08/09.06.1942 405 (Vancouver) Squadron RCAF Halifax II W7708 Flt Lt. Angus J. MacLean DFC
Operation: Essen, Germany
Date: 8th/9th June 1942 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, RCAF
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Pocklington, East Riding, Yorkshire.
Location: Bruchem, province of Gelderland, 50 km WSW of Arnhem, Holland
Pilot: Fg Off. Angus John MacLean DFC, C1107 RCAF Age 28. Evader (1)
Flt Eng: Sgt. Shields PoW - Unknown camp and no further information
Nav: Fg Off. James Chrystall Wernham J6144 RCAF Age 27. PoW No. 564 */Murdered (2)
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. William John Forbes 997362 RAF Age? PoW No. 539 **
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. William Cameron Kerr R68554 RCAF Age? PoW No. 540 ***
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. Gilbert Bailey Porter R51849 RCAF Age? No. 543 ***
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Harry Olsen R59688 RCAF Age? PoW No. 542 ***
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag 357, Thorn (Toruń) in Poland. Moved in September 1944 to Stalag 11b, Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.
*** Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania).
REASON FOR LOSS:
Halifax II W7708 took off from RAF Pocklington at 22:57 hrs on the 8th June 1942 to bomb the Krupps armament works in Essen, Germany.
At 03:40 hrs a wireless message was received from the aircraft reporting that it was over Holland and may be forced to land. The aircraft had been damaged by flak over the target and was shot down by a German night fighter on the homebound flight.
W7708 was claimed by Oblt. Werner Rowlin, his 3rd Abschuss, from 8./NJG1, 2 km south of Zaltbommel at 03:40 hrs (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (30 May - 31 December 1942) The Early Years Part 3 - Theo Boiten).
Flt Lt. John Angus MacLean was awarded the DFC for his actions on this mission, which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 16th October 1942. The citation reads:
"One night in September, Flight Lieutenant MacLean was captain of an aircraft engaged in an attack on a target in the Ruhr. During the bombing run heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered. The aircraft sustained damage; the aileron became jammed and when another shell burst immediately below the port wing the aircraft turned on its back and went into an inverted spiral dive. Flight Lieutenant MacLean recovered control of the aircraft and released his bombs on the target. On the return flight the aircraft was attacked from below by an enemy fighter. Further damage was sustained. Shortly afterwards both the port engines failed as the fuel system had been shot away. Despite great efforts on the part of Flight Lieutenant MacLean the bomber eventually became completely uncontrollable and both he and his crew were compelled to leave it by parachute. Throughout this hazardous operation this officer displayed great gallantry, fortitude and devotion to duty."
All seven of the crew successfully bailed out of the aircraft which crashed at Bruchen, province of Gelderland, 50 km WSW of Arnhem, The Netherlands.
(1) Flt Lt. MacLean evaded the enemy with the help of the Comet Line via Belgium, France, Spain and Gibraltar arriving at Gourock, Inverclyde, Scotland on the 8th September 1942.
The Comet Line was a Resistance organisation in occupied Belgium and France in the Second World War. The organisation helped Allied soldiers and airmen shot down over occupied Belgium evade capture by Germans and return to Great Britain. The Comet Line began in Brussels where the airmen were fed, clothed, given false identity papers, and hidden in attics, cellars, and people's homes. A network of volunteers then escorted them south through occupied France into neutral Spain and home via British-controlled Gibraltar. The motto of the Comet Line was "Pugna Quin Percutias", which means "fight without arms", as the organisation did not undertake armed or violent resistance to the German occupation.
Flt Lt. MacLean was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 1st January 1943.
(2) Fg Off. Wernham was promoted to Flt Lt. whilst a PoW with effect 8th July 1943.
Flt Lt. Wenham is not named as being involved in the Escape Organisation and there is no record that describes his role in assisting in the execution of the plan. However, six hundred PoWs had been engaged on work connected with the tunnel and two hundred of them were chosen to escape so it is safe to assume that he was involved in some capacity.
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.
Flt Lt. Wenham was the thirtieth man to exit the tunnel and was one of a party of twelve that set out in a southerly direction through some woods to a small railway station. The party boarded a train at 05:00 hrs which arrived at Ober-Rohrsdorf at about 11:00 hrs without incident. Here the group split up with Flt Lt. Wenham pairing up with Maj. Dodge. They had forged ID papers that identified them as French voluntary workers. (Ref 1)
Major John ‘Johnnie’ Bigelow Dodge, 101106 of The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own). After his capture he was sent to the Concentration Camp at Sachsenhausen - Sonderlager A on the 29th March. Maj. Dodge survived his incarceration and was liberated by Allied forces.
