04.04.1942 72 (Fighter) Squadron, Spitfire Vb AB258, Sgt. Albert Horace Hake MiD
Operation: “Circus 119” to St. Omer, France
Date: 4th April 1942 (Saturday)
Unit: 72 (Fighter) Squadron, 11 Group, RAF
Type: Spitfire Vb
Serial No: AB258
Location: Saint-Omer, France
Base: RAF Biggin Hill
Pilot: Sgt. Albert Horace Hake, MiD 403218 RAAF Age 27. PoW No. 6 */Murdered
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 4th April 1942 at 09:36 hrs thirteen Spitfires took off from RAF Biggin Hill on a “Circus 119” mission to cover twelve Boston light bombers from 88 Sqn that were detailed to attack the railway station at Saint- Omer in France.
Circus missions - Daytime bomber attacks with fighter escorts against short range targets, to occupy enemy fighters and keep them in the area concerned.
AB258 was one of three Spitfires from 72 Sqn lost to Fw190s over Saint-Omer, France.
The other two losses were:
Flt Lt. Ross Raymond Gillespie J2973 RCAF, Spitfire Vb BL721 - PoW No. 452 Stalag Luft 3;
Flt Sgt. Tom Watson 995862 RAFVR, Spitfire Vb BL935 - KiA.
In turn the Sqn claimed one Fw190 and one Bf109 destroyed and two Fw190s damaged,
Sgt. Hake successfully baled out and eventually found himself at Stalag Luft 3 where he became involved with the Carpentry group as well as in the production of Compasses. (Ref 1)
His rank has been variously reported as being a Flt Lt., however, his service record details that he was promoted to Warrant Officer (WO) with effect 1st May 1943 and does not have any information regarding being commissioned as an officer.
His promotion to WO was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 2nd June 1944.
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 details of his capture are not known, however, Flt Lt. Max Pemberton Ellis 137306, who escaped separately from the Balaria (Officer’s) compound, was captured on the 25th March and initially held at the police station at Christianstadt and then moved to the Sagan police station. Here he was joined that evening in his cell by Flt Lt. J.L.R Long and Flt Lt. P.A. Bethell. On the morning of the 26th March, Fg Off. W. Kolanowski was put in his cell, and in the afternoon Fg Off. J. Pohe and WO. A.A. Hake. (Ref. 1)
Flt Lt. Ellis was held in solitary until the 25th April and was then returned to Stalag Luft 3
Additionally, WO. Hake, Flt Lt. P.W. Langford and Fg Off. Pohe were seen at the civil prison in Görlitz by Flt Lt. M.M. Shand 391369 RNZAF who was captured on the 29th March. On the 31st March all of the escapees were moved from one cell to another. Flt Lt. Shand was placed in a cell with Flt Lt. Churchill, Flt Lt. Broderick and Flt Lt. Street. On the 6th April Flt Lt. Street was removed from the cell. Later that day Flt Lt. Shand, Flt Lt. Churchiill and Flt Lt. Broderick were returned to Stalag Luft 3. (Ref 1)
The circumstances surrounding the death of Flt Lt. Hake 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 court heard that 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 (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above: WO. Hake (Credit Laurin Espie - FindAGrave) & Grave marker (Credit: TWGPP)
WO. Albert Horace Hake MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery 7.D.4 Inscription reads: “DEARLY LOVED AND SADLY MISSED BY LOVING WIFE NOELA”. Born on the 30th June 1916 in Sydney, New South Wales. Son of George and Lillian Maud Hake, of Sydney, Australia and husband of Noela Aundree Lillian Hake, of Carlton, New South Wales, Australia.
WO. Hake was awarded a Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Gazetted on the 8th June 1944.
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’ (TWGPP) 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