William J. "Bill" Dolgin|
Ed Taylor's Crew
World War II Diary
THE THIRTEENTH MISSION
For a fitting background to my story, I must go back two days before the eventful day. Most of my regular crew was grounded after the Norway Mission due to ear troubles and frostbite. On November 29, our operations officer called me in and asked if I would like to fly as deputy lead bombardier with Lt. Taylor's crew the following day as Lt. Talbot, Taylor's regular bombardier was also grounded. Anxious, at that time, to complete my missions, I readily agreed and so on November 30th, we took off, after briefing, for an all-out effort on Solingen in the Ruhr Valley, the heart of the German steel works.
After gaining altitude over England and while forming, the right waist gunner called over the interphone that we were losing gas out of the right wing tanks. Taylor quickly brought the ship back in and the crew chief installed another gas cap. After refilling the tanks, we, again, took off and tried to overtake the formation, still over England.
Upon reaching altitude, the oxygen system started acting up and I was called back to the waist to administer first aid to one of the turret gunners whose oxygen mask had frozen and he was suffering from anoxia and severe frostbite. He had tried to hold the hose between his lips when the mask quit working. The moisture and extreme cold had frozen his lips and face to way more than normal size. He was unconscious and so I did what I could for him. I called Taylor and advised him to get down fast and head for home. Once more we landed and rushed our gunner to the waiting ambulance and then the hospital.
While leaving the plane, another accident occurred. The engineer severely cut his hand on the escape hatch. We went back to operations and by then it was too late to try to catch our group. So we had to call it a day. Imagine my surprise when, about an hour later, our planes returned - "Mission scrubbed due to weather over the target." That put me in fine spirits again. I spent most of that day at the Officer's Club before going into Norwich that night. Upon returning to base later that night, I saw my name on the alert list with Taylor's crew again.
I went to bed and the next thing I knew the CQ was waking me to report to the line immediately. It was 6:00 a.m. and he had forgotten to wake me in time for briefing. I hurried to the line minus breakfast. Today's raid was the same as scheduled the day before and since I'd been to briefing the day before. I rushed out to the ship after picking up the target folder, maps, chute, etc. Our plane for that day was C-bar, a brand new B-24H. Lt. Taylor, Akins, and Ford were waiting for me. The engines were turning over and so I hurriedly checked the bombsight, bomb racks, and our payload - 40 of the new type pitch incendiaries. Everything was okay, so we taxied out and took off on time. Our group formed and then joined wing, division, and finally at altitude and in formation, we left the English Coast about 0900 hours.
The weather was clear with scattered cumulus below. The temperature was -50 degrees. We crossed the French Coast and caught a few bursts of flak - nothing much. A few minutes later, I looked up and spotted our newly arrived escort. P-38s and P-47s were giving us perfect top cover. Our IP was the autobahn between Dusseldorf and Cologne. Things went along quite uneventfully, and then all hell broke loose. A solid barrage of flak came up, splattering the ship. However, we continued on and dropped our bombs on time, 1130 hours, with excellent results. The bomb pattern covered our objective. The formation then turned right and there was the mistake. We came too close to Cologne - one of the most highly defended cities in Germany.
Flak came up practically solid. Our gas tanks were pierced, but luckily the shell did not explode. Enemy fighters hovered around out of range for the 50 caliber, waiting for the kill. We managed to drop from one group back to another, fighting off the FWs without any further serious damage. We limped along over Belgium. As we were about to cross the Belgium Coast came the shocker. We hadn't enough fuel to make England. Our choice was to bail out over Belgium or ditch in the North Sea.
The chances of successfully ditching in winter are pretty slim because no one could last long in the frigid waters. So we did a one-eighty. As I got out of the nose turret, I caught a glimpse of Ford and the engineer going out the bomb bay. I grabbed my chute, luckily a chest pack, tried the nose wheel door but it wouldn't open. I scrambled through the tunnel and looked on the flight deck. Akins, Taylor and the radio operator were the only ones left. Jim and I had to practically throw the radioman out, then we jumped.
