Operation: Operation “Roadstead”.
Date: 12th February 1942 (Thursday)
Unit: 1 (Fighter) Squadron, RAF
Type: Hurricane IIc
Serial No: BD949
Location: English Channel.
Base: RAF Wittering
Pilot: Plt Off. Romualdas “Romas” Marcinkus MiD, 89580 RAFVR Age 32. PoW No. 19 */Murdered
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland.
Plt Off. Marcinkus was credited with shooting down and destroying a Bf-109 on the 21st June 1941. The Combat report reads:
"I was Black 2. When just north of Desvres a number of Bf-109’s approached us. I attacked one Bf-109 with rounded wingtips at 14,000 ft carrying out a stern attack with 2 very short bursts from 100 yds range diving down to 6000 ft during the attack. I could not follow e/a down myself, but Sgt. Blasil, Black 1 who was above and behind me watched this combat and saw e/a break into pieces in the air after my attack".
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 11th February 1942, a German operation codenamed "Cerberus" had commenced, in which a German Kriegsmarine (German Navy) squadron comprising the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, supported by a number of smaller ships, attempted to sail to their home bases via the English Channel.
1 (Fighter) Squadron was tasked on a Roadstead as part of operation Fuller against the German capital ships and their escorts on the 12th February 1942. Six aircraft of "A" flight, were detailed to attack E-Boats and destroyers in the Straits of Dover. Twelve Spitfires from 129 (Mysore) Squadron from RAF Westhampnett were acting as cover for them.
Operation Fuller was a plan for combined operations against the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen and their escorts should they sortie from Brest, in France, with continuous co-ordinated attacks by Coastal Command, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. During the course of the battle, the British lost approximately forty aircraft and failed to prevent the German fleet from returning to Kiel and Wilhelmshaven.
Roadstead was a mission to dive bomb and attack, at low level, enemy ships at sea or in harbour.
The six pilots were Flt Lt. W. Raymond RNZAF and Plt Off. E.S.G. Sweeting who formed Red Section, Plt Off. K.M Kuttelwascher (Czech) and Plt Off. G.R. Halbread who formed Yellow Section and Plt Off. R. Marcinkus (Lithuania) along with Flt Sgt. E.F.G. Blair who formed White Section.
The aircraft took off at 13:37 hrs and made rendezvous with the escorts over Hawkings at 14:05 hrs at 300 ft. The formation set course of 100 degrees and after flying for 10 minutes the Hurricane leader was heard to say "Target ahead" and four ships in line astern steaming NE were sighted. The Hurricanes passed to starboard of them and flew on for 2 to 3 minutes. Three more ships identified as destroyers were then sighted also steaming NE. They immediately opened fire on the Hurricanes which dived to attack from the direction of the Belgian coast at 14:30 hrs at about 50 ft, Yellow section to port, Red section in the centre and White section to starboard in line abreast. The attack was pressed home in the face of a terrific barrage, each section opening fire at a range of about 100 yards and raked the decks and superstructures with their cannon. Shells were seen to explode in the structure just beneath the bridge of the Destroyer being attacked. After the attack four aircraft landed back at base at 15:15 hrs. White section failed to return and neither airmen were seen again.
Hurricane, Z3774 flown by Flt Sgt. Errol Francis Gordon Blair 1375684, was shot down by flak. He is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial Panel 73.
Plt Off. Marcinkus’s aircraft was shot down by flak and crashed into the sea. He was rescued by Germans but suffered a spinal fracture. When he had recovered sufficiently from his injuries he was transferred to Stalag Luft 3 after a customary visit to Dulag Luft Oberursel.
Plt Off. Marcinkus was promoted to Flt Lt. whilst he was a PoW.
Flt Lt. Marcinkus was responsible for analysing the German railway schedules that were essential for the mass escape from Stalag Luft 3.
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”.
The court heard that on the night of the escape he travelled in a group of four escapees with Tim Walenn, Henri Picard and Gordon Brettell, who were all posing as Lithuanian workers and they managed to reach a train heading towards Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) before being captured.
Flt Lt. Brettell, working with Flt Lt. Walenn (Stalag Luft 3’s head of forgery) and Flt Lt. Picard, produced forged passports, movement orders, railway documentation and all manner of identity papers to move about Germany.
They were captured by the Gestapo near Schneidemühl on the 26th March. The four were taken to Stalag 20b, Marienburg (now named Malbork), and spent the night there, their presence being carefully recorded by an unknown British army Sgt.Maj., who issued them with clothing (battle dress) more suited to being a PoW in the hope of avoiding the possibility of them being charged with espionage. The following day they were handed over to the Danzig Gestapo.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Flt Lt. Marcinkus were established during the second of two trials which was convened at the Curiohaus, Hamburg on the 28th August 1948.
