06/07.12.1944 227 Squadron Lancaster I NG296 9J:D Fg Off. Peel
Date: 6th/7th December 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit No: 227 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Balderton, Nottinghamshire
Location: Oberlemp, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. Michael Gervase Peel 151605 RAFVR Age? PoW No: 6887 Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang
Flt Eng: Sgt. George John William ' Dick' Saxby 1807688 RAFVR Age? PoW camp unknown
Nav: Sgt. Jocelyn John Hall 1607099 RAFVR Age? PoW camp unknown/Reported to be injured
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Mariano 'Monty' Martinez 1392648 RAFVR Age 25. Captured/Murdered (3)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. James Archibald Mitchell 1812446 RAFVR PoW No: 1295 * (1)
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. John Alexander Edward Knowles 1595230 RAFVR Age? PoW No 1291 * (1)
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Robert 'Jackie' Jackson 1593230 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (2)
* Stalag Luft 7 Bankau nr. Kreuzburg O.S." (O.S. standing for Oberschlesien, Upper Silesia). Today called Bąków nr. Kluczbork (Poland).
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off at 16:56 hrs from RAF Balderton in Nottinghamshire to bomb the town of Giessen concentrating on the railyards. A busy night for Bomber Command sending three separate raids into Germany - Merseburg, Osnabruck and Giessen. Despite poor weather conditions a total of 1,291 aircraft were involved in the night operations. All on the same outbound track 453 aircraft peeled off to Osnabruck, 265 to Giessen with 487 aircraft going on to Merseburg
The German controllers first picked them up at between 18:20 - 18:30 hrs and ordered a massive force (150 aircraft) of twin engined night fighters to begin the hunt. The Osnabruck bomber stream were the first to be found but not until they had completed their bombing run.
At between 18:27 hrs. and 18:53 hrs. some 37 Bf 110's and 10 Ju 88's were scrambled to intercept the other two bomber streams.
NG296 was a possible claim by five German night fighters;
Fw. Gunter Liersch his 3rd Abschuss from 11./NJG6,
Uffz Ulrich his 2nd Abschuss from 2./NJG11,
Ofw. Schuster his 1st Abschuss from 2./NJG11,
Fw Günter Lars his 1st Abschuss from 2./NJG11,
Fhj.-Fw Dieter Erichsen his 3rd Abschuss from 11./NJG6.
Currently confirmation of any of these claims has not been found. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (16 October 1944 - 31 December 1944) Part 5 - Theo Boiten).
(1) Sgt. Mitchell and Sgt Knowles were part of Trupp 56. They arrived at Bankau on the 26th December 1944. (The Long Road by Oliver Clutton-Brock).
(2) Sgt. Robert Jackson was killed when he bailed out and his parachute failed to deploy properly.
(3) Flt Sgt. Mariano Martinez survived bailing out but was soon arrested. Shortly afterwards, he was murdered.
With extensive research carried out by Traugott Vitz (Vitz Archive on this site) he has supplied us with the trial details of the accused. The final report of a British Field Investigation Service team was found in the National Archives file WO 309/328. It erroneously calls the murder victim "Martinex" throughout, as the Germans did before them. We are quoting from the FIS report below:
As a result of a rumour among the people of Oberlemp near Wetzlar to the effect that an English pilot had been murdered and buried there, an examination was made by the American authorities in Wetzlar on 3rd March 1946. Investigation revealed the presence of a grave in the Gemeinde Cemetery of Oberlemp, marked with a cross bearing the inscription:
“Here reposes an Allied Pilot
1392648, MARTINEX, R.A.F.”
The grave was opened by American officials and at a depth of approximately 180 cm a coffin was found, containing a body. After an examination of the coffin for effects the grave was closed and the body and the cross were taken to Wetzlar mortuary for examination.
A post mortem examination was made by Dr. Julius Schorn of the Polizei-Institut Giessen.
Three stripes and a crown were removed from the sleeves of the jacket of the body along with a small amulet, and the body was interred in Wetzlar cemetery with full military honours.
Narrative of events:-
On the night of 6 December 1944 a heavy air attack was made against the town of Giessen. During the attack an RAF aircraft was hit and two members of the crew baled out in the area of Werdorf. At about 07:00 hrs in the morning of 7th Dec, the day after the heavy bombing raid on Giessen, Flt.Sgt Martinex gave himself up to Mrs. Wilhelmine Scharf of Bechlingen and surrendered himself to a German soldier (witnesses: Wilhelmine Scharf – daughter -; Wilhelmine Scharf – mother-in-law -; Friedrich Gross). The German soldier was Feldwebel Karl Marker, who took the pilot to Headquarters of the 9th Company of 603 Signals Regiment, stationed in Werdorf, where he handed him over to Lieutenant Scotland, OC of the unit (Marker Dep. No. 4).
Scotland questioned the man in English and learned he was a pilot, who had baled out from a shot-down aircraft. Whilst he was in conversation with the flyer, the Commissioner for Prices of Wetzlar, one Reuscher Heinrich came to the office, saw the pilot and immediately claimed him as his responsibility, and said he would take him to the prison camp at Wetzlar. Lt Scotland agreed to this and issued a movement order for transport to this camp. The guard was supplied by the Company.
The prisoner was placed in the back of the truck along with several members of the Company, who were to act as escort, while Reuscher rode in front with the driver and the NCO of the party.
Reuscher directed the driver to drive to the village of Bechlingen. On arrival there Reuscher took the pilot to the fire station and showed him the body of a flyer, who had been picked up early in the morning by Wilhelm Neuhof (Neuhof Dep. No. 5). The pilot indicated by signs that the dead man had been one of his comrades.
The prisoner was then put back in the truck and driven towards the small village of Oberlemp, where approximately 400 yards from the village Reuscher stopped the truck and ordered the driver to take it to a small clearing on the left-hand side of the road. Reuscher then ordered the escort to stand by the truck while he led the airman down the road in the direction of Oberlemp. This was the last time the pilot was seen alive by anyone except a Mrs. Rau, who saw the flyer and another man walking down the road towards her. When they were approximately 200 yards away from her, they turned off the road, climbed a steep bank and passed from her sight into the woods. Some 10 minutes later she heard a shot. (Rau, Dep. No. 6).
Reuscher later joined the escort who were still waiting by the truck and said “I have delivered him”, got into the truck and drive back to Werdorf.
On the 8th December Friedrich Engel, Gendarme of Werdorf, was informed by Reuscher that a body was lying in the woods at Oberlemp. As a result of this Wilhelm Rau, Buergermeister of Oberlemp, was informed of the presence of the body by Engel and ordered to bury it.
On the 9th December Wilhelm Rau along with Wilhelm Laeufer of Oberlemp found the body in the woods. The body was the body of a flyer, and was brought back to Oberlemp, where a coffin had been prepared by Otto Schaub and the body was afforded burial in the cemetery of Oberlemp.
Evidence collected in respect of accused is as follows:-
Heinrich Reuscher Was Gendarmeriemeister and District Price Controller of Werdorf and district until the occupation of the area by Allied Forces.
On 7th Dec 1944 Reuscher saw the airman Martinex at the HQ of the 9th Company, 603 Signals Regt in Werdorf, and in his capacity as Gendarmeriemeister claimed the prisoner as his responsibility and obtained transport (Lt Scotland Dep. No. 8) to take the prisoner to the Prisoner of War Camp “Dulag Luft” at Wetzlar. A movement order was given to Reuscher authorising an escort for the transport of the prisoner by the shortest route to Wetzlar (Marker, Dep. No. 4) (Scotland Dep. No. 8).
Reuscher, seated in the cab of the vehicle, drove off in the direction of Wetzlar but enroute ordered the driver of the truck to turn off the main Werdorf-Wetzlar road along a country lane finally stopping at the village of Bechlingen. Where, unknown to the Military authorities, the body of a second RAF airman had been recovered. (Wilhelm Neuhof Dep. No. 5).
Reuscher examined the body and after learning from the prisoner Martinex that the dead flyer was one of his comrades drove on still further away from Wetzlar, towards the village of Oberlemp (Map Wetzlar, sheet 160, Germany 1:50.000, 5028). The road from Bechlingen to Oberlemp is a narrow winding road climbing steeply through thickly wooded country to crest of the hill overlooking Oberlemp. As the truck was descending the hill towards Oberlemp Reuscher stopped the truck about 400 yards from the nearest house of the village. Reuscher drew his pistol, ordered the escort to remain with the truck, marched the unresisting airman down the hill towards Oberlemp. (Fleischer Dep. No. 12, Obendorfer, Dep. No. 11, Buerger Dep. No. 10).
When he was approximately 200 yards from the first house of the village of Oberlemp a woman, working in the garden of the first house in Oberlemp, saw two men descending the hill and when they were approximately 200 yards from her turned right off the road and proceeded to climb an exceedingly steep hill towards a fir wood. About 10 minutes later she heard the sound of a shot.
Reuscher returned to the truck about half an hour after leaving it, without the prisoner. The truck was driven back to Werdorf.
Character of accused and witnesses:-
Reuscher, Heinrich. A tough and ruthless man, ex-regular Army and skilled in the use of arms. Universally disliked by the population of Werdorf, known to the police as an efficient policeman who carries out orders to the letter.
Scharf, Wilhelmine, daughter Dep. No. 1 - Honest and reliable witness, Scharf, Wilhelmine, mother-in-law Dep. No. 2 - Honest and reliable, Heinrich Friedrich Gross Dep. No. 3 - Honest and reliable, Karl Marker Dep. No. 4 - Apparently straight forward, appears to have nothing to conceal, Wilhelm Neuhof Dep. No. 5 - Simple but very honest man, Anna Rau Dep. No. 6 - Honest but most unwilling witness will probably be more co-operative in court, Wilhelm Rau Dep. No. 7 - Most co-operative. Honest. Has first class memory. Intelligent and enjoys a good reputation locally, Werner Scotland Dp. No. 8 - Truthful and honest. Anxious to help, Friedrich Engel Dep. No. 9 - Appears to be willing to help but gives the impression that he is concealing evidence. Great friend of Reuscher’s, Hans Buerger Dep. No. 10 - Clear in his impression of the details of thee case. Willing to help. Truthful, Wilhelm Obendorfer Dep. No. 11 - Honest and apparently trustworthy. A little confused as to times but clear on the whole, Philipp Fleischer Dep. No. 12 - Nothing to conceal. Honest and straight forward, Peter Franz Fidelis Ball Dep. No. 13 - Senior Police Officer. Honest and willing to help, Katharina Haas, nee Briegel Dep. No. 14 - A sincere and genuine old lady. Was informed that her husband had committed this crime only after investigations were being made in Sep 46. Confident of the integrity of her husband, Heinrich Haas (deceased) - Policeman retired, but called up again in 1943. Died of heart failure 7th January 1946 (Exhibit “D”). A kind hearted easy going farmer who had little or no interest in police work and was only interested in the land. Had two sons who were prisoners of war in Russia and in consequence had a sentimental streak for young soldiers. Was several times reprimanded not carrying a pistol, carrying pistol unloaded, leniency to persons and for giving food and shelter to a bailed out flyer (Ball Dep. No. 13), Wilhelm Laeufer Dep. No. 15 - Honest and straight forward, willing to help, Franz Karl Wilhelm Pieper Dep. No. 16 - Honest and reliable, Wilhelm Graf Dep. No. 17 - Gives his statement without hesitation. Appears to be a little afraid he might be charged with passing on the “Terrorflieger” Order.
A British airman, No 1392648, Flt Sgt. Martinex, was murdered in the woods overlooking the village of Oberlemp on 7th December 1944.
It is abundantly clear that the flyer met his death at the hands of Heinrich Reuscher, into whose keeping the airman was placed for safe conduct to the Prison Camp at Wetzlar by Lt. Scotland (Scotland Dep. No. 8). Contrary to orders Reuscher drove eight and a half kilometres off the main Werdorf-Wetzlar road to a wooded and lonely part of the country. Here he removed the prisoner from the custody of the escort and claiming he was about to hand the prisoner over to the Buergermeister of Oberlemp commenced a half mile walk to the village.
His guilty intention was clarified at the truck when he ordered the escort to stay with the truck and when he commenced to walk half a mile to a village which was but a few moments journey by truck.
It is also clear that when Reuscher learned that investigations were being made by the Allied authorities in respect of the dead airman he concocted the story with Engel of the motor-cyclist Haas. The story is obviously false in view of the evidence given by Mrs. Rau and the members of the escort party who saw the motor-cyclist make a non-stop journey from Oberlemp to the truck parked on the hill and continue towards Bechlingen.
The statement of Mrs. Rau who saw the prisoner accompanied by pedestrian entering the wood is conclusive evidence of the falseness of Reuscher's statement.
That Reuscher, Heinrich, of Werdorf be charged with the premeditated murder of Flt Sgt. Martinex of the Royal Air Force on the 7th December 1944.
The following accused is not in custody but at his home in the village of Werdorf, where he is employed as a price controller:- Reuscher, Heinrich
The following witness is dead:
Haas, Heinrich (died of heart failure on the 7th December 1946, Exhibit “D”).
Owing to the deactivation of this unit an interrogation of the Feldwebel (Sgt.) Klee, Paul, who was in charge of the escort party has not been made but it should be possible to locate him through his associates in Werdorf or through his mother-in-law, Mrs. Poranski, of Oberschoenerweide, Palingerstr. 1, Russian Sector of Berlin.
James M. Ratcliffe
Major Commanding No. 2 Team
Field Investigation Section
(J.M. Ratcliffe, DSO,GM,Maj)
War Crimes Group (NWE)
16th August 1948
Note: The above investigation report did not lead to a trial by military court. As is evident from the phrase "Owing to the deactivation of this unit…" (see above), proceedings were discontinued in mid-1948. The British government ordered all war crimes investigations and proceedings to be stopped unless they could be brought to a close until a certain date in 1948. Charged with murder, Heinrich Reuscher stood trial 3rd - 18th July 1950 before a German court in Limburg/Lahn and was acquitted "for lack of evidence", a verdict which was available in German penal law at the time in addition to "acquittal as innocent".
In March 1999, German researchers found a heavily corroded Walther PP 7.65 mm pistol in close proximity to the crime scene, hidden under the root of a beech tree.The magazine was fully loaded to its maximum capacity of eight rounds. Due to the corrosion a ballistic examination of the weapon was no longer possible. It would not have made sense anyway, since the projectile from the victim's head was no longer preserved in the trial file.
The weapon certainly made the impression of having been hidden in a hurry, its calibre fitted the projectile, and it was found near the crime scene at that, yet there is no proof linking it to Martinez' death. It may have been any of the many weapons which were thrown away or hidden when after the end of the war Allied regulations made the possession of firearms a capital crime.
Flt Sgt. Mariano Martinez. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave: 1.H.7. Grave inscription: "ETERNO RECUERDO DE SU MADRE PEREGRINA MARTINEZ Y HERMANO MANUEL". (Translation: "ETERNAL REMEMBRANCE BY HIS MOTHER PEREGRINA MARTINEZ AND BROTHER MANUEL"). Son of Mariano and Peregrina Martinez, of Westminster, London.
Flt Sgt. Martinez had fought in the Spanish Civil war (MI5 records suggest some 4000 Britons departed for Spain as volunteers) and had always expected to be killed.
Sgt. Robert Jackson. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave: 1.H.8. Grave inscription: "THEY NOBLY ANSWERED DUTY'S CALL. WORTHY OF EVERLASTING REMEMBRANCE"Son of Joseph Thomas Jackson and Annie Jackson, of South Hiendley, Yorkshire, England.
Researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) and Traugott Vitz and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Jun 2018). Rainer Klug, Der Luftkrieg im Dillgebiet (out of print). Thanks to Judith Peel, the Granddaughter of Fg Off. Peel for the additional crew name information (Apr 2020). Thanks to John Jones for the update to names and PoW information (Apr 2022). Update to night fighter claims by Aircrew Remembered (Apr 2022).