1/Lt. Ted Hoffman's story (343rd FS)

1/Lt. Wayne E. Rosenhoff's story (343rd FS)

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Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Are Hatched
or, Don't Count Your Victories Before You See Smoke
- Reproduced with the kind permission of Lt. Ted E. Hoffman (343rd FS)

It was late January 1945 and we were flying an escort mission to Hamburg. We had rendezvoused with the bombers just before crossing the Netherlands Coast. It was a cold but clear day with a few scattered clouds below us. The entire coastline and the full extent of the Zuiderzee were plainly visible.

My thoughts as we crisscrossed above the bombers were; this will probably be another dull mission. German fighters hadn't challenged us for some time at this stage of the war. We would probably follow the bombers to the target and stand off to the side while anti-aircraft fire was clobbering the bombers. On the way home, we would probably go down and look for trains or other targets of opportunity. Occasionally, a bandit would be caught trying to get some flying time in what had become an American sky.

We had been with the bombers about an hour, flying at 27,000 feet, when an airfield came into view from under my left wing. I was startled to see a Me 262 taxi into takeoff position at the end of the runway. I announced my departure, dropped my external tanks and headed straight for the end of the runway. The adrenaline was flowing as I watched the 262 begin his takeoff role.

I continued to zero in on the end of the runway and throttled back a bit as my speed continued to build. At that moment, a victory seemed to be in the bag. The 262 had just broken ground and I was at seven or eight thousand feet, still heading for the end of the runway. But it didn't take long before the outlook for victory began to dim.

I flared out about 50 feet above the runway and couldn't budge my ailerons and rudder. It was as if they were set in concrete. I stole a quick glance at a shaking instrument panel. The airspeed, as near as I could tell, was over 600 MPH. Everything was happening faster than I can tell it or write it down. I zoomed past the Me262 just above treetop level about 15 feet off his left wing tip.

I pulled up into a steep climb to kill air speed. As I was climbing I noticed a utility type aircraft below me, puttering about ten feet above the ground. I made a steep diving left turn and scattered lead off his left wing tip. As I pulled up from this near victory, in front of me was a site to behold. The 262 was leading about 15 P-5l s across the airfield in range of anti aircraft fire. I was in a position to cut him off in his turn. When he saw me he turned away and left us in his wake.

As I departed the airfield I discovered my wingman was still with me. How he did it I'll never know.

Ted Hoffman

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1/Lt. Wayne E. Rosenhoff's story - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)

Wayne Rosenoff tells his story: I was captured in Wranowitz, near Pilzen, Czechoslovakia on September 22 at 07:30. I hid in haystacks, hedges, and culverts by day and travelled by night some 110 miles from Sonneberg. I had crossed the border unobserved on September 20 at 04:00, but was taken into custody on Sept. 21 by a Czech policeman when I requested food from a farmer near the village. After a night in the large civilian prison in Pilzen, I was escorted by a Luftwaffe NCO by train to Frankfurt and then by streetcar to the interrogation center at Oberursel. The trip lasted 16 hours.

I bailed out at about 20,000 feet. The sky was filled with falling B-17s, some spinning, some afire. Upon seeing hordes of open parachutes above 20,000 feet, I was determined to delay my opening. I fell what seemed to be forever in a dizzy, groggy condition, hardly conscious of my rate of fall. Only a few moments after I pulled the ripcord, I saw that I was going to land in a forest, so I covered my face with my arms. When everything stopped the chute had settled over the tree tops at just a perfect height. I unbuckled my chute and stepped onto the ground without ever having hit it.

In the escape kit I found both useful and non-useful items. By far the most important were five "energy" pills with directions to take one each day. Whatever they were, they worked like a charm for me. I could walk all night and rest all day without any need for anything but water. Two days after the last pill, however, hunger pangs were irresistible. My first attempt at scrounging was to try to eat a raw sugar beet, which is impossible to do. My second was to pick and eat a handful of green plums. This caused a gastric explosion worthy of mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. It occurred at about 22:00 on a clear but chilly moonlight night. My misery index at that time was my lifetime's greatest (at least till now.)

On the eighth day I entered a farm in the middle of the night, dreaming of stealing something to eat ... perhaps eggs, a chicken, or? Anyway, what I did find was a big ole rabbit in his hutch. So I dispatched it with my two hands.
After carrying it inside my shirt the rest of that night and all the next day, I prepared it for my dinner. I chose the twilight hour because of concern that some resident would see my very carefully laid fire even though I was now in a somewhat sheltered ravine. Roast rabbit is great if you're really hungry, and was I ever. But without some "go with" item, nor any salt for enhancing flavor, a great amount of rabbit remained for another day. Carried wrapped in parachute cloth, I nibbled on rabbit until captured. I managed to keep it with me through my night in jail, my morning at a Flakschule, and part of my journey to Frankfurt. My escort bade me toss it out the train window as we passed over a bridge. My feelings were mixed about doing so, but by that time it was unlikely that I could have eaten any more, even without the rations of brot and wurst and bier which he had drawn for the two of us.

On the train trip: This was a local train. At each stop, more people would get on. Soon my escort and I had to give up our space out of deference to many aged passengers. Later after dark, we could no longer stay together. More people crowded into the vestibule. Soon we could not even bend over or raise our legs to help circulation. At the last I could not even move arms or legs, nor could anyone else. But these people were desperate apparently, and only occasionally would someone murmur a complaint. There was lots of room for us in the afternoon for the obvious reason that few trains avoided the sharp eyes of eager P-51 pilots. In fact, I'd had some trains in my own gunsight not too long before this.

On meeting my first two Czechs: The farmer I approached was a peasant living in his two room, floorless house with his wife and meager possessions in one and an open door into the other which was his cow barn. He took me a short way to the village's mayor's house. Here, a man came to talk to me in English. He had lived for many years in Iowa where he had been a shoemaker, but had returned to his homeland to live out his remaining days. "You have had great good fortune", he said. "You will go to a camp where you will be with your friends, where you will get food and a place to sleep. But, more than that, you will someday return to your home and family, because for you the war is over!"

Following thirteen days of solitary confinement and intermittent sessions with the Interrogation Officer, Hanns Scharff, and one of his NCOs, who gave me my first shower and sent me on to Dulag Luft, the temporary prison camp at Wetzlar, which is about 30 miles north of Frankfurt am Main. Here I received clean clothing, "regular" three-a-day meals and an official welcome into the German POW system. Five days later, on October 12th, a trainload of American air force officers was sent out to their permanent camp, Stalag Luft I, near Barth, on the Baltic Sea. Each six seat compartment on a large number of railroad cars was filled with six prisoners together with enough Red Cross food parcels for the journey. Except for escorted trips to the men's toilet, we prisoners were locked in these compartments for the entire four day trip. Our greatest discomfort, however, was an overnight wait in Berlin while the city was under almost continuous attack by air. We were not bombed however, and gave thanks to the Red Cross for the great white crosses painted on the roofs of our cars.

Having lots of free time in the Stalag, I made a notebook out of tin cans with a piece of stripped barbed wire holding it all together. As a matter of fact, tin cans became our source of cups, baking pans, air tubes for escape tunnels and just about everything else. The notes taken over the eight months until repatriation make reference to the following:

Oct. 16, 1944: Arrived Stalag I at 07:30 and assigned to the South Compound, Block 11, Room 11, for 16 POWs commonly known as "Kriegies". The complete word is kriegsgefangenen, meaning prisoner of war.
Nov. 16: Thanksgiving --- our special menu: Breakfast... bacon and powdered eggs. Dinner ... 1/2 can of spam, potato chips, boiled cabbage and chocolate fudge pie.
Dec. 25: Christmas --- soup, boiled cabbage, choc. fudge pie, nuts, candy, plum pudding, honey and coffee.
Dec. 27: Moved to North Compound Two, Block 3, Room 11.
Jan. 3: Moved to North Three, Block 8, Room 12. Feb. 2: Moved to North Three, Block 9, Room 2.

Explanation on moves: In South Compound, barracks, called blocks, had equal numbers of British and American pilots. A British Wing Commander in our block made the arbitrary decision to require all residents to go out the back door for the twice daily roll calls. This was an affront to all but only we Americans took action to show our extreme displeasure. He had blocked off the front hall at the point where his room and his deputy's rooms began, thereby gaining about 100 square feet of additional space for his "Day Room". We climbed over the lockers blocking the hall, stepped onto his table and then out the door, So, the German Camp Commander did away with this mixed bag of POWs. A roommate friend and I opted to go to another compound, knowing that North Three would be our eventual destination when construction was finished there. As new barracks were finished, there would be a general shifting of persons for a variety of reasons including compatibility.

Feb. 16: Food parcels have been cut off.
March 6: Saw RAF night bombing.
March 8: Heinies open new mess hall for one meal. No parcels yet. The famine is on!
March 9: Coffee brought to rooms two times each day.
March 29: We eat, thank God! Thousands of parcels are in camp. This has been Hell!
April 3 : My first, and only, letter from dear wife Esther comes on our first wedding anniversary. A lovely day!
May 1: Russkies come thru, and, hey, we're free! What a great feeling!

The Russians herded in about 125 head of cattle and butchered them.  We had T bones, hamburger and everything else we had hungered after for so long.  We got along exceptionally well with our new found friends.

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