• Si Biggs

Guy Griffiths - Royal Marines Airman, Painter, Forger and Spy

Guy Beresford Kerr "Griff" Griffiths (6 June 1915 – 12 July 1999) was a Royal Marine pilot. He served as a pilot during the Second World War and gained notoriety as a prisoner of war for using his artistic skills to forge documents and provide misinformation by feeding Nazi intelligence with fake sketches of British aircraft.


After the war he continued to fly various types of aircraft as a test pilot and has the distinction of being the first Royal Marines officer to fly a helicopter.


Early life

Griffiths was born in 1915 at Pembroke Dock where his father was a senior Admiralty civil servant.


Career

Commissioned in the Royal Marines on 1 September 1934, ‘Griff’ was on HMS Resolution off the coast of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 his elder brother was killed in the Indian Army. He took up flying in January that year and was eventually assigned to 803 Naval Air Squadron flying Blackburn Skua dive-bombers aboard HMS Ark Royal.


Attack on U 30 - Guy Griffiths

Second World War

Eleven days into the Second World War, HMS Ark Royal picked up an SOS from the merchant ship SS Fanad Head, under attack from German submarine U30. Three Skuas, including one piloted by Griffiths, conducted the first British Naval bombing of the war. Due to the incorrect fuse arming in relation to the height of attack, the bomb explosions of Griff’s aircraft and that of Lieutenantt Thurstan RN damaged the tails of both planes, and they crashed into the sea with the loss of each air observer. Griff and Thurstan were the first naval officers captured in the war.



At the time of their capture, the prisoner of war camp infrastructure was only just developing; those in captivity found their conditions relatively relaxed. Griff was placed in a number of POW camps – including Spangenburg Castle (Oflag IX-A/H) and Dulag luft – before incarceration in Stalag Luft III.


Stalag Luft III (German: Stammlager Luft III; literally "Main Camp, Air, III"; SL III) was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner of war (POW) camp during the Second World War, which held captured Western Allied air force personnel.


The camp was established in March 1942 in the German province of Lower Silesia near the town of Sagan (now Żagań, Poland), 160 kilometres (100 miles) south-east of Berlin. The site was selected because its sandy soil made it difficult for POWs to escape by tunnelling.


Each compound consisted of fifteen single-story huts. Each 3.0-by-3.7-metre (10-by-12-foot) bunkroom slept fifteen men in five triple-deck bunks. Eventually the camp grew to approximately 24 hectares (60 acres) in size and housed about 2,500 Royal Air Force officers, about 7,500 US Army Air Forces, and about 900 officers from other Allied air forces, for a total of 10,949 inmates, including some support officers


The German military followed a practice whereby each branch of the military was responsible for the POWs of equivalent branches. Hence the Luftwaffe was normally responsible for any Allied aircrew taken prisoner. This included captured naval aviators, such as members of the British Fleet Air Arm. In a few cases, other non-air force personnel were also held at Stalag Luft III.


It is best known for two escape plots by Allied POWs, one in 1943 that became the basis of a fictionalised film, The Wooden Horse (1950), based on a book by escapee Eric Williams. The second breakout—the so-called Great Escape—of March 1944. A heavily fictionalised version of the escape was depicted in the film The Great Escape (1963), which was based on a book by former prisoner Paul Brickhill.


The camp was liberated by Soviet forces in January 1945.


During Griff’s time in captivity there, he put his considerable artistic skills to good use. He was a forger, producing fake documents as required, and he also produced detailed paintings of aeroplanes based on aspects of those in current production, to provide misinformation to the enemy in order to buy time.

Guy Griffiths' paintings (above) entertained and impressed inmates in Prisoner of War camps during World War II


Griff was also in contact with MI9 (British Military Intelligence Section 9) – his letters to the Globe & Laurel (the Royal Marines Corps’ publication) contained encrypted details for MI9 of identities of personnel in the camp.


Griffiths gained a degree of fame in Germany, including this photo of him which appeared in a national newspaper

Griff spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft III. In 1945 he led the captives of his camp out to the Americans after being mistaken by Germans as being a Hungarian officer.


Post-war

Following the war, Griff underwent significant re-training to fly the latest aircraft. Once flying again, he served aboard HMS Glory. During the Korean War, he was instrumental in providing the first visual confirmation of a downed MiG 15 jet, which led to the first capture of this type by the west.


Guy Beresford Kerr "Griff" Griffiths - A self portrait

In later years, from 1953 to 1958, Griff became the Editor of the Globe & Laurel publication. He also ran the Bolero coffee shop in Chichester (West Sussex, England). Between 1969 and 1980, he was domestic superintendent for the Royal West Sussex Hospital, and subsequently the whole Chichester district. Griff died from a heart attack on 12 July 1999 aged 84. The complete collection of watercolours and drawings he completed during his service career were subsequently bequeathed to the Royal Marines Museum.


Extracted from Wikipedia and other sources;


Read more here: Flying Royal Marines, Reece, Michael, 2012., Royal Marines Historical Society, Special Publication number 38 (Amazon)


Incredible story of Thinker, Painter, Forger and Spy revealed in Griff at Royal Marines Museum Art 24

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