7/8.09.1941 No 144 Squadron Handley Page Hampden Mark I AD936 PL-? P/O Peter Stevens MC
Operation: Berlin, Germany
Date: 7/8th September 1941 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: No. 144 Squadron
Type: Handley Page Hampden I
Base: RAF North Luffenham, Rutland
Location: Near Amsterdam
Pilot: P/O. Peter Stevens 88219 RAFVR Age 22 PoW No. 3786. Camps: Oflag XC, Oflag VIB, Oflag XXIB, Stalag IIIA, Stalag Luft 3(1)
2nd Pilot/Nav: Sgt. Alan (Doc) Wakefield Payne 1253981 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 9579. Camp: 357 Kopernikus (2)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harry (Tommy) Thompson 950320 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 9573. Camp: 357 Kopernikus (3)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ivor Roderick Fraser 649384 RAF Age 20 Killed (4)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Hampden AD936 took off from RAF North Luffenham for a bombing operation on Berlin telephone exchange. Nearly two hundred aircraft took part in this operation. Visibility was good and much damaged to factories, public buildings, transport, farms and houses. Most damage was caused outside of Berlin centre and with many people made homeless. Hampden AD936 was hit by flak and both wing tanks were holed. P/O Stevens made a forced landing North East of Amsterdam on one engine because of fuel starvation
RAF North Luffenham, Rutland (courtesy American Air Museum in Britain) Handley Page Hampden Mark I (courtesy Imperial War Museum)
Map showing the area of the crash of Hampden AD936
(1) P/O. Peter Stevens. Written by Marc H. Stevens son of Peter Stevens MC
My father died in 1979, when I was 22 years old. We lived, at that time, in Toronto, Canada, which is where I still live today. As far as I knew, Dad had been born in Germany (although that was a highly-classified secret, and I was warned at an early age to tell that fact to NO ONE), to Christian parents. His birth name was Georg Franz Hein, but that name was not obviously Jewish, and so it never occurred to me that he might have been born a Jew. Since my mother was a French-Canadian Catholic (and not even she knew about Dad's true ethnicity), my only sibling and I were raised in that faith. Dad spoke with a highly-cultured British accent, and passed himself off as an Englishman. The fact that he had served as an RAF bomber pilot only helped to reinforce that cover story. In the late 1980's I began an odyssey of research, trying to discover why, specifically, my father had been one of only 69 members of the RAF to be awarded Britain's Military Cross for valour in World War 2. What I didn't know, and only discovered in 1996, was that my father had been born Jewish. It all began with a lot of letter writing. Initially to an author of POW escape books in England. He was the first to tell me that my father was actually Jewish (about 1989), but I thought he was dead wrong about that. More letters were written to the RAF Personnel Department in England, hoping to be put in contact with any surviving members of Dad's bomber crew. Incredibly, I was able to contact, and later meet, two of Dad's crew whose lives he saved with his sang-froid flying skills. Numerous visits to Britain's National Archives eventually paid off. Using my father's RAF Pilot Logbook as a starting point, I discovered debriefs for each of Dad's 22 combat missions. Later, I located the actual documents that recommended my father for the Military Cross. In 1996, I finally tracked down and contacted my late father's little sister (Gertrude Frieda Hein), who finally confirmed the rumours that my father was actually a Jew. On my last visit to the National Archives, in late 2006, I also discovered a file about my father marked "Secret", which was sealed until the year 2051. It took an application under Britain's Freedom of Information Act to have the file opened early, and it proved a treasure trove of hitherto unknown information. Another file, which contained the recommendation for Dad's Military Cross) also gave a detailed history of his time as a POW.
