05/06.01.1945 425 (Alouette) Squadron, RCAF Halifax III MZ860 Flt Sgt. J.T.R. Cauchy
Operation: Hanover, Germany
Date: 5th/6th January 1945 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: 425 (Alouette) Squadron, RCAF
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Tholthorpe, North Yorkshire, England
Location: On the banks of the Weser river, 1 km east of Stolzenau, Germany
Pilot: Flt Sgt. J.T.R. Cauchy R177077 RCAF Age? PoW *
Flight Engineer: Sgt. Edward John Faulkner R184378 RCAF Age 30. PoW *
Navigator: Fg Off. J.J.P. L’Esperance J22202 RCAF Age? PoW *
Bomb Aimer: WO2. Jean Adolphe Fernand Piche R117646 RCAF Age 25. Survived (1)
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. R.M. Cantin R194179 RCAF Age? PoW *
Mid Upp Gnr: Flt Sgt. Joseph Yves Jean Claude Lamarre MiD, R219184 RCAF Age 20. Survived (2)
Rear Gnr: Flt Sgt. J.A. Cote R94157 RCAF Age? PoW *
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS
On the 5th January 1945 MZ860 took off at 16:23 hrs from RAF Tholthorpe to join a massed, 133 Halifax and 57 Lancasters, bombing mission to Hanover.
MZ860 was claimed by Hauptmann Werner Baake, his 41st Abschuss flying a He219 from Stab I./NJG1, 50 km west of Hanover at 19:44 hrs. As the Gruppenkommandeur of Stab I./NJG1 this was his third claim on the night in question. (Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume 2 (April 1944 - May 1945) - Dr Theo E.W. Boiten & Roderick J. Mackenzie).
Baake survived the war and became a Captain flying for Lufthansa. He was killed during a test flight on the 15th July 1964.
An investigation undertaken by No. 8 Section (Germany) of the Missing Research & Enquiry Service (MRES) dated 7th October 1945 determined the following:
The Halifax MZ860, missing on the night of 5th January 1945 while on bombing operations over Hanover, was seen to crash on the banks of the Weser river, 1 km east of Stolzenau.
The police remember taking into custody the five members of the crew who were reported later as PoWs, and also the sixth member, who it was reported, was killed while evading.
Of the seventh member, Plt Off. J.A.F. Piche J92868, there was no record whatsoever. According to reports, the aircraft had exploded upon impact with the ground and pieces of it were discovered up to 700 metres away. In the vicinity of the crash human remains were found and it was this evidence which led the Germans to issue the death card stating that Plt Off. Piche had been killed. It was assumed that this officer was blown to pieces when the aircraft exploded.
Note: The majority of the events described and the assumptions made in this report were corrected by a reinvestigation undertaken by No. 4 Missing Research & Enquiry Unit (MREU), see (1) below.
In their PoW questionnaires Flt Sgt. Cauchy, Flt Sgt. Cantin, Fg Off. L’Esperance, Sgt. Faulkner and Flt Sgt. Cote wrote that they were told by German interrogators that Flt Sgt. Lamarre was found dead in the aircraft wreckage having been hit in the neck and head by 20mm cannon shells. That said, the German interrogators told Fg Off. L’Esperance, Sgt. Cote and Sgt. Faulkner that WO2. Piche was in hospital with a broken leg.
Whether the German interrogators deliberately lied about Flt Sgt. Lamarre being found in the wreckage and that WO2. Piche was in hospital, or it was just an error on their part is unknown. Both of the airmen had in fact bailed out and were killed by hostile action on the ground, see (1) & (2) below.
Whilst as PoWs the following three airmen were commissioned:
R177077 Flt Sgt. Cauchy to Plt Off. (J90008);
R184378 Sgt. Faulkner to Plt Off. (J94494);
R117646 Flt Sgt. Cantin to Plt Off. (J93684).
After Plt Off. Faulkner was liberated by the Russians on the 1st May 1945 it was reported that he tried to return home by himself. His PoW questionnaire indicated that he was interviewed on the 18th May 1945, 3 days after his fellow crew members.
(1) The circumstances leading to the death and recovery of the body of WO2. Piche was subject of a reinvestigation undertaken by No. 24 Section of No. 4 MREU.
The report, dated 2nd October 1947, found that WO2. Piche had baled out of the aircraft and landed in an open field close to Schlüsselburg, Germany. His movements during the night could not be accounted for but it must be assumed that he attempted to evade as he made no efforts during the night to contact the German authorities.
