Lt. John J. Carroll tells his story (38th FS)
Lt. William C. DuBose tells his story entitled "Evading the Enemy" (38th FS)
Lt. David G. Elliott's interrogation report (38th FS)
Lt. Robert B. Hoffman's story as told to Bob Littlefield (38th FS)
Lt. Julius M. Hummel relates his experiences (38th FS)
Lt. Walter C. Klank Jr. tells his story (38th FS)
Lt. William Laubner relates his experiences (38th FS)
Lt. Robert M. Littlefield titles his story "The Bridge at Barentin" (38th FS)
Lt. Howard W. Rhodes relates his experiences (38th FS)
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Lt John J. Carroll tells his story - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
John Carroll titled his story: The Saga of "A" Flight; Lost November 29, 1943: This tabulate returns to the days of yesteryear when 20/20 vision was quite normal, coordination was automatic, briefings were at uncompassionate hours, each time respects were paid to "Festung Europa" there were numerous more of them than there were of us. Such was the circumstance, November 29th, 1943.
I was flying wing to our C.O. Major Milton Joel when our flight was cut off by a gaggle of Me-109s and the group was headed away from us in a westerly direction. Joel and I went into the "weave formation", which theoretically would protection one another's tail. Directly after our first pass-by I caught a glimpse of a P-38 headed down trailing smoke and minus a section of tail (Albino or Garvin?). Following our third pass-by it became obvious that "the weave" does not perform without flaw. At the crest of my turn I glanced across the projected pattern and observed what should be Joel's A/C seemingly to disintegrate. Almost immediately thereafter, I felt an instant yaw to starboard and noted the engine on fire, plexiglass everywhere, and the instrument panel badly damaged. I kicked rudder into the yaw and opened the port engine to the fire-wall, at the same time putting the nose straight down and headed for the cloud layer. On breaking out at the base of the layer, and utilising it for top cover, I took a heading for England on the magnetic, which was still operable. After approximately five or ten minutes, with the cross feed off (the prop would not completely feather) I determined the fire was getting out of hand. I realised I could not make the island without either exploding or crashing into the North Sea, which at that time of year had little in common with the Caribbean!
When bailing out of a P-38 one must render considerable delicacy, lest one desires a speedy trip to eternal reward - or damnation as the case may be. At this point I found that the canopy release handle would not perform its assigned task. By raising the seat and using my head as a battering ram and with the aid of a reasonable slipstream I was able to dislodge the obnoxious piece of equipment. I then lowered the port window, trimmed the A/C into a 45 degree climb, cut the engine, and climbed out onto the wing holding on to the corner of canopy. At almost the peak of the stall, I let go and missed the tail by about a foot. This was most fortunate, as going out feet first on one's belly, the counter-weight could proffer a rather serious problem. Now here is the period in which the individual obtains a morbid curiosity as to whether the chute is going to open. As a result of this dilemma I counted to ten, per instructions, faster than normal beings count to two. Upon reading this one may justly surmise as to its workability!! May the Lord bless and keep all chute packers, past and present!!
The landing, if one may call it that, was on the roof of a barn-like building in Holland somewhere west of Meppel. Ignominiously the chute collapsed sending me on a Disney-like ride down the roof and ending, not unlike a ski jump, onto some form of ancient farm machinery. This display of dexterity lost me the use of my right leg for some months to come. It was also at this time that I came to realise I had been wounded in the right hand and shoulder. Curiously, I felt neither until this time. The Wermacht arrived having followed the chute down... oine would have thought they had caught John Dillinger rather than saintly John Carroll. "Luft gangster, Chicago, Roosevelt's terror flieger" they greeted, plus a few chosen obscenities, which at that time I understood to a minor degree. (However, upon my release I was quite able to return curse for curse in fluent Kraut.)
I was ultimately taken to Leewarden, Amsterdam, Dulag Luft, and finally to Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, in North Compound I, under Col. Byerly. I served as entertainment officer due to my background in broadcasting and the theater. This was a task of reasonable importance due to the facilities at hand and the substantial emphasis placed on morale. It even obtained a field promotion for me but I would be most remiss if credit for fortitude, versatility, and camaraderie to my compatriots were not acknowledged here.
Liberation was the closing chapter of an unforgettable phase of my existence. It is an experience the normal set of nerves can seemingly endure only once in a lifetime. In a moment months of starved energy, enthusiasm, and expectation are suddenly released. Such was the setting at Stalag Luft I, high up on the Baltic Sea, May 1st, 1945.
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Lt. William C. DuBose tells his story entitled "Evading the Enemy" - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
It was about 2 pm on Saturday, June 17, 1944. We were flying over the beautiful green wheat fields and farms of northern France. Our mission that day was to glide two eleven second delayed action, thousand pound bombs, into a railroad bridge, across the Somme River near Perrone. The purpose was to help cut the German supply lines leading to Normandy.
There were 48 of us on this mission. We were to take turns flying in elements of two about 100 feet above the water, release our bombs just as the target passed through our gun sight, pass over the bridge and make a sharp climbing turn to the left. Not far beyond the bridge the river swept left and on the right bank was a German airfield.
When our turn came, my flight leader Capt. Don Penn and I dove down and flew along the river towards the bridge. We could see French people atop the high banks waving and cheering us on.
Apparently we were only about 10 seconds behind the aircraft ahead of us. As we lined up on the bridge, one of the bombs from the previous P-38 went off in the water far short of the bridge and I could not help flying through the splash.
Don release one bomb instead of two so I quickly changed my trigger switch so I would also only release one bomb. My thought at that moment was that we were to make a second run along about 20 feet above the train. Then all hell broke loose. German flak positions on both sides of the tracks opened up on me. They couldn't miss. Shells flew through my wings and nacelles. Instantly I triggered my guns and dropped the bomb but it was too late. My plane was on fire and Don was screaming for me to bail out.
I pulled up, jettisoned the canopy, unhooked my seat belt and decided to go out over the top because smoke was pouring into the cockpit. After I pushed myself up into the slip stream, I was pinned against the back of the canopy hanging half in and half out of the plane. I couldn't move and just dangled there for a few seconds until my plane turned over into the dead engine and started down. A few seconds later I was pulled free. I saw the tail whip by and I pulled the rip cord. My parachute opened with an explosion and I saw my plane burning on the ground. I looked around to see where I was going to hit and tried to turn my chute so I would hit facing forward but it was too late. I slammed into a wheat field going sideways and broke and dislocated my right ankle and sprained my left. I hit with such force that my one-man dingy was popped loose and spread all over the area. I pulled in my collapsed parachute and unhooked my harness. We had been told to bury it but I did not have the strength so I left it there and crawled about 30 feet to a dirt road. At the top of a hedge row on the other side I could see German soldiers running from the village of Chaulnes towards my plane which had hit about 100 yards from where I had landed. I crawled back across the road and into the wheat field and headed towards some trees about a mile away. As I crawled towards the edge of the field I saw two German soldiers running towards me. I thought they saw me so I laid down. They got to the edge of the wheat field and turned down towards the road. Had they have run straight ahead, they would have tripped over me.
