Missing Presumed Murdered: One raid, two trials, three lost airmen
In December 1944 the RAF launched a big bombardment raid with as target the Krupp steel factories in Essen. During this bombardment six Lancaster bombers were shot down by the Germans. The crew was reported as missing. Quickly after the war it appeared that 4 crew members of the 2 shot down Lancaster’s had deceased under suspicious circumstances and that their graves where untraceable. The organisation concerned with the tracing of missed crew members relative quickly found out that there was reasonable doubt about the cause of death of the 4 men and an extensive investigation was started.
The grave of Flight Lieutenant Bertram Hall was rather quickly traced and it was the British investigator Harry Goldstain soon very clear that Hall was most probably murdered by the local Police officer and Nazi Heinrich Thiele. The investigation that from there started is by the authors described in great detail, complete with witness interrogations and accurate reports of the persons which were involved by this murder and war crime. Despite the strong evidence that Thiele most probably had killed Betram Hall, after he was imprisoned, Thiele is never convicted for this murder and deceased unpunished in 1968.
The remaining 3 missing crew members came, after their Lancaster being shot down, per parachute in a village near Essen and were there imprisoned by the locale Police. The next day, they were handed over to the ground forces, which decided to transport them, by foot, to another location, being an air force base near Mülheim to hand them over to the Luftwaffe.
Escorted by two military and their Commandant Captain Enrich Heyer, the three British prisoners were transported by foot. In the meantime twenty something citizens had gathered before the local Police office and the prisoners were greeted by loud cheering, when they came out. During the march off the cursing and ranting crowd became larger and larger because the escort didn’t do anything to protect their prisoners.
This resulted in a dramatic hanging party in which the British air force militaries were killed and thrown over the bannister of the bridge on a lower lying railway. They were robbed of their clothes and possession by the Germans present at the lynching, and thrown in a river.
The British investigation commission, which studied this criminal murder after the end of the war, brought the suspects before court within a year. Also this investigation and the witness interrogations are extensively set out. Seven civilians and the three military escorts were found guilty. Three persons were convicted and hung in this case.
After that, the graves and bodies of the murdered air force people still had to be traced. This was a difficult and complex business. The book especially sets out the investigation and court case concerning the three killed and robbed British crew members and the aftermath and search for their graves. With respect to the content of the book, there is only a relative small part dedicated to the preparation and the actual raid on Essen. The investigation and the court case cover the major part.
For myself and air force lovers less interesting lecture, but the more for people that have an interest for the juridical side of the tracing, investigations and trails of war crimes by the Germans. A couple of black and white pictures of the murdered crew members and the surrounding in which this took place are enclosed in the book.