Schlüsselburg is some 4 km south from the aircraft crash site.
The following morning at about 09:00 hrs he was seen, by several farmers living in the vicinity of the village, heading for Schlüsselburg. He was challenged by a man named Nordmeyer who was a member of the Landesschützen (Local defence force) and taken by him to the Police station at Schlüsselburg.
After spending a short time at the police station he was taken across to the house of Bürgermeister (Mayor) Kruse who decided to arrange for a preliminary interrogation of the prisoner. He secured the services of an English interpreter who was told by WO2. Piche that his spoken language was French, consequently a man named Hoppe, who was the then current Bürgermeister of Gemeinde, was called in to act as interpreter.
At the same time Kruse called for a man named Wegener, who was the Chief of Police, to assist in the interrogation. A man named Straas, an NCO in the Home Guard & Fire Guard, was made responsible for the prisoner. After the interrogation Straas was to take the prisoner to the Amtsverwaltung (Local government offices) at Lahde.
Lahde is some 13 km SSW from Schlüsselburg.
At about 11:00 hrs the interrogation was concluded and Straas took the airman to a nearby school where he was given food and water and locked in a classroom. At about 13:00 hrs Straas returned and took the prisoner to Schlüsselburg railway station and boarded the 14:00 hrs train to Lahde.
They arrived at about 15:00 hrs and then proceeded to the Amtsverwaltung where Straas was told to go to an office of an Amt (government) official named Nolte, however, they found his office locked. Shortly thereafter Nolte arrived accompanied by two men dressed in field grey. Straas identified the two men as guards from the Lahde-Weser Concentration camp. Nolte handed over WO2. Piche to the guards who then left immediately with the prisoner.
It was believed that the guards took WO2. Piche directly to the Concentration camp. It was probable that the Gestapo Criminal Investigation Officer, a man named Scheel who was attached to the camp, had informed Winkler the commander of the camp that an Allied airman was being brought in.
Winkler, in a statement, was of the mind to administer some ‘Concentration camp treatment’ to the airman upon his arrival. WO2. Piche was seen at one time that evening standing at the entrance of the camp being beaten by a camp guard named Brockmeyer. Later he was seen by a guard named Lehkamp in Winkler’s office being beaten and kicked by two guards who he named as Schaffer and Meteisky. Lehkamp admitted that he also hit the prisoner on the orders of Winkler. Whilst Lehkamp was still in Winkler’s office Schaffer and Meteisky took the airman away. A guard named Messerle made a statement to the effect that the airman was taken to a bunker where he was beaten to death.
There were a number of War Crime trials related to the Lahde-Weser Concentration camp. However, it is not known if a specific trial was convened which was concerned with the death of WO2. Piche. That said, two of the five suspects named in the MREU report were brought before a British Military court.
Karl Winkler, the former commandant of the Lahde-Weser Concentration camp, was sentenced to death by a British Military court at Wuppertal on the 14th February 1947 for the murders of Allied prisoners of war. His sentence was later commuted to 20 years imprisonment in October 1947. The disposition of his sentence is unknown.
Wilhelm Brockmeyer was also before the British military court at Wuppertal on the 14th February 1947. His guilt or otherwise is unknown.
It is unknown whether the individuals named David Messerle, Schaffer and Meteisky were brought before a court to answer for their role in the death of WO2. Piche.
(2) An investigation carried out by No. 23 Section of No. 4 MREU determined the circumstances of the capture and death of Flt Sgt. Lamarre. The former Chief of Police in Loccum, a Herr Keunecke provided the following information.
On the 6th January 1945 a British [sic] airman was brought to the SS Headquarters (HQ) in Loccum by German civilians from the town of Leese.
Leese is about 3 km ESE from the aircraft crash site and Loccum is some 6 km SSE of Leese.
The commanding officer (CO) at that time was SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col.) Hans Wilhelm Bösenberg. Bösenberg telephoned the home of Herr Keunecke and informed his daughter, who answered the phone, that he was holding an Allied airman and wanted her father to “shoot him”. When told of the message Herr Keunecke spoke on the phone and refused to shoot the airman. He then went to his office in town and from there to the SS HQ where Bösenberg was waiting for him.
Bösenberg was the CO of the 1st Feld-Ersatz-Brigade, a unit comprised the remnants of the Hitler Youth Division and the SS Leibstandarte Division (Ref 1).
Note: It is believed that the remnants were from the 5th Company, 12th SS Training/Reserve Battalion “Hitlerjugend” and probably the Grenadier elements of the 1st SS Panzer Corps “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”.
