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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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57 Crest
16.10.1939 57 Squadron Blenheim I L1141, Fg Off. Michael J. Casey MiD

Operation: Reconnaissance

Date: 16th October 1939 (Monday)

Unit: 57 Squadron

Type: Blenheim I

Serial: L1141

Code: UX:N

Base: Étain, France

Location: Lingen in Lower Saxony

Pilot: Fg Off. Michael James Casey MiD 39024 RAFO Age 26. PoW No. 24 * /Murdered (1)

Observer: Sgt. Alfred George Fripp 565033 RAF Age 19. PoW No. 5752 **

WOp/Air Gnr: AC2. James Nelson 539817 RAF Age? PoW No. 5755 **

* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).

** Stalag 357 (Stalag 11b), Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.

REASON FOR LOSS:

L1141 took off from the airfield at Étain, in NE France, at 11:00 hrs on the 16th October 1939, tasked with a reconnaissance mission over the Wesel-Bocholt area of Germany.

L1141 was claimed by Lt. Hans-Folkert Rosenboom, his first Abschuss, from 3./JG1 flying a Bf109 over Füstenau NW of Osnabrück at 15:30 hrs. After a long chase sometimes only 6 feet from the ground, the Blenheim was shot down near Lingen (Ems) in Lower Saxony. The aircraft crash landed and all three airmen scrambled clear of the wreckage before it burst into flames.

(1) As a PoW Fg Off. Casey was promoted to Flt Lt. with effect 19th June 1940 which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 7th January 1944.

Prior to the “Great Escape” there were a number escape attempts. On the sixth attempt Flt Lt. Casey and three other PoWs became ‘Ghosts’ hiding in the Compound to cover the escape of two other PoWs. This was a ploy to convince the Germans that they had escaped with the actual two escapees so they would not send out search parties when they did actually escape. However, Flt Lt. Casey was discovered and the other two remained in hiding for another week before also being discovered. (Ref: 1)

Flt Lt. Casey’s role in the “Great Escape” was as the treasurer, head of filing and, most importantly, arranging safe concealment of forged documents in caches around the camp in an effort to thwart the repeated and intensive German searches. (Ref: 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”.

After Flt Lt. Casey cleared the tunnel he and another (unknown) escapee headed south. Both were dressed in civilian clothes and posing as foreign war workers. When stopped near Görlitz by the police, their papers did not stand up to scrutiny and they were arrested and held with other re-captured escapees in the town jail.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Flt Lt. Casey 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.

Burial Details

Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)

Above : Grave marker for Flt Lt. Casey (Courtesy: TWGPP)

Flt Lt. Michael James Casey MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Grave 7.D.3. Born on the 19th February 1918 in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. Son of Benjamin Daniel and Dorothy Wingate Bushell, of Mossel River, Cape Province, South Africa. B.A. (Cantab.); Barrister-at-Law, Lincolns Inn.

Fg Off. Casey was promoted to Flt Lt. whilst a PoW with effect 3rd September 1940. Promulgated in the London Gazette 4th February 1941.

Flt Lt. Casey 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.

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.

References:

1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5

RS & TV 24.09.2021 - Initial upload
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Acknowledgements
Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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