WO Robert Gordon Douglas - Bomb Aimer - Halifax DT669 - VR-L
It was the first operation flow by Warrant Officer Smallwood's crew and Bomb Aimer Warrant Officer Douglas was in his
place at the nose of the bomber looking through the bomb sight when the Halifax violently pitched over. A wave of
energy from flak detonating in proximity of the bomber flipped the Halifax on its back. In this inverted position
the bomber went into a dive. Smallwood was now blinded by the beams of the search lights as they penetrated the
cockpit windows which now facing the ground rather than the sky.
Unable to judge height as the Halifax fell Smallwood ordered the crew to bail out.
Within that same instant he regained control then he quickly countermanded the bail out order. For Douglas it was too late, he had already bailed
out and was drifting down to the ground to be captured and in time interned at Stalag Luft VI. Then later to be part
of a tragic ending for himself and twenty nine other POWs.
WO Warren Edward MacKenzie - Navigator - Halifax -DT731
From available squadron records this would also appear to have been WO MacKenzie's first sortie. Mechanical problems
had arisen on the Halifax shortly after take-off. The undercarriage refused to close fully the pilot F/S Hopkins and the F/E
Sgt. J. Chambers were retrying and retrying the controls, the drag created by the lowered wheels along with the load of petrol and bombs
was fighting the aircraft's attempts at gaining altitude.
Eventually the F/E managed to retract the undercarriage, but not fully as the wheels could still be seen sticking out. The decision was made to
lighten the aircraft and continue on to the target by dropping the incendiary bombs. After jettisoning these
bombs they managed to climb to 20,000 feet and carry on with the main bomb load to the target area.
The mechanical problems proved to be only the first of crew's worries on this sortie. After completing the bomb run
and headed to point "P" on the intended return corridor to make a course change, there was suddenly an
enemy night fighter flying past the nose of their Halifax, VR-M.
As the evasive action began the starboard outer engine caught
fire. No tracer had been seen by the crew and the failure was put down to mechanical problems.
The Ju88 meanwhile had made maneuvers once it past the bomber and now attacked DT731 from a new position below
creating so much damage to the Halifax
Hopkins could was no longer able to keep his aircraft airborne. Hopkins had to order a bail out, which was successfully carried out by all the
Nothing can be found in the records of how WO MacKenzie was captured all that is known is that he ended up in the
same Stalag Luft as Douglas. WO Douglas had never met MacKenzie while at Middleton St. George as Douglas had been shot
down almost nine months before Warren MacKenzie has arrived at the base.
It can only be assumed that coming from the
same squadron they did meet at the POW camp. In the coming months both he along with Douglas would become POWs who
found themselves on the "March".
Orders for Prisoner Movements
The preparation of the plans for movement of prisoners was put together around mid-July of 1944, Hitler himself
came up with the order masking it as a part of the total defense of the Reich.
It was placed into movement Allied prisoners, the slave laborers were also to
be "evacuated" and German citizens to be moved East away from the oncoming Russian Army.
The Allied prisoners for some were going to be hostages for some of the Nazi High Command, a bargaining tool to try and
save themselves from war trials. Other plans had them going to be used as human shields. While others saw it as a
method of retribution against the Allies especially the airmen the "terrorflieger" terror aviators.
The forced march which has been given many names began in December 1944 through one of the coldest winters up
till that time. Lack of food was the cause of much illness and death. Reading from a diary one of the men on
the march who kept a lists the food he was issued.
January 18th- 2/3 loaf of bread, 1/5th tin of meat, 1/8 pot of honey
January 19th- Nothing-
January 20th- Nothing-
January 21st- Dog Biscuits-
January 22nd- 1/2 of a biscuit
January 23rd- 1/4 loaf of bread, 1 biscuit
His list goes on and as it does the portions become smaller and some days there is "Nothing". All the while they
are forced to march through the deep snow, poorly dressed. Some who could not go on were shot by their guards.
The march for some men was 500 miles while for others it was 1,000 miles or more.
For MacKenzie and Douglas and the other POWs from Stalag Luft VI their march was to be the Northern route, two more
routes labelled the Central and the Southern were also the scenes of long lines of prisoners all suffering the same
problems of cold, famine and disease.
The two 419 Airmen started there months long ordeal from Heydekrug in East Prussia South West to Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow,
then further south into the middle of Germany to Stalag XI-B and Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel. Following a roads,
and forest paths always on the move away from Allied lines and freedom.
The columns of men trudged their way to Fallingbostel, where there is mention by some ex-POWs in their memoirs
of Red Cross parcels being distributed.
Now for all those who had come so far South the march was then pointed back north the way they had come, with Lubeck being
the destination. The long line of two columns moved towards the Elbe River, then waited for dark to cross the bridges,
the men had already seen what the Allied aircraft had done to the boats and barges, they did not want to be caught
by the Allied fighters while on the bridge.
It had taken two weeks for the tired and sick men to reach the river and beyond to near Gresse where it is mentioned
in two accounts that American Red Cross parcels were handed out by the Swedish Red Cross to the men. By some
accounts there were 12,000 POWs in the area around Gresse spread out in the fields around the village. The column
was still on the move for some while others enjoyed portions of their parcels in the area surrounding the Gresse village.
April 19th -The Attack
First Eye Witness Summary-
From "Ken Fendon's War"
The front of the column has passed into the Forest Lane, the column stretching out behind them when the sound of RAF fighters
was heard. He mentions that one of the POWs had counted nine aircraft above them. Then they all watched as they peeled off.
Fendon and others expected the fighters to just roar by to show their dominance of the air and many of the men did not
pay any attention to the nearing fighters which made a low banking turn and disappeared in a line astern formation over the trees.
One POW was seen to be waving at them as the aircraft swooped in low over the column and the machine guns opened fire
straight into the column of men. The POWs and guards dove for what little cover there was, those quick enough to move or had help in moving.
Some brave men ran out waving the RAF blue uniforms hoping to distract or signal the pilots firing on them, some lost their
lives in this manner trying to stop the attack. The horse drawn carts carrying the wounded were particularly singled out by
Second Eye Witness Summary-
George Spenceley recounts the events some time later:-
"It must have been next day that a tragedy happened that we might have anticipated. With clear skies and Allied
air forces active above, neither the high bomber formations nor low flying fighters gave us anything but joy. When
some ground attack machines flew low over us we waved. It seemed impossible that our long ragged column could ever
be seen as a target. Tragically, we were wrong."
"Two such parallel columns of our men were approaching the village of Gresse when a flight of six British Typhoons
came over and flew south again. They then returned, low and in line astern, aiming at the other column. We watched
horrified as puffs of smoke came from under the wing of the first one. Five attacked with rockets, then cannon.
The sixth turned off, perhaps aware of the error. The ultimate tragedy had occurred: our own air force in which
we had all served, had killed and maimed their own."
"Any thought of rushing over to the other column was barred by our guards who ordered us to continue, doubtless
anxious to find concealment in the forest ahead. At least we were spared the sight of our fellow airmen, some
prisoners of four years, killed within two weeks of release."
Third Eye Witness Summary-
From Les Davenport
Again in Davenport's account is the handing out of parcels by the Swedish Red Cross, with his group of POWs being allowed to
sit and enjoy a portion of the parcel contents. Then he mentions the usual sound of RAF fighters flying above changing into
a slowly accelerating and diving sound followed by the sounds of machine guns.
As he expressed it he thought he was under attack by a squadron of aircraft and he saw them fire their rockets into the
column of POWs as they scrambled for cover. He too saw the men who tried their best to show they were Allied POWs, only to be killed
by the fire from the low flying aircraft.
He then goes on to mention how the next aircraft he observed throttled back and climbed away without firing. Then another of the fighters
wagged his wings as if to wave as he flew by.
The destruction to those who were hit by the rocket attack was horrendous, the descriptions given in all the accounts need
not be quoted here. The death toll was listed between 30 to 60, thirty for sure were listed by a number of sources. With hundreds
also wounded many of those would also have succumb to their injuries. Among the those killed were a number of the guards who
were escorting the prisoners.
The local Pastor in Gresse held services at the mass burial on the 20th.
The next day some of the POWs began to make large letters in straw, spelling out on the ground "RAF POW" . The
early morning of April 21 another attack by RAF aircraft killed another RAF POW and wounded 16 others who had been
quartered in one of two barns along with many other POWs.
There was at least one other 419 Airman in the March and in the area of Gresse on April 19th. and saw
the devastateing damage done by the attack,
WO Patrick Murphy of
Halifax HX189 Neal
From The Warren MacKenzie Report
The following from the file of R65193 Warren Elwood MacKenzie,
shot down 20 January 1944 with No.419 Squadron:
Excerpts from report dated 16 July 1947,
F/L C.W. Dufresne (No.4 Missing Research Enquiries Service, Germany)
to Air Ministry:
"An investigation at Gresse reveals that twenty-nine British (Army and Air Force) and one American were buried
in the local cemetery. These victims had been P.O.W.'s on the march and were shot up by British planes,
just outside Gresse on 19th April 1945. They were buried in a collective grave, without coffins.
Some on the 19th April, and the rest on the 20th.
"I am attaching a copy of the list of those airmen buried there, given to me by Pastor Stube of Greese,
who officiated at the burial. Although there are thirty British listed, in exhumation we found only
twenty-nine British and one American. The numbers of this list which are ticked off in red, are those
which we identified for certain - mostly by their STALAG tags.
"It was almost impossible to tell which service some of them belonged to, by the different pieces of
clothing they were wearing."
British Buried at Gresse as Listed Pastor Stube on 2 July 1947.
1/ R65193 - Warrant Officer W.E. MacKenzie - RCAF - Canadian
3/ 2571861 and 1094 - Lance Sergeant L.H.J. Goodfellow (no unit, identified as British)
2/ no number - Warrant Officer G. Douglas - RCAF - Canadian
4/ 1431168 Flight Sergeant K. Mortimer - RAF - British
5/ 1093 Sergeant E. Bardsley - RAF - British
6/ 31652 Sergeant J.S. Breytenbach - Army - South African
7/ 25505 and 15904 - Corporal Downie - The Cameronians - British
8/ 2874561 and 20385 - Corporal G. Moir (no unit, identified as British)
9/ 918030 - Corporal P.M. Paton - The Black Watch - British
10/ 430 - Warrant Officer G. Moir - RAF - British
11/ 3932 - Private R. Woodgate - Australian Forces - Australian
12/ 29815 and 25731 - no name or other information listed.
13/ A22182 - A.G. Hunt - Essex Scottish - Canadian
14/ 26387 and 3235- no name or other information listed.
15/ 3263 and 1565563 - Sergeant W.E. Lawton - RAF - British
16/ 1385572 - no name given, Royal Army Service Corps - nationality not confirmed.
17/ 3566 Flight Sergeant J. Gibbs - RAF - British.
18 2121 - Sergeant S.J. Wheadon - RAF - British
19/ no number - Warrant Officer Shierlow - RAAF - Australian
20/ 39152 and 647048 - Warrant Officer F.B. Duffield - RAF - British (there seems to be another number, 874,
associated with this name).
21/ 13064 - Warrant Officer W.P.J.( or W.J.P.) Watson - RAF - British
22/ 24384 and 1388655 - Warrant Officer C.W. Heathman - RAF - British
no number or rank - Joyce - Essex Scottish - Canadian
23/ 994 and R126002 - Warrant Officer V.A. Fox - RCAF - Canadian
24/ 24510 - Sergeant L.B.H. Hope - no unit or service - New Zealander
25/ 941 - Sergeant Hawkins - no unit, service or nationality shown
26/ 3429 - Flight Sergeant D. Bouldie - RAF - British
27/ 9669 - Warrant Officer Claydon - possibly RAF
28/ 335 and 623752 - Warrant Officer G.A. Losh - RAF - British
29/ 143 - Warrant Officer Bone - no details.
There is much more on the events of the day available on the internet and are well worth
reading. Especially the comment made by one of the wounded who claims to have talked to the
leader of the flight of Typhoons who attacked the column.