American Prisoners of War in Germany
Gene Rudiger spent over 26 months as a prisoner-of-war in Germany; the majority of the time in Stalag 17b. The following is a description of life in the camp. Source material for this report consisted of interrogations of former prisoners-of-war made by CPM Branch, Military Intelligence Service, and Reports of Protecting Power and International Red Cross received by the State Department, 1 November 1945.
Stalag 17B was situated 100 yards northwest of Gneixendorf, a village that is three miles northwest of Krems, Austria. Mostly peasants who raised cattle and did truck farming populated the surrounding area. The camp itself was in use as a concentration camp from 1938 until 1940 when it began receiving French and Poles as the first POWs.
On 13 October 1943, 1350 non-commissioned officers of the air forces were transferred from Stalag 7A to Stalag 17B, which already contained POWs from France, Italy, Russia, Yugoslavia and various smaller nations. At the time of the first Protecting Power visit on 12 January 1944, the strength had increased to 2667. From then until the last days of the war a constant stream of no-commissioned officers arrived from Dulag Luft and strength reached 4237 in spite of protestations to the Detaining Power about the over-crowded conditions. The entire camp contained 29,794 prisoners of war of various nationalities.
The Americans occupied 5 compounds, each of which measured 175 yards by 75 yards and contained 4 double barracks 100 by 240 feet. The barracks were built to accommodate approximately 240 men, but at least 400 men were crowded into them after first 3 months of occupancy. Each double barrack contained a washroom of 6 basins in the center of the building. The beds in the barracks were triple-decked, and each tier had 4 compartments with 1 man to a compartment, making a total of 12 men in each group. Each single barrack had a stove to supply heat and cooking facilities for approximately 200 men. The fuel ration for a week was 54 pounds of coal. Because of lack of heating and an insufficient number of blankets, the men slept 2 to a bunk for led warmth. Lighting facilities were very poor, and many light bulbs were missing at times.
Aside from the 9 double barracks used for housing purposed, one barrack was reserved for the infirmary and the medical personnel's quarters. Half of a barrack was the library, another half for the MOC and his staff; a half for the theater, a half for Red Cross food distribution and a half for the meeting room. In addition, one barrack was used as a repair shop for shoes and clothing. Four additional barracks were added in early 1944, but 2 others were torn down because they were considered by the Germans to be too close to the fence, thus making it possible for POWs to build tunnels for escape purposes. One of these buildings had been used as a gymnasium, and the other as a chapel. Latrines were open pit type and were situated away from the barracks.
Two separate wire fences charged with electricity surrounded the area and 4 watchtowers equipped with machine guns were placed at strategic points. At night streetlights were used, in addition to the searchlights from the guard towers to illuminate the area.
Staff Sergeant Kenneth J. Kurtenhach was in charge of the Americans from the opening of the camp until its evacuation. Maj. Fred H. Beaumont was the medical officer, but took no active part in the camp organization. Capt. Stephen Kane was the only chaplain and acted in an advisory capacity whenever called upon. There also existed a security committee.
The German personnel changed somewhat during the camp's existence, but for most of the time, the following men were in control in the positions indicated:
Commandant: Oberst Kuhn
Lager Officer: Major Eigi
Security Officer: Maj. Wenglorz
Doctor: Oberstabsarzt Dr. Pilger
The blame for the bad conditions, which existed at this camp, has been placed on Oberst Kuhn who was both unreasonable and uncooperative.
The treatment at Stalag 17B was never considered good and was at times even brutal. An example of extreme brutality occurred in early 1944. Two men attempting to escape were discovered in an out-of-bounds area adjoining the compound. As soon as they were discovered, they threw up their hands indicating their surrender. They were shot while their hands were thus raised. One of the men died immediately, but the other was only injured in the leg. After he fell, a guard ran to within 20 feet of him and fired again. The guards then turned toward the barracks and fired wild shots in that direction. One shot entered a barrack and seriously wounded an American who was lying in his bunk. Permission was denied the Americans by the Germans to bring the body of the dead man into the compound for burial, and medial treatment for the injured man in the outer zone was delayed several hours.
