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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Claude McCrocklin Dulag ID photo F/O Claude W. McCrocklin
Bombardier - 15th Air Force
456th Bomb Group - 744th Squadron

Stalag Luft I - South Compound
KGF # 4211

Enlistment and Training
F/O Claude W. McCrocklin - WWII Bombardier

In 1941-42 I was a student at Centenary College. I was on a football scholarship and trying to get an education.  On December 7,1941, I was out with a date who was also a Centenary student and who would later become my wife. War was the last thing on my mind. I had not even thought of it, but all of that changed overnight when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we were at war. It would be today like the Russians bombing Miami, or New York. Things changed overnight at Centenary. Campus life and all of those things that seemed so important yesterday now were overshadowed by war. Every male student knew that he would be in the military soon. The only choice was to either wait and be drafted, or to enlist. I chose to enlist, because there was to me a certain stigma in having to be drafted when your country was in danger.  I visited the Army, Navy and Marine Corp recruiting offices to see which service I wanted to fight the war with. Without hesitation I volunteered for the Army Air Corp.  It was to me the most adventurous and exciting way to fight the enemy.  I took my physical and written examinations at Barksdale Army Air Base, as it was called then, and was accepted as an aviation cadet.  I was called to active duty in 1942 and sent to California for pre-flight school.  I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but upon graduation, was classified as a bombardier.  As a bombardier cadet I was sent to Advanced Bombardier School where I learned how to use the Norden bombsight and finally got into an airplane.
Bombardier Oath being taken - WWII
Taking the oath before seeing the
secret Norden bombsight on the table.

The Norden bombsight was one of World War II's top secret weapons, and each bombardier had to take an oath to defend it with his life, if need be. A Norden bombsight can be seen today on display at the Louisiana State Museum at the fairgrounds.

Upon completion of Advanced Bombardier School, I was commissioned a Flight Officer in the Army Air Corp, and assigned to a B-24 bomber crew.  After several months of training at various B-24 bases, our crew was assigned to the 744th Squadron, 456th Bomb Group, 701st Wing of the 15th Air Force in Italy.  We flew the B-24 to Italy via Brazil, the South Atlantic Ocean, North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.


Combat and Capture

Air war in Europe during 1943 and for the first six months of 1944 was a bloody business. The German Luftwaffe had air superiority over the target areas in Central Europe at the time, because our fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers all the way to the target. Our losses consequently were heavy. The average number of missions in my group was two. This meant that on your second mission you were likely to be shot down. Some never even got to the target. We were told that our mission at that stage of the war was to knock out the German Air Force in the air and on the ground. The theory was, we can replace our losses, they cannot, so we slugged it out. My military rating in addition to the bombardier was "observer." This meant that during the flight to and from the target, I observed and wrote down everything that happened. Many times I counted up to 20 B-24's and B-17's shot down on a single mission. Since each one had a ten-man crew, you can imagine what the casualty rate was. Since we were always hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, every plane that went down was a total loss.
456th BG insignia 15th Army Air Corps Patch
456th Bomb Group Diamond Insignia 15th Army Air Corps Patch

A major World War II bombing mission in Europe was an awesome sight. It would involve anywhere from 500 to 1,000 planes. Can you imagine today what it would be like to see that many planes in the air at one time? The world never again will see such a sight. Just to get that many planes off the ground and into formation was quite an achievement. I will try to describe it to you: A World War II bomber Squadron consisted of six planes. There were six Squadrons to a Group, and three Groups to a Wing. There were then several Wings to an Air Force. All of these planes would line up on the runways and take off at 20-second intervals, then fly around until they got into formation in groups of 36 planes. When they all finally got together, the air force would be strung out for miles in an irregular "stacked up and down" formation. High above the bomber formations would be our fighter cover which would stay with us until we reached the limit of their range, or they were attacked by the enemy. Either way, when they left, we were on our own. The enemy usually attacked the bomber formations at this time. Their object was to break up the formation, scatter the planes, and then shoot them down at will. A favorite tactic was to use their fighter-bombers such as the JU-88 to fly just out of range of our 50-calibre machine guns and fire rockets into a formation. While this was going on, several hundred ME-109's and FW-190's would attack at close quarters from every direction. They would fly right through our formation so close you could see the pilot and the instrument panel of his plane. My battle station was in a Plexiglas compartment in the nose of the B-24, which gave me a super view of the entire action. There would be the bomber formation stretched out as far as the eye could see with swarms of enemy fighters attacking from every direction. In addition, to the fighters there were clouds of flak which we had to fly through. As the result of this prolonged close quarter air battle, there would be a constant stream of debris from exploding and burning planes streaming back through the formations. Men and parachutes would fill the sky. If the chute was white, it was one our ours; if it was yellow, it was one of theirs. No one shot at a man in a parachute, or at a disabled plane with its wheels down, which was a sign of surrender. I have seen disabled German fighters with wheels down fly up beside our planes, the pilot blow his canopy, climb out on the wing and bail out. We watched, but held our fire, because we knew that our time would come and that we would be at the mercy of German pilots. I am alive today because the Germans honored our written code.

The most enemy fighters that we were briefed to meet on any of the missions that I flew was 750. This meant that 750 fighters would hit us on the way in, go down and refuel, then be back up to attack us on the way back. The mission that proved to be last I flew was to bomb a ball bearing factory at Steyr, Austria, 600 miles north of Italy.

Map of Steyr
Map of Steyr's Location (+)
This maximum mission by the 15th Air Force was coordinated with the 8th Air Force's first daylight bombing of Berlin. The object was to divide the Luftwaffe and thus reduce the fighter opposition. It was my thirteenth and last combat action in World War II. The date was April 2, 1944. I had beaten the odds and had completed twelve missions. Of the 36 planes that were in my group when I started, only two were left, mine and one more. After this mission, non were left of the original group. There was a complete turnover in 29 days.

Preparations for the mission started at 0400 with a quick breakfast and then off to permission briefing. At the briefing, we were told what the target was. There was a large map of Europe on the wall with a red string leading from our base to the target. We were told the distance to the target, what altitude to fly and what opposition to expect. After this general briefing for all crew members, the lead bombardiers had a special briefing. In this meeting, the bombardiers were given a photograph of the target area and how to find the specific target. We were also given the necessary information such as altitude of the target above sea level, wind direction and velocity, air and ground speed, etc. From this information we could calculate the data to put into the bombsight. Basic data was computed on the ground, the rest of it had to be done in flight which was no easy take with someone shooting at you.

After briefing, we were taken to the flight line and our plane. The first thing that I did on arrival at the plane was to check the bomb load, particularly the fuses on each bomb to be sure they would detonate on impact. Remember, the object of the bombing mission was to destroy the target. The bombardier was responsible for this, so he had to do his job, otherwise the mission was a failure and many lives lost for nothing. Everything, the preparation on the ground, the battles in the air to just reach the target, all were designed to put the bombardier over the target so he could do his job. After being sure that the bomb load was okay, I then entered the plane and went to my station in the nose compartment. The bombsight and bomb release systems were checked and data previously computed was put into the sight. During the flight, I would make corrections as conditions changed. After checking the plane's equipment, I checked my own. My parachute was missing! I remembered that I was not supposed to fly that day and had put it in for repack. I though a minute and decided that I had flown twelve combat missions and probably would not need it, then too, the plane had already taxied out to the runway and I didn't want to hold things up. An overpowering feeling came over me to get that chute, so I called the pilot on the intercom and told him the situation. He called on the plane's radio for a jeep to take me to the parachute repack station. When I got there, my chute was not ready, so I started to leave without it, when the repack girl said, "Lieutenant, take this extra chute, you might need it". She threw it to me as I was going out the door. She saved my life with that chute as the following events will testify.

