24.04.1944 425 (Alouette) Squadron RCAF, Halifax III LW591 Fg.Off. Joseph W. L’Abbé
Operation: Karlsruhe, Germany
Date: 24th April 1944 (Monday)
Unit: 425 (Alouette) Squadron, RCAF
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Tholthorpe, Easingwold, North Yorkshire, England
Location: Between the villages of Obersgegen and Niedersgegen in Germany
Pilot: Fg.Off. Joseph Willie L’Abbé J/21415 RCAF Age 24. PoW No. 5986 *
Flt.Eng: Sgt. Alan Best 2207320 RAFVR Age 19. Evader (2)
Nav: Fg.Off Thomas George Gravel J/24923 RCAF Age 31. PoW No 5376 *
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Joseph William Beter Paul Whalen R/171362 RCAF Age 20. Evader (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Plt.Off. Henri Edouard Dubé J/86139 RCAF Age 27. Evader/Murdered (1)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Joseph Alfred Edgar Michand R/189956 RCAF Age 21. Evader (2)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Herman Norman Girard R/187514 RCAF Age 21. PoW No. 3603 ** (4)
* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag 357 (Stalag 11b), Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS:
LW591 took off from RAF Tholthorpe at 2140 hrs on a mission to bomb targets in Karlsruhe, Germany.
In his submission to a Loss of Aircraft Report Fg.Off. L’Abbé described that after taking off from Tholthorpe they climbed to height and set course to cross the English channel. After they had been flying for about an hour Sgt. Best, the Flt.Eng., reported that they were experiencing high fuel consumption. The aircraft had a similar problem on a previous mission but Fg.Off. L’Abbé decided to press on but if the consumption increased they would turn back. To mitigate the problem it was decided to slow down, decrease engine revs, stop climbing and maintain their altitude at 16000 ft.
After crossing the channel and into enemy territory Sgt. Best informed Fg.Off. L’Abbé of a fuel leak from the starboard outer engine. The engine was not shut down but the revs were decreased to a minimum in order to provide full electrical power to their ‘Gee’ equipment *. As a result of the problems they arrived late over the target area and encountered the second wave of attacking bombers.
* ‘Gee’ was a radio navigation system. For large, fixed targets, such as the cities that were attacked at night, ‘Gee’ offered enough accuracy to be used as an aiming reference without the need to use a bombsight or other external references. Jamming reduced its usefulness as a bombing aid, but it remained in use as a navigational aid in the UK area throughout and after the war.
Fg.Off. L’Abbé decided to orbit the target three times until the second wave had passed before dropping their own bombs and then turning for home. By that time fuel was very low so the starboard outer was feathered and height was decreased to 12,000 ft. En Route aircraft icing was encountered which froze the trim tabs and caused severe vibration to the aircraft. Fg.Off. L’Abbé tried to unfeather the starboard outer and climb above the icing layer without any success so instead he decreased height which resulted in the flying instruments freezing up. The vibration became more severe and the flying controls became very stiff and hard to operate. Handling of the aircraft became impossible and so Fg.Off. L’Abbé gave the order to bale out. After the crew had left he turned the aircraft toward Germany and then bailed out himself at approximately 500 to 1000 ft into clouds and rain.
German records document that the aircraft crashed between the villages of Obersgegen and Niedersgegen, which are approximately 2 miles apart and about 1½ miles from the German Luxembourg border, at 0200 hrs on the 25th April 1944.
The circumstances of the initial encounters with enemy forces and/or friendly citizens after the crew had landed are unknown at this time.
(1) Fg.Off. L’Abbé, Sgt. Best and Sgt. Michand evaded capture with the aid of friendly citizens. The following summarises a statement made by Flt.Sgt. Best:
The group was composed mainly of Luxembourg patriots who had deserted from the Wehrmacht. Also in the group were six American and three English airmen. Towards the end of June 1944 the group moved to a camp in the Ardennes located near a village of Chenet which is in eastern Belgium and about 15 miles WSW of Bastogne.
After 4 or 5 weeks everyone was getting impatient because apart from a promise to notify the authorities in England nothing was being done and there was some talk amongst the evaders of striking out on their own.
The chief of the organisation, known as Gustav, heard about this and after forcibly removing the personal belongings of the evaders threatened to have anyone shot who attempted to leave the camp. However, the belongings were returned the next day but this was the catalyst for individual evaders to leave the camp, cross into France and try and contact the French resistance for their assistance in reaching Allied lines.
At the end of July 1944 Plt.Off. Dubé left the camp together with 1st.Lt. Noble. who Plt.Off. Dubé was a fluent French speaker and had a Belgian ID card together with some local currency.
1st.Lt. Richard Francis Noble, O-453171, US Army Air Force was the pilot of B-17G ‘Lucky Lady’, 42-39941, 731st Bomber Sqn, which was shot down on the 12th May 1944.
The entry for the Lucky Lady in Stan D. Bishop’s “Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces - Vol 3”, describes that they were assisted by a Mr. Mathieu from Charleville, who was a French freedom fighter. After spending a short time at Mr. Mathieu's home they left for the next safe station en route to Allied lines west of Paris but all three were quickly captured. Mr. Mathieu was held at the local jail whilst the two airmen were put aboard a train to be sent to a PoW Camp in Germany. The two airmen managed to escape from the train but when they arrived in the town of Olizy which is some 6 miles SE of Vouziers in France on the 8th August 1944 they were captured again. During the course of that day both were taken to woods located above a place named Le Canapé outside of the town, forced to dig their own graves and were then shot in the head by unidentified Germans but who are thought to have been members of the Gestapo.
Their bodies were discovered at 2000 hrs the same day, recovered and reburied in the Olizy Cemetery in Graves #6 and #7. During April 1948 a team including a member of the 3rd Zone Allied Graves Registration Committee (AGRC) based in Nancy, France arrived at Olizy and opened the graves. The body in Grave #6 was identified as that of 1st.Lt. Noble and eventually the body in Grave #7 was identified as that of Plt.Off. Dubé.
Those responsible for the murders of Plt.Off. Dubé and 1st.Lt. Noble remain unknown.
(2) Sgt. Best and Sgt. Michand remained together at the Ardennes camp after Plt.Off. Dubé and 1st.Lt. Noble had left. They eventually became part of Operation Marathon and with others from the Ardennes camp arrived at the Villance camp. They and the others were then moved on to the Acremont camp from where they were liberated by American troops on the 6th September 1944. Both returned to England on the 11th September 1944.
(3) No information has been found that describes who assisted Sgt. Whalen in evading German forces or where he was hiding. What is known is that he returned to England on the 22nd September 1944.
(4) Sgt. Girard was promoted to Pilot Officer (Plt.Off.) as a PoW.
In 1999 a memorial plaque for Plt.Off. Dubé and 1st.Lt. Noble was unveiled at the Olizy church.
Grave marker: Courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project
Plt.Off. Henri Edouard Dubé. Olizy Communal Cemetery. Born on the 16th July 1917 in Edmudston, New Brunswick. Son to Henry Joseph and Emily Marie Dubé and husband to Rita Marie Dubé of Edmudston, New Brunswick, Canada.
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report.