One POW was mentally sick when he was taken to the hospital where no provisions were made to handle cases of this type. In a moment of insanity the POW jumped from a window and ran to the fence, followed by a French doctor and orderlies who shouted to the guard not to shoot him. He was dressed in hospital pajamas, which should have indicated to the guard that he was mentally unbalanced even if the doctor had not called the warning. As the patient climbed over the fence the guard shot him in the heart.
There were about 30 recorded cases of guards striking POWs with bayonets, pistols and rifle butt. Protests to the commandant were always useless. In fact, on one occasion the commandant is reported to have stated that men were lucky to get off so lightly.
The majority of the food for consumption by the POWs was received from the Red Cross. Vegetables were issued only when available and within the quantities available to German civilians. When reserve supplies of Red Cross parcels were received in camp, the German authorities reduced their issue ration.
For the first 3 months absolutely no eating utensils were supplied. At the end of that time, one bowl and one spoon were given to each third man. POW's were able to make bowls and spoons from Klim cans, which also served as drinking mugs.
An average daily menu would contain the following:
3 potatoes - - 1 cup soup
2 grams of bread - - ½ cup coffee
3 grams margarine
In general, health of the POWs was good. They maintained their weight until the last month of so before the evacuation. They were active in games and sports, and stayed mentally healthy by keeping busy. Approximately 150 attended sick call each day with skin diseases, upper-respiratory infections and stomach ailments. About 30% of all cases at sick call were for skin diseases attributed to the conditions under which they lived. The acute shortage of water (available 4 hours each day), lack of hot water, lack of laundry facilities, and over-crowded sleeping conditions created many health problems, but improvements were always noticed during the summer months when the men could be outdoors a great deal of the time.
The clinic originally consisted of 2 ordinary barracks and 2 sectional knockdown temporary buildings. These also housed the medical personnel. The construction was not weather tight and heating in cold weather was impossible. During most of the cold weather the water pipes froze, but the installation of a new stove in one of the buildings enabled the hospital staff to furnish a diet to each patient and sufficient hot water for a bath on admission and discharge as well as once a week during his stay. The fuel supply was inadequate for these standards, but men who volunteered for wood forage details supplied supplementary fuel.
The 2 temporary buildings were set aside for isolation wards of infectious patients, but because of their poor conditions, they were used only in cases of dire need.
The management of the clinic was solely in the hands of the American medical POWS without any interference from German authorities. A German medical officer was assigned to supervise the clinic, but his daily visits concerned administrative problems only.
The clothing condition in the camp was satisfactory in the beginning because most of the men had received adequate issues when they passed through Dulag Luft.
There were never sufficient blankets. The two thin cotton blankets issued by the Germans were described as tablecloths by many. Although the Red Cross furnished many American GI blankets, the strength increased so rapidly that only two thirds of the men were fortunate enough to be issues one.
As in other camps, the leather flying jackets which most of the men wore at the time of their capture were taken away. After repeated protests, some of these were returned. Shoes were a problem in the early stages, but the repair shop operated by POWs alleviated the condition to some extent. The Serbian shoes issued when GI shoes were not available from the Red Cross supplies proved to be inadequate in quality to withstand the cold and mud.
Incoming mail was very irregular and considered unsatisfactory by the POWs. Since all of their mail had to be processed through Stalag Luft 3, censorship often delayed it 4 to 5 weeks. Surface letters required an average of 4 months for delivery. Surprisingly enough, personal parcels often arrived in 2 months but the average time in transit was 3 to 5 months. In August 1944, no parcels arrived in the camp, but the following month 685 were received.
When parcels were delivered to the camp, a list of the recipients was posted in the barracks. These men were required to line up outside the delivery room. Before the POW could take possession of his parcel, the German guard would open the parcel, take everything out, and punch holes in any tinned foods. POWs were permitted to keep the containers however. No items were ever confiscated from these parcels as far as could be ascertained.
The morale of POWs at this camp was good as a result of 2 factors: the successes of the Allied armies in the field, and the recreational and educational opportunities within the camp. There was no serious trouble among the POWs, and the unimportant fights and disputes, which occasionally occurred, seemed to spring from a desire to break the monotony. These incidents were quickly over and forgotten.
The leadership of the American leader and his staff is credited with the maintenance of high morale throughout the existence of the camp.
