16/17.10.1942 142 Squadron Wellington III BK278 Fg Off. John G. Stower MiD
Date: 16th/17th November 1942 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit No: 142 Squadron, Bomber Command
Type: Wellington III
Serial No: BK278
Base: RAF Grimsby (Waltham), Lincolnshire
Location: North Sea
Pilot: Fg Off. John Gifford Stower MiD. 107520 RAFVR Age 26. PoW No. 836 */Murdered (5)
Observer: WO1. Frank Renkiewicz R84125 RCAF Age? PoW No. 898 ** (1)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Hilton Edwin Peake 1271759 RAFVR Age 33. PoW No. 894 *** (2)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Horace Edward John Wilkinson R79192 RCAF Age 25. PoW No. 911 ** (3)
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. William Petrie Smart Rae 1059610 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 896 * (4)
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag 11b in Fallingbostal in Schleswig
*** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 16th November 1942 six Wellington from 142 Sqn took off from RAF Grimsby between 17:08 and 18:37 hrs to join a force of sixty-five aircraft detailed on Gardening (mine-laying) operations between Loriet and the Frisian Islands.
Note: RAF Grimsby was also known as RAF Waltham by the local population because of its proximity to Waltham.
Three aircraft were lost, one being BK278 which was hit by flak from IV. & V./5. Res. Flak Abt. 247 and 1. & 5./M. Flak Abt. 247. The aircraft crashed in mud flats South of Büsum near St. Peter either at 19:55 or 20:18 hrs. At 07:00 hrs a dinghy with the crew of five was washed ashore at Friedrichskoog. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (30 May - 31 December 1942) The Early Years Part 3 - Theo Boiten).
The other two aircraft lost were:
115 Sqn, Wellington III X3597 KO:Q - Five crew KiA
149 (East India) Sqn, Stirling I W7566 OJ:C - Seven crew KiA
Sgt. Peake and Sgt. Wilkinson later reported that they were captured in Schleswig Holstein on 16th November and Sgt. Rae at St Peters, Schleswig Holstein. WO1. Renkiewicz, an American, was captured some 16 km from the Danish/ German border.
(1) WO1. Renkiewicz had been granted permission to join this crew in order to obtain further operational experience.
Records show that WO1. Renkiewicz was originally at Stalag Luft 6 before the camp as a whole was moved to Stalag Luft 4 on the 28th May 1944. He was recorded as Frank A. Renkiewicz on one of two Stalag Luft 4 nominal roles. At some point in time he was transferred to Stalag 11b, Fallingbostal in Schleswig.
(2) Whilst he was a PoW Sgt. Peake was granted a commission and promoted to 139484 Plt Off. with effect 20th October 1942. He was promoted to Fg Off. on the 26th April 1943 and then to Flt Lt. on the 26th October 1944. After the war he relinquished his commission on the 10th February 1954 retaining his rank of Flt Lt., London Gazette 12th October 1954.
(3) Sgt. Wilkinson was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) whilst a PoW at Stalag Luft 4. At some point in time he was transferred to Stalag 11b, Fallingbostal in Schleswig.
(4) After the war Sgt. Rae was appointed to a commission as a Plt Off on the 12th June 1953 in the RAFVR Training Branch. He resigned his commission as a Plt Off on the 29th February 1955, London Gazette 7th June 1955.
(5) Fg Off. Stower was eventually sent to Stalag Luft 3 where he was involved in the first mass escape attempt from the camp on the 12th June 1943. In this attempt two working parties of PoWs were each escorted out of the camp by two PoWs who were fluent German speakers disguised as camp guards. Fg Off. Stower was in the first group who successfully left the camp, dumped their uniforms under which they had civilian clothes, and made their escape. The second group were halted and discovered. (Ref 1, pp.186-187).
Fg Off. Stower was disguised as a Spanish worker and made his way on foot towards Czechoslovakia. He covered the 100 km or so in a week and made contact with the Czech underground who tried to obtain papers and tickets for a train journey to Switzerland to no avail. He was provided with new identity and smuggled back into Germany with a train ticket for the journey across southern Germany to the Swiss border.
He disembarked about 60 km short of Lake Constance and skirted its north shore, heading west in the direction of Schaffhausen. Here there is a small pocket of Switzerland which extends into Germany but he misjudged the distances and actually wandered through Swiss territory back into Germany and was captured by a border patrol. He was held by the Gestapo for a few weeks and then returned to Stalag Luft 3. (Ref 2. pp 132-133).
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 what role Flt Lt. Stower had in the escape organisation but he either earned for himself or was selected on an early position in the line of two hundred hoping to escape from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3.
After exiting the tunnel he paired up with Flt Lt. Tonder and they headed south hiding during the day. They evaded capture after being spotted by a girl on the morning of the 27th March and made it to Kohlfurt where they caught a train to Görlitz and then another train to Reichenberg. Their luck ran out when their papers were examined and were searched. They were arrested when their PoW identity discs were found. (Ref 1. pp 211-212)
They were taken to the civilian prison in Reichenberg where they met Sqn Ldr. J.E.A. Williams DFC RNZAF, Flt Lt. L.G. Bull DFC RAF, Flt Lt. R.V. Kierath RAAF and Flt Lt. J.T. Mondschein PAF. Flt Lt. Tonder witnessed them being taken away on the 29th March. Flt Lt. Stower was taken away on the 31st March and this was the last he saw of the five airmen. (Ref 1. pp 211-212)
Flt Lt. Ivo Tonder 83232 (Czech) RAF, PoW No. 561 was one of three captured airmen who were initially sent to Stalag Luft 1, Barth. He and Flt Lt. Bedrich Dvorak 82542 (Czech) RAF, PoW No. 39648 were then sent to Oflag IVc, Colditz castle under the threat of a death sentence but were liberated before the threat could be carried out,
The third, Flt Lt. Desmond Lancelot ‘Des’ Plunkett 78847 RAF, PoW No. 297 remained at Stalag Luft 1.
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. Stower or for the other fifteen officers killed by Lux and his death-squad. It is not known were Flt Lt. Stower was killed or where he was cremated but his urn returned to Stalag Luft 3
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above Flt Lt. Stower MiD and Grave marker (Courtesy of (TWGPP))
Flt Lt. John Gifford Stower MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery. Collective Grave 9.A. Born in Argentina on the 15th September 1916. Son of Herbert Gifford and Euphemia ‘Effie’ (née Moffatt) Stower of Buenos Aires, Argentina and also care of Mrs M.H. Dobson of 25 Walsingham Road, Hove, Sussex, England. Brother to Elizabeth and Kathleen.
His father predeceased him in 1941.
Fg Off. Stower was promoted to Flt Lt. whilst a PoW on the 13th September 1943. London Gazette 17th September 1943.
Flt Lt. Stower 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.
Aircrew Remembered friend and leading Argentinian researcher and author, Claudio Meunier, is compiling a book on the pilot - if you have any further information we would be proud to both add it to the page and also advise Claudio.
Originally researched by Linda Ibrom and Kate Tame which is dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Mar 2018). Thanks John Jones for the reference to the Nachtjagd loss information (Oct 2019). Reviewed and researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. (Aug 2022)
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP)’ for their great work.
Other sources quoted below:
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.