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Group History

Dixie's Delight

PART ONE

The Mission The Mighty Eighth had heavy casualties in the 22 months of air war: 43,373 young airmen lost their lives, 18,000 were wounded, and 26,000 young fliers became Prisoners of War. This is the story of one crew.

“I thoroughly enjoyed being associated with my crew,” wrote Tom Ramsey. “We had some great times together in El Paso and other stops before and during our flight overseas. We were all very much individuals coming from different areas of the United States. Dick Chapple and Ross Purdy were from Michigan. Wally Oldham and Howard Leach were from California. Carl Dunn was from West Virginia, Bill Charlton from Pennsylvania, Pat Tooley from Louisiana, Ralph Kalberloh from Missouri, and I was from Indiana. As a bomber crew, we were an informal lot and generally dismissed the military matter of rank.”

It was 3:30 AM, February 3, 1945, when an orderly entered the barracks, turning on the overhead light and blowing his whistle. It was his thankless duty to awaken the crews scheduled to fly that day. The sleepy men could hear the distant sound of the big engines as the ground crews began pre-flighting the aircraft.

“We hurriedly dressed,” said Howard Leach, “and made our way in the dim light to the mess hall for the 0400 breakfast. Flight crews were given fresh eggs in place of the usually powdered eggs.” This was not a common practice at all bases. More than one veteran from other groups has said they rarely saw fresh eggs.

After breakfast Leach headed to the briefing building with Pilot Waldo Oldham, Co-Pilot Carl Dunn, and Navigator Ross Purdy to gather with the officers of 38 crews to fly that day. It would be a most dramatic day in their lives as the officers of Dixie’s Delight nervously awaited the appearance of the Briefing Officers.

Bombardier Leach, remembers it this way: “A curtain was draped over one corner of the room, concealing the target for the day’s mission. There was little talk. The veteran crews who had attended other such briefings were obviously nervous. For some it was to be their last mission, and then they would return to the states. All they needed was a “milk run” to bring them safely home. They remembered the December 31 Hamburg raid and missing 109 comrades. Our crew was too green to grasp the tension in that room.

“Someone yelled, ‘Attention,’ bringing us to our feet as Col. Jeffrey (Commanding Officer, Thomas S.) entered the room followed by other officers involved in the briefing, including Majors Crosby (Group Navigator, Harry H.) and Ventriss (Group Bombardier, Don). Without any hesitancy he announced, ‘Gentlemen, the target is Berlin.’ The curtain was drawn back, revealing the mission route. There was a voice in the back that said, ‘Oh my god!’”

Operations Officer, Lt. Col. John Wallace then proceeded to spell out the details. The mission was to bomb the railhead in the center of Berlin near the Tempelhof Airdrome. 

The mission was a maximum effort...1003 heavy bombers with 10,000 men aboard, plus fighter squadrons for support. The 100th was selected to lead the 13th Combat Wing and 3rd Air Division. Major Robert Rosenthal led the 100th. The briefing officers stated that flak would be minimal over the target.

After breakfast the enlisted men had assembled at their aircraft to wait for the officers. The ground crews were already loading 50-calibur ammo, bombs, and readying the planes for takeoff. After briefing the officers of Dixie’s Delight made their way to the ready room, where they were issued their flying clothes and parachutes.

“We were trucked out to our aircraft,” said Leach, “where we joined the enlisted men. Wally, Carl and Pat prepared the ship for takeoff while the rest of us assembled in the radio room. We proceeded to taxi onto the perimeter track, with takeoff starting at 0715. As our group formed over our field, we joined the other elements of the 13th Combat Wing, over the channel and were in a tight formation at 0955 when we approached the Continental coast at 14,000 feet climbing to 27,000 feet.”

For six foot tall Tail Gunner Ralph J. Kalberloh, the only way to reach his position was to crawl on his hands and knees from the waist of the aircraft to the tail, where his twin 50 caliber machine guns were mounted. There was also an intercom outlet with head phones, an oxygen mask with hose attached to the oxygen system on the wall of the plane, and just enough room to squat on his knees and sit on a bicycle seat and maneuver the guns. “I could wear my parachute harness, but my chest-pack parachute could not be worn and lay beside me. It was a lonely spot from which to observe where we had been and to wonder what lay ahead of us.”

As they formed up over the channel, Waist Gunner Ramsey radioed the cockpit and asked permission to test fire the guns. It was at this time that Chapple (Cpl. Richard G. Chapple) discovered that the ball turret ammo hatch had fallen off, causing belts of 50-caliber ammo to spill out and dangle in space.”

“I told him to salvo the ammo,” said Leach, “and remain in the ball to track any attacking aircraft.”

Nearer the target, when they encountered heavy flak, Ramsey called for Charlton (Radio Operator William Charlton) to man the right waist position, which he had been assigned to do. Ramsey had observed some unidentified aircraft in the distance, but so far they had not approached the group. It was then that Ramsey noticed Charlton lying on the floor of the radio room just forward of the waist area. “I thought at first that he had been hit, so I called in the information.”

“We were told at the briefing that there would be an 11 minute bomb run,” said Howard Leach. “Purdy and I were in the nose and could clearly see the lead ships, other ships of the 100th and the flak once we turned onto the bomb run. I heard Ramsey on the intercom reporting to Wally that Charlton had been hit. I quickly clambered out of the nose to the flight deck and crawled back through the catwalk past the bomb bay to give what aid I could.”

Leach crawled past the 10 armed 500 pound bombs ominously awaiting release. When he reached the radio room, he found Ramsey and Kalberloh there with the fallen man. Radio Operator Charlton’s oxygen mask was off and his goggles had been severed by flak. One lens was hanging on each side of his helmet. He was not wounded, as had been feared, but had passed out from lack of oxygen. His mask was reattached, and he quickly revived. Leach headed back to his position in the nose.

Flying through the intense flak, Pilot Oldham was encountering great difficulty in controlling the aircraft due to the prop wash created as the ships moved together into tight formation. There were a lot of pilot and crew exchanges over the interphones, and Dixie’s Delight, along with many other aircraft, was suffering major damage.

From his position in the tail, Ralph Kalberloh watched the puffs of black smoke as the 88 and 105 antiaircraft guns fired volleys of four shells at a time. “I would see the first puff and then count 2-3-4, and several times it looked like the third or fourth shell might explode between my legs. It was 11 minutes of terror for me.”

Flak hit the ball turret. “It did not penetrate Chapple’s back chute, but he felt it,” said Kalberloh. Alarmed, the gunner exited the ball turret. Moments later it was wiped out by a flak burst. As they approached the target and flak intensified, Howard Leach put on his flak suit and crouched behind his chair in the nose. “Purdy, who up to this time had ignored his flak suit, hit the panic button, and I had to assist him in getting it on.” It was then that an explosion rocked them. “I was horrified by a direct hit on Cotner’s (Lt. Orville H. Cotner flying A/C 44-6500) ship above and to the left of us. It burst into a ball of flame with our passing right through the flaming debris.”

