Operation: Vohwinkel, Germany
Date: 31st December 1944 (Sunday)
Unit No: 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Chedburgh, Suffolk
Location: Solingen, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. Robert Harold Kench 437135 RAAF Age 20. KiA
Flt Eng: Sgt. Victor Thomas Phillips 2211498 RAFVR Age 38. KiA
Nav: Flt Sgt. Celt Williams 1316112 RAFVR Age 23. KiA
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. John Barton 1622233 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (1)
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Fred Bennett 434492 RAAF Age 27. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Dennis Walter Maycock 1899304 RAFVR Age 20. KiA
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Roy Morley 1866330 RAFVR Age 19. KiA
Note: The Squadron was officially adopted by his Excellency the Governor of the Gold Coast and the peoples of the Gold Coast territories during Oct 1941.
Above: Left: Fg Off. Robert Harold Kench (courtesy Christine Baxter) Right: Sgt. Victor Thomas Phillips (courtesy Andrew Scialpi-Sullivan).
At aged 38, Sgt Phillips was well above the average age of Bomber Command airmen. In contrast, Sgt Morley was half his age.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Seventeen aircraft were detailed and briefed to carry out a daylight bombing operation on the Vohwinkel railway marshalling yard to the north of Solingen in Germany, with 154 other Lancasters from 3 Group.
The second of the seventeen to take off from RAF Chedburgh at 11:15 hrs was NG330 from “A” Flight. This was the crew’s 2nd Mission.
Note: A Bomber Squadron usually comprised 2 or 3 flights each with 8 aircraft. 218 (Gold Coast) Sqn had 3 flights.
Above: Village sign in Chedburgh, Suffolk, England
The weather was marginal on route with largely 10/10th cloud and stronger than briefed winds but there was a clear patch over the target with some heavy flak. Most crews could identify the marshalling yard visually, but the bombing on the target was not concentrated.
It was reported that after leaving the target area NG330 and NF926 flown by Fg Off. Roy W. Woodrow, either collided or the bombs from one bomber hit the other and both aircraft were seen going down in the target area. However, the circumstances leading to the loss of the two aircraft may never be properly established.
A report dated the 19th August 1947 from the No. 4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit (MREU) stated that there were no actual eye-witnesses to the aircraft crashes as there was a large raid on at the time and most of the people were in air-raid shelters. The only people who would have witnessed the crashes were local officials and wardens and they had been moved from the area before the investigation team arrived.
The only reliable witness that could be found was one Herr Fritz Meinsen who was with the Solingen police at the time of the crashes. He remembered that two aircraft crashed on the 31st December 1944 but he was on duty in a bunker at the time. The next day he went to the aircraft crash sites, one on Frankenstraße in Solingen, and the other in Heidbergtal, then a part of Solingen. He said they were both four engine English bombers and also that they were Lancasters. The wreckage of both aircraft had been removed by the Wehrmacht.
The crash sites were visited by the investigation team but no traces of the aircraft were found. Additionally no other people in the area were found who could be questioned for further information. The investigation team could not establish which aircraft crashed at which location.
Sgt. Barton was the only airman that manged to parachute from the aircraft and he landed in the vicinity of Leichlingen.
(1) The circumstances leading to the death of Sgt. Barton were established by a British Military Court convened at Recklinghausen, Germany between the 14th and 23rd August 1946.
One German national by the name of Karl Bertram, a Meister in the Polizei (Sgt. in the police), was charged that he at Leichlingen on or about the 31st December 1944 in violation of the laws and usages of war, killed Sgt. John Barton RAFVR who was then a PoW.
The court heard that Sgt. Barton had been captured at about 20:00 hrs by a member of the Wehrmacht from an Army Weapons school which was stationed at the Richthofenschule on Uferstraße in Leichlingen. The Commanding Officer (CO), a Col. Schmidt, ordered that Sgt. Barton should be handed over into the custody of the local Police. Whilst being escorted from the school along Uferstraße in south-westerly direction to the Bürgermeister’s office Sgt. Barton was shot and killed.
The investigation of the killing of Sgt. Barton was initially undertaken by the American War Crimes Investigating Team #6830 because of information received mistakenly identifying him as an American airman.
Bertram made a statement on the 7th September 1945 in which he claimed that after collecting Sgt. Barton he started off along the street that ran past a cemetery and which was slippery with snow. Bertram wheeled his bicycle with his right hand with Sgt. Barton to his left when suddenly the airman hit him on the left side of his head with his right fist and then hit him over the head with a hard object to which a throat microphone was attached.
He claimed that he was knocked to the ground, whereupon Sgt. Barton took flight. Bertram got to his feet and shouted several time for the airman to halt or he would shoot. He went on to describe that he fired two unaimed shots from this pistol at the fleeing shadow at a range of about 10 to 12 metres. It was later established that one of the two rounds fired hit Sgt. Barton in the upper back killing him.
The American report raised a number of curious features about Bertram’s story, namely:
Sgt. Barton was already in the custody of the Wehrmacht so it appeared odd that he was handed over to a civilian policeman;
It was night time, between 20:10 hrs and 20:20 hrs, and Bertram was encumbered with a bicycle but no effort was made to handcuff Sgt. Barton;
The nature of Bertram’s injuries was peculiar bearing in mind that a blow to the face was claimed to be of sufficient force to knock him off his feet. Pointedly there were no outward signs of injury, other that one side of his face was red, consistent with being struck in the head by an earphone/microphone combination. There is also the added complication that he claimed that Sgt. Barton had struck him on the left side of his face with his right fist before striking him a second time with his earphone/microphone combination.
Bertram was tangled up with his bicycle so getting back onto his feet, shouting and drawing his automatic pistol would have taken a finite time during which Sgt Barton should have, in the view of the investigator, had a much longer head start than the 10 to 12 metres claimed;
The shooting was exceptionally accurate for a dark night by what must have been a breathless and shaken man armed with a 7.65mm pistol, a heavy calibre weapon, albeit there was no evidence that the second round had struck Sgt. Barton.
In the opinion of the investigator there were three possibilities in this case:
That Bertram was telling the truth and that he shot Sgt. Burton in the act of escaping in which case if the court is satisfied as to that he will be acquitted of committing a War Crime;
That Sgt. Burton became suspicious when he found himself next to a cemetery he stopped and refused to go any further and Bertram took advantage of this and shot him;
That Bertram intended to shoot him all along and the Wehrmacht CO knew this. This would make the killing premeditated and the cemetery site a matter of careful selection.
Bertram admitted to killing Sgt. Barton but claimed that he had done so to prevent him from escaping.
A witness for the defence testified that whilst walking in the vicinity he heard someone shout the word “halt” twice interspaced by the sound of two shots being fired. Bertram claimed that he had shouted “halt” three times.
The defence also made the point that only a single bullet wound was found during the autopsy performed by Capt. Max Berg which gives credence to the probability that Bertram fired at Sgt. Barton from a greater distance than he himself had testified, and also indicating that the airman was running away.
Although the question of why the Wehrmacht handed over Sgt. Barton or why he was not handcuffed was never satisfactorily explained the defence made a credible case that Sgt. Barton was attempting to escape and that Bertram was only doing his duty although he regretted to having shot and killed the airman.
The court found for the defence and acquitted Bertram of the charge and he was released from custody.
Sgt. Barton was buried in the Community cemetery at Leichlingen. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission reinterred the crew at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on the 27th February 1947.
Above: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery (Courtesy of Geoff Swallow)
Fg Off. Robert Harold Kench. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1.E.2. Grave inscription: "THEY ARE NOT DEAD WHO LIVE IN OUR HEARTS". Born on the 18th January 1924 in Riverton, South Australia. Son of Harold Owen and Madaliene Hilda Kench, of Auburn, South Australia.
Worked with his father and brothers (David John and Arthur Kench) on their farm in Auburn, Southern Australia. One of his hobbies was Aussie rules football.
Sgt. Victor Thomas Phillips. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1.E.3. Grave inscription: “HUSBAND OF CONSTANCE, SON OF J.V. AND E.PHILLIPS. "WORTHY OF EVERLASTING MEMORY"”. Born on the 27th July 1906 in Manchester. Son of John Victor and Elizabeth Ann Phillips; husband of Constance M. (née Andrew) Phillips, of Northenden, Lancashire, England.
Flt Sgt. Celt Williams. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1.E.1. Grave inscription: "DY ABERTH DRUDFAWR A FAWRY GWN A'TH GOFFADWRIAETH HARDD ANWYLWN". Son of Griff and Betty Williams, of Ponthenry, Carmarthenshire, Wales.
Above: Grave marker for Sgt. John Barton (Courtesy of Des Philippet - FindAGrave)
Sgt. John Barton. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 11.D.18. Born in the 3rd Qtr of 1923 in Ormskirk, Lancashire. Son of John and Mabel M. (née Dovey) Barton of Southport, Lancashire, England.
Flt Sgt. Fred Bennett. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1.E.13. Grave inscription: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, HE DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE". Born on the 5th April 1917 in Branxholm, Tasmania. Son of John Henry and Madelene Kate Bennett, of Branxholm, Tasmania. Australia.
Sgt. Dennis Walter Maycock. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1.E.5. Born 3rd Qtr of 1924 in Reading, Berkshire. Son of Walter Arthur Maurice and Florence May (née Jones) Maycock of Reading, Berkshire, England.
Sgt. Roy Morley. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1.E.4. Grave inscription: ""UNTIL THE DAY BREAK, AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY" NOT FORGOTTEN. MUM AND DAD". Son of William Ernest and Bertha Agnes Morley, of Dagenham, Essex, England.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. Special thanks to Andrew Scialpi-Sullivan, grandson, for the uniformed photo of Sergeant Victor Phillips. Also to Christine Baxter (née Kench) niece of the pilot. Reviewed and updated by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered. With thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
Other sources listed below:
RS & TV 12.12.2022 - Review and update
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