World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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Perk Chumley - B-17 pilot - Stalag Luft I POW photo
 Lt. Ernest  W. Chumley   "Perk" Of Jacksonville, IL
Pilot - B-17
99th Bomb Group - 347 Bomb Squadron
15th Air Force


Shot down April 2, 1944 on a mission to Steyr, Austria

Stalag Luft I POW - North 1 Compound
Kriegie # 4182

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Perk Chumley crew

 Perk's crew


Crew of Ole Mose shot down April 2, 1944
2nd Lt. John J. Koehne Pilot POW
2nd Lt. Ernest W. Chumley Co-Pilot POW
2nd Lt. John W. Armatoski Navigator POW
2nd Lt. Howard F. Meyer Bombardier POW
S/Sgt. Joseph L. Warneck Engineer POW
Sgt. Alfons J. Uzar Asst. Engineer POW
S/Sgt. Robert E. Lee Radio Operator POW
Sgt. Frederick H. Eulert  ** Asst. Radio Operator KIA **
Sgt. Donald L. Perkins Waist Gunner POW
Sgt. Robert R. MacMinn Tail Gunner POW

** German Medical Report states:

The American Prisoner of War Frederick Eulert ASN 37492872 T 43 0 was admitted to this infirmary on 4/2/44, 1445 hrs.  The medical officer ascertained a penetrating wound in the right thigh with fragmentation of the pelvis and a shell fragment behind the right ear lobe.  The above died on 4/2/1944, 1800 hrs.  Cause of death: as above and probably inner injuries.

     On 2 Apr 1944 we took off for our target which was Steyr, Austria which is located in the Austrian Alps.  Steyr is in the middle of a manufacturing area and was classed as a target that produced ball bearing and parts for the German war machine.  This is the type of targets we were continually bombing.  This mission was our 4th and 5th mission.  The reason for 4 & 5 is because it was such a long trip and if completed we would get credit for 2 missions.  We knew that we would see heavy flak and fighters because of the importance of the target.  Our flight leader was doing a lousy job of guiding us.  As we were approaching the target area, during our bomb run and soon thereafter.   He was turning too fast and making it very difficult for us to stay in a tight formation.  We were about 30 minutes late over the target at 1245 and we were hit by flak, our group dropped our bombs and left the target area.  Immediately after dropping our bombs we had to leave the formation due to damage to our aircraft.  This made us a cripple and the enemy aircraft really attacks a cripple.  We were attacked by 6 enemy aircraft all Germans, which were ME-109, ME-110 and FW-190.  We evidently were hit in the tail which caused us to lose control of the aircraft.  In addition to the tail gunner having been hit, the ball turret was damaged and the gunner was injured.  I had looked out my window at the wing and saw a 6-8 inch hole about 6 feet from me where an anti-aircraft shell had gone through.  We had trouble in one of the engines and had feathered the propeller so it would not run.  We put the aircraft on automatic pilot and prepared to bail out.  The pilot gave the order to bail out at 1305, at this time it was not a case of wanting to jump but part of our training telling us to jump.  Therefore everyone left in a quick and orderly fashion.

   After I bailed out I opened my parachute and started the flight down.  I noticed the airplane was gliding for about 30 seconds and then the left wing blew up and fell off the aircraft and it fell to the ground.  When our crew was sent overseas I had been checked-out as the Crew Commander and Pilot but when we reached Foggia we were considered a filler crew with no experience so they separated my crew and had us fly with other experienced crews.  On the Steyr mission we were all together except my co-pilot who was to fly with another crew.  As I did not have many missions they had me flying as a co-pilot that day.  Our pilot had completed 18 missions.  At this time I did not know how many had gotten out of the aircraft.  As I was parachuting downward I noticed that it had gotten very quiet with absolutely no sound anywhere.  It was really amazing and struck me as odd that a war could be going on with everything as quiet and peaceful as it was.

   An ME-109 aircraft was flying around but he did not make any attempt to bother me.  As I descended close to the ground I discovered I was going to land in a group of pine trees.  As I landed in this group of trees my parachute got caught on the top limbs and I could not reach the ground.  I pulled myself close to the tree trunk and stood on the branches and removed my chute.  At this time I was about 30 feet above the ground and I started to climb down the trunk. I started shinnying down the tree but my grip slipped and I fell the last 20-24 feet to the ground.  As I hit the ground my right knee was dislocated and it popped back in place but it hurt so bad I could not run.

   As I was sitting on the ground wondering what I should do I heard a noise up on the mountain.  I soon found out that it was Joe Warneck who had landed close to me and decided to come to see if I needed help.  We did not have hand guns because it was a known fact that our air crews were hurt when carrying weapons.  The air crews would try to defend themselves and would be shot by the Germans.  It was not long until we were surrounded by 3 Austrian farmers who were armed.  They indicated for us to follow them.  Naturally we did follow.  They took us to a very small town where we met Lt. Armatoski and Sgt. McQueen who was laying in his parachute on a 2 wheel cart.  He had been hit by something in the head because he had a big cut across the hairline on his forehead and was bleeding.  They then transported us to another small town where we met Sgt. MacMinn, who had been hit in the body by flak and Sgt. Perkins who had been wounded in the back.  We were then taken to the third town where the wounded were hauled by ambulance to a hospital and the rest of us were taken to the court house and then to jail.  We learned that Sgt. Eulert had been wounded in the rear and the doctors had done all they could to stop his bleeding but they were unsuccessful   and he died the next day.  I did not see another one of the enlisted men again until the war was over.

   The court house and the last town we were taken to were loaded with men in British uniforms.  We were never sure if they were POW's and if they were trusted to run around if they did not try to escape or if they were Germans in disguise.  However, we were in the lobby of the court house when one of the British men brought us some tea and bread.  As he handed the food to us he also gave us a note.  The note said "If you will give me your name, rank and home address we will notify your next of kin".  We looked at each other and decided that we shouldn't take a chance.  To this day I feel that they would have done just that and our folks at home would have known all about us. So much for hind-sight. 

   The next day we were loaded into a train for transportation to solitary confinement which was at Karlsruhe, Germany which was located close to Frankfurt, Germany.  Not much went on during this trip except one little incident.  There were 9 of us POW's riding in a single compartment having cushioned seats.  The Germans riding the trains were standing up in the hallways even the 2 Germans with guns that were our guards were standing.  This meant that we the POW enemy were sitting in plush seats while the Germans stood.  One of our men had his front teeth knocked out, his mouth and face were swollen and he was in a lot of pain.  His face had hit the nose wheel as he had bailed out of a B-24.  Anyway he looked at all the German travelers and said "Someone ask the Germans if this trip is necessary?"  We all thought it was funny.  On this trip we were amazed to see all the cities and towns that had been bombed.

   We finally arrived at the Dulag Luft Camp on 7 Apr 1944,  which was Palm Sunday.  We were each assigned a cell which contained a wooden bed with a mattress filled with straw and an electric heater or radiator.  The door had a small window on the outside for the German guards to look in on you.  If you needed to go to the bathroom you would touch a lever and it would drop down in the hall and the guard would come to your cell and let you go to the bathroom.  At no time were we in the hall with another prisoner.  We arrived here about 4:00 in the afternoon.  That same afternoon they took me downstairs to another cell where a German Major interrogated me.  After giving him my name, rank and serial number I would not give him any other information and he said I would before I left.  After refusing again I was taken back to my cell.  About 8:00 that night a guard came after me again.  At this point I was beginning to get concerned because I did not know if they (the Germans) would torture us or not.  I just hoped otherwise.

