19.08.1942 26 Squadron, Mustang Ia AL977, Plt Off. Arnold George Christensen MiD
Operation: ‘Jubilee’, France
Date: 19th August 1942 (Wednesday)
Unit: 26 Squadron, 35 Wing, Army Co-operation Command
Type: Mustang Ia
Location: English Channel
Base: RAF Gatwick, Surrey, England
Pilot: Plt Off. Arnold George Christensen 413380 RNZAF Age 21. PoW No. 676 */Murdered
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 19th August 1942, a force of more than 6,000 raided the French coastal town of Dieppe. The operation was the first major joint operation conducted by the British, Commonwealth and American forces in the European theatre. Nearly 5,000 Canadians, approximately 1,000 British Commandos and 50 American soldiers from the 1st Ranger Battalion were involved in the landing operations. At sea eight Allied destroyers supported the operation, and in the air seventy-four Allied Sqns provided cover and tactical reconnaissance. A total of forty-seven Army Co-operation Mustangs were involved in the operation. Mustangs from 26 Sqn and 239 Sqn at RAF Gatwick were the first reconnaissance aircraft in the air at 04:35 hrs.
Ultimately the raid was a disaster but it provided valuable lessons for the later invasion of Normandy. The RAF and the Luftwaffe fought a hard battle in the air and many aircraft were lost on both sides.
Fighter Command claimed to have inflicted many losses on the Luftwaffe for an RAF loss of 106 aircraft comprising 88 fighters, 10 reconnaissance aircraft and 8 bombers. 14 other RAF aircraft were struck off charge from other causes such as accidents. In total 47 pilots were killed and 17 taken prisoner. The 10 reconnaissance aircraft lost were the highest number of casualties per Sqn.
The Luftwaffe had suffered 48 aircraft losses, 28 bombers, half of them Dornier Do 217s from Kampfgeschwader (KG)2. Jagdgeschwader (JG)2 lost 14 Fw190s and 8 pilots killed and JG26 lost 6 Fw190s with their pilots.
Note: On the 18th October 1942, as a result of this operation, Adolf Hitler signed a decree known as theKommandobefehl (Commando Order). Only 12 copies of the top-secret order were issued. It was a ‘no quarter’ order directed against Commando Raiders operating in any theatre of war:
“From now on, all opponents brought to battle by German troops in so-called commando operations in Europe or in Africa, even when it is outwardly a matter of soldiers in uniform or demolition parties with or without weapons, are to be exterminated to the last man in battle or while in flight. In these cases it is immaterial whether they are landed for their operations by ship or aeroplane or descend by parachute. Even should these individuals, on their being discovered, make as if to surrender, all quarter is to be denied them on principle. A detailed report is to be sent to the OKW (German High Command) on each separate case for publication in the Wehrmacht Communique”.
“If individual members of such commandos working as agents, saboteurs, etc, fall in to the hands of the Wehrmacht by other means – e.g. through the police in any of the Countries occupied by us – they are to be handed over to the SD immediately. It is strictly forbidden to hold them in military custody e.g. in PoW camps, etc, even as a temporary measure”.
SD - Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS (Security Service of the Reichsführer), was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party.
During the course of the day, the Sqn carried out eleven sorties involving eighteen individual sorties. Sorties were made in the area of Le Havre, Rouen, Abbeville, and the mouth of the Somme river on tactical reconnaissance. The Sqn lost 5 Mustangs which was due to the deep penetration required which was well beyond Allied fighter cover.
Three of the others lost were:
Flt Lt. Donald Newton Kennedy, 43959 RAF flying Mustang Ia AG536 - KiA;
Flt Lt. Graham Newstead Dawson DFC, 44183 RAF flying Mustang Ia AG418 - KiA;
Sgt. Geoffrey Denys Maynard Cliff, 1271760, RAFVR flying Mustang Ia AG584 - MiA.
At 08:00 hrs on the 19th August 1942 Plt Off. Christensen, in Mustang Ia AL977, and Plt Off. O’Farrell, in Mustang Ia AG463, took off on one of the individual sorties tasked with a tactical reconnaissance mission. This was Plt Off. Christensen’s first operational sortie.
From RAF Gatwick they flew to the Dieppe area via the Beachy Head route. They made contact with the Headquarters ship in the Channel, and then proceeded to the area. While flying over the area, both aircraft were struck by flak and small-arms fire and they turned for home, and Plt Off. O’Farrell’s Mustang went down in the Channel.
