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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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550 Squadron
28/29.07.1944 550 Squadron Lancaster III NE164 Fg Off. Harry Jones

Operation: Stuttgart, Germany

Date: 28th/29th July 1944 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: 550 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial No: NE164

Code: BQ:O

Base: RAF North Killingholme, Lincolnshire, England

Location: Mont Sainte-Odile some 3¼ km SW from Ottrott, France

Pilot: Fg Off. Harry Jones 176650 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

Flight Engineer: Sgt. James R. Drury 1817357 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 513 *

Navigator: Fg Off. William Dinney J22061 RCAF Age 23. Evaded (1)

Air Bomber: Sgt. Frederic Harold Habgood 1602535 RAFVR Age 21. Survived (2)

Wireless Operator: Sgt. Donald Hunter 1479639 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 518 *

Air Gunner: Sgt. Idwal Williams 1652120 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air Gunner: Sgt. Roy B. Cumberlidge 633728 RAF Age? PoW No. 509 *

* Stalag Luft 7, Bankau near Kreuzberg, Silesia, Germany. (Now Bąków, Opole Voivodeship, Poland).

REASON FOR LOSS:

NE164 took off from RAF North Killingholme at 21:36 hrs on the 28th July 1944 on a mission to bomb the Bosch factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The route to the target took them over Rouen, Orleans, St. Dizier, Strasbourg and Karlsruhe. It was over Strasbourg at about 01:32 hrs that NE164 came under attack from a German night fighter. The aircraft was reported to have caught fire and at about 01:50 hrs crashed in the Alsatian forest near to Mont Sainte-Odile some 3¼ km SW of Ottrott in France.

The aircraft was claimed by Oberleutnant (1st.Lt.) Gottfried Hanneck, his 6th Abschuss of Stab 6./NJG 1 (Echelon 6/Nachtgeschwader 1 (Night Fighter Wing No.1)), flying a Bf110G at Ottrott, near Strasbourg at 4.800 m at 01:37 hrs. Note: Claim listed in OKL/RLM confirmed Abschussübersicht. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (24 July 1944 - 15 October 1944) Part 4 - Theo Boiten).

NE164 was one of two Lancasters lost by 550 Sqn and one of 53 losses, with 17 of the losses over France, sustained by Bomber Command on this day from flak and night fighter action.

Six of the crew managed to bail out of the aircraft. However, Sgt. Williams tragically lost his life during his parachute jump in unusual circumstances. Fg Off. Jones perished in the aircraft crash. Sgts. Drury, Hunter and Cumberlidge were captured and spent the remainder of the war as PoWs.

(1) Fg Off. Dinney had been the acting Sqn Navigation Leader for a number of weeks.

His IS9 (Intelligence School 9) report (Provided by Keith Janes of the WWII escape and evasion information Exchange) reported that he had bailed out of the aircraft when ordered to do so and landed near Barr, some 12 km SSE of the crash site, at about 01:30 hrs. He believed that all of the crew had bailed out of the aircraft but he did not see any of them after he had landed.

He decided to head for Spain and on the 4th August crossed the German-French frontier. That evening he meet with a French farmer who handed him over to the French Résistance. For security purposes he was moved in rotation between two locations until the 7th November. On this day he was moved to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges and remained there until the 19th November. By this time the occupying German forces had evacuated the town. That evening two of his helpers took him to a forest to the west of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges where they contacted a US Army patrol. He was take to Epinal and from there flown to Paris. He was returned to the England where he was interviewed on the 23rd November.

(2) The fate of Sgt. Habgood was unknown until a British Military Court was convened in the main building of the Zoological Garden at Wuppertal on the 4th and 5th June 1946. Six German nationals were charged with committing a War Crime in that they at the Natzweiler/Struthof, concentration camp, France on or about the 30th July 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war were concerned in the killing of No. 1602535 Serjeant (Sgt.) J.F. Habgood, RAFVR, a British PoW.

All six of the charged were based at the Natzweiler/Struthof concentration camp. They were: Josef Muth and Kurt Giegling, both guards; Peter Straub who was a former SS-Hauptscharführer (M/Sgt.) and the NCO in charge of the crematorium; Franz Berg who was a former inmate of the camp and a stoker at the crematorium; Fritz Hartjenstein who was a former SS-Sturmbannführer (Schutzstaffel=Protection squad-Major), a member of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death Head Unit) and the commandant of the concentration camp.

