14.11.1941 12 (SAAF) Squadron Maryland II AH287, Lt. Rupert J. Stevens MiD
Operation: High level bombing attack on Derna airfield
Date: 14th November 1941 (Friday)
Unit No: 12 (SAAF) Squadron, Middle East
Type: Maryland II
Serial No: AH287
Location: Bardia, Libya
Base: El Daba (LG 22), Egypt
Pilot: Lt. Rupert John Stevens MiD 47431 SAAF Age 24 PoW No. 712 */Murdered (1)
Obs: 2nd Lt. Manners Chevalier Meadows 103294V SAAF Age 25. KiA
Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. George Barrington Edwards 102517 SAAF Age? PoW No. 81**
Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. W. Crouwkamp 48101 SAAF Age? PoW No. 90074 **
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria)
** Stalag 383, Honenfels, Bavaria
REASON FOR LOSS:
Nine aircraft took off from El Daba on the 14th November 1941 at 11:25 hrs on bombing mission to Derna airfield in northern Libya. The bombing run commenced well out to sea on a north to south course at 13:45 hrs at a height of 18,800 ft.
El Daba airfield was 5 km SE of El Daba train station and 6½ km inland from the coast. The airfield was occupied by South African Air Force (SAAF) Maryland bombers on the 8th September 1941.
Derna airfield was a seaplane anchorage and landing ground along the coast in north Libya 145 km NW of Tobruk.
Over the target heavy flak was intense and accurate and three aircraft were slightly damaged but returned to base. Maryland AH287 appeared to be more seriously damaged causing it leave the formation and was last seen at a height of 1500 ft off Marsa Lucch in Libya.
Marsa Lucch is a feature on the Mediterranean coast some 200 km ESE from the target just under half-way enroute to El Daba airfield.
The following day the El Daba Officers’ Mess members were listening in over the Rome radio when the announcer gave the news of the raid on Derna airfield and stated that one aircraft had been brought down by flak and the crew of three officers and one other rank had been taken prisoner. The aircraft concerned was AH287 but the fates and ranks of the crew was incorrectly reported.
It was speculated by the Mess members that one of the officers may have given an NCO a set of officers ‘pips’ in the hope that the individual would have an easier time of it at an officer’s PoW camp.
After being hit by flak Lt. Stevens attempted to land his damaged Maryland at the enemy held Bardia - El Ahmar mistaking it for Tobruk. He was hit by German ground fire and lost consciousness but survived the crash and was sent to a German hospital. (The South African Military History Society, Newsletter, 475, September 2015).
(1) Lt. Stevens had previously been involved in ‘The Wooden Horse’ escape which was the first successful ‘Home Run’ from Stalag Luft 3 by the following three officers on the 29th October 1943:
2nd Lt. Michael Codner 200507 MC, Royal Artillery;
Flt Lt. Eric Ernest Williams 117644 MC, RAFVR;
Flt Lt. Oliver Lawrence Spurling Philpott 77131 MC, DFC, RAFVR.
Lt. Stevens was the gym instructor teaching prisoners how to vault over a wooden gym horse while others tunnelled beneath it.
The role played by Lt. Stevens in the escape organisation is unknown, however, as he and Lt. Gouws with whom he had paired up were the third pair through the tunnel, he must have played some part in the organisation and/or construction of the tunnels.
Sqn Ldr. Bushell was made the head of the Escape Committee and he was known as "Big X". His plan was to cause the maximum amount of disruption to the Germans in organising a breakout by 200 PoWs. His plan was to commence digging three tunnels which were named "Tom", "Dick" and "Harry" under the premise that should one of the three be discovered the Germans would unlikely think that another was being dug let alone two.
Some 600 PoWs were involved in the planning, preparation of escape materials and construction of the tunnels. On the 8th September 1943 “Tom” was discovered and activity on the other two tunnels was shut down for two months to eliminate the risk of being discovered. When work was to recommence “Dick” was shut down because of the clearance for a new compound made unlikely that this tunnel would ever be completed and all efforts were redirected into completing “Harry”.
