21.03.1945 51 Squadron Halifax III MZ348 MH:D Fg Off. John E. Paradise
Operation: Rheine, Westphalia, Germany
Date: 21st March 1945 (Wednesday)
Unit: 51 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Snaith, Pollington, Yorkshire
Location: Bevergern, Westphalia, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. John Edwin Paradise 426148 RAAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Flt Eng: Sgt. Richard Francis Gunn 1721922 RAFVR Age 19. Survived (1)
Nav: Plt Off. Bruce Frederick Greenwood 424584 RAAF Age 22. Survived (1)
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt Alexander Armstrong 1567638 RAFVR Age 22. Survived (1)
WOp/Air Gnr: Fg Off. Keith William Berick 424950 RAAF Age 25. Survived (1), PoW No. 108751 *
Air Gnr: Flt Sgt Leslie Hart 1594114 RAFVR Age? PoW **
AirGnr: Sgt. Walter Hood 1592286 RAFVR Age? PoW **
* Stalag 10b Sandbostel, Schleswig
** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 21st Mar 1945, nineteen aircraft from 51 Squadron were tasked with a bombing mission over Rheine in Westphalia, Germany.
It has been variously reported that MZ348, after leaving the target area at 10,000 ft, was either hit by flak or struck by bombs from a higher-flying aircraft. As a consequence the aircraft suffered damage to the port wing just aft of an engine nacelle and the port vertical fin became detached, severing the rudder controls. This caused the aircraft to rapidly lose height and crash near the village of Bevergern at 1630 hrs. All seven of the crew successfully bailed out at about 9,000 ft.
(1) Fg Off. Berwick, Flt Sgt Armstrong, Plt Off. Greenwood and Sgt. Gunn were captured and taken to the Bürgermeister in Bevergern, a village to the east of Rheine. The four were subsequently marched to the Dreierwalde Aerodrome, Hopsten and held there together with Fg.Off. Paradise who had been captured at another location. The other two crew members, Flt.Sgt. Hart and Sgt. Hood were captured and held at a different location and became PoW's.
On the evening of the 22nd March 1945, Oberfeldwebel (T/Sgt.) Amberger and two other Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), Feldwebel (S/Sgt.) Theo Meier and Hauptfeldwebel (Company Sgt.) Herbert Krawald, set off ostensibly to march the five PoW’s to a railway station for transfer to a PoW Camp or Interrogation Centre. After going about a mile and a half the party turned on to a track leading into a wood where, without any warning, Amberger, Meier and Krawald opened fire on the PoWs. All five airmen were shot but Fg.Off. Berwick, who had suffered two gunshot wounds to the leg, escaped into the woods and eventually made his way to Holland where he was subsequently recaptured on 1st April 1945 and remained a PoW until liberated on 29th April 1945. His affidavit on the shooting described how after he was no longer pursued he heard additional shots being fired from the direction of the original shootings.
Above memorial at Pollington Airfield Memorial Gardens (courtesy 51 Squadron History Society)
After the war Amberger was located, arrested and charged with War crimes. It proved impossible to locate Meier and Krawald. Amberger's defence was that the PoWs were attempting to escape. However, a pathologist’s report concluded that the four airmen had been shot several times including through the head and that some of the wounds could not have been inflicted whilst the deceased were standing. The court rejected his defence and he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
Seven others previously stationed at the Dreierwalde Aerodrome were also charged with War crimes in a separate trial relating to the murder of the four crew members of MZ348 and eight other captured airmen. All were sentenced to death by hanging for their complicity and culpability in the murders. The former Commandant, Maj. Karl Rauer, had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment on review. The sentences for all the accused were carried out on the 15th May 1946.
The four crew members were originally buried at the Dreierwalde Cemetery and reinterred at the CWGC Cemetery on 15th May 1947.
Fg Off. John Edward Paradise. Reichswald Forest Cemetery, Grave 13.B.5. Grave inscription reads: "HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE. EVER REMEMBERED". Born on the 20th November 1922 at Brisbane, the son of George Edwin and Ida Marion Paradise, of Indooroopilly, Queensland, Australia.
Sgt. Richard Francis Gunn. Reichswald Forest Cemetery, Grave 13.B.3. Son of Frank and Blanche Emma Gunn, of South Common, Sussex, England.
Plt Off. Bruce Frederick Greenwood. Reichswald Forest Cemetery, Grave 13.B.4. Grave inscription reads: "INTO THE MOSAIC OF VICTORY WE LAY THIS PRECIOUS PIECE, OUR SON". Born on the 28th June 1922 at Bexley, NSW, the son of Fredrick Clarence and Gladys Greenwood, of Eastwood, New South Wales, Australia.
Flt Sgt Alexander Armstrong. Reichswald Forest Cemetery, Grave 13.B.6. Grave inscription reads: "IN HEAVENLY LOVE ABIDING". Born on 26th August 1922. Son of Alexander and Alice Mary (née Pilgrim) Armstrong, of Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England.
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 database. Also Law-Reports of Trials of War Criminals, The United Nations War Crimes Commission, Volume I and IV, London, HMSO, 1947. National Archives of Australia.