LEST WE FORGET

Squadron Leader James CATANACH DFC MID

Service No: 400364
Born: Melbourne VIC, 23 November 1921
Enlisted in the RAAF: 18 August 1940
Unit: No. 455 Squadron
Awarded the Mention in Despatches (MID)
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), 26 June 1942 (Citation Title: No. 455 Squadron RAAF – Raids over Cologne, Hamburg, Essen, Lorient (France) and Lubeck)
Died: Prisoner of War (Executed) (PoW from the loss of No. 455 Squadron Hampden aircraft AT109 on 5 September 1942, Germany, 29 March 1944, Aged 22 Years
Buried: Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland
CWGC Additional Information: Son of William Mercer Catanach and Ruby Catanach, of Malvern, Victoria, Australia
Roll of Honour: Melbourne VIC
Remembered: Panel 106, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

On 24/25 March 1944, 76 allied prisoners of war broke out of the Stalag Luft III Prison Camp near Sagan, Germany (now Zagan, Poland) (the Great Escape). All but three were recaptured and of those, 50 including six Australians were executed by the Gestapo. Those six Australians executed were:

Squadron Leader James Catanach DFC MID (400364) (No. 455 Squadron) Executed 29 March 1944
Flight Lieutenant Brian Herbert Evans MID (42745) (RAF) (No. 49 Squadron (RAF)) Executed 31 March 1944
Warrant Officer Albert Horace Hake MID (403218) (No. 72 Squadron (RAF)) Executed 31 March 1944
Flight Lieutenant Thomas Barker Leigh (46462) (RAF) (No. 76 Squadron (RAF)) Executed 31 March 1944
Flight Lieutenant Reginald Victor Kierath MID (402364) (No. 450 Squadron) Executed 29 March 1944
Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams DFC (40652) (RAF) (No. 450 Squadron (RAAF)) Executed 29 March 1944

Hampden AT109 took off from RAF Sumburg at 2040 hours on the night of 4/5th September 1942 for Vaenja, Northern Russia, via Afrikanda (Operation Orator). The aircraft was one of 16 aircraft of the Squadron to take off for Vaenja. AT109 failed to arrive at its destination and all five crew members became Prisoners of War.

The crew members of AT109 were:

Flying Officer George Robert Anderson (400316) (Navigator / Bomb Aimer) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 19 November 1945
Flight Sergeant Cecil William Francis Cameron (404632) (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 3 November 1945
Squadron Leader James Catanach DFC MID (400364) (Pilot) PoW, Executed 29 March 1944
Flight Sergeant John Donald Davidson (5372) (Fitter 11A) PoW, Died 17 March 1945
Sergeant John Richard Hayes (404462) (Second Wireless Operator Air Gunner) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 24 October 1945

In a 1945 report the then Flight Lieutenant Anderson stated: “The aircraft when proceeding to Russia was holed in the petrol tanks by ground fire. The Captain force landed without damage to aircraft or crew. The approximate position of the crash was near Kirkness (Northern Norway).
Squadron Leader Catanach was one of 50 Officers massacred at Gorlitz in March/April 1944 after his escape from a tunnel at the North Compound, Sagan. I was in the East Compound at the time. Flight Sergeant Davidson died as a result of the rigours of a march in early 1945. I have been told this since my return from Germany. Released by the Russians on 21 April 1945.”

Flight Lieutenant Anderson escaped from prison but was recaptured at Holzensalzer (Poland) after walking 26 miles over 3 days.

References:

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A9300, CATANCH J

Bibliography:

Gordon, I. (Ian) Strike and Strike Again: 455 Squadron 1944-5, Banner Books Belconnen ACT 2616, 1995
Lawson, John Horwood Wightman (251634) The Story of No. 455 Squadron (RAAF), Wilke and Company, Melbourne VIC, 1951