16/17.01.1945 12 Squadron Lancaster I LM213 Fg Off. William Kerluk
Operation: Zeitz, Germany
Date: 16th/17th January 1945 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit No: 12 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Wickenby, Lincolnshire, England
Location: Near Bentheim, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. William Kerluk J89858 RCAF Age 21. KiA
Flt Eng: Sgt. Francis Joseph Tate 3012866 RAFVR Age 20. KiA
Nav: Fg Off. Douglas James Bailey J40693 RCAF Age 23. KiA
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. William James Glass R205548 RCAF Age 21. KiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Gilbert John Harris 1852682 RAFVR Age 19. Murdered (1)
Air Gnr (Mid Upper): Sgt. Donald Erwin Linington R275311 RCAF Age 27. KiA
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Al F. Hymers RCAF Age? PoW Camp not listed (2)
Left: Fg Off. William Kerluk as a Sgt; right: Sgt. Francis J. Tate (Courtesy of Ivor Ramsden)
Left: Fg Off. Douglas Bailey; right: Sgt. William James Glass
Left: Sgt. Donald Erwin Linington; right: Sgt. Al F. Hymers (Canadian Bomber Command Museum)
REASON FOR LOSS:
LM213 took off from RAF Wickenby at about 17:30 hrs as one of 13 Lancasters from 12 Sqn on a mission to bomb the Braunkohle-Benzin synthetic oil plant at Zeitz in Germany.
LM213 was one of two aircraft from 12 Sqn that failed to return to base after this mission.
Ten Lancasters were lost from the Zeitz raid, an estimated six of which were due to Nachtjäger. However, if Sgt. Hymers’ recollection is correct that it was an Me410 that shot his aircraft down, the only unit flying this type to claim a Lancaster on this raid was flown by Feldwebel (Fw) Hans Sieben, his 1st Abschuss, from 3./NJG 1. This has yet to be corroborated. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (1 January 1945 - 3 May 1945) Part 6 - Theo Boiten).
(1) The fate of Sgt. Harris was unknown until a Military Court was held at the Garrison Theater, Osnabrück, Germany from 7th March to the 1st May 1947. In total six German nationals were before the court on ten separate charges.
The tenth of the charges accused four German nationals of committing a war crime in that they, at or near the Rheine airfield in Germany on or about the 19th January 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of Flight-Serjeant Harris [sic], Royal Air Force, PoW.
The four accused were Franz Schmitt a former Luftwaffe Major (Maj) and Commanding Officer of the Rheine airfield; Heinz Stellpflug, a former Luftwaffe Stabsfeldwebel (M/Sgt) and chief clerk responsible to Schmitt and a Karl Henkelhausen a former Luftwaffe Maj. who was Schmitt’s second in command; Friedrich Hochstätter who was a former Wehrmacht Gefreiter (L/Cpl) and an assistant clerk to Stellpflug. They were all stationed at the Rheine airfield located 4 km (2½ ml) NW of the town of Rheine in the province of Westphalia.
On the evening of the 16th January, an Allied airman who had suffered severe burns to his hands and face was brought to the main guard room and handed over to a Franz Teppe. Teppe was a former Unteroffizier (Cpl) in the Luftwaffe 234/4 Company of the Landesschützen (Security and guard force). He was one of several guard commanders with the squad of the company that was stationed at the Rheine airfield and operated out of the airfield’s main guardroom.
Teppe tried to contact the airfield doctor so that the airman could be treated but on each occasion some excuse was given and he was refused treatment. He then contacted the Kommandantur (Headquarters building) and informed Stellpflug that the airman was not fit to be in custody. Stellpflug ordered Teppe to bring the airman to the orderly room at 09:45 hrs the next morning.
The following morning Teppe arrived at the orderly room with the airman and was immediately ordered by Stellpflug to get out because the view of airman’s injuries was upsetting the orderly room staff. Teppe handed over the airman’s personal effects and took the airman to a doctor who refused to treat the airman’s injuries. On returning to the orderly room Teppe informed Stellpflug of the doctor’s refusal.
Hochstätter’s own testimony described how he was called into Stellpflug’s office and ordered to kill the airman. He and Teppe marched the airman to the armoury where Hochstätter was issued with a pistol and ammunition. After he rejoined Teppe and the airman, outside of the armoury, Teppe returned to his billet and Hochstätter moved off with the airman towards the nearby Muniwald (Woods). After about 55 m. (180 ft) on the road before reaching the Muniwald Hochstätter fired a shot to the left side of the airman’s head killing him instantly. He returned the pistol to the armoury and reported to Stellpflug telling him that his orders had been carried out. Stellpflug then made arrangements for the airman to be buried.
Sgt. Harris was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Königsesch, Rheine on the 17th January 1945. A British war crimes team disinterred a number of bodies from the cemetery after the war and discovered that a number of the Allied servicemen buried there looked like they were victims of war crimes. A pathological report confirmed that the body of Sgt. Harris had a small calibre bullet wound to his head which, in the opinion of the pathologist, was the cause of death.
The court decided that the evidence presented did not implicate Schmitt and Henkelhausen of this specific charge and they were therefore found not guilty.
Stellpflug and Hochstätter were found guilty and both were sentenced to death by hanging. Stellpflug was also found guilty of Charge 7 of 10. The sentence was carried out on the 5th September 1947 in Hameln (Hamelin) prison.
(2) Sgt. Hymers’ personal account recalls that the LM213 was attacked by a Bf 410 night fighter after they had bombed the target and were heading west towards Holland. He was able to bail out of the doomed Lancaster and met up with Sgt. Harris on the ground. Sgt. Harris was badly burnt and in severe pain and decided to seek medical attention by surrendering. Shortly after they parted Sgt. Hymers heard shots being fired from the direction Sgt. Harris took. Sgt. Hymers evaded capture for several days as he headed west on foot but was eventually detained by a German sentry when he approached a farm to seek assistance. His personal recollections can be read on the web site of the Canadian Bomber Command Museum.
(Courtesy of the Canadian Bomber Command Museum)
(The War Graves Photographic project)
Fg Off. William Kerluk. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Coll. Grave 13. F.1-3. Inscription: "HE HAS EARNED HIS WINGS". Born on the 24th March 1923 in Maleod, Alberta. Son of John and Dora Kerluk (His mother pre-deceased him), of Shaughnessy, Alberta, Canada.
Sgt. Francis Joseph Tate. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Coll. Grave 13. F.1-3. Inscription: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS". Born in 1925. Son of Archibald Quayle Tate and Florence Mary Tate, of Douglas, Isle of Man.
Sgt. Tate was an ex-ATC cadet from Douglas on the Isle of Man.
Fg Off. Douglas James Bailey. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Coll. Grave 13. F.1-3. Inscription: "ONLY SON OF T. AND I.D. BAILEY, VICTORIA, B.C., CANADA. "THY WILL BE DONE"". Born on the 26th June 1921 in Victoria, British Columbia. Son of Thomas and Isabella Douglas Bailey, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
(The War Graves Photographic project)
Plt Off. William James Glass. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Grave 13.E.11. Inscription: "WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE". Born on the 31st January 1923 in Courtright, Ontario. Son of William Orison and Viola (née Campbell) Glass; husband of Frances M. (née Webb) Glass of Fort Saskwatchewan, Alberta, Canada.
Sgt. Glass was posthumously commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. J95300.
Sgt. Gilbert John Harris. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Grave 13.F.4. Inscription: "HIS DUTY DONE, HE RESTS IN PEACE. SADLY MISSED". Born in 1926. Son of William Albert and Sybil Irene Harris, of Whitchurch, Cardiff, Wales.
Plt Off. Donald Erwin Linington. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Grave 13.E.12. Born on the 26th June 1917 in Dundas, Ontario. Son of Isaac Herbert and Sara Jane (née Hart) Linington of Dundas, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. Linington was posthumously commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. J95376.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks to the Canadian Bomber Command Museum for their kind permission to refer to Sgt. Al Hymers personal account of the loss of LM213. Thanks to Ivor Ramsden of the Manx Aviation and Military Museum for the photograph of Sgt. Tate (Apr 2023).
Others Sources listed below: