Rheal Robineau

 
Joseph Gilbert Euclide Rheal Robineau was born on August 31, 1922 and died on February 26th 1944 in a bombing run over Augsburg Germany during WWII.  His parents were Leonel Robineau and Leda Robineau (Mallette).
This is a short summary of his life and his mission over Germany.

Rheal was born in Sturgeon Falls Ontario in 1922 at Sacre Coeur Parish.  He was my fathers’ brother and my uncle.

Rheal completed Grade 9 in 1940.  After high school he worked at two jobs:

The first was as a “Second Cook”at McNamara Construction in Timmins from 1940 to 1942. He was laid off from this job.
His second job was as a “Car Loader” at International Nickel in Sudbury in 1942 and early 1943. He quit this job to join the RCAF.

His place of residence is shown as Sudbury at 113 King Street.

He enlisted in the RCAF on March 3 1943 at the North Bay recruiting centre.  On his application he indicated that he wanted to be on an aircrew.  His hobbies were Hockey, Softball and Swimming.
He was 20 years old, was five feet 61/2 and weighed 135 pounds.

His four references were:
Johnny Campeau, Levack , Ont. – Rock House Foreman
Charlie Withers, Levack, Ont – Picker Boss
Aimee Labelle, Levack, Ont. – Nipper Steel Worker
Omer Richer, Timmins – Contractor

His application states that he has no outstanding qualities but seems determined to enlist as Aircrew.  He is described as having a stocky, compact build.   The application states he is willing to be an air gunner.  A note is made that is CAT score is 67.
His application says that he plans to become a mechanic.

When he joined he had no bank account and $32 of War Savings Certificates.

Rheal was assigned to  # 2 Manning  Depot in Brandon Manitoba. His rank was AC2 (Aircraftman 2nd Class).

The official Air Force Casualty notification states that he was missing (over Augsburg Germany) and presumed dead (February 26, 1944).

As part of the preparation of the death notice, another form was completed to indicate where parents, brothers and sisters were located:

Lionel (father) was at 97 King Street in Sudbury;
Leda Robineau (mother) (Malette) was in Sturgeon Falls;
Adrien Robineau (brother – my father) was listed as being in the RCAF in Goose Bay Labrador;
Leopold Robineau – (brother)  – in Timmins
Leona Robineau (sister)
Gilberte Robineau (sister)
Leona and Gilberte are shown as living in Sudbury at 742 Mylnes Street
Alice Robineau (sister) – Sturgeon Falls
Clairette Robineau (sister) – Toronto
Henri and William are listed as having died young,

After Rheal had enlisted he went to Brandon Manitoba and spent three months.  In June he went to Mont Joli in Quebec where he stayed till October 1943 before going to Halifax.  He left for England on October 30, 1943.
On January 10, 1943 he received his Air Gunners badge.
He was assigned to the 432 Squadron on January 31, 1944 at 61 Base

Rheal was on his first mission on February 25/26 when his plane was shot down.  Until 2010, the above is pretty well all we kew about Rheal’s life in the RCAF.

The original reports i read regarding the crash of Rheal’s plane during WWII implied that he survived the crash and later died in a German hospital.  This is apparently not the case.  After the war the RCAF did further investigations on the crewmembers who died in combat in order to find their grave sites.

Rheal was shot down and died on his one and only mission over Germany.

Report received from Library and Archives Canada:
The Report below is the one concerning Rheal’s death in the February 1944 crash.  It should be noted that this report was done after the war.  After the war, the unaccounted for casualties were not assumed to be dead.  Investigators were sent to find if there was any evidence of casualties from the crash.  The following is a copy of the investigation report.

Investigation Report

From: No. 3 M.R.E.U.  B.A.F.O.

To: Air Ministry, P.4. (Cas), 73/77 Oxford Street, London

Date: 20th January, 1947……Investigation Officer: F/Lt. McKitrik……..Section: 17

A.M. File Reference: P.414208/44/RCAF Eng.    A.M/ Cas. Enquiry No: G.1176

Unit Reference:……….                Section Reference: 17MRES/G.1176

Aircraft Type and Number:  Halifax LW. 597    Date and time: 0200hrs. 26.2.1944

Position of Crash: 1 1/2 km S.W. of Frankenhofen

Map Reference: Sheet N.48/X377.713

Crew………………………………………………………….Particulars of Burial

Sgt. Robineau, G.E.        A/G (Can)        Mass grave. Joint cross. No inscription
Sgt. Thompson, W.        A/G (Eng)        Mass grave. Joint cross. No inscription
1st Lt. Lubold A.L.        Pilot (American)        Safe
F/O Richards, R.A.        A/B (Canadian)        Safe
Sgt. Cannon, J.        WOP/AG (English)    Safe
F/O Torton, A.G.        Nav. (Canadian)        Safe
Sgt. Bean, L.            F/E (English)        Safe

Cemetery and Map Reference: Cemetery at Frankenhofen. “X” 385.720.

Articles Found: Nil

Any Further Action:  As requested.

Results of Investigation and Finding:

Exhaustive investigations in the Ersingen-Risstissen areas revealing no trace of any aircraft. I proceeded to the Rathaus Ehingen (“X” 47.67) and i examined the relevant files for the whole of Ehingen landkreis.  The only incident recorded there which refers to British aircraft was a report from the Buergermeister at Frankenhofen (“X” 38.72) concerning a supposedly American 4 motored bomber which crashed near there on the night 25/26:2:1944.  Heir Reisch, clerk to the Landrat, who is at this moment engaged in compiling a record of Allied Personnel buried in this area for the French Authorities, assured me that this was the only aircraft to crash at that time in the whole Ehingen area.  The following is a report i took from from Hernn Eierstueck, Buergermeister of Frankenhofen: “ About 02:00 hours on the night of 25/26.2.1944 I was standing outside my home watching the air attack against Augsburg, when suddenly i noticed an aircraft approaching me in flames, flying from the direction of the target.  When over our village it commenced to make large descending spirals and in all it circled Frankenhofen three times before it finally plunged into the woods about one and a half kilometers S.W. of the village.  Search parties immediately went out to look for any fliers who might have parachuted in our parish and also to visit the scene of the crash.  There, lying among the widely scattered wreckage two badly mutilated and charred were found but not removed.  Within an hour of the crash three flyers were brought to my house, all three having been captured in the immediate neighborhood of the village.  Of these three one was definitely a dark haired officer, one was a blond Sgt. and the other was presumably a Sgt. with dark hair, but i can’t be certain of this as he was wearing a white sweater. All three were tall and slender and very young, not being much more than 20 years of age.
These men spent the night in my house and about 8:00 next morning they were taken to the Rathaus where two of their comrades later joined them.  Of these two, one had been brought from the village of Daechingen (“X” 39.40).  This man was smaller and fatter than the others and had dark hair and i believe that he too was an officer.  He arrived about 9:00 o’clock and at 10:00 o’clock the fifth man was brought from Bremelau (‘X” 33.73) and he too was said to be an officer.  At 08:30 hours a party of men with an officer arrived from the Luftgau at Ersingen (“X” 57.68) and they later removed all five prisoners to the airfield at Ersingen.  The officer told me that this was the only aircraft to to crash in the area during the night.  Some police from Ehingen were left to guard the aircraft.  The two dead airmen were buried on 3.3.1944 in the local cemetery and a few days later the complete aircraft wreckage was removed by a detachment from Ersingen.”

Herr Hohenlen, of Ehingen, a member of the aircraft guard when interviewed told me that he had spoken with the officer (Haupt. Maul) who came on 26.2.1944.  This officer stated that the pilot was an American and there were at least two other Canadians among the prisoners so that it was commonly assumed that the aircraft was an American one operating with the RAF.  The two dead airmen, who were lying near the front of the fuselage when found.  From the identity tags found it was assumed they were Canadians and they were buried as such.  No names were passed on to the Burgermeister and so the airmen were buried as unknown Canadians, but no inscription was placed on the wooden cross at the grave as the Burgermeister hoped to hear from the Luftwaffe at Ersingen.

