From Mission # 26 to P.O.W. Camp at Stalag Luft 1
It was early in
the morning of July 28, 1944, when my crew and I were awakened to attend
breakfast and briefing for what was to be my 26th and last
bombing mission of the 30 missions that I was required to complete. I was
the lead navigator of a B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft equipped with the
latest radar apparatus for the bombing of German targets. We were limited
to targets primarily in the third Reich where we could use the radar
equipment to bomb through overcast weather, but not in France and other
occupied countries where the bombing had to be on visible military targets
I was 19 years of
age on that July morning, stationed at Snetterton Heath in East Anglia
region of England and a member of the 452nd Group of the U.S. 8th
Air Force. It was our lead ship that was to head the 3rd wing of
some 300 planes to bomb the synthetic oil works at Merseberg, Germany, near
Leipzig. Only one other B-17 was equipped with the radar equipment, and
that ship was designated as the alternate lead aircraft.
breakfast and briefing, we were driven to our B-17 to assemble over Great
Britain with the other airships of the 3rd Wing and, after
assembling in formation, to head for our Merseberg target. After flying for
about five hours, we finally reached the I.P., or initial point, of your
bombing run. The skies were completely overcast below our 24,000 ft.
altitude, and we were required to use the radar for bombing our target. It
was the requirement of all the other planes to drop their bombs when the
lead plane dropped its. Since I was unable to visually see the target, and
therefore, had nothing to do from a navigational standpoint on the bomb run,
I decided to play it safe. I put on my chest pack parachute, which I
normally never wore because it was so cumbersome, ate my candy bar, and
awaited our bombing of the target by radar.
When we were a
the initial point, our pilot announced to our crew that our radar was not
acting properly, and that we were going to change leads with the alternate
lead ship. While making the cross-over, the two planes evidently flew too
close to each other, got caught in the prop wash, which created a vacuum
effect, and we were sucked together, which caused the two planes to collide
with each other with a tremendous explosion. I tried to make my way to the
escape hatch, but I never made it.
I, evidently was
knocked out by the crash, and blown out into the frigid 24,000 ft. altitude,
where I was awakened by the very cold air. Our aircraft could not be seen
because it had exploded into millions of floating metal pieces. I pulled
the ripcord and floated through the clouds and saw a small town, which I
later learned to be Sangerhausen, Germany. A crowd assembled in the field
below, led by civilian police who were there to capture me. They led me to
the city jail while refusing to turn me over to uniformed soldiers whom I am
sure would have killed me. I spent the rest of the day in a jail cell
without food or toilet facilities.
The next morning
I was led out to the jail yard, which was enclosed by a tall brick wall. I
then learned that there were five other American prisoners captured. The six
of us were lined up facing the wall with our hands up, and we were sure that
we were going to be shot. But 15 minutes or so later we were taken away
from the wall and loaded onto a Luftwaffe truck that had just arrived from
Nordhausen, some 25 kilometers away. At that point we were then under
military control. The other five captured were a fighter pilot and four
airmen from the B-17 that collided with us.
The six of us
stayed at the Nordhausen base for about three days. Then on the fourth day,
seven guards were assigned to escort us to the interrogation center north of
Frankfurt at the town of Oberursel. We could not understand why they
needed seven guards to keep six prisoners from escaping. The allies were
just breaking through at St. Lo in Normandy, some hundreds of miles away,
while the Russians were even further away fighting the Germans on the
Eastern Front. There was no way possible for us to escape. The Nazis would
have picked us up in no time at all, and would have probably shot us.
We traveled by
passenger train to our destination, the interrogation center. When we
arrived at the South station in Frankfurt around noon, we realized why we
had seven guards escorting us. We had to leave the train station because we
were told that the Allied bombers had destroyed the marshalling yards
between the South and North stations, and we had to traverse the distance by
foot. The German civilian population was so incensed when they saw us, that
they wanted to subject us to bodily harm. If not for the guards protecting
us from the onslaught, we would have never made it to prison camp. These
guards actually saved our lives.
The city of
Frankfurt was virtually 100% destroyed. Every building in the city was
severely damaged, and bricks were piled up as much as two stories high. I
had been to London, and felt so sorry for the British who had suffered so
much during the Battle of Britain. But after viewing Frankfurt, I felt that
London had hardly been damaged compared to what we were doing to the German
cities. I didn’t feel sorry for the Germans. They deserved everything they
At the North
station we boarded a train again for the interrogation center. At the
center we were questioned by an English-speaking German major quite
thoroughly, but truthfully, we hardly knew more than our name, rank and
serial number. The German intelligence was unbelievable. After
questioning me for what seemed to be hours and learning next to nothing from
me, he tried successfully to let me know how much he knew about me, which
was plentiful. He had an assistant bring out my files and told me where I
had gone to school in the States, where I got my air force training, my air
bases in East Anglia, England, and other personal facts about my life. I
did find out what had happened after our planes collided. The major
informed me that the rest of the Third Wing found an opening in the clouds
over Kassel, Germany, and bombed the railroad tracks there. At least my
last mission was not a complete failure.
days of confinement in the Dulag Luft in Oberursel, we were sent on our way
by rail to our final destination in Germany, the P.O.W. camp, Stalag Luft
One, at Barth, Pomerania on the Baltic. I spent the rest of my days in the
Stalag’s North Compound I until being liberated by the Russians in early May
of 1945. We were “free at last”, to quote a phrase made famous by the Rev.
Martin Luther King. Being a P.O.W. was certainly not fun.
The Russians were
wonderful the first day or two. They went into the fields and slaughtered
cattle, called us “comrade”, offered us cigarettes and couldn’t do enough
for us. The next day, their attitude changed 180 degrees. Word had
evidently come down from Moscow, and the 45 year “Cold War” had started.
They wanted us to march to Rostock, some fifty kilometers away; board cattle
cars there for a lengthy rail trip to Odessa, Russia, on the Black Sea, and
then to be turned over to the Allied forces.
officer, Col. Hubert Zemke told the Russians that we had all come to prison
camp by air, and that’s the way we were going to leave Germany. He must
have prevailed because we were flown out of Barth by B17’s and B24’s of the
8th Air Force to Laon, France, and from there we were moved to
Camp Lucky Strike at LeHarve, France to await our return to America.
A few of the
things that I remember from my stay at Stalag Luft One outside the severe
cold, the roll calls, the lack of food, the harassing of the Nazi guards and
the horrible living conditions that we had to endure, were several personal
matters that I recall.
decided to segregate the Jewish P.O.W’s into Barracks 11 of North Compound
1, I being of Jewish descent, feared the worst. Fortunately for me the
Germans had evidently lost my records, and I was never segregated. My 15
roommates assured me that they would protect me if trouble arose. How they
were going to do that, I still can’t figure out.
occurred that amazed me, was a letter from my mother written on Kriegie
stationery that was censored. She had joined an organization of women whose
sons or husbands were either missing in action or P.O.W.’s, and that she had
befriended a mother whose son was still classified as “M.I.A.”. She asked
me that if I ever met a prisoner whose name was Paul Lipps, I should give
him her regards. I read her letter from my top bunk, and then handed it to
the gentleman in the bunk below to read the letter. His name was Paul Lipps.
I feel very fortunate to be at home now. I still grieve about the horrible
fate of my nine crew members.