To get to the target that day, our flight plan was to fly across the Adriatic Sea, Yugoslavia, and on into Austria. It was while approaching the Yugoslav coast that we received our first attack. I observed about 50 ME-109 fighters coming in form 11:00 o'clock high and another group of 40 attacking our fighter escort, who were still with us at th time. This initial attack scattered our escort and forced them to drop their extra fuel tanks. This meant that we were on our own for the rest of the day. Since it was only about 0830. We would be over enemy territory under constant attack for the next six to seven hours. I personally saw 21 B-24's shot down before we reached the target area. There were many others that I could not see, but knew what was happening from the large number of parachutes in the air.

B-24 plane - WWII


On this mission I was deputy lead bombardier. My squadron of six planes led the Air Force. We flew in "boxes" of six planes in "V" formation so close to each other the wings almost touched. This was done for mutual protection and to get the desired bomb pattern on the target. On reaching the target area, there was an intense barrage of flak that covered the area and swarms of every kind of German fighter they could put in the air. We made it to the IP and turned on the bomb heading. I had five minutes to find the target, pick it up in the bombsight and make final adjustments. The plane had to be level when the bombs went out, otherwise you missed. I flew the plane with the bombsight during this period. My main concern was to find the target. They did not draw a "bullseye" and thus say, "here it is". Unless you were bombing a city, or railroad which could not be missed, the target was always heavily camouflaged.

On this occasion, there had been a heavy snowfall which made the camouflaged target even more difficult to pick up at 22,000-foot altitude. I constantly checked the photo taken by our scout plane the day before and given to me at the briefing before the mission. From the photograph, I followed the bends of the Steyer River to the target and finally identified it about three minutes before the bombs would have to be released. During this final three minutes, the 15th Air Force lead plane directly in front of our plane took a direct hit and exploded. We pulled up in its place and took over the lead. While this was taking place, 20-mm shells from two ME-110 fighters on our tail began to explode in the plane, killing or wounding one half of the crew and one engine began to burn. All of this in three minute's time! Since our plane was now leading the air force, and all remaining planes on our group would drop their bombs when mine were released, I had to concentrate on the target. At 30 seconds before the bombsight would release the bombs which had yellow streamers on them as a signal for all planes to drop theirs, I finally synchronized and thus locked the computer on target. This meant nothing short of the plane exploding could prevent hitting the target. On release of the bombs, I watched them go down to the target. On impact the camouflage was blown away and the target laid bare for the more than 500 planes behind us to home in on. My feeling at the time was one of satisfaction and pride for having successfully done my job. This feeling of exultation did not last but a moment, because the next pass of the ME-110's knocked out another one of our engines and killed our top turret gunner who was about four feet behind and above me. I was talking to him and suddenly he was hit by a direct burst of 20-mm cannon fire. Blood gushed all over everything. I had been too busy concentrating on the bomb run to be scared before. Now I was terrified with the sudden realization that I too would likely be killed. This felling passed as I was busy directing the two remaining gun turrets.

ME- 109 plane


With two engines gone, we had to fall out of formation and fly back to Italy alone.  We got as far as Zagreb, Yugoslavia, where we were attacked by six ME-109 fighters.  I watched them take off from Zagreb Air Base, circle and climb high above us.  We had two gun turrets still operational, the bottom ball turret and the nose turret, which was directly in front of me.  Our top, tail and both side gunners had either been killed, or seriously wounded.  Any attack from above, rear, or side could not be stopped.

Consequently, the six ME-109's attacked from the top and rear in flights of two. I watched from a Plexiglas observation bubble on top of the plane. It is strange how in what you think are your last moments you can remember so vividly. The ME-109's were painted blue gray, they had yellow, black and white markings and the pilots wore blue uniforms with black helmets. As they passed within thirty feet or so our plane, I could even see the expressions on their faces! An ME-109 had six 30-calibre machine guns in the wings and one 20-mm cannon firing through the propeller hub. We survived their first attack, but the second one started us burning so badly we had to bail out. I pulled my flak jacket release string, put on my chute, opened the nose wheel door and prepared to jump. The altimeter said 10,000 feet, the time was 1330 hours.

I looked at the strange snow covered landscape below and jumped. The leg strap of my parachute hung on the nose wheel door and I could not get clear. After much struggling, I climbed back into the plane and jumped the second time. I pulled the rip cord when I was clear of the plane, but was "tumbling" end over end and when the canopy partially opened, I was wrapped in the shroud lines. I managed to get them sorted out and the chute then functioned properly. The first sensation was how quiet it was after the noise of the air battle. I watched two more of our brew bail out and the six ME-109's finish off our plane which was till on auto pilot and trailing fire and smoke. I watched fascinated as it crashed and exploded in a huge column of fire. The ME-109's, their work finished, circled and one peeled off and headed directly toward me. I was scared, because I thought that he was coming to shoot me in the parachute. I reached up and pulled one side of the chute's shroud lines, thus partially spilling the air out so that I could fall fast and he couldn't get a bead on me. This was a foolish thing to do, because I almost couldn't stop my fall. I finally managed to get air back into the canopy and the chute working properly again. The ME-109 was still with me. This time I resigned myself to the worst and just stared at him. He flew in real close, looked over at me, smiled and saluted! Late I would meet him on the ground and hear him tell me, "All I was doing was following you down and radioing your position to our soldiers so they could pick you up!". I landed in a tree top which bent over and slung me into a snow bank which cushioned the fall. I still hit so hard it stunned me. My parachute never functioned properly and the tree had snow bank probably saved my life. It is very difficult to get out of a disabled plane under attack. It is nothing like the sky dives on TV, etc.

After I collected my senses, I took stock of my situation. I was dazed, extremely fatigued and had an intense thirst. My lips were cracked and bleeding, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and trying to eat snow burned, it would not melt. This dehydration was caused by breathing pure oxygen in the plane for five or six hours. I saw a small stream nearby and headed for it. The water helped immensely and I was able to eat two Benzedrine tablets from my escape kit. The "pep pills" gave me a "lift" and brought my senses back. I then started to plan my escape. The first thing I did was bury the chute in the snow, so (as I thought) the enemy couldn't find it. I then looked around and saw a small church and some buildings in the distance. Since I was in Yugoslavia where the people were supposed to be friendly, I reasoned that I could get help there. I was mistaken. They would have nothing to do with me and ran me off. This was a shock, but later understood when I found out that they would have been shot if they had helped.

After this I started South across an open field to get to a forest on the other side. It was heavy going in two feet of snow. My heavy flying gear made it worst, and the ME-109 was back! He buzzed me so low I could have hit him with a snowball. I no longer considered him a danger, having realized if he had wanted to kill me he could have done so long ago. About this time I heard the command halt! I froze, looked around and saw nothing, so I took another step and heard, "Halt!" once again. This time I put my hands up, and when I did, German soldiers got up all around me with guns at ready. I had not seen them because of the snow cover. One came forward and searched me while the others stood back. They had already found my parachute which is not surprising since I had left a trail in the snow wherever I went. I had lost my pistol in bailing out, but would not have tried to shoot it out with them anyhow. An airman on the ground is not match for infantry soldiers who are trained for just such a situation. For me, the was over and another phase of my life was to begin.