From the above evidence it is quite apparent that this is in fact Halifax LW.597 and it is requested that the grave be now registered.  Owing to vagueness in the Cas. enquiry the investigations in this case were started and completed by this section, although we have finally located the position of crash in the French zone.

Another Report from Library and Archives Canada:
In 1946, the RCAF , apparently made further investigations into the death of air crew members who had not returned.  The memo below, received from Archives Canada, indicates that further investigation was suggested.  The results of that investigation will be in my next post.

Our File: J.91090 (R.O.)

Royal Canadian Air Force

Ottawa, Canada  19th June, 1946

Casualty Enquiry G 1176 (P.414208/44)    American Zone

Halifax L? 597 was reported missing on the 25th/26th February, 1944 as the result of operations against Augsburg.

O-886266    1st/Lt    A.L. Lubold        pilot        safe
J.23342    F/O    A.G. Turton        nav        safe
J.25697    F/O    R.A.Richards        A/B        safe
1561875    Sgt.    Cannon, J.        Hop/AG    safe
R.220136    Sgt.    Robineau G.E.    A/G        Missing P.D.
(now J.91090 P/O)
1553058    Sgt.    Thompson, ?.    A/G        Missing
1803536    Sgt.    Bean, L.        F/E        Safe

The entire crew is safe with the exception of the gunners, P/O Robineau and Sgt. Thompson.  The aircraft crashed near Risstissen, (map ref. L49/x56.  F/O Richards was told by the Germans that the two Air Gunners were in hospital, which was not identified, and that there was little hope for their recovery.  The Germans told F/O Turton that both the Air Gunners were killed and gave Sgt. Robineau’s flying boots to him to wear. Ehingen(Map Ref. L49x46) and Ulm are also mentioned in repatriation statements, so it is possible that the hospital is located in one of those towns.  It is known that the Gunners died as F/O Richards was shown their identification tags soon after he was taken prisoner.

In view of the conflicting statements it is suggested that enquiries be made in the vicinity of the crashed aircraft to locate the graves, in the event the information about the hospital should be incorrect.

(W.A.Dicks),
Group Captain,
for Chief of the Air Staff.

Report from Stalag III – May 1944

The five surviving members of the crew were sent to Stalag 3 and during there stay and made reports to the that were sent to London.

Rheal Robineau was shot down over Germany on the night of February 25th, 1944.  Below  is an extract from a Casualty Report report prepared on May 12, 1944.  A few of the crew on Rheal’s plane were taken prisoner by the Germans.  At Stalag Luft III they were allowed to report on the events of the flight and the status of their crew members.  The full memorandum is copied below and the middle section refers to Rheal Robineau.

Memorandum

From: Mrs. Lliewellyn,                                           To: Wing Commander A.B. Mathews
Wounded, Missing and Relatives Dept.              P.4.Cas(Can) Air Ministry
7 Belgrave Square, S.W.1                                        73-77 Oxford St. London, W.1

6th December, 1944
DL/AGJ/RAF

I enclose copies of reports received from the Senior British Officer, North Compound, Stalag Luft III, concerning: -

Flight-Lieutenant A.G. Dickie J9270
Sergeant G.E.R. Robineau R220136
Sergeant C.D. Duncan R.183624.

———————————————————————————————————————

Extract from the casualty report from Senior British Officer, Stalag Luft III, dated 12th May, 1944.
——————————————————————–

2F/Sgt. R. Lambe, Serv. No: 1339552 POW No:4192 states:
‘On the night of 9th/10th April, 1944 our aircraft was attacked by night-fighters near Horsens, Denmark.  The Captain, ordered the crew to bail out as the aircraft was out of control.  I was second to leave the aircraft.  I was told at Dulag Luft that the bodies of F/Lt. Dickie and Sgt. Price were found in the aircraft.  I did not identify the bodies of this Officer and NCO.
——————————————————————–

