The Last Mission
By Geronimo Terres, Jr., Waist Gunner, 602nd Squadron
Crew #8107 had crossed the Atlantic in the winter of '44-'45 using Goose Bay, Greenland, Iceland and finally Scotland as stepping stones. Although we had made the trip in a brand new B17G bomber, it took us about three weeks because of the weather. In Prestwick, Scotland, part of the crew went south by train to an assignment center, while the rest of the crew delivered the B17G to a depot that I think was in Northern Ireland.
Two events underlined the reality that we were at last “Over There”. While at the assignment center, I had my first taste of English beer. It was in a local pub near the assignment center. The beer was dark, a little bitter and most surprisingly warm! The second event occurred also in that same pub and at that same time. While I was having my warm beer we had an air raid warning. Almost immediately the noise level in the pub decreased sharply. In the distance you could hear a buzz; it got louder and louder and then it faded away but did not stop. With the latter, the chatter gradually returned to normal. That buzz was my first German (V-1) rocket!
In the strictest sense, England was my second war zone. My first war zone was actually Santa Barbara. Let me explain. A short time after Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast north of Santa Barbara at Ellwood. There were some oil wells and some oil storage tanks in the immediate vicinity and the sub fired twenty shells in their direction. That evening (February 23, 1942) I had gone to the movies with a friend. An air raid alarm was sounded, and we were told that we had to remain in the theater until the alarm was lifted. It was not until we got out that we learned that Ellwood had been shelled. As a result of this episode, the area was designated a war zone, and thereafter the servicemen stationed in the vicinity of Santa Barbara got combat pay. Since the War of 1812, it was the first naval attack on the USA mainland.
The Crew was re-united, the assignment was made, and 602nd Squadron of the 398th Bomb Group at Nuthampstead, England became our new home. Our first bombing mission was on the 21st of January (1945). This mission was to Aschaffenburg, Germany. Between the 21st of January and the 9th of March we were on 16 missions. Only four of the missions really stand out. The first mission (1.21.45) because it was the first. The 7th mission (2.14.45) because we hit the wrong target (Prague instead of Dresden). The 9th mission (2.25.45) because it was to Munich. And the 16th mission (3.9.45) because it was the last. The last is the subject of this story.
The crew was assembled in the early fall of 1944 in Alexandria, Louisiana, and it was designated as crew #8107. Our pilot was Willard G. Jacobs (Jake) and our co-pilot was Henry B. Hardenburg. Gene F. Clinesmith was the navigator, and Walter Bindell was bombardier. Forest C. Smith (Smithy) was the flight engineer and crew chief, and John W. Lamar (Jack) was the radio operator. The gunners were Carl R. Poston (tail), William F. Motter (ball turret), and myself (waist).
Percy Paget joined the crew as a replacement for Bindel who had been made an instructor. I do not recall on which mission that occurred; it was perhaps the 9th (Munich). Percy told me he was awakened and rushed to our plane just before we were scheduled to take off, because the person who had been assigned to fly with us had simply refused to fly any more missions. The suddenness of the assignment was not the thing that bothered him the most, but it was rather that our crew had not placed his equipment (machine guns) aboard our plane but simply left it all on the tarmac. He was “pissed off.”
Percy was meant for the nose (see: (Paget 2011)). Riding in the nose in the bombardier's seat was fun because the view was so grand. There you were in front with this large window "almost" all around you; you could see down, you could see forward and you could even see some things behind you. You had a vantage view that was virtually unobstructed. In combat, I did not envy that person in the nose. What made it fun in training must have made it a nightmare in combat. The window in combat was an inadequate shield. The view in front was now the flak field you were about to traverse. You could look forward and see what was happening to the group in front. Jacobs and Hardenberg saw the same scene, but they were very busy flying the plane and they had the added security of some armor plating. I can understand why that fellow who Percy replaced refused to fly any more missions. In the waist the view was restricted either to the right or left side of the plane, and also, it was a view of where you have been rather than where you were headed. I got a taste of what the view from the front must have been like in our mission to Munich. The bomb run was going east, the flak was heavy; after the bombs were dropped we made two 90 degree turns to the right and were headed west flying parallel to the Swiss border and south of Munich. I looked out the right side in the direction of Munich. The sky above Munich was black from all the flak. "My God, did we fly through all that flak?" This is what the fellow up front saw on every mission. Percy never flinched.
