Date: 12/13th December 1944 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: No. 460 Squadron (RAAF)
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire
Location: Schürmannstraße in the Essen-Bergerhausen region, Germany
Pilot: Sq/Ldr. James Clark DFC. AFC. MiD. AUS/402439 RAAF Age 29. Killed
Fl/Eng: F/O. Leon Milner 160860 RAFVR Age 23. Missing - believed killed (1)
Nav: F/O. Brian Clapham Reid DFC. AUS/409224 RAAF Age 24. Killed
Air/Bmr: F/O. Stanley James Bethel AUS/411987 RAAF Age 24. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Christopher Sanders 149052 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: F/O. Philip Edwin Edwards AUS/411772 RAAF Age 31. Killed
Air/Gnr: F/O. John Maxwell Scott DFM. AUS/404043 RAAF Age 27. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off at 15:59 hrs from RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire together with 17 other aircraft from the Squadron to bomb Essen - the last major raid on the city. 512 Lancasters and Halifaxes together with 28 Mosquitoes. The attack taking place between 18:15 hrs and 19:55 hrs.
The bombers crossed France and then turned North East towards Deelen - when there they turned South East to Essen climbing to commence their bombing run. Due to the Mandrel screening and the radio signals silence the Luftwaffe were fooled as to the target. Even with that the very poor light with visibility spoilt by cloud up to 6,000 mtrs. the Luftwaffe failed to intercept the stream until they reached the target.
During post war interrogation of Albert Speer he commented that this operation was the most accurate of the war against the Krupp works. Reports state that some 696 houses were destroyed. 1,370 others suffering serious damage. A total of 463 people were killed on the ground - made up of 160 German civilians, 89 PoW’s, 13 foreign workers and a further 201 prisoners when the City prison was hit - 309 others classed as missing.
Hit by anti-aircraft fire over Essen and crashed on Schürmannstraße in the Essen-Bergerhausen region of the city. It is thought that F/O. Leon Milner managed to bale out but was soon captured by the Germans.
(1) What happened next was to bring about a war crime with 7 accused standing trial over 5 days in December 1945. The accused, Erich Heyer, Peter Koenen, Johann Braschoß, Karl Käufer, Franz Hartung, Hugo Boddenberg and Erich Sambol faced the charge that on the 13th December 1944 in violation of the laws and usages of war they and other persons unknown were concerned in the killing of 3 'unidentified' British airmen who were prisoners of war.
The other two airmen were from 582 Squadron with Lancaster III PB554 6O-M details also on this website.
The 140 page report of the trial is held by Aircrew Remembered but of course too large to place on the website. Comprehensive additional details of the death of these three aircrew are available by purchasing a new publication (2018) 'Missing Presumed Murdered' by the authors Sean Feast and Marc Hall.
Briefly the 3 airmen were in custody of the German police and they were to be escorted under guard to an airfield to be handed over to the Luftwaffe. Word had spread quickly that this was to happen to the residents of Essen. Hptm. Heyer (Wehrmacht) instructed the escort also from the Wehrmacht to take them on a roundabout route but made it clear to the crowds that this would happen. Heyer instructed the guard that at no time were they to interfere with the crowd if they should molest the PoWs.
When they reached a bridge the crowd then set upon the 3 airman, beating them, the guard did not prevent this and simply covered the airmen with rifles should they attempt escape. One of the airmen was thrown from the 40 ft. high bridge into fast flowing water below, followed quickly by a second airman. The third ran across the bridge but was quickly captured and holding up a photo of his wife and child begged the pursuers for his life. This had no effect and he was also thrown over the bridge. One of the airmen was killed by the fall, but the other two were still alive when they landed. Shots were then fired and finding one was still alive they beat him to death, stripped and robbed the bodies and dumped them into the stream.
At the trial end - Erich Heyer, Peter Koenen, Johann Braschoß, Karl Käufer and Hugo Boddenberg were found guilty of the charges. Franz Hartung and Erich Sambol were found to be not guilty.
Peter Koenen was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, Hugo Boddenberg sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, Karl Käufer was given a life sentence. Erich Heyer and Johann Braschoß were both sentenced to death.
On Friday the 08th March 1946 the sentence was duly carried out at Hamelin Prison. Erich Heyer and Johann Braschoß were both hanged at 16:10 hrs by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by RSM. Richard Anthony O'Neill. (6 others suffering the same fate on this day)
There was a second trial (WO 235/86; 1st to 3rd April 1946) in which Franz Kircher who had not been found previously was found guilty of having participated in the crime. He, too, was sentenced to hang, and was executed on the same gallows by the same executioners on Wednesday15th May 1946 at 17:30 hrs.
We are indebted to Marc Hall for images of F/O. Leon Milner and to Traugott Vitz and the Vitz Archive - now on this website.
'Missing - Presumed Killed': 240 pages Published by Fighting High Publishing (1 Sept. 2018) ISBN-13: 978-1-9998128-5-0. Purchase via this link.
'Operation Hurricane': 256 pages Published by Fighting High Publishing (19 Jan. 2013) ISBN-13: 978-0957116337. Purchase via this link.
Marc Hall developed an interest in aviation at an early age, and gained a commercial pilots licence. Marc's research in to RAF Bomber Command is ongoing and his first book 'Bomber Command Operation Hurricane' met with critical acclaim. Sean Feast started a career in journalism in 1985, concurrently training at the London College of Printing and later joining Maxwell Business Communications. He has written or co-written more than a dozen books.
Six of the crew were initially buried at Südwestfriedhof in Essen-Fulerum - reinterred after the end of the war.
Sq/Ldr. James Clark DFC. AFC. MiD. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 13.G.12. Born on the 28th August 1915 at Waverley, NSW, the son of David and Mary Clark and husband of Ivy Eileen Clark father to a son, of East Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. Grave inscription reads: "His Duty Fearlessly And Nobly Done. Ever Remembered".
F/O. Leon Milner. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 208. Son of Harold and Emily May Milner, of Long Eaton, Derbyshire; husband of Barbara Jean Milner, of Long Eaton
F/O. Brian Clapham Reid DFC. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 13.G.13. Born on the 02nd February 1920 at Wodonga, Victoria, the son of Arthur and Frances May Reid, husband of Jan Reid, of Ashburton, Victoria, Australia.
F/O. Stanley James Bethel. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 13.G.14. Born on 18th February 1920 in Rockdale, New South Wales, the son of Thomas Stanley and Miriam Georgina Bethel, of Rockdale, New South Wales, Australia. Grave inscription reads:"Too Dearly Loved Ever To Be Forgotten. Our Beloved "Pat".
F/O. Christopher Sanders. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 13.G.10. No further details - are you able to assist?
F/O. Philip Edwin Edwards. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 13.G.11. Born on the 01st May 1913 at Alexander, Victoria, the son of Philip Robert and Minnie Lavina Edwards, of Glebe, New South Wales, Australia. Grave inscription reads: "He Died That We Might Live".
F/O. John Maxwell Scott DFM. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 13.G.9. Son of Wallace Oakhampton Scott and Annie Scott, of Ashgrove, Queensland, Australia and husband of Marjorie Scott, of Auchenflower, Queensland, Australia. Grave inscription reads: "Peace, Perfect Peace".
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz, Marc Hall and Sean Feast. Other sources as shown below.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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