Even though repeated requests for additional chaplains were made to the German authorities, Capt. Stephen W. Kane carried the full burden for the camp. The POWs cooperated with Father Kane in converting a barrack into a chapel for the religious services. Father Kane held daily services for the Catholics of the camp, and offered additional services for the Protestant POWs. His untiring efforts on behalf of the men contributed a great deal to the good moral and discipline of the camp.
On 8 April 1945, four thousand of the POWs at Stalag 17B began an 18-day march of 281 miles to Braunau, Austria. The remaining 200 men were too ill to make the march and were left behind in the hospital. The Russians liberated these men on 9 May 1945.
The marching column was divided into 8 groups of 500 with an American leader in charge of each group guarded by about 20 German Volkssturm guards and 2 dogs. Red Cross parcels were issued to each man in sufficient amounts to last about 7 days. During the 18-day march, the column averaged 12 miles each day. At the end of the day, they were forced to bivouac in open fields regardless of the weather. On 3 occasions, the men were quartered in cow barns.
The only food furnished to POWs by the German authorities was barley soup and bread. Trading with the German and Austrian civilians became the main source of sustenance after the Red Cross parcel supplies were exhausted. The destination of the column was a Russian prison camp 2 Y2 miles north of Braunau. Upon arrival the POWs cut down pine trees and made small huts since there was no housing available. Roaming guards patrolled the area and the woods surrounding the area, but no escape attempts were made because it was apparent that the liberation forces were in the immediate vicinity.
The day after their arrival at the new site, Red Cross parcels were issued to every POW. A second issue was made a few days later of one parcel for every fifth man.
On 3 May 1945 the camp was liberated when 6 men of the 13th Armored Division arrived in 3 jeeps and easily captured the remaining guards who numbered 205. Other units of the 13 Armored followed shortly and organized the evacuation of the POWs by C-47 aircraft to France on 9 May 1945.
Excerpts from International Red Cross complaints
The prisoners regret they are not in an Air Force camp. They consider that they are entitled to a special camp and the privileges of aviators. The part of the camp where they are is under the command of an air force Captain, but he cannot act fully and receives orders from the authorities of the Stalag.
While no serious incident has occurred, prisoners are treated badly by certain guards. They have been threatened and some struck with gun butts and badly bruised. Spokesman stated that attitude of the guards is often influenced by bombardments. Commandant stated that no complaint had yet reached him, but that he would take steps to remove guards unsuited to their work. Prisoners protested vigorously being forced to fill up discovered escape tunnels. This is because as NCOs, they may not be forced to work and they considered this work as aiding the enemy.
All mail goes through Stalag Luft 3 and the delay is considerable. Incoming mail takes 5 months.
Many men captured a year ago have received no mail. Outgoing mail is very erratic.
24 cold water taps per wash room. Insufficient water from 6:30 to 8:00 AM and 10:30 to 1200 and 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. No hot water. Only 1 hot shower during the last two months. 4 latrine houses, pits are emptied every two or three weeks. There is a very bad smell partly due to the fact that the men burnt the lids as fuel. The Commandant promised to have the pits cleaned more often and provide more disinfectant. The outside latrines are not used at night and the small latrines at the end of the barracks are in bad shape.
Delegate lodged protest to Commandant in view of the repeated entries of civilian agents of the Gestapo into the American compound. These agents have searched prisoners and barracks and have confiscated any food, tobacco or personnel belongings which prisoners may have possessed in excess of limits allowed. These agents appear particularly keen at confiscating American log hooks. Commandant explained with regret, that he was unable to alter this situation. He drew attention to the fact that the Gestapo has become an integral part of the Wehrmacht since the Reichfuhrer SS has taken over the Supreme command of the Erstazheer.
THE WRITING 69TH
America's entry into World War II on December 7, 1941 brought a need of information for the public. The public demanded to know what were happening in Europe and the Far East. Family members were serving their country and the people at home needed to know what was happening in these war zones. The newspaper stories they read and the radio broadcasts they listened to came from journalists, reporters and war correspondents. These people worked near the front lines to get accurate stories for their public.
The journalists covering the United States Eighth Air Force in England got their stories by interviewing returning crewmembers of the bombing missions. The journalists became frustrated with the interviews and wanted to go on missions themselves to get their own stories. As of February 1943, no American journalist had flown a combat mission with the 8th Air Force.
