12.02.1942 103 Squadron, Wellington Ic Z8714, Sqn Ldr. Ian K.P. Cross DFC, MiD
Operation: Operation “Fuller”
Date: 12th February 1942 (Thursday)
Unit: 103 Squadron, RAF
Type: Wellington Ic
Serial No: Z8714
Location: Ditched, English Channel
Base: RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire.
Pilot: Sqn Ldr. Ian Kingston Pembroke Cross DFC, MiD 39305 RAFO Age 25. PoW No. 2 */Murdered (2)
2nd Pilot: Sgt. Roy Albert Eshelby 1252991 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 24758 ** (1)
Obs: Flt Lt. Richard Mannering Phillips 80563 RAF Age? PoW No. 24. *
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Melville James 923885 RAFVR Age 26. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. William Charles Donald Gallop 1381643 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 24757 *** (1)
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Donald Richard George Holmes 1254339 RAFVR Age 20. killed
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria)
** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
*** Stalag 357 (Stalag 11b), Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 11th February 1942, a German operation codenamed “Cerberus” had commenced, in which a German Kriegsmarine (German Navy) squadron comprising the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, supported by a number of smaller ships, attempted to sail to their home bases via the English Channel.
The British response was operation “Fuller” which was a plan for combined operations against the three battleships and their escorts should they sortie from Brest, in France, with continuous co-ordinated attacks by Coastal Command, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. During the course of the battle, the British lost approximately forty aircraft and failed to prevent the German fleet from returning to Kiel and Wilhelmshaven.
Z8714 took off from RAF Elsham Wolds at 14:54 hrs as one of five aircraft from 102 Sqn that were detailed on this mission. The weather over the North Sea was very unfavourable, with the cloud base down to 300 ft in places and some icing was experienced in cloud. Although the ships were located there was no opportunity for bombing them, and all the aircraft except one were compelled to land with their bomb loads.
Z8714 was heard by RAF Sealand request a fix at 16:57 hrs. A fix was transmitted in response but nothing further was heard from the aircraft which did not return to base. The aircraft ditched in the North Sea and two of the crew were lost. The remaining four were rescued from the sea ending up as PoWs.
(1) Sgt. Eshelby and Sgt. Gallop were promoted to Warrant Officer (WO) whilst as PoWs
(2) Sqn Ldr. Cross was initially sent to Oflag 21b but was eventually moved to Stalag Luft 3 for being a troublesome PoW. After arriving at Stalag Luft 3 he had tried to escape in a truck transporting pine branches but was detected immediately and sent to the 'cooler'.
The dispersal of the sand from the tunnel “Harry’ was directed by two officers, one being Sqn Ldr. Cross. (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”.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Sqn Ldr. Cross 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 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.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Credit: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above: Grave marker for Sqn Ldr. Cross DFC, MiD (Credit; TWGPP)
Sqn Ldr. Ian Kingston Pembroke Cross DFC, MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery 7.C.2. Inscription reads: "FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH, TO HIS GOD AND COUNTRY". Born on the 4th April 1918 in Cosham, Hampshire. Son of Pembroke Henry Cokayne and Jennie (née Boyd) Cross, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, England.
Brother to Grp Capt. Kenneth Brian Boyd Cross DSO, DFC, Middle East Forces.
His DFC was awarded as a Plt Off. when with 38 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 13th September 1940.
Sqn Ldr. Cross 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.
Sgt. Melville James. Runnymede Memorial Panel 86. Born in July 1915 in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales. Son of Charles Herbert and Ethel (née Workman) James; husband of Mary (née Benson) James, of Christchurch, Hampshire. His mother predeceased him in 1934.
Flt Sgt. Donald Richard George Holmes. Runnymede Memorial Panel 74. Son of Mr. and Mrs. S. R. Holmes, of Chailey, Sussex.
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’ 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