22.03.1945 428 (Ghost) Squadron RCAF, Lancaster X KB777 Flt Lt. James F. Hadley
Operation: Hildesheim, Germany
Date: 22nd March 1945 (Thursday)
Unit No: 428 (Ghost) Squadron, RCAF
Type: Lancaster X
Serial No: KB777
Base: RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham, England
Location: Leichlingen, 20 km north of Köln, Germany
Pilot: Flt Lt. James Frederick Hadley J10986 RCAF Age 28. Murdered (1)
Flt Eng: Sgt. R.R. Duke R209659 RCAF Age? PoW *
Navigator: Fg Off. W.J. Spence J40193 RCAF Age? PoW *
Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. C.A. Goodier J40516 RCAF Age? PoW *
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. John MacKenzie R208648 RCAF Age 20. Murdered (1)
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Fg Off. Daniel Frame J45349 RCAF Age 20. Murdered (1)
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. John Walter Bellamy R270570 RAF Age 23. PoW *
* Stalag 9b Fallingbostel, Germany
REASON FOR LOSS:
Fifteen crews from the squadron were detailed for a daylight attack on the railway yards at Hildesheim in Germany. KB777 took off from RAF Middleton St. George at 10:47 hrs on the morning of the 22nd March 1945.
KB777 was last seen, homebound, flying below 5,000 ft with its port inner engine feathered with flames streaming from the engine. Two P-51 Mustangs were also observed close by.
The entire crew baled out and all seven parachutes were seen to open by the surviving aircrew. The aircraft was reported to have crashed near Leichlingen, 20 km north of Köln and some 8 km east of the Rhine in Germany. However, no evidence of the crash was discovered in post-war investigations.
Fg Off. Spence stated that they were subjected to machine gun fire while descending and was of the opinion that the three missing crew members could have been killed before reaching the ground. However, this was subsequently proven to be incorrect.
According to the staff of the police station at Opladen, the crew of KB777 were first seen coming down by parachute at 16:00 hrs on the day in question. They were at a great height, and although bunched together at first, gradually drifted apart as they neared the ground. They eventually landed in the area of Opladen.
After landing Fg Off. Spence, Fg Off. Goodier, Flt Sgt. Bellamy and Sgt. Duke were rounded up and taken to the Opladen police station and from where they were later handed over to the Wehrmacht.
(1) The circumstances leading to the deaths of Flt Lt. Hadley, Fg Off. Frame and Flt Sgt. MacKenzie were determined by two Allied Military courts.
The Canadian investigation team’s efforts to gather evidence was hampered because they were unaware of an investigation that had already been carried out and the suspects had been taken into custody by the 7th US Army, War Crimes Detachment. Furthermore the US investigation was undertaken in two separate places and did not determine the full picture until they were brought together. It was at this point that it was found that more than one person had been killed.
Furthermore, the main person of interest, an Oberleutnant (1st Lt) Karl Heinrich Schäfer was known to be German PoW but had not been located in time for the Canadian trial. In fact he had been in US custody since the 17th July 1945 and was held at Ludwigsburg in Camp 74.
The Canadian investigation had further difficulties due to the remains discovered by the US investigation were wearing uniforms with RAF insignia which then involved a British investigation. It was not until one of the Germans that had been interrogated mentioned a ‘Canada’ flash on the uniforms that the case was forwarded to the Canadian investigators.
A Canadian Military Court was convened at Aurich in Germany between 25th March and the 6th April 1946.
The defence counsels were German and had only been appointed a few days before the court was convened. They requested an adjournment of at least 10 days because court papers had been provided in English and the translations into German had not been completed. The court’s President granted an adjournment of 6 days to reconvene on the 1st April 1945.
When the court reconvened four German nationals were before the court. However the trial of a Hubert Broichhaus was adjourned until the conclusion of the trial of the other three accused. It appears that his defence counsel was appointed at the last moment and that he did not know who Broichhaus was nor had he had the opportunity to read the charge against his client.
Broichhaus agreed to be called as a defence witness during this trial but his contribution was limited so as not to incriminate himself.
It appears that Broichhaus was never brought to trial because he had managed to escape from a working party and could not be traced to answer for his part in the killing of one of the Canadian airmen. (Ref 1, p.219).
The other three German nationals were charged in that they, near the town of Opladen, Germany during the month of March, 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of war were concerned in the killing of an unknown Canadian airman, a member of the RCAF and a PoW.
The three accused were:
Robert Hölzer who was a former Oberfeldwebel der Feldgendarmerie (M/Sgt. in the military police) based with the AOK.9 (9th Army Headquarters) at Opladen;
Walter Weigel who was a former member of the Volkssturm (Militia), a Blockleiter (Nazi block warden) and a member of the Politische Staffel;
Wilhelm Ossenbach who was a former member of the Volkssturm.
Note: The Kreisleitung was guarded largely by members of the Politische Staffel (Political Task Force). Members of this group were drawn from fanatically devout National Socialists who had at least reached the position of Blockleiter. The role of the Politische Staffel evolved during the war years but in this instance it is believed they were essentially used as the armed personal security detail for the Kreisleiter.
The court heard that during the latter part of March 1945, three airmen of the Royal Canadian Air Force baled out of an aircraft in the vicinity of Opladen, Germany. One of them was seriously wounded and in great pain. The three were brought to the Kreisleitung (Nazi party headquarters) in Opladen, at about 15:30 hrs on the day in question.
Persons at the Kreisleitung, including the three accused, determined late in the afternoon on the day in question that the captured airmen were to be put to death. The three airmen were taken away from the Kreisleitung by various persons including the three accused, between 17:00 hrs and 19:00 hrs at intervals of approximately 45 minutes. The charge before the court concerned the killing of the third airman, who was seriously wounded.
During the questioning of Hölzer he described that he was ordered to report to an Oberleutnant (1st Lt.) Karl Heinrich Schäfer at the Kreisleitung (see Second Trial below). Arriving there he was told that Schäfer had gone to the aircraft crash site. Driving to the scene Hölzer met two German soldiers carrying a wounded airman. Schäfer then arrived and ordered Hölzer to take the wounded airman to the Kreisleitung. While he was at the Kreisleitung two more airmen were brought in and all three were held separately at the guard room.According to Hölzer the wounded airman was laid on a bed, received first aid and was tended to by Broichhaus.
Schäfer then ordered Hölzer to drive him and one of the captured officer airmen to Divisional Headquarters (HQ) for interrogation. En route they met an Oberfeldwebel der Feldgendarmerie (M/Sgt. in the military police) Könlein (Korlich) who was escorting another captured airman. He and the captured airman were given a lift to the HQ were both airmen and Könlein were dropped off after which Hölzer and Schäfer returned to the Kreisleitung.
This was a claim made by Hölzer in his sworn statement and his testimony but there was no corroborating evidence to support his claim that the airman was taken to the Divisional HQ. Several individuals confirmed that this airman was indeed removed from the Kreisleitung by Hölzer and Schäfer.
Hölzer claimed he and Könlein had escorted two airmen, one an officer who had been escorted by himself to the Divisional HQ, who had been handed over along with their equipment to a Polizei-Meister (Warrant Officer) at the Wermelskirchen police station on the evening of the 30th March 1945. The records for the police station for the month of March 1945 did not show the transfer of two airmen, albeit later examination of the records did show such a transfer at the beginning of April.
If, as Hölzer claimed, the first airman he removed from the Kreisleitung was an officer then this must have been Fg Off. Frame, given that it was later established the badly wounded airman was Flt Lt. Hadley.
There is no clear evidence that establishes who killed this airman. However, what can be said is the pathologist’s description of the cause of death was from a bullet wound to the head fired directly from the left of the individual from an undetermined distance.
Before getting out of his car Hölzer was ordered by Schäfer to get one of the two remaining airmen and have him loaded into the car. He then ordered that a member of the Volkssturm was to accompany them. Broichhaus was the man that was detailed. Hölzer drove through Opladen and after they the left the city boundary he was ordered to turn in the direction of some woods. Their progress was halted because of numerous bomb craters and Hölzer refused to drive any further. At this point Schäfer ordered everyone out of the car. After he and Schäfer had walked a few metres Schäfer turned and shouted at Broichhaus to get out of the car with the airman.
As Fg Off. Frame and Flt Lt. Hadley have been identified as the first and third airmen respectively therefore this airman was Flt Sgt. MacKenzie.
Hölzer saw a pistol in Schäfer’s hand and then knew that the airman was about to be shot. Hölzer claimed that he refused to comply with any order to shoot the airman which attracted a tirade of abuse from Schäfer. Who then turned his anger on Broichhaus and ordered him take the airman further into the woods and shoot him. Hölzer returned to his car and a short while later Schäfer and Broichhaus returned to the car without the airman. Hölzer had not heard a shot because of the firing going on at the front opposite the Rhine. Hölzer returned to the Kreisleitung where he dropped off Schäfer and Broichhaus.
The third airman was carried from the Kreisleitung by Hölzer and Ossenbach and loaded into Hölzer’s car. He and the other two accused then drove off followed by Schäfer in a second car. They drove to lonely spot at the edge of a wood at a place named Balken, about 8 km from the Kreisleitung.
The airman was carried from the car by Ossenbach and Weigel and put down on the ground at the edge of the woods. It was alleged that the airman was shot in the body by Weigel, however there is no direct evidence that he fired a shot just Hölzer alleging that Weigel said to him “I have shot” or “I have shot him”.
A second shot was fired by Hölzer into the airman’s head albeit he claimed that he reluctantly did so after trying to make out his pistol was faulty. This was followed by a third shot fired by Schäfer also into the airman’s head.
From the pathologist’s report and the final graves registration details from No. 20 Missing Research & Enquiry Service (MRES) it has been determined that the third airman was Flt Lt. Hadley. The report confirmed that Flt Lt. Hadley suffered two gunshot wounds to the head but could not confirm the third shot to his body.
These events were determined from written statements and testimony by the three accused.
Weigel, a man against whom there was only the slimmest evidence of murder, and Hölzer who protested to the end that he did everything in his power to rescue Allied prisoners were found guilty. Ossenbach was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder.
