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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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617 Squadron Crest
07.10.1944 617 Squadron Lancaster I NG180 Sqn Ldr. Drew R.C. Wyness DFC

Operation: Kembs-Märkt barrage, France

Date: 7th October 1944 (Saturday)

Unit No: 617 Squadron, 5 Group

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: NG180

Code: KC:S

Base: RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, England

Location: In the vicinity of the Kembs-Märkt barrage

Pilot: Sqn Ldr. Drew Rothwell Cullen Wyness DFC, 103028 RAFVR Age 24. Murdered (1)

Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. Thomas James Hurdiss 1239780 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Nav: Flt Lt. Ronald Henry Williams DFC, 126045 RAFVR Age 22. Murdered (1)

Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Herbert Walter Honig 151110 RAFVR Age 22. Murdered (1)

WOp/Air Gnr: Fg Off. Bruce James Hosie 412882 RNZAF Age 21. Murdered (1)

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. Thomas Horrocks 650027 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Fg Off. George Edward Cansell 173273 RAFVR Age 21. KiA


Thirteen aircraft took off from RAF Woodhall Spa commencing at 19:09 hrs to attack the Kembs-Märkt barrage, which it was feared would be opened to inundate the Ruhr valley near Mulhouse where there was likely to be an Allied advance.

The plan was for eight Lancasters to circle, bomb and draw flak from 8000ft while six more, including NG180, bomb from low level, below 1000ft, to place their Tallboys with delayed action fuses close to the lock gates.

Tallboy was a medium capacity 12,000lb 'earthquake bomb' developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis. It could only be carried by a modified model of the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. It proved to be effective against large, fortified structures against which conventional bombing had proved ineffective

P-51 Mustangs were to attack the flak positions with machine gun and rocket fire. The mission was only partially successful and only one of the lock gates was put out of action but two Lancasters failed to return and three aircraft were damaged.

Lancaster III LM482, KC:Q flown by Flt Lt. Christopher J.G. Howard had a ‘hang up’ of its Tallboy and on a second run over the target the aircraft was hit by flak. In an attempt to belly-land the aircraft it exploded killing the eight crew aboard.

After reaching the Initial Point (IP) at 600 ft NG180 was hit repeatedly by light flak which set two engines ablaze. The aircraft struck power cables over the target and crashed into the Rhine. Four of the crew were able able to clamber into a rubber dinghy. They drifted some 3 km down river before landing near the German village of Rheinweiler, where they were captured.

Some reports claim that the aircraft crashed at the Franco-German border town of Chalampé (Haut-Rhine). However, as four of the crew drifted down river from the crashed aircraft and were captured at Rheinweiler, then it is not possible for the aircraft to have crashed at Chalampé which is a further 12½ km down the river from Rheinweiler.

It is likely that at least some of the crew perished in the crash and went down with the aircraft and were most likely the three crew members commemorated on the Runnymede memorial.

(1) The circumstances leading to the deaths of Sqn Ldr. Wyness DFC, Flt Lt. Williams DFC, Fg Off. Honig and Fg Off. Hosie were determined by a Military Court convened on the 26th and 27th May 1948 at Hamburg, Germany.

The trial was originally scheduled to have taken place on the 20th February 1944.

Two German nationals were charged that they in the vicinity of Schliengen, Germany on or about the 7th October 1944, were concerned in the killing of four unknown Allied airmen who were Prisoners of War.

The two accused were:

Hugo Grüner who was the former Kreisleiter (Nazi party district leader) of Müllheim and Lörrach in Germany;

Rudolf Birlin who was a former gendarme (Rural policeman) at Schliengen in Germany.

Grüner had been previously tried, convicted and sentenced to death on the charge detailed above by a French Court on the 23rd April 1946. However the French Cour de Cassation quashed the conviction on the 24th July 1946 on the grounds that the offence was committed on German territory against Allied nationals other than French and that Grüner was, therefore, not amenable to French jurisdiction.

The Cour de Cassation is one of the four courts of last resort in France. It has jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters triable in the judicial system, and is the supreme court of appeal in these cases. It has jurisdiction to review the law, and to certify questions of law, to determine miscarriages of justice.

In view of the fact that the conviction was quashed for lack of jurisdiction and not on the merits of the case, it was the opinion of the Judge Advocate General of the British forces that the defence of autrefois acquit(equates to previously acquitted) was not applicable.

Grüner who was being held at No. 4 Civilian Internment Camp (CIC) at Recklinghausen was one of three prisoners who had escaped on the night of the 15th/16th February 1947. All attempts to locate and re-arrest Grüner failed and it was deemed unlikely that he would ever be found.

The Judge Advocate General of the British forces decided to proceed with the trial for the accused Birlin.

From the depositions and testimonies of a number of witnesses it has been determined that on the day in question Birlin was the Gendarmerie (Rural police) NCO on duty at the Gendarmerie post in Schliengen.

He received a telephone call at about 19:00 hrs from the Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Rheinweiler, a man named Bachel, informing him that he was holding four enemy airmen at the Rathaus (town hall) who had been captured in Rheinweiler and that they should be collected.

Birlin then informed his superior, Gendarmeriemeister (Police WO) Hans Friedrich Karl Reimer, of the situation. Reimer and Birlin, accompanied by a Gendarme named Bohny made their way to Rheinweiler to collect the prisoners. There they met Grüner who was present at the handover of the prisoners. Grüner ordered them to march each prisoner to Schliengen separated by about 50 to 80 metres.

As there were only three Gendarmes a Landwachmann (Home guard) named Bassler was detailed to be an escort. Reimer and a prisoner started off first with Birlin and his prisoner, who had a leg wound, the last to leave. EnrouteGrüner drove up and ordered Birlin and his prisoner to get into the car. They then drove on in the direction of Schliengen but shortly after the village of Bellingen he turned off the road in the direction of the river Rhine.

Birlin was surprised and told Grüner that he was making a mistake but did not get a response. Birlin feared for the life of his prisoner especially given that he told Grüner several times that he was making a mistake. Approximately 6 or 7 metres from the banks of the Rhine, Grüner stopped the car and ordered Birlin to get out and to take his prisoner down to the river.

As he stood with his prisoner on the river bank, suddenly a shot was fired, and the prisoner fell into the river. This was repeated for the other three prisoners all of them being shot by Grüner. After the killing of the four airman, Grüner returned Birlin and Reimer to Rheinweiler. He told them not to speak about this incident, however, Reiner and Birlin decided to report the incident to their superiors the next morning.

The next morning Grüner met them and told them it was not necessary to report the incident and that if asked they should claim that they were ambushed while escorting the prisoners, and that they were taken away. They ignored Grüner and report the incident to higher authority.

Although the argument was made that Birlin should have done more to prevent the shooting of the other three prisoners it was also pointed out that Birlin was just a Gendarme and he was effectively powerless in the face of the tacit authority and known brutality of Grüner. Consequently, the court found Birlin not guilty of the charge.

The four airmen were later recovered downstream at different locations:

Sqn Ldr. Wyness was buried at the Marckolsheim Military Cemetery, Haut-Rhin, France in Grave 39, some 50km north (down river) from Rheinweiler;

Flt Lt. Williams was reported to have been initially buried at Sasbach, Germany which is not on the Rhine river but some 18km to the east and about 107km directly north (down river) from Rheinweiler. His graves concentration report records that his remains had been transferred to the Neckargemünd Ehrenfriedhof (Cemetery of Honour) Plot F, Row 1, Grave 16;

Fg Off. Honig was buried at the Lichtenau Cemetery, Germany in an unmarked grave, some 115km north (down river) from Rheinweiler;

Fg Off. Hosie was buried at the Kunheim Communal Cemetery, Haut-Rhin, France in an unmarked grave, some 41km north (down river) from Rheinweiler.

Burial details:

Sqn Ldr. Drew Rothwell Cullen Wyness, DFC. Recovered and reinterred on the 30th June 1950 at the Choloy War Cemetery 4.B.6. Inscription reads: “DEARLY LOVED AND ALWAYS REMEMBERED”. Son of Andrew Cullen and Helen Wyness; husband of Ruth (née Siddle) Wyness, of Altrincham, Cheshire, England.

His DFC was awarded as a Flt Lt. with 50 Sqn. London Gazette 20th April 1943.

Flt Sgt. Thomas James Hurdiss. Runnymede Memorial Panel 219. Son of William Henry and Alice Hurdiss, of Wollescote, Worcestershire, England.

Flt Lt. Ronald Henry Williams, DFC. Recovered and reinterred on the 24th October 1947 at the Durnbach War Cemetery 5.C.9. Inscription reads: “AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.” Born during December 1921 in Essex. Son of Vernon and Dorothy May (née Shepheard) Williams, of Walthamstow, Essex, England.

His DFC was awarded as a Fg Off. with 61 Sqn. London Gazette 14th September 1943.

Fg Off. Herbert Walter Honig. Recovered and reinterred on the 3rd September 1948 at the Durnbach War Cemetery 5.C.10. Inscription reads: “GOD BE WITH YOU, WITH HIS ARMS SECURELY HOLD YOU. TILL WE MEET AGAIN. MOTHER”. Son of Herbert George and of Mabel Honig, of Wimbledon, Surrey, England.

Fg Off. Bruce James Hosie. Recovered and reinterred on the 30th June 1950 at the Choloy War Cemetery 4.B.8. Son of Walter and Rachel Harriet (née Preston) Hosie, of Manaia, Taranaki, New Zealand.

Prior to joining the squadron he had completed a 31 operations tour with 75 (New Zealand) Sqn and flown a further 4 sorties with 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) during his ‘rest’ period. This was his 77th overall operation.

Flt Sgt. Thomas Horrocks. Runnymede Memorial Panel 218. Born during June 1923 in Manchester, Lancashire. Son of Thomas and Margaret (née Wild) Horrocks of Manchester, Lancashire, England.

Fg Off. George Edward Cansell. Runnymede Memorial Panel 205. Born in June 1923 in Plymouth, Devon. Son of George William and Clara Ada (née Jackman) Cansell, of Devonport, England.

A month before the Kembs-Märkt barrage mission, on the 11th/12th September, five of the crew, Fg Off. Naylor and Fg Off. Shea DFC, took off from RAF Woodhall Spa at 19:01 hrs in Lancaster ME559 KC:Y on a transit flight to Yagodnik near Archangel in North West Russia. They never made it. For unknown reasons they were forced to crash land at Keg Ostrov some 5km west of intended airfield. The aircraft skidded on landing and crashed through a boundary fence injuring some of the crew. The aircraft was repaired by the Russians and returned to service with the Soviet Air Force.

Air Gunners: Fg Off. James Fraser Naylor 54372 RAFVR and Fg Off. Denis Charles Shea DFC. 146633 RAF lost their lives aboard Lancaster III PB416 SC:Y on the 17th September during a transit flight which took off from the same airfield at Yagodnik. The crew of 9 were killed when the aircraft hit high ground near Nesbyen in Norway.

Originally researched by Brett Lewis, relative of Fg Off. George Edward Cansell and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. War Crime narrative reviewed and the overall report updated by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. Thanks also to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.

RS & TV 03.02.2022 - Reviewed and updated

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