At this point, I decided it was too risky to crawl across an open field so I headed back to the hedge row on the side of the road and hit myself with leaves and bushes. I looked at my watch, it was 3:15 PM. As I laid in that hedge-row, forty German soldiers combed the area looking for me. A few came within five feet of me as they walked and drove along the road. Luckily they gave up after only a few hours.
As evening approached, I could see the lights of a farm house several miles away. I decided that would become my destination. I hadn't crawled very far before I realized this was going to be a painful task. My green summer flying suit gave little protection to my knees. Perhaps if I got to my feet and could find something to use as a cane, I could hobble to my destination. I saw a concrete power pole in the distance. I crawled to it and tried to pull myself to my feet. It was too painful. I could not put any weight on my ankles. I sat down, tore the legs from my flight suit and wrapped them around my knees. This gave me some relief.
As early morning light appeared my knees were bleeding and every movement was painful. I decided to sit on my back-side and push myself along backwards using my hands to propel me. I did this from early morning until late that afternoon.
About 5 pm I reached a dirt road near the outskirts of Chaulnes. Finally, a woman and her young daughter walked by. I got to my knees so they could see me and yelled, "I am an American." The woman was startled but kept calm. She grabbed her daughter's hand and pulled her along, apparently telling her not to look back at me or say anything.
Approximately 30 minutes later a man came walking down the road in my direction and seemed to be looking for me. I hollered at him and he came over, knelt down and spoke to me. Using my French-English translation card from my Escape Kit, I was able to show him sentences that stated that I was an American airman, shot down, injured, thirsty, hungry, and wanted to be hid. He was cautious and asked if I could speak German, Spanish or French. I was not able to speak any of these languages but from the little I had learned in high school, I could understand what he was getting at. He wanted to make sure I was not a German spy planted there to find out who were members of the French Resistance. He motioned for me to stay low in the wheat so I would not be seen, then he left.
Sometime later two teenage boys came looking for me. One motioned for me to crawl across the road and follow them. I got across the road but was not able to crawl any further. One of the boys helped me on his back and ran about 100 yards down the road to a driveway leading into a farm. His father was waiting for us with a wooden wheelbarrow. They put me on it and put an old piece of carpeting over me and wheeled me back to a barn behind the house. In the corner of the barn was a pile of grain. Somehow, they pushed me up and over the crest so I was hidden between the grain and the wall. I quickly fell asleep.
Hours later when it was dark, I heard voices below and could tell someone was crawling up toward me. They brought me a piece of bread and a bottle of water. After I had eaten, they pulled me down and took me into the house. I was taken to a bedroom on the second floor where we attempted to communicate. I do not recall how many people were there, but I do know they were concerned with my physical condition. One lady was from the local Red Cross. They called her, "Mademoiselle Rouge." There was nothing she or anyone else could do to help my ankle. They took what was left of my flight suit, my GI pants and shirt and gave me a sweat shirt and pair of pants to wear. I kept my wings and dog tags.
The next morning I was awakened and a man who could speak English appeared. He was a former World War I English soldier who had married a French lady and settled in France. They put me in his horse drawn carriage, told me to lie down so I was hidden, and I was driven about ten miles out into the country to his farm. He told me that their big beautiful home had been burned by the German occupation forces as they invaded France. They now lived in the servant's quarters nearby. There was not room for me in this one bedroom house which they shared with their daughter. They had cleaned out a chicken coop for me. Actually the chicken coop was adequate. It was clean, had a cot and an end table and the chickens next door were noisy but good company. While there I was made to stand and hobble around with a cane as soon as the swelling when down. I am sure they were concerned about getting me mobile as soon as possible and moved somewhere else. Both my legs were black and blue all the way to my hips.
Two weeks later I was transported back to the village of Chaulnes and put into the care of the Edward LeBlanc family. They lived on the main street about two blocks from the railroad station where I had tried to bomb that train. The downstairs front of their house was a store. Their living quarters were behind the store and upstairs. I lived in a bedroom on the second floor. During my approximate three week's stay with the LeBlancs the railroad yard was bombed by B-26 bombers. I was watching them fly over and saw and heard the bombs falling. Even with my bad ankles I ran down the stairs and out the back door to their slit trench bomb shelter. A piece of metal from one of the bombs when through the wall of my room. Numerous French civilians and German soldiers were killed or wounded.
The French had given me false identification papers and use the picture from my Escape Kit (we all carried out picture taken in civilian clothes, just in case we were shot down). My French name was Jean Pierre DuBose. I was supposed to be a friend of the family from the Normandy area who was deaf and mute, injured during the invasion of France. The LeBlancs had neighbors sympathetic to the Russians who visited quite often unannounced. They would bring their map of Europe and discuss the latest positions of the Russian and American fronts. The LeBlancs were not sure their friends should know they were hiding an American flyer so every time they visited I played the roll of a deaf and mute person.
The French insisted that I get out of the house occasionally to get some exercise. They got me a bicycle and we rode along the dirt road beside the flak positions so I could see my enemy. They also took me out to the hole in the ground where my P-38 had hit. I can assure you I was not enthusiastic about making these bicycle trips. It was more interesting to watch the 100 regular German troops and 100 SS troops who occupied this village and manned the flak positions march down the main street every evening singing German songs. I stood at an open window upstairs in the back of the LeBlanc's house and watched three or four German soldiers standing on a road just behind their yard. They saw me watching and yelled something. I had no idea what they were saying so I just stood there. One of the soldiers pulled out his pistol and fired at me. I got the point and moved away from the window!
I at a lot of boiled tripe, strawberry sandwiches and chicken. The sanitary conditions were not the best and a few days before I was to be moved to another family I got diarrhea. It made me very sick and very weak. However, the French school teacher who was to take care of me for the next few weeks showed up and we took off on our bikes. I was so weak I had to walk beside my bicycle and put it up any kind of incline. On one of our walks up a hill we were accompanied by a German soldier. My French school teacher friend and he talked all the way up the hill. I just played deaf and mute and was scared.
I lived with this family about two weeks and was told that I would be transported by car to another location. This time I was picked up by two members of the French Resistance. In the car was an American B-17 gunner ... my first contact in a long time with someone with whom I could really communicate. As we drove north through the countryside we saw a group of P-47s strafing. Our driver immediately pulled into a farmyard and parked under some trees. We all ran for the house. Shortly after we got into the house two truck loads of German soldiers drove into the yard and parked under the same trees. AS the soldiers ran for the house, my new B-19 gunner friend and I were told to run out the back and hide behind an outhouse near the edge of a field. We hid there for what seemed like eternity, watching the P-47s strafe on one side of us and the German soldiers milling around in the house on the other. Finally, the P-47s left, the Germans left, and we departed. We were taken to the apartment of a Madame Heller in the village of Billy-Montigny. She was the head of the French Resistance in that area. She was Australian and her husband a Hungarian photographer. They had been caught in France when the Germans invaded. Neither were French citizens but were forced to stay there during the war.