   This time I was taken to the commandant's office where he began asking me the same questions.  He informed me that they knew all about our crew so I might as well tell him everything.  After refusing again they took me back to my cell.  The routine remained the same for the next few days, except no more questioning took place and I was locked in my cell and the food brought to me.  The windows had bars on them and wooden shutters so the guards could close them at night to protect against air raids.

   One week from the day I arrived there at about 3:00 in the afternoon the guard opened my door and said come on.  I followed him not knowing what was taking place and he took me to the center yard of the camp where other Americans were arriving.  We were told that we were going to be moved to our permanent camp site.  This was on Easter Sunday a day to remember.  You will note that I was never questioned after the first day I arrived at Dulag Luft.  I thought they might question me again after a few days thinking I might be scared and would tell them something but they didn't bother.

   We were walked to the train station and loaded into box cars for our trip to the new camp.  We passed through Kassel, Hanover and Berlin.  We spent the night in the rail yards, or marshaling yards as they were called in Berlin. This was a favorite trick the Germans had of leaving prisoners in the box cars in the rail yards and then if the yards were bombed at night they could say we killed our own men.  We heard airplanes going over but no bombs were dropped that night.

   On 13 Apr 1944 we arrived at the small town of Barth, Germany probably no larger than 5,000 people.  It is located due north of Berlin on the Baltic Sea.  It lies between the two cities of Rostock and Stettin.  These are also on the Baltic about 30 miles from Barth.  Just a note at this point after the war this part of Germany was given to the Russians by the allies and was called East Germany.  The name of our camp was Stalag Luft 1.

   When we arrived we were assigned to block 4 (barracks 4) compound 1.  The next day we were permitted to take a shower in the communal shower.  The water would be turned on for about 30 seconds and a person was to get wet then soap up and the water was turned on again for time to rinse.  This had to be done in a hurry because they didn't leave the water on very long.  We were then given some new clothes which were supplied by the International Red Cross.  However they just happened to be military clothes.

   At the time we arrived at Stalag  Luft 1 there were actually 2 parts to the camp.  The original camp was called the south compound.  Just next to the camp were some brick buildings that housed a flak school for the German soldiers.  This was also the permanent area for our guards and their personnel.  This flak school was an area used to teach the young German military how to use the anti-aircraft flak guns. They did not practice with live ammunition but all of the instructional work was done here.  This reminds me of the point I made about our train being parked in the rail yards overnight.  The flak school was close to a POW camp so if the allies bombed the flak school and hit the camp they would be killing their own people.

   The south compound was primarily filled with British airman prisoners.  They had been taken in the early part of the war about the time the British were leaving France at Dunkirk.  After a time the number of Americans began to out number the British so the Germans had to open the other areas.

   In the remaining pages I will refer to my original diary so perhaps at this time I should explain what “my original diary” is and how I came by it.  The diary is a bound book 6 ¾” X 9 ½” with a course cloth like cover.  It consisted of  73  plain white pages,  18 photograph holding pages and 78 more plain white pages.  On the front of the book was imprinted ‘A Wartime Log’.   In the front of the book is an imprint of the letters ‘YMCA’ and their logo.  These books were donated and sent to the POW’s by the YMCA.  However, not many of the books were made available so our camp divided the books between the barracks.  As it turned out only two books were made available to our barracks.  The barracks Commander Cpt. Putnam got one copy and a lottery with  the other 120 prisoners was held and my name was drawn.  To me this book has earned it’s weight in gold.  Many, many good and bad memories can be returned to and relived by me from reading it again and again.  The pages of this book will be referred to many times in the remaining pages of these memoirs.

   Next to the South Compound was North Compound 1 it had been constructed a short time before I had gotten there and was not fully occupied.  However in the remaining time I was there an additional north compound II and III were built.  By the time the war ended each one of the compounds were holding approximately 2,000 men. With 7,500 of them officers and 500 enlisted men.

Page 25 of my original diary illustrates the location of the barracks, the shower, mess hall and kitchen.  I was first assigned to a room in block 4.  Jack Armitoski and I had been together on the train and also we were able to stick together here.  The next month around 30 May 1944 we were permanently assigned to a room in block #1.  Lt. Meyer was with us most of the time but he was assigned to block #7.  We saw each other all the time but not as much as Armitoski and I saw each other.  Referring to blocks 9, 10 and 11 they were built later in the war when it became apparent our areas were too crowded.

  Sometime during the months of April and May of 1945 the German command moved all of the POW’s from barrack number 11 and then placed all POW’s that were known or thought to be Jewish in barracks 11. The rumor around camp was that the Germans were going to kill them all if they lost the war.  As we know now although they lost the war they did not kill the POW’s in barracks number 11 and all ended well.

  Our room was laid out in this manner referring to page 26 of my diary.  Each of the beds were double deckers.  We had a table and benches when there was not enough room at the table we would sit on the edge of the beds to eat and talk. The stove was an upright stove about 4 feet high and two feet square.  It was covered with ceramic tile, therefore it did not put out much heat for the room.  Later on we learned to remove some of the tile from the stove and the heat would get out.  Our coal for heating was a compressed block of coal like our charcoal briquettes are now.  They measured about 1 1/2" thick, 2 1/2" across and 8" long we would get about 6 or 7 of these every 2 to 4 days.  Not much to heat with.  The sign on the door is on page 22 of my diary.

   On the outside wall we had a window about 8 feet long that we could open in the summer and we could see out. However at night the Germans would close the shutters so no light would show on the outside.  We started out with only 14 men in the room but close to the end of the war we had 16 men.  This made it a little more crowded and created more confusion at eating time, which I will further explain later.

   Our beds were made of 2 X 4's upright and 2 X 6's side rails.  Our springs were wire string between the 2 x 6's and tightened.  The mattress consisted of a mattress cover filled with plain old straw.  It would not take long for the straw to break to pieces as we laid on it.  So it was quite a big deal when we were given new straw by the Germans.  The new straw was good for about 2 weeks.

   The camp was approximately 600-700 feet with the barracks or blocks laid out as I indicated.  The camp was enclosed by 2-12 foot high fences approximately 10 feet apart.  Between these two fences were rolls of barbed wire strung along the ground about 3 feet high.  It was impossible to walk through without getting caught.  The upright fences were also made of barbed wire so they were also impossible to climb.  There was a guard house approximately 25 feet tall located at each corner and in the middle of each side.  Each guard house was manned by a soldier and a 30 caliber machine gun.  On the inside of the two fences about 12 feet from the 2 outside fences was a single string of barbed wire 3 feet high.  This was called a restraining wire and no one was allowed past it without permission.  Occasionally we would have a baseball, football or something else land in this area but no attempt would be made to retrieve the article without the guards OK. At night all of this area was patrolled by guard dogs.

