398th Bomb Group

A B-17 Out of the Blue

George Graham
Radio Operator, O’Neal Crew
600th Squadron

“Eternity is forever". It happened in just a few minutes and yet it seemed forever. Our plane was hit. I knew it to be so because I was thrown to the floor of my radio compartment and I was hurting. Am I bleeding? I asked the ball turret gunner. No, there was no evidence of blood. The radio hatch had slammed into my back and movement was excruciatingly painful and almost impossible. I kept thinking, I must move, must get out of this situation. What will my mother think if I don’t come home!

With help from one of my fellow crewmembers, I was able to get to my knees. I dragged myself to the window. I could see flames shooting into the sky. No. 3 engine was on fire! My body might have given up, but my mind wouldn’t let it. I crawled, with great pain, to the waist door by pulling myself along the ribs of the airplane. At the doorway, I reached up and yanked the emergency handle releasing the door, which blew off.

It was at this same time that I realized that the tail of the ship had broken off and I was now crosswise in the doorway, entangled in the cables which led to that broken-off tail and I was totally incapable of pushing myself out.  The plane was spiraling down now, going faster and faster. Suddenly there was a wrenching jolt that set me free from the maze of wires and I was catapulted out into space. I reached for my parachute ring and yanked. The ring came off in my hand. My parachute had not opened!

I had no sensation of movement as I fell. Frantic now, I began tearing at the elastic bands that held the chute, and finally the lifesaving silk responded to my urgent tugging and I floated to earth. As I neared the ground, more trouble awaited me. This time in the form of German civilians who had witnessed my descent and were firing at me. Fortunately, they were not excellent marksmen and as I lay flattened on their territory, they captured me and I was taken to a German Military Hospital in Berlin.  I spent one month in the hospital with a severe back injury before being released and moved on to an interrogation center in Frankfurt.

At the Frankfurt center, I was confined to a room and the questioning began. The questions were precise and persistent. I refused to answer and eventually, and to my total amazement, they knew all about me and they told me so. The year I had graduated from high school; when I had entered the service; when I was sent overseas; my Squadron and my Group.

After questioning was complete, I was sent to a German Air Force prison camp, Stalug Luft IV, located, I believe, near Stettin. A room was assigned to me in one of the barracks. The room was approximately 15x15 and housed eight prisoners. I was allowed to keep the clothing I had been captured in and given a few personal items, shaving equipment, toothbrush, and comb.

Each day began with a German guard awakening us with a loud shout and roll call was taken. Shortly after, we prepared for the day. Breakfast was provided by a central kitchen that dispensed all food. A typical breakfast consisted of hard German brown bread and whatever rations we had in our Red Cross care package. This package should have been one per person per week, but because of a shortage, two prisoners shared one parcel per week. There were times when no Red Cross package arrived. Then we reduced our food intake to extend whatever food was on hand.  Lunch and dinner usually consisted of soup and always there was hard bread, palatable enough when you’re hungry, but not recommended for a daily diet!

The buildings forming the prison camp surrounded a compound. During the summer, almost everyone gathered in this area to exchange stories and participate in athletics. Baseball was a favorite. A walk around the perimeter of the compound provided our daily exercise and this was repeated every single day that the weather permitted. During the rainy season, I took the opportunity to wash my clothes by using a scrub brush and soap that the Red Cross had provided. Wet clothes were hung in the barracks or left outdoors in the hope that the sun would eventually do the job.

There were guard towers at the four corners of the compound to discourage any attempt to escape. Two or three guards manned each tower and they were highly visible. These efforts to keep us in control were effective. NO ONE EVER TRIED TO ESCAPE.

The highlight of the week (in the early part of my stay in camp) was when there would be a new arrival of prisoners at the entryway to the camp. My inquiry was always the same. “Was anyone from my bomber group?” One day I came across someone from the 398th Bomb Group and asked which Squadron he had been in. He replied the 600th. I didn’t remember him and upon further questioning, learned he was a replacement crewmember. I further asked which crew had replaced and he said “O’Neal’s crew”. He had replaced MY crew, and now he also was down.

There was limited access to what was happening in the war. We had no papers, no books, and no radio. The days were long and the nights endless. We spent much time conjecturing as to when the war would end.

We were never mistreated. Perhaps we were lucky in that the head of our camp was a German captain who had been educated in the United States and had returned to his homeland in 1937. We were often hungry; cold in the ill-heated barracks in the winter; and supplies for personal hygiene were limited to whatever we got from the Red Cross.

One day in December our captors announced that we were abandoning this camp because the Russians were approaching. What a revelation that was! We were marched to a railroad siding and loaded onto what was commonly known as a 40-or-8, either 40 soldiers or 8 horses. In our case, approximately 80 to 100 were crowded inside. For eight days this was our home on wheels as we railed down to Nurnberg. One day was spent in the marshalling yards of Berlin, which was under siege by day by the American bombers, and at night, by the British. It was our good fortune not to be affected by this bombardment although we stood on the periphery of it. We eventually reached Nurnberg where we spent the next three months.  It was during these three months, January, February, and March 1945, that Nurnberg was under heavy attack by the Allied Forces. I witnessed a number of B-17’s leaving their formation and ultimately being destroyed. At night, it was an eerie feeling to see the British drop huge flares that lit up Nurnberg (which was about 10 miles from our camp) and to hear the tremendous explosion of the 4,000-lb. blockbuster bombs, which must have done heavy damage. To see British bombers and/or German fighters on fire and hurtling through the sky was a sight, which I shall never forget!

As the three-month stay at this camp neared an end, we knew that the war must be about to end because we were informed that we were being marched to a camp farther into the interior of Germany. This march lasted approximately seven days, and what a sight it was to see the American fighter planes zoom down and strafe targets of opportunity such as trains, buildings, and convoys. All this was witnessed from our position on the ground.

We finally reached a camp in Moosberg, which was a hodgepodge of people, and not very well organized. We were there only a short while when, on May 8, 1945, we heard rifle fire. From that point on, we saw no other German soldiers. The Americans had entered our camp.

Twenty-six months after entering the Service, I celebrated my 21st birthday on May 11, 1945. Happy to be alive and free again!

Printed in Flak News Volume 10, Number 2, Page(s) 6, April 1995

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