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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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40 SAAF Squadron
09.04.1942 40 (SAAF) Squadron Tomahawk IIb AN377, Lt. Johannes Stephanus Gouws MiD

Operation: Tactical Reconnaissance (TacR) sortie

Date: 9th April 1942 (Thursday)

Unit No: 40 (SAAF) Squadron, Middle East

Type: Tomahawk IIb

Serial No: AN377

Code: WR:?

Location: 30 km SW of Mteifel Chebir, Libya

Base: El Adem, No. 1( LG 144), Libya

Pilot: Lt. Johannes Stephanus ‘Boetie’ Gouws MiD 103275 SAAF Age 24. PoW No. 116 */Murdered

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


Tomahawk IIb AN377 took off from El Adem, No. 1 (LG 144), Libya on the 9th April 1942 on a Tactical Reconnaissance (TacR) sortie in support of the British Eighth Army.

The Tomahawk was intercepted over Chichiba Ezzeiat (El-Ezzeiat) by two Bf-109s of II./JG27 which were also on a Reconnaissance sortie.

AN377 was shot down by Oberleutnant (Oblt) Gustav-Siegfried Rödel which was his 38th confirmed Abschuss. The Tomahawk, on fire, belly landed about 30 km SW of Mteifel Chebir in Libya at 14:25 hrs and Lt. Gouws was immediately captured and was eventually incarcerated at Stalag Luft 3.

Note: the location or region named Mteifel Chebir has not been identified.

Rödel survived the war as a Major with 94 confirmed Abschüsse from 980 sorties. After the war he joined the Bundeswehr where he reached the rank of Generalmajor (Major General (4 star)). He died on 6th February 1995. (Luftwaffe ACES - Biographies and Victory Claims (Mathews and Foreman) - Volume 3).

(1) Lt. Gouws was one of the team dispersing the excavated sandy earth. He and Lt. Stevens with whom he had paired up were the third pair through the tunnel.

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”.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Lt. Gouws 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.

Kripo = Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police).

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 sixth count three members of the Munich Gestapo were accused of committing a war crime in that they in the vicinity of Schweitenkirchen, Germany, on or about 29th March, 1944, when members of the Munich Gestapo, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of Lieutenant H.J. Stevens and Lieutenant J.S. Gouws, both of the SAAF, PoWs.

The accused were Emil Weil, Eduard Geith and Johann Schneider whose positions and ranks remain unknown.

The court heard that Schäfer was the Commanding Officer at the regional headquarters of the Gestapo at Munich. On or about the 29th March 1944, he received a teleprint from SS-Gruppenführer Müller his superior at Amt IV, instructing him that the two British airman held at the Kripo headquarters were to be shot. The teleprint gave the essential points of the Hitler order.

Oswald Schäfer was a former Oberregierungs- und Kriminalrat (Senior Government official and Chief Detective) and held the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).

Schäfer was accused in 1950 of “Beihilfe zum Mord” (Aiding and abetting in murder) in 20 cases and of “schwere Körperverletzung im Amt” (grievous bodily harm, committed by an official) in at least 25 cases, during the period 1943 to 1945. This concerned cases where he had submitted to the RSHA the cases of foreign slave workers, applying for “Sonderbehandlung” (execution) or “Kurzbehandlung” (severe whipping) of same. He was acquitted by a jury of 12 in the first trial, then after appeal, revision, retrial around 1953 was convicted of GBH but acquitted of anything to do with murder. What never came to trial, or so it seems, was his role as leader of “Einsatzkommando 9 der Einsatzgruppe B” (Murder squads) between December 1941 and February 1942.

It was after duty hours, and he sent his car to collect some of his staff. The car returned with his second in command, Schermer, as well as Geith and Schneider. They were joined by Weil, who was the duty officer.

Martin Schermer committed suicide on the 25th April 1945.

After a short conference with Schäfer he summoned the others and explained to them that he had received orders from the RSHA that the two captured British prisoners held at Kripo headquarters were to be shot. He briefed them in accordance with the Hitler order. It was decided that Schneider, who had a machine pistol, should do the shooting and that Schermer would be in charge of the party. All participants were pledged to secrecy by hand-shakes.

With Geith and Weil looking on Schneider shot both prisoners near the autobahn when ordered to do so by Schermer but their remains were cremated in München (Munich) and their ashes placed in urns, which were returned to Stalag Luft 3.

Schneider’s defence was that he thought the two prisoners were looters and desperadoes. Geith claimed that he did not hear the orders given by Schäfer at the conference. Weil, whilst admitting that he heard Schäfer’s orders at the conference, thought that the prisoners had been tried by a tribunal and convicted.

The court found the accused guilty of the charge for which they were sentenced to death. Weil, Geith and Schneider were executed at Hameln prison by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard A. O'Neill, on the 28th February 1948.

Burial details:

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

Above grave marker for Lt. Gouws (Courtesy of TWGPP)

Lt. Johannes Stephanus ‘Boetie’ Gouws MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Coll. Grave 9.A. Grave inscription: "EK SAL LEWE, EK SAL STERWE, EK VIR JOU SUID AFRIKA" (Translation: I’LL LIVE I’LL DIE FOR YOU). Born on 13th August 1919 in Bultfontein, Orange Free State. Son of Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Gouts of Bultfontein, Orange Free State, South Africa.

Lt. Gouws 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.

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 (TWGPP)for their great work.

Other sources as quoted below:

RS & TV 10.04.2022 - Initial upload

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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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