collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I
If you are a former Prisoner of War or a next of
kin of a POW, we invite you to sign and leave your email address so others that
come may find you. Please mention camp, compound, barracks and room numbers if
Kilminster describes some of the undercover work that was carried out by
Royal Air Force prisoners-of-war in Germany during World War 2. Those
activities of more than fifty years ago are no longer secret of course,
although there are still several areas of the work that have not been
documented in detail, and it is those aspects that have provided the
material for much of part 2..
there have been many stories of escapes from POW camps, with such epics
as the 'The Wooden Horse', 'Colditz " 'Moonless Night', and of course,
'The Great Escape', undercover work that was not relevant to the escapes
was not usually mentioned. Although the story here is also
concerned with escape operations, some of the less well-known areas of
secret work are also featured in detail.
photograph of 'A' Flight of 58 Squadron provides a convenient point
introduce the story. The photograph was taken in May of 1941 on the RAF
station of Linton-on-Ouse, in Yorkshire. Linton was one of the airfields
of 4 Group, Bomber Command.
The point I should make about this photograph is that I was one of the
luckier ones amongst that group.
of the airfield at Linton-on-Ouse photographed from a Whitley bomber.
Although cameras were forbidden on operational airfields, I did sneak a
few photographs of 58 Squadron Whitley aircraft on the satellite airfield
of Linton-on-Ouse. Satellite airfields were used to disperse the
squadron's aircraft in case of an attack on the main airfield by German
raiders. The main airfield was, in fact, attacked on a number of
shows a Mk. 5 Whitley bomber
Pilot Rymills and two members of the ground crew. I was part of Rymill's
aircrew on several operations over Europe. The Whitley Mk. V had two
Rolls Royce 'Merlin' engines of 1,000
hp each, it could carry a bomb load of 4,000 lbs. Rather a slow
aircraft, even for the time, but structurally, it was extremely strong,
it could take a considerable amount of punishment.
Roy beside the rear gun
turret of a Whitley.
look at the Whitley with a view of
the wireless equipment.
The lower unit is the transmitter with the operators hand resting upon
the Morse key. The upper unit is the wireless receiver.
took part in seventeen operational sorties with Whitley aircraft whilst
on 58 Squadron, initially as a rear gunner and eventually as the
In October of 1941 I was transferred to
35 Squadron, also operating from Linton-on-Ouse and equipped with
Halifax aircraft, one of a new generation of four-engined bombers. The
Mk.1 Halifax the type used by 35 Squadron at the time, had four Rolls
Royce Merlin engines.
Halifaxes were fitted with Bristol Hercules radial engines and had a top
speed near too 300 miles an hour. Over 6,000 Halifaxes were built in
the sortie on the night of the 7th November was my third with 35 Squadron,
we were a completely new crew, having been made-up only that day. For
that reason we were put on what was rather euphemistically termed a
operation, The majority of the bomber force that night went to Berlin,
whilst our 'nursery' was to Essen in the Ruhr. Although our mission was
intended to be an easier run than Berlin, it also meant that the Ruhr
were able to concentrate their efforts on the relatively few aircraft
on our particular sortie.
way to our target we came under quite concentrated fire from German
anti-aircraft guns. The nearer that we got to the Ruhr industrial area
the more intense the flak became.
were several quite close explosions, and one of the pieces of shrapnel
that penetrated the aircraft hit me on the knee. Fortunately, it didn't
do any damage, coming through the aircraft must have taken the last bit
of sting out of it. Picking the piece of shrapnel up from the floor, I
put it into the drawer of the wireless desk with the thought that it
would make a souvenir when we got back to base at Linton.
The Krupps armament
works at Essen was our
target for that
night. Having eventually
reached Essen and
dropped the bombs,
the course was
set for England. We came through the Ruhr flak belt again, this time
without any close encounter with odd chunks of shrapnel.
But then, our luck ran out!
Somewhere over Holland
we were picked up by a searchlight, and then quickly coned
quickly, a waiting German night-fighter, a Messerschmitt 110 was on our
tail! The rear gunner of our Halifax, after firing only one burst from
guns, reported that the guns were out of action. Whether that was a
or the result of enemy action we will never know. Whatever the reason,
with the guns useless, we had become a sitting duck, being virtually
defenseless and in the full glare of several searchlights!
shortly, the pilot reported that the plane was on fire, and soon
followed up with the order to abandon the aircraft! As quickly as I
sent an SOS on the wireless and then clamped the Morse key down so that
might be monitored back in England. I donned my parachute pack and
made my way to the forward hatch. The front gunner was already sitting
there with his feet dangling through the opening; with little conscious
thought I gave him a push to help him on his way.
then that there was nobody queueing-up behind me to get out of the
and as the aircraft still appeared to be under control, I plugged my headphones into the
nearest intercom point for a check on the situation, I was just in time to hear
the pilot saying
to the remainder of the crew, 'Hurry-up - there isn't much time!' At
that, I wasted no more time myself, made my way to the hatch and dropped
opened, it gave me quite a thump on the side of the
jaw. After recovering
my wits, I looked
around for our aircraft, but it
a time before I recognised it for what it was, it had fallen so far in
the meantime and looked like a small fiery cross moving in a wide arc.
Eventually, there was a sudden flare-up of the fire with no further
movement and I realised that the plane had hit the ground.
for my own situation, after what seemed to be an interminable time
in the darkness, I saw that I was fast approaching the ground myself. I
landed on a fir tree in a wood, ending up suspended a few feet above the
that it was a comfortable landing under the circumstances.
impossible to get the parachute off the tree, so I started to walk, and
kept walking across country for the remainder of that night. I had
little notion of where I was, or where I was going, it just seemed a
good idea at the time to get as far away as possible from the locality
of the crash. At one stage during that night's trek I climbed over a
high wire fence and, shortly afterwards, came upon a signpost.
of the signpost was marked 'Focke-Wulf Strasse', another indicated
'Messerschmitt Strasse'. That signpost puzzled
me at the time. Many years later,
I learnt from
in the historical section of the Royal Netherlands Airforce that,
somewhat ironically, I must have walked across part of Deelen airfield,
at that time the headquarters base for the German night-fighter that had
brought us to grief.
know how many miles I covered that night, but when dawn eventually
came I took
refuge in a small wood. During the morning it rained slightly and, as I
was rather thirsty, I tried to catch drops of water as they dripped off
branches of trees. They weren't sufficient to do any good and tasted
fusty. The only other sort of diversion was listening to what I later
found out to have been German troops, singing their marching songs, as
they marched along nearby roads. That only tended to increase my own
sense of isolation.
time I was beginning to feel that I should be doing something more
positive, although I didn't quite know what. At that comparatively early
time in the war, aircrew were not given much in the way of survival or
escape aids. I had nothing, no food or drink, not even a map. Likewise,
although we had heard that there were resistance groups in occupied
territory, we had no information on the possibility of contact with
way down a nearby road I could see what appeared to be the outskirts
but as flying clothing would have been very conspicuous, I thought
it best to remain hidden in the wood during daylight. The hours dragged,
but when night finally came again, I walked towards the village.
first house, although it was quite dark because of the blackout, I could
just make out that somebody was leaning on the gate smoking a cigarette.
I asked for a drink of water, in English, and after a few words that I
didn't understand, but which I assumed to be Dutch, the person motioned
me into the house.
were several people in the room that I was ushered into, most of them in
uniform! As luck would have it, that house was being used as a billet
for German airmen!
is a map of prewar Europe. The blue spot at the left indicates where our
aircraft crashed, that was between Apeldoorn and Arnhem in Holland.
After spending a few days in a jail in Amsterdam where I experienced a
few minor attempts by the Germans to glean military information, I was
transferred to my first prisoner-of-war camp, Dulag Luft, near
Dulag Luft was a
collection point and transit camp for RAF prisoners. It was there that
most prisoners underwent their main interrogation by the Luftwaffe
intelligence service. One of the methods in use at the time was the
provision of bogus International Red~
Cross forms that,
under the pretext of letting your family know that you were
safe, required squadron details to be filled in. Legend also had it
some POW camps had originally been bugged with microphones. The story
went that some of those microphones were eventually discovered by the
prisoners who devised a rather effective way of dealing with them. They
ran wires from a lamp-holder and connected the mains electricity supply
across the microphone leads.
batches of prisoners built up at Dulag Luft, they were moved out under
guard to more-permanent camps. Travel was usually by rail and, in that
way, I eventually arrived at my first full-scale POW camp, Stalag VIIIB,
just inside Poland.
journey took several days, as it was about 500 miles, and our journey
naturally of low priority, the carriages containing prisoners-of-war
often shunted into sidings while other traffic went by.
comment upon a new arrival in a POW camp, rather wry humour
as you will appreciate from the sketch, and this drawing gives a
of the conditions at Stalag VIIIB. The amenities at most POW camps could
be described as rather basic. For instance, at Stalag VIIIB, there were
about a hundred persons to each hut, with three-tier bunk beds with
photograph was taken at Stalag VIIIB early in 1942. It is one of the few
photographs taken by the Germans. Note the fancy footwear! these wooden
were issued to replace our flying boots which, with all other flying
clothing and equipment had beenconfiscated. POWs
short of necessary clothing were then issued a uniform from virtually
any armed force in Europe, we make a right motley collection. After
spending about six months
at Stalag VIIIB, which was a POW camp run by the German Army and
basically a camp for Army prisoners, most of the Air Force contingent
was moved out, en route to Stalag Luft III at Sagan, a new camp built
specially for Air Force prisoners.
to Stalag Luft III
is particularly noteworthy as the camp where the 'Great Escape' took
place, and I include one drawing at this point as a reminder of what a
stupendous undertaking that event was.
'Harry'. Harry was the code name for the tunnel finally used for the
Great Escape. Altogether, the project required the almost incredible
of 26,000 individual journeys to dispose of the soil and sand excavated
246 tons in all. All of that work had to take place under the noses
of the German guards and security staff, and the magnitude and complexity
of the project is now difficult to imagine. I spent about five months
at Sagan, well before the 'Great Escape' was undertaken, before being on
the move once again.
In October of 1942 I moved
to Stalag Luft I, near to the town of Barth in North
Germany. Although Stalag Luft I was the original Luftwaffe camp for,
airmen, it had been closed down when the much larger camp of Stalag
Luft III was opened at Sagan. With the ever increasing number of Air
Force prisoners, however, the Luftwaffe decided to reopen Stalag Luft
I and POW volunteers were called for at Sagan
to go to Barth to get the camp
running again, ready for the intake of new prisoners.
The NCOs camp leader at
Sagan, Sergeant 'Dixie' Deans, had tried
to ensure that those volunteers included people with the knowledge or
skills necessary to form the various undercover organizations that would
be needed at the new camp. Prior to joining the RAF, I had been
trained as a photo litho artist a craft that, in addition to its
photographic aspects, required
drawing small lettering. Partly because of that background,
I found myself one of the volunteers, as prospective forger for the new
Stalag Luft I.
usual, the journey from Sagan to Barth was by rail. This
photograph shows Air Force prisoners marching through the town of Barth
escorted by Luftwaffe guards. Arrival at Stalag Luft I was the beginning
of a new phase in
my POW life, that episode now follows as Part 2.