In early February of 1943, a group of civilian journalists, military journalists, newsreel cameramen, and others took part in a training session to prepare them to accompany high altitude bombing missions.
The training started in the afternoon of February 1st and was completed on February 5th. The students found that they had all passed their tests and would make their first mission in 3 weeks.
The eight civilian and military journalists were given the name "The Writing 69th by an 8th Air Force public relations officer. The name came from the famous "Fighting 69th, an army unit which had fought in every war since the American Revolution.
After the training, the journalists were assigned to specific bomb groups. Robert P. Post, Correspondent New York Times, was assigned to the 44th Bomb Group at Shipdham, England. His assigned aircraft would be "Maisie," a B-24D flown by an experienced pilot and West Point graduate, Captain Howard Adams of the 66th Bomb Squadron.
Bob Post may have been at Shipdham for as long as ten days before the mission. During that time he was in touch with operations and intelligence personnel as well as members of flight crews. He visited the mess hall and the officers club. 1st Lt. Robert H. McPhillamey, pilot of the B-24 called "Sad Sack," recalled that the pilots tried to discourage Post from going on the mission, especially once they found out they were headed to Germany. When that failed, Post was placed in Adam's plane under the assumption that it would be in a protected part of the formation.
On Friday, February 26, 1943, Robert Post took off with Captain Adams in the B-24 "Maisie" for a bombing mission to Bremen, Germany.
Near Oldenburg, Germany, fighter aircraft of the German Air Force attacked and shot down Lt. Robert H. McPhillaney's B-24, "Sad Sack." Immediately after, a ME 109 fighter plane piloted by Lt. Heinz Knoke attacked Adams' B-24. The B-24 exploded near Bad Zwischenahn. Two crewmembers survived and were captured.
Robert Post was killed. There was nothing special about his death except that he happened to be a newspaperman and the first one to be killed on an air mission.
Walter Cronkite, with the United Press, survived the mission aboard a B-17 called "S for Sugar." He filed a story with the New York Times on February 27th. He opened his story on the Wilhelmshaven mission this way:
"American Flying Fortresses have just come back from an assignment to hell - a hell 26,000 feet above the earth, a hell of burning tracer bullets and bursting gunfire, of crippled Fortresses and burning German fighter planes, of parachuting men and others not so lucky. I have just returned with a Flying Fortress crew from Wilhelmshaven."
Andy Rooney, best known for his commentaries on the CBS program "60 Minutes," was a correspondent for the army newspaper "Stars and Stripes" when he participated in this mission. Rooney's plane, a B- 17 called "Banshee II," was hit by flak and damaged. "Lt. Phillips was leaning far forward in the nose, between his guns and bomb-sight, when suddenly the whole nose seemed to break out of the ship. My first impression was that they had given up the flak and had thrown the gun at us."
The blast tore a fist-sized hole in the nose of the plane, exposing the crew to a torrent of cold air. Later, when the navigator, 2nd Lt. William Owens, was having trouble with his oxygen, Rooney was able to help him recover consciousness. "Banshee II" had been hit in about 10 places but survived and returned to England. After the mission, Rooney wrote these words:
"From the nose of Lt. Bill Casey's Banshee, I saw American Fortresses and Liberators drop a load of destruction on Wilhelmshaven today. Peeling out of the sun came shining silver German fighter planes, diving at one bomber in the formation and disappearing below the cloudbanks as quickly as they had come. They seemed tiny, hardly a machine of destruction, and an impossible target...From the time until three and one-half hours later, when we were halfway home, no one had to look far to see a German fighter. Fighter planes were always there while we were making our run. They come in so fast it's hard to tell where they're coming from, but frequently you could see a vapor trail start to form, like a cloud standing on end You knew that was a fighter starting a run.
Post's death put an end to the "Writing 69th." Others did fly afterwards, but no war correspondent ever again elected to fly a mission with the 44th Bomb Group.
Pieces of this mission we even caught on film. Hollywood director William Wyler accompanied the mission while filming footage for his movie "The Memphis Belle."
