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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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103 squadron
07/08.03.1945 103 Squadron Lancaster III JA857 Fg Off. William J. Havell.

Operation: Dessau, Germany

Date: 7th/8th March 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit No: 103 Squadron, 1 Group, Bomber Command

Type: Lancaster III

Serial No: JA857

Code: PM:M

Location: Near Großneuhausen, Germany

Base: RAF Elsham Wolds, North Lincolnshire, England

Pilot: Fg Off. William James Havell 185863 RAFVR Age 24. KiA

Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. James Roy 638962 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Navigator: Sgt. Norman George Mayo 1804244 RAFVR Age 22. KiA

Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Joseph Gerard Smith 1114835 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Geoffrey Harry Burch 1875571 RAFVR Age 20. KiA

Air Gnr (Mid Upper): Sgt. Arthur Hugh Whyte 1399865 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Arthur George Fry 2235922 RAFVR Age 37. Murdered (1)


JA857 took off from RAF Elsham Wolds at 17.01 hrs on the 7th March 1945 to join a force of 526 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes on a mission to bomb, for the first time, targets in and around Dessau. Nineteen Lancasters were lost on this mission and JA857 was one of two Lancasters lost on the leg between Halle and Eisenach.

Along the homeward route, night fighters continued to hunt the bomber stream and at least six RAF bombers were shot down, including two near Sömmerda, one near Meiningen, one south of Stuttgart and one east of Lunéville.

Two German night-fighter pilots claimed either 103 Squadron Lancaster JA857 or 195 Squadron Lancaster NG186 at around 22:30 hrs near Sömmerda.

The first was Hauptmann (Capt) Ernst-Georg Drünkler from 1./NJG5, his 32nd Abschuss, claimed a Lancaster at 22:30 hrs in square MC, altitude 2,400 metres. (Square MC is roughly the area of Erfurt-Weimar-Kölleda, altitude 7,900 feet);

The second was Oberleutnant (1st Lt) Peter Spoden from 6./NJG6, his 24th Abschuss, at 22:29 hrs, abt. 50-60 km SSW of Dessau, altitude 3,500 metres. (Area of Eisleben/ Sangerhausen/ Querfurt, altitude 11,500 feet).

Ju88G-6 (2Z+DP) flown by Oberleutnant Spoden, with his crew of Unteroffizier (Cpl) Bernhard Iwert, Bordfunker (Radio/Radar Operator), Unteroffizier Friedrich Pelzer, Bordschütze (Air Gunner) and Unteroffizier Wilhelm Koy, Beobachter (Observer), was damaged in an exchange of gunfire with the Lancaster that he had engaged, which knocked out an engine on the Junkers. Subsequently, he and his crew were forced to bale out south of Schwäbisch Hall.

(Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume 2 (April 1944 - May 1945) - (Dr Theo E.W. Boiten & Roderick J. Mackenzie))

The crash location of JA857 is not precisely known but is thought to be in the vicinity of Großneuhausen, some 3 km from the airfield at Kölleda. The bodies of the crew save for Sgt. Fry were never found.

(1) It was reported that Sgt. Fry parachuted from the aircraft but was captured and killed by hostile action on the ground. The circumstances leading to the death of Sgt. Fry were investigated by the War Crimes Group (WCG) (North West Europe (NWE)).

From the investigation files it seems that Sgt. Fry had been injured in one leg or foot, either on board the aircraft or while parachuting down. Witness evidence of those who saw his body says that one boot was missing and was replaced by a white bandage which was not soiled although it was a rainy day and the ground was muddy.

It is not known when and where he became a prisoner, but it is established through witnesses that on 8th March, shortly after noon, a small car driven by Landrat (County Administrator) and Kreisleiter (Nazi party County Leader) Franz Hofmann and followed by a large omnibus of the German Luftwaffe stopped at a place known as “Berglücke” (mountain breach) north of the Thuringian village of Vogelsberg. Shortly thereafter, a pistol shot was heard, and when the car and the bus left, the dead body of a man in an airman’s leather combination was seen lying in the grass at the roadside.

A Vogelsberg farmer named Max Hergt passed the spot about five minutes after the shooting and saw the dead airman who showed a gunshot wound to his head. A policeman was there who asked Hergt whether he had seen that the airman had attempted to escape, and said that he had shot him. The name of the policeman is given as Kohle or Kahle in the investigation files.

The then Mayor of Vogelsberg, Otto Jorcke, is quoted as having said that Hofmann’s car stopped at his house, and that Hofmann told him about a dead airman, and that the body should be dragged through the streets. Jorcke however had the body loaded onto a farm wagon and driven to the village churchyard where two Russian prisoners were tasked with digging a grave for him in the SW corner.

After the Soviets occupied the area, they ordered all graves of members of the United Nations to be brought into order and cared for. The investigation file contains a photo of the grave taken between 8th March 1945 and 9th April 1946. On the 1st September 1947 Sgt. Fry’s body was reburied at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery after having been exhumed at Vogelsberg, presumably two days previously.

Above: Original grave of Sgt. Fry in the SW corner of the Vogelsberg village churchyard

Major A.K. Mant, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) of the Special Medical Section performed an autopsy on the remains and found a gunshot wound to the neck, fired from extremely close proximity.

