06/07.11.1944 619 Squadron Lancaster III LM742 Fg.Off. Eric W. Hookings
Operation: Gravenhorst, Germany
Date: 6th/7th November 1944 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: 619 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Strubby, Lincolnshire, England
Location: In the vicinity of Neuenkirchen, Germany
Pilot: Fg.Off. Eric William Hookings 184315 RAFVR Age 24. PoW No.8813 * (1)
Flt.Eng: Sgt. H.J.H. ‘John’ Tait 1896656 RAFVR Age? PoW No.1212 **
Nav: Flt.Lt. Leo Croney 1672013 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 1231 **
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. R.G. Walters 1577984 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 1215 ** (2)
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt.Sgt. Rex Bernard Templeton 428079 RAAF Age 25. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Edward Frederick Wood 1816621 RAFVR Age 20. Survived (3)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Alick Clem Norris 1589308 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria)
** Stalag Luft 7, Bankau near Kreuzberg, Silesia, Germany. (Now Bąków, Opole Voivodeship, Poland)
REASON FOR LOSS:
LM742 was one 16 aircraft that took off from RAF Strubby at about 16:29 hrs on a mission to bomb the Dortmund-Ems-Kanal and Mittellandkanal systems (the junction of these canals is some 17 km ESE of the Rheine airfield) near Gravenhorst, Germany. LM742 and NN723 (PG:H) failed to reach the target or return to base.
A German night fighter was responsible for the loss of LM742 which was confirmed by Fg.Off. Hookings. Although not corroborated, German night fighter records document that a Ltn. Jürgen Prietze of 3./NJG 1 claimed a 4 Motor aircraft, north of Flugplatz Münster-Handorf at 2000m at 19:37 hrs (local).
The airfield at Münster-Handorf was about 8 km NE of Münster in Westphalia and about 1½ km NE of Handorf village and about 38 km from the Rheine airfield.
(1) Fg.Off. Eric William Hookings (8th July 1920 - 21st April 2016). The personal recollections of the fateful mission, the story of his time as a PoW and the subsequent forced march from Stalag Luft 3 can be found on the Aircrew Association, Surrey Branch site.
(2) Sgt. Walters was reported to have escaped during the forced march from Stalag Luft 7. In the book “Footprints on the Sands of Time” by Oliver Clutton-Brocks there is a brief account of how Sgt. Walters and five other Senior Non-Commissioned Officer’s (SNCO) hide in a brickyard on the evening of the 20th January 1945. The following evening, after being helped by some Polish workers, they were rescued when a Soviet tank appeared with three other rescued SNCOs. He along with other PoWs were later repatriated from the Black Sea port of Odessa.
(3) The fate of Sgt. Wood was unknown until a Military Court was held at the Garrison Theater, Osnabrück, Germany from 7th March to the 1st May 1947. In total six German nationals were before the court on ten separate charges.
The fifth of the charges accused four German nationals of committing a war crime in that they, at or near the Rheine airfield in Germany on or about the 4th or 5th November 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of an unknown British PoW believed to be Woods (sic).
The four accused were Heinz Stellpflug, a former Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt.) and chief clerk responsible to Franz Schmitt a former Luftwaffe Major (Maj.) and Commanding Officer of the Rheine airfield; August Hackethal a former Luftwaffe Feldwebel (Sgt.) and clerk; Karl Henkelhausen a former Luftwaffe Major (Maj.) who was Schmitt’s second in command; Walter Klöpzig, a former Luftwaffe Maj. and one time adjutant to Henkelhausen. They were all stationed at the Rheine airfield located 4 km NW of the town of Rheine in the province of Westphalia.
In the course of the trial proceedings it was established that a Fritz Bollenrath, a former SA (Sturmabteilung = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party)-Standartenführer (equates to Col.) and official in charge of the Rheine outpost of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst of the SS) at Rheine, systematically shot a number of Allied airmen who were delivered into his hands. The prosecution maintained that the three accused aided and abetted Bollenrath in the killing of Sgt. Wood. Bollenrath had committed suicide on the 5th December 1945 shortly after his arrest.