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
Route One, Box 168
Menomonie, WI 54751
26 January 1988
Received your letter. Thank you! I've tried to get in touch with McPhillamey for years but no luck. If you have his address, would you send it to me?
I'm in good health and retired from the post office. Married and have four sons.
To my knowledge, Stanley was in POW camp with us. Saw Beaman Howard, once after we got out. At that time he lived in Casey, IA. Garmon is some place in Georgia [Atlanta]. Sanders "radio operator" address unknown [Campbell, MO].
I don't remember John Mooney, but if you have his address, I would like it too.
If there is anything I can help you with, would be glad to.
We are in the home of Eugene O. Rudiger on July 10, 2000 and this is his story:
"The war was going on back then when I joined the Army Air Force. I was interested in mechanics. I went for training near Biloxi, Mississippi and then to Grenier Field, New Hampshire.
At that time we were the first enlistees that went through the school at Biloxi, Mississippi. The barracks weren't all done and even the classrooms weren't completely fixed up yet. It was all new to us. We were new to the field and it was all new schooling.
The flight engineer was schooled on maintenance of the airplane. If there was trouble, the flight engineer's job was to try and fix it. He was also a gunner and operated the top turret, twin 50 caliber machine guns. We also knew how to fly the airplane and operate it in case of emergency. If there was an emergency, I was the person who would land the plane if the pilots were unable to. I could do it if I had to. I landed the plane once for training. When we came in we hit the runway a little hard but we got down. The tail gunner was in the tail when we landed and he came up and he was very angry because he couldn't figure out why we hit the ground so hard. He got over that in a hurry and we were always good friends. That was the only time I landed the plane.
Training was tough but interesting. I met lots of interesting people from all over the country and that was new to me. Time went fast. We were more or less isolated and didn't have time for anything but training. They were pushing us through the training because war had broken out and they wanted us ready for combat. I never got any leave when I was in school. My Grandpa Emil passed away while I was in school and I tried to get a furlough to go to the funeral but because of the war it was not a close enough relative for them to accept that.
We liked the B-24 Bomber. A lot of people didn't. They said they were a battleship or something like that. They called them boxcars. They were different but were a good sturdy airplane. We didn't have any engine failures. They were always pretty reliable. There were some blind spots for the gunners but that was taken care of when we got into combat. We changed them a little bit and put in different stops. The stops were to prevent you from hitting parts of our own plane. There were guns in the nose, a top turret, a belly turret, two waist guns and a gun in the tail. It was really fortified. Some people liked the B-17 Bomber better. The B-17 had more firepower and could fly longer after being hit.
We were issued our plane in the States and we kept that one plane until we got shot down. The number of our plane was 804. It was called "Sad Sack".
After training we took off from New Hampshire and went to Newfoundland. We got gassed up there and took off for England. That was quite the experience! We flew over single. We didn't fly in formations because of security reasons. We all flew single. I think there was 12 aircraft.
Our pilot and navigator were pretty green. We had lots of training in take off and landings but this was to give us lots of training. In combat I never had time to get scared but here we had lots of time to look at the water and it was real scary. We kept flying and flying with nothing but ocean. We had radio silence so we couldn't call to get any help. We didn't know if we were going to run out of gas or where we were going to come to. Finally we spotted land. The pilot said to me, "Where do you think we are?" I told him I had no idea. We kept flying and still didn't get any communications with anybody. We finally came to what we thought was an airstrip. The pilot circled it and said, "What do you think?" I told him it was up to him and he said that we should try and land there. We started in on the airstrip and just about got to land when we happened to look and there was an old gentleman out in the middle of the airstrip with a pickaxe and he was working on the airstrip. He didn't see us and it was too late to do anything about it so we went in. Just before we hit the ground that old guy saw us and he lay right down on the airstrip. We went right over him. He got up and ran off the airstrip into the brush. That was the last we saw of him!
When we got down there, there was nobody else around. We stopped and the pilot said, "Well, this isn't where we are supposed to be." We finally did get some communications with somebody and they said that we were at the wrong place and we would have to take off. The pilot said, "I don't know, the airstrip isn't really big enough but we will try." We were carrying lots of weight with all the equipment we had on board. So he gets clear down at the end of the runway, sets the brakes and revved her up. We took off and just barely cleared the treetops.
When we were in the air he got better communications and found out where we were supposed to go. We weren't too far from where we were supposed to land. We were supposed to be going to our airstrip near Norwich. We were one of the last planes to arrive and they were wondering where we were all this time. But we finally made it to where we were supposed to be.
This other engineer, Billy Murphy, and I were buddies all the way through and it didn't take us long to get information where the first little town was. We were issued bicycles for travel over there and we got our bicycles and went to town. The townspeople were glad to see us. My buddy and I seemed to get along good with the English people and we got to know them well. They would greet us. We met so many nice people there. The older people were very interested in us and they greeted us nice. There weren't very many young fellows our age in the town. They were all in service at that time.
Billy and I went to London together. That was quite an experience because of the blackout at night. We went to this new town and everything was black. It didn't take us long to find the pubs (that was the taverns). We got acquainted with the people. They weren't out to get our money or anything. They were glad to greet us and get acquainted. I liked the English people.
From our station, London was probably an hour by train. We went there quite a bit. Norwich was the closest bigger town near our station. It was quite an experience to go to these towns at night. There wasn't a light anyplace! We had to get acquainted with the town before dark.
We went to London one night. We had a few beers and were walking down the street, talking and being kind of jolly and I walked right into an air raid shelter post. We went into the next pub and there was blood running all down my face. I met a nice girl there! She went and got medical supplies and fixed my face up. I got to know her pretty well. When we got to go to the tavern, she was usually there waiting for us. When we first got to England, we didn't get to go out too often because we had training to do.
We didn't really get much training before our missions. I never went to gunnery school in the States. They were short of engineers. The only gunnery I had was shooting skeet with shotguns and clay pigeons in the States. Most of the crews went to gunnery school and they were acquainted with it. I had the top turret position, which was very essential. It had twin 50 caliber machine guns. They had tracer bullets, which helped for aiming.
When we first got to England the weather wasn't the best. They would get us all excited and briefed and the weather wouldn't clear up and our mission got cancelled. As that year went by, the weather started changing a little for the better so it wasn't so bad. But the weather could be good in England and the target would be clouded over and they would cancel the mission. We would just be guessing on the target in the clouds and they didn't think it would be worth the risk of going in there.
The top turret was a part of the cabin. That was kept warm but the tail gunner and waist gunners were in the open. We had suits that were heated. They plugged in and kept us warm. I never had much chance to use mine. I was in the cabin with the pilots and that was warmer. The waist gunners and tail gunners had to deal with the cold. The higher we went up, the colder it got. Some of our missions would be at 10,000 feet and the next mission would be at 20,000 feet. We would never know beforehand.
I remember the raid to Dunkirk. It was right on the English Channel. When we got up in the air in England, we could see into France. The first thing when we got near Dunkirk, one of the planes got hit. He took a direct hit. Down it went. We dropped our bombs and pulled right out.
My grandparents came from Norway and one day we had a mission where we were supposed to go to Norway. That was going to be an experience for me! We were to bomb a port on the southern tip of Norway. We had just about got in there and they called us back. The weather had clouded over and they didn't want us to bomb without seeing the target. We had to turn around and come back. We did lose one airplane. He got in too close and they got him.
We got to know most of the people in the squadron. There were four squadrons. We were the 66th Squadron and the next one to us was the 67th Squadron. We were close together and got to know each other pretty well. We knew the people in our Group (44th Bomb Group) pretty well. When a plane got shot down, we knew the people that were in it.
We were issued bicycles and we used them to go to the little villages nearby. Our barracks were about a mile from our airplanes and we sometimes used the bicycles to go to the plane. If they wanted it to stay quiet, we would use the bicycles. Then there would be no big rush of vehicles going to the airstrip.
When we were getting ready to go on a mission, the crew usually didn't know where we were going. The pilot knew and would verse us as we got on the plane. Usually the pilot versed me on things as we were getting ready. He was very good but lacked experience with warfare. A lot of experience was gained on the flight across the Atlantic to England. We were on our own from Newfoundland to England.
We didn't know about a lot of the stuff that was going on. Even in the States, sometimes it was hush-hush. It wasn't like now days where we know everything that is going on. We didn't know about the 3 planes that were running out of fuel and crashed until we got back to base after the January 3rd mission. We were always so close to the Germans that we couldn't use the radios. You were really on your own.
I flew on a few extra missions when an engineer was sick or for some other reason and our airplane wasn't ready or wasn't scheduled to fly that mission. People would be sick or would have some reason not to fly and someone else would have to take their place. Our tail gunner never went on a mission. He was always sick or something. He was about 31 years old and I was about 21. I was always willing to go.
I flew with Captain Bill McCoy on a mission. He was a more experienced pilot than our pilot was and I felt safer with him. He ended up getting killed on a practice mission.
If everything was working, the engineer's job was to be the top turret gunner. When in the air there wasn't too much an engineer could do. If an engine quit, I couldn't get to it to work on it. I could suggest things to the pilot, like if he didn't have the trim set right. I could help him out on that. I gave him the airspeed and stuff like that. I did the same on the landings.
A lot of the times many aircraft would start on a mission and many would abort. I think this was to get a lot of planes into the air and get the Germans all excited. Then a lot of those would come back. It was just a diversion. And we never knew. Maybe the mission was just for training. The planes would take off and head over the channel. Then they would come back. It was like a test to see what the Germans would do. We would be briefed and have the planes on the runway for takeoff and be cancelled. We were told there were clouds over the target or something like that but we never knew if that was the real reason.
Flak was rough. There wasn't anything we could do about it. We tried to get above it but it was hard to do. The shells exploded in the air and left a lot of particles. This could damage the plane or the engines. Flak,
possibly, had something to do with us getting shot down.
The day before we got shot down, Billy Murphy and I had gone to the little town not too far from the base. We had stayed overnight and someone woke us up in the morning to tell us that they heard airplane engines. We got on our bicycles and headed back to our station. We heard the engines revving up and we knew we were going on a mission. They were waiting for us. I don't know what would have happened to us if we hadn't gotten there on time. I suppose we would have gotten court marshaled. But we got there in time.
My buddy got on his plane and took off. He got shot down and killed. Billy Murphy was on Adams' plane. He was a good kid. I never did contact his folks. I think he was from Buffalo, New York.
I wasn't briefed on the mission and it all happened so fast. Seemed like we were in the air and didn't know where we were going or anything. The enemy planes were waiting for us and they hit us hard. The main plane that attacked us was the German ME 109. And there was also a twin engine plane. I got to shoot at some of the planes but they came and went so fast that I didn't know if I hit them or not. They would come in and I would fire and then start watching for another one. So I didn't know what happened to them.
I was still shooting in the top turret when someone grabbed my leg and told me I had to get out. They said that I had passed out. I don't necessarily agree to what they said but it could be. Everything happened so
fast. I was unconscious when I hit the ground but I must have been conscious when I jumped out to pull the ripcord. I remember the plane being on fire and the top turret had gotten black with smoke. I think it was the engines that were on fire.
This was the first mission that we had the new parachutes. We wore a strap and when we needed the parachute, we just had to hook it onto this strap. Otherwise we had the old back type parachute and we threw them in the corner of the plane and we wouldn't have had time to strap that thing on. But the new kind - all we had to do was strap the chute on when we needed it. I don't know if I did or if one on of the pilots snapped it on me. If you had the ripcord in your hand when you went out of the plane, the wind would move your hand and help pull the ripcord.
I don't know where I landed because I had passed out and when I came to the German soldiers had me. Actually, they thought I was dead at first. They were surprised when I came to.
The first thing they asked was what my name was. I told them it was Rudiger and they wanted to know what I was doing over there fighting with such a good German name. They put me in solitary confinement to sweat it out hoping that I would start talking and give them some information. But if you shut your mouth and listened, you found out that they knew more about you than what you knew about yourself. They didn't treat me any different because of my name. They used all the tactics thinking I would break down and give them some information. I was pretty much still in a daze but I remember seeing my pilot for awhile but then they separated the enlisted men from the officers. The assistant engineer and radio operator was with me and we thought the other crewmembers had been killed. Beamon and Cook were with me in prison camp. During solitary confinement I was in sort of a sweatbox. They would hold you in interrogation and hoped that you would start talking.
It was scary. It was all individually. I didn't know where any of my other crewmembers were. They hoped I would break down and give them some information. We had been briefed on stuff like that during training.
The first camp I went to was Stalag 8B. There were some English people there. There were all different nationalities here. Then I went to Stalag 7 A. That was in the southern part of Germany near Frankfurt. I was there quite awhile. Then I went to another camp. Then they shipped us back to 7 A. By that time they had a camp in Austria ready where they planned to put all the American fliers. That was Stalag 17. That was where I stayedfor the rest of the war. I was there about 2 years.
When we were moved between camps it was by railroad cattle cars. It was cold in there and we had little stoves to keep warm. One time when we pulled into a station a young guard and I got off the train and started looking for firewood. He wanted the wood too because he had to be with us on the train car. We looked up and the train was pulling out of the station. We missed our train! I think he was more scared than I was. He quickly went to the train station and found out the next train that was to follow. We
jumped on that passenger train. We finally caught up to the troop train and he was happier than I was. He was more scared of the Germans than of the Americans. He had a rifle with him but I don't know ifhe had any bullets.
We were safe in the prison camp. We didn't have to worry about getting bombed because the Americans knew where we were. The German guards were glad to be there too. It was safer for them to be there than to be in any other place. At times we were fed better than the Germans if our Red Cross parcels came through. At the start it was pretty rough. The Red Cross had trouble getting the supplies to us. Then as it went on, things got better. The Germans were more cooperative with the Red Cross. There were times when the rations got short. We planned for that by having a supply stored up and not letting anything go to waste. If the supplies didn't get through, the Germans would say it wasn't their fault - they got bombed or something. We relied on the Red Cross. We got powdered milk, Spam and clothing. We could receive parcels from home too. But we couldn't rely on them. There were always transportation troubles. The Red Cross tried hard. I got parcels from home. They had a list of stuff that could be sent to us. It was mostly canned goods. The Red Cross checked the parcels and had to cooperate with the Germans so we got only what we were allowed to. If there was any problems, the Germans could stop our parcels and then we wouldn't get anything.
I stayed healthy. I was fortunate that way. I made the mistake one time of faking a toothache so 1 could go to the dentist. I shouldn't have! I told them which tooth it was and they pulled the wrong one!
With 4,000 in the camp, it was hard to know all that went on. If someone died we didn't always hear of it.
Our barracks weren't too far from the fence. One day we started tunneling. It was something to do. Afterwards, I thought it was the stupidest thing we did. We had the tunnel just about to the fence. The ground wasn't very sturdy with sandy soil. We didn't have any supports. We were lucky it didn't cave in. If it had caved in, that would have been the end of us. There was really no place to escape to. We were so far out. ]t was just a pastime. ] think the Germans knew about it all the time. They just figured to let us do it and then stop us just before we were going to get out. ]t was a dumb thing to do but it was something to do.
The Germans came in one day and said that we were going to leave the camp. I think we had one day to get ready. So we got our stuff and started to march. We marched for many days until we met up with the Americans. The Germans knew that the war was coming to an end and they didn't want to be captured by the Russians. They knew that if the Russians caught them they would be shot right there. They made sure we kept moving and tried to get food for us. We just slept out in the open. No one tried to escape. The Germans stuck with us for protection.
We were way up on a plateau overlooking the Danube River when we could see the Americans coming. The Germans didn't leave us. They wanted to give up and knew the Americans wouldn't hurt them. They were about as happy as we were. It was a very happy day for us.
We went to a port in France and got on a troop ship back to the United States. We came into New York. I had a physical and flew into the Twin Cities.
I had a girlfriend that lived in the Twin Cities. I knew where her folks lived and I stopped there. I got off the bus and her mother was home. She told me all about my girlfriend. She had joined the WACs. She was in India and had gotten married. It was a shock to me but it really didn't make much difference. I wanted to get home.
My Uncle Harv had told a girl named Mavis all about me. She was with Harv when he met me when I got off the train in Menonomie. I met Mavis that day. After my parents got acquainted with her, they knew that she was the woman for me. We got married on February 18th, 1946.
All the time that I was in the service, I met some of the nicest people. I never had any bad feelings about the war. It was something that had to be done. We had good officers. We knew what we had to do. We were treated well when we got back. People appreciated what we did. "
Eugene O. Rudiger