Anderson was one of the navigators on our father's plane when it was shot
down on November 26, 1944. He had not known our father prior to that
morning, but kindly offered to share his experiences and memory
of their final flight on November 26, 1944 with us. In addition
he provided us with the technical details of the flight found in the MACR (missing
air crew report). He also shared with us his experience of being
captured and subsequent trip to the prisoner of war camp at Stalag Luft One.
The letter we received from him
Thank you for your kind
letter of Aug. 9th requesting information about your late Dadís wartime
experiences, especially that last life-changing flight of Nov.. 26th, 1944. (My
26th mission). Iím sorry to say that I didnít know your father very well - I
only met him the morning of Nov. 26, 1944, and only briefly at that. In fact, I
didnít know any of the crew that day with the exception of Capt. Gene Douglas,
who was the commander of all aircraft from our 398th Bomb Group (flying in the
right hand seat or co-pilotís seat as leader of the group (36 ships) that day
and Capt. Harry Nelson, lead Navigator for the flight. Both were close buddies
as well as Nissen hut mates of mine. Iíll try, as best I can from the best of
memory of nearly 55 years ago, to put the details of the days mission in some
sort of narrative form.
Date of mission 26 Nov.
Target assigned Misburg,
Germany (Just beyond Hannover, I believe)
Target attacked Misburg,
Germany (I believe it was an oil refinery)
Units Participating 37
aircraft (including 2 PFF radar equipped lead A/C) formed the 1st
"C" group of the CHG
A/C Returned early - One
A/C # 42-97338
A/C Lost - A/C #97740
(our ship), and 42-102565, 43-37846
Mission #110 commenced
with lead aircraft (Zimmer/Douglas) taking off successfully at 08:22 hrs and
departing for the Debden Buncher (a radio beacon), around which the lead
aircraft was to fly a rectangular pattern while each successive formed or
latched on it. The last aircraft took off at 08:50. When the assembly was
completed (09:44 hours) all A/C were in correct position in the formation i.e..
600th squadron as lead squadron, 601st Squadron in the high position, and 602
Sq. in the low position. Entire assembly was as briefed and was considered good.
Departed Debden on time and headed for Glaston (on English coast) to effect the
1st. Division Assembly.
The 1st Division (one of
the 3 Divisions forming the 8th Air Force Heavy Bomber Force) was composed of 3
or more Combat Wings, each wing composed of 3 or more groups, thus the official
designation of our 398th Bomb Group was - 398th Bomb Group, 1st Combat Wing, 1st
Air Division, 8th Air Force. The 8th Air Force had as many as 38 to 40 Bomb
Groups each consisting of usually 4 squadrons with each squadron having up to 18
combat crews (12 of which
flew at any one time) unless the mission called for Maximum Effort, when all 4
squadrons instead of the usual 3 actually flew. The squad that rested was
considered "Stood Down".
Back to the Division
Assembly, 1st Division assembly was effected with only minor difficulty at 10:04
hrs and the Strike Force (1st. Div.) left the English coast shortly thereafter,
about 2 minutes early. Had to "S" (zig-zag the Division) to kill a
couple of minutes to effect proper position in the total strike force. Reached
enemy coast at 10:55 hrs on time and on course. All other check points reached
on time and on course.
As the group left the I.P.
(Initial Point) and started on the Bomb Run we were at, 700 feet altitude on a
Magnetic Compass leading of 250 degrees. The indicated air speed was 160 MPH and
the air temp. was approx. - 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderate flak started coming
up toward us. Very soon the moderate flak (anti-aircraft fire) became moderately
heavy flak, tracking flak. The enemy gunners had their sights on us! About 20
seconds before "Bombs Away" we took our first near direct hit which
took out #2 engine and damaged
The shrapnel spray sent
some jagged pieces of hot metal over the navigators head. Ten seconds later we
took a hit on the left wing, destroying the control surfaces (aileron) and
finishing off #1 engine. Almost simultaneously another hit blew out the pilots
windshield, destroying many of the flight instruments and the super charger one
of the right side engines. There was no panic - we just calmly went ahead and
completed the bomb run as best we could - with 1 and 1/2 engines operating.
(There was no time to hand the flight over to the deputy leader).
Immediately after the
signal indicating "Bombs Away" we made a sharp diving turn to the left
to get out of the way of the rest of the formation - with limited engine power
there was no way to maintain altitude and air speed and to avoid a catastrophe
it was the prudent thing to do. Armed with a new compass heading, we headed
toward the nearest Allied front lines. Less than about 5 minutes later, I think
every member of our crew realized it was not to be - we would not be sleeping in
Nuthampstead, England, but would be Adolph Hitlerís guest instead.
We had done all we could
- we had jettisoned everything we could, including our guns and map cases to
lighten the ship, yet we were still losing altitude fast and now the wing was
shaking rather badly. We were in the Minden, Germany area when the "Bail
Out" bell was sounded. The time was approximately 12:55 hours, less than 10
to 15 minutes after we had dropped our bombs (12:24 hours).
Life as a Kreigsgefanger
The Home Guard (old men,
farmers and others unfit to serve in the Wehrmacht) quickly picked us up after
the usual greetings of "American Gangsters", and the
obligatory "For you die Var ist over."
Luftwaffe guards were
summoned from a small base not far distanced. We were all in pretty good shape
other than a sprained ankle or two and bruises and cuts suffered in rough
landing. The guards were a welcome sight since we knew weíd be protected from
any very angry citizens weíd encounter as we were marched (in our bulky flying
boots and carrying our bulky, unfolded parachutes) about 10 to 15 kilometers to
a guard house of the Luftwaffe base in Detmold. Stayed there overnight, tried to
catch a little sleep, but the all wood beds and elevated pillow (wood too)
wasnít conducive to much rest. No talking between prisoners was allowed during
the march or train rides - only when we were in a permanent POW camp. One of the
guards brought us a semblance of a meal (rutabagas and a piece of black, heavy
bread which tasted as if it were half sawdust) along with water.
Next day we were on train
to Frankfurt (it took 28 hours) to a large interrogation center. While being
marched from the train station we came upon an unpleasant sight - three GIís
strung up, hanging from a telephone pole. The guard muttered
"civilians" (did it). We kept our eyes straight ahead and pointed to
the ground after that. The stay at the interrogation center was usually 4 - 7
days and consisted of solitary confinement in a cell with only a bed and straw
mattress for furnishings, and the routine was one or sometimes two
interrogations per day and 2 or 3 meals(?) per day. Morning meal was some weak
ersatz coffee and black bread - sometimes with a thin film of ersatz (imitation)
jelly or jam. In the late afternoon we sometimes got a cup of thin, watery soup
with cabbage leaf or two in it, a piece of black bread and coffee. On occasion
we might get a mashed rutabagas, usually very dirty or rotten. The interrogators
had book, chapter and verse on us - in fact they knew more about us than we
ourselves knew. Then there was the harassment. The electric heater would be on
so high at night that, even with your clothes all stripped off, youíd be
sweating. Next minute the heat would be off and with every piece of clothing on
plus your one blanked wrapped around youíd be freezing.
All of the crew was sent
on to permanent camps within a week or less, with the exception me. (I found out
later.) I had the misfortune of being kept in solitary until December 24th
afternoon. They thought I knew something they were very interested in. I
didnít!! To keep my sanity during that month, I ripped some of the thin copper
wire from my heated flying jacket, broke it into uniform lengths and Iíd weave
squares from them. Then Iíd break the squares apart and do it over again and
again. Upon being sent to the (Dec. 24th) other part of the center run by the
Americans but under German controls, where I was given a good meal, allowed to
shower and shave (how good it felt), I found out they needed a baritone for a
quartet to sing for the Christmas Day service. I volunteered and being the only
volunteer I got the job. (along with a complete change of clothes - and I
certainly did need it).
That kept me in the
center until Dec. 27th when, along with four other Americans, we boarded a train
for a scary trip (very angry German civilians) to Stalag Luft #1 - basically a
permanent POW camp for American and British officers) at Barth, arriving on Jan.
1st or 2nd, 1945, where I found I was to be in the same large room with Capt.
Douglas, Capt. Nelson and Lt. Kottke, and 20 other American officers. Room was
Hereís where I got a
big surprise from your letter of Aug. 9, 1999. For the last 54 years I had
absolutely no idea that your father was at the same POW camp. I wonder if others
of the crew were also in Luft #1. Please let me know of any that were. I do know
that Lt. Kuptsow and Lt. Zimmer (being Jewish I believe) were segregated from
the others when they arrived at Luft #1. Itís interesting to note that your
father, Dick, had POW #6869, while mine was 6894 and Harry Nelsonís was 6617.
Did Dick ever mention when he arrived at Luft #1? What Compound, Block # and
Room # ?
Iíll not go into
details concerning life at Luft #1, Dick, probably told you of the cold, lack of
food, lice and boredom.
The section under the
title "The Mission" is partly from the Missing Air Craft Crew Report
residing in the National Archives of the U.S. and partly from the other records.
It is quite detailed and reports the fact that three air craft from the 398th
Bomb Group were shot down by flak Nov. 26th and that the Deputy Leader was also
badly damaged, had to leave the formation, but was able to make it back to the
base. The details are pretty factual.
The section under
"Life as POW" was mostly from my memory and the memory of other
crew members over time. As
such, the details might be a mite fuzzy and possibly open to debate.