They walked to a small railway station on the outskirts of Hirschberg and tried to purchase tickets for a station on the Czech border without success. They then walked along the main road to the Hirschberg main railway station and purchased two tickets to a town near the Czech border. After boarding the train at 16:00 hrs they were challenged by a German civilian who was not satisfied with their answers and ID papers and arrested them.
They were then taken to the Criminal Police Headquarters in Hirschberg. After interrogation they were taken to the Civil Prison in Hirschberg (Ref 1).
Flt Lt. James witnessed Flt Lt. Wernham, Flt Lt. Kiewnarski, Flt Lt. Pawluk and Plt Off. Skantziklas being taken from the Civil Prison in Hirschberg to an unknown destination on the 30th March 1944. (Ref 1).
Flt Lt. Bertram Arthur James, 42232, Observer from 9 Sqn Wellington Ia P9232 (Insert Link), lost on a mission to Duisburg, Germany on the 5th/6th June 1940. After his capture he was sent to the Concentration camp at Sachsenhausen - Sonderlager A on the 6th April 1944. Flt Lt. James survived his incarceration and was liberated by Allied forces.
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”.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Flt Lt. Wernham were established during the second of two trials which was convened at the Curiohaus, Hamburg on the 28th August 1948.
Of the four charges heard by the court the 2nd related to one German national who was charged with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Hirschberg, Germany, on or about the 29th March 1944, when a member of the Breslau Gestapo in violation of the laws and usages of War, was concerned in the killing of Flt Lt. A. Kiewnarski, Flt Lt. K. Pawluk, Flt Lt. J.C. Wernham and Plt Off. S. Skantzikas who were all PoWs.
The accused was:
Erwin Wieczorek who was a former Kriminalrat (Detective Director), held the rank of SS- Sturmbannführer (Maj) and was a senior official in the Breslau Gestapo office.
After the reading of the charges the court was adjourned until the 4th October and reconvened on the 11th October 1948 and sat for twelve days.
The court heard that the four officers were held at Criminal Police Headquarters in Hirschberg awaiting the arrival of the head of the Gestapo office at Breslau, a Dr. Scharpwinkel, and a squad of Breslau officials.
Dr. Wilhelm Scharpwinkel was the former head of the Gestapo office at Breslau ranking as Oberregierungsrat (German Civil service rank). He also held the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).
After the war Scharpwinkel was masquerading as a Lt. Hagemann at the No. 6 Hospital at Breslau from where Russian officers removed him at gunpoint. During the enquiry into the murders, the Russians refused to co-operate with the Allied investigation, although after much prodding they allowed Scharpwinkel to make a statement, in Moscow, during August and September 1946. Soon afterwards, Scharpwinkel disappeared and it was reported that he had died in a Soviet prison on the 17th October 1947.
Scharpwinkel carried out the interrogations and when they were concluded he told Wieczorek that the four officers were to be shot and told him to detail two officials for escort duty and that Wieczorek was to join them. Wieczorek claimed that he sought to excuse himself from that duty.
The officers were taken in a convoy of four cars in the direction of Sagan. Wieczorek and another Breslau official travelled with one of the four officers on that journey. The convoy drove for about 30 minutes and a suitable place by the roadside the four cars drew up. This was early evening possibly about 18:00 hrs and it was already dark. The four officers were given the opportunity to relieve themselves at the side of the road. As they stood between the second and third cars they were shot and killed.
Wieczorek claimed that he was standing by the first car and was not involved in the shooting but that Scharpwinkel was present and was in charge of the operation.
The duty of arranging the cremations was left to the head of the Hirschberg office. Wieczorek and Scharpwinkel drove back to the Hirschberg office where Scharpwinkel completed a report to be sent to Amt IV which recorded that the officers were shot whilst attempting to escape.
Amt IV = RSHA Department IV = Gestapo.
Wieczorek was the sole representative of that relatively small group of men who carried out the shootings of the twenty-nine prisoners in the Breslau area. Scharpwinkel was dead, some of the other suspects were also dead, the rest of them were not in custody, so that the only one that could be brought before the Court on this charge was Wieczorek.
Erwin Wieczorek was found guilty on this charge and the first charge. He was sentenced to death by hanging but his sentence was quashed upon review.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above Flt Lt. Wernham from his PoW card and Grave Marker (Credit: TWGPP)
Flt Lt. James Chrystall Wernham MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery 8.C.2. Inscription reads: "SAFE IN GOD'S CARE AND KEEPING." Born on the 15th October 1917 in Gourock, Scotland. Son of James Chrystall and Flora (née Murray) Wernham of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Flt Lt. Wernham 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.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project' (TWGPP) for their great work.
1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5