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Group History

David Rolnick History

2nd Lieutenant David Rolnick
Stalag Luft #1
“Courtesy of the David Rolnick family"

Link to Lautenschlater crew page

The Crew of Half and Half
Pilot: 1st Lt. John Lautenschlager
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. William J. Sugg
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Leland C. Fink, Jr.
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. David Rolnick

T/Sgt. Robert Bashaw, Jr. - Engineer
T/Sgt. John Stryjeski - Radio Operator
S/Sgt. Colbert W. Graham - Ass't Engineer
S/Sgt. Harold Sheldon - Ass't Radio Operator
S/Sgt. Samuel Wilensky - Armorer
S/Sgt. Hogan Fussell- Ass't Armorer

Sgt John White flew as fill in waist gunner for S/Sgt Graham on March 6, 1944

The Sad Tale
By Lt David Rolnick

On March 6th, 1944 we took off on a mission - our destination Berlin. But we were destined never to reach our target that day. Just about 12:00 noon we were attacked by large numbers of enemy fighters - FW190s and ME109s. They made head on passes, but because of our position we were unable to get in as many shots as we would have liked. We were leading the whip - third element high squadron. On the first pass, the fighters put a fire in the radio room, and also knocked out the oxygen system in the rear of the plane. Our superchargers were out of control because the amplifiers in the radio room were shot up. Radio operator, Johnny Stryjeski, fought the fire and put it out while I salvoed the bombs and closed the bomb-bay doors. We were preparing to "hit the deck" anytime.

On the second fighter pass our upper turret was knocked out. That left just one turret in action - my own. The gunners in the rear were on emergency oxygen bottles, and couldn't man the ball turret and tail guns. Our replacement gunner bailed out before the order was given. (Colbert Graham was in the hospital at this time with a broken ankle.) We were losing gasoline through large, gaping holes in the wings.

On the third pass the fighters put a fire in our bomb bay. No hope of putting this one out. The pilot gave the order to bailout. Billy Sugg salvoed the escape hatch, kicked out the baggage and bailed out. Then Lee Fink left, and then myself. After I went out the engineer, Bob Bashaw left, and then the pilot. The men in the rear all got out safely too, but I found out later that the radio operators chute was a streamer.

The place we bailed out over was somewhat north of Dummer lake altitude 20,000 feet. When I left the plane, I became unconscious because the rushing air sucked the air out of my mask. I awoke when a terrific jerk strained my back. I found myself hanging in my harness - my chute spread out above me. I had pulled the rip-cord while unconscious - and the rip-cord handle was on the left side instead of the right. I saw the planes of the different wings and groups passing by above me - perhaps 5,000-10,000 feet above me. The wind blew my chute about as I swung in the harness, and then it became very quiet. Below me was a cloudbank, and after I had passed through it I could see the ground approximately 3000 feet below. There were fields and patches of woods. I decided to land near some trees, but unfortunately I hit a tree and was knocked breathless on my back. Some farmers reached me almost as soon as I regained my feet, and I could not get away. They treated me very nicely, took me to one of their homes and even went to the extent of feeding me.
As I walked across the fields to the house, I could see smoke - black smoke indicating gasoline fires - rising from many different directions. Many planes went down that day. The farmers called the Luftwaffe and later that day I was taken in a truck to a Luftwaffe training camp. I met a boy from my group - Lt. Drinkwater (from Lt Koper Crew)- in the truck. He was on a stretcher because of badly frostbitten feet. At the camp a Hauptmann questioned us and had us searched. They took my knife, pen, pencil, escape kit, and a few other flying articles. I met Lee there later on, and also Gordon Lien - Drinkwater's co-pilot. Lee had flak in his leg and a sprained ankle but he could walk if Lien and I helped him. I couldn't help too much because of my back. We stayed there that night, and it is the first time I've ever slept on a mattress made out of wood shavings. The next day two guards escorted Lee, Gordon and myself to breakfast. We had to walk several hundred yards to the mess hall, and finally made it after a slow walk. Breakfast was coffee, bread, oleo and honey. We ate all we could. Some Jerry officer asked us how many times we flew over Germany. "Not enough!" was our answer. 

Lee was a lot angrier then I was because he'd had no treatment other than paper bandages on his leg and ankle. He had also ridden around a lot longer than I had in a truck. But now the three of us felt the Germans were rotten because they made Lee walk with his sprained ankle. After breakfast we walked back to the barracks, and the guard told us that at 10:00 we were to leave by train for Oldenburg. But we missed it. They wouldn't provide transportation for us and we refused to walk. That is, we refused until the guards became very angry. When we learned we had missed the train, we had to walk back to the barracks. Then we walked to the mess hall for lunch. Lunch was meat loaf, beets; potatoes and bread.

We finally left for Oldenburg on a crowded train, but were put in a small compartment by ourselves. We reached Oldenburg and got on a bus for the Jerry base. The civilians all looked us over, and vice versa. At the base we were put in an air raid shelter where we found about a hundred other prisoners many of them friends of ours. We met all our crew, except for Johnny Stryjeski. We learned he probably died. Bob Bashaw had a broken ankle, and Sammy Wilensky had a sprained ankle. The rest were all OK. Johnny Lautenschlager told us the plane blew up just after he got out, and also that his chute didn't work. He pulled it out on the way down. They had been there in Oldenburg for two nights and had only a few potatoes to eat. They didn't like the German either.

That night we were given two slices of bread and a piece of sausage and to a train of boxcars. These cars had a stove and gas lamp in them as well as a few benches. We were on our way to Frankfurt for interrogation. The trip was a nightmare. We had no food for two days, and little water. We could hardly sleep on the filthy floor. Some of the boys took the guard's food, and the guards became pretty angry. 

During the trip we saw several cities which were badly damaged, and we saw Frankfurt. It was a very badly-hit city. Houses and factories were just shells of their former selves. We left Frankfurt for Ober-ussel which was the interrogation center - the hotel we called it. It was a cold, snowy night when we arrived at the hotel and finally got inside - 8 men in a room for one.

The room was a rectangular one - 12 feet long, 6 feet wide. It had one window that was barred and locked. An "electric bar" was used to heat the room, and one light attached to a high ceiling. The walls were padded for soundproofing and the floor was of wood. When we wished to signal a guard or interpreter, we pulled a handle that raised a small flag outside the door. We were fed supper that night upon arrival. Supper consisted of two slices of black bread and coffee. A smear of jam on the bread did not help much. We were extremely crowded and stuffy in that "hole". We couldn't stretch out on the bare floor (no furniture in the room) except to lie side by side - our feet touching one wall, our heads the other. We got little sleep.

The next day we got up and they brought us breakfast - two slices of black bread and coffee. Later on that morning we were interrogated individually. A sheet was handed to us to fill out. All we put down was name, rank and serial number. No wheedling or threats could make us divulge other information. After this we were placed in another room and held there another night. Only this time there were ten men in a room for one. It was extremely stuffy and suffocating all night. No sleep again.

The next day we were taken across the road to another building with a number of other men. We were searched thoroughly again and the taken in a bus to Dulag transient camp in Frankfurt. Here, we were met by a German corporal who had lived in New York for some time. I found out later that many band members had joined the German army to get in on the spoils. We received American Red Cross clothing, filled out forms that went to Geneva, and then took a shower. I became separated from the others, but saw them later. This shower was on Mar 11, five days after I came down, but I felt as if I’d been shunted around for a month. A shave also helped, and then a meal. We had stew and potatoes, but it was good.

I left the same day for Stalag Luft I. We traveled in the same type of box car, only we had excelsior on the floor, and conscripted Poles for guar1s. There was one who came from Lutz, and was very nice to us. We
had an American Red Cross parcel each, and also some German rations. He opened all our cans, and helped any way he could. He was at least 45 years old and was the youngest of the guards. We saw many cities and towns en route that were badly mauled by bombers. We traveled in a circuitous route going east of Berlin. We saw Frankfurt on Oder, Anklam and many other towns. Finally after four days of to slow travel we arrived at Barth. There, we were met by guards and dogs. We marched for about a mile through town and past it to camp and finally arrived at Stalag Luft 1.

I did not mention that Dulag Luft in Frankfurt was 1/2 mile away from a priority A target - I.G. Farbenhausen Chemical works. When 8th air force hit it, Dulag was hit too. Dulag later was moved to Wetzler - also near to targets.

The Journal of David Rolnick
From World War II
May 7th, 1945

Reminiscence of the past weeks as I sit here on the shores of Barth Bay - a free man.
April 30th Germans are hurriedly evacuating Barth - and Stalag Luft 1. They wanted to take us with them, but Col.Zemke did not want us to move. Therefore, the Jerris left us behind for the Russians to pick up. The Jerris started taking our Red Cross food parcels, so Col.Zemke received permission to go to the Flak school to get what was left and bring it inside the compound. Groups of men - 100 at a time - left the under no guard and got the parcels into our compound– North 1. I went - as did many others out of curiosity to see the flak school, and the damage wrought by demolitions. The Germans had been blowing up installations all day long. What a mess. All the radar listening devices were completely destroyed. Windows in the flak school building were broken, and one building was on fire.

Many civilians were standing around trying to get food - Poles, French, Germans, Czechs, etc. Germans had to drive them back. Men and children were selling boots, and other loot. The food panel weighed fifty lbs., but felt like 700 after the 1/2 mile hike back to camp. I was tired also because we had dug slit trenches with Kline Kam and homemade wooden shovels. The col. said we can take no chances of strafing planes. The Germans pulled out after a great deal of hub-bub.

May 1st
At 00:45 Major Steinhauer turned the camp over to Col.Zemke. We woke up free men, but we are still soldiers and obey orders. So we stayed behind barbed wires and awaited the planes, which would take us home. No Russian arrivals as yet. That night we were listening to the Hit Parade when we heard a terrific yelling from the South
Compound. The Russians arrived. It turned out that the two Russians arrived to find out what the situation was -after they had been contacted by our men sent to find them. We were Jubilant. Hitler's death was also announced that night.

May 2nd
We don't like the idea of staying behind the barbed wire. The Russians like it even less. They intended to move us to Odessa, but Col.Zemke talked them out of it. To prove we were free men, he told us to pull down the barbed wire fences, tear down the towers, loot the flak school _ do anything and everything to prove to the Russians we were
free men. The Russians were drunk, and very handy with guns. They shot them off all over the place. These
Russians were guerrillas - not regular army men. So we tore down fences and towers, and ran to the flak school and looted, and brake windows. What a mob we turned into in five minutes. Many boys went to town and got drunk, took cars, bikes, horses - anything they could get their hands on. Nothing was against the regulations on that day.

The Russians started to come through town in force that night. We saw a number of light tanks, artillery and all kinds of Russians. They were mostly released men working as guerillas - guarding the flanks of the main force. They fought at Kolnisberg and Danzig, and many other places. They were very tired mostly, and very friendly to us.
The Germans are scared and want us to stay in town and guard them from the Russians. But we can't, and don't want to. The Russians line all the land. When they want food, they go into a house and take it. So it is with horses, bikes, cars, and anything else they want. They believe in looting when they want to. That is the guerrillas we have seen. 

Barth is just a mass of red and white flags. They hope and pray - those people - that the Russians won't bother them. But it is unclear and I'm not sorry. Our men just found a concentration camp at the airport. At least 900 prisoners - French, Poles, Jews, etc. were found in dungeons. They'd been there any where up to nine years. The manacles have rotted their flesh away. The doctor from the compound raid - anything we hears was just an exaggeration. Those men - and women too – were dying from starvation torture. So I have no idea sympathy for the Jerries. A Russian POW freed with us told one boy his story of of Hammerstein prison camp. About 130,000 prisoners there were dying because of the lack of food. 80-100 men a day were buried. Johnny, Lee, Bill Bates, and I walked around the Barth and spoke to a few people. They certainly disowned Hitler in a hurry. They wanted us to sleep with them in Arden to keep the Russians away. Nothing Doing.

May 3, 1945
We're still waiting for the planes. Some men are going into town against orders, and to a nearby town\across the bay. Nothing much doing. We're exploring the peninsula

May 4, 1945
Many men disgruntled. We're expecting some Russian generals up here. CoLZemke is trying to establish contact with Americans and English. We believe contact has been made.

May 5, 1945
Marshall Rokotofsky, Genera; Borizos and several other high-ranking men arrived in camp. It seems this is the largest officers POW camp held by Russians. The two above mentioned men were in charge of Stalingrad area and Stalingrad respectively. The former is in charge of this area from Berlin north; the latter holds the Red Stag - the
highest Russian award for defense of Stalingrad. An American jeep drove up with a sergeant, a captain and a major in it before the Russians arrived. What a greeting they received. They were the first Americans we'd seen, and during the conference of Col.Zemke and the Russians, another jeep came up - paratroopers. They were looking for this place and finally found it. So we hid a hectic day. The first Americans jeep left shortly after it arrived. The men were medics, and the captain thought he had a brother up here. Don't know whether he found him or not. Col. Moss, the paratrooper, is here for evacuation purposes.

May 6,1945
Nothing much doing. We're taking life easy. We expect a barbeque soon. Russians drone in meat on the hoof, Holstien cows and bulls. Don't know who will slaughter them. Bill Sugg left this morning with Whitey Reeder – for Rostorh. Quite a few boys taking all. They're tired of waiting. I'll wait for the planes.