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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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168 Squadron
20.08.1944 168 Squadron, Mustang I AG346, Flt Lt. Denis Clark

Operation: Tactical Reconnaissance

Date: 20th August 1944 (Saturday)

Unit No: 168 Sqn, 39 (Reconnaissance) Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force

Type: Mustang I

Serial No: AG346

Code: No Sqn Code

Location: NE of Gacé, France

Base: ALG B.21, Sainte-Honorine, France

Pilot: Flt Lt. Denis Clark 119758 RAFVR Age 23.Murdered

REASON FOR LOSS:

Flt Lt. Clark took off from the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) B.21 at 16:26 hrs with Flt Lt. Ken H. Hutchingson for a Tactical Reconnaissance sortie. His aircraft was hit by intense accurate light flak NE of Gacé and caught fire. He successfully bailed out over enemy territory.

Above: North American Aviation Mustang Mk. I AG346 at Speke Aerodrome, November 1941. © IWM (ATP 10608C)

The circumstances of his capture are not known, however, it has been determined that he was eventually held at a temporary PoW camp at Les Hogues, located SE of Rouen, France. Here he met up with up with:

2nd Lt. George M. Mikels O-759899 US AAF, whose B-17 had been shot down on the 13th of August 1944;

S/Sgt. Norman E. Thielan 14057011 US AAF, whose B-26B had been shot down on the 12th of August 1944;

WO1. Griffin ‘Griff’ James Young R85855 RCAF, a Spitfire pilot shot down on the 13th of August 1944;

Pvt. Gordon Lafayette Bryant 6969514 from the 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, US Army. The circumstances leading to his capture are unknown;

Two British soldiers from the Royal Artillery (RA), one whose identity is unknown and a L/Bdr. Jack Martin 976272 from the 65th (The Norfolk Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment. The circumstances leading to their capture are unknown but L/Bdr. Martin was reported missing on the 21st of August 1944.

The following has been extracted from a Court of Enquiry which was held at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) on the 25th August 1945:

At the end of July or early August 1944, a German PoW unit, Supply Company K.612, set up the camp at Les Hogues, a Feldwebel (Sgt) Wenzel being in charge. The camp housed many black South African nationals, French Colonial Arabs and Turks who were being used as slave labour.

Shortly before 16:00 hrs on the 25th August 1944, Flt Lt. Clark, WO1. Young, Pvt. Bryant, L/Bdr. Martin and the unidentified RA gunner were sitting in front of a shed in the camp.

An SS NCO who had driven up in a car into the camp ordered these five PoWs to come and help to ‘push a car’. There was some speculation as to the purpose for this subterfuge, which was subsequently overtaken by what followed.

The prisoners did not understand and did not move. The SS NCO went away and returned with an SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt.) and two other SS NCOs. The SS-Obersturmführer asked why the prisoners did not get up, again they did not reply, whereupon he assaulted one of them.

At this point, another of the PoWs began to walk or run towards the gate of the camp and he was shot by one or more of the SS men. The other four PoWs were then shot in turn, each making varying efforts to get away, with one succeeding in getting out of the gate and down the road outside before he was shot.

The bodies of all five men were collected and buried in the camp. All money and valuables were removed from the bodies and a receipt was given to Feldwebel Wenzel. This paper was stamped "SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Second Company" and signed "Gutemann". The paper was not presented as an exhibit to the court but was seen on several occasions by one of the witnesses.

The camp guards took no part in the murders and appeared to keep out of the way. Seven witnesses were called before the court. Most reiterated the events as told to them by Feldwebel Wenzel and the camp guards. However, three of the witnesses saw the PoW on the road outside the camp gate being shot and killed.

The court attached no importance that the five deceased were planning to escape together with other fellow prisoners, as this was not known to the SS men. The pathologist’s findings documented that all five victims suffered one or more gunshot wounds either to the head, neck or chest which were inflicted from the front or side. One body exhibited a gunshot wound from behind and may have been the victim who was running on the road.

In the view of the court, the evidence presented was sufficient to establish, in the minds of reasonable men, a case of murder by SS-Obersturmführer Gutemann and two of his three associates, the third apparently took no direct part.

An SS-Obersturmführer Eugen Gutemann was captured on the 28th April 1945 in Italy and was held as a PoW by the USA. American record cards have been found that a case number had been allocated in relation to a war crime committed against Pvt. Bryant but nothing further has been found.

No records have been found to indicate that Gutemann had been brought before a court to answer for his role in the deaths of the five PoWs.

2nd Lt. Mikels later escaped and hid with the help of French citizens until the arrival of British troops. He reported what he had witnessed to the authorities.

Burial details:

Above: The original grave marker for the five at the Les Hogues Communal Cemetery

Above: Les Hogues Communal Cemetery (credit: TWGPP) The cemetery is south of the village on the road to Lyons-la-Forét. On the western side of the path some 21 yards from the entrance, are the graves of the five, three soldiers (two British and one American), one airman from the RAF and one from the RCAF. One of the British soldiers remains unidentified.

Above grave marker for Flt Lt. Clark. (credit: TWGPP)

Flt Lt. Denis Clark. Les Hogues Communal Cemetery Coll. Grave 439C. Inscription reads: “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIEND”. Born on the 17th of December 1918 in Stockton, County Durham. Son of Sydney and Minnie G. (née Richie) Clark; husband of Beth (née Ayre) Clark of Seaton, Carew, County Durham, England.

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’. Thanks to The War Graves Photographic Project for the war grave images. Update to include Investigation and Court of Enquiry narrative (Jan 2024).

Other sources listed below:

RS & TV 19.01.2024 - Inclusion of Investigation and Court of Enquiry narrative

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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CWGC: Your Relative's Grave Explained •  USA Flygirls •  Axis Awards Descriptions •  'Lack Of Moral Fibre'
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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', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. 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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