We arrived in time for dinner and were told we would be spending the night with a brewer on the edge of town. We were told to walk down the stairs to the street, turn right, go to the corner, cross the street and wait for a car to pick us up. We did this but no car showed up. We waited and waited. It was getting late, 8:45 pm and curfew started at 9:00 pm. Finally, a young man riding a bicycle showed up and motioned for us to follow him. He could see that I could hardly walk so he put me on the handle bars and drove several blocks and then told me to get off and walk straight ahead. he then went back to get my friend and in this manner shuttled us to the brewer's home on the edge of town. We were lucky no German soldiers were around or we would have been apprehended for being out after curfew.
Our new French host offered us food and drink. I was too scared to be hungry. The next morning we were awakened and given coffee and cognac and a tour of the brewery. Under the loading dock of his brewery was a secret entrance to an area where he had stashed hundreds of cases of champagne and a room where he kept his radio. Here he could listen to broadcasts from the BBC direct to the people of the French Resistance. Radios were outlawed by the Germans. Upstairs in one corner of his brewery were stacked hundreds of cases of empty bottles. His car was hidden behind them.
Madame Heller and her driver came by that afternoon to take us to our next destination. On the way we picked up a typical looking Englishman, mustache and all. Madame Heller tucked our wings and dog tags in her bosom. We came to a gate guarded by several German soldiers. The soldiers, the driver and Madame Heller spoke for a few minutes and finally the guards raised the gate and we drove through. My heart was in my mouth! Our destination was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Dernancourt who live in the city of Lens. Six other Allied airmen already lived with them. From that point on the nine of us lived together in the room above their store which was located on the main street of the city.
By day we played poker with our, "escape money", sunned ourselves in the brick courtyard behind the house, shared by a pig, or watched the activity of the German soldiers from the windows upstairs. We all picked out pretty girls on the street whom we would like to meet when we were liberated. We also helped prepare the meals. We ate a lot of soup which contained everything our hosts and their close friends could conjure up to put into the pots. We spent many hours grinding, peeling and stirring.
This is where I met Clifford O. Williams, a P-38 pilot from the 343rd Fighter Squadron. He had been shot down the same day that I got into the 55th Fighter Group. The nine of us consisted of two Australians, two Canadians, two Englishmen and three Americans. Madame Heller had also found places for about 14 other Allied airmen to live in the Billy-Montigny, Lens, area of northern France.
One evening while all of us were sitting around the dining room table eating, we heard a scream from the teenage girl who was minding the store up front. She came running back to warn us that a German truck with many soldiers had driven up and parked in front of the store. We all thought that some one had turned us in and we would be taken prisoners and the French people shot! As it turned out the Germans had stopped to take hostages. They made it a point to take a husband or wife from a family ... never both. This was shortly before we were liberated by the English 1st Army. The French were out every night blowing up bridges, killing German troops and cutting telephone wires. For several weeks, we could hear the explosions, see the flashes of light as the French Resistance did their thing... things like putting unexploded bombs into carts and dragging them under railroad bridges where they hoped they would eventually explode.
It was interesting to watch the German troops retreat. For several days before the English 1st Army arrived, the Germans came down the main street heading north in every conceivable mode of transportation imaginable... trucks, cars, bicycles, horses, horse drawn carts, tanks and on foot. This went on 24 hours a day. Finally the English 1st Army rumbled through with tanks and trucks and many troops. Everyone was waving and cheering, flags were flying and people were crying tears of joy. As the troops sped by they threw us cigarettes and candy bars but would not stop. When a convoy finally did stop we told them we were Allied airmen and needed transportation back to Paris. This was arranged but it took a few days. In the meantime we were treated as heros by the townspeople, were given a banquet and asked to march in a liberation parade. I the parade with us were French collaborators. The women collaborators had their heads shaved and they were kicked and spit upon as they marched along. The pretty girl I had picked to meet after liberation was one of those women!
We were eventually turned over to the American 1st Army and then transported to the Hotel Maurice in Paris. There the Evaders and Escapees were interrogated. Our false identification was taken and we were given clothes and a cold water bath, my first in three months.
Paris still had pockets of Germans but that did not bother us. As soon as possible, we were in the sidewalk cafes drinking champagne and trying to pick up French girls. We were then flown by C-47 back to London. I was put into a tent hospital north of London where I spent another month or so. Every V-1 shot toward London seemed to pass over this location - another very terrifying experience! I was flown back to the good old United States in November of 1944 and soon returned to my home state of California. Again I was put in a hospital where they tried to repair my ankle.
And you know, the irony of all this is that very few people understand why I like to watch WW II Air Force movies on TV and will not buy a Japanese or German car! Vive la France and God Bless America!!!!
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Lt. David G. Elliott's interrogation report - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
I hit a locomotive and the explosion hit my plane, tore off my tail and set the engine on fire. I tried to climb to bail out, turned over a forest S. of Reims, rolled out of plane in 6 seconds and the plane fell in a forest. The tail of the plane hit me on the thigh and sprained my left ankle. I landed on the edge of the forest near the German flak batteries, a few feet from my plane. My chute caught in a tree --- I got out of my harness and ran for about five miles in different directions but making south towards Vitry. My first aid kit and toilet kit were strapped on my chute and I had to leave them. At 2100 hours I sat down and took out maps and used my mae west as a mattress and my helmet as a pillow and covered my face until dawn. I then buried my goggles, throat mike and everything I didn't need. Then, in the morning of August 11, I headed SW and walked in a forest and spent the night N of Champsfleury. Next day I came to a clearing. I saw a young woman and 2 men cutting wheat. I watched them for several hours. Then at 1100 hours when the girl was near me I stepped out and called to her. She finally came over with one of the men. I used the phrase card to declare myself and asked for water. They told me to hide where I was and after an hour Roger Couteau, about 35 years old, brought civilian clothes and water. He then took me to town to his house. He fed me and hid me in a barn for 4 hours. At 8pm he put me in a room where I stayed for a day or two. A. M. Griselle was very helpful and M. Pinard, the mayor of Champsfleury, gave me cigarettes.
There were German soldiers in town and things were getting hot so Couteau hid me in a barn next door to his house. I got very ill here. I was here until 23 August. Then M. Couteau came and said he was Chief of Resistance and that a Russian woman had told the Germans this and that next day 3,000 Germans were coming into town. At 1500 hours that day he and I went on a bike to Arcis sur Aube, convoyed by Resistance men on bicycles. We went South of Arcis to another small town where there was a Maquis stronghold. Couteau left me with the Maquis chief, who with his wife and aide, took me in a car into a forest NW of Troyes next to the river. There I stayed with the Maquis until 26 August. Saturday the 26th, about 0400 I heard trucks and at dawn a Maquis scout came to say that the Americans were there. So I went out to the road and got into a medical truck. It took me to a headquarters at the front lines. I saw Col. Clarke and Lt. Col. Wodin (4th Armored Division) and I gave him tactical information. We were surrounded by 1,000 Germans and had a skirmish with them. I bivouacked with them and next day was sent back in a POW convoy to Sens to Corps headquarters. There I saw a G-2 major. Then Major Muller, AC, took me to XIX Tac and then I went to Lemans and thence to Laval and Bayeaux Airstrip for a flight back to England.