"The Target for Today is Kassel"
The routine was set. An orderly would come into our Quonset hut, he would announce that it was time to get up, we would wash and dress, receive communion (for those so inclined), and then we would have breakfast. The quarters were drab. My mattress consisted of three equal parts that were always separating. I hated it, and I longed for a mattress that was one piece. After breakfast, we attended the briefing; it was like in the movie "Twelve O’clock High." A large hall filled with men all talking nervously and at one end of the hall where the lights are the brightest there is a large curtain covering a map of Europe. Up steps Gregory Peck, the curtain comes down, the men all Ah! And "Gregory Peck" starts in: "Gentlemen, the target for today is...."On March 9. 1945 our Gregory Peck with equal drama lowered the curtain and announced that the target for that day was the "locomotive works in Kassel". The target was expected to be visible and the 398th will be the sixth in line over the target. The map had pinned to it a red ribbon indicating our route to the target and back. We were to assemble over England, fly east over the lower part of the North Sea leaving the UK around Colchester, fly slightly north and cross the coast at Zuider Zee (Holland), fly over Amsterdam to Osnabruck (Germany), and turn southeast toward Kassel. The return was a double back over the same route. This double back was unusual because as a rule we made a loop returning to base by flying over new territory. Areas of heavy flak concentrations were indicated on the large wall map; the "red ribbon" always circumvented them. On this mission, the loop pattern would have taken us back over the Ruhr with all its flak. A loop that avoided that industrial area would have required our flying deeper into Germany. Thus, I am assuming that the decision was made to double back. This is pure conjecture.
With the completion of the briefing, we gathered up whatever we needed, got on a truck and were taken to our plane. We were due at our plane at 5:45AM. We did not fly the same plane on every mission; we did not have a plane permanently assigned to us. Our plane did not have a glamorous gal painted on it. That practice was started in the States by squadrons wherein each crew was assigned to specific aircraft. With the gradual replacement of crews and the replacement of lost planes, the practice ended. On the morning of March 9th, we got B17 numbered 297810 S. Nothing clever or sexy was painted on her nose; the tail had "297810 S" under a black triangle with a white "W" in the center.
Every step was timed. Start engines at 6:05AM; taxi at 6:15AM; start takeoffs at 6:30AM. Get all the planes in the air; get the twelve planes of the squadron in formation; form the group (one squadron in the lead, one low and the other high); finally, insert the group in its proper place in the order of attack. How they did it I do not know. Imagine, anywhere from 500 to 1000 bombers flying around the skies of southern England, going through and around clouds looking for each other, and in the end finding the right squadron, the right group and finally the right place in line. I don't know how they did it; I should ask someone. I do not think they had any help from the ground, e.g., radar. I usually slept through this phase of the mission.
Zero hour was 0800, that is, the time when the assembled air armada started toward its target. We were to bomb from 25,000 feet, and the weather over the target was expected to be clear. We were to be on oxygen for 5 hours. We were flying on the left wing of the lead plane of the low squadron. When we left the English coastline we were at about 10,000 feet; when we reached Holland we were at 20,000 feet and still climbing. Two things happen as you go up: you must go on oxygen (above 10,000) and it gets cold, sometimes real cold. One of our concerns with the very cold temperatures was getting our fingers frozen. We wore three gloves: first we had thin (silk or nylon?) gloves, then electrical gloves to heat our hands and finally the outer leather-lined gloves. The "thin" gloves were meant to protect our hands if dexterity were needed. If you were to put your finger directly on the machine gun at those extremely cold temperatures, you would become stuck to the metal. We also worried about our oxygen masks. As we were breathing, moisture would collect in our mask as ice. If the ice were not broken up periodically, the potential existed that it would block the oxygen flow. So to insure that the oxygen kept flowing, we would every now and then give our mask a squeeze; that broke up the ice.
As mentioned, we were located on the left wing of the lead plane of the low squadron. The flak that day was described as intense and accurate. By the time we reached the target, the anti-aircraft gunners were "zeroed in".
We approached the target and we prepared to release the bombs. Percy cued the release of our bombs upon the release of bombs by the lead plane. When Percy hit the switch, the bombs did not fall. I guess he tried the switch several times without results. He then realized that our B17 also had a mechanical release system. He must have had trouble with the cable also because as he described it to me, he ended up putting his foot up on the fuselage and then pulled the cable with all his strength. That did it!
I do not know precisely when we were hit relative to the above release problem. When you see a black puff you know you are safe; it is what remains of an explosion and the shrapnel is long gone. The close hits you do not see; you feel them. The plane shakes and vibrates. I knew we were hit and I knew almost immediately it was bad. The plane started to vibrate and then to our horror, we noted the dripping of gasoline off the ceiling. If there had been at that moment a spark we would have become a fireball. Interestingly, the dripping gasoline disappeared about as fast as it had appeared. I guess with all that air blowing through the plane the gas evaporated and the source of the gasoline was exhausted. From what Percy has told me, the bomb bay doors were not closed after the bombs were released, and if true, I wonder if the open doors helped dissipate the gasoline and saved us.
