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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Lt. Norman Kottke - WWII Bombardier - 8th Air Force

1st. Lt. Norman Kottke
Stewart, MN

398th Bomb Group - 600 Bomb Squad

Stalag Luft I - North II Compound

Shot Down Nov. 26, 1944


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Lt. Kottke was the bombardier on the plane with my Dad the day they were shot down over Misburg.   After the war he moved back to his farm in Stewart, MN and settled down.  Over his life span he owned four different airplanes and was a member of an organization called the Flying Farmers.  It was made up of similar WWII vets who loved to fly.  He continued his love of flying up until his untimely death on June 9, 1979. (An odd footnote is that my Dad died the very next day June 10, 1979)

Mr. Kottke was interviewed for a newspaper article in 1976 and below are excerpts from that article.

Stewart farmer recalls POW experience… “I had the feeling we weren’t coming back!”

The News – Buffalo Lake, Minn.  55314
      Thursday  Oct. 7, 1976


It started out well enough, that late November day in 1944. The 398th Bomb Group, stationed 40 miles north of London was screaming with the sounds of B-17 Bombers going to and returning from runs over Germany.

This was to be First Lt. Norman Kottke’s last bombing run.  His transfer had come through the night before. The eleven men that made up the crew of the bomber went to briefing the night before and received instruction.

Their assignment:  Misburg, Germany.  Near Frankfurt.  Their mission:  To bomb the last standing natural oil refinery in Germany.  Weather:  Excellent for a bombing run.  Very Cloudy.

As the men walked back to barracks late that night Kottke felt very uneasy.

"Knowing this was to be my last bombing run, and that all the others were successful, I had the premonition that we weren’t coming back from this one.  I wasn’t scared  in the sense of being scared, but I knew we were pushing our luck.”

Kottke has been on 32 successful missions in his 13 month tour of military duty.  He recalls bombing oil refineries, railroad yards, and shipping lanes in Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Berlin.

“Sure it’s a terrible thing to bomb cities, but in time of war, you do what they tell you, that’s your job!”

Early that Sunday morning the B-17 was high over cloud-covered England headed for Germany with a full load of 500 pound bombs.

Kottke was the bombardier of the craft and was strapped in at his station in the glass enclosed nose of the plane.  All the instruments checked out and the 33rd bombing mission was a “go”.

A normal run takes 8 or 9 hours, so Kottke and his men settled back for idle talk while they headed into enemy territory..

“We were up at around 26,000 feet, the routine altitude for a bombing run, almost 5 miles above the earth, and cruising at just under 150 miles an hour.”

“Our radar device, which was a brand new addition to warfare at the time, was designed to pick up large amounts of steel below and was giving a good read-out of our target.”

In briefing, crews are familiarized with what they are going to strike.  Using binoculars over clear skies, they pick out tell-tale signs such as a large smoke stack or railroad tracks converging together below.  In the event of cloud cover, their radar finds the site for them.

The actual time during “bombs away” is approximately twenty minutes, and all but one plane in the squadron scored a direct hit of the refinery.  That planes’ bomb release mechanism malfunctioned.

“We were headed downwind for our target when we noticed that right above it was this huge hole in the clouds about twenty miles in diameter, looking straight and clear to Germany!  We had to fly right through them to release our load.  Just as we dropped the last rack of bombs.”

“Just that quick a terrific blast hit us, shattering all the glass in the pilot’s cockpit.  That stuff up there is ¾ inch and supposedly shatterproof, but it busted like fine China!”

“There was no panic in the plane,” remarked Kottke, “nobody lost their cool, but we all knew that what we learned in survival training was gonna be put to good use from then on!”

“All the pilot’s instruments were rendered useless, the ailerons were flapping in the breeze, and our radio was knocked out of commission.  Our intercom fortunately was working so the first thing we did was to check and make sure everyone was okay, which they were.”

“In my compartment I had an altimeter and an airspeed indicator, so my job became reporting our altitude every minute.”

The other planes saw Kottke’s B-17 drop out of formation and reported back to base that they were still under control, they weren’t spinning wildly or anything, there was no fire and that nobody bailed out.

“They expected that we would make it back by the way our plane looked, and we might have done so had we two good engines to fly by.”

“Our bomber had close to 150 miles to go to make it back to United States controlled France, but we were dropping at better than 700 feet per minute.  It was then that we realized we wouldn’t make it!”

Gliding at 130 miles an hour from 26,000 feet, the bomber returned about 60 miles from the bombing site.  The pilot was now faced with the decision either to stay with the plane or to bail out.

“We were flying into a heavy cloud bank at the time and with our erratic instruments we didn’t know how far the clouds extended to the ground.  The pilot decided it was time!”

“I happened to be one of the first out of the plane.  I had this little escape hatch under me so I opened it and pushed out with all my might.  They say if you don’t clear the plane you’ll get cut in half by the gun turret on the belly of the plane.  I didn’t feel like taking any chances!”

“It’s quite a feeling jumping out of a wrecked plane for the first time in your life doing 130 miles an hour, 7,000 feet over Germany.  The roar of the huge whining engines is deafening at first and an instant later it’s perfectly calm, almost peaceful.”

Kottke was just about to pull his ripcord when an impulse hit him.

“Norman, I said , as long as you’re up here 7,000 feet with nothing better to do why don’t you try free fall?”

“And be damned if I didn’t!  It worked beautifully.  You put out an arm and your body goes one way, put out the other arm and you drift over the other way.  Works great, but probably a stupid thing to be doing while dropping unexpectedly into enemy territory.”

“I drifted through the clouds and right over a small town.  There were half a dozen houses, a church and a beer joint.  The kids were playing outside on a crisp Sunday afternoon.  It was a breathtaking site to see from the air.”

“I watched the adults as they ran around pointing up at me.  I came down in a wheat field a few hundred feet from the village, ditched my parachute and started to run.”

“Two men and a woman began chasing me so I headed for a small woods to hide in.  My luck had been going so great all day long, I guess it was bound to continue.  Here  the woods I was heading for was completely bare.  No place to hide!”

“The only thing left to do was lay down in the tall grass, so I pulled up some roots to cover myself with.  The wait seemed to last forever!”

“The two men headed right for the grove, like they should, but this darn woman came right for me.”

“I could hear her walking closer and closer, and was just waiting for her to peer down at me over the grains of wheat!”

Kottke laughed, saying “And to this day I’ve never trusted women.”

“Well, the jig was up.  I was caught.  But to this day I wonder what would’ve happened if she hadn’t found me.”

“The military picked us up and marched us all night to some kind of holding camp, a place they keep you until they decide what they are going to do with you.  The rest of my crew was rounded up by this time and we were re-united in that basement room.”

“After about a week of that we were brought by train to our interrogation center.  The train would have to stop many times along the route to let large convoys of trucks and tanks pass over the road.  The railroad yards were full of camouflaged tanks and heavy artillery equipment, and we remarked among ourselves that this looked very unusual.  Little did we know that what we were witnessing at that moment was the big German offensive, later known to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge!”

“We arrived at the interrogation center where each of us was kept in solitary confinement for nine days.  The Germans would get us up in the middle of the night to interrogate us.  They say the mind is supposed to be the least able to resist during these hours.”

“The Gestapo mainly wanted to know what this new device was that could enable us to ‘see’ through the clouds to our target below.”

“Of course we didn’t tell them a thing.  We played dumb like we didn’t know ourselves what the contraption was or how it worked.  They were really pretty good to us, probably because we were officers.  We say no torture of any kind, at least not in our camp.

“After a few weeks of that we were escorted by train again on a scenic tour of northern Germany to our new ‘home’ for the duration; Stalag Luft Number 1, the Air Officers POW camp.  Over the winter we accumulated over 12,000 roommates, so it got extremely cramped at times.”

A typical day in a German prisoner of war camp consisted mostly of playing cards, telling wild war stories and especially plenty of walking.  Each morning the German’s brought a ration of coal to keep the stove going.  “Being on the Baltic Sea,” Kottke commented, “it got below zero more often than not!”

“We were allowed to cook meals if we wanted so we had a hot breakfast and a hot supper.”

Stalag Luft prisoners knew, during their 6 month stay that the war was just about over.  A prisoner smuggled in a radio and picked up the BBC, Britain’s radio station and heard Allied progress daily.

“The German’s would never admit that they were losing but you could tell each day that morale was dropping in the ranks.  Meanwhile our officers told us not to try to escape, because the war was almost over.   It would be a foolish thing to do at that stage of the game.”

“One guy, though, decided he had had enough and went over the fence one night.  He took with him some canned goods that we rounded up for him and took off.  He didn’t last long out in the cold and was rounded up almost immediately by the guards and of course not treated too favorably since then.  To discourage any further activity of that nature, they punctured all our Red Cross canned goods, so we’d have to eat them right away.”

One night after six longs months in that camp, the American officers met with the Germans.  They were told that the Germans would be gone the next morning.  Kottke and the other men in the barracks were stunned to learn that they were no longer prisoners.

“We didn’t know what to do!  Our lives had become so routine and ordered that being free seemed an impossibility.  The first thing I remember doing was to help tear down all the barbed wire fences around the camp.”

A few days later a Russian convoy came into the camp and dispatched doctors to tend to the sick and wounded men.  A couple of days after that the air evacuations began.  Huge carrier planes would land right on the flat land near the camp, taxi around, load up 40 or 50 men and head right off again.

“It all happened so fast none of us could really believe what was going on.  Many men were hesitant to get on the plane without a parachute for fear that they would be again shot down, but with the mention of the United States and freedom, they piled right in!”

The word "freedom" never sounded so good!



From our guestbook:

From:   LeRoy Larson
Sent: 4:49PM   -  7/25 2000

Norman Kottke, the lead bombardier was a friend of mine.  After the war he farmed in Stewart, Minn. He was a private pilot and took me up several times.  Norman was a member of the flying farmers of Minnesota. He was a great guy.


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