F/O R. Richards Serv. No.J.25697 POW No.3585 states: “On the night of 25th/26th February 1944 we were attacked by night fighters 50 miles west of Augsburg.  Our inter-communication was unserviceable after the attack and the aircraft caught fire.  We bailed out over Eppingen.  I was fourth to leave the aircraft.  The German authorities at Dulag Luft told me that Sgt. Thompson and Sgt. Robineau were in hospital but did not say where. They also informed me that there was little hope for their recovery.
——————————————————————–
F/Sgt.I.Bertram. Serv. No:A.413817. POW No.4178 states:- “On the night of 20/21 April 1944 our aircraft was directly hit by flak over Cologne and attacked by night fighters after leaving the target area.  Our inter-communications was unserviceable.  I was fifth to leave the aircraft.  At Dulag Luft I was shown some personal effects of Sgt. Casey who the German authorities said, had been killed. I did not identify his body.  He is buried somewhere near Aachen.  I know nothing of the date of Sergeant Dunkin.

There were 7 crew members on Rheal Robineau’s plane. When it was shot down in February 1944, Rheal and the other Gunner died, probably before the plane even crashed. The other five parachuted to earth (some just barely) and were captured by the Germans. They spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III. Stalag Luft III is the same prison from which there was a major prisoner escape that became the movie: The Great Escape. Once the war was over the returning crew members had to make statements about the crash and those statements are listed below:

Aircraft: Halifax III

Serial No: LW-597

Code: QO-C

Target: Augsburg

Pilot: Lt A. Lubold O-886266 pow

Flt/engineer: Sgt L. Bean 1803536 pow

Navigator: F/O A. Turton J-23342 pow

Bomb Aimer: F/O R. Richards J-25697 pow

Wireless Operator: Sgt J. Cannon 1561875 pow

Mid upper gunner: P/O G. Robineau J-91090 +

Rear gunner: Sgt W. Thompson 1553058 +

Time off: 21:40 Time down: missing

Bomb load: 40 x 30 lb and 630 x 4lb incendiaries.

Service File: Crashed 1.5 km south west of Frankenhofen (L48/X-377713). Witness states that an aircraft came from the direction of the target in flames at approximately 02:00 hours. When over the village it made three large descending spirals, finally crashing in the woods, 1.5 km south west of the village.

NAME. Bean L. F

HOW MANY OPS. 1

DUTY. Flt/engineer

We left base, East Moor, after dark, somewhere around 21:30. Fairly cloudy weather, but clear, 3/4 moon above 10,000 feet. Only light flak was encountered until the target, but even here we seemed to be above most of it. We flew all the way at approximately 21,000 feet. We arrived at the target on time but no flares had been dropped by P.F.F so the skipper having flown over the target circled back into bomber stream. Flares were down by this time. We bombed the target and turned onto track. Approximately, half hour later, skipper asked me to check that bomb doors were isolated on the hydraulics. I went back to check, taking my log to fill in. As I plugged into the intercom, I heard the skipper warning the gunners that there were fighter flares going down ahead. As far as I remember we stayed on course and did not weave. A few minutes later, approximately 2:00 I heard a banging noise underneath and the overload tank in the bomb bay exploded. I then heard the skipper give the order to bale out and went forward and handed him his chute, as he was leaving his position. I then got my chute and went to follow him into the nose, but stayed on the steps. Later when the aircraft had dropped quite a height the wireless operator managed to open the hatch. The order of leaving the aircraft was wireless operator, pilot, navigator, bomb aimer and myself (flt/engineer). After pulling the ripcord I blacked out and remember nothing until I came to in the snow. I had no chute or harness or Mae west and 2 German landwatch with shotguns were standing around, apparently waiting for me to recover. When the tank exploded, it blew the floor in and the flames came through. Window was being dropped. Upward firing guns.

NAME. Turton A. G.