From his position in the tail, Kalberloh could see the ball turret of the doomed ship floating towards the ground. After what seemed an eternity, a parachute appeared and he hoped that there was at least one survivor. Sadly, BTG Sgt. John C. Moss perished along with the rest of his crew. “When the explosion occurred,” said Ramsey, “I instinctively dropped down behind the armor plate that covered the area below the waist position. After we flew through the debris, I stood up and discovered that my ammo rack, positioned at eye level and to the right, had taken a direct flak hit. I would surely have been killed had I been standing at my station.”

From the nose of the aircraft, Leach could see another ship spiraling down out of control. “It was Beck on his fifth mission (2nd Lt. Richard A. Beck piloting A/C 42-102958).” Leach focused on the lead ships awaiting the flare that would prompt him to release his bombs unaware that the lead ship, commanded by Major Rosenthal, was on fire and was to leave the formation upon dropping its bombs. “The flare and bombs of the lead ship appeared and I promptly hit the toggle switch releasing our bombs.”

Pilot Waldo J. Oldham wrote: “My number three engine started trailing smoke and vibrating so badly it almost broke loose from the mounting. I shut it down and feathered the prop. Over the radio, we were informed that we were losing fuel or oil out of a hole in the right wing. I called Pat Tooley, the engineer, to come down from the upper turret and turn on the fuel transfer pump to try to save as much fuel as we could.”

TTE Pat Tooley vacated his turret and made his way to where the transfer pump was positioned. That completed, he returned to his turret only to find half of it had been torn away. Amazingly, each man – Chapple, Ramsey and Tooley - had vacated his position at just the right time to avoid injury. “I am sure some super being was looking out for us,” said Tom Ramsey. “With all that was going on, we still managed to drop our bombs.”

Pilot Waldo Oldham put it this way: “It seemed miraculous that each man moved at just the right time to avoid being hit. Although we had a lot of bad luck, we were extremely fortunate to be shot up that bad and still no one was injured.  “Our formation was pretty well scattered with the lead ship down, Cotner and Beck gone, and the deputy lead hadn’t moved into position yet. Also, with only three engines we were struggling to keep up. I believe that before the Group reformed on the deputy lead, we had gone several minutes past our RP turn and gotten into more flak areas, sustaining even more damage. Our number two engine quit, and I couldn’t get the prop to feather, so it was windmilling, causing a lot of drag. We dropped back and tried to tag onto other Group formations, but we couldn’t maintain speed or altitude. As we lost altitude, we followed the heading of the Bomber stream above, but weren’t too sure of our distance from the coast. There was a cloud deck below at about 12,000 feet, so the ground below wasn’t visible, but we reckoned we were near the coast, not far from Hamburg. We considered turning north and trying to make it across the Denmark line, but at that time there was a minor explosion in the number four engine nacelle, and flames appeared out the cowling.”

“We were trailing behind,” continues Leach, “unable to keep up with the other ships grouping to return to England. I looked below and could see the Russian tanks and troops besieging Berlin. Purdy was at a loss for a heading and Wally was struggling with the engines. I suggested we head for the Russian lines, but could not get any response from the navigator. Unable to rejoin the formation, we were alone and losing altitude. The right inboard engine caught fire and was put out.”

“It was somewhat ironic” wrote Waldo Oldham, “that when we were over Berlin we only had one engine out, so we thought we could possibly get back on three. We had been briefed to turn east if in trouble and try to get behind the Russian lines. That’s what Rosie and Ernst did, though their crew jumped sooner. However, our troubles were spread over the next 100 plus miles and approximately the next hour, so my decision to keep going may have been wrong. The crew had been alerted for possible bail-out earlier, and now it was imminent. Not knowing for sure that we were still over land, I made a “U” turn and headed inland. We didn’t want to jump in the water, yet with the engine flaming, I was afraid to wait any longer to get the crew out.”

“When Wally called me on the intercom to tell me we were going to have to bail out,” said Ralph Kalberloh, “he added, ‘you can jump out back there or come to the waist where the others are jumping.’ My escape hatch was a very small rectangular opening in the tail floor. To bail out, I had to first jettison the door and then from a kneeling position do a somersault headfirst through the opening. As a boy, I could not even climb a tree because I was afraid of heights, so you can imagine how frightened I was of bailing out, especially alone. I imagined myself freezing in the hatch opening and with no one to push me out, I would go down with the plane. I asked Wally to give me time to get to the waist, which he did. I was in such a hurry that I grabbed my chute while crawling toward the waist. I am sure that I looked like a giant anteater as I came crawling out of the tail dragging a long piece of oxygen hose attached to my oxygen mask. I had failed to uncouple it!”

In the nose of the aircraft, Howard Leach heard Oldham inform the crew that they would have to bail out. “I proceeded to the nose hatch, kicking it out and prepared to jump. I realized that I did not have my shoes, so I returned to the nose to retrieve them, fastening them to my chute. “Seated dangling my feet in space, I became aware that Carl (Co-Pilot Carl D. Dunn) was coming down. Once his feet appeared, I rolled out at 23,000 feet. Clear of the ship, I was falling in space unable to see the ground, insensitive to falling, and reluctant to pull the ripcord. There was no fear, and I found myself curiously assuming various positions – one completely stretched out, another locked into a ball. I became conscious of falling when I busted through the clouds and could see the ground rapidly approaching.”

Back in the waist of the aircraft the gunners were donning their parachutes. “It was my responsibility to jettison the waist door, which I promptly did,” said Tom Ramsey. “All of us except Wally, Carl, and Howard were in the waist when we bailed out.”

Ralph Kalberloh continues: “The waist door had been jettisoned, and Tom Ramsey was first in line to jump. I began talking to him while someone handed me a couple of boxes of K-rations, which I stuffed in the knee pockets of my flight pants. When the bell rang to jump, I was shaking hands with Ramsey. He turned and jumped and I crowded in line. I believe I was still shaking his hand when I followed him out of the door. “The jump was not what I expected. There wasn’t any sensation of falling – it was more like a feather floating in the wind. My chute opened with a jolt, but I managed to hold onto my G.I. shoes, which were tied together by the shoe strings. Leach insisted we tie our shoes to the parachute harness to avoid having them jerked from our hands when the chute opened. However, I lost the K-rations, compass and escape map because I had failed to close the pockets of my flight suit. Two American fighter planes circled us as we floated down. “As I floated down, every bad thing I had ever done in my life appeared in my thoughts and I wondered. Would I be machine gunned by German fighters, killed by an angry mob or land in a lake and drown from the collapsing chute? As I got closer to the ground, my mind immediately turned to survival.”

“While the first to leave the plane, I was probably the last to land because I had immediately pulled the ripcord,” said Tom Ramsey. “I remember spinning like a ball upon leaving the plane and the chute opening without a severe jerk. I never saw the plane, nor do I recall seeing any other chutes.”

PART TWO

In the fall issue of Splasher Six, we flew the Berlin mission with this crew, sharing their harrowing mission and following them as they bailed out of their doomed aircraft.  In part two, the journey continues with their evasion and capture experiences.