My next sensations were rather weird and hazy. I was falling, but it felt like floating through space. I pulled the ripcord but nothing happened. During stressful circumstances, one's strength is amazing. The wrap on a chest pack is extremely heavy canvas-like material. I tore at the wrapping and after what seemed like hours, I finally sprung the pilot chute. On the ground, under normal conditions, I don't know if I could spring a jammed closure. I looked up and saw our plane diving into the clouds with the tail assembly tearing off. It was very still and quiet as I floated down. Finally, I broke through the low clouds and saw I was over a farming area.
I hit the ground very hard, knocking the breath out of me. I stood up, unhooked the chute and started pulling it in. People then started gathering around me, mostly in shabby peasant dress. They seemed afraid and were talking in an unknown language - Flemish I later discovered. I answered first in English, but no soap. However, when I started talking in French, a well-dressed village belle ran up to me, kissed me and answered all my questions. We were near the town of Staden in Flanders. The Germans had a garrison nearby at Dixmuide and were probably already on the way. My chute had been torn up by the farmers for the fabric. She said two other parachutists had come down close by.
I started to walk in that direction and not too far away I came on Henry, our assistant radio operator. We greeted each other heartily and got rid of the crowd before continuing on to a farmhouse where the third chutist was. Another large group came out to meet us and ushered us in where Jim was sitting and eating. Two more places were quickly set and we had a fine, little feed, topped off with cognac.
Everyone seemed to be pro-Allied and very friendly. Finally, one man suggested we give ourselves up to the Jerries. At that, I told Jim and Hank we'd better leave in a hurry. As we walked out and along the country road, a short character, pushing a bicycle kept edging over and scratching his head to hide the "V" sign he was giving. We paid no attention and started in a southerly direction. However, it was like a street parade as the crowd was following us. We all had our flying boots on, so at my suggestion, we left the road and cut across the fields, toward some woods.
Being pretty muddy, we lost our escort. Finally, we came to another farmhouse and there was our little friend with the bike. He spoke only Flemish, but signaled us to follow him. He took us another few miles through trees and fields until we came to a stream heavily overgrown with bushes and shrubs. We crossed and hid along the banks. He made us understand he'd return at 1900 hours, so we stayed put in our hiding place watching German search parties in the distance.
It got dark and we still waited. At about the pre-set time, our friend returned with some doughy stuff resembling waffles. We quickly ate and again followed him to an open field where we were to lie down and wait for about two hours. Again, he left and in the allotted time returned with two friends, one of whom spoke English, so communication became much easier. All three were heavily armed and were part of a sabotage ring that constantly harassed the German invaders.
Since we were cold and wet, the six of us went to a neighboring farm where we dried out and had ersatz coffee with cognac. Fernandus Myche, the one who spoke English, briefed us on the 15-mile walk we were to make.
Vermander, our little friend, walked with us, while Myche was about a hundred yards ahead on his bike and the third man trailed us about the same distance. They had a set of flashlight signals. Every time someone was approaching, we left the path and hid in the brush. It was quite a forced march. We finally came to the town of Zaren and Vermander's home behind his butcher shop. His wife, Maria, and a few more of the resistance were there. She had a fine meal of beef and eggs for us, plus the already usual cognac. We talked for awhile, and then I was to go with German Waeyert to his place for some rest. He was about 17 and spoke just enough French for us to talk. We had to be extremely cautious because of the German curfew. We finally arrived at his house and I went to bed in a hayloft over the barn. Being completely exhausted, I fell asleep as soon as I "hit the hay."
