05/06.08.1941 76 Squadron Halifax I L9516, Sgt. Thomas A. Byrne
Operation: Karlsruhe, Germany
Date: 5th/6th August 1941 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: 76 Squadron
Type: Halifax I, Series I
Base: RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham
Location: Glabbeek, Belgium
Pilot: Sgt. Thomas Augustine Byrne 748546 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 137 *
Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. Cyril Bruce Flockhart DCM 628366 RAFVR Age 29. PoW No. 53 ** (1)
Nav: Sgt. John Henry Pitt 645871 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 9679 *
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Leonard Arthur Thompson 968105 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 64 *
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. George William Scardfield Taylor 940022 RAFVR Age 20. PoW No. 135 *
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Robert Brown 952523 RAFVR Age? Killed
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Lt. Thomas Barker Leigh MiD. 46462 RAF Age 25. PoW No: 63 ** / Murdered (2)
* Stalag 357 (Stalag 11b), Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.
** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
REASON FOR LOSS:
L9516 took off from RAF Middleton St. George at 22:41 hrs on the 5th August 1941 along with four other aircraft from the Squadron. They joined a total of ninety-seven aircraft tasked with the bombing of the railway infrastructure at Karlsruhe in Germany.
L9516 was the only aircraft from the Squadron that failed to return.
L9516 was claimed by Leutnant (Lt) Hans-Joachim Redlich, his 2nd Abschuss and 2nd of the night, from 1./NJG1 over Glabbeek, 5 km NE of Sint-Truiden [Saint-Trond] at 03:16 hrs.
Lt. Redlich and his Funker (Radar Operator) Gefreiter Volly destroyed a Wellington from the Mannheim force, and Flak damaged Halifax [L9516] returning from Karlsruhe.
Lt. Redlich was killed in flying accident on 11th/12th January 1942, after his 3rd and final Abschuss of the War. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive ((13 July 1941 - 29 May 1942) The Early Years Part 2 - Theo Boiten).
The aircraft crashed near Glabbeek, province of Brabant, 8 km north of Tienen, Belgium.
It appears that the crew except for Sgt. Brown bailed out of the aircraft. The circumstances leading to his death are not known.
(1) Flt Sgt. Flockhart was captured that night and taken to Dulag Luft at Oberursel and then sent to Stalag 3e at Kirchhain. In May 1942, he was transferred to Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan. He was promoted to Warrant Officer (WO) whilst a PoW.
In December 1942 he attempted, along with a fellow PoW, to burrow under the wire from a pit near the south perimeter fence. After a few feet and before they could seal the entrance of the tunnel they were discovered.
In May 1943 he was involved in a successful escape attempt. He left his compound with a number of other PoWs ostensibly to visit the camp Dentist, who had a consulting hut in the Vorlager. A fellow PoW who had a key to the Dentist’s waiting room let him out and took his place to cover for his absence. He hid in the German compound where he spent most of the time in a hayloft. At midnight he left the camp by climbing a single barbed wired fence on the southern side of the German compound. He was apprehended about five days later and was returned to Stalag Luft 3.
On the 30th June 1943 the centre (NCO) compound was evacuated and moved to Stalag Luft 6 (Heydekrug). The new camp was still under construction and the now experienced PoWs decided that perfect papers and careful preparation would be needed to make any successful escape.
On the 18th January 1944 a Sgt. George Grimson walked out of the camp disguised as a German guard, complete with a dummy rifle. He contacted the local Polish resistance and made arrangements to assist subsequent escapees, sending coded letters back to Stalag Luft 6 with the details.
The receipt of one of these letters prompted WO. Flockhart on the 18th February 1944, dressed in genuine German civilian clothing, to bluff his way into an unfinished section of the camp and then use a forged pass to leave through the main gate. He walked to the railway station at Heydekrug and took a series of trains to Rybno in northern Poland before walking to the home of a local resistance leader where Grimson was staying.
On 21st February 1944, Flockhart and Grimson took separate trains to Danzig (Gdańsk, Poland) and after several false starts, Flockhart finally boarded the Swedish ship SS Flora which left Weichselmünde (Wisłoujście, Poland) on 25th February which arrived in Stockholm two days later. Flockhart left Stockholm by air for RAF Leuchars on 10th March 1944. (Ref: 1 and 2)
Sgt. George William John Grimson 631689 RAFVR. 37 Sqn, Wellington I L7792, shot down 14th July 1940, PoW No. 134, Stalag Luft 6. He was promoted to WO whilst a PoW. He was last seen on 14th April 1944 in the Danzig area. It was speculated that he had been captured by the Gestapo or the SS and disappeared into captivity.
WO. Grimson was MiD in recognition for bravery during his escape attempts and for his work in assisting fellow escapees. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 9th December 1947.
After he returned to England WO. Flockhart was appointed to commission and promoted to Plt Off. (54529) with effect 30th March 1944. He was promoted to Fg Off. with effect 9th September 1944.
WO. (then an acting Flt Lt.) Flockhart was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his distinguished effort in escaping from enemy held territory with effect 15th September 1944. Promulgated in the London Gazette 15th September 1944.
The DCM was the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross (VC) and was awarded to all ranks below commissioned officer.
He was promoted to Flt Lt. with effect 1st September 1945 and was appointed as an assistant to the Provost Marshall with effect 30th April 1947. He was promoted to Sqn Ldr. with effect 1st July 1951.
He retired from the Royal Air Force as a Sqn Ldr. on the 12th April 1961.
Cyril Bruce Flockhart was born on the 12th April 1912 in Belfast, Ireland and he passed away on the 15th March 1988, a month before his 76th birthday, in Bournemouth, Dorset.
(2). Flt Lt. Leigh 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. H.C. Marshall 36103 who was in one of the first groups to exit the tunnel, saw five escapees including Flt Lt. Leigh being removed from their cells at the Görlitz prison on the 28th March. None of the five were seen again.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Flt Lt. Leigh 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.
Sgt. Robert Brown. Durnbach War Cemetery 1.C.15. No Further information
No explanation has been found for Sgt. Brown’s burial at the Durnbach War Cemetery when the aircraft was reported to have crashed in Belgium.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above : Grave marker for Flt Lt. Leigh (Courtesy: TWGPP)
Flt Lt. Thomas Barker Leigh MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Grave 7.D.4. Inscription Reads: "E’EN AS HE TROD THAT DAY TO GOD SO WALKED HE FROM HIS BIRTH...KIPLING". Born on the 11th February 1919 in Waverley, New South Wales. Son of David and Constance Emily (née Carena) Leigh, of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. His mother and father predeceased him in October 1926 and May 1932 respectively.
Flt Lt. Leigh 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.
His brother, 2nd Lt. David Blair Leigh 336518 from ‘C’ Squadron, 2nd Special Air Service (SAS), Regiment was killed in action in France on the 23rd August 1944. His parent unit was the Army Air Corps (AAC).
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project’ (TWGPP) for their great work.
1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5.
2.WWII Escape and Evasion Information Exchange - Escapers from Germany