 As Bombardier Howard Leach floated down after bailing out of Dixie’s Delight, he spied below a heavily wooded area with clearings and a pond.  “I headed in that direction, pulling heavily on the shrouds.  The landing, in two feet of water, was jolting.  I rapidly disengaged myself of the chute, towed it to land and covered it up the best I could with debris. I buried my 45 service revolver and ran for the wooded area, descending into a narrow, water filled ditch covered by ice, where I lay down. It wasn’t long before two soldiers appeared on a bridge 100 years upstream.  They were joined by a number of youths – the search party.  I lay face down daring not to move as two teenagers passed me on the ditch bank a few feet away.  The soldiers remained smoking before leaving.

 “After what appeared to be a long wait, I managed to crawl to the bridge, my lower extremities frozen.  Adjacent to the bridge was a fallen tree into which I crawled, none too soon. A wagon appeared and passed over the bridge.  I hid out until dark and found my way into the center of the woods.  Here I built a fire and dried out my clothes.  I was wearing my field jacket over the ‘heated flying suit’ and fleece lined boots.  My shoes were gone from the bail out.  I was deeply depressed and became tearful.  Someway or other, I had to find my way out of Germany and get word home to the folks that I was safe.  They could not bear the loss of two sons.

 “I examined the escape kit by firelight.  It consisted of a map, compass, matches, halozen tablets, chocolate bar, bullion cubes and a hack saw blade, which I concealed in my pant leg.  I gathered up my earthly belongings, put out the fire, and headed west guided by the North Star.  I found a road and was able to dodge a bicyclist who was headed to the nearby town, which was apparently under attack by English aircraft, presumably Mosquitoes.  The sirens were wailing, search lights were probing the sky, and there was a bomb blast or two.  I traveled all night knowing search parties would be scouring the woods come daylight.”

 Pilot Wally Oldham’s experience was different from Howard Leach’s.  “I was picked up right away.  I landed in a small village in an open area right in the middle of a circle of people who had been watching my descent.  Their local policeman was right there with drawn gun by the time I got my chute gathered up.  They were country people and not overly hostile.  However, I had some anxious moments as they marched me down the road to the village center.  By that time there was a crowd of 50 or so people following and every time we passed a tree, I expected to see someone throw a rope and noose over a limb.”

 Waist Gunner Tom Ramsey was another member of the crew that managed to evade immediate capture.  “After landing, I hastily gathered up the chute and took off running.  After a while and since I couldn’t detect any pursuit, I stopped to take stock of the situation.  I removed the chute and harness, found a large hollow stump, and stuffed it in.  I didn’t change my boots immediately because the ground was wet with melting snow.

 “I had my survival gear tucked in my flying suit.  I don’t recall the complete contents, but by far most important were the compass and maps.  I had a spare compass, which I had acquired before the mission. 

 “I was very surprised to see the great expanse of forest.  Since I was raised in the country, all my life I hunted and fished.  I felt that I was in my element and stood an excellent chance of getting back to England.  I had only to stick to the forest, travel at night, hide out during the day, and I was home free.”

 Meanwhile Wally Oldham was facing an entirely different set of circumstances.  “I was kept chained to a post in a barn, and numerous villagers, some of whom could speak a little English, came in to look at me and ask questions.  In high school I had a couple of years of German, so I had a limited vocabulary enabling me to understand and make myself understood to a degree. 

 “Later, the police took me to a barracks where they kept some French and Polish slave laborers under military guard.  I spent the night in a cellar there and the next morning was taken to a farmhouse where more villagers filed through.  After a couple of hours the police brought Carl (Co-pilot Carl D. Dunn) in.  He was caught on landing at a nearby village and had no ill effects from the jump or treatment.”

 Tail Gunner Ralph Kalberloh landed in a tree and, after disentangling himself, fled.  “I wasn’t hurt, but all I had to eat for an entire week was a candy bar.  On the third day I met a Russian male slave laborers and a Russian girl, from whom I tried to get help, but no deal as both of them were afraid of getting killed.  I walked every day until I was exhausted.  My feet were frozen and swollen so that I couldn’t take my shoes off.  My clothes were frozen stiff.  It didn’t make much difference then whether I was captured or killed.  On the fifth day I decided to surrender before I became so weak that I would pass out and die of exposure.  I surrendered to some Belgium slave laborers who turned me over to the Gestapo.”

 Evading, Tom Ramsey fared rather well for a time, and was never hungry while evading capture.  “I had plenty to eat even though it was mostly raw potatoes and turnips which I found buried in cellars everywhere.  I supplemented these with occasional eggs, which I stole from chicken houses.  These eggs were eaten raw, as I felt it was unsafe to build a fire.  On one occasion I filched a large frame of honey from on of the old classic dome-shaped beehives.  I can imagine the consternation of the farmer when he opened his hives.

 “My optimistic assessment of reaching England didn’t take into account the conditions I was to encounter. During this time, Germany was experiencing a ‘February thaw’ with lots of melted snow about.  It rained and froze during the night and the daytime thaw made travel difficult.  My flying boots became hopelessly waterlogged, so I discarded them in favor of the GI boots.  I was wet most of the time.  The nights were so cold that my toes began to freeze. I didn’t realize this until by the end of the fourth or fifth day when my feet when, with my feet badly frozen, it became very painful to walk.  My feet were so badly swollen that I couldn’t take my shoes off, so I slit the sides to relieve the pressure. 

“I was continually amazed at the extent of the forest I encountered.  Some of it was re-growth, some uncut forest, and some were plantations where trees were planted in rows.  I could have traveled the whole week and never left the forest.  I wished many time that I had brought my 45 or Colt Woodsman 22 pistol with me.  We had been cautioned not to do so because if caught we would be considered to be an armed enemy and probably shot forthwith.  However, had I possessed a firearm, it would have been easy for me to keep myself supplied with meat while hiding out.”

 Like Ralph Kalberloh, the state of Tom Ramsey’s feet forced him to surrender. 

 Meanwhile, Wally Oldham and Carl Dunn were being transported to Luneberg, where Ralph Kalberloh would also be sent.  “We were told that we would be taken to the city jail in Luneburg, which was only a few miles away,” wrote Wally.  “I had lost my shoes when I jumped, so I told them I couldn’t walk and, by golly, they brought a horse and carriage, so Carl and I rode to jail in style...the carriage driver in front, the two of us in back, and two Luneburg policemen, on bicycles, escorting us. 

 “After we got to Luneburg, we were interrogated by the Gestapo and then turned over to the military.  They seemed to accept the name, rank, serial number routine, but volunteered info on our crashed plane.  They said it crashed and burned in a meadow and that there were three unopened chutes aboard so we must have lost three men.  I didn’t mention that those were spares so they probably thought they had caught all the survivors and didn’t realize that there were still two men not taken.

 “Most of the prisoners in that jail were German military personnel.  Their cell doors were not locked, so they were free to roam the area in front of our cells.  Most were curious about our presence and gathered about asking questions, seemingly aware that the war was in its last months.  After a couple of days they brought in Dick (Gunner Richard G.) Chapple.  He was okay and glad to see us. 

 “Another day or two later, in the night, some guards took us out, loaded the three of us and two guards onto a passenger train bound for Hanover.  It was great timing as Hanover had just been the target for a bombing raid.  The ambulances and cleanup people were still there when we got off the train.  Needless to say, our presence created quite a scene and fortunately the guards did a good job protecting us from the irate populace. 