The next day, I was awakened by German, who brought me a big meal, a bucket of milk and lots of water to wash. After this, I went back to sleep until late afternoon, when he came back with civilian clothes, which fit pretty well. So there I was from an American flyer to Belgian civilian in one easy lesson. That evening, Germain and I went to Vermander's where there was quite a party. Jim and Hank also were in civilian clothes. We all danced to BBC, ate, and drank. Everyone made a big fuss over us and we gave away almost all of our personal items for souvenirs. The party ended and I returned to my hayloft retreat.
The next day was spent quietly while the day after I was again taken to Vermander's, where I met Lucien who had arranged for the next lap of the journey. He was a swell Joe and spoke English fluently. He explained the plan. The Germans had a dragnet out in the entire area looking for us. Of our ten-man crew, one had been pitchforked on landing, three killed by the Germans, and two captured. He didn't know who the other survivor was or where he was. Back to the plan. We were to act like Belgian farm hands returning from the fields. So, at dusk, we started by bicycle for Ypres, about 25 miles away. After a very tiring ride, trying to get lost in the crowd of cyclers, we made it. Lucien's brother owned a small hotel near the town square and that's where we spent the night.
The following day, I was picked up by the chauffeur-caretaker of a Baroness London and taken to his cottage on the grounds of her estate. He drove one of the wood and charcoal powered cars. This was a small trailer attached to the rear of the car and by burning the fuel, it somehow was able to power the car, which could only go at slow speeds. The chauffeur and his wife had a small, neat and very rustic home at the gate to the estate. There, I had a very pleasant stay, eating, sleeping, and reading. Abel and Juliet were very kind, nice people. The Baroness stopped by daily bringing books and food. I would go out hunting small game with Abel.
One day, while returning from one of these, we stopped at a small roadside pub. The pub was situated on a small knoll set back from the road and rather isolated. It reminded me of an old New England roadhouse. The patrons all seemed to be solid, rural types and everyone was very friendly. Then we heard a large German lorry approaching. The sound was very distinguishable.
Everyone froze as the truck pulled up in front. As I heard the Germans about to come in, I looked for some way out, knowing I had no identity card or working papers. There was a door at the rear. I opened it and found myself in a storage closet. By now the Germans had lined up all the bar patrons, questioning them and examining papers. I saw a screwdriver, pliers, hammer, etc., removed my jacket, stuck some tools in my belt and stepped back into the main room. Electrical wiring in most of Europe was exposed. I pretended to follow a wire to the junction box, unscrewed the lid and poked around. Replacing the cover, I went on to the next one, paying no attention to the Germans, but with my heart in my throat.
One of the Jerries asked me what I was doing. I replied there were electrical problems and I continued following the wiring out to he kitchen. Soon the Germans finished their drinks and left. All the Belgians surrounded me, shaking my hand, patting me on the back, etc., commending me for my quick thinking and luck. After that incident, I was content to stay in the cottage, not wanting to tempt fate again.
Finally, on December 23, Lucien came to take me back to the hotel where I stayed my first night in Ypres. There, I met my guide who was to take me to Brussels the next morning by train. The train between Brussels and Ypres was more of a trolley set up, similar to the old red cars here in Los Angeles. I was given instructions on train procedure and a set of signals to alert me to controls, inspections, etc. Under no circumstances was I to give away my guide as that meant death. At 0500 hours, we caught the train. It was very crowded. My guide sat in the front of the car and I was toward the back, keeping him in plain sight. We made several local stops and things were going well when we slowed down to pull into Azrbrugen. At that moment, my guide lifted his cap, signal for German Control. In this, the Germans started at the front of every car and examined everyone's papers. Having none, I quickly got up and went to the restroom in the rear of the car. By now, the train was pulling to a stop. I knew the control would not be long in finding me. As the brakes were screeching, I covered my hand with my cap and broke through the window, jumping out, and crawling under another train on the next track. I, nonchalantly, started walking away as the train I was on pulled out. There I was - stranded. The only way back was to follow the tracks.
