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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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450 Squadron Crest
31.10.1942 450 Squadron, Kittyhawk III FR270, Sqn Ldr. John E.A. Williams DFC, MiD

Operation: Strafing mission along the Sidi Barrani-Sollum road, Egypt

Date: 31st October 1942 (Saturday)

Unit No: 450 Squadron, RAAF, Western Desert Air Force

Type: Kittyhawk III

Serial No: FR270

Code: OK:?

Base: LG175, Egypt

Location: Amirlya, Egypt

Pilot: Sqn Ldr. John Edwin Ashley ‘Willy’ Williams, DFC, MiD, 40652 RAF Age 23. PoW No. 838 * /Murdered

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

Note: Kittyhawk III FR270 was believed to have been built as P-40M Warhawk, serial no. unknown.


During his tour with 450 Squadron, Sqn Ldr. Williams claimed the following enemy aircraft:

18th June 1942 flying Kittyhawk I AK636 OK:M, a Bf-109 shot down;
5th July 1942 flying Kittyhawk I AK634 OK:F, a Ju-88 of I./LG1 shot down;
1st September 1942 flying Kittyhawk I EV158 OK:?, a Bf-109E damaged;
12th September 1942 flying Kittyhawk I EV363 OK:M, three Ju-87s, one destroyed, one as a probable and one damaged. The probable was later confirmed;
26th October 1942 flying Kittyhawk III FR270 OK:? and 4 other pilots, a Ju-88 damaged.

Above: 450 Sqn, Kittyhawks in the desert (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)

On the 31st October 1942 at 13:40 hrs four Kittyhawks took off from LG175 on a long-range strafing mission. Joining the mission were twelve Kittyhawks from 112 Sqn. During the raid Sqn Ldr. Williams had to force-land his Kittyhawk after it was apparently damaged by flak. There is some evidence, albeit unconfirmed, that his aircraft may have been hit by fire from another aircraft.

LG175 was located about 33 km SSW of Alexandria in Egypt

He was seen to exit the aircraft after the force-landing but the terrain was too rough for an aircraft to land to effect a rescue. He was subsequently captured and became a PoW and ended up at Stalag Luft 3.

In September 1943 Sqn Ldr. Williams was appointed the Head of the Carpentry Department responsible for obtaining timber for the construction of the tunnels and the hiding places for escape equipment.

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”.

The circumstances of Sqn Ldr. Williams’ capture are unknown, however, he and most of his group of twelve were initially held in the jail at Hirschberg. After lengthy interrogations he and a number of others were transferred to the civilian prison at Reichenberg (Liberec, Czechia).

Sqn Ldr. Williams was last seen alive by Flt Lt. Tonder on the 29th March 1944. There is no record of where he was murdered but his remains were cremated in Brüx, his ashes placed in an urn, which was returned to Stalag Luft 3.

Sqn Ldr. Williams was one of four PoWs who were cremated in Brüx, the other three being Flt Lt. Leslie George Bull DFC RAF, Flt Lt. Reginald Victor Kierath RAAF and Flt Lt. Jerzy Tomasz Mondschein PAF.

After Flt Lt. Ivo Tonder PoW No. 561, was recaptured he was one of three that were sent to Stalag Luft 1. The other two were Flt Lt. Bedrich Dvorak PoW No. 39648 and Flt Lt. Desmond Lancelot Plunkett, PoW No. 297. Flt Lt. Tonder and Flt Lt. Dvorak were then sent to Oflag IVc, Colditz castle, whilst Flt Lt. Plunkett remained at Stalag Luft 1.

These three airmen were part of the group of eight that were held under special orders from Himmler. The two at Colditz castle were apparently under the threat of execution but were liberated before this could be carried out.

Investigations post-war did not identify those directly responsible for the murders of Sqn Ldr. Williams and the other three officers.

Burial details:

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

Above left Sqn Ldr. Williams (Courtesy of laurinlaurin espie - FindAGrave and right Grave marker Courtesy of (TWGPP))

Sqn Ldr. John Edwin Ashley ‘Willy’ Williams, DFC, MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery Grave 8.D.1. Born on the 6th May 1919 in Wellington, New Zealand. Son of Llewellyn and Mildred S. Williams, then of 26 Rocklands Road, Wollstonecraft, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

His DFC was awarded whilst as a Flt Lt. with 450 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 16th March 1943.

Promoted to Sqn Ldr. on the 18th October 1942 and took command of 450 Sqn.

Sqn Ldr. Williams 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.

Originally researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot. Reviewed and updated by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered 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 quoted below:

RS & TV 29.06.2022 - Reviewed and updated

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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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