22/23.09.1943 51 Squadron Halifax II JN901, Fg Off. Porokoru P. Pohe MiD
Date: 22nd/23rd September 1943 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 51 Squadron
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Snaith, Yorkshire
Location: North Sea off coast of France
Pilot: Fg Off. Porokoru Patapu ‘John’ Pohe MiD, 402894 RNZAF Age 30. PoW No. 2433 * /Murdered (1)
Flt Eng: Sgt. Stuart Hayes 1529125 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 654 **
Nav: Sgt. Frederick George Ward 1246506 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 514 **
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Frank George Wells 1391526 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 515 **
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. John Henry Hawkins 1321124 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 607 **
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. Charles Francis Dowlman RAFVR 2206840 Age? PoW **
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Thomas Allan Thomson R177512 RCAF Age? Pow No. 500 *
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag 357, Thorn (Toruń) in Poland. Moved in September 1944 to Stalag 11b, Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.
Any relative or people who know anyone who served with 51 Squadron are encouraged to contact the 51 Squadron Historical Society through our help desk.
REASON FOR LOSS:
JN901 took off from RAF Snaith on the 22nd September 1943 at 18:44 hrs to join a force of over 700 bombers on the first major attack on Hannover for over two years. The force included 5 US AAF B-17s from the 305th Bombardment Group (H), 422nd Bombardment Sqn (H) on their first night raid.
Left: Fg Off. Pohe and right: Sgt. Dowlman (courtesy 51 History Society)
Sgt. John Henry Hawkins with his wife on their wedding day, right: Sgt. Stuart Hayes (courtesy 51 History Society)
Visibility in the target area was good but stronger winds than forecast caused the marking and the bombing to be concentrated between 2 and 5 miles south SW of the city centre. It is unlikely that serious damage was caused. 26 aircraft did return and 155 crew members lost their lives and a further 48 became PoWs.
It was reported that JN901 was shot down by a German night fighter. However no German night-fighter claims have been found that support this premise.
Anecdotal information claims that the aircraft was not shot down over Germany but was believed to have been hit by flak over the target area, the port inner engine catching fire. Four of the crew baled out but Fg Off. Pohe managed to extinguish the fire by putting the Halifax into a dive. With compass and wireless unserviceable, he headed back to England but had to ditch off the coast of France low on fuel after becoming lost. The three remaining crew were picked up a few days later by a German boat and became PoWs.
(1) Fg Off. Pohe is not named as being involved in the Escape Organisation and there is no record that describes his role in assisting in the execution of the plan. However, six-hundred PoWs had been engaged on work connected with the tunnel and two-hundred of them were chosen to escape so it is safe to assume that he was involved in some capacity.
On the night of the 24th-25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3 which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. The escape was made by the means of a tunnel. At about 05:00 hrs on the 25th March the 77th PoW was spotted by guards as he emerged from the tunnel.
An overview of the German response to the escape and the subsequent British prosecution of those responsible for the murder of fifty of the escapees is summarised in the report entitled “The Fifty - The Great Escape”.
The details of his capture are not known, however, Flt Lt. Max Pemberton Ellis 137306, who escaped separately from the Balaria (Officer’s) compound, was captured on the 25th March and initially held at the police station at Christianstadt and then moved to the Sagan police station. Here he was joined that evening in his cell by Flt Lt. J.L.R Long and Flt Lt. P.A. Bethell. On the morning of the 26th March, Fg Off. W. Kolanowski was put in his cell, and in the afternoon Fg Off. J. Pohe and WO. A.A. Hake. (Ref. 1)
Flt Lt. Marshall who was in one of the first groups to exit the tunnel, saw five escapees including Fg Off. Pohe being taken from their cells at the Görlitz prison on the 28th March. However, Flt Lt. M.M. Shand 391369, RNZAF who was captured on the 29th March was placed in the same cell as Fg Off. Pohe later that day. (Ref. 1)
Flt Lt. Henry Cuthbert Marshall, 36103, PoW No. 461, from 3 PRU, Spitfire PR.III X4386 lost on a mission to Bremen on the 12th January 1941. After his capture he was returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Note: Sqn Ldr. Marshall was awarded the MBE(Military) for his numerous escape attempts. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 27th September 1946.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Fg Off. Pohe were established during the second of two trials which was convened at the Curiohaus, Hamburg on the 28th August 1948.
Of the four charges heard by the court the third related to two German nationals who were charged together with committing a war crime in that they in the vicinity of Halbau, near Görlitz, Germany, on or about the 30th March 1944, when members respectively of the Breslau Gestapo and the Görlitz Gestapo, in violation of the laws and usages of War, were concerned in the killing of Sqn Ldr. I.K.P. Cross, Flt Lts. M.J. Casey and T.B. Leigh, all of the Royal Air Force, Flt Lt. W.G. Wiley, Royal Canadian Air Force, Flt Lt. A.H. Hake, Royal Australian Air Force and Fg Off. P.P.J. Pohe, Royal New Zealand Air Force, who were all PoWs.