London Gazette published 14 May 1946
'Flight Lieutenant Peter Stevens (88219) Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 144 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Stevens was the captain of a Hampden aircraft detailed to bomb Berlin on 7th September, 1941. After the mission had been completed the aircraft was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and had to be crash-landed subsequently, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Flight Lieutenant Stevens set fire to the aircraft, destroyed all documents and then, in company with the navigator, commenced to walk towards Amsterdam. They met a farmer who took them to his house and gave them food, at the same time promising tp put them in touch with an organisation. Both walked across country for an hour, and then hid in a hut on a football field. They were later found by German Feldgendarmerie and taken to a Military prison, remaining there for two days. They were then sent to the Dalag Luft at Oberussel'
'Flight Lieutenant Stevens was moved to Lubeck on 20th September, 1941. On 6th October, 1941, he was entrained for Warburg, and during the journey he made his escape, accompanied by another officer, by crawling through a ventilator and dropping to the ground while the train was in motion. Shots were fired and the train was stopped but he and his companion managed to reach a wood where they hid until the departure of the train. Shortly afterwards they jumped on a goods train and reached Hanover on 8th October. Here Flight Lieutenant Stevens made contact with some pre-war acquaintances who provided him with food, money and civilian clothes. He, with his companion, then entrained for Frankfurt. Here they were challenged by Railway Police and arrested being subsequently sent to Oflag VI.B, at Warburg'
'On 1st December, 1941, Flight Lieutenant Stevens made a further attempt to escape by disguising himself as a German Unter-Offizier. He led a party of 10 officers disguised as orderlies, and two officers disguised as guards with dummy riffles, and all marched through the gates of the camp. They had to return however as the sentry was not satisfied that the gate pass was correct. Flight Lieutenant Stevens marched his party back to the compound and the sentry was then quite unaware that the party was not genuine. A similar plan of escape was therefore adopted a week later, but on this occasion the sentry was immediately suspicious and demanded of the party their pay-books. The party then had to disperse hurriedly but two members were arrested'
'In September, 1942, Flight Lieutenant Stevens was moved to Oflag XXIB at Schubin. Here he made a fourth attempt to escape and managed to get away by means of a tunnel, carrying forged identity papers, wearing a civilian suit and carrying a converted great-coat. He took a train to Berlin, arriving there on the evening of 5th March, 1943. He bought a railway ticket to Cologne and, when on the journey to that town, he was asked for his identity card by a Gestapo official. The latter discovered that it was forged, and Flight Lieutenant Stevens was then arrested and returned to the Oflag XXIB, receiving as a punishment 14 days in cells. Flight Lieutenant Stevens made a further attempt on 21st April, 1943, but it was unsuccessful and he served a sentence of 7 days in the cells. He was ultimately liberated by the Russian forces whilst at Stalag IIIA on the 21st April, 1945'
Over the course of 18 years of research, here is what else I learned. My wealthy German-Jewish grandfather (Victor Hein, a publisher) had died in 1926, when Dad was only six years old. That was the beginning of a long and sad period. Dad had some kind of medical problem (supposedly migraines) that caused him to be a very fussy child who was difficult for my grandmother to manage. When his father died, his mother sent my father away to a boarding school in Bavaria, far away from their home in Hannover. But she kept her other two children, a boy five years older (Erich Hein), and a girl (the aforementioned Gertrude), one year younger, at home with her. This was to cause my father a great deal of psychological trauma that had effects throughout the rest of his life. Only a few Germans realized, in 1926, that Bavaria was the powder keg that was to spawn the Nazi party. Suffice to say that, by 1929, Dad's teachers and classmates began to treat him badly. As the only Jewish student at the mountaintop Schloss Marquartstein Boys School (only 20 km from Berchtesgaden), he was the object of increasing derision and insults, and he left the school for another one in Northern Germany in 1929. On a family tour of Europe in 1967, we actually visited the castle that housed that Bavarian school. By 1933, things were already getting quite bad for German Jews. My uncle Erich, now 17 years old and the "man of the house", persuaded his mother to let him go to England and prepare a safe haven for the family. He made his way to London that summer and found an apartment and a high school he could attend. My father followed in January 1934, just before his 15th birthday. Unfortunately, his little sister was too young to live alone with her older brothers, and she stayed behind. In 1936, my aunt began a course in Switzerland that would prepare her for a career (early childhood education) which would give her a visa to England when she was old enough, in 1938. Sadly, with the Depression and Nazi economic persecution, much of the family fortune had gradually disappeared over the 1930's. When the time came, there was no money left for my grandmother to be able to buy her way out of Germany and get to safety in England with her three children.
Alone in England, the two brothers did what they could to learn English and complete their education. They attended a London high school and became friendly with the headmaster, a childless Englishman who eventually agreed to adopt my father when his student visa ran out, after graduation in 1936. This allowed Dad to stay in England and take a job. We met that man on our Europe trip in 1967, and were also privileged to meet Group Captain Harry "Wings" Day, the senior British officer who took part in The Great Escape of movie fame.
Unfortunately, my father (with no close adult supervision and a fierce independent streak due, no doubt, from his rebellion at being sent away from his family at the age of 6) eventually got into trouble with the law. In late 1938, his mother sent the remainder of the family fortune to England, which was to be used to care for the three siblings for the duration of the war that everyone knew was imminent. Somehow, Dad (now 19 years old and working in advertising), got his hands on all of the money and gambled away the entire sum. With not enough left to support himself, he resorted to petty theft, and was eventually arrested.
During the summer of 1939, Dad was sentenced to 3 months in prison. On September 1st, when Germany invaded Poland, all British prison wardens were given instructions to release anyone with a short time left on their sentence, since cells would be needed where enemy aliens could be kept once war was declared. Ironically, my father was indeed released, even though he was one of the enemy aliens in question. Taking the train back to London, he had been given strict instructions to report to a police station. But Georg Franz Hein (Dad) never went to the London police station, and a manhunt was soon organized. Instead, between September 1st and September 3rd, Dad obtained copies of identity documents for a London schoolmate who had died several years earlier, a boy named Peter Stevens. Using those documents, my father presented himself at an RAF recruiting station on September 3, 1939 (the day war was declared), and enlisted as Peter Stevens. A very early case of identity theft. So while the British police were busy searching for a potentially dangerous German petty criminal or possible spy (Georg Hein), Peter Stevens spent 18 months being trained as a bomber pilot. Two tips (found in the National Archives' "Secret" file) helped the police realize that Dad had joined the RAF, but it took them a long time to finally put two and two together, to realize that Georg Hein had become Peter Stevens. Had they tracked him down, Dad would have been arrested and interned for the duration of the war, as was his older brother. My father qualified as a bomber pilot and joined a front line squadron in April, 1941. On one mission, he had to bomb his own hometown. Because he had disgraced himself by gambling away his family's money, he had lost contact with his mother and remaining aunts, uncles and cousins in Germany. So he must have had a very heavy heart, dropping high explosives and potentially harming his own flesh and blood.
On August 7, 1941, he and his 3 crewmen had bombed a military target in Karlsruhe, Germany. They were on their way back to England in the middle of the night, when they were attacked by a JU-88 German night fighter. Despite all evasive action, each of Dad's crewmen was injured by flying bullets. The two rear gunners had each been hit by machine gun fire and shrapnel, but neither one's wounds were life-threatening. The Navigator, however, had been hit in the leg by a 20 mm cannon shell, and he almost bled to death. Very fortunately, one of the rear gunners reached up and grabbed the trigger of his guns, and by sheer blind luck, managed to blow the fighter out of the sky. The other gunner used the coffee from his thermos to put out a small fire, then went forward to help the Navigator. Eventually, they made it safely back to England, only to realize that the plane's landing gear and flaps had been destroyed in the attack. Dad performed a flawless belly landing, and all crewmen (after lengthy stays in hospital) recovered from their wounds. One of the gunners (whom I was able to meet in 1989) later named his only son Peter (after my father) in gratitude.