The accused Hackethal testified that on or about the day in question he along with a Wehrmacht senior engineer named Wilhelm Kotter, drove by car to Neuenkirchen to undertake salvage duties at an aircraft crash site. They stopped at the Bürgermeister’s office to obtain directions to the location of the crash. Whilst there he was told that an airman had already been picked up by Bollenrath.
He and Kotter then drove to the crash site before returning to the Rheine airfield. En route their car broke down and in the process of trying to resolve the problem another car overtook them and stopped some 20 metres further down the road. Bollenrath got out of the car and called Kotter over to him. They spoke for a number of minutes after which Kotter ordered Hackethal to accompany Bollenrath to the Kommandantur (Airfield headquarters) and then take custody of the Allied airman who was in the car.
Arriving at the Kommandantur Bollenrath did not stop the car but drove on for about another 250 metres in the direction of the Muniwald (wood) before stopping. He got out of the car, opened the passenger door and made the airman get out. Hackethal watched through the rear window of the car as Bollenrath had the airman walk in front of him and then shoot him in the head with a single shot. He watched as he dragged the body into a ditch on the side of the road.
Bollenrath got back into the car, turned the vehicle round and drove back to the Kommandantur. Before Hackethal got out he was warned by Bollenrath to keep his mouth shut about what had happened and then handed over the airman’s personal effects before driving off.
Hackethal admitted to the court that he accompanied Bollenrath to where the airman was shot but claimed that the shooting was carried out by Bollenrath. He also did report the matter to Stellpflug.
The witness Josef Biegansky, a former Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (Cpl.), testified that had received orders from Stellpflug to find and bury the airman. He described how he found the airman about 500 to 600 metres away from the Kommandantur in a ditch by the Muniwald. He noticed that there was a bullet wound behind the airman’s ear.
Sgt Wood was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch in Rheine on the 7th November 1944. A British war crimes team disinterred a number of bodies from the cemetery after the war and discovered that some of the Allied servicemen buried there looked like they were victims of war crimes.
According to a War Crimes Pathological Section report Sgt. Wood was identified from his identity disk (dog tags) and that the body was wearing RAF battle dress. The cause of death was from a small calibre bullet wound to the head, causing instantaneous death. In the opinion of Maj. Mant, RAMC, the shot had been fired from close range. He found no other injuries.
At the end of the case for the prosecution it was decided that there was no evidence against Klöpzig and he was therefore released.
The court deemed that the evidence presented was not sufficient to convict the three remaining accused and therefore on this specific charge Stellpflug, Hackethal and Henkelhausen were found not guilty.
However, Stellpflug was found guilty on Charge 7 of 10 and Charge 10 of 10 and was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on the 5th September 1947 in Hameln (Hamelin) prison.
Flt.Sgt. Templeton and Sgt. Norris were initially buried in Lingen (Ems) which is some 17 miles north of Rheine.
Above: Grave markers (Credit: TWGPP)
Flt.Sgt. Rex Bernard Templeton. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 16.F.4. Born on the 18th September 1919 in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. Inscription: "HIS DUTY NOBLY DONE", Son of Thomas and Mary Ann Templeton, of Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.
Sgt. Alick Clem Norris. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 16.F.3. Born in December 1924. Inscription: “IN MEMORY OR OUR DEAR SON ALICK. TOO DEARLY LOVED TO EVER BE FORGOTTEN". Son of Joshua and Winifred M. (née Dennett) Norris, of Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England.
Sgt. Edward Frederick Wood. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 24.C.2. Born 1924. Inscription: "ALWAYS REMEMBERED BY MOTHER, FATHER, SISTERS AND BROTHERS". Son of Benjamin George and Henrietta Wood, of Warley, Worcestershire, England.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks also to Steve Rogers from the War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP) for permission to use the grave marker images