14/15.03.1945 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron Fortress III HB799 Flt Lt. John G. Wynne DFC, MiD
Operation: Special duty, Lützkendorf, Germany
Date: 14th/15th March 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit No: 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron, 100 Group
Type: Fortress III
Serial No: HB799
Location: Bassingbourn (Station #121), Cambridgeshire
Base: RAF Oulton, Norfolk
Pilot (Captain): Flt Lt. John Gwynedd Wynne DFC, MiD 117666 RAFVR Age 23. Returned (1)
Navigator: Fg Off. Dudley Percy Heal DFM 160731 RAFVR Age 29 PoW * (2)
Bombardier: Flt Lt. George ‘Tubby’ Pow DFC 133805 RAFVR Age? PoW ** (3)
Spec Op: Fg Off. Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Tate 149482 RAFVR Age 26. PoW * (4)
Radio Op: Fg Off. Gordon Albert Hall MiD 149916 RAFVR Age 22. Murdered (6)
Engineer: Fg Off. James ‘Jimmy’ William Vinall DFM, Twice MiD 169518 RAFVR Age 40. Murdered (6)
Ball Turret Gnr: Flt Sgt. Edward Arthur Percival DFM, MiD 1263001 RAFVR Age 30. Murdered (6)
Right Waist Gnr: Fg Off. Harold Frost DFM, MiD 169864 RAFVR Age 24. Murdered (6)
Left Waist Gnr: Flt Lt. Sidney Clayden Matthews DFC, MiD 142217 RAFVR Age 25. Murdered (6)
Tail Gnr: Flt Sgt. Norman James Bradley DFM 1587915 RAFVR Age 21. PoW * (5)
* Stalag 5A, Southern outskirts of Ludwigsburg, Germany
** Hospital at Freudenstadt, some 60 km (37 mls) due south of Karlsruhe (Note this hospital was part of Hitler’s headquarters at Tannenberg that made preparations to invade England).
Note: Fortress III HB799 was built as Boeing B-17G-40-VE, Serial no. 42-98029 which was Struck off Charge (SOC) on the 11th March 1947.
It was during the Squadron’s tour with 3 Group in September 1941, that it was honoured by being adopted by the British Malayan Federation and had the "Federated Malay States" officially incorporated in its title.
Above: A Fortress III from 214 Sqn at RAF Prestwick in 1944 (Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum (Public Domain))
REASON FOR LOSS:
HB799 took off at 17:30 hrs from RAF Oulton and was one of nine aircraft detailed this night for operations. HB799 was to carry out a ‘Jostle’ patrol in support of the bombing of Lützkendorf in Germany. One aircraft failed to take off for technical reasons and one other aircraft failed to return.
Jostle: Jostle IV was an airborne high powered electronic jammer which disrupted the German night fighter VHF control channels. The Jostle equipped B-17s and B-24s flew 5000 ft above the bombers acting as an electronic shield against directed German fighter attacks.
The other aircraft that failed to return was Fortress III, HB802, BU:O. Flt Lt. Norman Rix, DFC and his crew of nine successfully bailed out and became PoWs for the duration of the war.
At 23:12 hrs whilst HB799 was home bound after completing its mission at an altitude of 3000 ft. at Lat/Long 49 08N, 09 30E, about 29 miles NNE of Stuttgart, the aircraft was hit by light flak in #2 engine. Some 20 mins later at Lat/long of 49 00N, 09 00E, and some 15 miles NE of Pforzheim the #2 engine caught fire and began to burn badly.
The captain ordered the crew to prepare to bail out and about 5 miles NW of Strasbourg he altered course for Reims where there was an Allied held airfield. About 5 mins after the course change the #2 engine began to burn furiously and vibrate very badly and it appeared that the entire wing could catch fire. The captain ordered the crew to bail out which was successfully completed in about 5 mins.
However, Flt Lt. Wynne’s oxygen tube had become, unnoticed by him, trapped by his harness when he had originally donned his harness. This prevented him from moving away from the pilot’s seat and so could not bail out. He would have to remove his parachute and harness to free the tube. As this would take too long and the fire did not appear to get any worse he remained straddling the pilot’s seat and continued to fly the aircraft hoping to make Reims.
After a further 30 mins the fire appeared to die out so Flt Lt. Wynne trimmed the aircraft, as ‘George’ (Auto-pilot) was unserviceable. He removed his parachute and harness to free the oxygen tube and went forward to the navigator position to get maps. He could only leave the controls for a short time before aircraft had to be retrimmed. This meant that he had to repeat the trip three times before the correct maps and navigator logs were found.
He then set course for England and planned to land at the first airfield he could find. About 30 mins later the #2 engine began to burn again but the fire died out after flying a further 10 miles just leaving a glow and sparks.
The aircraft crossed the French coast at about 02:40 hrs and then overflew Beachy Head, Eastbourne where he saw an airfield beacon. He circled it and fired off the colours of the day but did not receive any response. He then set a course in a northerly direction and about 15 mins later saw a searchlight, fired off a red and orbited the searchlight flashing his landing lights.