The two accused were:
Erwin Wieczorek who was a former Kriminalrat (Detective Director), held the rank of SS- Sturmbannführer (Maj) and was a senior official in the Breslau Gestapo office.
Richard Max Hänsel who was a former Kriminalinspektor (Detective Inspector), held the rank of SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt) and was based in the Gestapo sub-office at Görlitz.
After the reading of the charges the court was adjourned until the 4th October and reconvened on the 11th October 1948 and sat for twelve days.
The court heard that the six officers were taken from their prison to the Görlitz Gestapo sub-office awaiting the arrival of the head of the Gestapo office at Breslau, a Dr. Scharpwinkel, and a squad of Breslau officials.
Dr. Wilhelm Scharpwinkel was the former head of the Gestapo office at Breslau ranking as Oberregierungsrat (German Civil service rank). He also held the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).
After the war Scharpwinkel was masquerading as a Lt. Hagemann at the No. 6 Hospital at Breslau from where Russian officers removed him at gunpoint. During the enquiry into the murders, the Russians refused to co-operate with the Allied investigation, although after much prodding they allowed Scharpwinkel to make a statement, in Moscow, during August and September 1946. Soon afterwards, Scharpwinkel disappeared and it was reported that he had died in Soviet prison on the 17th October 1947.
Scharpwinkel carried out the interrogations and when they were concluded he told Hänsel what was going to happen to the officers. He informed Hänsel that he did not have enough transport and told him to find another vehicle. Hänsel detailed the truck assigned to the Görlitz office and brought up the rear of the convoy with two of the prisoners as they drove off in the direction of Sagan. They passed through a place named Halbau which is some 48 km from Görlitz.
In the late afternoon they stopped by the roadside and the prisoners were marshalled by a squad of officials at the front of the convoy. Hänsel claimed that he sent his two prisoners to join the others. He also claimed that he did not go to the front of the convoy but took the opportunity to stay with his truck and eat his lunch. As soon as the shooting was over, he went to the spot where the officers had been shot which was some little way off the road in a wood, where he saw the bodies sprawling there on the ground, On Scharpwinkel's orders he then took charge of the cremation arrangements, and some days later recovered the urns and took them to Scharpwinkel.
The evidence in the case of Hänsel rests on his own statement and that of Scharpwinkel taken in Moscow. The evidence against Wieczorek is also based upon Scharpwinkel’s statement in which he claimed that Wieczorek was there although he does not say specifically that Wieczorek was present at the shooting. The prosecution maintained that Wieczorek was there as Scharpwinkel's deputy to see that that order was carried out.
Wieczorek and Hänsel were the sole representatives of that relatively small group of men who carried out the shootings of the twenty-nine prisoners in the Breslau area. Scharpwinkel was dead, some of the other suspects were also dead, the rest of them were not in custody, so that the only two that could be brought before the Court on this charge were Wieczorek and Hänsel.
Erwin Wieczorek was found not guilty on this charge. However, he was found guilty of the first and second charges.
Richard Max Hänsel was found not guilty of this charge and the first charge.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above: Grave marker for Fg Off. Pohe (Credit: TWGPP)
Fg Off. Porokoru Patapu ‘John’ Pohe MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Coll. Grave 9.A Born on the 10th December 1914 in Wanganui, New Zealand. Son of Whatarangi Ropoama and Honoria Maraea Pohe, of Taihape, Auckland, New Zealand.
Fg Off. Pohe was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 8th June 1944.
Originally researched with thanks to Neil and Peter from the 51 Sqn Historical Association for the use of a number of photographs and their continued support. Thanks to John Jones for providing details of the loss of the aircraft and additional reporting on Fg Off. Pohe . Reviewed, researched and updated 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’ (Oct 2021) .
Thanks to The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP) for their great work.
Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5
In March 2013 the RNZAF Air Force News wrote this:
A graphic novel may not appeal to
most readers of
AF News, but this book
is aimed at younger readers, telling the
story of John Pohe, a young Maori lad
who joined the RNZAF after WWII broke
out. He trained at Wigram and went to
Britain to fly with the RAF. He was among
the first Maori candidates to qualify as
Johnny was assigned to 51 Sqn
RAF (Whitley bombers) and, according
to the graphic novel, dropped parachute
troops for the famous Bruneval raid.
Among other missions, he flew on the
first 1000 bomber raid. His squadron
converted to the Halifax bomber, but on
a mission to Hanover Johnny’s aircraft
was damaged and crashed into the
North Sea. Johnny and his crew were
rescued by the Germans and soon he
was in Stalag Luft III. There he took part
in the Great Escape (May 1944) but was
recaptured and was one of the 50 airmen
shot on Hitler’s order.
The graphic novel tells this story with
vivid illustrations, which will appeal to
young readers. But perhaps Johnny—
and our other Maori airmen of WWII—
deserve a more formal book, to cement
their place within the RNZAF’s history.
Published by Huia, Wellington New Zealand and available from them.
The story of Fg Off. ‘John’ Porokoru Patapu Pohe can be viewed here: https://alchetron.com/John-Pohe