Of the four charges heard by the court the fourth related solely to a Reinhold Brüchardt who was charged alone with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Groß Trampken (now Trąbki Wielkie), some 24 km south of Danzig on or about the 27th March 1944, when a member of the Danzig Gestapo, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of Flt Lt. Henri A. Picard, Flt Lt. Romas Marcinkus, Flt Lt. Gilbert W. Walenn and Flt Lt. Edward G. Brettell, all of the Royal Air Force and PoWs.
Brüchardt was a former Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) with the rank of SS-Untersturmführer (2nd Lt).
After the reading of the charges the court was adjourned until the 4th October and reconvened on the 11th October 1948 and sat for twelve days.
The four named officers were recaptured in the Danzig area on or about the 27th March 1944. Dr. Günther Venediger was the head of the Danzig Gestapo and had received the order from Himmler sent out from Amt IV in Berlin by top secret teleprint.
Venediger was apparently a former Oberregierungsrat (Detective Director) holding the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).
Evidence presented to the court came from Venediger’s driver, whose name was Peter Bontenbroich, and who was a former Kriminalsekretär (Detective inspector). He had received instructions to drive Venediger to some woods near to the village of Groß Trampken early one morning soon after the four officers had been captured. Arriving at the location at about 07:00 hrs he found Brüchardt and a parked lorry. Venediger and his driver exited the car after which Venediger and Brüchardt went off into the woods whilst Bontenbroich waited by the car.
After a little time he began to be curious, and he and the driver of the lorry, a man named Piontke, went off into the woods in the direction in which Venediger had gone. As they were walking they heard shots and when they rounded a corner, they saw Venediger and Brüchardt returning, and also saw five other members of the Gestapo from Danzig busy doing something.
The five were identified as Julius Hug, Walter Sasse, Walter Voelz, Roehrer and Asal. At least two of them were identified as members of the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal police) based in Danzig.
Bontenbroich and Piontke returned to their vehicles. A short time later Venediger and Brüchardt appeared and Venediger got back into the car. The other Gestapo officials also returned.
Evidence was also presented from a Willi Reimer who was employed as a driver for the Gestapo and who had been instructed by Brüchardt to drive a lorry to the Groß Trampken woods. Arriving at the location he was met by Brüchardt and witnessed the four bodies being carried and loaded onto his truck by the other Gestapo officials. He then drove to the Gestapo offices in Danzig and parked the lorry in the garage after which he reported to Brüchardt and told him that the lorry was in the garage. Later that day he returned and drove Brüchardt by car to the crematorium. Brüchardt returned about 30 minutes later and was driven back to the Danzig Gestapo offices.
Brüchardt’s testimony to the court claimed that he had been informed by Venediger that four British PoWs who had escaped from Sagan had been recaptured and in the process of being returned to their camp had been shot and killed near Groß Trampken whilst trying to escape.
He claimed that Venediger had instructed him to take Hug and Sasse and investigate what had transpired and take the necessary steps for the recovery of the bodies. Upon arriving at the scene he met up with four other unnamed members of the Danzig Kriminalpolizei who were standing near the four bodies.
He claimed to having been informed by one of the officials who was an SS-Sturmscharführer (Sgt Maj) that the four officers, on the pretext of relieving themselves, took the opportunity to escape into the woods. Warning shots had been fired which were ignored and it was then that the four officers were shot and killed.
The remainder of his testimony did not differ materially from that which had already been presented to the court regarding the recovery and cremation of the four officers.
The court rejected Brüchardt’s version of events and relied on the preponderance of evidence from eyewitness accounts that he was instrumental in the murders and was in fact in charge of the squad that shot the four officers.
Brüchardt was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to death on the 6th November 1948. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, upon Britain temporarily suspending the death penalty, and then reduced to 21 years. He was released in 1956.
Dr. Günther Venediger was not before the court to answer for his part in the murder of the four officers. However, he was traced in 1948 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment in December 1957, for having been an aider and abetter to homicide. The prosecutor had to appeal twice against acquittals before winning this sentence.
It was clear that Hug, Sasse, Voelz, Roehrer and Asal were implicated in the murder of the four officers. However, Hug was not traced, Sasse had escaped from an internment camp, Voelz was not traced but it was believed he had been killed. Roehrer and Asal were never identified.
The four officers were cremated in Danzig, their ashes placed into urns and returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Credit: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above grave marker for Flt Lt. Marcinkus (Credit: The War Graves Photographic Project)
Flt Lt. Romualdas “Romas” Marcinkus MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery Collective Grave 9.A. Born on the 22nd July 1910 in Jurbarkas, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Son of Pranas and Honorata (née Kroazė-Marcinkienė) Marcinkus from Jurbarkas, Lithuania.
Flt Lt. Marcinkus was posthumously awarded a Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) in the King’s Birthday Honours list on 8th June 1944. Gazetted on the 13th June 1944.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
RS & TV 19.09.2021 - Reorganised narrative
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