Tag Archives: war crime

War Crimes against Airmen

As I’ve written previously, hundreds of young men from Portsmouth were killed whilst serving with Bomber Command during the Second World War. Many of them were shot down over France, Belgium and Holland, and indeed Germany, particularly during the vast Strategic Bombing Offensive from 1942 onwards.

Given the huge numbers of bombers going out almost every night, and the German defences of flak guns, night fighters and searchlights. Over time, the odds of survival were rather frightening indeed. And unsurprisingly, more than a few men found themselves parachuting out over occupied Europe, or surviving air crashes. Men who found themselves on the run faced varying treatment – hidden by patriots in the occupied countries, evading via the escape lines, captured by the Germans, or, in the worst case, murdered by German civilians or the authorities.

By rights, RAF crew in uniform should have been afforded the rights of lawful combatants under the Geneva Convention. However, as with the Kommando order and the Laconia Order, Hitler considered that international law need not apply, and ordered that ‘spies’ were to be shot, and civilians were not to be prevented from murdering downed aircrew. There are stories, sadly, of allied airmen being murdered by pitchfork wielding farmhands.

Given that several hundred men from Portsmouth died in downed Bombers, the sad likelihood is that some of them may have faced treatment that would constitute a war crime. It is hard to find out too much about which might have been murdered, as the Bomber Command loss records do not necessarily contain information about what happened.

But I have recently been contacted by a relative of Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy, who was killed when his Lancaster PB148 ‘MG-C’ of 7 Squadron RAF crashed on the night of 18/19 August 1944. They were on a mission to bomb Sterkrade, the synthetic oil processing plant in Oberhausen, the Ruhr. And by coincidence, MG-C is the only aircraft lost during the war to have contained two Portsmouth men – also onboard was Pilot Officer Alan Hargrave.

The Bomber Command Loss records only record that MG-C took off from RAF Oakington at 2304. No other information is available, apart from that the men are all buried in Bergen General Cemetery, Holland. The entire crew were:

F/L P.G.McCarthy DFC KIA (Pilot)
F/O K.S.Carr KIA (Air Bomber)
P/O A.B.Hargrave KIA (Navigator)
P/O F.C.Allford KIA (Wireless Operator)
P/O B.F.Blatchford KIA (Air Gunner)
F/S M.S.Layton-Smith KIA (Air Bomber)
F/S J.C.Gay KIA (Flight Engineer)
F/S E.A.Batterbee KIA (Air Gunner)

Notice that there are eight crewmembers. Most Lancasters only had seven. The McCarthy family believe that the crew may have been murdered, as the germans suspected that the extra man was a spy. Apparently the aircraft had crashed near Alkmaar in Holland, very near Bergen. Apart from that, I have no other information. Looking at their roles onboard, the extra man seems to have been one of the air bombers, Carr or Layton-Smith, who might have been flying as an observer or ‘second-dicky’ for the experience. A look at the Squadron Operations Book should show who the regular crew members were. It looks like the Germans mistook the extra man for a spy.

After the war, however, the British Army in Germany investigated reports of War Crimes that took place in its area – including Belgium and Holland. And there are quite a few records in the National Archives in series WO309 about investigations into incidents. On my next trip to Kew I hope to have a look at 7 Squadron’s Operations Record Book, and then sift through the war crimes reports to see what I can find out, and see if I can solve the puzzle of what happened to MG-C.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two

Updated: Sapper Ernest Bailey

Reading about people from your home city who died in the second world war can be quite a sobering experience. But what about someone who came from your very own neighbourhood, at a time when it consisted of a few streets and pig farms? And who, sadly, died in the most tragic circumstances.

By 1942, using heavy water obtained from Norway, the German atomic weapons programme had come close to developing a nuclear reactor. This, obviously, was not something that the Allies could allow to happen, and British forces devised a plan to cut off the supply of heavy water from Norway, and so bring the Nazi atom bomb programme to a halt. Bombing raids were not possible due to the difficulty of locating the plant, and the level of accuracy required.

The heavy water was obtained from the Norsk hydro chemical plant, near the village of Vermork. 2 Airspeed Horsa gliders, carrying 34 British Airborne Engineers, would land near the plant, destroy it, and make their way on foot to neutral Sweden. It was to be the first use of Gliders in action by British forces.

On 19 November 1942 the Gliders took off from northern Scotland. The Operation was doomed from the start. The first Glider crash landed. Of the seventeen men onboard, eight were killed, four were injured and five were unhurt. The second Glider also crashed, with seven men being killed on impact. Although brave Norwegians managed to shelter some of the wounded, they were eventually rounded up. The four injured surviviors from the first glider were poisoned by a German doctor, and the rest shot along with the survivors from the second glider.

These killings were in accordance with Hitlers Commando order, which ordered that all Commando troops were to be killed immediately on capture, as enemy spies. Several German personnel implicated in the killings were tried and executed after the war.

Among these brave but tragic events, was a Paulsgrove man. Sapper Ernest William Bailey, 31, of Paulsgrove, was a member of 9 Airborne Field Company, Royal Engineers. He is buried in Stavanger Cemetery in Norway. I am not sure exactly how he died – his date of death is given as 19th November, so it seems that he probably died in one of the crashed gliders. However there are quite a few files at the National Archives from the post-war investigation of war crimes, so hopefully there will be something at Kew that will tell the story of Sapper Bailey.

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I have manaed to find the following fascinating information from Stephen Stratford’s website on British Military Law. Stephen has pieced together what happened to the men of Operation Freshman from official documents at the National Archives. There is also some information on ParaData regarding operation Freshman.

Sapper Bailey was in the second Glider (Horsa HS114), which was being towed by a Halifax Bomber W7801 B for Baker. The glider crashed approximately 2.5 kilometres North East of Lensmanngard. Both glider pilots were killed in the crash, along with one of the passengers. The remaining soldiers, including Sapper Bailey, were captured and shot near Egersund on the same day.

After the war Stabsarzt Werner Fritz Seeling, Hauptscarfueher Erich Hoffman and Unterscharfuehrer Fritz Feuerlein were tried for war crimes by a British Military Court. Their specific crime was the murder of the poinsoned prisoners, who were also found to have been strangled. All three were found guilty. Seeling was executed by Firing Squad, Hoffman was hanged. Feuerlein was handed over to the Russians to answer charges regarding atrocities against Russian Prisoners of War. His fate is unknown.

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