We had dropped out of formation and at last our bombs were gone. Our number three engine was also gone; we could not keep up with the group. That explosion must have occurred near the number 3 engine off to the right of where Hardenberg sat; his position as co-pilot was nearest the number 3 engine. We were now on our own. My first thought was: "Can we make it to our lines?” Our lines were over a hundred miles away (the Rhine River) and the path there was over the Ruhr valley or part of it. I awaited the signal to bail out. Would I have the guts to jump? I still wonder. It was a moot question, because Jacobs had decided that we would remain with the airplane. At our briefing, we learned that the Germans were executing some airmen. Jacobs reasoned that we were better off staying together. Obviously it was the right decision.
The descent was quite rapid. We were essentially a glider. In a distance equivalent to the distance between SFO and Palo Alto (about 30 miles) we came down 25,000 feet. Jacobs described it as a "controlled descent". Smithy, our engineer, told me the story about how the plane was lined up to go down the main street of some village. Jacobs and Smithy had some kind of discussion about controlling the direction of flight with the ailerons alone because apparently at that stage he had little control using the rudder. How much Hardenburg was contributing to controlling the plane I do not know; he was injured and physically limited in what he could do. The ailerons were used, the direction of flight was altered, and we crashed landed in a field adjacent to that village. I ran this story by Jake; he did not remember it. I heard it more than once from Smithy. I now wish I had contacted Hardenburg when we were living in Boston and he was living in Framingham. I would have loved to have had his take on what happen during those crucial moments.
Clinesmith stayed in the nose. Why? No one really knows. He and Percy would routinely stay in the nose during landings. Percy got a big thrill sitting in the bombardier's seat and watching the runway coming up at him. At the time of the crash, Percy tried very hard to get Clinesmith out of the nose. Percy came up and got behind Hardenberg while Smithy got behind Jacobs. Percy told me that perhaps he should have come back where we were, but with the bomb bay doors open and the plane lurching about, he was not about to try it. The walkway to the back of the plane via the bomb bay was about 10 inches wide. I am sure that there was room for one more either behind Jake or Hardenburg; Clinesmith was not that big. In my opinion, he stayed in the nose because that is where he felt most secure, or he was paralyzed from fear.
As we descended, everyone with a rifle took a shot at us. I stayed in the waist almost all the way down and then at the last moment I moved into the radio room. The crew sat on the floor facing the rear of the plane. No safety belts; we were free to bounce around. It was a rough ride. I remember telling myself, "Well, this is it" and being astonished at how calm I was. The radio room filled with dirt that seemed to bubble up from below. When the plane stopped we were all sitting on dirt. I was the first one out of the rear; I said to myself: "Get out before she bursts into flame." I looked around but there was no one else. I then decided that nothing was going to happen to the plane and perhaps someone inside might need a hand. So back I went into the plane. It was a mess. No one needed help in our part of the plane. We assembled outside and then went forward to see what we could do. During this time period none of the natives came out; we were alone. Above us there were two or three P51 fighter planes flying back and forth; they were our cover. As long as they were around no one came out. We finally signaled them that we were under control, and then they flew away. With the departure of the P51s, the locals came out. In retrospect, I think they were trying to contain us but not to harm us. They kept their distance and we went about our business of attending the wounded. Clinesmith was stretched out on the ground unconscious; the damage was undoubtedly internal. The first injection I ever made was the one I gave Hardenburg; it was a morphine injection to ease his pain, the result of multiple wounds. I had a hard time sticking a needle into his arm: with some annoyance, Hardenburg told me to hurry up and do it!
Smithy obtained a copy of the "Official Mission Report" and I will paraphrase part of it.
Official Mission Report: 398th Bomb GP (H) Kassel, Germany 9 Mar. 1945 0716 10,000' V-2 Trails (we were still in England) 0915 20,000' V-2 Trails (two) Amsterdam 0949 25,000' Smoke Screen Osnabruch 1014 26,000' B-17 down in smoke Target area No chutes From group behind 1018 25,000' B17 explodes Target area No chutes Group ahead 1025 20,000' B17 exploded Osnabruch No chutes 1252 (estimate time of return) From our group we lost two planes: Jacobs and Starkey. Jacobs: Hit by flak over target; fire reported in #3 engine; followed down as far as possible; appeared under control. Starkey: Made it to a field behind our lines; major battle damage.
I do not know if this was an unusual day or just an average day for the 8th Air Force. The above report is the only one I have ever seen. From this vantage point, it seems that the German gunners had a field day. There were two more planes reported shot down, but I did not list them here, because I felt that they might have been duplicate sightings of the ones already listed.