Prisoner of War

Although situations may differ depending on the circumstances involving capture in war, I think all airmen experience the same initial feeling. This is because air war is so different from ground war. Everything happens so fast. You fly at such great speeds high above the enemy and always behind the front lines. It is a battle of machines, plane against plane, or air to ground targets far below. It is impersonal, you rarely see the enemy, consequently, you are not prepared to fight him on the ground. Suddenly you are shot from the air and face to face with the enemy in an alien and hostile land. I was in a daze, I had been up since 0400 and in air combat all day, now I was in the hands of an enemy who would rather kill me than take me prisoner. At first I could not understand the hatred directed at my by the enemy infantry. All German soldiers hated flyers, because of the constant bombing and strafing directed against them. When they finally got their hands on one of us, it was not a pleasant situation to be in.

The most dangerous time for any war prisoner is at the moment of capture and the period when he is in the hands of those who actually took him prisoner. They are trigger happy and since you have not yet been officially acknowledged as a P.O.W., you have no status and can be shot at will. No one knows what your fate is, you are listed as "missing in action". Once you have been accepted as a P.O.W. and either your government, or the International Red Cross notified, your chances of surviving the war improve. Also, to improve your changes of survival, particularly during the first few days of captivity, do not show any animosity or feeling. Avoid looking the enemy directly in the eye, if possible, because he can read your emotions through your eyes. That "go to hell" look can get you shot, or at best a rifle butt in your face. Watch what you say, choose your words carefully. Wise cracking or showing contempt is for Hollywood movies and dead heroes. Your military specialty and rank sometimes help. I was fortunate because the Luftwaffe had ordered all captured air officers to be taken back to Germany for interrogation. I did not know it a at the time , but the day after I was captured, radio Berlin in a short-wave broadcast to the U.S. gave my name, rank and serial number as having been taken prisoner and that I was alive and well. The broadcast was picked up in the U.S., and my family notified. My situation was this, I had been picked up in a battle zone by German infantry who were fighting communist Yugoslavian guerrillas. It was a viscous no quarter war with both sides shooting any prisoners captured.

I was imprisoned in a large stable with about 25 Yugoslavs who had been captured the day before. Since they were not recognized as war prisoners, the next morning a German SS unit arrived and took them out and shot them. I watched as this took place and believed that I would be next. I had on my U.S. Army uniform and there was no doubt who I was, but it did not seem to make any difference to the SS Einsatz squad doing the shooting. After they shot the Yugoslavs they came for me. I was terrified. It was ironic that after all that I had been through in the war so far, that I would be shot helplessly in a common barnyard stable. Luckily, the German army colonel whose troops had captured me and who had notified Berlin, came to my rescue. There was still a terrific argument, but obviously he prevailed, or I would not be writing this today. I was shaken, it had been a narrow escape from death. It is one thing to face death in combat, but quite another matter when you are helpless.

Shortly after this, while I was still shaken up, I had another encounter of a different kind. The ME-109 pilot who had shot me down and buzzed me in the parachute, sent for me. HE had been shot down himself later on that same day and had parachuted into the same area. When he had found out that I was there and of my narrow escape with the SS, he sent for me. I spent all afternoon visiting with him in the officers quarters, which was quite a change from the stable. He as a 1st Lieutenant in the Luftwaffe, was about 21 years old, and spoke perfect English. He was friendly, but serious minded and did not try to interrogate me. We talked about the war only in general terms and mostly about air battles in which we had both participated in. I was given food, wind and cigarettes and had regained my confidence lost during the previous encounter with the SS. All of this lasted until the army officers came back from patrol. There were furious at the Luftwaffe lieutenant for bringing me into their quarters and called the guards to throw me back into the stable.

Four days later I was taken to the Luftwaffe base in Zagreb. I was now a prisoner of the German Air Force and treatment improved immediately, I do not know if he ME-109 pilot brought about th transfer, but always felt that he did. In World War II the German P.O.W. camps were operated by the different branches of the armed forces. If you were Air Force, you were prisoners of their Air Force, the Luftwaffe. If you were an Army P.O.W., then you were sent to one of their army camps, etc.

From Zagreb, Yugoslavia, I was taken by train first to Vienna, Austria, and then to the Luftwaffe's main interrogation center, Dulag Luft at Frankfurt, Germany. I had an interesting experience in Vienna. Our train was late arriving and we missed the train to Frankfurt. This meant that we had almost a whole day's layover in Vienna. The two Luftwaffe guards did not want to sit in the train and "guard" me all day, so we all went to a large serviceman's canteen (USO_ which was operated by the German Red Cross. On arrival, we found the place packed with every kind of soldier in the armed forces. It was with difficulty that the Luftwaffe guards got us a table. I was fascinated with the sight of so many enemy soldiers in such a relaxed casual manner. Here were the Nazis super soldiers that I had been told were so fanatical in battle. There were 55 Panzer men in black uniforms, the Wehrmact in field gray, the Kriegsmarine (Navy) and Luftwaffe in blue. They were laughing and talking like any soldier on leave. The Red Cross girls in their red and white "waitress" type uniforms were busy serving food and refreshments. The music in the background made the war seem far away. Here I was sitting dressed in my U.S. Army flying uniform with all of its insignia in plain sight and no one said a nasty word to me, or tried to kill me!

After getting over the initial psychological shock of being there in such surrounding, I noticed that there was an SS Panzer tank crew sitting at the table next to mine. They were different from the other soldiers, they never smiled and had cold hard faces. I decided to try and talk to them, because I was curious to learn more about theses elite soldiers who had made the word "blitzkrieg" synonymous with mechanized warfare. There was an empty chair at their table so I went over and asked if I could sit down.

Their crew captain looked me over with cold blue eyes and said, "Why?" Not knowing what to say otherwise, I said, "I am curious about your black uniforms with the silver skull and cross bones insignia on your berets. What do you do?" He told me that he and his crew were on leave from the eastern front where they had been fighting my "friends" the Russians. He asked me did I know what they did to captured German prisoners? I told him I had never seen a Russian, much less knew what they did. I quickly told him how well the German P.O.W.'s in America were treated and most of them were former tank crews from Romme's Afika Corp. This "cooled" the situation and we visited and drank "ersatz" coffee. During the whole time , no one smiled or changed their expression. I found out what I wanted to know, "Do not mess around with the SS". They had not sense of humor and were a cold, hard lot.

We finally left Vienna and started the long train ride to Frankfurt. Since were traveling by day coach, I could observe the people and countryside. I thus saw the "other side" of the war and Germany while they were still strong and powerful. There had been few daylight bombings of Germany by Americans and I was more of an object of curiosity than of hatred in April, 1944.