A month later, on September 7, 1941, Dad and his new crew were ordered to bomb Berlin, the capital of Nazi Germany and the target with the best defences in Europe. They made it to Berlin and dropped their bombs, but the aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft artillery over the target, and Dad ordered his crew to bail out. Both gunners did, and it was later determined that one's parachute had failed to open. Sadly, his body was never found. That man, Sgt. Ivor Roderick Fraser, was just 19 years old. Through the internet, after 20 years of searching, I was able to meet Fraser's niece in 2013, and to convey in person my father's deep regret and profound sense of guilt over his death. After his crew bailed out, Dad realized that his plane was marginally flyable, and the Navigator stayed with him as he turned back to England. But there was a hole in each of the main fuel tanks, and they ran out of fuel and crash-landed near Amsterdam. Captured a day later, Dad and his Navigator were eventually sent to separate Prisoner of War camps. Of course, it was critical that the Germans never realize his true identity, as they would have legally been able to execute him as a traitor to Germany. For the next three years and eight months, he was without any protection whatsoever under the Geneva Convention. Dad made escape his first priority, and he had a massive advantage. He was, after all, a native German. The month after his capture, in October 1941, he was transferred with hundreds of other British POW's between two camps in northern Germany, locked in a cattle car with two armed Nazi guards. Using other prisoners to arrange a distraction, Dad and a Canadian pilot (whom I met about 1985, and who also told me that my father had been Jewish) jumped off the moving train through a ventilator shaft. Unfortunately, another prisoner had done the same thing, and was noticed by the guards. Looking out, they saw Dad and his friend running for some nearby woods, and started shooting. With bullets whizzing by their ears like bumble bees, they were able to make it to the forest before the guards perfected their aim. The area was searched, but the Germans could not find Dad and his mate, and the train eventually left. Sleeping by day and travelling by night, Dad made his way to Hannover, and determined to go to his mother's house to get food, money and civilian clothing. Knocking on the door of his own home, he was told that his mother had committed suicide in July 1939, rather than submit to the Nazis. Despite the immense shock of that news, he went to see an aunt and uncle nearby, and obtained what limited help they could offer. Heading south toward Switzerland, he got as far as Frankfurt before he was challenged. Not having had the opportunity to get any forged identity papers, he admitted to being an escaped British officer, and he was sent back to a POW camp.
Sagan Stalag Luft III
Advising the senior British officers in camp of his German language skills, Peter Stevens became a very active participant in great demand for most escape schemes. When he wasn't directly involved in escapes, he was always consulted by other prisoners who needed false documents prepared in the German language. On two separate occasions in December 1941, Dad got dressed up as a German guard, and escorted a group of ten British prisoners out the camp gate. Both times they had to turn back, but after the war in 1946, an English newspaper called that "The Boldest Escape Attempt of the War". During my research, I kept discovering more and more books that mentioned Dad and his escape exploits. Another time, in 1943, a tunnel was built out of a camp latrine in rural Poland, and Dad managed to travel over 300 miles in 24 hours, before he was captured by the Gestapo on a train to Cologne. He spent a very unpleasant few days trying to persuade them that he was not a spy, but in reality an escaped British Air Force pilot. He was such a good liar that they eventually bought his story and sent him back to another POW camp. Dad became one of only two Allied prisoners authorized by the Escape Committee to trade with the Germans at the massive Stalag Luft 3, home of The Great Escape (March, 1944). Fans of the movie will recognize the James Garner character as "The Scrounger", a job partly filled by my father. By war's end, Dad, like all POW's, had lost 40-50 pounds. But he was one of the lucky survivors, and after a horrible long march westwards from Poland in February and March 1945, he was eventually liberated in April. During his captivity, he had made nine escape attempts, and had actually gotten outside the wire three times. An amazing record, one of the greatest escapers of the war.
The official postwar history* of Stalag Luft 3 East Compound notes that Peter Stevens was active in 'X' in Forgery and Contacts. The study lists Stevens as head of Contacts from April 1943 and reported directly to 'Big X'
Today, he is mentioned in fifteen or more books about World War 2 escapes. Growing up in Canada (to which Dad had emigrated in 1952, after serving five years as a British spy in MI6), I had known only a few details of Dad's story. Like most veterans of the war, he never spoke about his experiences. On a family trip to Europe in 1967, we went to the Allied Forces Cemetery in Berlin, looking for the grave of Dad's rear gunner. Sadly, no grave exists, and I saw Dad shed many tears that day. About 1976, after a chance meeting on a downtown Toronto street corner, Dad brought home to dinner a former colleague from his MI6 days. My father died in 1979, and took most of these secrets with him to the grave. Through the 1980's, whenever I went to Germany on business, I would arrange to meet that former spy and ply him for stories about my father.