Plt Off. Edward Ernest O’Farrell 108142 RAFVR, survived and became PoW No. 663, at Stalag Luft 3. He was employed as one of the numerous Code Letter Writers.
Plt Off. Christensen struggled to maintain altitude but had to bail out. He landed in the Channel uninjured, and for two days he remained adrift in his dinghy before being washed ashore on the French coast. He was soon captured by the Germans.
At Stalag Luft 3 Plt Off. Christensen worked for Flt Lt. Valenta’s Intelligence section being responsible for Denmark presumably because his father had emigrated to New Zealand from Denmark before he was born.
Sqn Ldr. Bushell was made the head of the Escape Committee and he was known as "Big X". His plan was to cause the maximum amount of disruption to the Germans in organising a breakout by 200 PoWs. His plan was to commence digging three tunnels which were named "Tom", "Dick" and "Harry" under the premise that should one of the three be discovered the Germans would unlikely think that another was being dug let alone two.
Some 600 PoWs were involved in the planning, preparation of escape materials and construction of the tunnels. On the 8th September 1943 “Tom” was discovered and activity on the other two tunnels was shut down for two months to eliminate the risk of being discovered. When work was to recommence “Dick” was shut down because of the clearance for a new compound made unlikely that this tunnel would ever be completed and all efforts were redirected into completing “Harry”.
On the night of the 24th-25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped via “Harry” from the north compound which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. 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”.
At 22:30 hrs Sgt. Espelid, Lt. Fuglesang, Flt Lt. Valenta, Sqn Ldr. Bushell, Lt. Scheidhauer, Lt. Stevens, Lt. Gouws, Flt Lt. Plunktett and Flt Lt. Dvorak left the tunnel. They made their way to the Sagan railway station.
Sgt. Espelid and Lt. Fuglesang together with Fg Off. Tobolski, Wg Cdr. Day, Sqn Ldr. Catanach and Flt Lt. Christensen caught the Berlin express at 03:15 hrs.
Early on the 25th March Sgt. Espelid, Lt. Fuglesang, Sqn Ldr. Catanach and Flt Lt. Christensen arrived in Berlin. From here they made their way to the Danish border at Flensburg. Here their luck ran out when a policeman became suspicious after inspecting their papers and their adapted 'civilian’ greatcoats, which failed to stand up to close scrutiny. They were arrested and handed over to the Kripo at Flensburg.
Kripo = Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police).
The circumstances surrounding the death of Sgt. Espelid were established during the first of two British Military Courts which was convened at the Curiohaus, Hamburg between the 1st July and 3rd September 1947. This was the trial of Max Wielen and 17 others where they were charged on nine counts.
All of the accused were named on the first two counts. These counts were charges of conspiracy against Max Ernst Gustav Friedrich Wielen, the Kripo and Gestapo police chief of Breslau with the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, together with SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, Head of the Gestapo (Amt IV of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt) (believed to have been killed or committed suicide) and SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, Head of the Kripo (Amt V of the RSHA) (Executed after the attempt on Hitler’s life) in the participation of the killing of the 50 officers.
In counts three to nine, six groups of accused were each charged with the killing of one or several officers. Every accused with the exception of Max Wielen figures in one of these counts and no accused figures in more than one.
On the seventh and eighth counts two groups of former members of the Kiel Gestapo were accused of killing Sgt. Espelid, Lt. Fuglesang, Sqn Ldr. Catanach and Flt Lt. Christensen in the vicinity of Roter Hahn on or about the 29th March 1944.
On the seventh count the accused were Johannes Post, Hans Kähler and Artur Denkmann. On the eighth count the accused were Oskar Schmidt, Walter Jacobs and Wilhelm Struve.
Johannes Robert Adolf Post was a former Kriminalkommissar (Detective Inspector or Superintendent) and an SS-Obersturmführer or SS-Hauptsturmführer (1st Lt or Capt);
Hans Kähler was a former Kriminalinspektor (Detective Inspector) and an SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt);
The position and ranks of the remaining four accused have not been established.
The court heard that on the 29th March 1944 Friedrich (Fritz) Schmidt, who was the Commanding Officer (CO) of the regional Gestapo headquarters (HQ) in Kiel, summoned the six accused to his office. He told them that four prisoners, who were being held by the Kripo at Flensburg, had been condemned to death and were to be shot at a location determined by him.
He told Post to go to Flensburg and interrogate the prisoners after which he was to take them to a pre-arranged location and shoot them. Friedrich Schmidt told Post that he was in charge and responsible for carrying out his orders. He ordered Oskar Schmidt to arrange for the cremation of the bodies taking into account the relevant formalities.