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Lt. Robert B. Hoffman's story as told to Bob Littlefield - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
Hoffman, affectionately known as, "Old Dog", because he called others by that name, was flying with Littlefield in Hellcat White flight on the day they were bounced by Me-109s. Both were pulling off a dive bomb run on a bridge at Sens, France, when bounced. Each had dropped a 500 pound bomb and as they pulled up Littlefield heard "Hellcat break!, Hellcat break!" and glanced over his left shoulder to see Hoffman nearby with a 109 sitting on his tail with all guns blazing.
Littlefield yelled, "Dog break right!", as he broke right. During the break Littlefield saw Hoffman in a spin with both engines pouring smoke and flames.
Hoffman bailed out and broke an ankle on landing. He hobbled through the French countryside until he made contact with a Frenchman who turned him over to a member of the French Underground. He lived with the French for three months and was taken to Paris to await transportation south. In Paris he was turned over to a man who spoke excellent English. This man spoke of bars in Los Angeles that Hoffman had also frequented. They became friendly in the short period that he was in Paris.
One day the Frenchman said that it was time for Hoffman to leave and provided him with a car and driver. As they were driving through Paris, the driver stopped the car and motioned that he had to make a phone call. When he returned, they drove only a short distance when they came to a German roadblock. Hoffman was taken into custody and placed in Frenze Prison in Paris. While in the prison, he talked to a P-51 pilot who had exactly the same experiences in Paris! They came to the conclusion that the French Underground was unwittingly funnelling airmen into Paris where this Gestapo agent spent a few days with them and then packed them off to prison. Apparently, too, when the Gestapo undercover agent had called for a roadblock, those responsible were a bit slow in responding.
Hoffman was taken to Buchenwald, where the infamous Ilse Koch, noted for making lamp shades out of human hide, was on the staff. There were about eighty-three Americans and the same number of RAF and other Allied Air Force members. A good number of the Allied airmen had been turned over to the SS or Gestapo by French who did not want to become involved.
Allied airmen were eventually sent to Stalag Luft III when Reichsmarshall Goering heard of their imprisonment at Buchenwald. These men were later sent to Stalag Luft VII A at Moosburg via Nuremberg prison when the Russians were approaching Stalag Luft III. During one of these prison transfers Hoffman described a forced march in which he was threatened with being shot if he did not keep up with the rest of the prisoners. He had rebroken his ankle and was marching with a makeshift crutch. He was liberated at Stalag Luft VII A by Patton's Army.
Robert Bruce Hoffman was born in 1921 and was from Baltimore, Maryland. He was a survivor.
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Lt. Julius M. Hummel relates his experiences - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
Julius "Joe" Hummel, the only pilot of the 55th Fighter Group to escape from German captivity relates his experiences:
I was shot down while strafing a German airfield near Halberstadt, Germany. I received head and knee injuries after crash landing and had difficulty walking so was captured almost immediately. I was sent to Stalag Luft III, near Sagan. In January 1945, we were sent to an old Italian POW camp near Nuremberg. About the 2nd of April 1945, the Germans decided to march us to Munich. Bill Laubner, also a pilot in the 38th squadron and I were shot down on the same mission and were together as POWs. Bill could speak German and we along with Jack Sturm, a P-47 pilot from the 355th Fighter Group, plotted our escape from the line of march. Bill's leg started giving him trouble so he had to abandon the escape attempt with us. But he distracted the nearby German guards so successfully during a rain storm that Jack and I made our break and got away cleanly. The weather was cold with rain and sleet and quite miserable for the next 4 or 5 days.
We took refuge in barns, in villages, and dense trees. The first few days we moved only at night, finding it fairly safe to move through towns and villages after nine p.m., but holed up during the day. We had to depend on road signs, we had made crude drawings from an old German map and an occasional glimpse of the stars to navigate at night. When the weather improved it became much easier. We moved from 25 to 30 kilometers south of Nuremberg to the north west towards Wurtzburg. We were not making good progress so started moving during the day as well, avoiding towns during the day. Running low on food we liberated potatoes, chickens, bread, eggs and milk from milk cans set out along railroad tracks for the milk train. We were eating a lot higher on the hog than in POW camp. But our feet were paying the price.
We were close to capture several times but bluffed our way out by claiming to be Polish or Spanish workers and once by claiming to be German soldiers. About midnight we were hurrying through a town and blundered into the town square filled with German troops taking a break. Probably around 800 to 1,000 of them. Fortunately it was a fairly dark night and we told the German colonel who stopped and questioned us that we were German soldiers hurrying to catch up with our unit that was about 5 kms. ahead. We snowed him good and it worked. One bright sunny morning while following a railroad track we stopped to fill our water bottles at a spring. Two Germans in uniform stopped and questioned us. So we said we were Polish workers and were going to work on a farm ahead of us, just beyond the next town. They told us to go ahead of them. They were in uniforms with overcoats that we had not seen before. We had just decided that they were not armed when a third one showed up and he was armed. We walked further on and then found out they were slave labor guards in charge of between 25 and 30 young 16 to 20 year old Polish and French boys and girls who were repairing bomb damage to the tracks. They had a Polish boy question us so I distracted the guards attention and Jack told the boy in German who we really were. The boy pretended that he could not understand us fully so the guards called a Frenchman out and we did the same with him. In the meantime all the other kids found out who we really were and started to offer us bread, cheese and sausage. Then the guards really smelled a rat and the big wheel with the gun said he was going into town and get the army officer to come and deal with us. As soon as he was out of sight Jack and I took off for the woods. The two guards told us to stop and tried to get the kids to stop us but the kids just laughed and waved goodbye to us.
After about 12 days and the Lord only knows how many miles we walked, very nearly being bombed by our own bombers near Roth and being strafed by a German night fighter near some burning German tanks, we finally made contact with armored units spearheading the 4th Infantry Division of Patch's 7th Army south of Wurtzburg. It was pretty darn hairy, we were told that U.S. soldiers had been watching us since about 2 a.m. with the aid of night vision enhancement equipment when we were looking for food in the lockers of the burned out tanks. They said the only reason they did not fire at us was that our clothes did not look like German uniforms. So they decided to wait until daylight and see if we came out of the shell hole and then challenge us, which they did. We stayed with the 4th until they had transport going to Ludwigshaven a couple days later. From there to Arras, France and in a C-46 where the C.O. of the C-46 outfit flew us to Camp Lucky Strike. Within a week we were on a ship bound for home.
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Lt. Walter C. Klank tells his story - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
December 24th, 1944, Captain Howard and I were on our way back from a raid. I was flying wingman and we were at 15,000 feet. We spotted four Me-109s at approximately 10,000 feet. Howard shouted lets get 'em and started down still carrying his wing tanks. I yelled back, "Get rid of your tanks." He jettisoned his tanks and I had one hung up. It finally shook loose, but by this time Howard was already tangling with the 109s. I shot down one and then Howard said he got two and was going home. I yelled at him to wait for me - I had been heading east back into Germany and he was becoming a distant speck going west.