Captured - Interrogated
At the crash site, the Wehrmacht showed up first and then a member of the Luftwaffe appeared. A discussion (argument) followed which I'm sure was about who had jurisdiction over us. The Luftwaffe won out and we were taken to a jail in Fritzlar which is about 30 or 40 km southwest of Kassel. The ride from the crash site was not long; my guess is it was a few miles at most. I think it was at Fritzlar where Paget with his limited German asked for a doctor to care for Clinesmith. The answer he got was: "No, the doctors are all in Kassel attending to the women and children you wounded and killed today.” A chilling remark! We were each put in a single jail cell including Clinesmith. I lay down on the wooden bed with a wooden block for a headrest. I looked up at the ceiling and began wondering “What now?” I was alive and I knew it, but the folks back home would not know. They would only get a message stating "Missing in Action". It was a very sad moment. I finally dozed off. The next morning I was told that Clinesmith had died.
I can still close my eyes and see our plane in that field and describe the immediate surroundings with the P51s crisscrossing above us. I'm so sure of my vision that I was sure I could identify the area if I saw it again. I went looking for the site in 1992--no way! It seems that every village in Germany had a plane crash. The young folks where friendly and helpful, but the old timers showed some resentment even after all these years. If I ever go on that search again, I will go with more information than just an over confident memory.
From Fritzlar we went by train to Wetzlar ("Dulag Luft") about 30 miles north of Frankfurt. We got strafed en route by P47s. The train was parked in a ravine because the town ahead was being bombed. The American fighter planes found the train and came down to destroy the engine. We were in a boxcar when all of a sudden we heard the machine guns. We jumped out, ran down the track a short distance and went up over the slight embankment seeking cover. On the second or third pass the German gunner on the train hit the attacking plane, and it then flew off. Our guards quickly got us rounded up and back into the train. The train began moving again, and we got as near to the next station as possible which I recall was a tunnel just outside the town. The plan was to walk us across the town to the other side to catch another train. Some of the town's people had taken shelter in the tunnel; they were not pleased to see us. I had injured my forehead in the crash, and it had been bandaged. I think it was Smithy who suggested I take it off because it attracted attention. When I saw that look in their eyes, I did not hesitate. It was the same look I saw many years later looking for the crash site. That night at midnight we were sitting in the dark in the Frankfurt rail station; my only thought was, "God, I hope the British don't bomb this station tonight."
What happened to Hardenberg, I do not know. He was not with us. Obviously, he was segregated from us because of his injuries. As you probably already know, officers and enlisted men in Prisoner of War Camps were housed separately.
We were interrogated in Dulag Luft. We were instructed that when you are captured give only name, rank and serial number. It is hard to do. They start out asking questions to which you know they know the answer. For example, "You were flying in a B17?" and "You were bombing Kassel?" Your first inclination is to say yes. No harm saying yes? And then you find yourself weighing the questions. All the time you have this little fellow on your shoulder saying "Name, rank and serial number only, stupid". You finally decide that trying to outsmart the interrogator is not the way to go. So you put up your guard and the interrogation is over. In reality, there was nothing I could have told him at this point in the war that would have changed anything. He knew that and I knew it, but we both had to play out our roles. Earlier in the war, I'm sure it would have been different.
Paget went into his interrogation quite cocky. At one point, he asked his interrogator whether he had studied child psychology. The interrogator asked in return: "Would you rather be interrogated by the Gestapo?" He told me that that stopped him cold. He added: "Perhaps, I was too cocky, and perhaps, I should have been more thankful that I was alive."
After a day or so, we were back on a train but this time headed for Nürnberg (Stalag XIII D). Percy was not with us. Both were injured; Hardenburg more seriously than Paget. Percy said or suggested to me that he had been separated from us because he was Jewish. That was something I had not considered. Up to that point his ethnicity was unknown to me. The trip to Nürnberg was miserable, because there were more of us and we were all crowded into a box car with the door now firmly closed; in addition, we had been sensitized to the existence of P47s looking for targets along the German railway system and that added to our anxiety.
We were in Nürnberg 2 to 3 weeks from about the 14th of March to about the 3rd of April. There were a few POWs among us who kept diaries; I did not. Their diaries were kept on an assortment of small pieces of paper (even toilet paper, but not of the kind you know), and their writing was always very small (precise and neat) utilizing every bit of the available surface. It's taken me a while to realize that keeping notes when "traveling" is a good idea; I wish when we visited Prague a few years ago we had kept a diary. I with my wife went to Prague in part to see the beautiful-historical city and in part to see what the 398th had done in 1945. Our detective work was fun, and we got some information that could have been the basis of another story. Unfortunately, we kept very few notes, and without notes, the details are inevitably lost.
