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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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412 Squadron
13.08.1944 412 (Falcon) Squadron, RCAF, Spitfire LF.IX MK576, WO1. Griffin James Young

Operation: Armed Reconnaissance

Date: 13th August 1944 (Sunday)

Unit No: 412 (Falcon) Sqn, RCAF, 2nd Tactical Air Force, 126th (RCAF) Wing.

Type: Spitfire LF.IX

Serial No: MK576

Code: VZ:?

Location: 3¼ km (2 mls) SW of Vassy, France

Base: ALG B.18 Cristot, NW France

Pilot: WO1. Griffin ‘Griff’ James Young R85855 RCAF Age 28. Murdered

REASON FOR LOSS:

WO1. Young took off at 11:10 hrs of the 13th of August 1944 from the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) B.18 Cristot, on an armed reconnaissance mission over Condé-Falaise-Bernay-L’Aigle-Argentan-Flers area. He was flying as Blue #4 in a section of four Spitfires.

Cristot is a commune in the Calvados department and Normandy region of NW France.

He radioed that his aircraft had been hit by flak and that he was bailing out. Fg Off. T.M. Saunderson, J23043 RCAF, flying as Blue #3, saw him bail out between 4,000 ft and 5,000 ft, followed him down and saw him land safely approximately 3¼ km (2 mls) SW of Vassy, France.

The circumstances of his capture are not known, however, it appears that he was eventually held by personnel of an SS Infantry unit during which time he met with a 2nd Lt. George M. Mikels O-759899 US AAF, whose B-17 was shot down the same day. They were interrogated and then held in a farmhouse where they met with a S/Sgt. Norman E. Thielan 14057011 US AAF, whose B-26B had been shot down at 20:40 hrs the day before.

The following has been extracted from a Court of Enquiry which was held at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) on the 25th August 1945:

At the end of July or early August 1944, a German PoW unit, Supply Company K.612, set up the camp at Les Hogues, a Feldwebel (Sgt) Wenzel being in charge. The camp housed many black South African nationals, French Colonial Arabs and Turks who were being used as slave labour.

Shortly before 16:00 hrs on the 25th August 1944, WO1.Young and the following four PoWs, were sitting in front of a shed in the camp:

Flt Lt. Denis Clark 119758 RAFVR, a Mustang pilot who had been shot down on the 20th of August 1944;

Pvt. Gordon Lafayette Bryant 6969514 from the 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, US Army. The circumstances leading to his capture are unknown;

Two British soldiers from the Royal Artillery (RA), one whose identity is unknown and a L/Bdr. Jack Martin 976272 from the 65th (The Norfolk Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment. The circumstances leading to their capture are unknown but L/Bdr. Martin was reported missing on the 21st of August 1944.

An SS NCO who had driven up in a car into the camp ordered these five PoWs to come and help to ‘push a car’. There was some speculation as to the purpose for this subterfuge, which was subsequently overtaken by what followed.

The prisoners did not understand and did not move. The SS NCO went away and returned with an SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt.) and two other SS NCOs. The SS-Obersturmführer asked why the prisoners did not get up, again they did not reply, whereupon he assaulted one of them.

At this point, another of the PoWs began to walk or run towards the gate of the camp and he was shot by one or more of the SS men. The other four PoWs were then shot in turn, each making varying efforts to get away, with one succeeding in getting out of the gate and down the road outside before he was shot.

The bodies of all five men were collected and buried in the camp. All money and valuables were removed from the bodies and a receipt was given to Feldwebel Wenzel. This paper was stamped "SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Second Company" and signed "Gutemann". The paper was not presented as an exhibit to the court but was seen on several occasions by one of the witnesses.

The camp guards took no part in the murders and appeared to keep out of the way. Seven witnesses were called before the court. Most reiterated the events as told to them by Feldwebel Wenzel and the camp guards. However, three of the witnesses saw the PoW on the road outside the camp gate being shot and killed.

The court attached no importance that the five deceased were planning to escape together with other fellow prisoners, as this was not known to the SS men. The pathologist’s findings documented that all five victims suffered one or more gunshot wounds either to the head, neck or chest which were inflicted from the front or side. One body exhibited a gunshot wound from behind and may have been the victim who was running on the road.

In the view of the court, the evidence presented was sufficient to establish, in the minds of reasonable men, a case of murder by SS-Obersturmführer Gutemann and two of his three associates, the third apparently took no direct part.

An SS-Obersturmführer Eugen Gutemann was captured on the 28th April 1945 in Italy and was held as a PoW by the USA. American record cards have been found that a case number had been allocated in relation to a war crime committed against Pvt. Bryant but nothing further has been found.

No records have been found to indicate that Gutemann had been brought before a court to answer for his role in the deaths of the five PoWs.

2nd Lt. Mikels later escaped and hid with the help of French citizens until the arrival of British troops. He reported what he had witnessed to the authorities.

Above: Cutting courtesy of the Calgary Herald, dated Friday 16th February, 1945

Burial details:

Above: The original grave marker for the five at the Les Hogues Communal Cemetery

Above: Les Hogues Communal Cemetery (credit: TWGPP). The cemetery is south of the village on the road to Lyons-la-Forét. On the western side of the path some 21 yards from the entrance, are the graves of the five, three soldiers (two British and one American), one airman from the RAF and one from the RCAF. One of the British soldiers remains unidentified.

Above grave marker for Plt Off. Young (credit: TWGPP)

Plt Off. Griffin ‘Griff’ James Young. Les Hogues Communal Cemetery Coll. Grave 439C. Inscription reads: “WHAT IF THEY FELL AFAR SOMEWHERE, PERHAPS UNKNOWN, THE LORD WAS THERE”. Born on the 20th of January 1916 in Peterborough, Ontario. Son of James Lewis and Annie Elizabeth (née Griffin) Young of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

WO1. Young was appointed to a commission and promoted to J88753 Plt Off. with effect 12th August 1944.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Thanks to The War Graves Photographic Project for the war grave images. Update to include Investigation and Court of Enquiry narrative (Jan 2024).

Other sources listed below:

RS & TV 19.01.2024 - Inclusion of Investigation and Court of Enquiry narrative

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Acknowledgements
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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