Operation: Special Duties
Date: 5th November 1941 (Wednesday)
Unit No: 119 Squadron
Type: Wellington Ic
Serial No: T2565
Location: Pontivy, in Brittany, France
Base: RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire
Pilot: Plt Off. Leslie George ‘Johnny’ Bull, DFC, MiD, 43932 RAF Age 27. PoW No. 667 * /Murdered (1)
2nd Pilot: Sgt. Norman Wallis MacKenzie MiD, 910404 RAFVR Age 29. Evader (3)
Obs: Plt Off. William ‘Jack’ Grisman, Twice MiD, 45148 RAF Age 29. PoW No. 673 * /Murdered (2)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. John Gannon 546400 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 24475 **
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. William George Statham, BEM(M), 968272 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 24474 *** (4)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Oscar Albert Sheffield 653536 RAFVR Age 23. PoW No. 24511 **
Radar Specialist: Plt Off. Howard Gooding Cundall MiD, 117624 RAFVR Age 21. PoW No. 5809 * (5)
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag 357 (Stalag 11b), Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.
*** Stalag Luft 7 Bankau nr. Kreuzburg O.S." (O.S. standing for Oberschlesien, Upper Silesia). Today called Bąków nr. Kluczbork (Poland).
REASON FOR LOSS:
T2565, from the Special Duty Flight, took off from Boscombe Down on the 5th November 1941 at 18:30 hrs on a Special Signals flight over France. During the course of the operation it was reported that they were experiencing engine problems and had lost their starboard propeller. The aircraft was abandoned at 20:46 hrs near Pontivy in Brittany, France.
The night before, Flt Lt. Arthur ‘Roger’ Reece had also been over the continent on a similar Special Duties flight as commander and pilot of the same aircraft, Wellington T2565 seconded to work with the "Y" service, which was intercepting German radio traffic. Roger recalled: “We were over central France when our power supply failed - we lost the use of our generator. We were having that kind of trouble with the starboard engine but we managed to get back safely. I reported the difficulties we had encountered, the problems were apparently resolved, and a flight test indicated that everything was fine with the aircraft”. (Ref: 1).
109 Sqn officially joined the ranks of Bomber Command on 6th August 1942, and at he time of the loss of T2565, the unit was conducting very sensitive radio trials.
The crew all landed safely and remained at large for several days. Plt Off. Cundall managed to reach the coast near to Mont Saint-Michel on the 18th November. He seized a rowing boat in which he tried to hoist a make-shift sail. However, he was spotted and captured by the Germans. (Ref 1: pp 362-363)
Mont Saint-Michel is some 77 km (48 mls) NE of Pontivy.
All the other crew members were caught except for Sgt. MacKenzie who evaded and made in back to Britain. On arriving at Stalag Luft 3 both Plt Off. Bull and Plt Off. Grisman were quickly involved in tunnel work.
(1) 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”.
On the night of the escape Flt Lt. Bull was the tunneller in the first of a group of twelve that broke through to the surface and emerged from the tunnel at about 10:30 hrs on the 25th March 1944. They made their way to the railway station in Tschiebsdorf (Trzebów, Poland), a short distance to the SE of the camp. Here they caught a train to Boberröhrsdorf (Siedlęcin, Poland), on the Czech border near Hirschberg. They had to wait for the train which then left at 06:00 hrs and the three-hour journey was uneventful. At Boberröhrsdorf they split up and went their separate ways.
The circumstances of Flt Lt. Bull’s capture are unknown, however, he and most of his group of twelve were initially held in the jail at Hirschberg. After lengthy interrogations he and a number of others were transferred to the civilian prison at Reichenberg (Liberec, Czechia).
Flt Lt. Bull was last seen alive on the 29th March 1944. There is no record of where he was murdered but his remains were cremated in Brüx, his ashes placed in an urn, which was returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Flt Lt. Bull was one of four PoWs that were cremated in Brüx, the other three being Sqn Ldr. John Edwin Ashley Williams DFC RNZAF, Flt Lt. Reginald Victor Kierath RAAF and Flt Lt. Jerzy Tomasz Mondschein PAF.
Investigations post-war did not identify those directly responsible for the murders of Flt Lt. Bull and the other three officers.
(2) Flt Lt. Grisman was captured near Görlitz but the circumstances of his capture are unknown. On the 6th April 1944 he was in a group of six PoWs that were taken from the Görlitz prison never to be seen again. There is no record of where he was murdered but his remains were cremated at Breslau (Wrocław, Poland), his ashes placed in an urn, which was returned to Stalag Luft 3.
The other five in this group are believed to have been Flt Lt. John Francis Williams RAFVR, Flt Lt. Harold John Milford RAFVR, Flt Lt. Alister Donald Macintosh Gunn RAFVR, Fg Off. Denys Oliver Street RAFVR, and Lt. Clement Alwyn Neville McGarr SAAF.
Investigations post-war determined that it was probable that a death-squad of five Gestapo officers commanded by a man named Lux was chiefly responsible for the deaths of those held in the Görlitz prison. Lux who was believed to have been responsible for at least 27 murders, was killed during the fighting with Soviet forces that laid siege on Breslau from the 13th February 1945 to the 6th May 1945.
(3) Sgt. MacKenzie evaded capture passing through France via Spain & Gibraltar from where he left for the UK on the 4th March 1943 arriving at Gourock, Renfrew, Scotland on the 10th March 1942. As a WO. he was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 1st January 1943.
(4) Flt Sgt. Statham then a WO with 109 Sqn, was awarded the British Empire Medal (Military Division) (BEM(M)) which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 20th November 1946.
The citation reads: “Flight Sergeant Statham was captured near Becherel in November, 1941, after baling out of his aircraft and was imprisoned in Stalags VIIIB and VIIIA. On one occasion he changed identities with a soldier and was sent to a detachment at Rettbach, from whence he escaped on 2nd June, 1942, but was recaptured the following evening. In September, 1942, he and a companion escaped from their work at Gleiwitz. When arrested at Kattowitz, however, they succeeded in convincing the police that they were Greek civilians and were allowed to proceed, only to be arrested near Cracow. During the next 2½ years Flight Sergeant Statham escaped on five occasions, his periods of liberty varying from a few hours to 6 days; twice he reached the Czech border. When the Germans were evacuating prisoners during the Allied advance, Flight Sergeant Statham escaped from the marching column and met American forces 12 days later”.
He exchanged identities with Pte J.M. Henderson, 3053225 from the 1st. Battalion, Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). Pte Henderson was reported missing on the 21st May 1940 in France. He was allocated the PoW No.11061 and was held in Stalag 8a, Görlitz, Lower Silesia, east of the River Neisse (now Zgorzelec, Poland).
(5) Plt Off. Cundall was on attachment from the Telecommunications Research Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down. He was not a serving member of the RAF but a civilian radar expert. He was appointed to a commission as a Plt Off. in the RAFVR with a Service No.117624, in the event that he fell into enemy hands.
His appointment was with effect the 5th November 1941 but was not promulgated in the London Gazette until the 28th October 1945.
His promotion to Fg Off. was with effect 1st October 1942 and to Flt Lt. with effect 5th November 1943 and both promotions were promulgated in the London Gazette on the 25th January 1946.
As Sgt. MacKenzie had evaded capture the Germans believed that they had captured the full crew of six from the Wellington so Plt Off. Cundall successfully passed himself off as the 2nd Pilot of his aircraft.
In April 1943, arriving from Oflag 11b, Flt Lts. Lou Barry and Howard Cundall had radio receiver parts with them that they had smuggled in several pieces of luggage, a cookie jar and a medicine ball. By the end of April they had gathered all the parts and hid them in one of the walls of Barry's room, barrack 69. By December 1943 they had reconstructed the receiver and installed it on a work surface in the same room. Around June 1943, another set was made from spare parts and was hidden in the double bottom of a crate where Barry stored his clothes. Barry was put in charge of the camp's radio department from April 1943 to January 1945, and Cundall was put in charge of the use of the radio, and both regularly listened to BBC news reports with the receiver hidden in the wall of Barry's room. Their activities and the two radios were never discovered. (Ref: 2).
Lou Barry is believed to be Flt Lt. Louis Brull Barry, 78668, RAFVR, PoW No. 3642. (217 Sqn, Beaufort I, N1175, lost on the 12th February 1941).
At one time he had established an almost daily contact with London, sometimes even during the march from Stalag Luft 3. (Ref 3: pp 362-363).
As a Flt Lt. he was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD), believed to be in recognition for his bravery in providing valuable information from captured aircrew about the German night defences whilst being a PoW. The award was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 31st January 1947.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above Flt Lt. Bull (Credit: Operation-PictureMe) and Grave marker (Credit: The TWGPP)
Flt Lt. Leslie George ‘Johnny’ Bull. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Grave 7.C.1. Born on the 7th November 1916 in Islington, London. Son of Leslie Hume and Alice Mary (née Komlosy) Bull, of Islington, London; husband to Kathleen Mary Adeline (née Organ) Bull of Pondside, Dunsford, Surrey, England.
His DFC was awarded whilst as a Fg Off, with 109 Sqn, Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 18th July 1941.
He was promoted to Flt Lt. whilst a PoW with effect 13th June 1942. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 3rd November 1942.
Flt Lt. Bull 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.
Above: Grave marker for Flt Lt. Grisman (Credit: The TWGPP)
Flt Lt. William Jack Grisman, Twice MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Grave 8.C.4. Born on the 30th August 1914 in Hereford, Herefordshire. Son of William Charles and Gertrude Ellen (née Birch) Grisman, of Hereford; husband of Marie Millicent (née Marchant) Grisman.
His first Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) was whilst he was 565127 Sgt. Grisman. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 17th March 1941.
He was promoted Ft Lt. whilst a PoW with effect 20th December 1942. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 1st January 1943.
Flt Lt. Grisman was MiD for a second time 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.
Marie remarried in September of 1945 to Harry L. Brochin who was a Sgt. in the US Army.
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’ (Sep 2021). Thanks to Brian Turner for the correction to Plt Off. Cundall’s name (Feb 2023).
Thanks to “The War Graves Photographic Project” for their great work.
1. Beam Bombers: The Secret War of No. 109 Squadron by Michael Cumming.
2. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5.
3. Most Secret War by R.V. Jones
RS & TV 18.02.2023 - Narrative update
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them. - Laurence
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