Stalag XIII D (Nürnberg) was on the site where Hitler held his huge rallies. The podium (reviewing stand) from where Hitler spoke was at one end of the camp. Perpendicular to the podium was the main road. Along the road were a series of rectangular compounds, or perhaps better put, "human stockades". A high fence and an inner buffer zone to keep the prisoners from getting near the fence surrounded each compound. On our arrival we were lined up and our names were taken. The person I was dealing with looked at my name, then looked at me and said "Español?" I looked at him, and I knew at once I was dealing with a Spaniard. My first impulse was to strike up a conversation, but I quickly became very self-conscious and I broke it off. Was I breaking the code? I would like to have known more about him. "How did he get here? What was he doing here? Was it voluntary or forced upon him?” etc." I suspect that he was some kind of volunteer helping out the German war effort. I know some Spaniards fought against the Russians on the Germans' side. I did the right thing, but there is still a little residue of regret that I had not probed a little.
Our compound was made up of English speaking prisoners. The senior officer was English, and the majority of the prisoners were English with a few Australians. I had seen the Australian soldier's hat in newsreels, but this was the first time I had seen the real thing. I tried to strike a deal to obtain one, but I had nothing that the Aussie wanted. The British had been in Nürnberg a while and they were well organized. They had daily classes on a variety of topics including German, and we were invited to participate. I went to one session of German and I found myself so far behind that I did not return. This type of prison life did not persist; we got just a taste of it in Nürnberg and later when we first arrived in Moosburg. The continued influx of prisoners from other camps caused the prison population to increase rapidly and that "settled down" routine characteristic of the long timers disappeared. Lamar and I would walk around and around occasionally stopping at one of the fences to see the prisoners in the adjacent compound, which were sometime quite interesting. It was said that the General Staff of the Yugoslavian army was next door. Their uniforms were truly unique.
We would line up twice a day to be counted. We got deloused and showered. The latter was a most welcome event. I must confess that when they marched us into that room for a shower, the thought did cross my mind that something other than water might come out of those spouts. Perhaps I was a little paranoid by this time. The delousing was not a great thrill, but also not a great imposition. They blew, I think, DDT powder up our arms, up our legs, down our shirt (front and back) and down into our pants. We were deloused more than once. On Easter (April 1st), a German priest from Nürnberg came out to give the Catholic prisoners communion. He was not 100% thrilled, but he did it. The English prisoners had their service. In fact I think it was their Chaplain who made the arrangements for us to receive communion. I eavesdropped on their Church of England service; in retrospect, it gave me a glimpse into the future. My reaction was "...it sounds like Mass, but it is said in English? How strange. Imagine, a mass in the vernacular!"
At Nürnberg I saw my first Russian prisoners. When they were moved around they moved at a snail's pace. They were in sad shape. Out of pity, someone threw them some bits of food. It was done in kindness, but it was a real mistake. They fought over it like animals, and the Germans had to break it up with the butts of their rifles. It was a horrible sight to see. Up to that point, I did not think that humans could act so brutally against one another; that is German to Russian and Russian to Russian. I had to turn away. We should keep in mind however that the USSR did not recognize the International Red Cross, and that they had not signed on to the International Treaties that governed how POWs should be treated. It is a safe bet that German POWs were treated in Russia in a comparable manner. The percentage of German POWs repatriated and their physical state upon repatriation speaks to this point. In some strange way I was not put off by "war", but I was by the actions of these pathetic Russians. Maybe in my "subconscious" mind I considered "war" an honorable act and what I had just witnessed as degrading, not in the least honorable. There was a dual system of POW treatment, and a dual set of values in my head.
One night the British bombed Nürnberg and our tent, which was very large, had several shrapnel holes the next morning. The shrapnel came from the anti-aircraft burst; gravity brought it down to earth. I think I slept through the whole thing. McCormic(1989) in his article described this event in terms anyone can visualize "....it was like several 4th of July shows all in one night.” He continued.."....that night I ran outside into a fox hole for protection from falling debris." It is hard to believe I slept through it all--- "several 4th of July shows all in one night?” There is a chance that I might have awakened, heard the noise and then said to myself, "I have no place to go--might as well sleep."
In the plane we wore our flight boots which were not “meant for walking” but rather to keep our feet warm. So, it was the practice of airmen to tie their walking (GI) boots to their parachute harness. Thus, if you had to bail out, the boots automatically went with you. On the day of the crash I did not tie my boots to my harness, but rather I laid them down next to me at the waist gunner's position. After the crash when I realized I did not have my boots, I looked, but I could not find them. This was a major discomfort. I think it was in Nürnberg that I was given some GI boots. It was a real blessing especially for what was to come. Until now, I had never given any consideration as to the source of those boots.
