18.11.1942 131 Squadron, Spitfire Vb EN830, Lt. Bernard W.M. Scheidhauer
Operation: “Rhubarb” Caen- Bayeux area, France
Date: 18th November 1942 (Wednesday)
Unit: 131 Squadron, 11 Group
Type: Spitfire Vb
Serial No: EN830
Location: Near Trinity, Jersey, Channel Isles.
Base: RAF Westhampnett, West Sussex
Pilot: Sous-lieutenant (Plt Off) Bernard William Martial Scheidhauer 30649 FFAF Age 23. PoW No. 832 */ Murdered
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
REASON FOR LOSS:
Spitfires of 131 Sqn. (Photograph by RAF official photographer, Crouch F W (Mr). This is photograph CH 5879 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-16), Public Domain.
Lt. Henri de Bordas and Lt. Scheidhauer took off from RAF Westhampnett at 14:10 hrs on the 18th November 1942 on a ‘Rhubarb’ mission. These flew at low-level over the Channel and crossed the French coast at St-Aubin-Sur-Mer and turned west along the Caen-Cherbourg railway, avoiding Bayeux, on through Carentan, and out again opposite Ecausseville, keeping almost at ground-level all the time.
Rhubarb: Fighter or fighter-bomber sections, at times of low cloud and poor visibility, crossing the English Channel and then dropping below cloud level to search for opportunity targets such as railway locomotives and rolling stock, aircraft on the ground, enemy troops, and vehicles on roads.
Lt. Scheidhauer attacked a locomotive at Carentan and judging by the explosion and clouds of steam it was seriously damaged. Lt. de Bordas the #1 of the flight, attacked three locomotives between Bayeux and Airel and one beyond Carentan. Strikes were seen on two of these and they were claimed as damaged.
A certain amount of light flak was experienced over Carentan and from one post between Bayeux and Airel. Just before turning east at Ecausseville Lt. de Bordas lost sight of his #2 and although he orbited several times and called repeatedly on the R/T nothing further was seen or heard of Lt. Scheidhauer. Lt. de Bordas returned to base and landed at 15:15 hrs.
Over Ouistreham Lt. Scheidhauer’s Spitfire was hit by flak and he became separated from his #1. He nursed his aircraft to the coast and mistook Jersey in the Channel Islands as the Isle of Wight and made forced landing in a turnip field near to Trinity, about 5¾ km north of St. Helier.
When he found out about his mistake from local residents who had appeared he tried to destroy the intact Spitfire but because of the battle damage all the fuel had leaked out and he could not set the aircraft ablaze. He then set about smashing as many cockpit instruments as possible before the Germans turned up and detained him.
The Germans were presented with an intact Spitfire which was quickly returned to flying condition and flown to Germany. The machine guns and canons were removed and its Merlin 45 engine was replaced with a Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft (DB 605A ), the Bf109G engine. It was given the German identity of CY-ZY and dubbed the "Messerspit". The aircraft was evaluated over a 2 year period. The results of which found that the modified aircraft retained the Spitfire’s handling characteristics but with a higher ceiling, was faster and had a better climb rate than both the Spitfire Vb and the Bf109G. On the 14th August 1944 it was destroyed by the USAAF when they bombed Echterdingen.
A week earlier on the 11th November 1942 Lt. Scheidhauer was involved in a mid-air collision whilst flying Spitfire Vb AA719 on a Rodeo mission. On the return flight around noon he collided in cloud with Plt Off. E.A.J. Williams’ Spitfire Vb EN889. Lt. Scheidhauer bailed out and was rescued by a Supermarine Walrus Ia from 277 Squadron. A further search found the dead body of Plt Off. Williams floating in the sea.
Fg Off. Emrys Aloysius Joseph ‘Taffy’ Williams 117304 RAFVR Age 23, Chichester Cemetery, Square 42. R.C. Plot. Grave 33. Son of Ernest and Lilian Williams; husband of Mabel Williams, of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester.
Lt. Scheidhauser ended up in Stalag Luft 3 where he became involved as an intelligence worker, specialising in France, for the Escape Intelligence Officer who was initially Sqn Ldr. Tindell and then Flt Lt. Crawley.
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”.