My crew chief had mounted a P-38 mirror over my canopy and as I made a swinging turn west I spotted four 109s coming down on my tail. We ended up in a tight turn to the left. My "G" suit allowed me to easily out turn them and soon I was on the tail of number 4, so I decided to add another 109 to the days record. I loosened up on my turn and saw strikes over the engine/cockpit area, the 109 rolled over and pilot bailed out.
About that time I saw holes appearing in my left wing - as the 109 behind me corrected his aim the nose cannon made slashes through the left wing and slugs from his wing guns must have come over the left shoulder of my armor plate - the instrument panel exploded. The slugs must then have dropped down and took out the controls - the 51 flipped over on its back - nose down - no control response - no trim tab response. Reduced throttle and decided to get out. I was hanging upside down with my head almost touching the canopy. I jettisoned the canopy and my arms were sucked out over my head - finally got my right arm back down and flipped safety belt open - I was immediately sucked out of the cockpit.
I apparently struck the vertical stabilizer and was knocked unconscious. My next recollection was falling feet first toward the ground, admiring the brown and white patchwork effect of plowed fields and snow. A small voice said pull the cord - I did - nothing happened - I pulled it again and threw it away. The chute cracked open - the risers jerked me up straight and my feet hit the ground. That's close enough for one lifetime!
Two young soldiers (I recall they were SS) had witnessed the fight and were waiting for me. They immediately went for my shoulder holster and 45 and were very disappointed that I wasn't carrying a gun. My face was bleeding profusely, I assume cut by the exploding instrument panel. My Mae West was soaked in blood and my right arm was useless. I was becoming weak and the two soldiers helped me unbuckle my chute harness and supported me as we made our way toward a narrow road.
I later surmised when I hit the tail my right arm must have scraped along the leading edge of the tail. Days later when I finally was able to remove my clothes I discovered the skin had been stripped from the outer portion of my arm and the arm was firmly attached to the shirt sleeve with dried blood. In a week or so I regained full use of the arm. The facial cuts, particularly above the left eye concerned me and for a while I though I had lost the use of the eye. Once I was able to wash the dried blood out of the eye I was able to see OK.
I had landed in a plowed field and for some reason the two soldiers left my chute there. By this time a group of people from a small village were approaching and in a rather ugly mood. I suspect but for my two captors I might not be writing this. As we reached the road - everyone suddenly dived into the ditches on each side of the road and I was left standing alone. Considering discretion the better part of valor I dove into a ditch also and just in time - a B-17 returning from the raid cut loose three 500 pounders that apparently had hung up. They landed in the plowed field straddling my chute. What a Christmas Eve - shot down and bombed all in one day!
On to the village and into the house of the Burgomaster. The house was crowded with villagers - some seemed "friendly" and emptied my pockets of candy, chewing gum, soap, etc. We had planned to land in Brussels and spend Christmas there, so I had brought along some trading goodies. They were puzzled about my "G" suit hose and kept pulling on it. I finally removed my A-2 jacket and flying suit and gave them the damn thing. I'll never forget the look on their faces, they had no idea what it was. The Burgomaster however, put it away as one of his personal treasures.
I was next loaded into a side car of a motorcycle and taken by a soldier to an MP jail in Frankfurt am Main where I spent Christmas and the next couple of days. No medial attention and boiled potatoes for Christmas dinner. Several days later, a German Lt. and his girl friend took me by staff car with a driver to Dulag Luft. The car appeared to burn wood to produce the fuel or steam for the engine. The roof was piled high with split wood.
I felt stronger at this point and seriously considered escaping by stabbing the Lt. and then the driver. I had not been well searched at the jail and had been able to conceal my boot knife. However, I realized I didn't know how to operate the car, doubtful if the girl did, it was below zero and I really didn't know where I was, so I decided to see it through to the next stop.
We arrived at the Dulag, Dec. 30, 1944, and I was the only one in the room with a German sergeant when I was told to strip. The sergeant paid no attention to me and continued to read a comic book. I thought well one last laugh - I threw my boot knife so that it stuck in the bench next to the sergeant. You have never seen such big eyes or heard such foul language - he spoke English fluently.
Then into solitary in an old 6 ft. x 8 ft. x 10 ft. cell with a blanket too short to cover my feet and shoulders at the same time. I believe I was there about 10 days with frequent interrogations and "role playing" in the cell next to mine. The hauptman that interrogated me spoke fluent English and said he had been raised in Chicago.
Finally off to the train station and on to Stalag Luft I, near Barth, Germany on the Baltic Sea. No one talked for the first day. We all looked at each other with suspicion. Several times the train stopped when fighters flew overhead, the guards got out, but locked us in. Fortunately we were never strafed. The food was meager and greasy, we all had the G.I.'s. What a trip.
Next stop Berlin, and a march through the city and then onto another train. I never understood this transfer but was glad we were surrounded by soldiers. The civilians were ugly and we saw what appeared to be Allied soldiers hanging from lamp posts. Not a pretty sight! The next part of the journey from Berlin to Stalag Luft I, I have no recollection of for some reason.
At Stalag I, we separated, went through a records section, were given blankets and mattress cover, later to be filled with straw, and my A-2, leather jacket was taken and I was given a GI overcoat one size too small. At least it was warmer. I was then taken to the compound that would serve as my home for the next 6 - 7 months, barracks 307, room 2.
Those months were spent in one room with 20 other American flyers. We became good friends, but never got together for the planned reunion in New Orleans. This was a boring time, nothing to do, the library was small so it didn't take long to ready everything. Cold and hungry, we went through the Kriegie trick of cutting up the barracks for firewood, etc. and constantly worked on the drawings and poems in our Kriegie books.
One night our barracks "goon guard" reported the Germans had not locked us in and said they would be gone in the morning because the Russians will be here tomorrow. Liberation at last! I believe it was May 21, 1945. The next morning we were all out early, the guard towers were now manned by GIs and were in effect an Allied camp in German territory.
My buddy Don and I climbed on the roof of our barracks from where we could see Barth's city square in the distance. As I recall around noon a horse drawn caravan arrived led by a horse drawn hansom cab. As the cab reached the center of the square it stopped. The driver slumped forward over the cab, the caravan stopped and the soldiers continued what must have been one long party since they had their women and booze with them.
Finally, after what seemed like hours the door of the cab opened, the colonel (we later learned) stepped out - missed the step and fell flat on his face in the square. No one rushed to his aid, he finally struggled to his feet and apparently barked out orders whereupon the caravan began to act like a military organization. It turned out this was a "unit" of Cossacks. They were dressed in the typical costume with bandoliers of ammo slung across each shoulder. However, they carried stubby machine guns instead of rifles.
Later, we learned through the "grape vine" that the Russian colonel was very upset with us for sitting there in an orderly manner. We should have torn down the fences, raped the women, etc. The Russians threatened to march us down through their lines to the Baltic Sea. Colonel Gabreski, a senior American officer took a firm stand that that was not going to take place. He did however order the fences torn down and a "joint" feast for the next night. The feast went well and we were back in the good graces of the Russians.
The German airfield, close by, contained a concentration camp which we subsequently learned about. That was a gruesome tale, too long to recount here. It also contained booby trapped German planes and an underground buzz bomb factory.
Several days later a caravan of GI trucks picked us up and drove us to an airfield where B-17s loaded with "bug" powder were waiting to take us to decontamination camp. The flight on the 17, my first, in the converted bomb bays, plywood over the bomb doors, is a story in itself. The hydraulic system on the flaps or gear or both failed and we all though - "Oh boy"! Made it through prison camp and now we die in a 17. But we made it.
After decontamination and new clothes we were flown (in my case) by a "hot" pilot in a C-47 to Le Havre, France and settled in Camp Lucky Strike. That's another story in itself. We ate the camp out of food in three days. Almost two weeks had gone by when we discovered our contingent had been "misplaced" by the transportation officer loading Liberty ships with POWs. Under the "stress" of never seeing home again, three of us took off for Paris. After ten days of the sights and sounds of Paris we headed back to Lucky Strike, right up the gang plank of a Liberty ship and a miserable rough trip back to the States. Victor Mature, a movie star, was the Chief Petty Officer in charge of food, and he did his best to make us at home.
German J 2805 reported Lt. Klank captured and aircraft 99% destroyed.
Lt. Klank's postwar statement claimed two Me-109s prior to being shot down and bailing out. On this mission he had been flying with the 3rd Scouting Force, a weather reconnaissance unit stationed at Wormingford which the 55th Fighter Group supported. The 3rd SF did target weather reconnaissance in advance of the bombers.
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2/Lt. Return to Walter C. Klank's page
Lt. William Laubner relates his experiences - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
Bill Laubner relates his experiences: I was shot down near Rhune, Germany,
while on the first all fighter sweep scheduled by the 8th Air Force. Our target
was an airfield southwest of Berlin. My flight was supposed to provide top cover
but Wyche (flight leader), took us down to join in the fun. On the way out on
the deck, we passed a flight of FW-190s going in the opposite direction, but
they did not bother with us. I strafed a locomotive, power lines and a dry dock
facility on the Rhine River which was surrounded by flak towers. My left engine
was shot out and my left fuel tank was set on fire. I crash landed near a German
anti-aircraft camp and taken prisoner. I hit the gunsight and broke my nose. I
cut my knees getting out of the burning ship. My left shoulder felt as if it had
been hit with a hammer. After I was put in jail, I took my flight jacket off and
noticed a right angle tear on the side of the left shoulder. Evidently a round
must have penetrated the armor (the planes armor plate, behind the pilot), and
backpack (parachute), and sliced a hole in the jacket. I did not require
hospitalization. Lady luck was with me on that mission!
After my capture, I could still understand enough German to make out the rivalry that existed between the two anti-aircraft officers trying to claim credit for my being shot down. One was CO of an 88 mm crew and the other had the flak towers. When a German major walked in everyone snapped to attention. I was sitting with my right leg resting on the top of my left knee. The officer nearest to me kicked my leg off of my knee and made me get up. I left with the two officers still arguing over who was going to claim me. It was hard to keep from smiling. I sat between the major and another officer on the way to the local lockup. We passed an airfield with 109s parked under netting. They remarked to each other that I would have liked to report the location to our air force if I could. That bought another smile to my face. I went through the interrogation center at Frankfurt and from there to Stalag Luft III. My interrogator at Frankfurt spoke perfect English. He told me that he had lived in Hackettstown, N.J. As I was sticking to the name, rank and serial number routine, he told me more about our outfit than I knew myself. He named our CO, Jolly Jack Jenkins, our base name and location, wing number, wing commander, Red Cross girl's names, etc, etc. I finally asked him if he thought he was going to win the war? He said if he didn't think so he would not be sitting across the desk from me. He also told me that they were waiting for Bob Rosenburgh. This told me that he knew I was in A flight, as Bob was also in A flight. I was really too small a fish to waste much time on.
I was at Stalag Luft III until the early part of 1945. I received permission from our barracks commander to converse with the guards. We called them ferrets. Since the barracks were built with a crawl space, the ferrets would crawl under them in order to pick up bits of information. They could speak and understand English. The floors had cracks between the flooring and when we heard them underneath we would get water buckets and brooms to clean the floor. We could hear them scramble out and of course that tickled hell out of us. They could not chastise us because keeping our room clean was S.O.P.
Another humorous diversion was trying to find the camp radio. Time and again a block was singled out and made to wait outside while the guards searched the building for the ever elusive radio. They never did find it. This always brought smiles to our faces. I was not mistreated because I was captured by the military. I did see some POWs that were man-handled by civilians before being turned over to the authorities. I also saw the Gestapo come into camp and take out three POWs. We heard that their gun cameras showed they were shooting civilians and other non-military targets. We never saw them again. We received soup, potatoes, black bread and occasional horse meat. We also received Red Cross parcels periodically. These parcels were used to augment the German rations and were eagerly received. Another bit of humor. We used to comment on our rib showing physiques when we were taken for an occasional shower.
At the end the Germans marched us out, for three days, to Spremburg. Around March of 1945 we were marched to Moosburg. Joe Hummel, who went through flying school with me, was shot down on the same day and we were in prison camp together. Joe and I and another pilot named Sturm, who flew P-47s, plotted our escape on the march to Moosburg. I developed blisters on my feet so gave them half of my rations and they took off during the night. They made it back but I had to wait to be liberated by Patton.
Needless to say we were hungry all the time and the movement from camp to camp in the dead of winter with snow on the ground in just a pair of leather shoes was not too comfortable. We were literally liberated by General Patton on 29 April 1945, pearl handled six gun, polished boots and helmet. His tank rammed through the front gate and he got out and said, "Did any of these bastards mistreat you?" I believe he would have shot them on the spot. We'd heard that he'd given one of his pearl handled six guns to one of his paramours. Don't know how much truth there is in that story, but when he came into camp I had to see for myself. Sure enough he only had one strapped to his waist.
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Lt. Robert M. Littlefield titles his story "The Bridge at Barentin" - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
It was a bright, clear, and beautiful Sunday afternoon. Our squadron was top cover for the other units while they worked over a German airfield outside Paris. It was to be a milk run and as we circled above our attacking planes, I unhooked my oxygen mask and had a cigarette. After completion of the attack and on the way out, I spotted a train approaching a large multi-spanned brick bridge at the village of Barentin and called it in to Captain Buck Earls, my flight leader. We were Hellcat White flight, which meant Buck was leading the squadron and I was his element leader. Lt. Francis Matney was my wingman and Lt. Francis Waice was Buck's wingman.
The attack on the train was made by White flight only. Buck gave us the signal to spread out and go into trail in preparation for the attack. He and Waice went in first and I could see their strikes all over the locomotive. Great billowing clouds of steam shot skyward from the locomotive as they pulled off. I made a right diving turn and put my pipper (gunsight) on the car behind the locomotive. Matney was on the outside of the turn and behind me.
I squeezed the trigger and saw strikes from my six fifty caliber machine guns as I raked the box cars. By this time the locomotive and box cars had stopped on the bridge. I gave it another burst, saw more strikes on the cars but as I pulled up I heard a loud explosion and my P-51 lurched. My stomach tensed with a burning sensation because I had previously experienced that same sound over Germany, which resulted in my shot-up P-38 being totaled in a crash landing at Old Buckenham, England. I realized that I had taken an explosive shell hit on the leading edge of my right wing at the inboard 50 caliber machine gun. The wing was burning fiercely and close to a gas tank. I decided to bail.
I made a quick call to my flight, informing them of my situation. I was doing about 350 miles an hour so I pulled up and delayed a bit before I pulled the emergency canopy release handle. After leaving the plan, falling head first, I pulled my rip cord, the chute opened and at about the count of three I gently hit the ground. As I was examining light wounds on my neck and chin I heard gunfire and immediately hit the dirt and started looking about to establish the direction of fire. It was the ammo in my crashed plane cooking off about 150 yards away!
I gathered my chute, hid it in some bushes, and walked to a farmhouse nearby. A lad of about 16 was watching as I approached and I identified myself as an American pilot and asked where "le Boche" were. He motioned that they were all around. He obviously was of no help. An older man walked up and asked, "le parachute?", and I pointed to where I'd hidden it. When he returned he signaled for me to get the hell out.
I had walked only a few dozen yards when a man, walking a bicycle, with a big smile on his face, motioned to follow him. We soon passed a lady who gave me the V for victory sign. We stopped for a moment to talk to another lady who told me to take off my flight suit, which I did. A moment later she began shoving me down the road and talking excitedly. As I followed Rene, riding his bike, I glanced back and saw two German soldiers walking up to my crashed plane with rifles at the ready.
We were at a sharp bend on a direct road so were out of sight of the Germans within a few steps but I ran like hell for as long as I could until I was running so slowly that Rene became alarmed and got off the bike and ran while I rode. He took me to his parent's farm and hid me in a hayloft. I was beginning to think I was living a class B movie. Shortly, Rene brought me into the house. Years later he told me his father was furious with him for bringing me home; the Germans would have shot them all if we were caught. At the farm there were five members of the family all trying to ask questions by sign language.
A short time later three men, one with an arm in a sling, called me out of the hay and told me were taking me to an English speaking lady. Two bicycles were provided for Marcel and myself and we set off down a dirt road until we arrived at a main cement highway. In about 20 minutes we arrived at Chateau le Matra, a large 150 year old, three story building. I was taken into a darkened room where a lady about five feet two inches tall, buxom and plump, proffered her hand and said in a very heavy French accent, "I am Madame Angele Greux." She was the wife of Armand. She motioned me to a chair along side hers and opened a map of northern France. "You are here", she said, pointing to the small town of Barentin in Normandy. she then began speaking rapidly and I could not understand her. I became alarmed because I feared that if everyone thought she spoke perfect English and I did not understand her they would be suspicious of me. I knew the French Underground had executed German agents attempting to penetrate their organisation. She must have sensed my dismay for she said very slowly, "Pardon my English, I have not spoken it since 1936 when I worked in England for two years. You will be living here."
Henri and Armand arrived and I was introduced to the eleven who lived here. The chateau was owned by a wealthy French farmer, Monsieur Douillet, who, with his wife and family, lived in a small home nearby. The chateau had been requisitioned by the Germans for people who had been bombed out of their homes in Rouen. The others who lived there were: a very old lady whose name I never knew, a young boy of 7, named Pierre, not related to any of the household; Henri's sons, Daniel Couture, age 22, and Andre Couture, age 18, Micheline Guilloux, age 12 on that very day, niece of Angele; Madame Glasson, age 47, and her daughter Janine, age 22 (Janine was engaged to Daniel). And Huguette Greux, age 19, sister of Armand. No one worked except to help local farmers in exchange for food and they were living on their savings. In addition to the food received from local farmers, there were rabbits and chickens in hutches in the back yard. We never had wine but drank cider, a very weak hard cider made from local Normandy apples. The children drank it too. Henri and I drank it with baking soda because it gave us heartburn.
I was also provided with an identification card with my picture, the photo provided by me courtesy of the US Army, a food ration card and a paper that stated I was deaf and dumb so that hopefully, I wouldn't be sent to Germany for forced labor.
Local people who had seen me were told that I was Angele's deaf and dumb cousin from Dieppe. My French identification card stated that I was Robert Joseph, address in Dieppe. All records in Dieppe had been destroyed in a bombing raid so this could not be disproved.
One day as Armand and I sat quietly watching Angele knit, we were startled by the roar of an airplane, firing its guns, right over our roof top. We all dropped to the floor. I peeked out the window to see two British Typhoon fighters who had caught five German soldiers in a small civilian panel truck in front of the chateau. "Feld-grau", (field gray), which was what the German soldier was called, after the color of his uniform, were running in every direction. When the planes left, the soldiers got back in and drove the truck into an apple orchard next to the chateau. The Typhoons had riddled the truck but hadn't hit one vital part and the Germans had escaped without a scratch! Needless to say, I was very disgusted with their marksmanship and told the French my fighter unit would have destroyed the truck.
It was rumored that the Americans were nearby. Paris had already been liberated. So Henri, Angele, Daniel, Andre, Janine and myself started walking toward the seine. Armand still hadn't returned. We had gone only a short distance when we encountered two young Frenchmen, one with a 25 caliber automatic pistol and the other with a single hand grenade. There was automatic gunfire coming from a short distance north and they were going to help the French Resistance who had a small group of Germans "cornered".
About an hour later we ran into Scottish commandos advancing with guns at the ready. The officer in charge apologized for not having transportation to take me to Duclair, on the Seine River, so we continued until we arrived at an almost totally destroyed Duclair. I gave Angele my GI watch and my escape kit, which was always issued prior to each combat flight, and which contained 2,000 francs ($40.), silk maps and language phrase sheets of which I had made good use. After long teary goodbyes and many hugs and kisses, I left my dear friends who had made me one of the family for three weeks. The British interrogated me and flew me back to London on September 3, 1944. There I was interrogated at 63 Brook St., by the American military. My interrogator said there were 40 men a day, like myself, coming through enemy lines.
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Lt. Howard W. Rhodes relates his experiences - Reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Robert M. Littlefield, from his book, Double Nickel - Double Trouble (ISBN 0-9623080-3-X)
On July 28, 1944 I was on an escort mission in a P-51, shortly after the group switched from P-38s. The target was Merseburg, Germany. We observed two B-17s falling in flames. We assumed that they were under fighter attack as no flak bursts could be seen. The squadron leader radioed, "Drop tanks and let's go" and turned towards the bombers.
I dropped the exterior tanks after switching to the interior 90 gallon fuselage tank. Unfortunately my engine quit. I was unable to get the engine going. The only action I was able to get out of the engine was occasional burps from using the primer. I had agreed with some buddies, that if we ever did go down we would try to do it in style. So I told the guys not to take the new Wellington boots I had just gotten from Peal's, but my voice was sufficiently projecting my anxiety that it wasn't funny.
At about 3,000 feet indicated, (being blissfully unaware that the ground was not at sea level), I determined to bail out. I found myself facing upwards, being caressed by a gentle breeze. It was a delightful sensation; there was nothing to do but open the parachute, no more struggling to get power. After enjoying for a second or so, I pulled the rip cord rather halfheartedly and nothing happened so I pulled it hard. No sooner had the parachute opened than I hit the ground. I was sure I was dead because everything was black and there was a kind of warm, flooding, pleasant sensation, Nirvana. I actually thought at the moment that the Hindus were right, it seemed to me precisely as I had understood the Hindu notion of the afterlife to be.
Very shortly thereafter consciousness began to return, and I could begin to see that I was on a hard packed dirt farm road. I unbuckled the parachute harness and, taking stock, observed that my wallet was still in my back pocket. I should have left it in the ready room, since it contained, of course, my identification and sources of information to the enemy.
There was a ditch about twenty yards away. I tried to walk there but I couldn't walk because of an injury to my back and foot so I crawled over to a big bush on the top of this ditch bank. I left the parachute there with my wallet which I tried to hide under the litter. Then I crawled out into the corn field because there was a hill beyond it. About fifty yards into the corn field, still crawling, I looked up and about a foot away were two shoe topes and above them this red haired and mustached farm worker with a tiny pistol pointed at me. He first words were, "Me Polska." I understood him to mean that he was a Polish farm worker, not a German, and that he was sympathetic with my situation. In any event he assisted me up and helped me stagger over to the edge of the field where there was a fat old German farmer with a hunting rifle.
We went down the road to his home and into his little study, a tiny room with a desk in it. He let me sit in the corner. After fifteen or twenty minutes, a car came and a blond man about forty years of age dressed in a grey suit with a Nazi arm band on his left sleeve got out. He greeted the farmer with a Hitler salute, then shook his hand, then repeated the same greeting to the farmer's wife and their several children in descending order of age. He then drew himself up, turned to me and with a torrent of abuse, in German, which I could not understand except the part about being a North American Air Gangster, then he slapped me on both cheeks, grabbed me by the shoulders and made me face the corner of the room. Then he tried to interrogate me in English, asking me where I had come from. I was so unaware of the Big Picture that I didn't even know that I could have come from Italy, instead of England, so I said America.
A policeman arrived in a three wheeled car, one wheel in the front and two in the back. He put me in the back seat. Around the same time my parachute appeared along with the wallet which I had attempted to bury. The policeman took me and my effects to his home in the town, apparently so that he could show me off. He left me in the car and went inside.
We then drove down to the city jail which consisted of one cell. He gave me some bread, but I wasn't really interested in that. I really hurt. I had strained my back. I think I had a compression fracture but I never had any medical treatment so I don't really know. My left foot was so far extended over my low quarter shoe on impact that it was bleeding around the upper line of the shoe.
After joining up with some B-17 crews, we were taken through Frankfurt to Oberursel, a Luftwaffe interrogation station. On arrival, I was called into a tiny office in which there was a private, a little guy, but obviously a sophisticated and intelligent person. He asked me to fill out a form. The form had "Red Cross Information" at the top, and then it asked for name, rank, serial number, home address, with spaces for all kinds of military information. If I had filled out the whole form it would have given the store away. I filled out my home address and parent's name, as well as my name, rank and serial number. I declined to go further. He said he didn't give a damn anyway, as he was doing Red Cross duty and that the interrogation would come later. He said that we had to spend some time anyway, so we might just as well talk.
(Howard Rhodes was interrogated by Hanns Scharff, August 3rd, 1944.) The interrogation started with the usual cigarette or cookie, and then he said, in substance, I had to identify myself as an officer of the United States Army, that if I failed to do so I would be treated as a spy. That they weren't trying to get information; that a second lieutenant couldn't tell them anything anyway that they did not already know; that I could come in saying I was Colonel Bullshit with my dog tags; but that I had to prove it. Note that I was twenty-one, not a colonel, did not have proper insignia, and that I didn't have any dog tags. He said that the Geneva Convention had been mistranslated by the Allied governments, and that I was obliged to tell them what unit I was from; I gave him name, rank and serial number. He replied, "Oh dear, Lt. Rhodes, don't be such a bore!" Then he got from behind his desk a volume and started flipping through it. He first asked if I was from the 4th Fighter Group, P-51s, and of course, I just stared at him. He finally got down to the 55th Fighter Group, P-38s. "Oh no", he said, "just changed to P-51s." (The one big secret I thought I knew). Well, I made a little involuntary reaction, and he said, "Oh my goodness, Lt. Rhodes, you don't think we don't know that yet?" He said his name was Hanns Scharff.
Nothing further of substance transpired. He told me a lot more about the 55th. Then he stood up, told me the interrogation was finished, that I would be on my way in a couple of days, and wished me good luck. He stuck out his hand, I took it, and bang, the door opened with another prisoner outside looking at me as though I had just divulged the secret of the atomic bomb.
Later, we were taken to Dulag Luft in Wetzlar and given showers, our Red Cross parcels, clothing, cigarettes and food. We were put on a train to our permanent camps. No fun spending all night in the Berlin marshalling yards, hoping it was not the night's target for the RAF.
They hauled us into the prison camp, Stalag Luft I, and since other contributors will have told you a great deal about prison camp life, I will not. But one thing about any detention facility is that detainees, ie, the prisoners, have a lot of hostility about their detention. Rightly or wrongly, they take it out on the guards who represent the detaining power.
Early in 1945, the camp commandant issued an order requiring the transfer of all identified Jewish prisoners to a single compound within the camp. We all inferred our Jewish buddies were to be mistreated, so we ranted and raved and yelled and screamed, actually considering trying to attack the guard towers and revolt, but cooler heads prevailed and the transfer occurred the next day, although we stayed up until midnight, probably. Since our compound was next to the Jewish compound, we spent a lot of time talking to our buddies across the intervening fence for a period of days, and finally it just seemed a normal thing, and no one was mad any longer.
The Oberst in charge of the camp, who also commanded a nearby Luftwaffe air base, where jets were based, the nearby sugar factory where slave laborers worked, and a nearby death camp, came to our compound to visit us. I remember that I kind of wondered how, in his mind, he justified the different sort of treatment for the people in the various camps he commanded. One morning we woke up after hearing the sounds of artillery for a couple of days, and all the Germans were gone.
When we got back to London, we waited to go home for weeks. When I saw on the bulletin board orders for transport for an officer, Albert LaChasse, who I knew had already hit Los Angeles, I adopted his name and identity and got on board the ship. When we got to Camp Miles Standish I was put under house arrest for ten days, but I was home, and they had a hole in the fence. That's my story.
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