The searchlight provided a homing direction which took the aircraft directly over a lit up London. He turned due north until he flew over an airfield which was lit up and fired off another red. He then made two circuits of the airfield and proceeded to land after a green was fired off from the ground.
Operational searchlights were used to point the way to an airfield, where three searchlights would form a cone overhead.
On touch down he felt the port tyre had burst and after about 1000 yards down the runway the wheel was running on its rim. Before coming to a halt on the runway the #2 engine propeller flew off and holed the nose of the aircraft. A crash wagon pulled up by the aircraft and after a tense moment when he thought he might have actually landed in enemy territory he found that he had landed at the USAAF Airbase at Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire. He gathered his kit ordered a guard on the aircraft and made his way to the control tower to contact his base.
When he returned to his squadron he reported that be believed the nine crew had bailed out over Allied territory and presumed that his men were safe. However, in fact the estimate of their position was still east of the Rhine and over Germany which was not surprising given that they were flying at low level for 200 miles, with constant evasion manoeuvres and in unpredictable wind conditions.
(1) Flt Lt. Wynne did not know the fate of his crew and thought that they were safe and became PoWs. It was not until many years later in 1992 that he became aware of the tragic death of five of his crew.
As a Fg Off. he was was awarded the DFC, the citation reads: Flying Officer John Gwynedd WYNNE (117666), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 40 Squadron was presented with a DFC. “This officer has completed many sorties, including numerous air operations over Tunisia. He has invariably displayed outstanding determination, setting an example worthy of emulation. This was amply demonstrated during the outward flight on an operational mission, in May, 1943, when engine trouble developed and Flying Officer Wynne was compelled to return to base. Whilst over the airfield, the engines began to function properly. Thereupon, Flying Officer Wynne again set course for his target and bombed it successfully. Owing to shortage of petrol on the return route he made a landing at another airfield. Flying Officer Wynne displayed great devotion to duty”. Promulgated in the London Gazette 20th July 1943.
Above: Flt Lt. Wynne in the cockpit of Fortress III ‘Take it Easy’ (Courtesy of 214 Sqn Website) Note: The aircraft serial for ‘Take it Easy’ has yet to be confirmed.
Acting Sqn Ldr. Wynne was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 1st January 1945.
After the war he remained in the RAF and as a Flt Lt. extended his service for 4 years with effect the 1st May 1947. He was promoted to Sqn Ldr. on the 1st January 1954.
He went on to fly the Vickers Valiant, one of the three ‘V’ bombers of the RAF, with 214 Sqn at the time of the 1956 Suez crisis. On the 3rd November 1956 he launched in Valiant B.I WZ393 from Luqa in Malta as part of a two aircraft operation to bomb El Agami Island where it was suspected that a submarine repair depot was located. They returned safely after completing their mission which was to be the last operation in which crews of 214 Sqn took part.
He was promoted to Wg Cdr. on the 1st July 1960 and retired from the Royal Air Force at his own request, retaining his rank, on the 28th July 1973.
John Gwynedd Wynne became active in memorial associations, frequently visiting Huchenfeld, which was twinned with his home town of Llanbedr in Wales. His engagement for German-British relations was recognised when he was bestowed the Gernika Peace Prize established by the twin cities of Pforzheim and Gernika in 2005.
John Gwynedd Wynne was born on the 8th May 1921 in Chester, Cheshire and he passed away on the 19th November 2018, aged 97, in Llanbedr, Gwynedd in Wales. He is buried in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Llanbedr, Powys, Wales.
(2) 919764 Sgt. Heal was awarded the DFM whilst with 617 Sqn.
Group citation reads: “On the night of 16th May, 1943, a force of Lancaster bombers was detailed to attack the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany. The operation was one of great difficulty and hazard, demanding a high degree of skill and courage and close co-operation between the crews of the aircraft engaged. Nevertheless, a telling blow was struck at the enemy by the successful breaching of the Mohne and Eder dams. This outstanding success reflects the greatest credit on the efforts of the following personnel who participated in the operation in various capacities as members of aircraft crew”. Promulgated in the London Gazette 28th May 1943.
As a Flt Sgt. he was appointed to a Commission and promoted to Plt Off. on the 6th September 1943. On the 8th March 1944 he was promoted to Fg Off. and then to Flt Lt. on the 8th September 1945.
Fg Off. Heal landed heavily on the roof of a tall building sustaining a number of injuries and had to be rescued by German soldiers and the local fire-brigade.
He was interrogated at Kleinbottwar, about 24 km (14½ mls) NNE of Stuttgart before being transferred to Stalag 5A, Ludwigsburg some 12 km (7 ½ mls) SSW of Kleinbottwar arriving there on the 20th March 1945.
He remained there until the until the 2nd April 1945 when the camp was evacuated and the PoWs began a forced march across southern Germany. It is believed that he remained at the camp and was liberated by American forces as he was taken to an American transit camp.He was interviewed on the 12th May 1946.
Dudley Percy Heal was born on the 5th August 1916 in Portsmouth, Hampshire. He was a Civil Servant with HM Customs and Excise in Gosport, Hampshire prior to enlisting in the RAFVR on the 29th March 1940. He passed away on the 7th February 1999, aged 83, in Southampton, Hampshire. He is remembered at the Southampton Crematorium and Garden of Remembrance, Southampton.
(3) 1346983 Sgt. Pow was appointed to a Commission and promoted to Plt Off. on the 6th November 1942. On the 6th May 1943 he was promoted to Fg Off. and then to Flt Lt. on the 6th November 1944.
He was awarded the DFC as a Fg Off. whilst with 57 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 13th October 1944.
Flt Lt. Pow landed on some telegraph wires and fractured an ankle on landing near Baden-Baden on the 14th March just 11 km (7 mls) east of the French frontier. He was admitted to a hospital in Baden-Baden, 29 km (18 mls) NNE of Karlsruhe the same day. On the 19th March he was transferred to the hospital at Freudenstadt, some 60 km (37 mls) due south of Karlsruhe where he remained until the 17th April 1945. It is believed he was liberated from the hospital. He was interviewed on the 19th May 1945.
George ‘Tubby’ Pow was born on the 8th December 1921 in Haddington, Scotland. He was unemployed prior to enlisting in the RAFVR on the 7th August 1941.
Flt Lt. Pow remained in the Royal Air Force after the war and extended his length of service for four years on the 24th April 1947. His promotion to Flt Lt. from war substantive to substantive was confirmed on the 25th April 1947. He was transferred to the Reserve on the 24th April 1952.
(4) Fg Off. Tate and Flt Sgt. Bradley were captured by two Wehrmacht soldiers and taken to a military headquarters (HQ) in Bühl. The remaining crew after landing were making for the Rhine before being captured. During the day on the Thursday were brought to the same HQ in ones and twos until there was seven of them. At about 16:00 hrs on the 15th March the seven were then moved to a civilian prison in Bühl.
Bühl is some 30km NE of Strasbourg and Pforzheim is some 46km further to the NE.
In his affidavit Fg Off. Tate went on to describe that at 05:00 hrs on the 17th March himself, Flt Lt. Matthews, Fg Off. Vinall, Fg Off. Frost, Fg Off. Hall, Flt Sgt. Percival and Flt Sgt. Bradley, and seven Luftwaffe guards started their journey to Pforzheim. No transport was arranged so they made their way by picking up lorries travelling in the direction of Pforzheim.
They left the last transport north of Pforzheim on the evening of the 17th March and were stoned by the local populace as they walked through the city. Their guards held people back in an attempt to prevent further physical violence to the airmen. After leaving the city they crossed a river bridge, passed a goods yard and a railway station and rested at the foot of the hill which approached Huchenfeld. They then climbed the hill on a track which ran more or less parallel with the main road. At the top of the hill there was open country before arriving at the village about a mile from the top of the hill at about 17:30 hrs on Saturday 17th March.
The river was probably the 'Nagold' and the bridge was just before Weißenstein. They probably crossed Nagoldtalstraße either onto the road named Forststräßchen or the track named Ackerlesweg, both of which run more or less parallel to Nagoldtalstraße, and climb up into Huchenfeld.
The village had no more than 100 houses with a single street running down the hill. They were taken to a school house located centrally in the village which was being used as a Luftwaffe headquarters (HQ). Here they were searched and then taken to the school’s cellar which was also the boiler room. Two Luftwaffe guards were posted with them in the boiler room.
They were allowed wash facilities where some of the crew washed their socks which they hung up to dry in the boiler room. They were brought some bread and cheese which some of the crew ate.
Fg Off. Tate remembered that they all settled down to rest at between 19:30 and 20:00 hrs, he without his jacket, socks or flying boots. He thought that most of the others had hung up their socks but some had been wearing their flying boots. He was exhausted as he had not slept since the 14th March.
The next thing he remembers, he later found this was at about 21:00 hrs, being held up by the arms by two men and being led out of the cellar. Both were armed with automatic weapons but wearing civilian clothes. He recalls that he was probably last or to next to last of the line of airmen each being led by two armed men. They were taken out of the school building and matched down the hill.
After about 20 yards they turned off towards a large barn and here he was struck about the head twice by one of the two holding him who said something about his sister and brother. He was aware of scuffling in front which he took to mean that others from the crew were also trying to escape. It was at this moment he broke away from the two men holding him and ran.
At Pforzheim Trial I Fg Off. Tate testified that he recognised Alfred Mohr as one of the two civilians that were holding him. He remembered him because he did a lot of the shouting and also that he struck him twice hard on the head drawing blood.
He ran barefooted back up the main street for about 100 yards and turned right between two houses and continued across country until he reached a hill overlooking Pforzheim, the river and the main road. Immediately opposite on the other side of the main road was another hill.
He probably ran up the road from the cemetery and turned right onto Huchenfelder Hauptstraße which is the main street running through Huchenfeld. It is also probable that he was describing looking over the ‘Nagold' river and Nagoldtalstraße not at Pforzheim but at Büchenbronn because he did not mention the railway line which at this point did not follow the river and the road.
As soon as he started to run one or two shots were fired and whilst running between the houses he heard bursts of about thirty shots coming from the direction whence he had come.
He was later escorted by a Wehrmacht NCO to a railway station, believed to be Eutingen, to be transported to the interrogation centre at Ludwigsburg. The Wehrmacht NCO had to draw his pistol because of the number of individuals taking more than a cursory interest in Fg Off. Tate. A German officer arrived and the NCO explained to him that he was escorting Fg Off. Tate to the interrogation centre at Ludwigsburg.
The pair then took Fg Off. Tate around the back of the station to get to the platform. Aboard the train the German officer stood at the carriage window and the SNCO had his pistol at the ready.
They arrived at Stalag 5A, Ludwigsburg on the 20th March 1945 without further incidents. During this time he was told that his five fellow airmen were alright but some had been wounded. He subsequently learned that Flt Sgt. Bradley had also escaped at the same time and was safe.
Whilst being held as a PoW Fg Off. Tate was was promoted to Flt Lt. with effect 20th April 1945.
He remained there until the until the 2nd April 1945 when the camp was evacuated and the PoWs began a forced march across southern Germany. It is not known when he was liberated but he was interviewed on the 9th May 1945.
Thomas Henry Tate was born on the 2nd January 1918 in Lewisham, London and was employed as a clerk in London prior to enlisting in the RAFVR on the 8th August 1940.
(5) Sgt. Bradley was awarded a DFM whilst serving with 166 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 17th October 1944.
In his affidavit Flt Sgt. Bradley had nothing to add to that of Fg Off. Tate (Serial 4) until after they were woken. He recalled that a number of the crew had washed their socks and had not replaced their boots but he had worn his boots on bare feet. The first thing he remembered when waking up was civilians shouting accusations in English that they were “Murderers of women and children” and that they were “English swine”.
The crew were not to know that three weeks earlier, on the night of the 23rd/24th February 1945 Pforzheimhad been destroyed by the RAF in a firestorm which in 20 minutes killed 18,000 people, a quarter of the population.
He estimated that there were about ten civilians armed with rifles or automatics weapons and were using the butts of their weapons to hit the crew members and forcing them from the cellar. The Luftwaffe guard tried to stop them but was pushed aside by one of the civilians.
He was being held by two men and believed that one of them was the man shouting in English. When he was manhandled outside he realised that in all probability they were going to be killed so he decided to hang back with a view to escaping, as did Fg Off. Vinall. Up ahead a scuffle was heard which he presumed was someone else attempting to escape. His minders and those of Fg Off. Vinall ran off to give assistance. The pair took the opportunity to hide between a wall and a car.
At Pforzheim Trial I Flt Sgt. Bradley testified that he recognised Werner Faaß and Gustav Schmidt as the two civilians that were holding him. He also recognised August Schmidt and Alfred Mohr as being present.
Fg Off. Vinall moved forward in the shadows and he followed. The last thing he heard was Fg Off. Vinall shouting at him to follow. Sgt. Bradley shouted back that he was going the wrong way because that was in the direction of the shooting but he heard no more from him.
He scaled a number of wired fences and ran over wire netting before escaping across a field into some woods. He noted that about six shots were fired when Fg Off. Vinall was last heard shouting to him. As he was scaling the fences he heard several bursts of gunfire from automatic weapons.
He was free for about 12 hrs before being apprehended some 2 miles on the other side of Pforzheim by two members of the Volkssturm who took him to a house of a Nazi party official. He was held there for about 2 hrs before a Luftwaffe NCO arrived and briefed him to tell the Nazi official that he had escaped from a PoW camp in Stuttgart. He was then held in a civilian jail and the next day collected by two Luftwaffe guards and taken by train to the interrogation centre at Stalag 5A, Ludwigsburg. He heard from his guards that two members of his crew had been shot.
When he arrived at Ludwigsburg he was handed his personal effects and also a ring belonging to Flt Lt. Matthews. The German officer told him that he ought to keep it and return it to the owner as he would not be seeing him again.
It is believed that Norman James Bradley was born on the 12th November 1924 and that he passed away on the 23rd November 2007, aged 93, in Newton Abbott, South Devon.
(6) The circumstances leading to the deaths of Fg Off. Hall, Fg Off. Vinall, Flt Sgt. Percival, Fg Off. Frost and Flt Lt. Matthews were determined by three Military Courts. The first, Pforzheim Trial I, was convened at Steele in Essen between 14th August to 3rd September 1946. The second, Pforzheim Trial II, was convened in Hamburg between the 28th November and the 5th December 1947. The third, Pforzheim Trial III, was convened in Hamburg in September/October 1947.
Pforzheim Trial I:
In the first trial twenty-two German Nationals were charged in that they did near Pforzheim, Germany, on the 17th and 18th March 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of War, were concerned in the ill-treatment and killing Flt Lt. Matthews, Fg Off. Hall, Fg Off. Frost, Flt Sgt. Percival and Fg Off. Vinall, all of the Royal Air Force, and PoWs.
The accused were:
Hans Christian Knab who was a former Kreisleiter (Nazi District Leader) of Pforzheim;
Max Köchlin who was a former Oberstammführer (Lt Col) with the job of supervising the Wehrertüchtigung (military training) of the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth);
Gustav Schmidt who was the former Bürgermeister (Mayor) and Ortsgruppenleiter (Local group leader) in Huchenfeld and a member of the Nazi party;
August Schmidt who was the former Kulturreferent (Cultural Officer) in Sedan, Pforzheim;
Paul Ecker who was a former Ortsgruppenleiter in Dillweißenstein and a member of the Nazi party;
Alfred Mohr who was a former Blockleiter (Block leader) in the district of Sedan, Pforzheim;
Adolf Ludwig Hölzer who was a former member of the NSKK (National Socialist Motor Corps), RDB (Reich Federation of German Civil Servants) and the NSRLB (National Socialist League of the Reich for Physical Exercise);
Gottfried Ehnis who was a former SA-Haupttruppführer (Sgt Maj) (SA = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party);
Fritz Beyerle who was a former SA-Rottenführer (L/Cpl);
Wilhelm Herschinger who was a former SA-Rottenführer;
Eugen Mühlberger who was a former SA-Rottenführer;
Gustav Brenner who was a former SA-Rottenführer;
Karl Weissenbach who was a former SA-Rottenführer and a member of the Nazi party;
Hugo Sorg who was a former member of the SA;
Hans Metzenbauer who was a former member of the SA;
Wilhelm Niklaus who was a former Kreisstabsführer (District Staff Commander (Maj)) of the Volkssturm (=Home guard));
Heinz Kräutle who was a former Kameradschaftsführer (Cpl) in the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend aged between 16 and 17 years on the day of the crime;
Gert Biedermann who was a former member in the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend between 16 and 17 years on the day of the crime;
Gerhard Stahl who was a former member in the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend aged between 16 and 17 years on the day of the crime;
Rolf Heil - who was a former member in the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend aged between 16 and 17 years on the day of the crime;
Werner Faaß who was a former member in the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend aged between 16 and 17 years on the day of the crime;
Wilhelm Jourdan aged between 16 and 17 years and was a former member of Pforzheim Hitlerjugend, who had been expelled for indiscipline in 1944.
The court heard that as the airmen were being marched through Pforzheim on the 17th March 1945 Knab was made aware of their intended destination at Huchenfeld. He met with Köchlin at the paper factory in Dillweißenstein to tell him about the enemy airmen and ordered him to take his entire camp of Hitlerjugend to Huchenfeld for a propaganda demonstration. They were to attend wearing civilian clothes and that all weapons that he had for training, a total of four, were to be issued to them. He later added that ammunition was also to be issued. Köchlindid not question the reason for the need to issue weapons and ammunition at a propaganda demonstration.
Furthermore the Hitlerjugend were to collect all the bombed out people from Pforzheim who were living in Huchenfeld. As Köchlin left the paper factory he met some Hitlerjugend and told them to get into civilian clothes, after which they were to go up to Huchenfeld that night for a demonstration.Köchlin thought that it was curious that Knab should order civilian clothes to be worn but thought perhaps this was to deconflict with the Wehrmacht at Huchenfeld.
When Köchlin next saw Knab he ordered him take a verbal message to SA-Standartenführer (Col) Karl Friedrich Becker (Pforzheim Trial II). He was to tell Becker what had happened in Pforzheim when the airmen passed through and that Weiß, his Kommando and what people could be collected from the SA, were to go to Huchenfeld for a demonstration that night. He also passed on the order that Becker was to lead the SA and that either he or Weiß should report to Knab for further orders.
Eugen Weiß, a former SA-Sturmführer (2nd Lt) who worked as an administrator for Becker, was the ranking officer and put in charge of the shooting.
Becker was also to tell Weiß to assemble his SA personnel at the paper factory Dillweißenstein. During the day Köchlin issued the weapons to the Hitlerjugend who were to go to Huchenfeld.
The court heard that on the evening of the 17th March 1945, a considerable body of men including members of the SA and Hitlerjugend from Pforzheim removed the seven airmen from the cellar and marched them down the village street with the intention of shooting them.
Three of the seven made their escape and the remaining four named in the charge were shot and killed in the village cemetery. Of the three that escaped one was shot and killed at a later date (Incident 2) and the other two (see Ser 4 and Ser 5) succeeded in getting away and it was through their information and other enquiries that the accused were apprehended and brought before the courts.
Either that same evening or the next day Köchlin met Weiß who told him that he had shot two of the airmen in Huchenfeld, one had been shot by an SA man and one by a political leader. He also told him that three of the airmen had escaped and he had seen one of the Hitlerjugend shoot one of the men whom he had already killed.
Later Köchlin heard Knab telling Weiß that he was responsible for catching the three prisoners who had escaped. He was made aware what the outcome would be if one of the prisoners got to a PoW camp and told the Red Cross what had happened.
The day after the shooting Köchlin heard that an airman had been captured and was in the police station at Dillweißenstein. Someone told him that the airman had been killed later that day and the body taken away. (Incident 2).
Possibly the same evening as the airman was killed in Dillweißenstein, some SA personnel and Hitlerjugend were sent to Eutingen where a second airman was captured. Köchlin was with Knab and Niklaus when they returned without the airman and reported that the Wehrmacht had protected him too well.
This may have been either Fg Off. Tate or Flt Sgt. Bradley (See Serial 4 and 5)
Eugen Weiß was not before the court to answer for his involvement in the killing of the airmen because it had been reported that he had committed suicide.
Fg Off. Vinall was recaptured the next day, 18th March, and taken to the police station at Dillweißenstein. Word had been circulated that three PoWs had escaped the previous evening and it became known that one of the prisoners was being held at the police station.
Ecker went to the police station that evening and told the duty policeman that his prisoner was being sought by the Hitlerjugend. Ecker left and found a member of the Hitlerjugend and told him that one of the escaped airmen was being held at the police station.
After being informed about the airman at Dillweißenstein Niklaus, knowing that he had no authority, took it upon himself to go to police station and demand that the prisoner be handed over. The duty policeman informed him that the prisoner was none of his business and would be handed over to the Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe. However, Niklaus played upon his rank in the Volkssturm and the policeman acceded to his demand but told him that he bore full responsibility for the prisoner.
After he had taken Fg Off. Vinall outside he incited the gathered crowd who then proceeded to attack the airman. Fg Off. Vinall was struck a heavy blow to the back of the neck which knocked him to the ground possibly unconscious. Biedermann who had arrived during the beatings then took it upon himself to administer a Coup de grâce shot to the back of his head which killed him.
In May of 1945 a witness from Dillstein informed the French Military Government situated in Dillstein that he had heard of a British airman who had been murdered on the 18th March 1945 and that his body had been buried in a quarry situated to the south of Dillstein.
Note: Dillstein was the more northerly village of the amalgamation of it and the village of Weißenstein and was then known as Dillweißenstein. Modern day research has determined that the quarry was identified as ‘Im Täle’ or ‘Im Hinteren Tal’. The estimated location, some ¾ km SE from the centre of Dillweißenstein and over-looking a bend in the river Nagold, no longer exists.
The airman’s body was found in the quarry loosely covered in stones and was transported to Huchenfeld where his remains were buried on the 8th May 1945 at 18:00 hrs with full Military Honours. He was laid to rest alongside the four other airmen who had been murdered in similar circumstances. He was identified as Fg Off. Vinall from his dog tags when exhumed by the British on the 1st November 1945.
Pforzheim Trial I verdicts and sentencing:
Köchlin, Biedermann, Kräutle, Heil, Knab and Faaß were found guilty on the charge.
Gustav Schmidt, August Schmidt, Stahl, Beyerle, Mühlberger, Brenner, Weissenbach and Mohr were found guilty on the charge except for the killing of Fg Off. Vinall.
Ecker, Hölzer and Niklaus were found guilty on the charge except that they were not concerned in the ill-treatment and killing of Flt Lt. Matthews, Fg Off. Frost, Fg Off. Hall and Flt Sgt. Percival.
Ehnis, Herschinger, Jourdan, Sorg and Metzenbauer were found not guilty and released.
Köchlin, Knab, and Niklaus were sentenced to death by hanging. All three were executed at Hameln prison on 23rd January 1947, Köchlin and Niklaus at 08:59 hrs, and Knab at 09:30 hrs, by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by RSM Richard Anthony O'Neill and Sgt. Joseph Hunter RCMP.
Various terms of imprisonment were imposed upon the guilty as follows:
Hölzer – Life which was reduced to 15 years upon review;
Biedermann, Stahl, Heil and Mohr - 15 years each;
Gustav Schmidt and August Schmidt - 12 years each, which was reduced to 8 years upon review. Gustav Schmidt died in prison in 1951;
Ecker and Faaß - 10 years each. Ecker’s sentence was reduced to 7 years upon review;
Beyerle - 8 years; Kräutle - 5 years; Brenner - 3 years; Mühlberger and Weissenbach - 2 years each.
On the 20th June 1949 the remaining sentences for Biedermann, Stahl, Heil, Faaß and Kräutle were remitted. The final disposition of the sentences for Hölzer and Mohr are unknown. It is assumed that Beyerle, Brenner, Mühlberger and Weissenbach served out their terms in prison.
Pforzheim Trial II:
In the second trial three German nationals were charged in that they in the vicinity of Huchenfeld, Germany on the 17th March 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerning in the killing of Fg Off. Hail, Fg Off. Frost, Flt Sgt. Matthews and Flt Sgt. Percival of the Royal Air Force and PoWs.
The three accused were:
Karl Friedrich Becker who was a former SA-Standartenführer (Col) (SA = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party);
Friedrich Hauser who was a former Ortsgruppenleiter (Local group leader) of Sedan in the district of Pforzheim, a Zellenleiter (Cell leader) and a member of the Nazi party;
Werner Göhring who was a former member of the Pforzheim Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) aged between 16 and 17 years on the day of the crime.
The court heard that on the evening of the 17th March 1945, a considerable body of men including members of the SA and Hitlerjugend from Pforzheim removed the seven airmen from the cellar and marched them down the village street with the intention of shooting them.
Three of the seven made their escape and the remaining four named in the charge were shot and killed in the village cemetery. Of the three that escaped one was shot and killed at a later date (Pforzheim Trial I) and the other two (Ser 4 and Ser 5) succeeded in getting away and it was through their information and other enquiries that the accused were apprehended and brought before the courts.
According to his own deposition Göhring was ordered by Max Köchlin, (Pforzheim Trial I) to go to Huchenfeld and find out where the airmen were being held and report back when he had the information after which he was to return home. At 19:00 hrs he and a number of other Hitlerjugend were ordered to report to Köchlin’s office. They were then instructed to take their issued weapons and to proceed to the paper factory at Dillweißenstein. They were also instructed by Köchlin to obey any and all orders given by Becker.
At the meeting the assembled personnel were told what was to happen. After arriving at the school house Göhringentered the cellar and assisted in the removal of the airmen. He also chased one of the escaping airmen and was not present at the actual shooting. In his statement before the trial he admitted to the facts proved by the prosecution but in evidence at the trial he denied that he had entered the cellar. However, he did admit hearing at the paper factory meeting some saying that they wanted revenge for the women and children that had been killed during the raid in February.
According to witnesses Becker was also present at the paper factory meeting but that he was not present at the cellar. He admitted in a statement that he had received orders to shoot the airmen but claimed that he did not obey the orders. He reiterated the claim in his trial evidence but also denied that he had given orders that the airmen should be shot.
According to evidence presented by the prosecution Hauser was present at the paper factory meeting and in conversation with the senior man of the Hitlerjugend he was overheard to say words to the effect “Get on. Kill the murderers of women and children”. He was seen to enter the cellar and coming out. Other witnesses saw him at the cemetery and after the shooting was heard to say to the assembled group words to the effect “We have finished four off at the Cemetery”. At first Hauser refused to give a statement but later admitted being at the cellar. He claimed in a later statement, which he reiterated at the trial, that he heard some shooting but thought that the airmen had been taken to Pforzheim.
Pforzheim Trial II verdicts and sentencing:
Hauser was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed at Hameln prison on 26th February 1948 at 09:00 hrs by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by RSM Richard Anthony O'Neill.
On the same day, thirteen perpetrators of the Great Escape/Sagan murders were also hanged. Hauser shared the trap doors with a concentration camp brute. This was the first double execution of the day, followed by six more doubles and a single.
Göhring and Becker were found guilty of the charge and sentenced to 8 and 15 years imprisonment respectively. On the 20th June 1949 the remaining sentence for Göhring was remitted. The final disposition of Becker’s sentence is unknown.
Pforzheim Trial III
In the third trial, Wilhelm Maxeiner, a German civilian was charged in that he in the vicinity of Huchenfeld, Germany on the 18th March 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of Fg Off. Vinall of the Royal Air Force and a PoW.
As a result of the following factors the court acquitted Maxeiner of the charge and he was released:
One witness did not repeat his incriminating evidence from earlier interrogations;
A second witness was disbelieved after Maxeiner’s defence counsel had cast doubt on his credibility;
Finally, in his summing up, the Judge Advocate had warned the court of the possibility of mistaken identity.
Had the court believed that Maxeiner had indeed struck the blow which started the fatal events, this would have made him "concerned in the killing" (according to the judicial views of the day) and punishable in the same way as the other perpetrators who were found guilty.
The French occupying authorities had found four of the bodies in a communal grave in a ditch at the Huchenfeld civilian cemetery and a fifth was found in a quarry near Dillweißenstein, The five were reinterred in the Huchenfeld civilian cemetery with military honours. They were finally reinterred at the Durnbach British Cemetery on the 10th April 1948.
Above: Plaque for the Huchenfeld and Dillweißenstein victims mounted on the wall of the city hall in Dillweißenstein (Courtesy of Herr Stephan Paetzold)
OF THE BRITISH AIRMEN
KILLED ON 17TH/18TH MARCH 1945 ON NAZI ORDERS
FO. HAROLD FROST
FO. GORDON HALL
FLT. LT. SIDNEY MATTHEWS
FLT. SGT. EDWARD PERCIVAL
FO. JAMES VINALL
FATHER FORGIVE Luke 23:34
AS REMINDER TO THE LIVING
Entrance to Durnbach British Cemetery (Courtesy of (TWGPP))
Above left: Fg Off. Hall (Courtesy of Honour Those Who Fell – FindAGrave) right: grave marker courtesy of (TWGPP))
Fg Off. Gordon Albert Hall MiD. Durnbach British Cemetery, Plot 9, Row H. Grave 5. Inscription reads: “YOU ARE ALWAYS IN OUR THOUGHTS, DEAR, NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR PLACE. R.I.P”. Born on the 3rd June 1922 in Eastbourne, Sussex. Son of Albert Henry Job and Elsie (née Davis) Hall; husband of Cornelia (née Miles) Hall, of Caerau, Glamorgan, Wales.
Fg Off. Hall was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). Promulgated in the London Gazette 13th June 1946.
Above: Grave marker for Fg Off. Vinall, DFM (Courtesy of (TWGPP))
Fg Off. James ‘Jimmy’ William Vinall, DFM, Twice MiD. Durnbach British Cemetery, Plot 9, Row H. Grave 1. Inscription reads “GLORY AND HONOUR AND PEACE TO EVERY MAN THAT WORKETH GOOD. ROMANS II.10”. Born on the 30th June 1904 in Henfield, Sussex. Son of James William and Fanny (née Browning) Vinall; husband of Laurie Evelyn Violet (née Lunnon) Vinall, of Rottingdean, Sussex, England.
747157 Sgt. Vinall was awarded the DFM whilst with 9 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 24th September 1943.
Sgt. Vinall was granted a commission and promoted to Plt Off. on 2nd December 1943 and to Fg Off on the 2nd June 1944;
Fg Off. Vinall was twice Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). Promulgated in the London Gazette 14th June 1945 and posthumously on the 13th June 1946.
Above: Plaque for Fg Off. James 'Jimmy’ William Vinall mounted on the wall of the Huchenfeld church (Courtesy of Herr Stephan Paetzold)
James Vinall[left] The English airman officer J.V. was slain at this place on 18/03/1945.
[right] His son Richard had his child Jack-James V. baptized in Huchenfeld on 20/07/2003.
TO PRESERVE MEMORY – TO LIVE RECONCILIATION.
Above left: Flt Sgt. Percival, DFM (Courtesy of Oleg Marin) right: grave marker (Courtesy of (TWGPP))
Flt Sgt. Edward Arthur Percival, DFM, MiD. Durnbach British Cemetery, Plot 9, Row H. Grave 2. Inscription reads: “THY WILL BE DONE”. Born in 3rd Qtr of 1914 in West Ham, Essex. Son of Harry Sidney and Rose May (née Waeland) Percival; husband of Maud Lilian (née Knight) Percival, of Barking, Essex, England.
Sgt. Percival was awarded the DFM whilst with 12 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 19th September 1944.
Flt Sgt. Percival was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). Promulgated in the London Gazette 13th June 1946.
Above: Grave marker for Fg Off. Frost, DFM (Courtesy of (TWGPP))
Fg Off. Harold Frost, DFM, MiD. Durnbach British Cemetery, Plot 9, Row H. Grave 4. Inscription reads: “AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING, I WILL REMEMBER”. Born in the 1st Qtr of 1921 in Toxteth, Lancashire. Son of Albert Arthur and Emily Jane (née Meacham) Frost, of Liverpool; husband of Marjorie Francis (née Edwards) Frost, of Liverpool, England.
1475544 Sgt. Frost was awarded the DFM whilst with 49 Sqn, Promulgated in the London Gazette 13th July 1943.
Sgt. Frost was granted a commission and promoted to Plt Off. on 2nd December 1943 and to Fg Off. on the 2nd June 1944.
Fg Off. Frost was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). Promulgated in the London Gazette 13th June 1946.
Above left: Flt Lt. Matthews, DFM (Courtesy of 214 Sqn Website) right: grave marker (Courtesy of (TWGPP))
Flt Lt. Sidney Clayden Matthews, DFC, MiD. Durnbach British Cemetery, Plot 9, Row H. Grave 3. Inscription reads. “BELOVED HUSBAND, SON AND BROTHER. NEVER SHALL THY MEMORY FADE”. Born on the 15th November 1920 in Camberwell, Surrey. Son of Alfred James P. and Maud Louise (née Carpenter) Matthews; husband of Iris Minnie Blanche (née Farr) Matthews, of Canons Park, Edgware, Middlesex, England.
Fg Off. Matthews was awarded the DFC whilst with 9 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 12th September 1944.
Flt Lt. Matthews was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). Promulgated in the London Gazette 13th June 1946.
Researched 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’.
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project’ (TWGPP) for their great work.
Thanks to Carol and John Edwards, 214 (FMS) Squadron website administrator’s for their permission to use their images. Thanks to Herr Stephan Paetzold for permission for the use of the two memorial plaques (Oct 2022). Update to PoW information (Feb 2024).
Other sources listed below: