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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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77 Squadron
26/27.04.1943 77 Squadron, Halifax II DT796, Plt Off. John D. Pye

Operation: Duisburg, Germany

Date: 26th/27th April 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit No: 77 Squadron

Type: Halifax II

Serial No: DT796

Code: KN:D

Location: Haarzopf, Essen

Base: RAF Elvington, Yorkshire

Pilot: Plt Off. John Downing Pye 404262 RAAF Age 25. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. Edgar Joseph Tassell 1430017 RAFVR Age 21. PoW No. 1102 *

Navigator: Fg Off. Robert Campbell Stewart MiD 130452 RAFVR Age 33. Pow No 1279 ** /Murdered (1)

Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Douglas William Atter 129046 RAFVR Age 27. PoW No. 1251 ** (2)

Wireless Op/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. George Edward Barfoot 934366 RAFVR Age 22. PoW No. 1056 * (3)

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Peter Dupuy Gibbs 1389097 RAFVR Age 20. PoW No. 1068 *

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. John Raymond Wells 1600931 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

* Stalag 357, Thorn (Toruń) in Poland. Moved in September 1944 to the loosely named Stalag 357 Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany. Officially the designation was Stalag 357 (Oerbke).

** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).

Above: Course No. 26 for Pilots at 19 Operation Training Unit (OTU), RAF Kinloss which commenced on the 11th August 1941. Sgt. Pye, back row 5th from the left (Courtesy of Paul Markham)


DT796 took of from RAF Elvington at 00:39 hrs on the 27th April 1943 to join a force of 561 aircraft on mission to bomb Duisburg. Seventeen aircraft were lost in the raid which was deemed to be a partial failure with most of the bombs falling to the NE of the city.

DT796 was coned by 4./Flakscheinw.Abt. 518, and hit by flak from 1./schw. Flak Abt. 42, 1. & 2./schw. Flak Abt. 642, 1./schw. Flak Abt. 213, 1. & 2./schw. Flak Abt. 462, and 3. /schw. Flak. 134. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (1 January - 22 June) 1943 Part 1 - Theo Boiten).

The aircraft crashed on Scheidstraße in Haarzopf, Essen.

(1) After the prerequisite visit to Dulag Luft Fg Off. Stewart was sent to Stalag Luft 3.

Plt Off. Stewart for himself or was selected on an early position in the line of 200 hoping to escape from the north compound of 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”.

It is not known when Fg Off. Stewart exited the tunnel nor with whom he travelled, if at all. What is known from the trial transcript is that he was captured at or near Sagan and that he was one of a number of recaptured officers who were gathered together in Görlitz prison in Germany which was under the control of the Gestapo. Gradually the numbers of recaptured officers grew until thirty-five were held there.

On the 31st March two of the surviving officers witnessed a number of Gestapo agents collect the following ten officers and take them away; Flt Lt. C.P. Hall, Ft Lt. Birkland, Flt Lt. B. Evans, Flt Lt. G.E. McGill, Flt Lt. E.S. Humphreys, Flt Lt. P.W. Langford, Flt Lt. C.D. Swain, Fg Off. R.C. Stewart, Flt Lt. E. Valenta and Fg Off. A.D. Kolanowski. None of these men were seen alive again.

It was alleged that a Gestapo agent by the name of Lux selected and commanded the death-squad that carried out the order to execute selected prisoners.

Believed to be Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) Walter Lux who was reported to have been killed in the Siege of Breslau in 1945.

No one was formally charged with the actual murder of Flt Lt. Hall or the other fifteen officers killed by Lux and his death-squad. The bodies of this group were cremated at Liegnitz (Legnica) in Poland and their urns returned to Stalag Luft 3.

(2) Fg. Off. Atter was captured near Essen on the 28th April 1943. After a two week stay at Dulag Luft, Oberursel he was transferred to Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia arriving there on the 17th May 1943 and where he would remain until the 28th January 1945.

Whilst at Stalag Luft 3 he worked on all of the camp escape schemes including four tunnels one of which was successful and one uncompleted. He was promoted to Flt Lt. on the 29th August 1944.