 “Our destination was Frankfurt.* There was a change of guards there and they held us until dawn in the sub-level floor of a bombed out hotel building.  On leaving there we rode a city street car, along with the early morning ‘going to work’ crowd, to an outlying camp.  It was an interrogation center, complete with solitary confinement cells and the daily grilling for any kind of info you might have.

 “At this center they had a file on each individual with all sorts of military stations and former occupation.  They knew that I had worked for Consolidated Aircraft and I believe that caused me to have an extended stay in solitary.  Consolidated was building the B-36, and when I left there all they had was a mock-up of an experimental model.  I had never seen that or was hardly aware of that supposedly secret project.  The German intelligence wouldn’t’ buy my ignorance on the subject, but finally after a week all POW’s were sent for sorting out to go to their respective service camps.”

 The member of the crew who evaded the longest was Howard Leach.  From February 3rd to February 13th he evaded searchers, battled gnawing hunger and bone chilling cold. 

 “It was impossible to sleep,” said Howard.   “Hunger was ever present. Around two or three in the morning, I was proceeding down a main street when out a side road appeared three Germans with a bicycle equipped with a light.  They stopped me and began to question me in German.  I replied, ‘Yo estoy un Espanol trabajo.’  They wanted my certificate.  ‘Es perdido,’ I replied and started to walk away.  One of them grabbed me by my flight jacket and the other blocked my way with the bicycle. 

 “The one that could speak Italian wanted to know what was in the sack.  I emptied its contents on the ground: three turnips, a pair of socks and a shirt I had taken from a clothesline.  I was wearing the trousers over my flights pants.  Under the glare of the flashlight I gathered up my meager belongings, put them in the sack and took off.  The last I remembered was one of the Germans saying that he knew there were Italiano trabajos but nix Espanolas. 

 “On February 13th, it was still dark when I entered a large city.  Thinking that surely I had crossed into the Netherlands, my thought was to select a home on the outskirts of town and ask for refuge.  I walked down the main street as daylight emerged.  To my dismay, I encountered a building enclosed by steel fencing laced with swastikas!  I had to get out of town.

 “I headed for the outskirts of town and into a huge open field only to encounter gun emplacements.  The field was laced with 88’s pointing skyward.  Nearby there was a factory which was blowing up.  Last night’s bombing raid by the RAF had dumped delayed action bombs, which were now going off.  I set down and studied my map.  Nearby were two railroads entering a town which must be Leer, and beyond the second railroad was the border, some 20 kilometers away.

 “I had only to go past the two railroads, cross the river and travel a short distance to reach the Netherlands shown on the map.  The first railroad crossing was easy.  I found an underpass and then was confronted with crossing over the second railroad.  There was no underpass.  I must pass beneath a railroad guard station in which I could see soldiers.

“I made the crossing without looking upward, climbed the road nodding to two elderly Germans tending their garden, and stopped to look across the river.   What I had mistaken to be a an abandoned factory turned out to be a border outpost.  Emerging from a dugout appeared a German officer, monocle in eye.  Seeing me, he called, ‘Comen here, boy.’ 

 “I had run my course.  I stepped forward, saluted, and announced that I was surrendering.  I thought he would drop his monocle before he approached me with his luger drawn. 

 “I was taken underground to a room where he and other soldiers assembled.  A phone call was made and I was ushered out of the dugout and transported to a nearby airfield to be interrogated by the Luftwaffe.  A search of my pockets revealed a couple of 45 shells, which seemed to excite my captors, and then they found the hack saw blade concealed in the cuff of my trousers.  The officer in charge became annoyed that I would reply only to my name, rank, and serial number.  I did not reveal to them that this very airfield was the secondary target for me on the February 3 raid.  I nervously expected B-17s to appear any moment.

From the airfield, I was taken under guard to Leer and placed in a solitary jail cell.  An elderly prison guard appeared giving me a cup of ersatz coffee and a stale piece of black bread.  He spoke English, telling me that he had spent some time in the United States living in Detroit.  I lay down and slept.  It was the end of my attempted escape from Germany.

 *Frankfurt am Main was a Dulag Luft interrogation camp.

PART THREE – Prison life

Late in the afternoon of February 14th, the jail door to Bombardier Howard Leach’s cell was opened and a soldier appeared.  “Pointing a rifle at me, he ordered, ‘Raus mit dir’ [out with you], a term, which must have been in every soldier’s vocabulary I encountered in imprisonment.  I was taken by streetcar to a nearby railroad station to await a train to take me to the Luftwaffe Evaluation Center at Oberusel, 12 kilometers from Frankfurt am Main.  This is where all captured allied airmen were taken for interrogation by German intelligence.

 “The train was late. We went downstairs to a room to await the train’s arrival.  A troop train arrived, apparently from the eastern front, discharging the walking wounded, who, attended by nurses, filled the room.  They paid little attention to me.  Seemingly after hours of waiting, the guard motioned me to follow.  We went up to the platform to await arrival of our train.  Two soldiers were alongside us in a disturbed state.  While I could not speak German, I understood what was being said. The one soldier was hysterical.  He was voicing, in no uncertain terms, that he was not going to Berlin, and that if Hitler wanted Berlin, he would have to battle for it himself.  His buddy was attempting to hush him. 

 “The train arrived and we boarded with the guard finding the only vacant seat in a compartment filled with soldiers.  I was left in the corridor outside.  I could not stand the pain of being on my feet, so I found my way to the baggage car and sat down to remove the civilian pants.  An elderly civilian gave me assistance, for which I gave him the three English pounds left in my wallet.  I had used the money to ignite the fires during my attempted escape.

 “Shortly after midnight, the train approached Frankfurt only to come to an abrupt stop.  We could hear the wailing of sirens and see searchlights scanning the sky.  There was a drone of approaching aircraft, the sound of anti-aircraft fire, and then the bombs.  All hell broke loose with the train passengers screaming and scrambling out of the compartments to run up the hillside above the tracks.  I followed the guard, who appeared to care little about me.  I could have easily escaped, but was not physically able to endure another flight. “We sat out the raid until the ‘all clear’ sirens allowed us to return to the train.”

 After being interrogated at Oberusal, Sgt. Tom Ramsey was put on a train to the Dulag-Luft at Wetzlar. “There I was reunited with the rest of the crew.  Officers and enlisted men were kept separate, so I had little contact with them.

 “I have very little memory of the time I spent or the conditions encountered while in the prison camps.  I guess my frozen feet were making me so miserable that I could think of little else.”

 After arriving in Frankfurt, Lt. Leach was marched to Oberusel, where he was interrogated.  On February 16th, he was placed on a train and taken to the Dulag-Luft at Wetzlar, a distribution center to which POWs were sent for processing and transport to the Stalags scattered throughout Germany.

 “They train stopped on the outskirts of Wetzlar and we were taken off the train to be marched to the prison camp some four or five miles distant.  Another prisoner and I could not keep up with the column as we both had difficulty walking. 