Lt. Scheidhauser teamed up with Sqn Ldr. Bushell and they were in the first twenty to exit the tunnel. They made their way to Sagan railway station where they purchased tickets for Breslau. Thirty minutes later they and a number of other escapers boarded the express train from Berlin to Breslau. (Ref 1)
Sqn Ldr. Bushell and Lt. Scheidhauer made it to the French border where they were about to leave the train and board a bus into France when a suspicious Gestapo man wished Sqn Ldr. Bushell good luck in English. Sqn Ldr. Bushell, who spoke perfect German, replied in English "Thank You" which sealed his fate. Ironically he had often told others during the escape planning to use German only. They were two of the first of the escapers who were captured.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Lt. Scheidhauer were established during the first of two British Military Court’s which was convened at the Curiohaus, Hamburg between the 1st July and 3rd September 1947. This was the trial of Max Wielen and 17 others where they were charged on nine counts.
All of the accused were named on the first two counts. These were charges of conspiracy against the accused together with SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, Head of the Gestapo (Amt IV of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt) (believed to have been killed or committed suicide), SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, Head of the Kripo (Amt V of the RSHA) (Executed after the attempt on Hitler’s life) and Max Ernst Gustav Friedrich Wielen, the Kripo and Gestapo police chief of Breslau with the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, in the participation of the killing of the 50 officers.
In counts three to nine, six groups of accused were each charged with the killing of one or several officers. Every accused with the exception of Max Wielen figures in one of the charges and no accused figures in more than one.
Specifically on the third count, Emil Schulz and Walter Breithaupt, members of the Kaiserslautern Gestapo, were accused of killing Sqn Ldr. R.J. Bushell and Lt. B.W.M. Scheidhauer between Homburg and Kaiserslautern on or about the 29th March 1944.
Dr. Spann who was the Kriminaldirektor (Detective Director) of the Gestapo regional headquarters at Saarbrücken, received a teleprint from the RSHA on the night of 28th/29th March, 1944, to the effect that two British officers, who were in the local gaol, had to be taken out and shot.
He directed two members of his staff for this purpose, Schulz who was on night duty, and Breithaupt who, as the officer in charge of transport, slept in the room above the garage.
The three men fetched the prisoners, drove them out on the autobahn toward Mannheim and after approximately 40km stopped the car. The two airmen were ordered out of the vehicle, their handcuffs removed and were told to relieve themselves. Spann then shot both airmen in the back, killing Lt. Scheidhauer and wounding Sqn Ldr. Bushell who collapsed. He then ordered Schulz to complete the task. Schulz, as admitted in his own evidence, fired twice, once without aiming in his excitement, and the second time delivering the Coup de grâce to Sqn Ldr. Bushell who was on his knees.
Breithaupt did not fire his weapon. The prosecutor suggested that he had acted as an escort and was informed of the purpose of the journey by Schulz, which was confirmed by Schulz in his sworn deposition. Breithaupt himself gave evidence to the effect that he only acted as a driver and only learned of the purpose of the journey from Spann when they arrived at the scene of the shooting.
Dr. Leopold Spann was reassigned to head the Gestapo office at Linz in Austria. He was killed in a USAAF air raid on the 25th April 1945 which destroyed the Gestapo office.
The court found Schulz and Breithaupt not guilty on the first two counts but found both guilty of the third count. Breithaupt was sentenced to life imprisonment and he was released on the 24th October 1952.
Schulz was sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard A. O'Neill, on the 26th February 1948 at Hameln prison in a double execution at 10:23 hrs.
Above: Memorial to Sqn Ldr. R.J. Bushell and Lt. B.W.M. Scheidhauer at Ramstein AFB, Germany. (Credit: Mr B. Knepp)
Memorial at the approximate spot on the remains of the bridge where to Sqn Ldr. R.J. Bushell and Lt. B.W.M. Scheidhauer were shot. Just outside the main gate of Ramstein AFB, Germany. (Credit: Mr B. Knepp)
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above Grave. marker for Plt Off. Scheidhauer (Credit: TWGPP)
Sous-lieutenant (Plt Off). Bernard William Martial Scheidhauer. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Coll. Grave 9.A. Collective Grave. Born on the 28th August 1921 in Landau, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. Son of Michel Scheidhauer.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with additional 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