On the Road Again
In my naiveté, I had thought that the Allied Armies always went from west to east. By April 1, 1945, Eisenhower’s 1st and 3rd Armies were almost due north of Nürnberg and the 3rd Army was about to pivot and come due south toward us. The 7th Army, which was on the 3rd Army's southern flank, was also about to make a right turn. The Germans decided to move us by foot further south, that is, from Nürnberg to Moosburg (Stalag VII A) which is just northeast of Munich about 25 miles or so. The distance from Nürnberg to Moosburg is 125 to 150 km. It took us about 2 weeks to get to Moosburg.
The march started on a tragic note. We got strafed again virtually "right out of the gate". It was mid to late afternoon by the time we got moving, and we were moving parallel to the railroad yard when some American planes came down to strafe something in that yard. With the first sound of fire, we scattered for cover. The road was lined with trees having trunks about a foot in diameter. When it was over we got into marching columns again and continued our march out of Nürnberg. In this incident, one or two Americans were killed by friendly fire. I was shaken! As I walked by one of the fallen soldiers behind a tree, I noticed that the American attending him (MD?) looked to be of Japanese descent.
We marched through the night, the next day and the next night. I learned how to look at the heels of the person ahead of me so as to self-hypnotize myself into a walking machine. I also learned how to sleep standing up whenever we stopped, and I learned how to go immediately into a deep sleep when we took a break. During this phase of the march some of our more adventurous fellows left the column, i.e. escaped. The airmen were discouraged from attempting to escape because they lacked the training and the experience of an infantry soldier when it came time to cross the lines. So you would be walking along side this person and then he would be gone. A day or so later he would be back. "Where have you been?" we would ask. "I took off last night and went into the woods. This morning some German farmer was out hunting, and he spotted me and here I am." To the rest of us this was high adventure and down inside perhaps we were envious because we hung on to their every word. Escaping must have been easy because more than one person tried it. There were not many guards, it was dark, and our guards were more of the fatherly type (late forties up) than the brutal-mean type. They were as tired as we were. I'm sure they said to themselves, "They'll be back," and they were.
The towns we marched through were on the small side and had not been bombed. I remember one morning walking through the gate of this walled town (it could have been Berching or Beilngries) and into the city square. It was the first time I felt as if I were going back in time to medieval Europe. It made a deep impression on me.
Later that day, the marching column turned off the road and went into what I recall as a farmyard. There was a cart alongside the road, and to my amazement draped over the cart was a large American flag. The red, the white and the blue colors were so vivid; from an artistic point of view, I'm not sure it is a beautiful flag, but that afternoon there was no doubt in my mind. What was equally amazing was alongside the cart stood this Old Army Colonel (Col. Paul R. Goode). To me he was the epitome of what I imagined a Regular Army Colonel to be: no nonsense. I must have saluted him; his reply was: “SHAVE, SOLDIER!” I did. Our morale was lifted by his presence.
During the first part of the march they pushed us hard. As we progressed toward Moosburg, they let up on us and it became more relaxed. On the afternoon of April 12, 1945 we were camped outside some small village on what might have been a pasture. Through this field ran a drainage ditch that was perhaps 3 feet deep and 6 or 8 feet wide (V shaped). Downstream about 100 feet was a small overpass. We were watching our bombers overhead going home; they were easy to follow because of their con trails and the roar they made. It always took a while for them to go by, and of course we all wished we were up there with them rather than where we were. These sightings were not free of some anxiety, however. If they were directly above us, we wished they would hurry up and get on home. On this afternoon we heard the whistling sound of something falling. In no time at all, we were all in that ditch and then we heard the explosions. Bombs hit maybe 10 miles away, but for a fraction of a second, we felt they were coming straight at us. It is my opinion that some bomber had a couple of bombs hung up and they were just getting rid of them.
The next morning, we were awakened by our guard; he had some news for us. "Roosevelt died." I was shocked. It left a hollow feeling in my stomach. I asked how he knew. "Radio, radio." I tried to assess his mood. Was he glad? Was he sad? Was he taunting us? I came to the conclusion that he told us because he thought we would want to know.
We resumed our march. Down the road, just past a turn in the road, we saw a bridge in the distance. My first reaction was: "Oh my God, another target for our Air Force and we have to cross it." On the opposite side of the river they were setting up an "88" anti-aircraft gun position. The 88's were also used as anti-tank weapons and artillery very effectively. The position of that emplacement now makes sense; they were expecting their enemy to come at them from the north. As we approached the river, Jack Lamar became ecstatic. His enthusiastic and excited words will forever ring in my ears. "We are going to cross a tributary of the Danube!!!"
