RAF KIA air gunner's log book & medal grouping, 102 Sqdrn. - War Crime

RAF KIA air gunner's log book & medal grouping, 102 Sqdrn. - War Crime

Code: P22873-1


Log book grouping to Flight Sergeant John Liberty 'Simmo' Simpson RAF (1896343), an airgunner with 102 squadron.  He was born on 17th January 1908, son of Albert Edward and Florence Caroline (nee Manktelow) Simpson from Maidstone, Kent; husband of Winifred Georgina (nee Cooper) Simpson, also of Maidstone.  John & Winifred married in 1926 and prior to the war he worked as a builder and she as a domestic help.  His log covers the period from November 1943 to December 1944.  He trained at No.1 Air Gunnery School Pembrey on Ansons, qualifying as an air gunner on the 10th December 1943, the course instructor noting 'Very Keen, but theory below average. Must continue to study hard'.  In January 1944 he was at No.19 Operational Training Unit as a rear gunner on Whitley bombers before going to 1663 Conversion Unit in May 1944 as mid-upper gunner on Halifaxes.  He was posted to 'A' flight 102 'Ceylon' Squadron at Topcliffe, Yorkshire in June with operational sorties beginning on the 17th July, target Bois De La Haie flying bomb sites.  The next day was a daylight raid on the railway marshalling yards at Vaires, France and his first night Op was on 23rd July, the target Les Hautes Buissons flying bomb site.  This was followed by other sorties on rocket supply bases, marshalling yards, a fighter base, and on 16th August they attacked Kiel harbour.  This raid was comprised of 348 aircraft but saw only partial success.  Serious damage was reported to the docks area but a large number of bombs fell outside the town.  On 27th they headed for the Ruhr in Germany, attacking the synthetic oil plant at Homberg.  By the end of the month Simpson had already racked up 18 Operational sorties and the intensity of Ops was only increasing.  Throughout October and November Simpson flew on a further 16 sorties including the synthetic oil plant at Scholven, the iron & steel works at Bochum and on 14th October, Duisburg, as part of a 1000 aircraft raid, causing very serious damage to the target.  On the 21st they flew to Hanover but the operation was scrubbed due to bad weather and all aircraft were recalled with bombs being jettisoned over the sea.  On the 23rd October he flew in another 1000 aircraft raid, this time to the Krupps factory at Essen.  Records report the destruction of 607 buildings with a further 812 seriously damaged.  Just 36 hours later another attack was made on Essen with 1163 buildings destroyed and serious damage inflicted on the Krupps works.  
At 1153hrs on Christmas Eve 1944, Simpson and the rest of his crew took off in their Halifax (MZ871, DY-G) from Pocklington, Yorkshire, their target to bomb the German airfield at Mullheim (Essen), thought to be used for the movement of supplies from the Ruhr to the Ardennes battle area.  It was later revealed that the aircraft was brought down by unknown means (probably flak or a night fighter) south of Neuss between Julicher Strasse and Holzheimer Weg.  Flight Engineer F/Sgt. Sidney Charles Alfred Steggall, Navigator P/O James Brian Lea, Bombardier P/O John Daniel Percy Ball and Wireless Operator P/O John Patrick Murphy baled out and became prisoners of war.  Pilot F/O Evan Roberts, Airgunner F/Sgt. James George 'Lofty' Williams and F/Sgt. Simpson all died*.   The log is marked 'Missing' and 'Death Presumed'.  It comes with three official letters sent to Simpson's wife.  The first, dated 10 April 1945,  confirms the telegram stating it was believed that her husband had lost his life as a result of air operations on 24th December 1944.  The second, dated 19th September 1945, states that German documents had confirmed that her husband was killed in action and was buried at Neuss, Germany.  The final letter, dated 3rd November 1945, provided information from captured German records stating 'The report lists four prisoners of war and gives the names of Flying Officer Roberts and your husband as dead but says nothing as to the manner in which they died.  One of the repatriated pow's does however make a statement, which he says was unsupported, to the effect that a Frenchman told him that two gunners were taken into Neus on 24th December, and later in the afternoon, shot.  I should add however that the names of these two airmen were not given and there is no evidence in the possession of the Department to confirm that your husband was one of the men involved or that this shooting did in fact take place'.   A letter from the Ministry Of Defence dated 1992 states that 'two bodies were found in the wreckage by the civilian police but because this is not directly a family matter, under the Department's strict privacy regulations, I am at liberty to disclose only that F/Sgt. Simpson, F/Sgt Williams and F/O Roberts were most regrettably the victims of war crimes'.  It goes on to say that in 1948 four persons connected with this were indicted for war crimes connected with two members of MZ871's crew. It would appear that F/Sgt. Simpson probably did die as the result of the aforementioned war crime.  Further internet research has revealed information of a trial of war criminals.  Case No.485/JAG, 24/25th September 1946 was the trial of Johannes Esser who was charged in that he at Neuss near Dusseldorf on or about the 24th December 1944 in violation of the laws and usages of war, ill treated and killed an unknown British airman, prisoner of war.  He was sentenced to death and hanged on 22 January 1947 by the famed executioner Albert Pierrepoint.  

Flight Sergeant Simpson was a relatively 'old' man of 37 during his wartime service.  He flew an impressive 43 Operational sorties before failing to return and it would appear, became the vicitim of a war crime.  He was initially buried at Neuss Cemetery but in April 1947, reburied in Plot 6, Row D, Grave 3 in Rheinburg War Cemetary, Germany.  The log comes with photocopies of the original grave registration report forms, 2 negatives and 2 prints showing the headstone/grave, a photocopy image showing him with other crew members and approximately a dozen pages of photocopies from the Squadron Operational Records book.  Finally there is Simpson's medal grouping comprised of the 1939-45 and France and Germany stars, the defence and war medals, all mounted and ready for wear.  A fascinating and incredibly poignant log book grouping that would benefit from further research.  Stock code P22873-1.

* It would seem that the entire crew may have baled out and survived but three were the victims of war crime -   F/O Roberts, F/Sgt. Simpson and F/Sgt. Williams.  The latter's body was reportedly dumped in the Rhine so he has no known grave and is remembered on panel 223 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Some raid information sourced from The Bomber Command War Diaries (Middlebrook, Everitt) and war trial details found on Peter Clermont's facebook page.