Joe Flieger's Trip to Barth
Morris J. Roy's book "Behind Barbed Wire"
introduce Joe Flieger, of the family of Fliegers (or flyers), a
typical member of the famous group who made life so miserable for
Adolf's chosen people?
Joe's flight plan did
not call for a sudden change in his airborne status. The doctors
had said he could continue flying, but who are the doctors to argue
with an ME-109! In any case, Joe suddenly found himself traveling in
a vertical position, suspended only by a few strings and a piece of
Exchange of greetings
He floated peacefully
earthward. How quiet, how serene, life had suddenly become. Then he
looked down! That was his mistake. Gathered together (with a wicked
look in each eye) was a mass of local yokels. Evidently they were
farmers and woodsmen, for no other group of Germans could assemble
so many pitchforks, hatchets, rope, and clubs in so short a time!
arrival coincided with that of the military police. Although he did
not know just what treatment they would accord him, the doubt at
least left room for hope; the men in the mob had made their
intentions only to plain. Never was he happier to see an M.P.!
Before being shoved
into a waiting car, Joe received his first German search. They
didn't miss much of anything, taking what few valuables Joe had not
been able to destroy during his downward journey. Off they rode to
the local jail, and further adventures for Joe.
Joe's lonesomeness was
soon eased by the arrival of four of the other nine crew members. It
was a relief to listen to their voices rather than the
"squeak-squeak-squeak" of tiny animals. The whereabouts of the other
five flyers was indeterminate.
Have you ever lived
through an experience so odd that you could not make yourself
realize it was happening to you? So it was with the five airmen
sitting in a German prison, not knowing what would happen next. They
felt that it might have been a movie, in which they were the
principal actors. The room, with its single wooden table, two small
benches and rough cement walls, was like nothing the men had ever
As dusk approached,
the now hungry and weary men were removed from their cell to a
German Prisoner of War Detention Center some miles distant. Tramp!
tramp! tramp! Marching had never been Joe's best sport, and the
badly wounded leg of his bombardier didn't improve with the
What would happen when
they arrived? Was this to be their introduction to the dreaded
Gestapo? Would it be possible to send a message home soon? Would
they ever eat or drink again? What had happened to the other five
crew members? These, and countless other questions, ran through
their minds and found no answer.
Search and Seizure
Finally they saw the
barbed wire of the Detention Center in the distance. Not far now!
Slowly they approached it, heralded by the baying of the many
watchdogs. After passing through the gate, they were placed in a
waiting room of what was obviously the Headquarters Building.
"I'll be darned! There
are Adolf Schmidt and Hermann Schultz from home!" said Joe. Adolf
had baked bread in a shop near Joe's home; Hermann's father ran the
butcher shop at 33rd Street and Broadway. Joe swore he'd check on
those boys if they ever showed up in the old home town!
for an interview by the Hauptmann (German officer), and with
quickened heartbeat he entered the interrogation room. He was
pleasantly surprised to see no brass knuckles, cat-o'-nine tails, or
other evidences of brutality.
Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.
The interview was
short, but proved to be only the forerunner of a much more
which Joe was to receive at Dulag
before being assigned to
was requested (name,
serial number) to prepare
for the disposition
to his overnight quarters
if he could rest on a solid wooden
the other four flyers, equally
was to begin early the following
this was long in coming.
overcome by his physical
fatigue, and he slept.
“Raus, raus!” rang
out. This remark meant, “Let’s
go!” as Joe was to learn. It
awakened him on his second
So began Joe's tour of
he gazed at the earth below,
He was soon to learn.
and his four comrades
had seen the night before were
still shining, for it was
only 0500.. Evidently
the Germans never slept, for the
night before loaded the group
onto the bus
would take them
in the city of Oldenburg, then on to
and the feared Dulag Luft.
approached the once beautiful
they had their
first glimpse of the destructive
power of the
Allied Air Forces. It looked
like San Francisco
Arriving at 0900, the
an hour's delay faced them.
It was quite evident
to stroll around, for the ugly
the mob who surrounded them made even the guards
It was a question, though, who was the more curious - the prisoner
or the civilian! Joe's natural inquisitiveness caused him to return
stare for stare.
The American soldier
is not the only one who
the fair sex. Despite their responsibility
the guards huddled them into a
convenient corner, and then concentrated on monopolizing the time of
the local belles in the crowd. Much to Joe's relief, the arrival of
the train cut short this romantic interlude. The tension of the
crowd had increased, and trouble was expected. This was evidenced by
the verbal abuse and spitting the airmen received as they marched to
The prisoners were
ravenously hungry. One of the five had been able to talk the guards
out of a glass of water, which was shared by the men and constituted
breakfast - they were to learn!
As the train left the
city, they saw the remnants of a huge aircraft plant. Parts of the
production line spread for blocks. Joe learned later they'd changed
that particular plant to an aircraft parts factory!
definitely happened to the railroad system of Germany. As the day
slowly passed, Joe noted the erratic route followed, the long
layovers in marshalling yards, the strewn wreckage of railroad
equipment. French, Russian and prison labor gangs of other
nationalities were repairing bombed roadbeds.
By evening, Joe didn't
know which part of his anatomy was the sorest. The straight-backed
wooden seats were anything but comfortable, and his stomach seemed
to have shrunk unbelievably. The guard advised them that Frankfort
would be reached early the following day, and Joe hoped someone
would give them something edible soon.
minutes dragged into hours, as the men endeavored to sleep, huddled
together to keep warm. The third day dawned,
bleak and dreary; the men sat up and
surveyed one another. What a sight they were! The "Terror Fliegers"
certainly looked as mean as the characters Goebbels had painted to
The people of
Frankfort were definitely not friendly; the men learned when they
arrived at the battered and torn railway station. Again threats and
saliva greeted them. Fists were shaken, and several individuals
attempted to vent their wrath on the prisoners. Their attempts were
parried by the guards, and the trip continued.
Leaving the train, the
Americans transferred to streetcars, for Dulag Luft was some
distance north of the city. The ride to Dulag proved very
interesting, as the sight of wrecked buildings, huge bomb craters,
and destroyed factories met the eye.
With quickened breath
the flyers saw the low-slung buildings of Dulag Luft ahead. They
were soon to match wits with the expert psychologists of the German
Dreaded Dulag Luft! No
captive airman passed through the gate without some trepidation.
American Intelligence had sufficient information to warrant long
lectures on the mental task which would confront a prisoner at
Dulag. For him, physical warfare had ceased; it was now a war of the
cleverest minds of Germany against Yankee tenacity and training.
Hour after hour passed
as the men waited for their individual interrogation. Knowing that
dictaphones were conveniently placed in the too small room, the men
sat silently awaiting their turn. Though many men had left, they had
never returned! Joe began to wonder about their fate when the guard
called, "Lt. Joseph Flieger. Come wiz me!"
Waiting Our Turn
Down corridor after
corridor, Joe followed the diminutive figure of the guard, which he saw
dimly in the shadows of the hallway. The guard wasn't Joe's conception
of a "superman"; he was about five feet four, and looked worn from the
years of suppression. He was at least fifty-five
years old. Joe looked far more fearsome and dangerous.
They reached a door marked
A knock; and a voice said, "Enter!"
Behind a desk, centered in
a room measuring twenty-five feet by twenty, sat a short,
stocky German.. Thick-lensed
glasses, a high forehead, stubby nose, and thin gray lips. The
Hauptmann's smile tended to temper the severity of his countenance.
Joe wondered how the man would look
The contents of the room
fairly took away Joe's breath. The latest American navigation
instruments, complete in every detail, were on a desk to his right. Maps
of every description adorned the walls; the exact location of each
Allied Group was marked. And he was shown files containing records of
each flight, squadron, and group. The room resembled a well equipped
operations office in England, but with much more detail.
"Lt. Joseph Flieger?"
"Please sit down."
"Cigarette?" asked the
"Yes, sir!" answered Joe,
reaching for it the way he'd reached for his parachute rip cord a few
fill out this form, Lt. Flieger."
Joe looked at the form
before him, and noted the blanks for “Squadron,” “Group,” “Crew
Members,” etc., thereon. Filling in only his name, rank, and serial
number, he ignored the space for signature, and returned the form to the
Hauptmann. The Hauptmann's disapproval was apparent.
"Was anyone on your crew
"I don't know," said Joe.
"Who were your crew
"I can't tell you."
"Lt. Flieger, we have no
way of knowing you are not a spy. We must know who your friends are. We
have to notify your Base as to your whereabouts. Now-who was on your
"I can't tell you!"
"You mean you won't, is
"What was the number of
your ship?" "I don't know."
Walking to the map, the
Hauptmann held out a ruler "What was your target?"
"I don't know."
"Lt. Flieger, we know
you're a navigator and that you do know these things. Why won't you tell
us? We will eventually learn them. See those files; we know everything."
"In that case, you don't
need my information," Joe said reasonably.
"Lt. Flieger, you will
stay here until you tell us your target, Group, and anything else we
wish to know. Now go back to your room, and tonight 1 will come by to
see you. I will listen to your dreams, and tomorrow tell you all about
Silently Joe followed his
guard to a small, ill-equipped
room which represented "solitary." A single wooden bed, the inevitable
straw mattress and no covering, were his furnishings! The obsolete
radiator by the small, barred window gave off no heat.
Nothing to do but think!
He craved water, food, and a cigarette. He hadn't washed or shaved for
days, and what a treat a shower would be! His thoughts turned to the
interrogation just completed. How did those Krauts get all that
information? How had they procured the instruments? So many questions
for his tired mind.
As night approached and
the shadows of the bars lengthened, Joe was called forth for another
personal search. The previous searches Joe had been subjected to were as
nothing compared to the Dulag search. He was stripped to shorts, and his
clothes were minutely examined. The seams of his flying suit
were double checked; his shoes were removed
and the soles and heels examined. The Germans didn't miss a trick.
Returning to his "private
quarters," Joe lay down, hoping his tired muscles would respond to
nature and lull him to sleep. His hopes were realized. He awakened to
see daylight streaming in his window. His watch having been taken, he
had no conception of time. Reviewing the events of the day before, he
judged he'd fallen asleep rather early. He felt refreshed, but
Calling the guard, Joe
learned it was 0800, and-wonder of wonders-he was to get some bread and
coffee for breakfast!
Clasping his cup in one
hand, and a hard brown crust of substance resembling bread in the other,
Joe prepared to eat. The "coffee," though cold, strong, and definitely a
substitute, tasted great. However, hungry as he was, Joe was unable to
eat the bread. It was dark brown, hard as wood, and vile tasting.
He hid it in the mattress.
He was taken out again for
interrogation. The Hauptmann greeted Joe with a cordial "Good morning,"
and a hoped-for cigarette.
"Did you know you talked
in your sleep last night, Lieutenant? Yes, I know your crew members; I
know all about your mission except one thing. If you tell me that one
thing, you can leave Dulag and go to your permanent prison camp. Your
buddies left last night! Now, what was your target?"
Questioning his hearing,
Joe asked, "I dreamt all about the crew, all about my ship, Group, eh?"
"Yes, I watched you last
You told me everything. Answer my question
and you can go. Otherwise, you stay here until we learn it. It may take
"The man is mad," thought
Joe, but reasoned that he'd picked up the information from the wreckage
of their aircraft. Much of the material in the files before him had
probably been gathered that way.
"I'm afraid you'll have to
listen to my dreams again, then, for I won't tell you," he said.
Joe could not be swerved
from the decision he had made. He was returned to solitary.
He was not there long,
however, before a guard entered, and said, "Let's go. You're leaving."
Joe couldn't figure but was glad to be leaving. With several others, Joe
was removed to the transient quarters close by to await the forming of a
group sufficiently large to be sent on to a Red Cross Reception Center
in the center of Frankfort. From there, he would be sent to a permanent
prisoner of war camp somewhere in Germany. Evidently he was
use to the German Reich as a source of information.
hours later, a sufficiently large group had been
assembled to warrant moving. During that time, Joe had received surprise
after surprise. Friends he'd known at flying school arrived; buddies
he'd flown with on bombing missions limped in; fellows he had trained
with and hadn't seen for months joined his party. Of all places to have
a reunion - Dulag Luft, in the heart of Germany.
As Joe sat on his bunk in
the Red Cross Reception Center that evening, he reflected on the many
events of the day. What a day it had been!
After leaving Dulag, the
prisoners had again boarded streetcars and toured the city, eventually
arriving at a small, wellguarded camp. The barracks were surrounded by
thick barbed wire fences, and patrolled by many guards. Outside the
barricaded area was a large warehouse, which served as the reception
building for incoming prisoners and as a storehouse for Red Cross
When Joe had entered the
warehouse, he had been lined up for counting and a lecture by the
American Senior Officer. He had learned that every German prison camp
operating in conjunction with the Red Cross authorized the selection of
an Allied officer as the representative of the prisoners. The lecture
by the American officer was followed
by one made by a German sergeant. Imagine Joe’s surprise when his
bombardier stepped out of formation to exclaim to the sergeant:
"Well, I'll be darned! So
this is where you went when you suddenly left Northwestern in '41?"
They'd been classmates at college!
Following the lectures the
men received another interrogation and search, and were photographed and
fingerprinted. After this they were given a Red Cross Capture Parcel and
taken to their barracks. Joe could hardly wait to open his parcel.
The contents of the package fairly
took Joe’s breath. Clean underclothing, outer garments, cigarettes, gum
and shaving equipment. The
Red Cross had thought of everything a fellow would need.
"Showers! Hot showers -
Joe had to be forcibly
removed from the shower room. The luxury of the hot water left him
tingling with happiness.
In the communal mess hall,
a mail box met Joe’s eye. Now he could let his folks know of his safety
Nothing ever tasted so
good to Joe as the cold corned beef, boiled potatoes, tea and crackers
served. To be able to smoke a good American cigarette afterwards made
the picture complete.
Much to Joe's relief, his
bombardier was finally given first aid. The infection in his leg wound
was checked, and sufficient medical care given to permit his taking the
long trip to his permanent base without danger of further infection.
Reunions with more
friends, a review of the mission with his crew members, and relaxation
in his "sack," completed Joe's fourth day. What a difference a few clean
clothes, a shower, a shave, and mental relaxation can make for a person!
Joe slept peacefully until-
"Air raid! Into the
shelters!" Thus began Joe's first experience being on the other end. The
heavy thud and boom of bombs striking near by made the ground shake, but
those cement shelters gave a measure of security. The sixty hours spent
at the Reception Center found Joe and his companions seeking shelter on
five separate occasions.
The balance of Joe's stay
was spent in reading, sleeping, and relaxation. Where he was to go from
Frankfort was a big question to him, and he was eager to start for his
permanent camp. When his turn came, he was ready to go.
A biting wind chilled Joe
as he rode the German "G.I."
truck from the Reception Center to the railway station. They'd all been
taken from the camp early in the morning and kept in empty German
barracks pending the arrival of trucks. The influx of new prisoners had
necessitated their giving up their own barracks earlier.
Joe's mode of
transportation was a small German boxcar about half the size of the
American freight car. Twenty prisoners and half a dozen guards piled
into the car, the Germans using half the limited space for themselves.
There were two bales of
straw; these were broken up and strewn over the damp floor. The Capture
Parcels, together with the shoes and
belts of the prisoners (removed to prevent escape) were stacked under
the two small ventilators. An ancient coal stove, which gave no heat,
was in the center of the car.
The guards were
belligerent at the beginning of the fourday journey, challenging the
men to attempt escape in order that they might have an opportunity to
shoot them. Joe didn't particularly like their attitude, but he didn't
plan to offer himself as a target for shooting practice, and he called
little attention to himself.
A favorite pastime of the
long journey was singing. It lifted the boys' morale; but the German car
commander was not musically inclined, and he displayed his lack of
appreciation by ordering them to cease singing. Only one song, a popular
dance melody, would he hear, and this the captives refused to sing,
thereby incurring his wrath. The car commander's slight build, buck
teeth, and belligerent attitude earned him the nickname "Tojo."
Tojo directed his anger at his prisoners; he never tired of ordering
them to assume awkward attitudes for lengthy periods of time, of
interchanging their positions, of taunting them with the thought of
freedom, and brandishing his gun in their faces. Whether it was through
fear of his numerically superior prisoners or of his own superior
officers that Tojo confined his efforts to minor discomforts, or whether
his little mind conceived no greater torture, isn't known. In any case,
Joe and his friends didn't find their hardships too terrifying; and
there were moments of laughter at the Krauts' expense. The Germans
understood no English, but several of the Allied airmen spoke fluent
German and acted as interpreters. When the conversation turned to Allied
might, the Russians, or an Allied victory, the Germans' discomfiture
Food for the trip had been
provided by the Red Cross, and Joe spent time planning each meal.
Though the food was cold and
consisted of snacks, Joe hadn't forgotten his five-day starvation
period, and ate with relish.
Despite the dampness and
cold, many hours were wiled away sleeping and talking. The two standard
topics of conversation, women and
flying, always found a ready ear.
Women are not the only gossips!
The sanitation was poor,
in fact, nonexistent. The guards refused to obtain any water for
drinking, to say nothing of washing. Elimination had to be timed, for
the men were not permitted to get out of the car except when the train
was standing in marshalling yards. In spite of spectators (railroad
workers), there was a wild scramble when the train stopped. Nor were the
Cold Coal Stove
It was a long dreary ride;
the cars rocked and swayed, jolted and bounced their slow path to
northern Germany. Long waits in marshalling yards were not conducive to
ease and comfort. The prisoners knew only too well the desire of the
Allied Air Forces to eliminate all German marshalling yards, including
all that was in them.
On the morning of the
fourth day, the little "Toonerville Trolley" chugged its way into the
station of Barth, Germany, a small village on the Baltic Sea. With
little ceremony, the men were ordered to line up for the two mile march
Surrounded by guards and
hungry looking hounds, the group moved through the streets of Barth to
the tune of hisses, boos, and other indications of welcome by the
natives. Evidently, the population never tired of staring at visiting
A huge camp loomed in the
distance. Guard towers, barbed wire, roaming guards, and the large Nazi
flag flying over the buildings left no doubt in the minds of Joe and his
companions that their freedom was lost.
And so it was that Joe
Flieger and his crew arrived at Stalag Luft I,
one of the largest Prisoner of
War Camps for captured airmen in Germany.
Arrival at Barth