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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Frank Q. O'Connor Major Frank Q. O'Connor
Fighter Pilot
356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force




Shot down November 5, 1944

Stalag Luft I - North 1 Compound


Col. Frank Q. O'Connor, USAFFrank Q. O'Connor was born March 6, 1917 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He graduated from San Jose State College, California, in June 1940 and enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1940. With the advent of Pearl Harbor, he applied and was accepted for flight training with the Army Air Corps. He became a pilot at Luke Field, Arizona on September 29, 1942.

Colonel O'Connor started flying combat missions December 5, 1943 in P-51 Mustangs as a member of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, out of Boxted Airdrome, Colchester, England. He became an Ace February 25, 1944 on a bomber escort mission to Furth, Germany with his fifth confirmed kill - a ME-109.

He completed 59 combat missions before being shot down by groundfire on November 5, 1944 during a strafing run. He parachuted from his disabled aircraft and spent the remainder of the European war as a POW in Germany.

Prior to the invasion of Europe, he flew out of England primarily on bomber escort missions and accrued a total of 10 3/4 confirmed kills in the air - the 3/4 figure being the result of "shared" victories with other pilots. After the invasion, he flew from airfields in France doing mostly dive bombing and strafing missions in support of US Ground Forces.

After World War II he became a career officer in the U.S. Air Force, retiring in the grade of Colonel in 1963.  Col. O'Connor passed away in February 1985.

Tally Record: 10 3/4 kills; 2 probable; 3 damaged in the air; 1 destroyed; 3 damaged on the ground




On November 5, 1944 my squadron, the 356th Fighter Squadron of the 354th Fighter Group, was based at an airstrip, near Vitry le Francoise, France. However, we were temporarily flying our missions from a nearby airfield at St. Dizier, France due to extremely muddy conditions at our strip. We were briefed for each mission at our strip and then trucked to our aircraft, parked at St. Dizier. At the time we were flying P-5l-D Mustangs.  

On that date, I led my squadron from St. Dizier to an enemy airfield at Schwaebisch Hall, Germany. Our mission was to dive bomb and strafe the airfield. Upon completing our dive bombing run, I led my flight in a circle to the left and we strafed some camou­flaged aircraft parked on the north part of the airfield. Upon pulling up from this run, I saw another airfield with parked aircraft and we dove for a strafing attack. Just after we started our strafing run, I saw flak tracers being fired at us from about two o'clock. I winged over to make a headlong attack on the flak battery, hoping to get them before they got us. Almost immediately my air­craft engine was riddled and boiling hot coolant streamed back into my cockpit (causing superficial burns on my hands and face and a very bad burn on my right shin). My engine started vibrating and making a loud, whining noise. I pulled up and bailed out immediately. My aircraft exploded just after I left it. 

I landed in a forested area and my parachute caught among some tree branches. I swung by my parachute straps until I was able to unhook them, and then fell to the ground. I was pretty shaken up--in shock, I suppose, and remember sitting on the ground for a short time trying to gather my wits. A dog, a bloodhound I think, went right by me with its nose to the ground, sniffing away. I then realized that I had better get away from there and started trotting through the forested area. I came to an open area which I started to run across to gain another forested area on the other side of a narrow road. Just as I reached the road I saw a group of people coming up a slight rise in the road. I ducked behind a pile of lumber near the road, hoping I had not been seen, but I was soon surrounded by a rather large group of civilians, some of whom wore armbands of some sort and pointing rifles at me. I held up my hands in surrender.