 “We came around the road to view a bridge over a river.  The bridge was intact; however, alongside was what was once a house now reduced to smoldering rubble.  One of our fighters had apparently made a pass on the bridge dropping a bomb or bombs, which missed the bridge but scored on the house. 

 “A German couple was pawing through the rubble when they saw the hated American luft gangsters being escorted by three soldiers.  The two of us lagging behind were attended by only one guard.  Centering on me, the German civilian, looking seven foot tall and with eyes full of hate, picked up a brick and began to approach me with intent to stone me to death.  Unable to flee, I had no way of defending myself.  If it weren’t for the guard stepping between us and reasoning with the man, I am sure that I would have been stoned to death.”

 Almost all allied airmen passed through the interrogation center at Oberusal before being transferred to the distribution center at Wetzler.  In late 1943 the average number of POWs per month being processed through these centers was 1000.  This rose in 1944 to an average of 2000, with July of 1944 seeing 3000 POWs. The total number of allied airmen held prisoner in all the Dulag-Lufts in 1942 was 3000, with this number jumping to 29,000 in 1944.

 The main part of the camp at Wetzler consisted of four large wooden barracks.  Two of these were connected by a passage way known to the POWs as the cooler.  One barracks contained the administrative services while the last one was where interrogations were held.  The entire camp was surrounded by barbed wire.

 “Upon approaching the fenced compound, I noted a detachment of soldiers accompanied by dogs entering the compound bearing a body on a stretcher.  I was to learn that there had been an escape attempt.  This particular airman had been accused by his fellow crewmen of not aiding the lower ball gunner when their ship was hit.  He foolishly sought to escape in broad daylight by crossing the warning wire, climbing the fence and was shot.  Electing to go over the fence to certain death, as I learned later, was known as ‘Going over the Bend’.

“Before entering the fenced compound we were taken to an outside building for processing.  Here we were photographed, given German dog tags, and issued clothing.  I was provided a pair of GI shoes, socks, shoe laces, GI overcoat, razor, five blades and a can of shoe polish.  All were American made.  We were given stationery and permitted to write home. My folks had earlier received a notice that I was taken prisoner and was a POW, which must have relieved them greatly.  In my letter I assured them that I was receiving good care and would be home soon.

 “Upon entering the compound and assigned to barracks, I was pleased to encounter Wally (Waldo J. Oldham, Pilot).  He was most happy to see me, too.  Wally informed me that the entire crew had survived and that they had been at Wetzler for a week.  We went to the mess hall for a Kriegie lunch – the only mess hall dinner I had during the whole time of internment.  The wall of the mess hall had a painting of Dagwood with a Dagwood sandwich, which reminded us all of home.”

 “It was in Wetzler that my crew got back together,” wrote Wally Oldham.  “To our relief, Howard showed up in two or three days.  By that time he was looking pretty poor for wear and tear, having very little to eat and being exposed to some fairly rough weather for the previous couple of weeks.  Over all we had become a rather sorry looking lot.”

 “Returning from lunch,” said Howard Leach, “I encountered Tom Ramsey and learned that he had evaded capture for five days.  When asked if he was able to use his prized survival weapon, he sheepishly replied that he had left the Colt-Woodsman in his footlocker for fear of losing it.  I learned that Purdy (Ross F. Purdy, Navigator) and Charlton (William E. Charlton, Waist gunner) had been picked up by the SS and taken to Berlin with other captured airmen to be paraded through the bombed out area.  They were then lined up against a wall to be shot.  Fortunately, in the nick of time, a Luftwaffe officer appeared and took them into custody.”

 While at Wetzler, the POWs were treated to a show.  “We watched a strafing attack by a P-51 on a train in the station.  That was a real show.  He made several passes shooting up the train and then on his final pass he blew up the locomotive,” said Wally.  “The whole camp cheered like we were watching a football game.”

 “I was reunited with the rest of the crew at Wetzler,” said Tom Ramsey.  “Officers and enlisted men were kept separate, so I had little contact with them.

 “I have very little memory of the time I spent or the conditions encountered while in the prison camps.  I guess my frozen feet were making me so miserable that I could think of little else.”

 The men were assembled after roll call and escorted under armed guard to where they boarded a train.  The destination was Stalag 13D at Nürnberg.

 “We arrived early in the morning,” remembers Howard Leach.  “We were taken to the compound after delousing.  This was a huge prison camp having been once a “fairground” housing for Nazi party members attending the Nuremberg rallies frequented by Hitler.  The coliseum was seen as we entered the compound.  The crowded barracks were filthy and infested with lice, fleas and bedbugs. 

 “We joined POWs who had been marched to Nurnberg when the Russians overran Stalag Luft 3A at Sagan near Poland.  Among the prisoners was Colonel Darr H. Alkire who was one of the first group commanders of the 100th.  Col. Alkire, commanding officer of Stalag Luft 3, had assumed the same position at Nurnberg.

 “Carl (Co-Pilot Carl Dunn) and I were assigned to a barracks containing some 40 officers.  We had been issued a ragged blanket apiece at Wetzler, which was totally inadequate to protect us from the cold. Carl and I chose to sleep together covering ourselves with the two blankets and our overcoats. The bed was a bunk with slats covered by a tick of meager straw.  These slats disappeared one by one as they were the only source of wood shavings to cook with.  There was no wood for the small stove in the middle of the room, and we were given little coal to heat the barracks.

 “There were no utensils.  Carl had a can and a spoon which he brought with him.  I had nothing.  Someone told me that there were some old bottles under the barracks.  I was able to retrieve one and then proceed to fashion it into a vessel.  At the suggestion of one of the ‘experienced’ Kriegies, I found a piece of string, saturated it with shoe wax, and set it on fire.  Once it burned completely around the bottle, I immersed it in cold water.  I now had a cup, and with a razorblade, fashioned a spoon.  When the hot soup arrived and we filed past the table to receive a ladle of soup, to my dismay, my glass fell apart and my first meal at Stalag 13D lay on the dirty floor.  There were no seconds, and I went to bed starved.

“The outside privy was denied to us at night.  We were prohibited from leaving the barracks.  The only relief was an overflowing bucket near the door.  Dysentery was rampant and showed no mercy.  I incurred the wrath of a guard who didn’t hesitate pointing his gun at me.  I had given a poor Russian prisoner a cigarette after witnessing him forced to crawl into the filthy pit of the latrine to clear a drain.

 “During the next ten days we endured great deprivation.  If it had not been for the Red Cross officials appearing and getting delivery of Red Cross food parcels to us, I have no doubt that many of us would have starved to death.  Food, what little there was of it, came delivered by horse driven wagon.  The only motorized vehicle appearing in the compound was the “Honey Wagon” painted white with a red cross.  It was used to pump out the sewage to be used as “night soil” on the nearby farms. 