On arrival in Frankfurt, I was quickly taken to Dulag Luft interrogation prison for captured air officers. Here I was put into solitary confinement. It was a very small "closet" type cell with a bright light burning continuously. There was a slot in the door where once a day a bowl of soup and two slices of bread came through. I saw no one and lost all sense of time. To keep from going nuts, I did all sorts of things like counting the cracks in the wall, or bugs in the straw mattress. I finally thought of tapping on the wall to see if I could contact anyone. I tapped out "May Day", the airman's distress call. I was startled when the reply came back, "I am s South African pilot, who are you?" He was a P-40 pilot who was shot down and captured in Italy. With someone to communicate with, it was not as bad as it was and my morale picked up immensely.

I am not sure just how long I was in solitary, but it was several days. Suddenly I was taken out and into a large lavishly furnished room where well-dressed people were sitting around drinking cocktails and listening to music. A girl in an evening dress came over, smiled and said in perfect English, "Lieutenant, would you like a drink and a cigarette?" I was embarrassed, it had now been about two weeks since I was shot down and I had not had a chance to bathe, brush my teeth, or shave. My uniform was dirty and crumpled and I felt like I looked. I realized that the whole thing was designed to humiliate and soften me up for interrogation. It backfired, instead my initial embarrassment turned to anger and I was more determined then ever to resist. I looked her in the eye and said, "American officers not accept favors from the enemy, leave me alone!" When I said this, a Luftwaffe officer came in and made me stand at attention before a large desk within the same room. He sat behind the desk and proceeded to interrogate me.

The first thing that he did was pull out a large file on me and my military unit in Italy. He first told me where my home was in the states, my parents names, my father's occupation and his company's name, where I received my education and where I enlisted in the Air Force. He then told me where my air base was in Italy, my squadron and group number and my base commander's name! I was amazed, all the things that I was determined not to give him, he already knew! Thoughts raced through my mind such as, why was I important enough to the enemy that they would go to so much trouble to keep a file on me before I was captured! I found out after the war that the Luftwaffe did this on all air officers whom they thought would be in positions of importance in our air force. They knew that if we flew against them long enough that there was a great possibility that sooner or later we would be shot down.

When he finished reading my history to me, he asked the question, "What was the serial number of your plane?" I did not know, because we changed planes so often. I answered with my name, rank and serial number. He replied, "If I give you the first and last numbers will you fill in the rest?" Since I did not know anyway, I gave the first numbers that came into my mind. He then chided me by saying, "It is rather stupid of you not to even know your plan's number, let me give it to you!" He held up a large photograph of my plane with the serial number clearly visible. I knew it was my plane, because of the squadron and group markings. Since I saw the plane crash and burn after I had bailed out, I knew that the photo had be have been taken in Italy!

I will not go into all of the interrogation that followed. I will just say that all he got out of me was my name, rank and serial number. He finally got mad and threatened me with the SS who he said used "Japanese methods" to get information our of P.O.W.'s When this did not work either, he called the guards, the interrogation was over. I was taken out in the hall, stripped of my uniform and left standing. I didn't know what this was for, but if they wanted to humiliate me, they succeeded. It is hard to keep your dignity while standing naked in a busy hallway.

Eventually I was brought an old British uniform that was too small and taken outside into a large barbed wire compound which was jam-packed with Anglo-American air P.O.W.'s. Many of the P.O.W.'s were badly wounded or severely burned. Two German officers in immaculate uniforms were walking among the wounded. When I asked one what they were doing, he said in effect, "We are researching the type of wounds, we get valuable information on how to treat our own wounded that way." I thought it was ironic that seriously wounded P.O.W.'s could help the enemy that way.

Shortly after this I was given a cardboard-suitcase-type Red Cross clothing package which contained a toothbrush, comb, soap, razor, shaving stick, gloves, sweater and flannel pajamas! I was elated! For the first time in nearly three weeks, I could brush my teeth, wash, shave and comb my hair. It was a terrific morale boost and I was in much better spirits. I didn't have much time to enjoy this unexpected windfall, because the Germans soon hustled me and all the other P.O.W.'s to attention. The enlisted men were separated from the officers and were sent to a different camp. The rest of us, about eighty-five officers, were lined up and formed into five squads with German NCO's as squad leaders.

We then marched off to a waiting train which was to take us to the permanent Luftwaffe camp Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany. Barth is about ninety miles northwest of Berlin on the Baltic Sea coast. During the long train ride from Frankfurt, many escape schemes were plotted by the P.O.W.'s, but all were thwarted by the fact that our guards took our shoes and dog tags (identification tags). We were told if we succeeded in escaping from the train and were caught without our dog tags, we would be shot as spies. Then too, the prospect of jumping out of the train barefooted into the snow cooled even the most fervent desire to escape.

The most exciting event of this trip was an air raid while we were in the Berlin railway yards. It was an unusual experience to be on the ground and a target of our own planes. I thought how ironic to be killed by our own bombs. Lucky for us they missed our train. I had bombed trains in Italy and knew what could have happened to us. I remember one particular mission to the city of Bologna in northern Italy where we caught the railway yards full of trains, passenger as well as military. The result was carnage. I still remember the expressions of terror on the people's faces as they saw the bombs falling. Now I was on the receiving end and knew how they felt. It is not a pleasant feeling regardless of the politics of war.

Stalag Luft I Prison Camp - Barth, Germany

After five cold and sleepless nights on the prison train, we arrived at Barth and Stalag Luft I where I would stay the next fourteen months. At six the following morning, our shoes were returned to us and we were routed out of the train by steel helmeted guards. After a silent two-hour march through the fog and drizzling rain, we arrived at the camp. High barbed wired loomed before us behind which were low wooden barracks. The first thing we did on arrival was go through the processing procedure for new prisoners. This consisted of being assigned a P.O.W. number, filling out an I.D. Card and having our picture taken. I was now "Kriegsgefangenen No. 4211".

Claude McCrocklin POW ID card


The next thing was to be herded into a square brick building and told to remove all our clothing which were tossed into large cauldrons to be deloused. The Germans were fastidiously clean took every precaution to prevent ant outbreak of typhus caused by lice. While our clothes were being deloused, we were given a bar of soap and lines up for showers. We had two minutes of hot water and one minute of cold. Brief as it was, it was great. It was good to be clean again after nearly a month without a bath! After the shower, our clothes were returned and after dressing we were taken to the inner gates and led into the camp itself. On our way we got our first glimpse of the other prisoners. There were thousands of them. Being shot down and captured seemed a unique experience and it was a surprise that it should happen to so many others as well. I had felt that becoming a P.O.W., like getting killed, always happened to someone else, an unreal experience.             

I was a prisoner of war, from April, 1944, through May, 1945.  While in the camp I kept a wartime log of events that happened and illustrated many of them with colored drawings.  The wartime log book was supplied by the War Prisoners Aid of the YMCA and its contents from the research material for these talks.  In addition to the wartime log material, I obtained photographs and material from German files while with the Russians who overran and liberated Stalag Luft I before Germany surrendered.


German headquarters at Stalag Luft I water color
German Headquarters


I do not attempt to tell all that happened, for to do so would require the writing of a large book. Neither do I discuss the politics, or overall strategy of the war. I only tell of some of my experiences and views. At the time these events took place, I was 22 years old, about the age that most young men graduate from college and start out in life. In my case it was different. I had been through so much by the time I got home in late 1945 that it took several years to adjust to "normal" life. I never did quite make it, because the qualities that make a first-rate combat soldier are quite different from those of ordinary men and hard to explain. I am proud that I had those qualities and would do the same thing again if necessary.

In German the name means "Air Prison Camp No. 1". As the name implies, it was a prison camp for captured allied airmen, mostly British and American. At its peak in 1944 it contained 10,000 prisoners of war. Since it was designed to hold only about 2,500, it was very crowded with some of the newcomers being housed in tents. The camp was located on a small peninsula of the Baltic Sea coast on about the same latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada. It got very cold in the winter and even the short summers were cool. The camp was only 60 miles across the Baltic from Sweden, but might as well have been 1,000 miles as far as any escape attempt across it. When I arrived in April, 1944, there were some British RAF (Royal Air Force) officers there who were captured in 1939. No one in the six years that the camp was operated made a successful escape. Getting out of the camp was hard enough, but the hundreds of miles of hostile country to travel just to reach friendly territory was insurmountable.

Drawing of  World War II Bombardier and Pilot - water color
Bombardier                    Pilot  

The camp was run by the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) with an "Oberst" (full Colonel) in charge of administration.  He and his staff had full responsibility for the overall camp operation, but they were checked periodically by both The Gestapo and S.S. who were the political wing of the Nazi armed forces.

In addition to the Germans, there was another authority in the camp to which the prisoners of war were subject.  This was the allied command with the senior allied prisoner of war in charge.  Even though you were a prisoner of war in an enemy prison, you were still an officer in the U.S. Air Force and expected to act accordingly.  All combat air officers in World War II were briefed on how to act if captured and what the U.S. Government expected of you.  It was called, "The P.O.W. Code of Ethics".  I knew of no one in Stalag Luft I who violated the code.

Stalag Luft I was perhaps the best of the Luftwaffe office camps and I was fortunate to be there, yet it was by no means a picnic. It was nothing like the TV series, "Hogan's Heroes" where the Germans were cast as "bumbling nitwits" nd the prisoners did mostly as they pleased. Colonel Hogan and his cohorts would have been shot in the real world of a prisoner of war camp.

Seeing the Other Side of the War

Upon arrival at Stalag Luft I it was a great surprise to see how big it was. There were row upon row of long wooden barracks and thousands of prisoners of war. All of the prisoners of war were officers and that meant that there was only one to four on each plane. Since less than 40% of the airmen shot down survived, that meant that the Luftwaffe was shooting down an awful lot of our airplanes! To further boggle the mind, Stalag Luft I was only one of many prisoner of war camps operated by the Luftwaffe. The camp nearest to ours was Stalag Luft III which had as many, or more, prisoners of war as we did. I knew that we had been taking a beating in the air war in 1943-1944, but this seemed ridiculous. After the war, I read that the total number of allied planes shot down by the Luftwaffe was 85,000! I remember that during the peak of the air war in Europe in 1943-1944, we were told that our losses were "light" and that the Luftwaffe's was heavy. Now I was on the "other side" of the war as a prisoner of war and could see the contrast between what I had been told and the reality of things. It was a discouraging way to start life as a prisoner of war.

While in the camp, the prisoners of war had access to German magazines and newspapers. The barracks had speakers in them through which German radio broadcasts were piped in. The programs were usually the broadcasts to the German people and not directed to the P.O.W.'s in particular. The music was good, especially since I liked "polkas" and if you could understand German, the news broadcasts, even though one sided, helped to keep up with the war. The most interesting radio broadcast I heard in World War II was the final one by Radio Berlin in May 1945. It was a :play by play" description of the fall of Berlin to the Russians. The announcer stayed on the air and narrated the attack on the radio station. It went like this: "I see the Russian infantry and tanks coming down the street, I hear the infantry in the building, they are in the hall, the door is kicked in open..." Then I heard shots and after this, silence. Radio Berlin was off the air. Before he was killed at the microphone, this German announcer made one prophetic statement which has stuck with me all of these years, it was: Germany has fought a good fight. We were the first western nation to recognize and fight the threat of international communism and alone faced the Red Terror. Instead of helping us defend the west, our Anglo-American brothers joined the communists and fought against us. Now that Germany is defeated, the Anglo-Americans will find that their ally, the communists, will turn against them and they will have to face them alone", I will let you come to your own conclusion based on world events today, 40 years later.

While a prisoner of war, I listened to German, Russian and British propaganda, and yes, American, before and after I was captured. I came to the conclusion that at least 50% of it was just as the world implies, "propaganda". It was interesting, though, to hear and compare. For instance, before I was captured, I was told how cruel the Germans were and that I as a bombardier would most likely be treated badly. None of this happened to me. Instead, I was treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners of war. To me this was a surprise, especially after I saw the amount of death and destruction caused by our bombing of cities on the train ride through Yugoslavia, Austria and Germany. To the German civilians, allied airmen were "terror flyers" and the war criminals of World War II. If Germany had won, we would have been tried and convicted at Nuremberg. I did not fell guilty about the bombing, but it was still disturbing to the mind to see the results of it. While I was flying missions, there was only one thing that I questioned. It was a bombing raid on the city of Vienna.

Prisoner of war dreaming of home

Pipe Dreams

We were told at the bombardier briefing that the mission was political and the object of it was to kill as many Austrians as possible to weaken their morale. The target was a residential district and we coolly selected the various types of bombs to kill the most people. The first wave of planes would carry demolition bombs to tear things up, the second wave would carry incendiary bombs to set it on fire and the third wave would drop fragmentation bombs to kill the people when fire drove them out of their shelters. Later, as a prisoner of war, I was taken to Vienna and saw the results of that bombing. As I was led through the crowds of angry people who were shouting all sorts of bad things at me such as "murder" and "killer of babies," the guards told me to look down and not to say anything. They said that it was their duty to protect me, but that they would not kill their own people to do it. I got the message and acted accordingly.

Another incident in Yugoslavia made me acutely aware of how enemy people felt about American flyers. I was locked up in a room with a large window facing the sidewalk on a busy street. The people would come by, look in and shout insults. Mothers would bring their children to see the "terror flyer." They would spit on the window and make faces at me. I felt for all the world like a caged animal on exhibit. The guards were not aware of what was going on since they were inside the building. I did not call them, because I was in no physical danger. Instead of feeling humiliated, I was fascinated with the hostile attitude of the people and with my change of status in life. After I arrived at Stalag Luft I, I learned that many airmen who were captured by civilians were treated badly. I was fortunate not to have parachuted down into one of those bombed cities and captured by civilians. It would be like the Russian Air Force destroying Shreveport and killing 10,000 or more people, then one bailing out over the city and you got your hands on him. What would you do?

I tell of these things so maybe you can understand how I felt, first as a combat flyer and then as a war captive. It is quite a contrast and requires a psychological adjustment. I hope that you never have the experience.

Adjusting to Life as a Prisoner of War

I do not pretend to speak for all prisoners of war in World War II, or the wars that followed. I can only tell my views and how I coped with it. First and foremost, you must be able to adjust to the radical change in your status. The day before your capture you were a person of importance, you were free and honored by your country. Suddenly you are in the hands of the enemy who despises you and would as soon kill you as not. It is quite a shock. Do you remember the expressions on the faces of the captured pilots in the photos that came out of Hanoi during the Vietnam War? This is what I mean.

I was able to make the adjustment by rationalizing my situation. I realized that although I was unlucky enough to be shot down and captured, it could have been worse I could have been killed, or badly wounded as many others were. I did not allow myself to "hate" the enemy, because hatred consumes and causes you to act irrational. I did not "like" the Germans, but neither could I ignore them. To help me survive and to increase my changes of escaping, I learned enough German to understand what they were saying and to communicate. I was thankful that I did, because being able to communicate saved my life on several occasions while a prisoner of war. It is my opinion that Russian should be taught in our schools today instead of so much French and Spanish. My high school Spanish was useless to communicate with a German-speaking enemy.

Camp Routine

The everyday life in the camp can best be described as repetitious. It was as dull and boring as the individual prisoner of war made it. Personal attitude made the difference. If it was positive and on the upbeat, things were generally okay, but if you lapsed into feeling sorry for yourself it was miserable. I took things one day at a time and tried to make the most of that one day. I planned ahead on how I would react if certain things happened, but realized that my options were limited as a P.O.W. and did not let it bother me.

Russian Prisoners of War in German POW Camp - water color

Russian P.O.W.'s at Stalag Luft I

We had many things to keep us busy in the camp. There were two roll calls daily, one in the morning and one each evening. The roll calls, though routine, could be quite an adventure when we tried to mess them up to cover an escape attempt. The Germans would usually tolerate one, or two miscounts, but if we persisted in screwing up the count, they would bring up the machine guns, fix bayonets and say, "Now we will get an accurate count, will you please cooperate?" We would get the message and cooperate.

Playing games occupied a lot of our time. Not athletic games such as baseball, volleyball, etc. These burned up needed calories, but parlor games such as chess, bridge and cribbage. We also had a library, mostly British books that had passed the German censor. I enjoyed the ones about the British mountain climbing expeditions to Mount Everest and read the m over and over. We also had a theater and a camp orchestra where on occasion talented prisoners of war turned actors would put on vaudeville-type shows. Occasionally, an old film would be shown. I watched Richard Dix in the movie "The Iron Horse" so many times that I memorized it. Time could be passed in other ways depending upon the talents of the individual. I sketched pictures of camp life and drew portraits with colored pencils and water colors supplied by the Red Cross. The greatest pastime of all was watching our planes cove over! One time the entire 8th Air Force made a low level pass over Stalag Luft I. They were so low that we could see crew members waving at us. The sound of the engines was like thunder. It was glorious! Tears come in my eyes today when I think of the sight and remember how it lifted our morale during those dark days of the winter of 1944-1945. God only knows how I would have liked to have been with them! As I watched them until they disappeared over the horizon, I felt for the first time the full impact of frustration and despair that marks the life of a prisoner of war in an alien and hostile land. I hope that non of you ever have to experience it.

We also watched the German planes. There was an air base near the camp and we would watch them take off and land. Since they were flying against the Russians on the eastern front, by timing them, we could tell about where the front was. We also watched air battles over and around the camp. You could tell by the sound of the guns who was shooting the most, etc. One time a B-17 was shot out of formation and was limping back to England. It got as far as Stalag Luft I and the nearby air base when it was shot down by ME-109's. Four of the crew bailed out and we watched them float down. One landed just outside the camp and was picked up by our guards. He was lucky, for we found out later that he other three were captured and beaten to death by civilians.


Two things were paramount on each prisoner of war's mind: food and the progress of the war. Contrary to what you might think, thoughts of home and girlfriends occupied very little of our thinking and conversation. When you were hungry and trying to survive, you think of the present. Food was the big thing. It came from two sources, the German rations and the Red Cross food parcels. If either one was missing, we went hungry. When we had the Red Cross parcels to supplement the German ration of black bread, turnips, cabbage, potatoes or barley, we had enough. Not all that we wanted, but enough to maintain our health. When for various reasons the red Cross food parcels stopped, or the German rations were cut, we were in trouble. In January, February and March of 1945, we were not only very short of food, but water as well. The heavy bombing of the German railroads and of the water works in the nearby town which supplied our amp, virtually stopped all supplies from reaching us. The absence of enough water hurt the most, because you get used to hunger, but never to thirst. For the first time I felt the effects of malnutrition. I would black out and have to hold on to something to keep from falling if I got up too soon while sitting or lying down. This dark period was the low point of my confinement and I had some doubts as to whether I would ever get out of that place. Even though I felt rather low myself, I tried not to show it, because someone had to be the "cheerleader". Many of the men looked to me as a leader and would come for encouragement. Some would come with their will written out on scraps of paper and say, "Take this back to my family, I don't think that I will make it", etc. I did the best thing I could to help them and since none of them committed suicide by running out and trying to climb the fence as some did, I know that I succeeded

POWs receive potatoes at Stalag Luft I

Stalag Luft One POW's receive potatoes!

Close Calls

A favorite pastime at Stalag Luft I was planning escape attempts. It was a dangerous game with people often getting killed in the process. No one ever made it, but Germans expected it and we felt it our duty to keep trying. The favorite method and the most hazardous was digging tunnels. The tunnels were long and narrow and sometimes collapsed on those digging them. Several times we had to call the Germans to rescue P.O.W.'s trapped in a "secret" tunnel before they suffocated. I did not like tunnels anyhow, because I had claustrophobia, so I thought of other ways to try to escape. One attempt was planned with two other men. The plan was to make wire cutters out of ice skate blades and since snow was on the ground, white smocks out of bed sheets for camouflage. The plan was to hide out in the wash house the evening before the actual attempt to see if I could avoid detection, especially by the guard dogs which roamed the camp at night. I hid in the wash house and watched the guards lock up the barracks. Everything went well until later other guards came around to check the was house. I just had time to pull myself up on a rafter out of reach of the dogs, (which were vicious wolf-size brutes) when the guards flashed a light on me and told me to put up my hands, or they would shoot. I had a big problem, if I let go of the rafter to put my hands up, I would fall into the dogs. If I didn't, I would be shot! I was very thankful that I could speak enough German to reason with them, because these guards spoke no English. I told them to call off the dogs and I would gladly put up my hands. This they did and were quite satisfied with themselves for thwarting an escape attempt. This experience was not without its humor, for I now know how a treed possum feels.

Another time that I risked being shot was my own fault. I had planted a small garden in an out-of-the-way place and had sat down beside it day dreaming and did not notice how late it was. Barth, Germany is so far north that is summer it stays twilight until about 11:00 p.m. The barracks had already been locked up and I couldn't get in. Since any P.O.W. outside at night could be shot on sight, I had to think of something quick. I knew it was just a matter of time before dogs discovered me. The problem was to let the guards know where I was without being shot in the process. I decided upon a direct approach. At least it would be over quickly. I stood up with my hands in the air and shouted in German, "Nichts schiesen, ich bin heir, machen zie das kaserne offen bitte.." Pandemonium broke loose, search lights zeroed in on me, guards and dogs came a running and needless to say, I was the center of attention. Once again, knowing the enemy's language and being able to communicate probably saved my life.

In the summer of 1944, the Germans decided to allow P.O.W.'s who would sign a parole to have a day of freedom outside the camp. Everyone took advantage of the opportunity. Since we were on a peninsula with water on three sides, we were still relatively contained, but a P.O.W. on parole would not try to escape anyhow. In the first place, the Germans could shoot you for violating the parole, and second, if you were successful in getting back to your own army, you would be sent back to the Germans. You could, however, while out on parole, size up the countryside for future escape routes. This we did.

West view from Barracks 14 of German countryside at Stalag Luft I

View west from Barracks 14 of German countryside!

When the day came to be paroled we were let out in small groups with each man going where he pleased. It was great to be out in the countryside away from the dull, drab prison camp. The smell of the pine forest, the green grass and beautiful flowers and an occasional sight of a deer was wonderful. I had wandered well back into the forest when suddenly topping a ridge found myself in the midst of a company of German infantry soldiers on the other side. The were in full battle dress and were on a training mission in the forest. It was a tense moment. Had they been told that there were P.O. W. on parole in the area? I did not know, but had to react quickly and in a positive manner. I had on a U.S. Army uniform with a huge "KGF" sign in red across the back of my jacket. The "KGF" letters were an abbreviation for Prisoner of War in German. There was no doubt who I was, but did they think that I had escaped and needed to be "recaptured"? I decided to act normal and as if nothing unusual was happening. I walked on down among them, smiled and said, "Gut morgan soldaten, haben zie em gut tag," which meant "Good morning soldiers, have a good day". They were as surprised as I was and some smiled and waved back. They were young, mostly teenage and looked for all the world like a group of R.O.T.C. Cadets in summer training, which they probably were. I was their first glimpse of the "enemy". I wondered what their thoughts were.

Uncertain Times

In March and April of 1945 the collapse of Nazi Germany was imminent. The Russians were advancing rapidly from the east and the Anglo-Americans from the west. Germany was moving the prisoner of war camps ahead of the advancing allied armies, especially in the east. Stalag Luft III at Sagan had already been evacuated with the prisoners forced to march west into the German heartland. It was a terrible hardship and ordeal for the P.O.W.'s. We were in no physical shape to make forced marches in the cold and snow. Then, too, Hitler had ordered all captured enemy air officers to be killed. I have a copy of that order in my files today to remind me of the reality of those times. Stalag Luft I at Barth was the only major P.O.W. war camp in the east that had not been moved. The Luftwaffe colonel in charge of our camp refused to obey Hitler's orders to move, or kill us. To help him decide to disregard Hitler's orders, our planes came over and dropped leaflets on the camp and surrounding area. The leaflets had a photo of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin and said that the Germans at the camp and in the are would be held personally responsible for our safety.

During these uncertain times, our allied P.O.W. command decided to form a secret P.O.W. commando unit to resist the Germans long enough to allow most of the P.O.W.'s to escape if Hitler's orders to kill us were attempted. The commando unit was called the "Field Force" and it was not only to provide protection for the P.O.W.'s as stated above, but to make contact with the advancing Russians. Out of the 10,000 P.O.W.'s in the camp, 100 were selected. I was one of those men. The first that I knew of it was when a courier came and told me to report to the P.O.W. commander's office. Upon arrival, I was told to go to a certain room in another barracks for a meeting. At this meeting I was told of the Filed Force and that I had been chosen to be part of it. I was told that such an organization within the camp was illegal and had to be top secret. i was also told that if we were discovered we would most likely be shot, but not to let that bother me, because we would all be killed anyway if we had to fight the Germans to give time for the bulk of the P.O.W.'s to escape. This did not bother me at all, because I had been "volunteered" for suicide missions before and by this late stage of the war had so many close brushes with sudden death that it now seemed the "normal" way of life. I was in fact eager to get a gun in my hands once more and have a chance to fight again. I had been a P.O.W. for ten months at the time and was tired of just "sitting" helplessly and watching the war go by.

We met secretly during March and April, made our plans and familiarized ourselves with the German weapons, then waited. Nothing happened until one morning during the last week of April, 1945. We woke up and found the German guards gone! They had abandoned the camp and retreated deeper into Germany. We knew that the Russians were near, but where? Did they know about us, or would they take Stalag Luft I as a German installation and attack? We had to contact them as quickly as possible. Until we did, all P.O.W.'s were ordered to stay in camp. Field Force men were put in the guard towers to warn everyone not to leave the camp. We could not have 10,000 ex-P.O.W.'s roaming the countryside in the face of the Russian army. The Russians might think that they were Germans and open fire. After this danger was explained, the men stayed put in the camp and Field Force units were sent out to contact the Red Army.

The Russians

My first impression of the Red Army was negative. It was a mixture of curiosity and disappointment. The Russian infantry was made up of all ages of men and women, young boys who looked 15 or 16, and men in their fifties. About every fourth of fifth one was a woman. Later after the war when I read that the German army had killed 20,000,000 Russian soldiers, I knew why they looked as they did, they were "scraping" the bottom of the barrel!

Most of their equipment was "make shift" and American lend-lease. Their uniforms were a mixture of American G.I. shirts worn with the tails out and Russian army pants and boots. The whole thing was kept together by a belt around the waist. Only the officers and elite units had good equipment and sharp looking uniforms. I was also surprised as the many ethnic groups: Ukrainians, Turkomens, Armenians, Mongols and, of course, Russians, to name a few. The Russian soldiers were as a whole boisterous and unpredictable. The junior officers and non-com's were a surly lot and distrusted us. It did not matter that we were also officers of an allied country, only the senior Russian officers recognized this and acted accordingly.

As a member of the Field Force, I was issued a pass by the Russian commander which allowed me to move freely among the army and to go where I wished. I was given an arm band to identify me to the Russian soldiers and assigned to a guard unit positioned on the perimeter of the town. This allowed me to observe all that went on and to have close contact with the soldiers. I, as a result, got o know well Russian mentality and behavior. I did not like what I saw. All communist armies were brutal and savage, especially toward helpless people under their power. After being with the Russians, I know where they get it. I felt sorry for the German civilians, especially for the refugees who had fled before the advancing Russian army and now were caught by them. I could tell of many atrocities committed by the Russian army while I was with them, but will only tell of two that I prevented and of one that I could not.

The Russians had put a large group of German women and children in an open field without food, water, or shelter, and ordered them to stay there. At the time that I saw them, they had already been there a day or two and were very hungry and thirsty. I went to the P.O.W. camp, where a surplus of Red Cross food parcels were stored and got all of the food and water that I could carry in my field bag. I then returned to the field and walked out among the people. At first they were afraid of me, thinking that I was Russian, but when I spoke to them in German and told them who I was, they wept for joy. It broke my heart to see such needless suffering, especially of the children. I passed out what food and water I had and told them that I would get more and return tomorrow. At this time, a Russian non-com and a squad of soldiers arrived and told me to quit wasting food on Germans and to get out of the field. I showed him my pass signed by his commander, which said, among other things, that I was free to go where I pleased. This was a tense situation that had a happy ending. The Russians left and I told the people that they could find shelter in an abandoned military school building across town where other refugees were staying. As I turned to walk away, a little blond, blue-eyed girl about five years old ran up and held on to my leg. She looked up and said, "Danke gut mann", which meant, "thank you good man". It was all of the thanks that I needed. I picked her up and hugged her and said that I wished that I could do more. As I walked away with tears in my eyes, I disliked the Russians even more.

In another incident, my dislike for Russians turned to outright disgust. Women of all ages were regarded as war "booty" and were treated accordingly. Many mothers would kill their children and themselves before they could be captured by the Russian soldiers. Even though I had become hardened to the sight and smell of death by 1945, I could not get used to seeing dead women and children lying in the fields around the town where they had gone out and shot themselves. They did this to escape what they considered a fate worse than death...falling into the hands of the Russians!

To illustrate why many German women felt as they did about Russians, I will tell of one incident in which I was directly involved through no fault of my own.  I was on sentry duty with a Russian unit and was on an outpost. I heard in the distance women screaming and crying. When I could make out what was going on, I saw a Russian sergeant with a squad of soldiers herding a croup of teenage German girls along the sentry line and passing them out to each soldier on duty. When they got to me he had two left. He, very business like checked his list until he came to my name, crossed it off and threw the girls down at my feet. He then grinned, made an obscene gesture, and left, his "duty" over. I was dumbfounded! I looked down at the girls who could not have been over fifteen or sixteen years old lying face down in the dirt crying. When I got my sense together I said in German, "I am an American officer. Please stand up and tell me your name and where you live, when I get off duty I will take you home". I will never forget the look of relief and hope in their eyes when they looked up on hearing their language and the assurance in my voice. They sat by the sentry post until my relief arrived. I escorted both to the older girl's home and on arriving was impressed with the beautiful house and cultured, well-educated family. I was embarrassed by the deep-felt expressions of gratitude expressed by the mother and grandmother. I looked the family over and noticed one old man and two young children in addition to the mother and grandmother. I asked where the men of the family were. The mother said that her son was killed early in the war and her husband was missing on the eastern front. I stayed a little while longer and then got up to leave. When I did, they all said, "please don't leave, if you do the Russians will come back, as long as you are here we will be safe". I told them that I could not stay, but would write a note saying that the house was mine and that everyone in it was under my protection. I wrote it in Russian, German and English, and signed my name with the Russian pass number underneath. I also gave them my Air Force insignia as proof that I had been there. I do not know how much, if any, this helped them, but it was all that I could do. They were grateful for any help.

I will tell one more example of Russian cruelty. This one to show how "impartial" they were in barbaric acts. The Russian P.O.W.'s of the Germans, when first liberated by their own army, were joyous that they were freed and thought that they were going home. Instead, they were made to kneel and were shot in the back of the head! I was horrified and asked the Russian office in charge of the executions why they were killing their own people. He said, "They have been Prisoners Of War of the fascist too long, they might have their politics mixed up."

In contrast to the act of brutality previously described, individual Russians could be generous and congenial toward others whom they considered friends. The few favorable memories that I have of red army men are those experienced with small groups on outpost duty. We were always away from the main army groups and thus they could relax and act as they wished. When not on duty we would gather around a campfire and talk about various subjects, all in a friendly relaxed manner. They would share what food they had which was very meager by American standards. A Russian soldier's ration for one day was three "baseball" size bread rolls which had to be toasted and soaked in thin soup to be eaten. They would stick them on a bayonet and hold them over the fire much like roasting a hot dog etc. I was offered half of this ration, but declined, because it was all that they had and I could get food from the Red Cross parcels at the P.O.W. camp.

There was one Ukrainian soldier whom I became friends with. He was well educated and interested in America. We conversed in German which he had studied in school. He said that German and English were compulsory in school and that students had to take one, or the other. It was interesting to get a first hand account of his life growing up in the Soviet Ukraine. It was not too different from a boy growing up anywhere and he was anxious to get back home and start life all over again. I asked him if he was a communist, he said no that he was not a member of the party, but that he believed in his country and supported his government. Fair enough, I would not have expected him to say otherwise.

Although individual Russians as stated above could be friendly and act decent on occasion, I never once saw one show any mercy to a German of any age, or sex. They were especially brutal to German P.O.W.'s which I thought was totally unnecessary that late in the war. They had one thing in mind as they swept across Germany--Revenger--and they took it out on anyone that they met.

Soon after these events, I was contacted by the commissar. A "commissar" is a political officer attached to all communist armies to insure that all soldiers adhere to the party line and remain "good" communists. I was at first apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. However, he quickly put me at ease by being in a friendly and conciliatory mood. He said in effect that they had checked me out and wished to make me an offer. He opened a dossier on his desk and proceeded to tell me all about myself. Where did he get the dossier? Then I remembered the one that the Germans used to interrogate me at Dulag Luft. He probably got it there. My mind at ease, I sat back and listened to what he had to say. He told me that since I had not graduated from college, that they would send me to Moscow and I could finish my education there. He also told me that I should tour the Soviet Union as their guest so I could become better acquainted with Russia. All that I had to do was sign some papers and I could start at once. I was stunned. Why did they want me? It was 1945 and they were our ally against the common enemy, but from what I had already seen, I knew that I did not like Russians.  I did not know then anything about communism, or communists, but if they acted like Russians, then I wanted no part of it.. I said no, thank you, I want to go home as soon as possible, He said to do that I would still have to sign some documents. I went back to the P.O.W. camp and checked with the senior officer about signing the documents. He said that he had checked with London and it was okay to sign them, that they were sort of a passport to get out of Soviet territory. I was flown out along with other P.O.W's in B-17's sent from England. I was finally on the way home.

While flying over Germany to France, I was startled to see the change that had taken place since I cam through by train in April, 1944. Germany was totally devastated, the cities were bombed out ruins. I thought, could we have done all of this? It seemed incredible that a country could be so utterly destroyed. It was an awesome testimony to what air power can do. As we flew low over what had been the city of Cologne, I looked down with mixed emotions at the bombed out cathedral with its tall spire still pointing toward the sky from which all this death and destruction had come. Sherman was right, war is hell!


I was honorably discharged from active military service in September, 1945. I was 23 years old and had survived four years of war,. I did not then, or now consider myself a "hero". I just did my duty. I am, however, proud of my combat record and doubt that anyone could have done much better. As for being shot down and captured, I will quote General Eisenhower in his speech to us in France on May 23, 1945. He said, "Speaking for everyone in America, I want to express our gratitude to you all in helping us defeat Germany. You men carried the ball for us and we will not forget it". I am proud of what I did for my country and hope that my grandchildren who read this are too.


Claude and Marilyn McCrocklin Claude at POW luncheon at Barksdale AFB

Claude and his wife, Marilyn today


Claude telling B-24 Commander, Captain David Lamiquis that "If he wants to be an old warrior to keep his parachute handy" at the annual POW Luncheon at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana.


Excerpt from a speech given to the Centenary College R.O.T.C students:

I welcome this opportunity to share with you some of my experiences during World War II.  This great war which so affected the course of history and created the problems with communism with which we are confronted today was the last war which our nation went all out to win.  To those of us who fought in World War II, it is as fresh in our mind as if it happened only yesterday.  Combat soldiers who are in direct contact with the enemy for long periods of time don't forget, they only learn to live with it.  I still have bad dreams and think about many of my experiences.  I wish that I could forget, but I can hardly turn on the TV, or read the paper without seeing something about World War II.  By the time that I was 22 years old, I had been through so much that everything that happened since has seemed like an anti-climax.  It has been hard to adjust to a normal life ever since.  I am proud of you in the R.O.T.C.  By being in the R.O.T.C., you have demonstrated an interest in keeping your country strong and perhaps a career in the Armed Forces.  For whatever the reason, wear your uniform proudly, because civilian soldiers such as you have kept our country strong for the past 200 years.


  Claude McCrocklin in 2000
         Claude McCrocklin in 2000

This site created and maintained by Mary Smith and Barbara Freer, daughters of Dick Williams, Jr.