made Mustang P-51D-20, when German flak guns scored a direct hit on his plane, causing it to
crash in a fiery explosion near Audenschmiede, Germany, February 23, 1945.
Folks back home in Murray County, Georgia, first heard of the incident when the
Chatsworth Times ran an extremely brief article, April 5, 1945, reporting that Capt Hargis had
been reported missing in action. A few days later the Army notified his parents that he had been
killed when enemy anti-aircraft guns shot his plane down over Germany. Little else was ever
told his family.
That doomed plane had crashed in a wooded area and the trees over the years grew and
thickened so that all visible signs of the damage from the crash ceased to be visible.
In the summer of 2011, Jurgen Radu, a German man who lives near the largely forgotten
crash site, decided to try to locate the precise location using his metal detector.
He first asked several people currently living in Audenschmiede where the plane had
crashed. The few who seemed to know anything about the incident pointed to a fairly large
wooded area and told him “somewhere in those woods.”
Juergen started his search in the woods but, on his first day, found no metal fragment that
could have been from the down airplane. Near the end of his second day of searching, his metal
detector indicated there was something metal below the surface. Jurgen found in the next few
minutes several metal fragments that he immediately recognized as having come from an
airplane–confirming that this was the crash site he was hoping to find.
Over several return visits he found numerous fragments from the plane, some even had
serial numbers. He knew enough about American-made fighter planes to realize that this
wreckage was from one of the work-horses of World War II, specifically a Mustang P-51d-20.
He remembered hearing that witnesses had talked about what a massive explosion had
occurred when the plane hit the ground and decided to start looking further away from where he
had determined that the larger pieces of the plane had hit. He was pleased when he found small
pieces of the plane in a nearby open area, or meadow.
It was in this meadow that Jurgen made his most important find. In the summer of 2011,
his metal detector alerted him to something covered by dirt. He dug to see what it was. “I found
this ring in the meadow, 50 or 60 meters from the place where the plane had crashed. Of course
I knew immediately that the ring, in this location, had to have belonged to the dead pilot. It was
the most exciting thing that I found.”
The ring was a special design that was used for U.S. Army Air Corps pilots. Inside three
initials had been engraved: W. G. H.
With the discovery of the pilot’s ring, Jurgen had enough details to try to find any
documentation for that particular flight. He found U.S. Army documents that included the
official Missing Air Crew Report for Captain William Granville Hargis, shot down February 23,
1945, at 1615 hours (4:15 p.m.)! There was a second report filed by Lieutenant Clarence G.
Koerber, the wingman who had piloted the second American airplane that day.
Lieutenant Koerber reported: “We were strafing in the vicinity north of Frankfurt. Capt.
Hargis called in a train which was located off our left wing. The engine had steam up. Capt.
Hargis and myself turned and started down on the train. We were on the deck, just as we pulled
over the train we encountered intense 20 mm flak from the nearby woods and I saw a fire flash
on Capt. Hargis’s plane. The plane went directly into the woods which were approximately 150 feet from the train. There was a terrific explosion as the plane hit the trees.
“I pulled up and tried to get a fix, but Rip. #5 was unable to give our definite position.”
The documents revealed that Capt. Hargis was a member of the 355
then based at Rosieres, France, near the English Channel. That day’s armed reconnaissance
mission was to Wurnzburg, Germany, between Koblenz and Frankfurt.
After discovering these details, Jurgen became curious about the dead pilot’s personal
life, his family, where he came from, etc. He did a Google search using: William G. Hargis,
World War II, and Germany. The first hit on his list was to www.murraycountymuseum.com
There he found that Capt. Hargis had lived in Murray County and that his family had owned a
sawmill. By the time of his death, the parents had relocated to Florida.
Noticing that the museum lacked details of the Captain’s death, Jurgen sent an email
March 19, 2012, stating that he had found the crash-site where Captain Hargis had died, and that
his Uncle, then age 12, had witnessed from the position of one of the flak guns, the downing of
Several exchanges of emails since then have provided other interesting details.
Jurgen said that his uncle, Alfred Buchholz, who still lives in Weilmunster, had been
visiting with one of the German soldiers manning a flak-gun positioned in a hole in an open field
near Weilmunster. A second flak gun had been positioned in the edge of a nearby woods. The
third was mounted on a train very near the village of Weilmunster.
Alfred said that the soldiers purposely caused the train’s locomotive to spew lots of steam
into the air to entice the Americans to look closer at the train. When the soldiers heard the sound
of two airplanes approaching, they all ran to their gun positions. Alfred’s soldier buddy realized
that there was not time for the youngster to run to safety, so he pulled him into the hole with the
Alfred remembers watching the plane fly lower to check out the train, then the flak gun
in the field fired, followed immediately by the gun in the woods. However, he is certain that the
fatal shot was fired from the flak gun on the train. He remembers that the plane was
immediately engulfed in flames and crashed with a huge explosion about two miles (by road)
away from the guns. He said that he clearly remembers both hearing and seeing the massive
explosion when the plane struck the ground.
Naturally this excited young boy was eager to see the crashed plane, so he pedaled his
bicycle as hard as he possibly could to speed his journey to the spot where it had fallen.
Although he was not the first person to arrive, he was among the earliest. He said that only
civilians who lived nearby were on the scene, and that they were all frantically trying to remove
any of the wreckage that they thought they might be able to use before military personnel
arrived. Alfred told Jurgen that he remembered that Jurgen’s grandfather had rushed away
carrying a large piece of aluminum, from which he later made cooking pots. Germany had been
on a war footing for many years so pots and pans had been unavailable for a long time.
Alfred reported that civilians took the pilot’s remains from the trees and buried him in the
cemetery, at Rohnstadt, very close to the crash site.
When the military arrived, Alfred said they quickly took away all of the large pieces of
the wreckage to salvage the metal, then in very short supply across Germany.
Jurgen’s daughter, Janina, made photographs of the crash site, the plane fragments and
the pilot’s ring that her father found. Juren also provided copies of the American military
documents he had obtained, to be added to the museum’s information about Capt. Hargis. These
can be viewed online at www.murraycountymuseum.com From menu at top of the screen, click World War II, then scroll down to the name Hargis. Thanks to Jurgen and Janina Radu, the
museum unbelievably now has two eye-witness accounts of the downing of Capt. Hargis’s
fighter plane, one by a German boy as seen from the ground, another by an American pilot who
saw the incident from the air. Without the internet and Google, these details probably would
never have been known in Murray County, Georgia.