Hölzer and Weigel were sentenced to death by shooting. The sentence was carried out by a Canadian firing squad just before 06:00 hrs on the 11th May 1946.
Ossenbach was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. The final disposition of his sentence is unknown.
A British Military Court was convened at Wuppertal, Germany between 12th and the 14th November 1946.
One German national was charged in that he at Opladen, Germany, during or about March 1945 in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of three unknown Canadian airmen who were PoWs.
The accused was a former Oberleutnant (1st Lt.) Karl Heinrich Schäfer who was a former Standgerichtsoffizier. He was also a former Oberbannführer (Senior Squad Leader) in the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) and recipient of the Golden Hitlerjugend badge for his leadership, and also the former Kreisleiter (County Leader) of Grevenbroich.
A Standgerichtsoffizier (Standgericht = Drumhead Courts Martial) was a selected officer that had absolute loyalty to Hitler and became a special liaison between the Nazi party and the German army. Whatever their rank they had unlimited powers to order executions of any suspects, including senior officers.
Robert Hölzer and Walter Weigel, who were two of the three German nationals who had previously been tried for the same crime (see First Trial above), were executed before Schäfer was brought to trial.
Schäfer, in his deposition, firmly implicated Hölzer as the principal individual responsible for shooting the three Canadian airmen and that he had tried to prevent the shootings. It appears that he was trying to convey that despite being an officer with unlimited powers he had no influence over Hölzer. Schäfer claimed that one of the reasons for his failed suicide attempt was the feeling of moral guilt for not having stopped Hölzer from killing the three Canadian airmen.
Without knowledge of the court proceedings it appears likely that given Schäfer’s position as a standgerichtsoffizier, a role only an ardent and committed Nazi would have fulfilled, the court was not convinced by his claims of innocence.
It is probable that the court had the Canadian trial file at its disposal so despite not being able to question Hölzer or Weigel, Schäfer’s direct involvement in the killings would have been apparent. However, although he was found guilty, it appears that Schäfer was considered to have played a lesser role in the killings.
He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment commencing on the 14th November 1946. He was granted remission for good conduct and released on the 7th May 1955.
Records of Schäfer’s time in Werl prison show that he had been a troublesome prisoner. He violated prison rules on numerous occasions and his letters to his wife had ‘objectionable’ content about the Clemency Board's unfairness, about current politics etc. It appears that that he saw himself as a ‘prisoner of war’ and not as a war criminal. He was unable to understand that what he did was not a legitimate act of war, but a crime.
Initial Burial Details
Flt Lt. Hadley was buried in an isolated grave 100 yards north of Imbach and Fg Off. Frame in an isolated grave 50 yards south of the Opladen town cemetery. The bodies were disinterred on the 25th and 26th September 1945.
The whereabouts of the remains of Flt Sgt. MacKenzie was the subject of intensive investigations but without any result. Karl Heinrich Schäfer who was serving a 15 year prison sentence for being connected with the shooting of the three members of this crew was released for one day from Werl prison and brought to Opladen.
However, as four years had passed and the crime had been hurriedly committed at night Schäfer was uncertain that he could locate where Flt Sgt. MacKenzie had been shot let alone where he may have been buried. He pointed out several places including an area situated by the Autobahn near Leichlingen. This area was large and it was deemed impracticable for any excavation activity to be carried out. Therefore it was recommended that Flt Sgt. MacKenzie be commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
Above (left: Flt Lt. Hadley from his service file; right: Grave marker credit Fred - FindAGrave)
Flt Lt. James Frederick Hadley. Recovered and interred at the Rheinberg War Cemetery Plot 11, Row C, Grave 2. Born on the 30th January 1917 in Montreal, Quebec. Son of Frederick James and Dorothy Clara (née Foster) Hadley. Husband to Jacqueline (née Letourneau) Hadley and father to Robert James and Richard Frederick Hadley from Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada.
Flt Lt. Hadley had initially enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was discharged as D82322 L/Cpl. in the 1st. Battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada on the 9th June 1941 and enlisted in the RCAF.
Above Plt Off. MacKenzie from his service file
Plt Off. John MacKenzie. Runnymede Memorial Panel 280. Born 25th February 1925 in Fort William, Ontario. Son of Mundo and Christina (née MacKnight) MacKenzie from Fort William, Ontario, Canada.
Flt Sgt. MacKenzie was posthumously commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. (J95385) with effect from 21st March 1945.
Above (left: Fg Off. Frame from his service file; right: Grave marker credit Des Philippet - FindAGrave)
Fg Off. Daniel Frame. Recovered and interred at the Rheinberg War Cemetery Plot 11, Row C, Grave 1. Inscription Reads: “TIME CHANGES MANY THINGS, BUT LOVE AND MEMORY EVER CLING”. Born on the 8th March 1915 in Toronto, Ontario. Son of Daniel and Linda (née Humphries) Frame. Husband to Amy D. Frame and father to Donald from York Mills, Ontario, Canada.
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’.
1. Footprints on the Sands of Time: RAF Bomber Command Prisoners-of-War in Germany 1939-1945 - Oliver Clutton-Brock .