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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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23.07.1943 336 Squadron Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF), Hurricane IIc HW250, WO. Sotirios ‘Nick’ Skantzikas

Operation: Operation “Thesis”

Date: 23rd July 1943 (Friday)

Unit: 336 Squadron Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF)

Type: Hurricane IIc

Serial No: HW250

Code: ?

Location: In the vicinity of western Crete

Base: Landing Ground (LG)-121

Pilot: WO. Sotirios ‘Nick’ Skantzikas 213 RHAF Age 22. PoW No. 1822 *

* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland.


Operation “Thesis” was an ill-conceived operation to strafe targets across Crete using mainly Hurricane fighter bombers and had little impact upon the enemy forces on Crete.

On the morning of the 23rd July 1943 at 07:10 hrs, 37 aircraft took off from LG-121. They were lead by two Beaufighters for a ground strafing mission on Crete. They hunted targets on the western side of the island. WO. Skantzikas and WO. Anthanassakis failed to return from the mission.

LG-121 was located near the Mediterranean coast about 105 km east of Tobruk, Libya

The circumstances of WO. Skantzikas’s capture are unknown other than he ended up at Stalag Luft 3. He was promoted to Fg Off. whilst at Stalag Luft 3.

Fg Off. Skantzikas is not named as being involved in the Escape Organisation and there is no record that describes his role in assisting in the execution of the plan. However, six hundred PoWs had been engaged on work connected with the tunnel and two hundred of them were chosen to escape so it is safe to assume that he was involved in some capacity.

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.

Fg Off. Skantzikas was the twenty-eighth man to exit the tunnel and was one of a party of ten that set out in a southerly direction through some woods to a small railway station. The party boarded a train at 05:00 hrs which arrived at Ober-Rohrsdorf at about 11:00 hrs without incident. Here the group split up with Fg Off. Skantzikas accompanying Flt Lt. James. (Ref 1)

The pair headed up into the mountains of the Riesengebirge. As they climbed higher the snow became deeper which made walking difficult. By the afternoon the snow was waist deep. Cold, hungry and wet they sheltered for a short time in an isolated byre. After a short time they pressed on heading towards the Czech frontier. Flt Lt. James was used to the cold conditions but Fg Off. Skantzikas was not so they made their way to a road which took them to Hirschberg to risk catching a train. (Ref 2)

Flt Lt. Bertram Arthur James, 42232, Observer from 9 Sqn Wellington Ia P9232 (Insert Link), lost on a mission to Duisburg, Germany on the 5th/6th June 1940. After his capture he was sent to the Concentration Camp at Sachsenhausen - Sonderlager A on the 6th April 1944. Flt Lt. James survived his incarceration and was liberated by Allied forces.

At the main railway station they were arrested by the German police. They were then taken to the Criminal Police Headquarters in Hirschberg. After being interrogated they were the taken to the Civil Prison in Hirschberg. Flt Lt. James witnessed Flt Lt. Wernham, Flt Lt. Kiewnarski, Flt Lt. Pawluk and Plt Off. Skantzikas being taken from the Civil Prison at Hirschberg to an unknown destination on the 30th March 1944. (Ref 1).

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 circumstances surrounding the death of Plt Off. Skantziklas 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 2nd related to one German national who was charged with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Hirschberg, Germany, on or about the 29th March 1944, when a member of the Breslau Gestapo in violation of the laws and usages of War, was concerned in the killing of Flt Lt. A. Kiewnarski, Flt Lt. K. Pawluk, Flt Lt. J.C. Wernham and Plt Off. S. Skantzikas who were all PoWs.

The accused was:

Erwin Wieczorek who was a former Kriminalrat (Detective Director), held the rank of SS- Sturmbannführer (Maj) and was a senior official in the Breslau Gestapo office.

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 court heard that the four officers were held at Criminal Police Headquarters in Hirschberg awaiting the arrival of the head of the Gestapo office at Breslau, a Dr. Scharpwinkel, and a squad of Breslau officials.

Dr. Wilhelm Scharpwinkel was the former head of the Gestapo office at Breslau ranking as Oberregierungsrat (German Civil service rank). He also held the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).

After the war Scharpwinkel was masquerading as a Lt. Hagemann at the No. 6 Hospital at Breslau from where Russian officers removed him at gunpoint. During the enquiry into the murders, the Russians refused to co-operate with the Allied investigation, although after much prodding they allowed Scharpwinkel to make a statement, in Moscow, during August and September 1946. Soon afterwards, Scharpwinkel disappeared and it was reported that he had died in a Soviet prison on the 17th October 1947.

Scharpwinkel carried out the interrogations and when they were concluded he told Wieczorek that the four officers were to be shot and told him to detail two officials for escort duty and that Wieczorek was to join them. Wieczorek claimed that he sought to excuse himself from that duty.

The officers were taken in a convoy of four cars in the direction of Sagan. Wieczorek and another Breslau official travelled with one of the four officers on that journey. The convoy drove for about 30 minutes and a suitable place by the roadside the four cars drew up. This was early evening possibly about 18:00 hrs and it was already dark. The four officers were given the opportunity to relieve themselves at the. side of the road. As they stood between the second and third cars they were shot and killed.

Wieczorek claimed that he was standing by the first car and was not involved in the shooting but that Scharpwinkel was present and was in charge of the operation.

The duty of arranging the cremations was left to the head of the Hirschberg office. Wieczorek and Scharpwinkel drove back to the Hirschberg office where Scharpwinkel completed a report to be sent to Amt IV which recorded that the officers were shot whilst attempting to escape.

Amt IV = RSHA Department IV = Gestapo.

Wieczorek was the sole representative of that relatively small group of men who carried out the shootings of the twenty-nine prisoners in the Breslau area. Scharpwinkel was dead, some of the other suspects were also dead, the rest of them were not in custody, so that the only one that could be brought before the Court on this charge was Wieczorek.

Erwin Wieczorek was found guilty on this charge and the first charge. He was sentenced to death by hanging but his sentence was quashed upon review.

Burial details:

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

Above grave marker for Plt Off. Skantzikas (Credit: TWGPP)

Plt Off. Sotirios ‘Nick’ Skantzikas. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery Collective Grave 8.D.4. Born on the 6th August 1921 in Athens, Greece. No further details

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 ‘The War Graves Photographic Project' (TWGPP) for their great work.


1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5

2. The Great Escape - Anton Gill - ISBN: 978-1-7201-5488-4

RS & TV 09.11.2021 - Initial upload

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