I followed the tracks and tried to stay low beside the raised bed so as not to be spotted. Miles of walking. At that time, due to sabotage, every bridge or crossing was under German guard. Whenever I saw one in the distance, I had to make a wide detour and come back to the rail line out of sight. This strategy worked about five times, and then while trying to avoid a culvert crossing, I was accosted by a single German guard. He was an older man and holding his rifle on me and asked for papers. I pretended to reach in my pocket for them, trying to distract him by talking. I got close, grabbed the rifle and clubbed him with it. I pulled a small pocketknife I was carrying and finished him. Strangely, I felt no remorse or qualms. I then continued on my walk back to Ypres.
Finally, I reached my destination and found the hotel. Everyone was shocked and surprised that I'd made it. My guide had informed them after he reached Brussels of my disappearance and they thought I'd been captured.
The next day, after the same procedure, my new guide and I set out for Brussels again. From Ypres to Cambrai I shared the seat with a Wehrmacht soldier. I kept busy reading a copy of "Signal" European counterpart of our "Life." I pretended to sleep, managing to keep one eye on my guide. Luckily this time the trip went smoothly.
The train pulled into Brussels and I followed my guide out through the crowded station. Everyone had to go through a checkout station to leave, but due to the holiday crowd, the check was very lax. Outside the station, my guide went to a news stand in front and set down his briefcase, while browsing through a magazine. Another man picked it up and this was my signal to follow the new man.
All the trailing had to be done very discreetly. I followed him on the opposite side of the street for quite some time. There were German soldiers all over and I really felt like a conspirator. At last, my guide went into a fish market. I followed and was motioned through to the back living quarters. Here, I was fed and questioned by three men. These were part of the actual underground. Most of the people, prior to this time, were resistance fighters and allied sympathizers. I had to fill out a questionnaire with queries as to my group, squadron, CO, etc. All this information went on a small card, which had great significance to my story. My picture was taken and I then met Hubert, who was one of the bravest and most patriotic man I ever knew. All the information, I later discovered, was radioed back to England to establish my identity. The Germans had parachuted their own dressed in British or American uniforms to try to penetrate the underground.
Note: The underground was set up in such a way that only the top people knew all the members. The rest were set up as a chain with the person knowing only the one before him and after him. The card was passed on from one to the next as I was. In that way, if one was caught, at most, he could only give away two people. This had great advantages, but also disadvantages, as I will point out later.
Hubert had been an officer in the Belgian Army. He had suffered cruelly at the hands of the Gestapo. His wife and brother had been killed by them. He spoke four languages fluently, was smart as a whip, and willing to do anything to defeat the Nazi's.
He then took me to my home for the next three months. Juliet Van Hove was an old, wonderful widow. We hit it off from the start and I became her "nephew." The underground provided her with extra ration stamps and money for food. Members of her family and friends were constant visitors.
A few days later, Hubert brought my identity card and working papers. After that, he stopped in almost every week bringing books, razor blades, cigarettes, etc. He would tell me of the various disruptions and sabotage that were being carried on. I went out every few days and was stopped in controls just a few times. Each time I had no problem. My working papers said I was in charge of cutting wood for the city and this was a vital job due to the shortage of coal, oil, gas, etc.
The German method of control was very simple. A truckload of soldiers would block off one end of the street. Another would block the opposite end. Everyone was lined up against the buildings and a systematic search began. Identity cards and working papers were examined and the people questioned. Anything that looked out of order, that person was taken to Gestapo HQ for further questioning. Thank God, my papers were excellent forgeries and my French more than adequate to satisfy the queries.
The next few months were quite uneventful. I did go to a club called "Maison Bleu" a few times and this was the first time I saw Edith Piaf in person. It was a very unusual feeling as the place was crowded with Germans, mostly officers. I also went to the movies periodically. At last, in March, Hubert informed me that plans were all set to move me. I was to go to Antwerp first and from there, by train, through the Belgian border and eventually to Spain. From there, if all went according to plan, back to England. The Germans, at that time, were keeping a very sharp lookout along the coast and getting back by a small boat, practically impossible.
