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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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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107 Squadron
19/20.12.1940 107 Squadron Blenheim IV T1860, Flt Lt. Edgar S. Humphreys MiD

Operation: Lannion and Morlaix airfields, France

Date: 19th/20th December 1940 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit No: 107 Squadron

Type: Blenheim IV

Serial: T1860

Code: OM:?

Base: RAF Wattisham, East Anglia.

Location: Belle Île, France

Pilot: Flt Lt. Edgar Spottiswoode ‘Hunk’ Humphreys MiD. 44177 RAF Age 29. PoW No. 406 */Murdered (2)

Observer: Sgt. Geoffrey Royson Griggs 581332 RAFVR Age 21. PoW No. 431 ** (1)

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Leonard Frederick Brand 755736 RAFVR Age 19. PoW No. 421 ** (1)

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

** Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania).

Note: On the 15th/16th November 1940 after a mission to bomb Poix airfield, scoring direct hits on an aircraft taking off, his Blenheim IV R3737 was damaged by flak and on return to base crashed at 22:15 hrs 5 miles west of Stowmarket, Suffolk whilst making a force landing. No injuries to him or his crew were reported.

REASON FOR LOSS:

Nine aircraft of the Sqn were ordered to stand-by at St. Eval in North Cornwall to attack airfields in various parts of France. However, the aircraft did not take off until the early hours of the 20th December 1944.

Seven aircraft took off from St. Eval on a mission to bomb Lannion and Morlaix airfields but owing to adverse weather conditions only one aircraft was able to drop its bombs in the target area. All crews and aircraft except for Flt Lt. Humphreys’ aircraft returned safely to St. Eval. The next day at 11:30 hrs the aircraft took off and returned to RAF Wattisham.

The two airfields are some 33 kms from each other with Lannion airfield located on the north coast of Brittany 2½ km NNW of Lannion and the Morlaix airfield is located further down the north coast of Brittany 3¼ km NNE of Morlaix and 1¼ km east of the village of Ploujean.

It appears, perhaps due to the adverse weather conditions, the crew became lost and probably low on fuel had to force-land on Belle Île (island) where they were captured by German forces.

Belle Île is some 155 km and 145 km due south respectively from the two target airfields and some 47 km SSE of Lorient on the south coast of Brittany.

(1) Sgt. Griggs and Sgt. Brand were both promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer (WO) whilst being PoWs.

Records show that Sgt. Griggs was at:

Stalag Luft 6, Stalag Luft 4 and Stalag 357 on the 20th March 1945.

Records also show that Sgt. Brand was at:

Stalag Luft 1 and 2 between February 1941 and April 1942;
Stalag Luft 3 between April 1942 until June 1943;
Stalag Luft 6 between June 1943 until June 1944;
Stalag 355 between July 1944 until August 1944;
Stalag 357 between August 1944 until April 1945.

(2) Flt Lt. Humphreys was eventually sent to Stalag Luft 3. He is not named as being involved in the Escape Organisation and there is no record that describes his role in assisting in the execution of the plan. However, six hundred PoWs had been engaged on work connected with the tunnel and two hundred of them were chosen to escape so it is safe to assume that he was involved in some capacity.

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”.

Flt Lt. Humphreys who was travelling with Plt Off. Royle, who were drawn as the 55th and 54th on the escape list, got away at about 02:30 hrs and headed SE with the intention of following an Autobahn. (Ref 1. pp 196-197).

Flt Lt. Paul Gordon Royle 42152 RAF, PoW No. 2269, was one of the 15 captured PoWs who were returned to Stalag Luft 3.

By dawn they had not found the road and went to ground with the intention of trying again that night. Because of the deep snow in the fields they had to walk along the side of the road. Their luck ran out when they were stopped and captured by three members of the Volkssturm (Home Guard). They were taken to the local jail in Tiefenfurt arriving there at 03:00 hrs on the 27th March. (Ref 1. pp 196-197).

They and a number of other recaptured officers were gathered together in Görlitz prison in Germany which was under the control of the Gestapo. Gradually the numbers of recaptured officers grew until thirty-five were held there.

On the 31st March two of the surviving officers witnessed a number of Gestapo agents collected the following ten officers and take them away; Flt Lt. C.P. Hall, Ft Lt. Birkland, Flt Lt. B. Evans, Flt Lt. G.E. McGill, Flt Lt. E.S. Humphreys, Flt Lt. P.W. Langford, Flt Lt. C.D. Swain, Fg Off. R.C. Stewart, Flt Lt. E. Valenta and Fg Off. A.D. Kolanowski. None of these men were seen alive again.

It was alleged that a Gestapo agent by the name of Lux selected and commanded the death-squad that carried out the order to execute selected prisoners.

Believed to be Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) Walter Lux who was reported to have been killed in the Siege of Breslau in 1945.

No one was formally charged with the actual murder of Flt Lt. Humphreys or for the other fifteen officers killed by Lux and his death-squad. The bodies of this group were cremated at Liegnitz (Legnica) in Poland and their urns returned to Stalag Luft 3.

Burial Details

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

Above: Grave marker for Flt Lt. Humphreys (Courtesy: TWGPP)

Flt Lt. Edgar Spottiswoode ‘Hunk’ Humphreys MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery 8.C.5. Born on the 5th December 1914 in Exmouth, Devon. Son of William Rowland Spottiswoode and Lydia (née Brinsmead) Humphreys. Husband of Lilian (née Watt) Humphreys, of Oxford, England.

At the age of 16½ he passed the flying tests for the Class A Pilot's Licence, which could not be issued until he reached the age of 17. He then became the youngest known qualified pilot in Europe.

He enlisted in the RAF in 1932 as an Aircraft Apprentice and was sent to the No. 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton on the 25th entry. He graduated as 565906 Aircraftman 2nd Class (AC2). Having worked as ground crew servicing aircraft, AC2 Humphreys applied for flight training and was accepted to train as a pilot. He was promoted to Sgt. on the award of his Pilot’s wings.

Sgt. Humphreys was granted a commission and promoted to 44177 Plt Off. on 19th July 1940. He was promoted to Fg Off. on the 19th July 1941 and to Flt Lt. on the 19th July 1942.

Flt Lt. Humphreys 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.

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. Update to narrative and links (Aug 2022).

Thanks to The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP) for their great work.

Other sources listed below:

References:

1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the ‘Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5.

2. The Great Escape - Anton Gill - ISBN: 978-1-7201-5488-4.




RS & TV 14.08.2022 - Updated Narrative

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Acknowledgements
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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