23.04.1943 450 Squadron RAAF, Kittyhawk III FR477, Flt Lt. Reginald V. Kierath MiD
Operation: Top Cover for interception mission
Date: 23rd April 1943 (Friday)
Unit No: 450 Squadron, RAAF, Western Desert Air Force
Type: Kittyhawk III
Serial No: FR477
Base: Kairouan LG, Tunisia
Location: Gulf of Tunisia
Pilot: Fg Off. Reginald Victor ‘Rusty’ Kierath MiD, 402364 RAAF Age 28. PoW No. 128 * /Murdered
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
Note: Kittyhawk III FR447 was built as P-40K Warhawk Serial no. 42-10068.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Above: 450 Sqn, Kittyhawks in the desert (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)
On the 23rd April 1943 at 07:00 hrs 12 Kittyhawks took off from Kairouan LG in Tunisia on a top cover mission for 112 Sqn and 3 Sqn who were on an interception of enemy aircraft in the Cape Bon area. No enemy aircraft were seen during the patrol but whilst flying over the Gulf of Tunisia they were targeted by flak from a ship in the area.
Cape Bon is a peninsula in the far NE Tunis with the Gulf of Tunis on its northern shore and the Gulf of Hammamet on its southern shore.
Just after turning for home Fg Off. Kierath was heard over the R/T reporting that he was going to force land. Shortly afterwards he was seen to bail out and seen to drift out to sea on his parachute. His fellow pilots carried out an aerial search of the area but could not locate him or his parachute.
It is known that an enemy Air Sea Rescue (ASR) Launch went out to the area where Fg Off. Kierath was last seen. An RAF ASR Launch was also dispatched to the area but no trace of him was found.
Two hours after he had landed in the sea off Cape Bon he was rescued and taken prisoner by the Germans. After a short stay in Tunis he was shipped to Sicily for onward transport to Germany eventually arriving at Stalag Luft 3.
At Stalag Luft 3 Flt Lt. Kierath established himself as the specialist in constructing small niches in the accommodation blocks in order to hide forged papers and other escape material from the German search teams.
On the night of the 24th-25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3 which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. The escape was made by the means of a tunnel. At about 05:00 hrs on the 25th March the 77th PoW was spotted by guards as he emerged from the tunnel.
An overview of the German response to the escape and the subsequent British prosecution of those responsible for the murder of fifty of the escapees is summarised in the report entitled “The Fifty - The Great Escape”.
Flt Lt. Kierath was believed #46 out of the tunnel in the party of twelve which included Flt Lt. Bull, Sqn Ldr. Williams and Fg Off. Mondschein. The circumstances of Flt Lt. Kierath’s capture are unknown, however, he and most of his group of twelve were initially held in the jail at Hirschberg. After lengthy interrogations he and a number of others were transferred to the civilian prison at Reichenberg (Liberec, Czechia).
Flt Lt. Kierath was last seen alive by Flt Lt. Tonder on the 29th March 1944. There is no record of where he was murdered but his remains were cremated in Brüx, his ashes placed in an urn, which was returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Flt Lt. Kierath was one of four PoWs who were cremated in Brüx, the other three being Flt Lt. Leslie George Bull DFC RAF, Sqn Ldr. John Edwin Ashley Williams RAF, and Flt Lt. Jerzy Tomasz Mondschein PAF.
After Flt Lt. Ivo Tonder PoW No. 561, was recaptured he was one of three that were sent to Stalag Luft 1. The other two were Flt Lt. Bedrich Dvorak PoW No. 39648 and Flt Lt. Desmond Lancelot Plunkett, PoW No. 297. Flt Lt. Tonder and Flt Lt. Dvorak were then sent to Oflag IVc, Colditz castle, whilst Flt Lt. Plunkett remained at Stalag Luft 1.
These three airmen were part of the group of eight that were held under special orders from Himmler. The two at Colditz castle were apparently under the threat of execution but were liberated before this could be carried out.
Investigations post-war did not identify those directly responsible for the murders of Sqn Ldr. Williams and the other three officers.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above left Flt Lt. Kierath (Courtesy of laurinlaurin espie - FindAGrave and right Grave marker (Courtesy of TWGPP))
Flt Lt. Reginald Victor ‘Rusty’ Kierath MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Grave 8.D.3. Born on the 20th February 1915 in Narromine, New South Wales. Son of Albert William and Ada Elsie (née O’Neill) Kierath of Narromine, New South Wales, Australia.
Fg Off. Kierath was promoted to Flt Lt. on the 31st January 1944.
Flt Lt. Kierath was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 8th June 1944.
Reginald’s murder was the fourth tragic death suffered by his family. His sister Mabel Hope (née Kierath) Dodds died in January 1938, his father later that year in December and his brother Capt. Gregory Robert Kierath MiD NX12509, 20th Anti-Tank Company, Australian Army, was KiA at Tobruk, Libya on the 14th April 1941 (he died less than a year after enlisting).
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP)’ for their great work.
Other sources quoted below: