Escapers

Records indicate that 4 members of 75(NZ) Squadron, having been captured as Prisoners of War, made successful escape attempts, returning to the United Kingdom before the end of the War. Some of these escapes, such as Eric Williams, who took part in the famous ‘Wooden Horse’ escape are very well documented, others are not and as with all of these sections I am keen to hear from anyone who can add to these stories.

 


MURPHY

F/S Joseph William Murphy RNZAF NZ424993 – Wireless Operator
18th of July 1944 – Attack Against Aulnoye
Lancaster Mk.I LL921 AA – E
Pilot – John William Anthony Myers

Twenty eight aircraft took off to attack the aircraft works at Aulnoye, one of those originally detailed being withdrawn. All crews were successful in attacking the target, and the bombing was well controlled by the Master Bomber. A concentrated raid developed, and several crews were able to identify the target visually. A.A. opposition was very slight, but enemy fighters were more active, and one aircraft (Captain NZ411411 F/O. G. Kennedy), claimed to have shot down two enemy aircraft. One of our aircraft (Captain NZ405801 A/F/L. J. Myers) failed to return.

LL921 was brought down by a night fighter at Harveng (Hainaut), 3.5 miles South South East of Mons. The fighter had collided with the Lancaster during an attack from below, causing severe damage to the starboard wing and an uncontrollable fire in the outer engine. All crew baled out successfully on the captain’s orders while he managed to keep the aircraft relatively stable. It too then plunged into the ground, sadly killing the pilot. The enemy fighter also crashed nearby.

Having evaded for a week, F/S Murphy was captured and held by the Germans at the civil prison of Prison St. Giles. After seven weeks he managed to escaped and return to England.

P.o.W Number: –
P.o.W Camps: –
Returned to the United Kingdom: not known


ROBSON
W/O Arthur Elliot Robson RNZAF NZ4210853  – Wireless Operator
21st of March 1945 – Attack Against Munster Viaduct
Lancaster Mk.III LM733 AA – R
Pilot – Alfred Errol Brown

Twenty one aircraft were detailed to attack the Muster Viaduct. There was hardly any cloud over the target. It is thought that the concentration was good although the formation was broken up just prior to bombing. Three aircraft failed to return from this operation – AA”T”, NZ42451 F/L J. Plummer, AA”R” NZ429139 P/O A. Brown and JN”P” 190947 P/O D.S. Barr. All three aircraft were seen to hit in the target area. Considerable H/F was encountered.

Lancaster Mk.III LM733 AA – R, was bombing the target at Munster when it was seen to break into two sections and enter a downward spiral before crashing in flames among trees near Coesfeld at 13.30hrs. The cause of the catastrophic damage was thought to be a combination of flak damage and being struck by a bomb from another 3 Group aircraft flying above. Two crew, the pilot and air bomber, were killed and later buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. The other five crew parachuted to safety and were captured as POW’s.

Whilst taking part in the ‘Long March’ W/O Robson escaped once, was recaptured and then escaped again.

P.o.W Number: not known
P.o.W Camps: Stalag XIB
Returned to the United Kingdom: 21st of April 1945.


WILLIS
Sgt. F.G. Willis RAFVR 937660 – Front Gunner
22nd of December 1940 – Bombing Attacks Against targets D.55 and Flushing
Wellington Mk.Ic T.2474 AA – W
Pilot – Rex Chuter

Twelve Wellington aircraft of this Unit were detailed to carry out individual bombing attacks against the above targets. One of these aircraft,DMU.692, captained SGT. Chuter, failed to return. DMU.936 failed to locate target and bombs were bought back. A mixed bomb load was carried and consisted of 1000lbs. N.D.T., 500lbs. N.D.T. and delayed action, 250lbs. delayed action, and containers of incendiaries.
DMU.288 reports explosions and fires seen, but damage was unobserved.
DMU.303 reports numerous fires started by incendiaries in target area. Two other bomb loads dropped near by.
DMU.444 reports 1000lbs. bomb seen to land on or very near railway. Incendiary bombs not dropped.
DMU.494 reports several large fires caused, still burning when area was left.
DMU.515 dropped bombs on south perimeter of target along railway. Small fires started. Several large white explosions 3-5 mins after leaving target.
DMU.588 reports bombs and incendiaries seen to burst in the target area. Two fires persisting from the incendiaries, and one large fire, visible 17 mins after leaving, from the bomb bursts obscured in cloud after this time.
DMU.738 reports centre of town bombed and a large fire observed with six white explosions some minutes afterwards.
DMU.781 dropped bombs in two sticks over city causing one large line of fires quarter of a mile long. From these fires 15 to 20 large explosions were observed.
DMU.804 failed to locate target owing to low cloud, but bombed an aerodrome in France, RHEIMS AREA. Seven fires started. Six large explosions five mins later, presumably aircraft.
DMU.943 reports bombs seen to burst in target area amongst other fires, causing explosions.
Several flare paths were observed at various parts of route. Large dummy town 30 miles S.E. of MANNHEIM and dummy fire seen in middle of town. Blackout very bad over ANTWERP and Belgium. Much snow in Germany.
Fairly intense A.A. fire experienced over MANNHEIM. Very little experienced elsewhere.
There was not much searchlight activity.
DMU.804 reports being attacked by one ME.110 five mins. after bombing. This machine was hit but not brought down (60 rounds fired by front gunner).
Low cloud was experienced at various parts and target areas.
Navigation was by D/R. W/T.Q.D.M’s, and astro.

The circumstances of the loss of  Wellington Mk.Ic T.2474 AA – W, are unclear, but it is assumed that the crew were returning to base when the aircraft was brought down over France near Therouldeville, 42 km North East of Le Havre, probably as a result of ground fire or enemy night fighter action. Luckily, five crew members survived the crash landing, some with serious injuries, and were taken prisoners of war. The rear gunner, Sgt Alfred Henry Ritchie, unfortunately was killed and is now buried at Therouldeville.

Sgt Willis was debriefed by MI-9 as follows:
“ I attended a lecture on escaping given by the I.O. at the OTU at Harwell, in July 1940. At 0515 hrs on the 22nd of December 1940 our aircraft, a Wellington of ‘B’ Flight No 75(NZ) Sqn took off from Feltwell . Between Le Havre and Fecamp the aircraft crashed.

Of the crew, Sgt Chuter (chief Pilot), Sgt English (navigator) and Sgt Donaldson (wireless operator) were uninjured and soon removed as P/W.

Sgt Ritchie (rear gunner) was killed in action; while Sgt Falcon-Scott (2nd pilot , awaiting interview) and I (2nd navigator) were wounded and on landing were taken off by the Germans to their military hospital in Fecamp.

A week later we were transferred to the Ernemont hospital in Rouen and, at the end of January  1941 we were taken to the Henri Martin hospital in St. Quentin. On the 3rd of March we were again moved, this time to the Val de Grace Hospital in Paris. By then we were convalescing and studied the possibility of escaping as we heard that we were to be taken to Germany. Two French Red Cross nurses helped us providing us with civilian clothes and visitors’ passes with which on the 20th of April we walked out of the hospital by the main gates without any trouble. We made our way to an address given us by the nurses and remained there until the evening, when at 2215 hrs we went by train to Poitiers arriving there at 0615 hrs the following morning. We then headed East for the demarcation line, which we crossed on foot slightly south of Fleure.

Once across we made our way for a large town (Montmorillon) where we were arrested and later taken to the internment camp at St. Hippolyte du Fort. Sgt Scott was eventually passed by the Mixed Medical Commission and repatriated to U.K. but I was obliged to get out of the camp and did so on the 28th of May crossing the Spanish frontier on the 1st of June under arrangements organized by Capt “G”. Unfortunately I was arrested and spent three months in prison camps (Figueras, Gervera, and Miranda) before release and repatriation.

P.o.W Number:
P.o.W Camps:
Returned to the United Kingdom: 5th of September 1941


WILLIAMS
P/O Eric Ernest Williams RAFVR 1164660/ 117664 – Air Bomber
17th of December 1942 – Attack Against Targets At Fallersleben
Stirling Mk.I BK.620 AA – A
Pilot – Kenneth John Dunmall

Five aircraft were detailed to attack the above target with bombs of 1,000lb. This was to be a low level flight all the way climbing to 5,000feet to bomb. Four out of the five aircraft unfortunately failed to return. They were the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander V. Mitchell, D.F.C., captain of Stirling I BF396 who took W/O Bagnall and crew who had only arrived a few days previously. Stirling I,BF400 captained by F/O Jacobson, Stirling 1, BK620 captained by P/O R.E. Williams, and Stirling I, R9247 captained by F/Sgt. Rousseau. The one aircraft  to return was captained by P/O McCullough who could not find the target owing to rain and bad visibility, and bombed an alternative. This was an aerodrome, the bombs were seen to explode on the flare path and hangars. A.A. fore was fairly heavy and a few searchlights were seen. The aircraft was twice attacked by fighters but they were driven off on each occasion, on return the aircraft was found to have four holes believed due to combat with one of the fighters. The weather was clear to the target but developed to rain and 7/10th cloud on return. Navigation was good.

Stirling Mk.I BK.620 AA – A was shot down by a combination of flak and night fighters, crash-landing into the Westeinder Plas, South West of Aalsmeer (Noord Holland) and 10 miles South West of Amsterdam. All its crew survived the crash-landing but they later were interned as prisoners.

P/O Williams evaded capture for three days, but was eventually caught and sent to Oflag XXI-B Schubin in Poland. There he quickly formed a friendship with Lieutenant Michael Codner, who spoke French, and together they planned and executed an escape through a tunnel. However, they were quickly recaptured and, as punishment, sent to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, in Poland.

As described in his novelization of the true events The Wooden Horse, Stalag Luft III was designed to be a highly escape-resistant camp. Tunnelling in particular was made harder by the use of numerous environmental and technological solutions: the perimeter fence was placed some distance from the huts, necessitating longer tunnels; the soil in the chosen location changed colour markedly when dry, making disposal of freshly dug tunnel soil difficult; and the Germans employed seismographs to measure vibration caused by digging.

Williams and Codner came up with the idea of constructing a vaulting horse and using it to mask the opening of a tunnel entrance closer to the perimeter fence, while the other camp inmates vaulted continuously over the horse to mask the vibration of the tunnelling work. Sand was carried back inside the horse and dried in the attic of the camp canteen before being distributed in the compound.

With the assistance of a third POW, Oliver Philpot, the tunnel was completed by 29 October 1943 – an important factor, as the Escape Committee only had local railway timetables valid until the end of October. Williams, Codner and Philpot planned to use the local railway to quickly put distance between themselves and the camp, rather than the usual escape strategy at the time of travelling on foot at night and hiding in barns or haystacks during the day.

Posing as French labourers, the trio made their way by train to the Baltic; Philpot headed to Danzig, while Williams and Codner made their way to Stettin, where they eventually managed to make contact with the Danish Resistance and gain passage on a ship to Copenhagen and thence to Gothenburg in neutral Sweden. There they met Philpot, who had been able to travel more quickly to Sweden via Danzig. From Sweden, all three officers were repatriated to Britain.

After his return to active duty, the RAF immediately posted Williams to the Philippines, where he worked with American forces for the remainder of the war.
(from Eric Williams (writer) – Wikipedia)

P.o.W Number: not known
P.o.W Camps: Oflag XXI-B, Stalag Luft III. P/O Williams escaped from Stalag Luft III accompanied Lieutenant R M C Codner Royal Artillery
Returned to the United Kingdom: 29th of December 1943.