He instructed that service pistols were to be used to shoot the prisoners. Additionally, should the prisoners escape service rifles were to be used as pistols would not be sufficient. The drivers, Denkmann and Struve, were instructed to keep the road clear of curious passers-by.
The party then set off to Flensburg to interrogate the four prisoners. Post then ordered that each member of the party was to shoot the prisoner that he had interrogated. When they left Flensburg, Post and Kahler were in one car driven by Denkmann, with Sqn Ldr. Catanach as the only prisoner. During the journey this car became separated from the other and was the first to arrive at the pre-arranged place of execution. Sqn Ldr. Catanach was taken out of the car and led through a gate into a field where he was shot and killed. Post stated that Kahler’s rifle had misfired, and he had to give the prisoner the coup de grâce himself. However, Kahler denied having fired at all. Denkmann stood by the car.
Shortly thereafter the other car arrived with the remaining three prisoners. Oskar Schmidt was in charge, with Jacobs as an escort and Struve as the driver. Post was waiting for them at the gate. Sgt. Espelid, Flt Lt. Christensen and Lt. Fuglesang were led into the same field and shot. Post and Jacobs admitted having fired the shots at them, and Post stated that Oskar Schmidt also fired which he denied. Struve remained with his car.
They then all drove back and Post reported to Friedrich Schmidt. At some later date their report had to be re-written and it was suggested by Friedrich Schmidt and Post that the report should say that Denkmann and Struve each shot one prisoner as they tried to run away, but both refused to sign.
In their defence Post and Jacobs claimed that they had been misled by Friedrich Schmidt as to the identity of the four prisoners as spies and saboteurs. However, they admitted that when Sqn Ldr. Catanach was interrogated he stated that he had been in the RAF.
Kahler’s defence was that he hung back as Post and the prisoner left the car and never fired at all. Oskar Schmidt claimed in his testimony that he never fired and that he had been reported by Post to Friedrich Schmidt for failing to obey orders, and was rebuked.
In their defence, Denkmann and Struve, claimed that they had been conscripted into the Gestapo and were not members, and that they had nothing to do with the whole affair and were merely driving the cars. Struve admitted having been at the CO’s conference whereas Denkmann was the only one of the six accused who denied being at the conference.
The court found Post, Kähler, Schmidt and Jacobs guilty of their respective charges and sentenced them to death. They were executed by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard A. O'Neill, on the 26th February 1948 at Hameln prison between 09:54 hrs and 10:50 hrs.
The court found Denkmann and Struve guilty of their involvement in the killings and sentenced both to 10 years imprisonment. The final dispositions of their sentences are unknown.
Friedrich (Fritz) Schmidt was not before the court for his involvement in the killings as it appears from unsubstantiated reports that at the end of April/beginning of May 1945 he obtained false papers and fled across the Bavarian - Austrian border. However:
On the 11th November 1961 Friedrich (Fritz) Schmidt, alias Schütte, and his Nazi past was uncovered. He eventually lost his job at Hamburg-Mannheimer (Insurance Company) and in 1962 was sentenced by the Munich District Court to three months in prison for "false certification, making a false affidavit and offences under the passport law", but he did not have to serve the sentence. He continued to live under the name Schmidt-Schütte.
On the 18th December 1963 he was arrested and remanded in custody on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the Kiel District Court. The background to this was investigations into crimes committed and specifically his responsibility for the murders of the four Allied officers on the 29th March 1944, which were committed on his instructions.
Schmidt-Schütte was released from pre-trial detention in 1965 because he was unfit to be imprisoned and was able to resume his employment. On the 20th May 1968 Schmidt-Schütte was sentenced by the Kiel District Court to two years imprisonment for aiding and abetting the murder of the four Allied officers. The sentence was confirmed by the Federal Court of Justice on the 14th January 1969. However, his sentence was deemed to have been served through pre-trial detention.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Flt Lt. Arnold George Christensen MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery. Collective Grave 9A. Born on the 8th April 1922 in Hastings, Hawkes Bay. Son of Anton (his father predeceased him in Apr 1942) and Lilian Alice (née Ladbrook) Christensen of Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
Flt Lt. Christensen 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 8th June 1944.
Originally researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks Howard Buxton for portrait photograph (Mar 2019). Reviewed and updated by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.(Mar 2022).
Other sources as quoted below: