Operation Kassel



Operation Kassel


Account of 142 Squadron crew operation to Kassel wriiten by rear gunner Bob Henderson. Was attacked by night fighter and had to bale out. Continues with account of evading and capture. Reunited with wounded crewmates and transported to prisoner of war camp. Describes interrogation and evacuation of Stalag VIIIB and 800km march to Gorlitz. Concludes with account of liberation and return to England in April 1945


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Crew: Pilot - Denis Toombs
Observer- Taffy Evans
Front Gunner- Sam Embury, W.op/Ag. R.C.A.F.
Wireless Operator - Mac McCormick W.op/Ag.
Rear Gunner - Bob Henderson W.op/Ag.
Squadron: No. 142, No. 1 Group, Bomber Command.


Waltham, nr. Grimsby, Lincolnshire - satellite of RAF Binbrook

Mac - recent transfer from Training Command to gain operational experience.
Taffy had done one operation; a mine laying op off the Dutch coast in bad
weather conditions - (the only aircraft from 1 group operating on that
particular night).
Checking flight details in the B flight office we were down for an N.F. T. - night
flying test - which was flown showing that our aircraft "N", a Wellington Mark
1/. was serviceable.
Later at briefing the target named was Kassel, a German Army HQ and
garrison town in the Ruhr.
Briefing followed its usual pattern but the met. report was for clear skies and
moonlight making for easy identification of the target - also ideal conditions for
enemy defences, including night fighters: my 13th opt
Six aircraft from B Flight were to be part of a medium sized bomber attack;
our aircraft being in the first wave and to carry a full load of bombs and
Airborne at 21.45 hours, routed some 10 miles south of Munster. Over the
North Sea, approaching the Dutch coast, found the Flak ships very active.
Evasive action taken must have placed us slightly off course as we were
coned by searchlights and received the full attention of Amsterdam's
defences - very heavy flak, the only aircraft over the city.
As rear gunner J gave the skipper a commentary and advised on evasive
tactics. We successfully avoided any damage and continued a weaving
course across Holland.
Flew over an aerodrome carrying out night flying - the Luftwaffe soon
switching off their lighting systems.
Shortly afterwards the Observer reported we were on course and time. About
10 minutes later we were attacked from underneath by night fighters. We
were about 15 minutes from target and the first we knew was severe jolting
4~ cannon shells hit us. In the rear turret I seemed to be sitting in the middle
Of if. Managed to get in a short burst of fire from the Browning’s at a single

engined fighter as it peeled away. Immediately a second fighter attacked but
I got in a long burst of fire resulting in a glow of fire from the mid section of the
fighter. There was just time to see him dive earthwards before seeing and
feeling the flames that were streaming past the turret. Found the intercom
useless, also the emergency call lights system no long working and the
hydraulic system would not turn the turret.
Using the manual system, I centralised the turret, obtained my chute pack,
deciding it was too hot to stay and with the aircraft diving slightly to port,
turned the turret fully starboard, clipped on my parachute pack, put my forage
cap inside my Irving jacket, jettisoned the turret dome and bailed out.
When clear of the aircraft I pulled the rip cord, jerked the chute open, it was
very quiet - just the whisper of the air passing through the chute lines.
Drifting down but not facing ~he direction of drift, I had to look over my
shoulder to see that the drift was over forests and areas of water. Several
attempts to turn were unsuccessful so, not wishing to push my luck too far, I
left things as they were, crashing through branches and thumping to the
ground. I was unable to disentangle the chute from the tree, reached into my
hip pocket for my cigarette case to find it all crumpled up but the cigs OK.
One of my flying boots was charred, part of the sole missing and, except for
blood flowing from a long scratch down one side of my face. No apparent
injury. After checking my escape kit. I set off running and walking
alternatively, in a westerly direction making good progress through the forest
except for odd collisions with bushes. Later the noise of bombers flying back
to England died away and all was quiet amongst the trees on a warm
moonlight night.
To detour around a village, I set off across an open field; after about 60 yards I
heard a thumping noise, on looking in the direction of the sound I saw a large
"white" horse galloping towards me. I took off, running faster than I thought
was possible, towards the forest with the horse gaining with every stride!
Finally, I jumped clear over a barbed wire fence, hiding behind a tree,
watching as the horse stopped and reared up before trotting off. Heart
pounding, it was a while before I collected myself to seek another route
around the village. Never before had I felt so frightened.
By daybreak I had reached the limits of the forest so I found a good spot of
cover to hide during the day - sounds of trains in the distance providing a
target for the morrow. Resting, I ate some Horlicks tablets, checked with my
silk escape map and watched several people moving, walking a nearby dirt
Soon after midday, feeling very thirsty, I decided (must have been in a daze)
to raid an orchard near a farmhouse about 1/4 mile away - picked up some
apples but the farmer appeared, directing me to the house and leaving me in
a parlour alone. I looked at a photograph above the mantelpiece to see
Hitler's face so I took off quickly towards the forest.
Within half an hour I was surrounded by armed "Home Guards", taken to the

local Burgomasters house, and later handed over to a Luftwaffe officer,
marched to the village square where a lorry and trailer loaded with coffins
awaited. Sam Embury was in the back of the lorry, we shook hands,
pretending not to know one another. Also lying on a stretcher was Mac,
wounded in the chest, upper arms and thighs, conscious and stoic.
We were then driven to a convent a few miles away where we picked up
Denis wearing a large bandage on his hand; bright and cheerful as ever. We
were then taken about 20 miles to a copse of scorched trees where a Stirling
had crashed. The Luftwaffe men searching the still smouldering bomber for
the remains of the crew. Bodies and parts thereof were then placed in the
coffins. The Luftwaffe officer in charge said, "That's war; you were lucky -
they weren't. For you the war is over. "
We were transported to the town of Krefeld, confined along with two Luftwaffe
N. C. O. s who were supposed to be awaiting trial for some offences but they
spoke perfect English and asked pertinent questions so we assumed they
were intelligence officers.
Mac's dressed wounds began to smell septic; he was now in great pain. We
demanded that he be seen by a doctor. Soon a Luftwaffe M.O. came and
agreed he must be taken to hospital immediately.
That evening the M.O. returned telling us that surgery had been performed
successfully saying, "Your comrade will recover; don't worry about him. He
will get the very best of treatment. "
Next day, escorted by two armed guards, the three of us went by train along
the Rhine Valley to Cologne Rai/way Station; arriving in the middle of the
night. Disregarding his two shouting guards, an Aussie airman walked over to
greet us. Guards and prisoners then went into a troop canteen for soup
before entraining for Frankfurt Am Mainz. All allied airmen taken prisoner
after being shot down over mainland Europe, including North Africa, were
taken to Dulag Luft for interrogation. The procedure was to place prisoners in
a cell which was heated in Summer and kept cold in Winter. Clothing was
taken away for searching, a wooden bench bed followed by interrogation by
two intelligence officers in alternative shifts. Both spoke perfect English - one
being very sympathetic and considerate in approach, the other being severe
and aggressive; the former being much more dangerous.
Both had an extensive knowledge of one's R.A.F. history - the first one saying
that I would be pleased to hear that a certain Squadron Leader I had flown
with had now been promoted to Wing Commander after being awarded a
The aggressive type produced a Red Cross form to complete; a form which
included details of station, type of aircraft, squadron details etc. Filling in my
name, rank and number I put a line through the rest, then being told that as
no one knew where I was, they could take me out and shoot me - no one
would know.

It was not easy to stick to name, rank and number and show no expression of
surprise at the detailed information which they already knew but we had been
thoroughly briefed about all this prior to going on ops. From their; questions it
seemed that they were puzzled about three wireless operators/air gunners
taken prisoner in the same area and could not match us up as a crew. We
must have been successful as I was kept in the cell for a couple of days more
than normal. They may have concluded that I was a sole survivor of another
My clothing was returned (compass buttons still in my battledress) and I was
transferred to the adjacent POW camp. After a few days we were transported
by rail to Stalag 8B Lamsdorf, Ober Silesia near the old Polish border.
The book - "Wellingtons at War" - A. C. Bowyer - gives an account of the
night of 27th August 1942 .... Six aircraft from B Flight, No. 142 Squadron took
off to bomb Kassel. His aircraft, H for Harry, badly shot up, full of holes and
big chunks was forced to land at R.A.F. Harwell none of the crew hurt but on
arriving back at base learned to their horror that they were the only surviving
aircraft of the six to return to England.
Evacuating Stalag VII/B Lamsdorf, Ober Silesia on 22. 1.45. we marched to
Friederberg, arriving about 0300 hours 23.1.45. Slept in a barn.
23.1.45. After nine and a half hours reached Priebom, billeted in a brick
24.1.45. Arrived at Rogau Rosenau about 1700 hours. Stayed overnight in a
25.1.45. With two other fit men, placed to care for a party of about 25 sick
aimen. Two Jerry Postens in charge. Stayed in horse stables, straw
bedding, horses very noisy at night kicking wooden stable partitions.
26. 1.45. Demanded medical attention for sick; after long argument with
guards they allowed parole for two of us to seek help. Walked a few
kilometres to a Luftwaffe station. (Very similar to many RAF bases).
Marched through main gates to guard room where N. C. O. in charge gave us
permission to go to station sick quarters where medical officer refused to see
us but a medical N. C.O. gave us several tubes of ointment (b/ack/green! in
colour) named Frossheisse or something like that.
Called at guardroom on way out where an N. C. O. was severely reprimanding
main gate guards for letting us into the camp. Returned to stables to treat
cases of frost bite. This treatment, massaging ointment into frost bitten areas,
continued several times a day until 6.2.45 - very effective.

26-28.1.45 Bartered and stole potatoes, barley and joints of ancient mutton -
farmer allowed us to use old pig swill copper to make soup.
28.1.45 Left fann stables marched to Strehlitz - overnight in a barn.
29.1.45. Arrived in Wiesenrogau at 1600 hours. Stayed in a lager within a
large 'sugar fabrick'.
30.1.45. Stayed one day- got some rations, bread and potatoes.
31.1.45. Marched via Friebom to coal mine at Walchenberg staying in an old,
damp and bitterly cold barrack. Demanded fuel for cast iron stoves, Told by
Jerries - if you want coal go down the mine - there were thousands of tons on
the surface but they were adamant. We had to go down the mine near coal
face to fill two large raffia baskets. Soon had stoves glowing red hot. Very
lucky; kitchen staff were survivors of General Bor Komoroski's Warsaw
Revolt who warmly embraced us when told of the sick RAF personnel, they
said all RAF were heroes who had attempted to fly in supplies to them in
Warsaw. They provided marvellous soup, potatoes and bread: The warmth,
food and ointment treatment resulted in an improvement in the health of the
2.2.45. Left at 1450 hours, walked 8 kilometres to Rothebach.
3.2.45. Marched 20 kilometres via Landeshut to Pfaffendorf. Stayed night in
carpenter's workshops, supplied with potatoes.
4.2.45. Made 13 kilometres to Schmiederberg; slept with cows in stalls,
copious flatulence by cows! Potatoes as rations.
5.2.45. Reached Hirscheberg - slept in a barn. Potatoes.
6.2.45. Joined up with main column. Delighted with the general improvement
of the health of the sick. Our two postens in charge of the small party were
not too bright and after early disputations they went along with what we
wanted. Stayed in a barn. Had a sixth of a loaf of bread.
7.2.45. Marched 29 kilometres. No water all day - very thirsty.
8.2.45. Arrived Gorlitz.
9.2.45. Stayed at Gorlitz.
10.2.45. Left Gorlitz.
From Ober Silesia westwards across Germany the 800 kilometre march is
covered in the book "The R.A.A.F. P.O.W.s of Lamsdorf" and the following

account is a personal recollection of events of the final days leading to
The brick factory near Duderstadt ranked a high priority in a list of places
where one did not wish to be.
Many prisoners, weakened by malnutrition, physically nearing exhaustion
after the long march and suffering the effects of dysentery, were unable to
make the journey to the temporary outside latrines. Consequently, there was
a constant drip of urine and faecal matter seeping from each floor to the
ground causing a foul stench to pervade the building. Food was minimal, the
rumours of Typhus spreading decided W/O Bemie Hughes R.N.Z.A.F., David
Crabtree, Corporal - British Army and self to barter our wrist watches for
bread and to attempt another escape.
The Germans, however, ordered us out to march again on 3.4.45. in a north-
easterly direction. In driving rain, the column moved through forested terrain.
The guards on the right hand side of the column moved to the left hand side
to seek some shelter from the rain. Approaching an S bend in the road we
saw an opportunity to escape. Asking the lads around us to try and distract
any guards who might try to shoot at us, we dashed towards the forest cover
about 70 metres away, successfully hiding, watching the colulmn go past.
We then set a westerly course through the forest for about three hours when
halfway across a clearing we were seen by a group of foresters eating their
lunch. These men had guns and were accompanied by two armed Hitler
Jugend. One of these was detailed to march us back to Duderstadt.
GOing along a minor road we were stopped by a German officer riding a
pushbike. He immediately berated the youth for consorting with prisoners.
Dave Crabtree, who could speak German, seized the opportunity to support
the almost hysterical reprimand of the officer, who ordered the sullen,
dumbstruck youth to return to the foresters and the youth sloped away. The
officer ordered us to go back to Duderstadt, mounted his bike and rode off!
Later that day we contacted Polish slave labourers at a state farm; they gave
us !/bod from their meagre rations directing us to keep going across country
ancl to contact other Polish workers. We took their advice.
On 5.4#.45. we made a mistake by resting too close to a road. Round a
comer appeared a platoon of S.S. and at the head of the column, an S.S.
officer. We decided to brazen it out. As they got near we "sprang" to
attention, threw up our best parade ground salutes. He saluted back and the
column march on!
On the 6.4.45. a Feldwebel from a road block house spotted us whilst we
sought cover for the night, as it was late afternoon with rain threatening. He
asked us what the hell we were doing so we spun him a yam saying who we
were and that, tired and hungry, we were on our way to the nearest town to
surrender. Whether he believed us or was just fed up with war, we never
knew, but he ordered us to proceed to the nearest town and so we went on
our merry way!

Later we met a Russian P.D. W. - the sole survivor of a small party of
escapees, the others had been shot by foresters. We suggested he stay with
us but he decided to give himself up.
Next day a Pole driving a tractor directed us to hide in a large bam as the
Americans were advancing towards the area. The 7th and 8th April we spent
in a bam fifty yards from a manned blockhouse.
The night of 8. 4. 45. a Polish girl, about 15 years of age, arrived with a loaf of
bread and a small bottle of medicine (probably Chlorodyne) for Bemie who
was suffering exhaustion and dysentery. To reach us she had crawled part
the Germans who, if they had detected her, probably would have shot her.
She told us the Americans were continuing to move towards the area and to
stay where we were.
On the early morning of the 9.4.45. a Polish man collected a tractor from the
bam confirming that American tanks were only a few kilometres away. After
he left many 2nd Tactical Air Force Typhoons and Mustangs shot up targets
in the area; including barns. Fortunately, not ours! Then a tank battle ensued
with shells from both sides whistling overhead. Soon after 1300 hours all
went quiet, after the Germans retreated eastwards. Moving a board from the
wall of the bam we saw that the blockhouse was deserted. We remained on
the top of a high stack of straw at one end of the bam. About 1500 hours we
heard a vehicle driving up the dirt track towards the bam. It stopped, the big
doors swung open. We peered through the straw, saw three soldiers armed
with automatic weapons. They' were Yanks.
We scrambled down, the guns pointed at us, we were told to get our hands
up. I said who we were, asking very politely if we could show our identity
tags. The Master Sergeant was, "OK Bud but use your right hand only." I did
exactly as ordered. Great joy and jubilation, cigarettes and K rations before
being interrogated over a field telephone about German troop movements.
We were joined by a party of Poles including the girl who had brought the
medicine. Thanking the Poles for all their help, leaving them our old blankets
and a liberal supply of cigarettes and K rations we went on our way staying
with the Recce patrol in the van of the American advance. They armed us
with automatic guns, ordering us to keep our heads below a steel cable fitted
on the front of the jeep - the Germans strung piano wire across roads to
decapitate the occupants of vehicles. That night the 2nd Division took over a
village, desultory fire soon silenced by tanks blowing to pieces any house
which sheltered snipers etc. White flags (usually sheets) hung from all the
buildings - all the inhabitants on one side of the village given 10 minutes to
clear out to the other side.
Within 2 hours the Americans set up kitchens (all stainless steel), telephone
exchange, officers compiling lists of casualties etc. We were taken to meet
Lt. Colonel William A. Smith who gave us a great welcome telling us that we
were the first allied ex P. O.W.s they had picked up and inviting us to' dinner.
He said he would arrange for us to be flown back to England. That night as
we bedded down an artillery and mortar barrage started. We asked rather
anxiously if there was a counter attack but were told. "Nope, we are just


softening up Kraut targets for tomorrow. "
The 10.4.45. was spent advancing and after delousing on the 11.4.45. taken
by trucks to a Luftwaffe aerodrome near Gottingen where Dakota aircraft
were landing petrol supplies. Bemie and Dave were put aboard one plane
which flew off to England. I was put on another plane with four soldiers being
flown back to an airport on the outskirts of Paris.
There to greet us, or so we thought, were brass bands, dignitaries and a
crowd of people. As we stepped down the band music petered out until only
a bass drum could be heard - we were not the expected guests!
An R.AF. Wing Commander took us to his office for tea, sandwiches and
cake before loading us on a bus decorated with Tricolours - we went on our
way through a cheering crowd as we waved regally to them.
So, to R.AF. Headquarters in Paris, given money, a Pay Book and a series of
hot showers - the first since Lamsdorf!
Next day a tour of Paris conducted by a lady who had been a leader of the
French Maquis Resistance. That night taken by train to Le Havre, thence by
open car, driven by a maniac, to an aerodrome; warned about land mines we
didn't walk too far before boarding a R.G.AF. Dakota.
On board I met W/O Hughie Houghton who I knew on 142 Squadron. shot
down some months before me. He was a very sick man, but on approach to
the white cliffs of Dover, the Canadian pilot asked jf there was a pilot amongst
us. We assisted Hughie into the cockpit and he flew us back over the coast -
a very touching gesture by our Canadian crew.
We landed at an aerodrome in Buckinghamshire, were welcomed by an Air
Vice Marshall and his staff who congratulated our party of seven. One soldier
was completely overcome when assisted by two W.AAF's, burst into tears
on hearing their voices - I think we all felt the same way - we were free and
Warrant Officer Robert Roy Henderson
R.AF. 953388
P.O.W. No. 26838


R Henderson, “Operation Kassel,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 26, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/28679.

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