   When we arrived at camp the food rations were distributed by the Germans.  They would give us barley cereal, potatoes, butter and bread.  The rest of our rations came from food parcels that were distributed by the International Red Cross through Sweden and Switzerland and then the Germans. Naturally we all felt that they were paid for by the U.S. Government.  These parcels contained 11 pounds of food. The contents are listed from page 5 of my diary. You will notice the parcels did have a very good balance of food items and other supplies.  We should have gotten one of these parcels each week but sometimes this did not happen.

   Every food parcel contained at least 5-7 packages of cigarettes in them and since so many men smoked they were in great demand.  So the men in camp decided that cigarettes would be the basis of our monetary system.  No money was allowed in camp so the item that was most important was to be considered the money base.  Therefore, it became a trading deal!  This means that a can of cheese or meat or the milk would be equal to so many cigarettes.  In other words you could sell or buy the items for what ever you could bargain for.  Most of the time the price remained constant such as 60 cigarettes for a can of Spam, beef or cheese.  Powdered milk was equal to 100 cigarettes.  If a person did not smoke they could buy extra rations each week.

   The Germans gave us a some dark colored bread at least every other day.  Sometimes the amount would vary.  A system was devised to ration out the bread in each room.  The bread was not sliced, so one individual would cut the loaves into 14 equal shares, more or less, and set them on a table.  Then we would place a playing card on each piece of bread, another matching card was then drawn and when your name appeared you got these matching cards.  If a person was unlucky enough to get the end piece that was his problem or tough luck until the next draw.  A deck of cards that I had at camp was used for this purpose and they were practically worn out by the time we were sent home.

   Each week when the Germans issued our Red Cross parcels they would punch a hole in the top of all cans.  This was done to prevent the POW's from holding on to the rations and using them over a period of time trying to escape.  Many of the items the Germans gave us such as potatoes, cabbage, turnips or meat would be partly rotten or spoiled.  We would salvage what we could and go from there.

   Our compound was the only compound that had a mess hall that could be used by the POW's.  It was located on the inside of the fence so we could use it.  The mess hall was run by POW volunteers, supervised by the Germans.  We had the cooks and the important jobs filled from these volunteers.  The dish washers, potato peelers and clean up people came from details appointed by the commanders.  The food for the kitchen was removed from the red cross parcels before they were issued to the prisoners.  Whatever the mess hall could make a meal of with the inclusion of the German rations was done. We had just two meals served a day, breakfast and dinner.

   The dining room was furnished with tables and benches. Most of the tables would sit 8 men.  Generally for each meal we would have two sittings.  The barracks would take turns for the early or late times.  Each person at the table would have a bowl or plate for each meal.  The food would be brought to the table in a dish or dishes and then divided up.  One person would normally measure out the food.  Tablespoon after tablespoon.  No individual was allowed to do his own serving.  It was divided by one person and this way everyone got the same amount.  This procedure was followed for all meals.

   It was nothing to see the men eating their Barley cereal and stop and push something to the side of the dish.  After we were there a short time we discovered that these were worms that were in the cereal.  As everybody was hungry we all decided we could eat around the worms.

   Another item in the Red Cross parcels turned out to be of great value to us and this was the cans of oleo-margarine. Quite often the electricity was turned off and there were no lights for anything.  So someone thought of making a candle out of the oleo.  This was done by taking a can and hanging a piece of string in the can then pouring melted oleo in the can.  After it hardened one could light the string and we would have candles.  The oleo was very important to us. It acted just like a wax candle.

   Every morning and night a roll call was held so the Germans could tell if we were all there.  We would fall out by barracks with our barracks commander in front.  Normally the formation would be in 4 ranks with each person directly behind the man in front.  The German commandant would walk in front of the flight and one of his men behind.  Each would be counting the personnel.  If they differed at the end of the flight then they would recount.  Sometimes it would take several counts.

   Whenever a German guard or the commandant entered our compound some one would yell a warning.  At first this warning signal was "Goon Up" meaning a German was inside the fence.  We used this signal until the Germans found out that the word Goon was not too complimentary and they made us change it.  So we changed it to "Enemy Up" and then they were satisfied.

   The reason we had the signal was to warn any prisoner that was doing something he shouldn't be that the Germans were coming and they should stop what ever they were doing so they would not get caught.  Like digging a tunnel or something of this nature.  The Germans would perform surprise searches of individuals or barracks once a week or so.  If an individual was in their barracks  then the Germans would search them and would confiscate anything the prisoners shouldn't have.  However, if we were outside the barracks they would not touch us.  This is the reason for the warning so everyone could get outside the barracks.  Of course this was impossible after dark or lock up.

   The Germans also had odd ideas about anyone that was trying to escape.  We were first warned by our own Commanders that any attempt to escape from camp must first be approved by our chain of command.  If a person was trying to escape the Commanders would then give them all the support they could.  In the line of tools, food and equipment.  In this way headquarters could keep a reign on attempts so one would not interfere with another.  The strange thing with the Germans thinking was if a POW was caught trying to escape and was inside the restraining barb wire he would be given 2 weeks solitary confinement, However, if the POW was found outside the camp he would be given only 1 week confinement.  In other wards the Germans would reward a POW for getting outside the camp.

   In addition to the clothing and food parcels sent through the International Red Cross we also got help from the International YMCA.  No doubt these items were supplied by the U.S. Government and delivered by the "Y" but they were more than appreciated.  We had a great variety of sport equipment plus musical instruments and library books.  The items were all put to use in their own way.

   We received all types of sporting goods equipment such as baseballs, gloves and bats, basketballs and nets, footballs, softballs, volleyballs and nets.  Boxing gloves and even some ice skates.  We do not know why they sent ice skates but one time they did try to flood an area for skating but it didn't last long as it warmed up.  However, with the other items this gave us a great chance to exercise and keep our minds occupied.  We formed teams and leagues for all the different sports.  Normally a group of friends would form a team or the teams were made up of the men in a barracks.  Consequently there was quite a bit of very good competition.

   At the end of the basketball season an all-star team was chosen from the North Compound I and the South Compound and we had a championship game between the two compounds. The Germans escorted the South compound to our area and we had the game on our court.  This court was mostly sandy so it was a problem to dribble the ball.  I was lucky enough to have been chosen as one of the ten all-stars from our compound to play in the game.  It was a very close low scoring game and our team won.  It was quite a big deal as the court was completely packed with men around it.  It really was a pleasure to have been chosen and to play in the game.  The final score was North compound 34 to South Compound 27.

   All of the books the Germans allowed into the camp had been censored.  Nothing derogatory toward the Germans were in them.  The books were all placed in one room and this was our library.  Two or three of the prisoners volunteered to take care of the books and they were issued by cards just as in regular libraries.  They had many good books and I spent a lot of bad weather time reading.

   The musical instruments were also put to good use.  Many of the POW's were very good musicians, singers and actors.  A group of the better musicians formed a band and they would put on musical programs.  They named the band "Round-the-Benders".  The term round-the-bend comes from the prisoner saying that a person was going a little stir crazy from being in prison too long.  Instead of saying he was a little nuts or crazy we would just say he is "round-the-bend". 

Table Top Thespians stage at Stalag Luft I

Note the TTT above the stage

   The people who had acting ability formed a group called TTT's which stood for "Table Top Thespians".  About once a month the Round-the-Benders and the TTT's would put on a stage show in the mess hall.  Sometimes the band would play during the meal time and they always had a great holiday program. Both groups were very good and they did a great job of entertaining us.  I suppose the groups got there music and plays through the Red Cross or YMCA.

   When  the weather was good and we became bored with staying in the room we would go outside and walk around the compound just inside the warning fence.  It was nothing for us to walk around  6 or 7 trips.  We would generally walk with others so we had someone to discuss things with. Many of us played bridge or rummy when we had to stay in.

   Each barracks had a loud speaker in the hall so we could get announcements but it was all furnished by the Germans so it did not amount to much.  The Germans would not give us much news but occasionally they would bring us a small paper that always told about the front lines.  It was funny the Germans never retreated "They fell back to better defense positions".  We did have a way of getting the news each day. some place in our camp was a radio that was kept hidden from the Germans.  I never did know nor did I want to know where it was.  However the news was received and then some one in our headquarters building would type it and make carbons of the news.  Then each barracks had a runner that would take the page back to their barracks.  We would then pass the sheet from room to room and that way everyone would know the latest news.  Sometimes if the news was very important we would read it in groups of three so it was all silent.

   This little newspaper or sheet was called the "POW-WOW" its byline was "The only truthful newspaper in Germany" . Because our people monitored the German radio our prison camp knew the invasion in Europe had started 6 hours before the people in the U.S..  The reason for this was that as quick as the allied invasion started in Europe, Germany warned their people but the announcement was held up in the U.S. until six o'clock U.S. time.  The invasion started about midnight U.S. time but it was 5:00 A.M. in Europe.  This little newspaper was a great moral booster for the POW's.

   I mentioned earlier about taking a shower when we first got to Barth.   Well this shower procedure continued after we were sent to POW camp.  We took showers about every 2 to 3 weeks.  A group of 20-30 prisoners were taken at a time to the shower area and they only had so many minutes to complete their showers.

   One of the most difficult problems we had was the maintaining of clean clothes.  No laundry facilities were available to us so some method had to be devised and sure enough the POW's came up with a solution.  Instead of doing the clothes by hand a washing pole was made.  This pole was made by nailing to the end of a broom stick a small 4 oz. jelly can with the top cut out of it and placed inside of a 1 pound milk can with holes in the sides.  The clothes were placed in a bucket of soap and water.  Where we got the soap I do not remember. Anyway the stick would be pushed down against the clothes and bottom of the bucket then lifted back up to the top, this action causes the clothes to go down and then the water goes out the holes in the big can and when the stick is raised a vacuum is formed by the little can lifting the clothes up.  The up and down action is the same as the agitation on a regular washer and it really did a good job.

   After we arrived at prison camp the first thing we wanted to do was to see that word got home about us.  The Germans gave us some form pages and post cards that we could send home.  We were allowed to send two letters and 3 post cards a month.  This was our biggest concern for a while not knowing what the people back home knew about us. As it turned out the people back home were in the same position as we were.  They did not know if we were getting their mail or not.  As it turned out it was about 2 months before the mail got either way.  The first letter I got from Fran arrived on the 10th of July 1944 as you can well guess it was well received by me.  After that the mail began coming in fairly regularly except when our air force would play hell with the Germans supply line on transportation networks and then the mail would be held up.

   In addition to the mail Fran was permitted to send a food parcel and two tobacco packages every 3 months.  On 29 Sept 1944 I got my first food parcel from her.  Since everyone in our room was taken prisoner about the same time her package was the first for anyone in our room.  You can imagine what an event that was.  She had been told not to put anything personal in the package because the Germans censored all packages and would remove it.  Nevertheless Fran slid a 5 X 7 picture of herself down the side of the box.  When I received the parcel it had been opened and censored but who ever the German was he had placed her picture on top so that was the first thing I saw.  Also in the first package was a deck of playing cards.  These were the only cards in our room for about 3 months.  They really got some hard use. When we could not play with them anymore we used them to ration out the bread.

   At that time there were not many dehydrated products on the market so it was hard for her to find things to send.  In one of the parcels she sent the dehydrated and powdered contents for mince meat pie.  We had to really do some work to get a pie in that place.  Our first problem was no pie pans and the last and most important was no ovens.  With a lot of thought I devised a plan--I took the longest can I could get which was a milk can and cut the top and bottom rims out.  Then I flattened the remaining part of the can. After flattening the can I bent up the outside edges about 1" and folded the corners together so they would not leak and then I had an oblong pan.  It was not round but we decided it would work.

   I then separated the dough into two portions made the bottom crust put it in the pan and filled it with the mince meat then put on the top crust.  Now the question is how do I bake it.  There was no way to place it on the fire in our stoves as it would burn.  I then got the idea of putting the pan in the ash pit and making a lid to keep the ashes off of the pie while it baked.  In this way the problem was solved and after a while the pie was baked. When it was done and cooled I gave everyone in the room a bite of it.  A bite doesn't seem like much but under these conditions they felt I was more than generous to give them that.  Food that came from home was very seldom passed around in the room as everyone respected each others’ personal property.

   One of the things that worried us the most was the anxiety of not knowing just what was going on.  We were so long in hearing from home we naturally worried about that. So when word did come we relaxed a little.  However, we were concerned about what might happen to us.  With the guards manning  machine guns all around us we never knew what their feelings might be.  We often thought that if they had lost some of their families during one of our air raids,  how would they feel toward us?  Would they want to shoot us?  We were always giving this some thought.

   About 5:30 a.m., 4 Apr 1945, someone yelled the mess hall was on fire.  Well none of us would believe it but I had to go to the bathroom so when I got to the latrine I looked out and sure enough the mess hall was completely engulfed in flames.  I ran back to the room and told everyone and they all jumped out of bed dressed and ran over to help put out the fire.  There was no putting out that fire.  The mess hall burned completely to the ground.  The only thing that was saved was a few loaves of bread that had been stored in the kitchen area.  We never found out what caused the fire.

   We soon found that this had created a lot of problems for us.  We only had a small stove in our room not made for cooking and now 14 to 16 men would have to cook on it.  We started to get more of our rations in the room since the kitchen was not taking any of the food for cooking.  We had to take care of it and be sure that it did not spoil.

   Along about the same time this happened we began to get interruptions in our electric service and our water supply, when the Germans were asked what was going on they would say that the allies were bombing their electric and water plants.  This we had no doubt of but sometimes they would be off for hours.  Whenever the water was on we would fill every bucket and/or can we could find.  However, at the end of the war we found this was untrue and that the Germans were just trying to cause us trouble.

   The four most memorable days during my prison stay was the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.  The 4th of July was a warm day and forever what reason the Germans permitted us to have a celebration.  We held the ceremonies out on the parade grounds with the band "Round-the-Benders" playing music and putting on a stage show.  We all sat out in front of the band on the ground or benches that we had taken from our barracks.  Even the German commandant attended the ceremony.  The celebration was quite impressive to see inside of a prison camp.

   On Thanksgiving Day we had a special meal even though the Germans had just put us on 14 day ration periods instead of the usual 7 day.  This meant the food had to go twice as far.  The mess hall had been saving some food back so we could have a better meal.  For breakfast we had creamed Spam and fried potatoes.  Remember the bread to eat with it had to come from our daily rations.  For the evening meal we had Argentina roast beef, mashed potatoes and Pate gravy, carrots and peas, raisin and chocolate pie and American coffee.  In addition to eating good we had music by the band and Chuck Wiest sang "Serenade in Blue".

   The day before Christmas was a cloudy day about 20 degrees Fahrenheit the camps glee club and string orchestra presented a program of Christmas carols and excerpts from "Handel's Messiah". At midnight the Catholic’s were permitted to have mass and the Protestant’s had their Christmas service at noon on Christmas day.  During the evening one of our room mates played an accordion that we got from somewhere and we sang a few of the old favorite songs.  It looked to us like Christmas would be just another day.

   Christmas Day in "Kriegeland" a cold and cloudy day.  Roll call was a little later today.  For breakfast we had Vienna sausage and fried potatoes.  At 2:00 we had Protestant service.  It was a short service of prayers and Christmas carols.  This afternoon I cooked a soup using some of the tomato juice from my last parcel, a bouillon cube, dehydrated meat and rice and noodle soup mix.  It was really quite good.  The Christmas evening meal put the Thanksgiving meal in the back seat.  The menu was as follows: Turkey (very good), mashed potatoes and Pate gravy, boiled carrots, chocolate pie and coffee.  In addition to this the band put on a program, Chuck Wiest sang three songs and really did a good job, they had a Santa Claus and all.  It was a climax to a rather sad and lonesome Christmas Day.  As usual we had the Red Cross and the YMCA to thank for our pleasure.

   Sunday Dec 31 being New Year's Eve was rather a sobering day because it seemed to be a day for reflection, what has happened and what is about to happen.  Anyway we went to Sunday church services and then we had perhaps the best meal that we had all during our stay in prison.  We even had canned turkey from the special Red Cross parcels.  At 11:30 New Year's Eve we were permitted to have another "Midnight Watch" church service.  I can easily say that it was very well attended.  Never again will I attend a service that made me think as that one did.  It was a type of service that I have never witnessed before.  I don't know exactly how to express in writing the feeling I had during the service.  On all my previous New Years Eve's I have spent in celebration but this one, well----It was done by way of prayer and not by my own selfish benefit that a wild celebration would give me.  The service consisted of hymns and prayers with a short sermon of about 5 minutes by Chaplain Douglas.  The text was our three duties when we get home, duty to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the young men that will look to us as an influence over their lives.  At midnight we had a silent prayer.  Only a person that has experienced this situation can understand my feelings in this kind of situation.

   One day a fellow prisoner of Stalag 1, Lt. Roy, said that if he ever got out of POW camp and back home alive he would write a book about his and others experiences during the war and in POW camp.  So several of us said if he did write the book we would like a copy.  One is reminded that no money was available to the POW’s therefore a method of payment had to be devised.  In my particular case I used the inside of a match cover and made out a check for two copies of the book.  Months after returning from the service this canceled match book was returned in my checking account and in July 1946 almost 14 months after the war ended I received my copies of the book. Needless to say I was a little surprised. It was called  “Behind Barbed Wire” it is a hard bound book  written by Lt. Morris J. Roy.  The book consisted of 12 flight missions as told by POW’s to Lt. Roy.  The book also has a complete listing of all prisoners indicating their rank, type of aircraft and their home address.  It also has many pictures that were taken at the POW camp and many sketches and drawings that were made by the prisoners.

   Naturally there were many other days I can remember or things that I did but they are not important enough to remember in writing.  Most of my prison stay was along the lines that I have mentioned and very often the same, day after day.

   On Monday Apr 30, 1945 at about 9:30 A.M. our barracks commander Capt. Putman went through our barracks and told everyone "Dig a slit trench outside the barracks so that you can get to it through your windows" this was quite a surprise but according to our news source we knew the Russians were advancing from the east and the British from the west.  This meant that we could be right in the middle and could be in some danger from battle fire.  The Germans guarding our camp were in a big quandary as to what to do with us.  Anyway we all started digging slit trenches using milk cans for tools.  Lucky the ground was sandy and soft, it didn't take us too long.  As we dug the trenches we heard rumors that the Germans might evacuate our camp.  We knew that we would be better off dug in rather than trying to get to friendly lines.  Our only hope was that there would be no fighting where we were.

   At about 11:00 we heard a big explosion at the flak school.  It was not long until we were sure the Germans would evacuate.  They continued to blow up things and the guards began to pack all of their belongings.  The Germans wanted to go west and if they were to be taken prisoner they wanted it to be by the British and Americans not the Russians so this is why they were leaving us. Col. Zemke our American top commander learned the German soldiers and civilians were starting to loot our Red Cross parcels that were stored in the flak school warehouses. Col Zemke complained to the German commandant.  Then Col. Zemke came to us for volunteers to get our parcels.

   Naturally he had plenty of volunteers.  We went to the warehouses and pushed the Germans back out of the way and loaded the parcels on wagons.  We soon found more parcels than the Germans said we had.  We took the parcels to our camp for protection.

          The next few remarks will be excerpts day by day from my "A Wartime Log".  

   Tuesday May 1,1945 - We woke up at 5:00 and looked out the windows and found the towers were all empty!  The Germans had left during the night and at 11:00 P.M. the night before the German commandant and an interpreter had come to Col. Zemke and said we are now your prisoners.  Rumors started flying about how close the Russians were, etc. some of our technicians hooked the radio up to our loud speaker system so we began getting good radio programs and could keep up with the news.  We heard the old Hit Parade.  They interrupted the program to announce that Adolf Hitler was dead.  This really brought all of us relief.

   Wednesday May 2 - Not much going on.  We heard the Russians were approaching Barth.  We were ordered to stay close to camp as some of the Russians might not be to friendly.

   Thursday May 3 - Barth is made "Off Limits" to us. Col. Zemke hopes we will fly out soon.  We were issued 3 Red Cross parcels we didn't know how to act.  Some of us decided to take a walk.  All fences have been removed.  Walked about 2 miles to a lake.  Saw 2 P-47 aircraft from the U.S. some site to see.  The airfield close to Barth had been damaged by the Germans before they left, but volunteers were trying to get it ready.

   Friday May 4 - We have 4 smudge pots burning in the middle of camp.  This will warn any aircraft in the area to watch out for our camp.  We heard the Germans were surrendering in Northern Germany, Denmark and Holland. Three concentration camps were discovered in and around Barth and the airfield. Some very gruesome stories are coming from those camps.

   Saturday May 5 - Still waiting around.  At 14:00 a big yell went up all over camp.  The cause was the arrival of an American Major, Captain, Sergeant and a P.F.C. in a jeep. These were the first outsiders we had seen.  We now knew that our people were well aware of us.  Later an Air Corps Colonel arrived and he informed us arrangements were being made to get us out.

   Sunday May 6 - Found out the concentration camps held, French, Polish and Russian prisoners used as forced labor around Barth.

   Monday May 7 - I have been in the army 3 years this date. Nothing else new.

   Tuesday May 8 - 2nd wedding anniversary in prison camp. Some of us took a walk to the airfield and looked it over along with the remains of the concentration camps.  Picked up a German helmet on the way back.  The greatest news was that the Germans had signed the "Unconditional Surrender" we had a big bonfire in the center of the parade grounds.

