mast since Butch had been returned to the twon. At all times the funeral cortege was escorted by members of the Illinois Patriot Guard, this at one point including 250 motorbikes.
John spoke to the family and the members of the Patriot Guard, to explain all about the recovery so that everyone had the correct story to tell to others. Everyone could not thank LARG enough for their recovery work and respect shown, and that they were able to return ‘one of their own’ back home. A most gratifying comment to LARG, for what they do, considering it is only their hobby.
Currently undergoing a partial reconstruction in the LARG workshop at East Kirkby, the Mustang will eventually go on display in the main hangar, alongside other LARG USAAF recoveries such as P-38 and B-17.
Below: Views of the P-51 currently laid out in LARG's workshop with armour plate and engine remains visable. Illustrating the violence of the impact, the crushing evident on the exhaust stubs is noteworthy.
Above: Progressing well, the reconstruction photographed in May 2013.
Update - 22nd April 2016:
The partially rebuilt remains of Mustang 42-103007 are now on display, and can be found inside the main hangar at East Kirkby.