22/23.09.1943 No. 51 Squadron Halifax II JN901 LK-C F/O. Porokoru Pohe MiD.
Date: 22/23rd September 1943 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 51 Squadron
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Snaith, Yorkshire
Location: Ditched in the English Channel
Pilot: F/O. ‘John’ Porokoru Patapu Pohe MiD. NZ/402894 RNZAF Age 29. PoW No: 2433 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Stuart Hayes 1529125 RAFVR PoW No: 654 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Nav: Sgt Frederick George Ward 1246506 RAFVR PoW No: 514 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Frank George Wells 1391526 RAFVR PoW No: 515 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Henry Hawkins 1321124 RAFVR PoW No: 607 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Charles Francis Dowlman 2206840 RAFVR Injured PoW: Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Thomas A. Thomson R/173512 RCAF PoW No: 500 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 18.44 hrs from RAF Snaith Yorkshire as part of a group of 711 aircraft on the first major raid on Hannover for over 2 years.
5 USAAF B-17's from the 305th Bomb Group, 422nd Bomb Squadron also joined which was their first night raid on Germany. 322 Lancasters, 226 Halifaxes, 137 Stirlings and 26 Wellingtons took part.
Left: F/O. 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 south-west of the city centre. It is unlikely that serious damage was caused.
26 aircraft would not return. 155 crew members lost their lives and a further 48 made prisoners of war.
Halifax II JN901 LK-C was thought to have been shot down by a night fighter, although no claims can be matched to this loss. However, additional information has been provided which reports that the aircraft was hit twice by flak over the target area and turned for home but had to ditch in the English Channel. The entire crew escaped unhurt and floated in dinghies for 2 days before being spotted by a German aircraft, rescued by a German vessel and incarcerated as PoWs.
(1) Murdered along with 49 other officers on orders from Adolf Hitler by the Gestapo on the 31st March 1944 having taken part in the famous ‘Great Escape’.
All the fifty airmen were shot by the Germans, either on their own or in small groups. They were collected by various Gestapo agents, and driven away. The prisoners were told to relieve themselves, as the ride to a new PoW camp was very long. The airmen were then shot in the back of the head. Their remains were then cremated at various locations. All the urns were eventually returned to Stalag Luft III.
21 people were charged with the murders, 1 was found not guilty, 2 received 10 years, 3 were sentenced to life imprisonment, the remainder were sentenced to death by hanging on the 27th February 1948 at Hamelin Jail. The sentence was carried out. Further details of this can be found on the ‘Great Escape Accused’ with information from Steven Stratford.
The story of F/O. ‘John’ Porokoru Patapu Pohe can be viewed here: https://alchetron.com/John-Pohe
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.
F/O. ‘John’ Porokoru Patapu Pohe MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery. Collective grave 9.A. Son of Whatarangi Ropoama Pohe and Honoria Maraea Pohe, of Taihape, Auckland, New Zealand. Born 10th September 1921.
Researched for relatives of the crew members. With thanks to Neil and Peter from 51 Squadron Historical association for the use of some of these photographs and for their continued support. For further details our thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), Commonwealth War Graves Commission. British Military and Criminal History.
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.
Thanks to John Jones for providing details of the loss of the aircraft and additional reporting on F/O. Pohe.