   Wednesday May 9 - Nothing New!

   Thursday May 10 - Nothing new-just waiting around.

   Friday May 11 - Washed a few clothes and signed a blanket passport for the Russians.  Rumor had it that we would leave Sat or Sun.  I hope.

   Saturday May 12 - At 2:05 P.M. we sighted the first B-17 aircraft.  Then they began to arrive fast.  Before the day was over 38 B-17's and 2 C-47's had landed and loaded up. About 900 left camp that day.  It was really great to see, everyone was very happy.

   Sunday May 13 - Up at 6:00 A.M. and packing ready for anything.  We went to the airport and at 11:15 loaded onto a B-17 and left Barth, Germany.  After 13 months of time in a POW camp.  We landed at Leon, France at 3:05 P.M..  On the way we flew over Rostock, Dortmund, Duisburg and Dusseldorf in Germany and Cologne, Aachen and Liege Belgium. Flying over these towns we passed over the Ruhr River Valley and we saw what the air raids and artillery can do to a town. Cologne and Aachen were the most severally hit and were really flattened.  We landed at Leon Airport and were driven by trucks to a camp outside Rheims, France as we went through the city we saw the famous Rheims Cathedral.  It was a beautiful sight and Rheims also was where the "unconditional Surrender" was signed.

   Monday May 14 - Up at 6:30 A.M. we left by C-47 for Le Havre Airport and arrived at 10:50 A.M..  We were taken by truck to camp Lucky Strike about 45 miles southeast of Le Havre.  We were permitted to take a leisurely shower and enjoy it.  Then we were issued new clothes.  Later on that day I ran into Sgt. Warneck, from my crew, and he filled me in on the rest of the crew.  He informed me that all had made it with the exception of Sgt. Eulert.  They all had survived very well.

   Tuesday May 15 - Ran into Sgt Uzar another member of our crew and we talked for a long time.  The camp was really a tent city as there were approximately 25 to 30,000 men there.

   May 16 through June 10 - Nothing really happened during this time.  It was probably the most boring period of my military life.  All we were doing was waiting for transportation home, but of course many thousands of other were doing the same thing.  During this time we spent a lot of time at the USO tents and just sitting around talking.  We would take some walks but kept close to camp hoping to be told it was our turn.  Special services put on many stage shows for us. They were trying to help us out but it was a slow process. During this time we were given physical exams, new clothing, records brought up to date and some money.

   At the USO tents we could get coffee, doughnuts, cocoa, cheese sandwiches and other different types of foods.  Of course these items we had not had as a POW.

   Monday June 11 - We were all packed and at 3:15 we left Camp Lucky Strike and arrived at the Le Harve Harbor at 6:05 A.M..  We boarded the USS Gen. H. W. Butner at 7:00 A.M. Because there were so many officers aboard the 2nd Lt’s had to sleep in the hold.  This ship was the sister ship of the USS Gen A. E. Anderson that I had gone over on.  Due to the large number on board we only had 2 meals a day.  This didn't make too much difference as long as we were going home.

   Tuesday June 12 - Ate breakfast and left Le Havre Harbor at 11:10 A.M.  It was announced that we would dock at Norfolk, VA this was the same place that I Left from on 23 Jan 1943.  The ship normally carries 4500 enlisted men and 450 officers, however on this trip we had 6000 enlisted men and 1500 officers.  The hold I was in was the 4th deck down approximately 36" below the water line.

   Jun 13 through Jun 18 - Crossing the ocean not much going on, just passing time.  Played bridge with some men from the camp.  This was about all we could do.  It was so crowded we had a hard time even taking a walk on deck.  Some of the men were even sleeping there.  They would do anything to get home.

   Wednesday June 20 - Sighted land at 5:30 A.M. and we docked at 8:30 got off the ship at 12:00 and boarded a train for Camp Patrick Henry.  The trip took 7 days 10 hours and 20 minutes to get across the Atlantic.  As soon as we were given quarters at Camp Patrick Henry we were given our first real meal it was really something.  We had big T-bone steaks and everything that went with it.  They placed the milk at the end of the tables in crates and quart bottles.  Anytime you wanted more you could have it.  Got a telephone call through to Mom at 2:00 P.M. she told me Fran was in Chicago. I started calling her at 6:00 P.M. and finally got through at 00:30 A.M..

   For the next few days we were again given a quick physical and went through processing.  We were issued more clothing and new identification passes.  We were finally alerted and told to stay close to our area that we might leave anytime.

   We finally boarded a train at 24:00 hours Sunday Jun 24 we were in chair cars but at this time we did not care how we got home.  It was a very uneventful trip to Chicago. Arrived Chicago at 3:20 A.M. Tue. Jun 26. Arrived at Ft. Sheridan at 7:00 A.M. went through a very fast processing and was at Fran's at 4:30 P.M. At last we were starting life again.

   All ex-POW's were given a 60 day leave after returning from overseas so we had a great chance to get acquainted again.  Every place we went everyone was happy to see us and it was just one party after another after a few days with Fran and her mother and her family we went to Jacksonville by train to see all of my family.  The biggest party I can remember was while I was home on leave my brother Jim and his family came to visit.  Jim had just gotten back from Europe and was also on leave.  Dad and Paul were members of the Elks Club, one night Dad, Paul, Jim and I went to the Elks for  dinner.  Many of the people there were old friends and we had not seen them for years.  We were all so happy to see each other and happy to be able to get together it was one wild happy time.  We had family get togethers and talked and talked and talked.  No one knows exactly how I felt about just being alive and being missed!

   After my 60-day leave Fran and I reported to Miami Beach, Florida which was being used as a rehabilitation center for ex-POWs.  This stay was to be for 10 days or less. At Miami Beach an individual had a choice of being discharged or being reassigned to another military unit.  Fran and I talked it over and we decided that we had had enough of full time military life and I would be discharged.  However it was my intention to stay in the Reserves because I was still concerned with the Russians.

   While in Miami Beach, Fran and I  were walking along the street  when we accidentally ran into  Lt Bill Shaw who was my co-pilot of my original crew. I wondered what he was doing in Miami Beach and he said he was recuperating at the hospital from an injury.  He told us that he had been hurt while he was in Oran, North Africa. You will remember I told you about Le Siena Airport, Oran and how it had 3 story high barracks with iron railings around the balconies.  Well Bill had stayed in Italy and completed 47 combat missions and they gave him a gravy (easy) flight to Oran. He flew another group of men to North Africa for R & R.  While he was staying at the airfield he was sleeping on the 3rd floor of one of the barracks and walked in his sleep.  While walking he left his room and fell over the railing breaking a leg and his back.  He had been there several  months recuperating and was expected to stay even longer.  We talked to him for quite awhile.

     After being discharged I was assigned to a flight located in Jacksonville, Illinois, however, this was actually a part of a reserve flight located at Capitol Airport in Springfield, Illinois.  This flight was the 9643rd Air Reserve Squadron Springfield, Illinois.  At these meetings which we had once every two weeks we studied weather, weather reporting and business administration processes.

  In 1957 I transferred to the Illinois Air National Guard  in Springfield, Illinois.  I was assigned to the 170th Tactical Fighter Squadron.  Shortly after 1961 and the Cuban call up our Squadron was increased in number of personnel and we became the 183rd Tactical Fighter Group.  This group consisted of approximately 800 to 900 men and was made up of 5 units.  They were the 170th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 183rd Tactical Fighter Group Headquarters, 183rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 183rd Communication Squadron and the 183rd Combat Support Squadron.  During this organization I was made the Commanding Officer of the 183rd Combat Support Squadron.   I belonged to the military unit plus I had  the civilian job of civil engineer.  I was in this position until Feb 1976 when I retired with over 33 years of combined military service with the rank of full Colonel. 


Western Union MIA telegram 4-22-44  April 22, 1944 - Western Union Telegram

The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband Second Lieutenant Ernest W. Chumley has been reported missing in action since two April Over Austria period  If further details of other information are received you will be promptly notified period=

Dunlop Acting the Adjutant General

Western Union POW telegram June 23, 1944 June 23, 1944 - Western Union Telegram

Report just received through the International Red Cross states that your husband Second Lieutenant Ernest W. Chumley is a prisoner of war of the German Government letter of information follows from provost marshal general=

Ulio the Adj General

Perk Chumley's B-17 plane Lil Abner's Ole Mose Drawing of Perk's B-17.  It was brand new on its first and only mission.  It's name was "Ole Mose" after "Little Abner" character.
Pilot's Log - WWII Pilot's Log
Door sign at Stalag Luft I  

Sign on the door of Perk's room at Stalag Luft I.

Perk playing cards used in POW camp

Deck of playing cards send to Perk by Fran while a POW - note they were very well used!

Besides the normal games played with the cards, they were also used to determine which slice of bread a POW would receive.

The loaf of bread the men received would be cut into 14 slices.  They would place a playing card on each piece of bread, another matching card was then drawn and when your name appeared you got these matching card.  If a person was unlucky enough to get the end piece that was his  problem or tough luck until the next draw.

Perk Chumley's POW ID card w/ photo Perk's Prisoner of War Identification Card with photo
Photo found after liberation

Photo found by Perk at Barth Airport after liberation.

After we were liberated and we were doing some sight seeing around Barth some of my friends and I ended up at the Airport. At the entrance to the air port was a guard house that naturally was left unprotected by the Germans. When they left they threw everything that was in the place on the floor. It was a complete mess and the mess consisted of everything from old films, helmets, hand grenades, arm bands and anything else that they did not want to take with them. This film was on the floor and I picked it up and looked at it and said to my friends I think I will take this home with me. I had it all these years not knowing what to do with it.

Perk visited Barth in September 2001 and brought the photo with him.  The photo was published in the local newspaper and the twins have  now been identified.  They are Hedda and Theda von der Groeben daughters of the Earl van der Groeben whose old castle was not far from the airfield at Barth. The twins were born in 1937 and the photo was taken by a photographer at Barth.  Perk has recently established email contact with Theda und Anselm von Blanckenburg.  He has received a very interesting letter from her thanking him for the picture and telling him of her remembrances of that time in her life.


Roommates at Stalag Luft I - North I Compound - Barracks 1 Room 3
John W. Armatoski Ironwood, MI
Peter S. Belitsos Lynn, MA
Ernest W. "Perk" Chumley Jacksonville, IL
Grover C. Deen Austin, TX
John A. Gulden Sleepy Eye, MN
Jack M. Hamilton Middleville, MI
Ralph O. Hammerstrom St. Paul, MN
Thomas J. Kennedy Holyoke, MA
Philip B. Miller Comstock, MI
William C. Miller New York City, NY
Atlas H. Molnar Cuthbert, GA  &  Eufaula, AL
Frank T. May Chicago, IL
Jack W. Reed Knoxville, TN
Anthony S. Tavernit Republic, PA
Edward J. Wronkoski Elmira, NY
Glenn L. Zentz Ramona, CA


Sketches of Room Layouts while a POW at Stalag Luft I

Room layout at POW camp



Fran and Perk Chumley - wedding day 1943

Fran and Perk Chumley - 2001

Fran and Perk Chumley - Wedding Day 1943   Fran and Perk Chumley - 2001


For Ever More
By Fran Chumley


I rushed home from work with an eager heart
To find a V-Mail waiting.
It had the news of places he had been
And not a word of hating.
He had a war he was helping to win
And doing a good job too.
If only they'd given him half a chance
To show what he could do.

He told what he could of his missions,
And told of all the thrills
I should have enjoyed this with him,
But it sort of gave me chills.
One day the letters stopped coming
And I didn't know what to do
It wasn't like him to stop writing,
And then I sort of knew. 

I thought back over our eight happy months
Of arguments, laughter and tears,
Eight happy months I would never trade
For any amount of years.
I didn't dare think, yet I had all the faith
I knew he wasn't dead,
Then the long waited message arrived one day

Missing in action was a terrible blow,
I didn't know what to do.
Yes, I cried and cried some more
But still I sort of knew.
I settled myself to just sit and wait
For the news that was yet to come.
My news I thought was pretty bad,
But not as bad as some.

After waiting for two long unhappy months,
The message arrived one day.
It was the news I had been praying for
So I was Happy and gay.
"In Germany", the message read
"Your husband's a prisoner of war".
To me that's music to my ears,
He is mine for ever  more.

Perk and Fran will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in 2003.


The Longest Night
by W.B."Bill" Shaw

W.B. Shaw was the co-pilot of Perk's original crew.  On April 2, 1944 he was not flying with them when they were shot down.  In this letter to Perk he shares his thoughts and feelings as the crew member who, so to speak, was left behind on that sad day of April 2, 1944.

   April 2, 1944! A sad day, a dreadful day, for you and all the crew that trained together.  A sad day for me even though I was sleeping in my regular tent on the night of that April 2nd.  One little company rule kept me from being with you fellows and either getting killed or ending up in a POW camp.  The rule that we pilots must be separated for the first five combat missions.

   We had checked the flight board and found that we were all scheduled to fly on April 2nd.  Strangely, I do not even remember what crew I co-piloted with that day.  Seems that I flew with a different crew for each of the first five missions.  We noted that a Lt. Koehne was to first pilot you and our crew for that mission.

   "H" hour came early, about three-thirty A.M. I don't even remember what the "H" stood for, although we assumed that it meant "H*LL", as that is what it seemed at that early hour. Anyway, someone riding a jeep would circulate through the tent area, blowing his horn loudly, and yelling "H" hour.  We quickly dressed and headed for the mess room.  Remember those canned scrambled eggs, with various shades of green streaks running through them?  I tried them once and never again.  As an alternate we had large thick slices of French toast which I ate with the always present orange marmalade. I ate it so often that after leaving Foggia I would never taste orange marmalade again.

   After breakfast we climbed into trucks which would take us to our 'briefing' for that days mission.  The location was several miles up the road.  Only officers of the crews attended these briefings.  I believe that this was because of lack of space, for the not so large room was usually crowded.  We were told that our destination for that day was Steyr, Austria.  Now, we had heard of Steyr and it was reputed to be a 'rough target' well defended.  Steyr was the chief supplier of ball-bearings for the German war machine. In fact we had headed for Steyr on an earlier date but weather had turned us back.  So, we were quite excited about this mission.

   A truck took us back to the flight line and we located our respective planes for the day.  We took off just after daylight.  It took several hours for us to get to Steyr.  We had fighter escort for a part of the way but deep into enemy territory the fighters had to turn back due to limited fuel capacity.  Later on the range of the fighters was improved to where they could accompany us all the way to the target. On this mission, however, after our escort left us we were immediately hit by German fighters.  As we reached the "IP" the first pilot took the controls to make the bomb run and I could sit back and watch the action.  There was a B-17 group on our right and I don't remember which one.  But in the space of thirty seconds I saw five B-17's go down.  One looked as if a wing had been blown off. One seemed to disintegrate.  I could not see what happened to the others but they just spiraled down.  I did not see any parachutes from these planes.  But from the pilots seat it was impossible to follow a falling plane all the way to the ground for they passed from my field of vision.  Our gunners reported later that some parachutes were seen from some of the planes.

   As we neared the target the German fighters withdrew. This of course was because the air was suddenly filled with anti-air-craft bursts of flak.  You will remember that this flak was quite heavy. We dropped our bombs.  Captain Potter, who was leading the group that day immediately started a very sharp 180 degree turn towards home.  He turned too sharply which meant that the planes on the outside of the formation were unable to maintain their usual close formation for a bit.  The German fighters immediately renewed their attack.

   A short time later our engineer tapped me on the shoulder "Lieutenant" he said, "the plane in which your crew was flying just went down".  He stated that a number of parachutes were seen.  I asked him if he was certain that it was your plane and he said that he was pretty sure that it was.

   This was a pretty tense time as fighters were hitting us (the group) and we were trying to get our formation closed up tight.  There wasn't much time to think about what had happened to you and the crew.  I have always had a very strong streak of optimism and I tried to feel hope that when we landed it would not have been your plane and crew that went down and we would all be together again.

   We landed.  We went to debriefing and I could no longer hope.  The crew that I had trained with for eight months was gone.  You cannot imagine what a terrible sense of loss I felt.  Wondering what happened to each of you how many got out of the plane and where you all were at that moment.

   The trucks picked us up from debriefing to take us back to our squadron area, there were only seven of us in the back of our truck.  Captain Potter was one of them.  A Lieutenant who was the first pilot on the crew that Lt. Koehne (who was just shot down with you) had come over with was in our truck.  He was quite shaken up.  He blamed Captain Potter's too fast a turn off target as being responsible for you and Koehne being out of position and getting hit harder by German fighters.  I do not think that he was correct but regardless he proceeded to curse Captain Potter calling him just about any foul name he could think of.  He did this through out our trip to the squadron area. Captain Potter never said a word.  I believe that he realized that the Lieutenant was near the breaking point and just let him say his piece.  The rest of us in the truck were somewhat embarrassed for we weren't too sure that it was Potters fault.  We were a few minutes off the target when you went down and likely everyone had regained their place in formation by that time.  I notice that neither you nor Koehne seem to blame Potter's flying for your going down.

   We got to the squadron area the clouds were moving in and soon a light mist of rain was falling.  Night came very early.  We always ate early so after eating I went to our little "club", actually just a large room over the mess hall.  A few fellows were there but I didn't know anyone. Several expressed their sympathy at my crew being lost. Remember we hadn't had time to really know many of the squadron at that time.  So I left the club, checked the flight board and sure enough my name was posted for flying the next day. War must go on.....

   Back to the tent.  Remember how widely dispersed our tents were at the time?  Really isolated.  That night undoubtedly, was the longest and the loneliest  night of my life.  You cannot imagine how empty that tent was.  I couldn't sleep and I couldn't read.  All I could see were those empty bunks.  I just lay on my bed thinking wondering and I really did some praying.  For hours I lay there wide awake rehashing all of our training period, our many flights together thinking of our hopes and plans.  It was an odd time in my life.

   Hours later I drifted into a troubled sleep and it seemed that the next moment I was hearing the raucous cry of "H" hour.  So up and dressed then to the mess hall for toast and marmalade.  The weather had cleared and we went to the briefing shack.  We were going to hit targets around Budapest a slightly longer mission than to Steyr.  The next day we went to Bucharest over a hundred miles farther.

   When I got back from Budapest and returned to our tent I found that someone from Headquarters had cleaned out every item of your’s, Meyer’s and Armatoski's.  They even took Armatoski's bottle of bonded whiskey which he had carefully brought from the states to celebrate when he finished his tour.  Do you remember that after we got to Foggia our entire crew made an agreement that if any of us went down separate from the rest and possessions that were not to be sent home would be left to the rest of the crew?  Well the clean-up crew took everything both officers and enlisted men nothing was left.  So I went to Headquarters and demanded that I get Perkin's radio.  I don't know who in Headquarters drank Armatoski's whiskey but you can be sure that they didn't send it home.  Incidentally later when I found that I would not be returning to the squadron I asked Major Shaeffer to make sure that the radio went to the Enlisted Men's Club House which they had built with their own labor using lumber acquired from somewhere.

  Perk, life quickly returned to normal though I certainly missed all of our crew a lot.  We were flying almost every day.  The weather frequently was bad but we would take off and fly several hours, the clouds would be so high and dense that we would finally return to base no mission accomplished.  Sometimes we didn't even get off the ground but would hang around the planes for a long time before we scrubbed the mission.  I began to know a lot of the fellows and there were some fine men there.  I flew a number of missions as co-pilot for Ed Moore and learned a lot from him.  One afternoon he came by and said that Major Shaeffer had asked him to check me out as a first-pilot.  So up we go, shoot several landings, up higher where he cut first one engine on me no sweat to that of course.  Then he cut two engines a little more difficult to trim up and hold level flight.  Then he proceeded to cut three engines and told me to maintain level flight I don't think that I accomplished that, anyway I began to fly as first pilot a rather good feeling.  Ed finished his missions about 12 or 15 ahead of his enlisted crew.  I was flattered that he asked Major Shaeffer to let me have his crew and finish them.

   Several times I flew as co-pilot with Major Shaeffer when it was his time to lead the group.  Now that is a nice feeling to not fly formation but have everyone else flying formation on you.  During this time we went to Ploesti several times which was usually quite heavily defended.  Over Vienna I experienced the worst flak of any mission. Twice I lost one engine but it was after we had dropped our bombs and on the return flight you could make out fine with three engines.

   My only regret is that I never flew combat with the crew that I had trained so long with and I thought of all you fellows many times throughout my tour.  I was so happy to run into you and Fran and Robert E. Lee on Miami beach in 1946, and learn of the fate of all the crew and it was sad to hear that Eulert had lost his life.

   It has been the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to get reacquainted with you and Fran and Joe and Mary Warneck after all these long years.  This we can attribute to the formation of the 99th Bomb Group Association.  Knowing that you all will be at these reunions makes them much more desirable and I look forward to them eagerly. You are all at the top of my list of fine people and I will never ever forget our relationship that began back in Tucson, Arizona in nineteen hundred and forty three.  May God bless you always.

                                                      Signed W. B. (Bill) Shaw August, 1992. 



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