On the night of the 24th-25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped via “Harry” from the north compound which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. 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 circumstances surrounding the death of Lt. Stevens was established during the first of two British Military Courts which was convened at the Curiohaus, Hamburg between the 1st July and 3rd September 1947. This was the trial of Max Wielen and 17 others where they were charged on nine counts.
All of the accused were named on the first two counts. These counts were charges of conspiracy against Max Ernst Gustav Friedrich Wielen, the Kripo and Gestapo police chief of Breslau with the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, together with SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, Head of the Gestapo (Amt IV of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)) (believed to have been killed or committed suicide) and SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, Head of the Kripo (Amt V of the RSHA) (Executed after the attempt on Hitler’s life) in the participation of the killing of the 50 officers.
Kripo = Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police).
In counts three to nine, six groups of accused were each charged with the killing of one or several officers. Every accused with the exception of Max Wielen figures in one of these counts and no accused figures in more than one.
On the sixth count three members of the Munich Gestapo were accused of committing a war crime in that they in the vicinity of Schweitenkirchen, Germany, on or about 29th March, 1944, when members of the Munich Gestapo, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of Lieutenant H.J. Stevens and Lieutenant J.S. Gouws, both of the SAAF, PoWs.
The accused were Emil Weil, Eduard Geith and Johann Schneider whose positions and ranks remain unknown.
The court heard that Schäfer was the Commanding Officer at the regional headquarters of the Gestapo at Munich. On or about the 29th March 1944, he received a teleprint from SS-Gruppenführer Müller his superior at Amt IV, instructing him that the two British airman held at the Kripo headquarters were to be shot. The teleprint gave the essential points of the Hitler order.
Oswald Schäfer was a former Oberregierungs- und Kriminalrat (Senior Government official and Chief Detective) and held the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).
Schäfer was accused in 1950 of “Beihilfe zum Mord” (Aiding and abetting in murder) in 20 cases and of “schwere Körperverletzung im Amt” (grievous bodily harm, committed by an official) in at least 25 cases, during the period 1943 to 1945. This concerned cases where he had submitted to the RSHA the cases of foreign slave workers, applying for “Sonderbehandlung” (execution) or “Kurzbehandlung” (severe whipping) of same. He was acquitted by a jury of 12 in the first trial, then after appeal, revision, retrial around 1953 was convicted of GBH but acquitted of anything to do with murder. What never came to trial, or so it seems, was his role as leader of “Einsatzkommando 9 der Einsatzgruppe B” (Murder squads) between December 1941 and February 1942.
It was after duty hours, and he sent his car to collect some of his staff. The car returned with his second in command, Schermer, as well as Geith and Schneider. They were joined by Weil, who was the duty officer.
Martin Schermer committed suicide on the 25th April 1945.
After a short conference with Schäfer he summoned the others and explained to them that he had received orders from the RSHA that the two captured British prisoners held at Kripo headquarters were to be shot. He briefed them in accordance with the Hitler order. It was decided that Schneider, who had a machine pistol, should do the shooting and that Schermer would be in charge of the party. All participants were pledged to secrecy by hand-shakes.
With Geith and Weil looking on Schneider shot both prisoners near the autobahn when ordered to do so by Schermer but their remains were cremated in München (Munich) and their ashes placed in urns, which were returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Schneider’s defence was that he thought the two prisoners were looters and desperadoes. Geith claimed that he did not hear the orders given by Schäfer at the conference. Weil, whilst admitting that he heard Schäfer’s orders at the conference, thought that the prisoners had been tried by a tribunal and convicted.
The court found the accused guilty of the charge for which they were sentenced to death. Weil, Geith and Schneider were executed at Hameln prison by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard A. O'Neill, on the 27th February 1948.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above Grave marker of Lt. Stevens (Courtesy of TWGPP)
Lt. Rupert John Stevens MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Coll. Grave 9.A. Born in 1919 in London. Son of Mr and Mrs G.R. Stevens of Cape Town, South Africa.
Lt. Stevens 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 8th June 1944.
2nd Lt. Manners Chevalier Meadows. Alamein Memorial Column 246. Son of E.S. and Marion F. Meadows, of Durban, Natal, South Africa.
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’.
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP)’ for their great work.
Other sources as quoted below: