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.
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.