31/01.03/04.1945 635 Squadron Lancaster I PB958 Fg Off. Arthur Lewis
Operation: Hamburg, Germany
Date: 31st/1st March/April 1945 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit No: 635 Squadron (Pathfinder Force (PFF))
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Downham Market, Norfolk, England
Location: Hamburg-Billstedt, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. Arthur Lewis 422590 RAAF Age 22. KiA
Flt Eng: Sgt. Alex Philip Weir 2218761 RAFVR Age 33. KiA
Nav: Flt Sgt. Kevin George Clark 435185 RAAF Age 20. Murdered (1)
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Eric Chenoweth 437046 RAAF Age 20. KiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Colin Delaney 432545 RAAF Age 20. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Fg Off. John James Kennelly 431320 RAAF Age 20. PoW *
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Neville Edward Peters 433167 RAAF Age 20. KiA
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
REASON FOR LOSS:
PB958 was one of 13 Lancasters that tookoff from RAF Downham Market at 06:49 hrs on a Pathfinder mission to mark the Blohm and Voss shipyards in Hamburg.
The Operations Summary Record described that the target was completely cloud covered on the approach and at 08:41 hrs the Master Bomber (MB) (Sqn Ldr. G.C. Hitchcock Lancaster I PB922 F2:U) was heard broadcasting, instructing the Blind Sky Markers (BSM’s) to come in and mark the target. The first red smoke puffs were seen at 08:44 hrs quickly followed by two more groups in a fairly good concentration. The MB starting instructing the Main Force (MF) at 08:45 hrs to "Bomb Red smoke puffs". In the early stages the MF bombing appeared to be about 3 km (1¾ mls) SE of the main concentration, but as the attack developed they appeared well on the red smoke puffs which were in good concentration. No results were observed until 08:50 hrs when cloud began to billow upwards over the target area. There was moderate predicted heavy flak and fighter activity.
PB958 as a designated Supporter was reported to have been hit by flak whilst in the target area and set ablaze. It was claimed that the rear gunner had reported that the aircraft was then attacked by a German Me262. German documentation recorded that multiple Me262’s from I./JG-7 and II./JG-7 claimed a combined seventeen Lancasters that day over Hamburg but it has not been possible to corroborate a claim to the shooting down of PB958.
The role of Supporter was usually delegated to the newest crews who flew in support of the rest of the Squadron with same timing, same target, and carried the same bomb load as the MF. Their first duty was to arrive at the target on time and then to support the early marker crews and help achieve saturation of the ground defences.
Multiple eyewitness accounts as reported by various media outlets and researchers concluded that the aircraft lost a wing and crashed into the garden at Öjendorfer Steinkamp 23, where it exploded. The detached wing and an engine came down south of the Möllner Landstraße. Only Flt Sgt. Clark and Fg Off. Kennelly managed to leave the stricken aircraft and the remaining five crew members perished in the crash.
Fg Off. Kennelly landed safely and was eventually captured in the vicinity of Boberg which is about 5 km (3 mls) NW of where the aircraft crashed and spent the rest of the war as PoW.
(1) The fate of Flt Sgt. Clark was unknown until British forces occupied Hamburg and investigations were undertaken to locate missing RAF aircrew. In the course of the investigations the German nationals Heinrich Siemer, Heinrich Specht, Wilhelm Heinrich Bernicke, Franz Mercier and Hans Rosenkranz were arrested.
Siemer was former member of the local Volkssturm (National militia) and the temporary Ortsgruppenleiter (Local Nazi group leader) of Glinde. Specht was the former Kompanieführer (Company leader) of the local Volkssturm. Bernicke was a former Oberst (Colonel) in the Wehrmacht and the commanding officer of the Armoury office in Glinde. Mercier and Rosenkranz were former members of the Volkssturm.
A Military Court was convened at the Curio-Haus in Hamburg on the 17th June 1946 where the five accused were charged that they at Oststeinbek near Glinde, on or about the 31st March 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of an unknown British airman PoW, believed to be an Australian Flight-Serjeant.
The court narrative is mainly based on the article “Ostersamstag, der 31. März 1945. Der Mord an Flight-Sergeant Kevin George Clark“ (Easter Saturday, 31 March 1945. The Murder of Flight Sergeant Kevin George Clark) by Karlheinz Schmidt, published in the Jahrbuch für den Kreis Stormarn 2008, pp. 45-61.
The court heard that Flt Sgt. Clark’s parachute became entangled in the power lines near Oststeinbek which is about 6½ km (4 mls) NNW of where the aircraft crashed. The first on the scene was a Waldemar Eversen who was a Norwegian and a resident of Oststeinbek. He helped Flt Sgt. Clark to the ground. Two other residents from Oststeinbek arrived and started to abuse the airman. When they threated violence Eversen knocked one of them down. Evenson escorted the airman to his house with the intention of holding him in the cellar because of ongoing air raid. En route they were attacked by several residents. In Oststeinbek they met a Paul Wilhelm Ohde, a Feuerschutzpolizei (Fireman), who took the airman into his custody. Together with the village Gendarme (policeman) Peter Beth, they took the airman to the community centre and locked him in a cell.
At midday a Willi Husen, the Ortsgruppenleiter and the Polizeimeister (Rural police sergeant) transferred Flt Sgt. Clark to the Wehrmacht Armoury office in Glinde, about 2½ km (1½ mls) east of Oststeinbek, into the custody of Oberst (Col) Bernicke. It was claimed that Bernicke intended to transfer the airman to Hamburg but Specht intervened and requested that the airman be left to him to which Bernicke agreed.
Specht then ordered his subordinate, Siemer, to shoot the airman during his transfer to Reinbek and provided him with a rifle and ammunition for the task. Siemer along with Mercier and Rosenkranz marched Flt Sgt. Clark toward Reinbek. About 25 mins along the route Siemer killed the airman with a shot to the back of the head from close range. He ordered Mercier and Rosenkranz to remain with the body whilst he reported back to Specht and Bernicke that the airman had been shot while attempting to escape. Flt Sgt. Clark’s body was later taken to the hospital in Reinbek where, upon the orders of Bernicke a doctor examined the body and found that Flt Sgt. Clark had suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his head which had been fired at close range. The airman was then buried at the old cemetery chapel in Bergedorf, Hamburg.
Three days into the trial Siemer committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell.
At the end of the trial the court found Specht guilty of the charge and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mercier, Rosenkranz and Bernicke were acquitted of the charge.
The crew, except for Flt Sgt. Clark, were initially buried at the civilian cemetery at Hamburg-Ohlsdorf in Plot 73, Row 45, Graves 12-14, 16 and 17 before being transferred to the Ohlsdorf War Cemetery.
Fg Off. Robert Leslie Martin DFC 175854, the Bomb Aimer from 156 Squadron Lancaster PB468 GT:B was buried in Grave 15.
Grave markers (Credit: Tracey Goodwin Aka PupDawg – FindAGrave)
Fg Off. Arthur Lewis. Hamburg War Cemetery, Grave 5A.B.11. Inscription: “MEMORIES OF YOU WILL NEVER DIE. DUTY NOBLY DONE”. Born on the 23rd March 1923. Son of John Henry and Elizabeth Morgan Lewis, of Cowra, New South Wales, Australia
Sgt. Alex Philip Weir. Hamburg War Cemetery, Grave 5A.B.9. Born in 1912. Son of Alexander Blackie Weir and of Lilian Lucy Weir (née Philips); husband of Zena Rose Weir (née Taylor), of Newcastleton, Roxburghshire.
Above: Flt Sgt Clark (Credit: Australian National Archives and Tracey Goodwin Aka PupDawg – FindAGrave)
Flt Sgt. Kevin George Clark. Hamburg War Cemetery, Grave 6A.D.14. Inscription: “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN". Born on the 1st February 1925. Son of George Frederick and Clare Dorothea Clark, of Ashgrove, Queensland, Australia.
Above Grave markers (Credit: Tracey Goodwin Aka PupDawg – FindAGrave)
Flt Sgt. Eric Chenoweth. Hamburg War Cemetery, Grave 5A.B.12. Inscription: “A TRUE MAN, EVER REMEMBERED”. Born on the 28th May 1924. Son of the Revd. Ben Chenoweth and Sarah Ruby Chenoweth, of Strathalbyn, South Australia.
Flt Sgt. Colin Delaney. Hamburg War Cemetery, Grave 5A.B.7. Inscription: “HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE. EVER REMEMBERED”. Born on the 4th April 1924. Son of Frederick and Veronica Delaney, of Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Flt Sgt. Neville Edward Peters. Hamburg War Cemetery, Grave 5A.B.8. Inscription: “HONOURED, SACRED MEMORIES. MUM, DAD, KEN, RAY, DOUG & JOY, OF RYDE, N.S.W.”. Born on the 29th November 1924. Son of Robert Edward and Lilian Peters, of Ryde, New South Wales, Australia.
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report. Thanks to John Jones for the PoW update (Jul 2021).