My hands were tied behind my back and I was forced to sit on a log. Three of these men (fairly old men) backed off a short distance and operated their rifle bolts. Perhaps it was my imagination (which, believe me, can be most vivid in a situation like this), but I really feared I was on the verge of being executed on the spot. Thankfully, about this time a German staff car pulled up and a Luftwaffe officer got out and took custody of me. I was driven back to the airfield we had just strafed (Crail­sheim) and placed in a cell. Sometime later an armed guard escorted me to a room in another building. There were three German officers seated at a table in front of which they had me stand while they attempted to interrogate me. I could not understand them very well because their English was very poor. I gave them my name, rank, and serial number and then just stood there staring at them. After a short time, I was released and the guard returned me to the cell. Sometime later, after dark, I was released from the cell and turned over to another armed guard (who spoke no English). We were driven in the back of a truck to a railway station and boarded a train with wooden seats and no windows. We rode trains all night, changing trains and waiting on station platforms. It was a miserable night for me because it was very cold and I wore only a shirt and trousers (they had kept my flight suit and jacket at the airfield).  

I spent most of the night shivering while my guard had on a heavy overcoat, boots, and gloves. When I would really shiver and shake my guard was most solicitous and from time to time would ask, "Kalt, yah?" At one stop, quite late at night, we waited awhile in a beer hall in a basement. I think an air raid was going on in the vicinity because I could hear a periodic "Achtung, achtung" coming from a radio. The guard ordered two beers--one for me, which I gulped down. ­I had had nothing to eat or drink since lunch the previous day. After more train travel we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany. We walked awhile and then boarded a streetcar for the Luftwaffe Interrogation Center at a place called Oberursel. I was taken to an office in a building where I was searched and then given a form which I was told to fill out. There were a number of questions on the form, but I entered only my name, rank, and serial number. The Luftwaffe officer, or NCO (I could not distinguish rank), seemed quite upset that I had not answered all the questions on the form, but did not continue to pressure me to do so. At this late date I cannot quite remember, but I think that at this stage I was also photographed and finger­printed, after which I was locked into a small solitary confinement cell. I laid down exhausted, cold, thirsty, hungry, the burn on my right shin hurting badly, but was able to go to sleep for a short time.  

Sometime later, perhaps about 6 P.M., a guard opened my cell door. I was given some lukewarm tea in a bottle and two pieces of black bread--my first food since noon the day before. After devouring such a "sumptious" meal, I finally felt warm and managed to sleep fitfully through the night. The next morning I again received my tea and two pieces of black bread. For the next twenty-six days that was the daily fare, with the addition of only a bowl of thin soup for lunch.

The solitary confinement cell was also to be my home for the next twenty-six days. I believe it was about ten feet by six feet in size. It had a barred opaque window, a steam radiator, and a single overhead light bulb. It was furnished with a wooden stool and a wooden bunk with no mattress or pillow. There was a burlap mattress ­cover but it was devoid of straw or excelsior and consequently did little to alleviate the hardness of the wooden bed. I also had a two-thirds blanket with which I could cover either my lower half or the top half of my body. I don't know if this short blanket idea was contrived or not, but it was certainly an ingenious method of adding to a POW's discomfort. There were no washing or toilet facilities in the cell. I had no soap or toothbrush, and I was not allowed to take a shower. I was able to wash my face and hands whenever I was escorted by a guard to the latrine. I’m not sure now, but I think I was allowed to shave on one or two occasions. The cell had little ventilation and smelled pretty bad. There was nothing to see except the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. There was nothing to do except pace the floor, lay on the wooden bunk, count the nailheads in the walls, do multiplication tables--and worry. There were no cigarettes, nothing to read, and no one to talk to.

After a few days of laying on the wooden bunk my elbows, shoulders, hips and knees became raw and sore and made sacktime a not very pleasant pastime. To make matters worse, the burn on my right shin became infected, smelled badly, and throbbed with pain. The radiator heat was controlled so that some days the cell would be quite hot and other days freezing cold. The only times I left this cell were the times I was escorted by a guard to meet with the interrogator, or escorted to see a medic to have my shin burn treated, and when I went to the latrine. Although the rations were meager, mealtimes were the highlights of each day -- the only thing that broke the monotony and loneliness.  

At this late date I cannot recall the exact sequence of events or many specifics of my interrogation. One thing that does stand out in my mind, however, is that the interrogator (who spoke excellent English) seemed to know all about me. He knew I was from San Fran­cisco and mentioned my father’s and mother’s first names. He knew my squadron and group numbers, my group commander's name and the names of a number of my former flying mates who were previously taken prisoner. He knew the number of victories I had to my credit, and even the decorations I had received, plus other facts I can't recall now. I was completely astounded by this, but later I understood how he came by such information. I have since read that at this interro­gation center a mass of information concerning Allied air units, airmen and operational activity had been assembled into a library. Thousands of dossiers had been built up from newspaper and magazine clippings, documents and personal belongings of other airmen, and information gleaned in the course of previous interrogations.  I don’t think anything could be more astonishing than hearing this enemy interrogator recite such intimate information about you, right in the middle of Germany.  

Although, to my mind, the solitary confinement, semi-starvation, harsh and filthy living conditions, prevention of personal hygiene, etc., amounted to a depressing and degrading kind of psychological torture, I will give credit to the man who was my interrogator. His manner was not exactly friendly, but he treated me as a human being and never once threatened me with any kind of abuse or physical torture. He spoke excellent English and seemed a very intelligent, clever man. So much so, that I felt very wary and on guard when in his presence. For example, on our first meeting he had asked me where my squadron was based. I felt somewhat angry and replied, "You know I'm not required to answer a question like that." He then said, "Well, it really doesn't matter, we know you came from the airfield at St. Dizier, but your actual base location is an airstrip near Vitry le Francoise."  If he wasn't positive his information was correct, I probably confirmed it for him by blurting out in shocked surprise, "How did you know that?" I don't recall whether or not he even bothered to answer my query. I still can't imagine what he was specifically after -- if anything. Maybe he was just fishing for confirmation of his data or hoping to pick up something new to add to his jigsaw puzzle. After my first encounter with him, I realized that here was a very smart and clever fellow and I had better beware. As I recall, I was brought before him in his office on three occasions during the first eighteen or twenty days of my solitary confinement.  

I became quite depressed and bitter about being caged up like an animal. One evening around the twenty-second or twenty-third day, he visited my cell briefly. I demanded to know why I was being kept in solitary confinement for so long. He said I was under investigation for possible court martial, that a passenger train had been strafed and a number of civilians had been killed in the area where I had been shot down. I knew I was innocent -- but did they? Something else to worry about! That was the last time I saw him. Four or five days later I was finally released and transported, along with some other POWs, to a transit camp called Dulag Luft. Here we joined other Allied POWs awaiting transfer to permanent POW camps.  

We had some decent food, a hot shower, and were issued necessary items of clothing, a toothbrush, and a razor. It was certainly a relief to be among fellow POWs rather than alone in a tiny, barren cell. Two or three days later, a group of us were put aboard a barred and guarded prison car coupled to a train. We were on our way to our permanent camp, Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany, near the Baltic Sea. It took three or four days to get there. The trip was most un­comfortable and at times harrowing. In the prison car, we were six to a small compartment of facing wooden seats and there was no place to lie down except on the floor or baggage rack of the car, so we took turns. On one night the train crept along during a bombing raid on what appeared to be an industrial area near the tracks. We wit­nessed a couple of flaming bombers coming down. The train was not hit but the bombs and German "ack-ack" seemed mighty close and, of course, gave us some pretty anxious moments. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and when we finally arrived at Stalag Luft I, we were marched into the camp escorted by a number of guards and guard dogs.  

We were assigned to barracks, issued Red Cross food parcels and settled in for an unknown period of time. It was a welcome feeling to finally be at a permanent camp and among our own people, plus having fairly decent food because of the Red Cross food parcels. Renewing old friendships with squadron and group mates who had been shot down and captured earlier was an added and pleasurable bonus.  

Early in May 1945 we were liberated by Russian forces, and shortly afterward flown out by B-l7s to Camp Lucky Strike in France. There we were debriefed, processed, stuffed with food, and 'soon started for home by ship.


Letters home from Stalag Luft I

Letter home from POW camp

Letter to home from WWII Pow camp

WWII letter home from POW camp







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