Herr Keunecke told the SS officer that if he handed over the airman be would take him to the Luftwaffe airfield at Wunstorf in accordance with the normal procedures for captured airmen.
A heated argument ensued between Herr Keunecke, Bösenberg and an SS-Sturmscharführer (M/Sgt.) Rudolf Fremter, who was an SS orderly. The argument ended with Fremter telling Herr Keunecke that if he as the Chief of Police would not shoot the airman it would be done by the SS.
The next morning Bösenberg telephoned Herr Keunecke and informed him that the British airman had been shot “whilst trying to escape”. In a later conversation Bösenberg mocked Herr Keunecke for being squeamish and told him that a 19 year old SS solider had shot the airman. Herr Keunecke did not know the name of the soldier. The whole incident was reported to a Canadian Army Major at the end of the War.
The 19 year old SS soldier was later identified as SS-Sturmmann (Pte 2nd Class) Max Gustav Sommer (Ref 1).
As of the 31st May 1946 the Canadian War Crimes Investigation Unit ceased to function and all subsequent, estimated to be at least 30 cases in the ETO, came under the jurisdiction of the British (Ref. 2).
A British Military court was convened in Hamburg, commencing on the 28th August 1948 and was then adjourned. It was reconvened on the 26th October 1948 and lasted until the 3rd November 1948. Bösenberg and Sommer were charged with the killing of Flt Sgt. Lamarre (Ref 2).
Bösenberg failed in his attempt to commit suicide in his prison cell at Minden on the 9th August 1948 and this may have been one reason for the adjournment of the court proceedings.
The court heard that the airman was locked in the guardroom and was subjected to a beating. After dark that evening Fremter and Sommer were ordered to take the airman to Wunstorf. En route Fremter stopped at a railway bridge and pretended to relieve himself and told Sommer to continue on. Suddenly Fremter shouted out that the prisoner was trying to escape and ordered Sommer to open fire.
Sommer fired two or three shots, one of which wounded the airman, who then fell to the ground. Fremter told Sommer to kill the airman which he refused to do. Fremter then shot the airman in the head killing him. They then proceeded to bury the body in a shallow grave and returned to their unit.
The court found Bösenberg and Sommer guilty of the killing. Bösenberg was sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Sommer was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. The final disposition of their sentences is unknown.
The reason for Fremter not being before the court is unknown.
Initial Burial details:
It was determined that Plt Off. Piche was initially buried in the Eastern Workers Cemetery at the Laude-Weser Concentration Camp. His remains and those of thirty others were concentrated to the Lahde Gemeinde cemetery prior to identification. Plt Off. Piche was finally laid to rest at the Hanover War Cemetery.
Plt Off. Lamarre was initially buried next to the Loccum-Münchehagen railway line some 3¼ km WNW of Loccum. He was reburied, reportedly on the 12th February 1945, in the Kloster-Loccum Friedhof (Loccum Abbey cemetery). After exhumation by No. 50 Graves Concentration Unit (GCU) on the 16th October 1947 and identification Plt Off. Lamarre was finally laid to rest at the Hanover War Cemetery in October 1947.
Above: Plt Off. Piche from his service file. Grave marker: courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project.
Plt Off. Jean Adolphe Fernand Piche. Hanover War Cemetery, Grave 10.E.6. Born on the 22nd March 1919 in Pointe-du-Lac, Quebec. Son of Alphonse and Rosa (née Biron) Piche of Louisville, Quebec, Canada.
Commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. (J92868) with effect 5th January 1945.
Above: Plt Off. Lamarre MiD from his service file. Grave marker: courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project.
Plt Off. Joseph Yves Jean Claude Lamarre MiD. Hanover War Cemetery, Grave 16.E.18. Born on the 12th December 1924 in Montreal, Quebec. Inscription read: "FILS BIEN-AIME DE MADAME VEUVE M.A. LAMARRE, MONTREAL, QUEBEC". Son of Alexandre and Marie Anna (née Major) Lamarre of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His father predeceased him.
Commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. (J95374) with effect 3rd January 1945.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the VitzArchive database.
1. Footprints on the Sands of Time: RAF Bomber Command Prisoner-of-War in Germany 1939-1945 - Oliver Clutton-Brock - Chapter 18, Page 212.
2. Casual Slaughters and Accidental Judgements: Canadian war Crimes Prosecutions 1944-1948 - Patrick Brode - Chapter 8