Post war Peter Stevens. Peter Stevens renounced and abandoned the name of Georg Franz Hein as per London Gazette dated June 1947
About 1987, I started to get curious about Dad's wartime service, and I began making enquiries, and visiting England to research his story. It took me many trips over eighteen years to piece it all together. I'd heard a couple of rumours that Dad was actually Jewish, but I had always discounted them. After having tracked down my aunt in London in 1996, I learned for certain the truth, and that our family had lost some 10-15 members to the Holocaust. Not even my mother had known the truth about Dad's ethnic background, and she was as shocked as I when it was confirmed. It was a very emotional discovery for me, and I eventually decided this story was so unique that I had to write a book about it. 'Escape, Evasion and Revenge' was published by Pen and Sword Books in England in late 2009.
It has taken me a few years to come to grips with the realization that I am half Jewish, mainly because I am not at all a religious man. But I now happily describe myself as "Half German-Jew, half French-Canadian Catholic". Quite an unusual mix! In an amazing coincidence, my older brother had met and married a Jewish woman, and had later converted to Judaism, before I learned the truth about my father's birth religion. I later asked him if he'd had some inkling that our father was Jewish, and he confirmed that he was indeed suspicious about the timing of Dad's emigration to England (immediately following Hitler's rise to power). My brother's two children were raised as Jews, and today, as adults, they each live in Israel.
So why, I am now asked, did my father never "come clean" about his past and his Jewish ethnicity. Since I only discovered it 17 years after his death, I can only guess as to his motives. Firstly, Dad never practiced the faith of his family after the age of 6, when his father died and he was sent away to boarding school. According to his sister, he was never Bar Mitzvahed. So I don't know if he really even felt any affinity to his religion. Secondly, he emigrated from the UK to a very Catholic Quebec in 1952, and he was likely worried about latent discrimination, which was still very much in evidence in that society. After 1996, I asked my mother if she would have married him, knowing he was Jewish. She had close Jewish friends and was never anti-Semitic in any way, but she said honestly that she probably would not have done so in that place and time. That was no reflection on her, but rather on the societal norms of the day, in a place where even the government bowed to the Church. Today, I am very proud to be the son of one of the bravest men I ever met. I only wish that I'd known all this while he was still alive, so that I could tell my father how proud I am of what he did during the war.
(2) Sgt. Alan (Doc) Wakefield Payne. Commission Relinquished: Flying Officer A W Payne 1253981 (retaining the rank of Wing Commander) 31 January 1982. No further information. Are you able to help?
(3) Sgt. Harry Thompson. No further information. Are you able to help?
Left: Sgt. Ivor Roderick Fraser and how his name appears on the Runnymede Memorial (courtesy of Ivor's niece Beverley Edwards via Marc Stevens)
Sgt. Ivor Roderick Fraser. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 43. Son of William Arthur and Mildred Alicia Fraser. Husband of Christine Fraser of Chippenham, Wiltshire. (4) Ivor was born 11th December 1921 in Camberwell, London Ivor was second of four brother and married in 1940. Ivor was posted to No 144 Squadron 16 August 1941 from No 16 OTU (Operational Training Unit, Upper Heyford and had flown 4 operational flights with the same crew. His first flight was on 26/27 August 1941 to Mannheim and then on the 27/28 August, 29/30 August and 1/2 September. This was Ivor's fifth operational flight when he lost his life after baling out of the aircraft and his parachute failed to open. Ivor is remembered on the Ashcombe School War Memorial, Surrey
* The Official post war history held at the National Archives WO 208/3283
Researched by: Marc Stevens son of Peter Stevens MC and Kate Tame Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew. With special thanks to Marc Stevens son of Peter Stevens MC for his invaluable support and for allowing Aircrew Remembered to quote from his book " Escape, Evasion and Revenge"