The sixth individual on the charge sheet was Magnus Wochner, who was a former Gestapo Kriminalsekretär (Equivalent to an SS-Sturmscharführer which notionally equates to the rank of RSM) and the head of the Politische Abteilung (Political Dept.) in the camp administration.. The prosecution offered no evidence against Wochner and he was found not guilty of the charge.

The court heard that Sgt. Habgood hid in vicinity of where he landed but early on the 30th July he was discovered by a woman in a wood near Lutzelhouse. She tried to keep him at her house until she could summon help to take him to the local Gestapo headquarters located in the Chateau Schiedeck in Lutzelhouse. However, Sgt Habgood realized what was afoot and managed to escape. Unfortunately the Gestapo had been warned and he was discovered that evening hiding in a barn and taken to Gestapo headquarters.

Later that night or early the following morning he was removed to the SS security camp at Schirmeck. Schirmeck was more or less an outpost of the nearby Natzweiler/Struthof concentration camp. On the evening of the 31st July he was collected by Giegling and Muth and driven by car to the concentration camp. On arrival he was taken straight to the crematorium and stripped. Berg fixed a noose around Sgt. Habgood’s neck and to a hook in the ceiling right in front of the furnace. Straub kicked away the support under Sgt. Habgood’s feet and he slowly strangled to death.

No grave has been found for Sgt. Habgood so it was assumed that his body was cremated and his ashes scattered on the field behind the crematorium where the ashes of other inmates were deposited.

The court found all five of the accused guilty of the charge. Muth was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. The final disposition of his sentence is not known.

Giegling, Straub and Berg were sentenced to death by hanging. Giegling’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and probably held at Werl, until at least 1954. Straub and Berg were hanged at Hameln jail on the 11th October 1946 by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard A. O'Neill and Alexander Hurry.

Hartjenstein was sentenced to death by firing squad, however, the sentence was not carried out and he was extradited to France. He was tried at Metz for other crimes at the Natzweiler/Struthof concentration camp and sentenced to death. He died of a heart attack on the 20th October 1954 whilst awaiting execution.

Burial Details

Above Fg Off. Jones, (Credit: Michel Schreiber FindAGrave)

Fg Off. Harry Jones. Ottrott Communal Cemetery. Born in 3rd Quarter 1922. Inscription: "AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING WE WILL REMEMBER HIM". Son of William and Mary Jane (née Thomas) Jones, of Risca, Monmouthshire, Wales.

Above: Sgt. Habgood, (Credit: Andrea Ruddick)

Sgt. Frederic Harold Habgood. Runnymede Memorial Panel 230. Born in 4th Quarter of 1922. Son of Harold Herbert and Gwynne Elizabeth (née Wilton) Habgood, of Wandsworth, London.

On the 21st August 2018 a second-year sports student by the name of Anna Bernard was working on a summer job at the European Centre for the Deported Resistance Fighters (CERD) situated on the site of the former Natzweiler/Struthof concentration camp. Whilst watering some flowers, she discovered a silver bracelet, showing on one side the RAF wings, Habgood's name and service number, and on the reverse side, the name “Jean” who was Habgood's cousin.

In October 2018, Paul Habgood, the son of Frederic's brother Ronald, and his sister Marilyn, visited Struthof and were presented with the bracelet. They had known that their uncle had possessed such a bracelet which was given to him by relatives as a graduation gift after he had completed his RAF training in Canada.

The discovered bracelet showed signs of being partially molten. Almost certainly it had accompanied Habgood's body into the furnace and was then deposited with his ashes that had been scattered in the field.

Above: Sgt. Williams, (Credit: Michel Schreiber FindAGrave)

Sgt. Idwal Williams. Ottrott Communal Cemetery. Born on the 13th May 1923. Inscription: “IN PROUD AND LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEARLY BELOVED SON AND BROTHER”. Son of Henry Morgan Williams and Alice (née Hamer) Williams of Blaina, Monmouthshire, Wales.

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’ . Reference: “Sgt Frederic H. Habgood, RAF, and the four SOE Women“ from the "Hangmen at War" by Richard Clark and Traugott Vitz.

RS & TV 30.04.2021 - Update to night-fighter claim

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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