HOW MANY OPS. 1

DUTY. Navigator

Airborne 21:44 hours 25.2.44, shaken by flak crossing Schelte Islands. No known damage. Bombed target at 22,800 feet T.A.S. 237, Hdg. 060? (12 cans I.B.’s 4 lb.) at 01:22 hours 26.2.44. Bombing time was 01:18 – 01:21 hours but delayed as pilot altered course to avoid flak before the run up. Set course from target 01:23 hours, aircraft 01:28 hours to 260ET. 0140 hours – aircraft to 263ET. 01:42 hours hit in belly by unseen fighter while flying in lanes of flares. Other bombers were visible ahead, but gunners didn’t see fighters attacking from below. The pilot immediately ordered abandon aircraft. I reached for my chute on the table and was flung to the floor as we went into a spin. I got my chute on with great difficulty. Five of us were huddled on the floor in the nose, unable to move. The aircraft levelled out into a flat spin. The wireless operator and I folded the navigation bench and I opened the hatch with considerable difficulty. Someone went out as soon as the hatch was open, then I went out. I opened the chute after counting to five then was in the air for about 20 seconds. I landed in several feet of snow. Hearing engines, I looked up and saw the aircraft going over at about 300 feet in a wide flat turn to starboard. She was well alight from wing to tail. I could see through the fuselage. She did a half circle and crashed and exploded in woods about 3 to 5 miles off. She burned and ammo etc. exploded for half an hour.

NAME. Richards R. A.

HOW MANY OPS. 3

DUTY. Bomb aimer

On the night of 25/26 of Feb. We were briefed for Augsburg. On crossing the coast at Over Flakke we were hit under the mid upper gunner’s turret by flak but it didn’t cause any damage. On arriving at the target we did evasive action to get out of large searchlight batteries and flak which was quite heavy on our course. We bombed the target at 01:17 hours which was 1 minute after zero hour. After proceeding from the target we were attacked by an ME-210 from underneath. He hit us in the reserve tanks and all controls were lost. The time was 01:40 hours. As soon as the kite was hit the pilot hollered to bale out as he, the navigator, wireless operator and flt/engineer and myself were thrown down in front on the escape hatch. We spun straight down all the time being unable to move due to the force, then when we were about ready for the crash the aircraft began to flatten out by itself. We quickly opened the escape hatch, the pilot out first, then the wireless operator, then the navigator got stuck in the hatch and I had to help him out by giving a good hard push at about 800 to 1,000 feet. My chute no sooner opened and I was in a big snow bank without my flying shoes. I got up and I was faced with a number of men and boy with shotguns all pointing them at me. I was taken to a house where I met the flt/engineer. The rest of the crew were found within the day and then we were taken to Dulag at Frankfurt. Aircraft crashed on fire as it was going down. Window being dropped. Nitrogen petrol tanks.

NAME. Cannon J.

HOW MANY OPS. 1

DUTY. Wireless operator

Take off was at 21:00 hours on Feb. 25th 1944. Everything went okay until about 15 minutes after leaving target when we were hit by fighter. To my knowledge no warning was given from gunners, so no evasive action was done. No clouds in sky. Nearest big town – Ulm. On being hit we lost control of aircraft and went into steep dive, wasn’t able to open hatch until aircraft levelled itself out at about 3,000 feet.

Book issued in March 2013

Earlier this year i learned that a local historian from Frankenhofen, where the plane crashed wrote a book.  I have a copy of that book.  It is written in German so it will take time to get through it.  He writes about the mission of February 25/26 over Augsburg.  Around 1:00 am a German pilot reported having shot down an Halifax bomber.  The Halifax bomber is Rheal’s since there was only one Halifax bomber shot down that night.

We actually know the name of the pilot who shot his plane down:
The Halifax was claimed by Fw. Rauer 3./NJG1    40 km. W. Augsburg:    Height 5.500 m.      Time 01.33

The cover of his book has a picture of the crashed Halifax bomber.  That is Rheal’s plane.  It apparently had Nose art “ on the front that said “Miss Canada”

The irony

I was not aware until six months ago of Rheal’s fate or that there were other crew members who survived.  In fact two of the surviving crew members lived until 2007 and 2010 respectively.  One of them R. A. Richards lived no more than half an hour from my house.

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