The next day, after a tearful farewell to Juliet, he escorted me to another house. This one belonged to a gendarme, who was also in the underground. I stayed there only one night and the next morning he took me to the station where another man took over. We hopped a train to Antwerp. This was a high-speed, direct trip.
Meeting me at the station at Antwerp was a short, reddish-blonde man, Rene. We stopped for a beer at a pub directly across from the station, Gardumidi. He then walked me some distance to a small restaurant where we had dinner. Rene was constantly telling me I would be back in London within a few weeks. After dinner, he took me next door to a house, but very importantly we did not go out in the street. From the second floor there was a small bridge over an alley to the building. A Scottish woman lived there and she claimed she had married a Belgian before the war and was stuck there. She kept repeating what an ardent allied sympathizer she was.
The next morning, Rene returned to take me further along on my journey. Before he arrived, however, I had spent some time looking out of the front window and did note certain details about the neighborhood. This time we walked to another station, Gardu Sud. We went in and the place was strangely deserted. He told me to wait in the waiting room while he got the tickets. He left and almost immediately, four Gestapo men came in with drawn guns. Hard luck. I'd been sold out. They searched me for weapons and took me to Gestapo HQ. There, they took everything I was carrying and brought me to the local Bastille, which must have been built in the dark ages. I was put in a cell in solitary.
The cell was about seven feet wide and ten deep. It contained a rude stool, table, basin, pitcher, spoon, bowl and a hard cot with two, thin flea-infested blankets. It was cold as hell and very depressing. I was booked on Saturday and wasn't fed until Monday. The food was pure slop, but I was hungry enough to eat the walls.
The guards were always pestering me, poking fun, slapping me around, putting a black patch over my heart and aiming their rifles at me. They constantly told me I was next for the firing squad. During the night, they kept switching on the light and in general making things even more unpleasant.
On Wednesday, I was picked up by the Gestapo, and taken to HQ for an "interview," the first of many. There were five men in the room including the headman, who at one time had lived in Santa Barbara. He started by asking a few unimportant questions. I told him I'd been shot down over Holland a few days before. I had stolen my clothes from some farmhouse and had made my way to Antwerp where I had been arrested. He let me ramble on. Finally, he arose from behind his desk and slugged me. He then pulled out my card (underground), and told me my name, rank, group, day I was shot down, etc. Now, he said, "Tell me where you've been since December 1st."
I saw it was useless to deny what he had, so I told him I didn't know. I was blindfolded when moved. No one spoke to me. I was kept in the dark on everything. At last, he sat down and said I'd be executed as a spy. The only identification I had, was one dog tag sewn into the fly of my pants. I managed to get this out and repeated that I was an American airman and thus entitled to the terms of the Geneva Convention. He laughed, open his desk drawer where there had to be 50 or more dog tags. Then came his classic remark, "That's why they call them dog tags...they're for dogs."
All they wanted from me was the names and places where I'd been for the past three months. If I talked, it meant death for everyone they found. I just couldn't tell them. I was returned to my cell and from then on, I was dragged back for an "interview" every few days. I was beaten, pressure bands on my head, grilled for hours at a time, cigarette burns on my face, etc. One of their favorite things was to force my head into a basin of water until I almost drowned. Then pull it out and continue the third degree. I was hung by the wrists, which made the rest of my body more vulnerable to the beating. This went on for about three weeks. I must admit these were the worst days of my life. To tell the truth, I thought they'd shoot me or kill me because I refused to cooperate.
After a few weeks of this treatment, they came and took me to a waiting van to go to Brussels. I guess they finally decided that I really didn't know anything.
I finally saw Jim again and although he looked a little peaked, we tried to get a few laughs. Never forget your sense of humor. There were six other American and British flyers in the truck and eight German guarded with machine pistols. The van was fitted with gas outlets and microphones, so we kept our conversations very ambiguous. There was another car following us all the way, also, with armed Germans. They weren't taking any chances with us.
At last, we reached St. Giles prison, another medieval fortress. Here, I went through the same routine all over again. This time it was a new set of Gestapo men. After another two weeks of this treatment, I was put on a train, under guard, for Frankfurt or Main. The trip was rather uneventful, although the civilians we encountered were very belligerent, spitting at us, trying to hit us, throwing things, etc.
When we arrived, Frankfurt was a shambles, a tribute to our accurate bombing. We changed cars and went to Oberusal, the Luftwaffe interrogation center for POWs. Here, the treatment was rather civil by sly. For instance, everyone was given a questionnaire, supposedly from the Red Cross. This was supposedly to let relatives know that you were alive. However, interspersed in the questions were military ones, having to do with locations of our group, mission, etc. All I put down was name, rank and serial number. Due to the length of time I'd been down, the interrogators paid little attention to me and I was put in the transient camp with about 100 Allied officers. They herded us into jammed boxcars for the trip to Stalag Luft 1. Four days in that car with little food and water and then began my existence as a Kriegie.
After my experience with the Gestapo, PW camp did not seem that bad. I was there for about 14 months and most of the details can be read in my logbook - sketches, escapetries, food, etc. Most of these things are a repetition of stories and movies I've already seen. So there isn't too much new or different in this,. I can easily furnish various incidents which occurred, but he most intriguing parts begin over a year later when the Russian Marshal Rokosofky and his army came through just before the fall of Germany.
After VE Day, all of us waited for planes to take us back to France, Camp Lucky Strike located near Fecamp. When I reached camp, I was given a new uniform and fed grandly. I went through a lengthy interview with our intelligence people and gave them all the information I could A few days later I was called back. It seems my information was very explicit and after comparing other reports, Rene had never been apprehended and was responsible for many Americans being handed over to the Germans. Some of these had been killed and we were very anxious to find him. The Colonel asked if I thought I could find him. I told him I didn't know, but I'd sure like to try. I received orders enabling me to go to any American base and requisition any men or material for my search.
I was flown to Antwerp and there at HQ showed my orders and was told "anything I wanted." I first asked for someone who we could trust and had lived in Antwerp for many years. I sat down with this man and described as thoroughly as possible where I'd spent my last night in that city. He immediately said, "It would be one of four or five locations." I then asked for and got six big MPs. Some of these men were on motorcycles and two rode in the command car with our guide and driver.
We proceeded to comb the city. The first two places were not the right ones. The third rang a bell. I recognized all the landmarks. We stopped ion front of the house. We pounded on the door and it was opened by the same Scottish woman. She turned pale when she saw us. I asked her where we could find Rene. She claimed she didn't know what I was talking about. I kept on questioning her, but she played dumb.
Finally, I said, "It makes no difference to me if I find him or not. I'd take her in as the German collaborator." During that time of upheaval, she knew what that meant. She finally said I might find him at a certain pub. After getting directions, I left two MPs with her saying, "If we didn't find him, we'd be back for her."
We then left for the pub. It was a small neighborhood bar. The owner was the bartender. We all stormed in and I asked him, through my interpreter, for Rene, describing him as best I could. Of course, he also said he didn't know, but at the question, his head jerked slightly toward a door alongside of the bar. I gathered my group and told them to quickly break through the door. We burst in and there he was, half loaded. He offered no resistance and we took him back to HQ where he was imprisoned. The commanding officer asked if I would like to stay for the court martial, which I did. It came out in the trial that he was now working for SHAEF and had been responsible for about 50 dead Americans and British flyers. I was called as a witness and attested to some of the facts I knew. Also, he had turned in certain members of the resistance movement and they, too, were killed by the Germans.
He was sentenced to die by firing squad, and I stayed to see the sentence carried out.