Operation: Night bombing detail over Mission ranges.
Date: 10th/11th September 1941 (Thursday)
Unit: 25 Operational Training Unit (OTU), “B” Flight.
Type: Wellington Ic
Serial No: N2805
Location: IJselhaven, Rotterdam, Holland
Base: RAF Finningley, South Yorkshire.
Pilot: Flt Lt. Gilbert "Tim" William Walenn, Twice MiD, 73022 RAFVR Age 28. PoW No. 3776 * (1)
Obs: Flt Lt. Tom Leslie Walker 404271 RAAF Age 25. PoW No. 3774 *
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Percy Arthur Edwards 1180229 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 9655 **
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Sidney Charles Stevens 1167415 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 9656 **
Air Gnr: WO. William Aubrey Platt 639409 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 9616 ***
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania).
*** 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).
REASON FOR LOSS:
The aircraft took off from RAF Finningley at 19:55 hrs on the 10th September 1941 for a night bombing detail over Mission ranges. The aircraft dropped two bombs, the second at 20:43 hrs. At 22:01 hrs RAF Finningley responded to a QDM request from the aircraft, after which nothing more was heard. Well over seven hours later at 05:31 on the 11th September the Wellington was hit by flak and abandoned. The aircraft crashed in IJselhaven harbour, Rotterdam in Holland.
As 25 OTU was based at RAF Finningley it is reasonable to assume that the "Mission ranges" would have been either RAF Donna Nock, near North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, which had a target off the coast for night time bombing practice or RAF Wainfleet (Wainfleet Sands), south of Skegness in Lincolnshire, which was frequently used for bomb site testing and practice.
A QDM is a request for a magnetic bearing to a station, in this case RAF Finningley.
The crew successfully bailed out and it was reported that they had been captured near to Rotterdam. No explanation has been found as to why the aircraft ended up on an almost reciprocal heading and some 250 miles from RAF Finningley.
(1) Flt Lt. Walenn was Stalag Luft 3’s head of forgery and working with Flt Lt. Brettell, and Flt Lt. Picard producing forged passports, movement orders, railway documentation and all manner of identity papers to move about Germany.
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”.
On the night of the escape he travelled in a group of four escapees with Romualdas Marcinkus, Henri Picard and Gordon Brettell, who were all posing as Lithuanian workers and they managed to reach a train heading towards Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) before being captured.
Flt Lt. Marcinkus was responsible for analysing the German railway schedules that were essential for the mass escape from Stalag Luft 3.
They were captured by the Gestapo near Schneidemühl on 26 March. The four were taken to Stalag 20b, Marienburg (now named Malbork), and spent the night there, their presence being carefully recorded by an unknown British army Sgt Maj., who issued them with clothing (battle dress) more suited to being a PoW in the hope of avoiding the possibility of them being charged with espionage. The following day they were handed over to the Danzig Gestapo.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Flt Lt. Walenn 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 fourth related solely to a Reinhold Brüchardt who was charged alone with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Groß Trampken (now Trąbki Wielkie), some 15 miles south of Danzig on or about the 27th March 1944, when a member of the Danzig Gestapo, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of Flt Lt. Henri A. Picard, Flt Lt. Romas Marcinkus, Flt Lt. Gilbert W. Walenn and Flt Lt. Edward G. Brettell, all of the Royal Air Force and PoWs.
Brüchardt was a former Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) with the rank of SS-Untersturmführer (2nd Lt).
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 four named officers were recaptured in the Danzig area on or about the 27th March 1944. Dr. Günther Venediger was the head of the Danzig Gestapo and had received the order from Himmler sent out from Amt IV in Berlin by top secret teleprint.
Venediger was apparently a former Oberregierungsrat (Detective Director) holding the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt Col).
Evidence presented to the court came from Venediger’s driver, whose name was Peter Bontenbroich, and who was a former Kriminalsekretär (Detective inspector). He had received instructions to drive Venediger to some woods near to the village of Groß Trampken early one morning soon after the four officers had been captured. Arriving at the location at about 07:00 hours he found Brüchardt and a parked lorry. Venediger and his driver exited the car after which Venediger and Brüchardt went off into the woods whilst Bontenbroich waited by the car.
After a little time he began to be curious, and he and the driver of the lorry, a man named Piontke, went off into the woods in the direction in which Venediger had gone. As they were walking they heard shots and when they rounded a corner, they saw Venediger and Brüchardt returning, and also saw five other members of the Gestapo from Danzig busy doing something.
The five were identified as Julius Hug, Walter Sasse, Walter Voelz, Roehrer and Asal. At least two of them were identified as members of the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal police) based in Danzig.
Bontenbroich and Piontke returned to their vehicles. A short time later Venediger and Brüchardt appeared and Venediger got back into the car. The other Gestapo officials also returned.
Evidence was also presented from a Willi Reimer who was employed as a driver for the Gestapo and who had been instructed by Brüchardt to drive a lorry to the Groß Trampken woods. Arriving at the location he was met by Brüchardt and witnessed the four bodies being carried and loaded onto his truck by the other Gestapo officials. He then drove to the Gestapo offices in Danzig and parked the lorry in the garage after which he reported to Brüchardt and told him that the lorry was in the garage. Later that day he returned and drove Brüchardt by car to the crematorium. Brüchardt returned about 30 minutes later and was driven back to the Danzig Gestapo offices.
Brüchardt’s testimony to the court claimed that he had been informed by Venediger that four British PoWs who had escaped from Sagan had been recaptured and in the process of being returned to their camp had been shot and killed near Groß Trampken whilst trying to escape.
He claimed that Venediger had instructed him to take Hug and Sasse and investigate what had transpired and take the necessary steps for the recovery of the bodies. Upon arriving at the scene he met up with four other unnamed members of the Danzig Kriminalpolizei who were standing near the four bodies.
He claimed to having been informed by one of the officials who was an SS-Sturmscharführer (Sgt Maj) that the four officers, on the pretext of relieving themselves, took the opportunity to escape into the woods. Warning shots had been fired which were ignored and it was then that the four officers were shot and killed.
The remainder of his testimony did not differ materially from that which had already been presented to the court regarding the recovery and cremation of the four officers.
The court rejected Brüchardt’s version of events and relied on the preponderance of evidence from eyewitness accounts that he was instrumental in the murders and was in fact in charge of the squad that shot the four officers.
Brüchardt was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to death on the 6th November 1948. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, upon Britain temporarily suspending the death penalty, and then reduced to 21 years. He was released in 1956.
Dr. Günther Venediger was not before the court to answer for his part in the murder of the four officers. However, he was traced in 1948 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment in December 1957, for having been an aider and abetter to homicide. The prosecutor had to appeal twice against acquittals before winning this sentence.
It was clear that Hug, Sasse, Voelz, Roehrer and Asal were implicated in the murder of the four officers. However, Hug was not traced, Sasse had escaped from an interment camp, Voelz was not traced but it was believed he had been killed. Roehrer and Asal were never identified.
The four officers were cremated in Danzig, their ashes placed into urns and returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above Grave marker for Flt Lt. Walenn (courtesy The War Graves Photographic Project)
Flt Lt. Gilbert 'Tim' William Walenn MiD twice. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery Collective Grave 9.A. Inscription Reads: "IN PROUD MEMORY OF OUR GALLANT AND BELOVED SON". Born on the 24th February 1916 in Hendon, NW London. Son of Gilbert and Aida (née Costiff) Walenn, of Hampstead Garden Suburb, Middlesex, England.
Flt Lt. Walenn was twice Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). No record of the first MiD has been found. His second MiD was Gazetted on the 2nd June 1944 and recognised his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously.
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’.
RS & TV 03.04.2022 - Update to PoW camp and NoK details
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