Just before midnight on the 27th January 1945, because of advancing Russian forces, the PoW’s were marched out of the camp to Spremberg. From here he was part of the column that was force-marched to Milan-Marlag Nord PoW camp arriving there on the 4th/5th February 1945.

Milan = Marinelager (naval prisoner of war camp) and Milag = Marine-Internierten-Lager (naval internment camp), Nord (North). Located at a former Luftwaffe (German Air Force) barracks near Westertimke NE of Bremen in Germany.

On 9th April 1945 the camp guards fled the camp and were replaced by elderly civilian guards. When it was announced that the Allied officers in Marlag were going to be moved to Lübeck, many of them fled into the nearby woods or concealed themselves in the camp. The camp was liberated by units of the British 11th Armoured Division on the 28th April 1945. Plt Off. Atter was interviewed on the 3rd May 1945.

Prior to enlisting in the RAFVR on the 22nd August 1940 he was a Cinema Manager in Shipley, Yorkshire.

After the war he continued to serve in the RAF and was transferred to the Aircraft Control Branch on the 17th July 1950, as a Fg Off. on a short service commission. He was promoted to Flt Lt. on the 14th April 1953 and he retired from the RAF as a Flt Lt. on the 3rd April 1964.

(3) Flt Sgt. Barfoot was captured near Essen on the 27th April 1943 and after the perquisite visit to Dulag Luft, Oberursel he was transferred to Stalag Luft 1 Barth, Vogelsang in early May 1943 and where he remained until November 1943.

Whilst at the camp suffered from acute appendicitis and had a successful operation at the Stralsund German Naval Hospital to remove his appendix. During his time at Stalag Luft 1 he was involved in a number of tunnel digging activities.

It appears that upon being promoted to Warrant Officer (WO) he was transferred to Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland during November 1943 where he remained until July 1944. Stalag Luft 6 was the closest to the Russian advance. In July 1944 the PoWs were transported to Stalag 20A by train. It was estimated that 100,000 PoWs took the northern route of force-marches. The route went to Stalag Luft 4 at Gross Tychow, Pomerania then via Stettin to Stalag 9B and Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel. The official designation was Stalag 357, Oerbke.

He was in the group that were routed to Stalag 357 where he remained until the camp was liberated on the 16th April 1945 by British troops from “B” Squadron 11th Hussars and the Reconnaissance Troop of the 8th Hussars. They were met at the main gate of Stalag 357 by a guard of Airborne troops, impeccably attired and led by RSM Lord. He was interviewed on the 9th May 1945.

Prior to enlisting in the RAFVR in 1940 he was a Civil Servant living in Blackpool, Lancashire.

Burial details:

Plt Off. John Downing Pye. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 9.C.14. Inscription: "SACRED HEART OF JESUS HAVE MERCY ON HIS SOUL". Born on the 4th October 1917 in Tamworth, New South Wales. Son of Albert Edward and Lillian Margaret Pye. Husband of Marcia Monica Pye, of Ballina, New South Wales, Australia.

Initially buried at the Nordfriedhof at Düsseldorf.

Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Credit: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)

Above Grave marker for Fg Off. Stewart (Courtesy of TWGPP)

Fg Off. Robert Campbell Stewart MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery 8.C.6. Inscription: "THERE'S SOME CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD THAT IS FOR EVER ENGLAND". Born on the 7th July 1911. Son of Alexander and Augusta Mary Campbell Stewart. Husband to Doris Campbell Stewart of Golders Green, Middlesex, England.

Fg Off. Stewart was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 8th June 1944.

Sgt. John Raymond Wells. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 9.C.13. Inscription: "ONE OF THE FEW TO WHOM BRITAIN IS FOR EVER INDEBTED". Born in 2nd Qtr 1922 in Windsor, Berkshire. Son of Henry Stanley Wells and Louisa (née Beesley) Wells, of Old Windsor, Berkshire, England.

Initially buried at the Nordfriedhof at Düsseldorf.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks to Paul Markham, 77 Squadron Association, for the OTU photograph (Jan 2024).

Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project for their great work.

Other sources listed below:

RS & TV 12.10.2023 - Addition of PoW information

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Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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