Jack had been to college; he was more cosmopolitan than most of the rest of us, and certainly more than I. In London, he got us to take the tour of the historic sites. We hired a private guide. On a free day he disappeared; when he returned that night he said to me: "Do you realize we form a triangle with Oxford and Cambridge? We are equal distance from each of those cities, and I saw them both today." We were a lot closer to Cambridge; it is only 15 to 20 miles from Nuthampstead to Cambridge. Jack was a fun boy, too. I went to New Orleans with him on a weekend pass while we were training in Alexandria, Louisiana. I returned to base alone; he was one or two days AWOL. After we were liberated we were flown to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Harve, France. Shipping to the States was tight so they offered us a week's pass in Paris; Jack took the offer. I did not. If I had it to do over, I would now do as Jack did.
I tried to retrace the march from Nürnberg to Moosburg in 1983, when I was on sabbatical leave at the Institute for Immunology in Basel, Switzerland. I marked my map so I have a record to compare with what Jacobs and Smithy might recall. Our journey in 1983 went as follows: southeast out of Nürnberg, Feuch, Postbauer-Heng, Neumark, Berching (on 299), Beilngries, Paulushfn., Pondrof, Marching, Neustad, Siegenburg, Mailbag, and then back-roads into Moosburg. The back-roads were a deliberate choice because that is how I recalled it, i.e., near the end of the march we got off the beaten path. Which roads to take was the problem. There is no way to know how faithfully we duplicated the route of the march, but at one point I recognized some of the landscape and I said to my wife, "Around this next bend is Lamar's river crossing." Sure enough, there it was. We did not find the town that so impressed me with its medieval architecture. Nürnberg it was said was one of the most beautiful old cities in Europe. It was totally destroyed. Patton ((Blumenson 1974), page 693) in his diary stated with reference to Nürnberg, "It is really rather pathetic to see such a historical monument so completely removed." He made it sound as if he had seen it when the city was in its full glory. But Patton was a little weird and what he meant by "historical monument" I'm not sure. Nevertheless, when we visited the city we found a modern city without any special charm. I agree with Patton, "What a shame."
Moosburg was a POW camp (Stalag VIIA) that was set up at the start of the war (1939). It was very large; over 30,000 prisoners with 14,000 being Americans ((Blumenson 1974), page 676). We went into a section filled with French POWs on about 15th of April 1945. They were well adjusted to prison life; they having been there probably from the time France fell. Once a week the place became a "flea market". We saw it only one time, because they discontinued the practice soon after we arrived. They would bring out their tables and sell or exchange whatever they had. They also ran games of chance, e.g., roulette. I went into their barracks several times because I liked to watch them play cards. The games were so fast that they kept two decks of cards going, and the dealer would distribute the cards clockwise, counter-clockwise and crisscross, changing the pattern every time he went around the table. I guess you can go to any professional card parlor and see the same thing, but I had never seen anything like it. On one of these visits, one of the Frenchman reached over and took a fold of my shirt and rubbed it between his fingers. I was wearing a OD shirt (woolen, olive-brown color). "Capitalist", he said. I was too young to realize that he was really paying me a compliment.
Of course the camp also had a lot of American prisoners, as stated above 14,000. I once got into a conversation with one of the prisoners who had been in Moosburg for a while, and in our conversation I mentioned the fact that we had bombed Munich during the latter part of February. His reaction was immediate. "After that bombing the Germans put us on trucks, took us to Munich, and made us help in the cleanup of the mess you fellows had made. It was cold, we were miserable and we hated your guts. You were back in England in your warm beds, with good food, and we were here sweeping up the debris and putting out the fires you started. The Germans were mad, and in part, they were punishing us for what you guy had done."
The latrine was not part of the barrack and obviously not part of our tent. At night all was dark and a search light worked up and down the length of the road that separated the barracks in which the Frenchmen were housed and the latrine. The orders were that we were not supposed to move about at night. With our diet, this could become a problem. The pattern was to get first to the barrack, wait just inside the doorway, and then scoot across the road to the latrine after the light had passed. Some nights you really didn't care whether they saw you or not.
Believe it or not, I developed a real taste for sauerkraut in the POW camp. The bread was dark with plenty of roughage. In that hike from Nürnberg to Moosburg, one night they served some legumes that were probably white beans. I always suspected that they had some extra protein in them, and it’s just as well it was "served" in the middle of the night. On the other hand, we were so hungry that it probably would not have mattered. Some prisoners were able to barter for food along the way; an egg here or there. In one barn, Motter found either a pigeon or dove nest; this meant squab for lunch. The real prize was the Red Cross food packages we received; we might have received a total of three or four; I do not remember the number. I kept the top of one "food package". Each box contained cigarettes that for the non-smoker could be exchanged for something better, a chocolate bar or two that of course we kept and ate in tiny bites, and a few cans of real food (milk, beans, or stew) that we cleaned out so thoroughly that the inside of the can sparkled. In a POW camp, there were no fussy eaters!
Liberation - Patton
On Sunday morning April 29, 1945, things got quiet. Someone noticed that the guards had disappeared. Suddenly there was a loud bang followed by bursts of machine gun fire. There was a hole in the ground just in front of our tent that was meant to be a bomb shelter. We hastily dove into that hole. The loud noise was obviously a cannon. As a "fire fight" this was nothing to our fellow foot soldiers, but to us airmen it was scary. The whole thing was over before we knew it. After a short while we heard a crash followed by some commotion. We cautiously came out of our so-called bomb shelter and then made our way to the prison gate at a run. There we found an American tank and the gate that it had knocked over with two or three infantry men receiving the cheers of the liberated prisoners (we were liberated by elements of the 14th Armored and 99th Infantry Divisions of the 3rd Army ((Blumenson 1974), page 676), ((Allen 1947), page 382). It was a great moment, the type of moment in which you can close your eyes and still see the scene. (The crash site scene also comes back in a similar manner.)
A few days later, a second ruckus occurred and naturally we went to inspect what was happening at the gate. In came a jeep; it stopped momentarily. The man, an officer, standing next to the driver, looked around, waved, and the jeep then turned around and drove away. In that General's holster was a pearl handled handgun. I do not think that any other person in the 3rd Army would have dared to show that motif!
In researching this point, I found that Patton ((Blumenson 1974), page 695) had made on May 1, 1945 the following diary entry: "Visited a prison camp of some 30,000 Allied prisoners.....I gave them a few minutes' talk on the fact that under difficult conditions they had maintained their prestige as officers and soldiers. There was considerable cheering, clapping and picture taken (sic)."
Liberation revealed some interesting traits. In Nürnberg there was a fellow who had been caught stealing food from fellow prisoners. He came up for trial by the senior officers, and he was then chastised before the assembled compound. From then on he was shunned by the rest of the prisoners. Came the liberation and this fellow took off on a looting spree. When he finally came back to camp he came back with bags of stuff (junk) and was beaming from ear to ear. He was doing what he liked best, and no one objected. He became very popular because everyone wanted souvenirs. I think I got a couple of "5 million mark notes" from the period when Germany went through a horrible inflation.
The foot soldiers were used to moving around in a combat zone so many of them went exploring. We (at least our crew) were less secure in such a situation and we stayed close to home. Good food was now coming into us. The greatest delight was when we first got white bread. It was so white. It was so tender. It was like angel food cake.
We were kept in Moosburg for about a week while they arranged transportation to get us out. Between May 1 and May 8, the number of POWs evacuated by air was over 19,000 ((Allen 1947), page 363). When our time came they loaded us on to 2 1/2 ton trucks and drove us off to a nearby, so-called, "airfield". We were then flown in ATC C-47s to Camp Lucky Strike (Le Havre, France) with a fueling stop in Metz. It took me a while to realize that with our boarding of those trucks the "Last Mission" was completed, and at that same moment, our crew (#8107) ceased to exist as each of us went his own way.
Now there are only two of us: Paget and myself. Jack Lamar came by Santa Barbara sometime after the war, but I was away at the time. While we lived in the suburbs of Boston, Hardenberg lived in Framingham just a few miles away and neither one knew it. Smithy and I exchanged letters and phone calls until he passed away; it was he who brought us together again as he sought out each one of us in his later years. Poston practiced medicine in Tennessee, and for a while, Motter and Smithy were business partners. I saw Jacobs on several occasions when I went back to New England to visit family, and Paget, who lives in Florida, keeps my E-mail mail box well supplied with jokes.
Allen, R. S. (1947). Lucky Forward; The History of Patton's Third U.S. Army. New York, New York, The Vanguard Press, Inc.
Blumenson, M.(1974). The Patton Papers 1940-1945. Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin Company.
Baron, R., Baum A., and Goldhurst, R. (1981), Raid! The Untold Story of Patton's Secret Mission. New York, N.Y., Dell Publishing Division of Random House, Inc.
McCormick, J., (1989). The Pilot's Report. 398th Bomb Group Remembrance (p.79). ed. A. Ostrom.
Paget, P. (2011), Percy Remembers The B-17 Tail….And Nose. Flak News., 26: #3. July.
Whiting, C.(1982). 48 hours to Hammelburg. New York, N.Y., PBJ Books, Inc.
- Jacobs' Crew - 602nd Squadron - probably late 1944
- Geronimo Terres, Jr., 398th Waist Gunner - 602nd Squadron Video Interview (59m 42s)
Personal History Information
- Veteran: Geronimo Terres, Jr.
- Waist Gunner, 602nd Squadron
- Date of Personal History: October 2013
- Author: Geronimo Terres, Jr.
- Submitted to 398th Web Pages by: Marilyn Gibb-Rice