A Brief for Investigation, written on Sgt. Fry’s reburial date, called for the British Liaison Officer at Berlin to contact his opposite number in the Soviet Military Administration with a prospect of having the witnesses from Vogelsberg brought to Berlin for interrogation.

The Soviets however replied that they preferred to interrogate the witnesses themselves, and asked for a list of questions to be asked. This list was sent, but before any reply came in, the investigation was closed by the Legal Section of the WCG (NWE) on 16th February 1948, presumably because it was known meanwhile that Franz Hofmann, the possible instigator, was dead, and because the identity of the actual killer could not be established.

On the same date the Officer in Charge (OiC) of WCG (NWE) closed the investigations of three more cases. It appears that due to his limited resources and the impending closure of all war crime Investigations and trials he decided to clear the less promising cases from his desk and concentrate everything and everyone on bringing at least the Buttstädt Case to trial. (195 Sqn Lancaster NG186)

Burial Details:

Fg Off. William James Havell. Runnymede Memorial Panel 267. Born in 1921. Son of James William and Kate Jubilee (née Thompson) Havell, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada.

Flt Sgt. James Roy. Runnymede Memorial Panel 272. Born in 1922. Son of James Roy and of Catherine Roy (née Kidd), of Glasgow, Scotland.

Sgt. Norman George Mayo. Runnymede Memorial Panel 272. Born in 1923. Son of Albert Ernest Parsons and Annie (née Harvey) Mayo, of Finchley, Middlesex, England.

Sgt. Joseph Gerard Smith. Runnymede Memorial Panel 276. Born in 1922. Son of James and Catherine Smith, of Liverpool, England.

Sgt. Geoffrey Harry Burch. Runnymede Memorial Panel 274. Born on the 10th February 1925 in Colchester, Essex. Son of Harry Walter and Lilian Ellen (née Wills) Burch of Colchester, Essex, England.

Sgt. Arthur Hugh Whyte. Runnymede Memorial Panel 277. Born in March 1922 in Sidcup, Kent. Son to Samuel Lawrence and Mabel Florence (née Sims). Husband of Doris Ethel Whyte, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sgt. Arthur George Fry. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 6.C.26. Born on the 30th January 1908 in Westhampnett, Sussex. Son of Joseph George and Eunice May (née Wingate) Fry. Both his father and mother pre-deceased him in Jan 1932 and Jan 1937 respectively. His sole next-of-kin was a brother Leonard John Fry.

On 23rd October 2021, in the presence of the current County Administrator Harald Henning, the local Member of Parliament (MP) Dr. Holger Becker and about a hundred guests, Vogelsberg Mayor Norbert Schmidt dedicated a memorial plaque at the site of the crime.

The inscription reads:

Zur Erinnerung an den englischen Fliegersoldaten Sergeant Arthur George Fry, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Er wurde am 8. März 1945 an dieser Stelle von einem Nazi heimtückisch ermordet.


In memory of the English airman Sergeant Arthur George Fry, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was insidiously murdered by a Nazi on this spot on 8th March 1945.

A short act of worship at the former grave site in the Vogelsberg churchyard followed where the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation was read by the current minister and the Ode of Remembrance by retired minister Traugott Vitz.

Above left; The pastor of Vogelsberg, Frau Denise Scheel and right; a Lone Piper who played "My Home" and "The Flower of Scotland"

Above the letter on Buckingham Palace stationary by the Loyal Greetings Officer, thanking the Vogelsberg people for their thoughtfulness and wishing a most memorable day.

Bernd Schmidt and Traugott Vitz have written a brochure on the JA857 murder: "Der Fliegermord von Vogelsberg. Fliegerschicksale im 2. Weltkrieg Heft 6, Weimar 2022, ISBN 978-3-96567-079-2.

Above photographs from the Vogelsberg village hall where a presentation was read from the booklet. Even after so many years the tragic death of Arthur George Fry is not forgotten. From a village of 700 souls over 100 people from the village itself and from surrounding villages gathered for the presentation.

The second photograph depicts from left to right; Traugott Vitz, Bernd Schmidt and Norbert Schmidt (Bernd and Norbert are not related), the village mayor who worked as the projectionist to show images at the appropriate times.

Researched by Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks to Traugott Vitz for the additional images and information regarding the dedication ceremony for Sgt. Fry (Nov 2021). Update to NoK details for Sgt. Fry (Dec 2021). Narrative update and NoK details for Sgt. Burch (Jan 2022). Update to date of initial burial for Sgt. Fry and addition of brochure information and photographs (May 2022).

TV & RS 14.05.2022 - Brochure and photographs added

Pages of Outstanding Interest
History Airborne Forces •  Soviet Night Witches •  Bomber Command Memories •  Abbreviations •  Gardening Codenames
CWGC: Your Relative's Grave Explained •  USA Flygirls •  Axis Awards Descriptions •  'Lack Of Moral Fibre'
Concept of Colonial Discrimination  •  Unauthorised First Long Range Mustang Attack
RAAF Bomb Aimer Evades with Maquis •  SOE Heroine Nancy Wake •  Fane: Motor Racing PRU Legend
Acknowledgments: 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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