 “At mid morning we would be delivered a limited number of loaves of black bread composed of 1/3 sawdust.  A loaf was issued to seven men for the 24 hour period.  The procedure in my group was to assemble at the table and one of us with a razor blade would accurately divide the loaf into seven pieces.  There were 14 eyeballs critically watching the operation, and one had to be super careful that the pieces were equal.  Then it was up to the individual to ration it out for the 24 hour period.  I preferred to cut my bread ration into five wafers which I dried on the stove.  (Some days we received a coal ration which permitted a fire during the day.)  I would have one wafer for breakfast accompanied by a cup of tea, two for lunch, and the remaining two with dinner.  Dinner was the soup which contained pieces of horse meat, potatoes, cabbage and some kind of pea. Customarily floating on top were cooked beetles of some sort. I observed Carl laboriously picking out the beetles. “Carl,” I said, “you just as well eat the bugs because you will find a beetle entombed in each pea.”  For breakfast we received two or three small potatoes, often too rotten to eat, and a cup of tea.  Occasionally we received a chunk of cheese wrapped in foil smaller than a cube of butter.  You were fortunate if half of it was edible after cutting away the mold with a razor blade.  Once in a great while we received sauerkraut, which was a welcome respite from the soup.

 “We received our first Red Cross parcel on February 27...one parcel to five men.  Thereafter we were given one parcel a week for two.  Carl and I would divide up the food certain that each received equal amounts.  The only exception was the package of M&M candies, which we split 36 for Carl and 35 for me.  Normally a parcel contained: 1 can spam or corned beef, 1 can of tuna or salmon, a can of powdered milk, sugar, jam or peanut butter, a package of crackers or cereal, coffee or tea, raisins or prunes, two packages of cigarettes, Wrigley’s chewing gum, a D bar, a bar of soap, and some C-rations.  The cigarettes proved to be valuable items of trade both with fellow prisoners and German guards.

 “Upon receipt of your share of the Red Cross parcel came the meal preparation.  We fashioned a stove made from the can which contained the powdered milk into which we inserted wood shavings.  By continually stoking the fire, we were able to boil water for tea, coffee or something to eat.”

 “We ate twice a day,” said Ralph Kalberloh.  It was very little...two slices of bread and soup with a little horse meat in it.  We cooked grass and even ate a stray cat that happened into our compound.”

 “Each day before breakfast the guard would enter the barracks rousing us out for “appel” or headcount,” said Howard Leach.  “Since we all slept in our clothing, it was just a matter of drudgingly moving out into the compound and falling into some semblance of formation.  Purposely we made every effort not to be in orderly ranks, which complicated the headcount.  The Hoffman would appear with a sergeant or corporal, whose duty it was to make a count from the rear as the Hoffman proceeded down the front.  Then they would confer and invariably differ in their counts.  The procedure would be done over and over until they resolved their differences.

 “After dismissal we either returned to the barracks or wandered about the compound.  Walking the barbed wire enclosure was our only form of exercise and recreation.  A common greeting to a fellow POW was, “Was ist los Kriegesgefangene?” or “Where are the Goons?”  This was our name for the guards, who were mostly Wehrmacht soldiers.  We were always alert when one would slip into the barracks. 

 “On warm days you could always observe a couple of buddies sitting together searching each others heads for lice.  Occasionally I observed a British airman near the barbed wire writing.  He was a poet.  One evening he spoke to a small group of us gathered together in the barracks.  He had come to the United States to speak to a Chicago Meat Packers Convention to raise War Bonds.  He quoted one of his poems read at the Convention.  The ending refrain was, “There is a two fisted meat packer waiting for me, Ho Ho”.  I pictured a husky, shirtless meatpacker armed with a sledgehammer waiting the arrival of a cow.  I hope the poet made it through the war.

 “There was little regard for rank.  We were all hungry.  Much of our conversation was on food and what we had for dinner at home.  This was particularly popular with the British, Australians, and a Lt. Jose de Asis, a fighter pilot from Argentina.  The subject of Mom serving Thanksgiving dinner was repeated many times.  We also thirsted for news.  At the arrival of new prisoners we would all gather about the gate to see who we knew and to ask for news of the outside world and when the war would end.

“There were also days when we observed formations of B-17s, B-24s and A-26s high overhead heading for Munich or targets eastward.  We lived in constant fear of helplessness if we were bombed.  The guards refused us access to the trenches within the compound, and we were confined to the barracks at night.  Guards and guard dogs patrolled inside and outside the compound. Searchlights covered the perimeter.

 “On February 20 and 21, Nurnberg was flattened in daylight bombing by the 8th Air Force.  We could watch the oncoming formations relieved that the path of the bombers was not overhead.   Nights were particularly frightful as Nurnberg was being bombed regularly by the Royal Air Force.  Such a raid occurred on February 27th.  Commencing with the wailing of sirens, the night sky was lit up with searchlights and with flares as the Germans sought to rendezvous with their fighters.  Then in came the Mosquitoes dropping white and colored flares, some of which burned alongside our barracks.  They were the flares marking the target for the Lancasters with their 1000 pound bombs, which would soon appear.  The English were reported to have the best of navigators.  Among us, huddled down, were British and Canadian airmen who were well aware of the significance of the burning flares but could not offer assurance that the Lancaster’s would not be zeroing in on us.  All we could do was pray and wait.  German anti-aircraft shells filled the sky.  Bombs fell in the nearby coliseum.  There was an explosion of a 1,000 pound bomb in the compound next to us.  Would we be next?  I hastened to give Carl my last package of cigarettes, and we both smoked nervously.  There was no place to run or hide.  Finally the all clear sirens came on and we crawled into our beds.

 “March was extremely cold, and we were often mustered out into the snow.  There was little to do other than to walk the compound keeping clear of the warning wire.  The Krauts were now bringing in captured ground troops, some of whom were billeted in our compound.  I kept looking for the Timber Wolf Division shoulder patch of the 104th Infantry searching faces in the vain hope that my brother was not killed and that he would miraculously appear.

 “At night we would learn of the war news through our underground informants who had access to a radio and the BBC broadcasts.  On March 7, the American 9th Armored Division crossed the Rhine River at Remagen, and on March 22, General Patton’s 3rd Army entered the Rhineland south of Mainz.  Patton was across the Rhine and coming our way.  One of his captured tank crews, which ran out of gas, was brought into our compound.  Hopes were high, particularly on Easter Sunday when low level American fighters frequently appeared overhead with no anti-aircraft fire.

 “We all shared a great depression.  The anxiety of not knowing what would happen the next day was sometimes overwhelming.  We all were going ‘stir crazy’, some more than others.  This I was to witness later on upon entering Stalag 7A at Moosberg.”

 A/N: I would like to thank www.b24.net for the background on the Dulag-lufts.  This site is an excellent source for information on all things POW.

 

PART FOUR - Moosburg to Liberation

 “Unbeknownst to us rank and file POWs,” said Howard Leach, “the Germans had notified Col. Alkire (Darr H. Alkire, former commander of the 100th) that Stalag 13D was to be evacuated, and all prisoners were to be marched to Stalag 7A at Moosburg.  This came about on April 4.  Guards appeared that late afternoon ordering us to prepare for the march.  Ours was the first compound to leave.” 

 “I had made friends with a P-51 pilot who had spent some time in a German hospital, having been injured bailing out and badly burned about the face.  He was fearful of being put on a train with other wounded, since he had endured a life threatening experience being shipped to Nurnberg.  The Germans would place the POWs in the car adjacent to the locomotive where they would be the most vulnerable in the event there was a strafing attack.  He had experienced such a strafing.  I carried his meager belongings, and he and I managed the first day of the march before he was picked up by a Red Cross truck following the evacuation.”

 “The Germans had allowed Red Cross trucks with food parcels to come in from Switzerland to supplement our ration of mostly potato and bread issue,” said Wally Oldham.  “The trucks were utilized to transport some that were ailing or had various problems in keeping up with the column.  There were about 10,000 POWs in our camp, and to move that many on a march, a column was formed that was over three days long.”  

 “Individually,” added Howard Leach, “we gathered our few possessions, (blanket, Kriegie stove, eating utensils, and what remained of our last Red Cross parcel) and assembled out of doors.  Our only clothing was what we wore and had been sleeping in for months.  We struggled out of the compound in gathering darkness and a cold drizzling rain.  All night the guard relentlessly pushed us until finally, exhausted, we refused to go further.  I collapsed in a swale somewhere in the woods and, gathering my blanket around me, went to sleep.  When daylight arrived I found myself in several inches of water.  We were roused up and pushed back onto the road.”

 “That night we reached the suburbs of the roadside town of Feucht and spent the night crowded in a church with little space to lie down.  The next morning we were taken to a nearby park, where we lined up to receive a cup of hot soup rationed out by a group of townspeople.  As we were marched out of town, I was amused to see chickens scurrying out of the road.  Some of the ingenious Limeys, many who – since Dunkirk – had been on such forced marches before, had fashioned a wire hoop on their walking staffs.  Now and then such a staff would appear, snatch a chicken into the ranks and leave behind a mess of feathers.” 

 “We were envious of the Kriegie stoves carried by many Limeys.  During a break, down would come the stove, wood chips placed in the firebox, and a blower operated by hand crank would heat a spot of tea in a matter of minutes.  Ours was a tin can with air holes cut out, taking seemingly hours to heat a cup of coffee or whatever we had available from our Red Cross parcel or had bartered from the Germans.  Barter goods were: cigarettes, soap, and D Bars, which could be traded for potatoes, bread, or eggs.  Civilians would stand along the column ready to barter.  On one occasion as we were proceeding through a small village, I approached one such German. ‘Ich habe Zigaretten für Brot?’  He replied, ‘ya’ and indicated that he would meet me down the road.  As he hurriedly departed for the bread, he remarked in perfect English, ‘I prefer Chesterfields.’  He was given Raleighs when I finally made the exchange.”

 “The Germans were intent on getting us across the Danube River before the American 3rd Division caught up with us.  We were five days in reaching the river, and hurried across the bridge accompanied by the guards firing overhead.  Once across the Danube, the guards, mostly old Wehrmacht soldiers whose standard remark was ‘Allies ist Kaput,’ soon tired of herding us and became one of the party struggling south.  Kriegies began to appear with confiscated wagons and carts into which they placed their belongings.  I glanced out of the column and there was F/O Led B. Stuart from Auckland, New Zealand, red beard and all looking like Santa Claus, pushing a baby carriage with a wire haired terrier on a leash.  Glancing behind the column, I could see a German on a bicycle in hot pursuit.  He caught up with Stuart, grabbing the leash and taking possession of his dog.  Shortly after, I observed a young boy standing along the road and to my delight, he possessed a sling shot.  ‘Ich habe Chocolate für slingshot.’  I was armed and thereafter, English sparrows and an occasional pigeon fell to my weapon.  I had meat to eat.”

 “As we moved ahead, the guards would billet us at night in farm courtyards.  If a hay barn was available, it provided warm sleep.  Barnyard fowl often fell prey to hunger.  On one occasion, we entered what appeared to be a rather prosperous farm in the middle of which was a large cistern of animal manure and human waste.  This was the ‘night soil’ being used for fertilizer.  Standing in the middle of the cistern was a French slave laborer, and walking around the farmyard was a 40 pound gander honking his disfavor of our presence.  The next morning, a most upset Bauer, accompanied by a guard, came looking for his goose.  One of the Kriegies, who spoke German, took the Bauer to the cistern and showed him what remained of last night’s dinner...the feet of a goose protruding from the manure.  ‘There is your pet goose; it wandered into the shit and drowned.’  The guard broke out into laughter and the farmer stormed off.”

 “While there were humorous times, we were under constant stress not knowing what was in store for us.  Among us on the march were Kriegies who had been on the ‘Death March’ from Stalag 3A at Sagan on January 28, 1945.  Prisoners unable to keep up with the column were shot by the guards.  Some had participated in the ‘Great Escape’ on March 24-25, 1944, when 76 British airmen escaped by tunnel, only to be recaptured.  Fifty of these escapees were executed. Only three were eventually able to reach England.  With the approach of the Russian troops, Hitler, not wanting allied airmen to be liberated by the Russians, had ordered the evacuation of Stalag 3A and other POW camps on the Eastern Front.  “There was a rumor that we were going to be held as hostages by the SS in their final desperate period of resistance.”

 (The RAF and American bombers blasted the Bavarian stronghold, and once General Patton and his 3rd Army were across the Rhine, General Eisenhower ordered him to hasten south to join up with the Russians on the Danube between Regensburg and Linz, ending German plans for a redoubt.  Eisenhower, too, was to notify the Germans that he would not tolerate using POWs as hostages.  We had also learned that Hitler, in the last weeks of the war, had ordered Field Marshal Goering to execute, by gassing, all American and British airmen held captive.  Fortunately, Goering refused to obey this order before Hitler ordered his arrest and replacement as commander in chief of the Luftwaffe.)

 Howard Leach picks up the story again. “Both American and German fighters were often overhead, including ME 262s and German jets.  A tragedy occurred while we were passing through a small town.  A railway was loading as our long column was proceeding by.  Visible was a V-2 bomb.  In came a P-45 blowing up the bomb.  The concussion killed a number of POWs who were unable to escape.”

 “I was marching along side my waist gunner,” said Ralph Kalberloh.  “Tom Ramsey and I were together.  Chappel (Richard G. Chapple-BTG) and Logan (unknown) were ahead of us, and Charlton (William E. Charlton-ROG) and Tooley (Patrick Tooley-TTE) were ahead of them. Then the P-47s came over.  Three of them came down and strafed and bombed.  I looked up and saw the bombs falling, so Tom and I ran under a bridge and lay down next to the wall.  A bomb landed about 25 feet from the bridge.  The bullets were glancing off the ground and flying all around us. Then it was over as quickly as it had started.  Logan didn’t know anything, but he didn’t die for two hours.  His leg was blown almost off and we couldn’t stop him from bleeding to death.  One of the fellows beside me had a piece of shrapnel from the bomb in his foot, but he didn’t know it until his shoe got full of blood.  There were plenty of wounded, but we marched on. Everybody was scared and nervous, and at every unexpected sound we ran.  The Air Force soon recognized us as POWs and every day after that a P-47 flew escort and waggled his wings to us.”

 Howard Leach continues.  “The last day before being marched into the barbed wire compound at Stalag 7A, we were given orders by our American commander not to move.  I recall Colonel Good and the German Hoffman standing that morning in the courtyard in heated argument.  The Hoffman reacted by requesting an SS detachment from Moosburg be sent to move us out.  They arrived, shooting over our heads.  We promptly fell out and reluctantly struggled to Moosburg and into the Stalag.  We were sad to learn later that the SS had executed this Hoffman, who had accompanied us from Nurnberg.  Stalag 7A had been a long established prison camp.  Upon entering, I noticed a compound containing a number of shell shocked POWs in pitiful condition and behavior.  It was a most depressing sight, with a couple of American officers giving us vacant stares.  I appeared in the barracks carrying my slingshot and a pair of wire cutters.”

 “I cannot come up with the April date that the last contingent of Nurnberg POWs entered Stalag 7A.  I’m sure it took nearly a week after I was incarcerated before the Germans had us all behind wire.  Preceding our arrival were 4,000 POWs evacuated from Sagan.  They had arrived on February 10, having endured the 13 day ‘Death March’ suffering great privation and casualties.  There were 70,000 POWs here when we were liberated.”

 “We were crowded into barracks with little room other than the bed we occupied.  There was no heat.  German rations were non-existent, and we could not depend on receiving Red Cross parcels.  We individually cooked on our Kriegie stoves whatever food we brought with us.  At night we could hear the firing of artillery as our troops moved ever closer.  On April 28, the advancing elements of Patton’s 3rd Army were close by.  The firing of 105s occurred all night, with the whining of shells overhead falling into Moosburg.  The next morning, the guards moved out of the compound into trenches just beyond the barbwire fences.  Small arms fire could be heard.  We were out in the street before the barracks, exuberantly awaiting the arrival of our troops, when the SS, held up in a nearby cheese factory, opened fire killing two of us.  We beat a fast retreat into the safety of the barracks listening to the increase in small arms fire.”

 “There was an infantry onslaught on the cheese factory, killing all the SS troops offering final resistance.  I had my last fling at the Germans firing my slingshot at a steel-helmeted German crouched in a trench nearby.  My fellow officers were not so inclined, and I found my weapon wrenched from my hand and broken in half.  So ended the war for me.”

 “At 12:45 p.m., April 29, we observed the Stars and Stripes being raised over the city.  Tears came to my eyes, and I cried with joy.  American troops began to enter the compound.  A jeep appeared nearby to our cheering group, and a sergeant stood up and threw out gold watches liberated in the last few hours from the Germans.  General Patton, with an entourage of VIPs, entered the compound the next day.  I observed him nearby wearing only one of his pearl handled revolvers.  He made a short speech and departed with his troops, headed for Munich.  It was two or three days later that food was brought into the compound. I remember gathering around a loaf of French bread coated with D-Bar being divided up among five of us.”

 “When we were liberated by Patton’s 14th Armored Division, the tanks moved right into our compound,” said Tom Ramsey.  “There was a mad scramble as the GIs threw K-rations out to us.”

 “It was ten days before we were flown out of Germany by C-47s.  No longer contained by wire, Kriegies were roaming Moosburg and going as far as Munich. I found Lt. W. P. Magenti, who was inducted with me at Fresno, disassembling a machine gun, which he was determined to take with him back to San Francisco.” 

 “The second day of liberation, I wandered out of the artillery encampment and was graciously hosted to lunch.  While there, and later at the Stalag, Jews from the death camps at Regensburg and Dachau appeared in their striped clothing covering nothing but skeletons.  A most pitiful sight, they were making their way on foot back home or to whatever was left of them.”

Tom Ramsey was reluctant to wander far from the main compound.  “I was afraid of becoming lost or getting into trouble and being left behind when they shipped us home.  I did, however, venture out one day to the edge of the compound and came upon a large outbuilding.  I opened the door and found the place packed from floor to ceiling with wooden shoes.  I managed to bring a pair home with me, which are now on a rack outside my patio door.”

 “The morning of May 8th,” remembers Howard Leach, “our compound was loaded into 6x6s and trucked to a vacant Luftwaffe airfield at Ingolstadt.  A continual stream of POWs began to appear as the day waned with no C-47s arriving.  That afternoon, there was an announcement that the German High Command had signed an unconditional surrender that day.  The War in Germany was over.  Some of us were fearful that we were destined to end the war over the skies of Japan.”

 “I wandered over to the abandoned Luftwaffe barracks, picking up souvenirs.  As I was walking through the bomb crater filled airstrip, I heard .50 caliber machine guns being fired.  Coming in for a landing was a German Stuka dive bomber containing two German officers fleeing the Russian front.  Oh, were they happy to make a safe landing and fall into the hands of the Americans.  The next day I was loaded into a C-47 and flown to a hospital in Reims.  Here I spent several days recuperating, was given a uniform, and ordered to report to Camp Lucky Strike, Le Havre, France. I had the pleasure of touring the railroad car in which the Germans surrendered. Another former POW and I jumped the train in Paris and spent several days touring the city before hitchhiking to Le Havre.  He had 6 German lugers for trade and I had cigarettes.”

 “Camp Lucky Strike was filled with ex-POWs awaiting shipment to the states.  We were housed in tents with adequate bedding and three meals a day.  There was a PX nearby with doughnuts, coffee and beer.  A terrible accident occurred here when an MP drinking coffee, dropped his rifle.  It discharged, killing one of us standing alongside, a 1st Lieutenant who had survived imprisonment.”

 “When they flew us out of Germany,” said Tom Ramsey, “I was separated from my other crew members.  I was flown directly to Paris and not to Reims. I can only speculate on going directly to Paris rather than Reims because of my physical condition.  My feet had become infected, and I was having a hard time getting around.” 

 “When we landed at Paris, we got off the plane and there was a large honor guard at the terminal.  This puzzled us until we found out it was all set up to greet the returning POWs.  We were herded into the terminal and treated royally, with all the coffee, soft drinks and doughnuts we could eat.  We were served by Red Cross girls in neat blue uniforms – a most emotional affair. I spent my entire time in Paris at an infirmary getting my feet treated.  I was disappointed in not being able to see Paris, but I did get to see the Eiffel Tower as we landed.

 “After Paris, I was sent to Camp Lucky Strike to await shipment home.  Foremost in my mind was to locate my twin brother, who was also a POW.  A search of camp records revealed that he had preceded me home.”

 Like Tom Ramsey, Howard Leach was looking for his brother.  “I was determined to go to the Henri Chapell Cemetery out of Reims, Belgium. This I did with great sadness on Memorial Day, May 30, finding the grave of my brother, Staff Sergeant Roy E. Leach, among the other 30,000 Americans buried there.”

 “I returned to Camp Lucky Strike to find that orders had been cut for me and the other six “permanents” to be trucked to Le Havre to be taken by landing craft to the USS Hermitage for journey home.”

 The trip home was a memorable one for Tom Ramsey.  “I remember the Andrews Sisters singing ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ over the ship’s radio until I was sick of it.  As we approached America, we were all anxious to see the Statue of Liberty; however, we docked in Boston rather than New York Harbor.  The date was June 6, 1945.  All these events had taken place in slightly over five months.”

“I immediately called home to find out from my parents that they had not been notified that I was on my way home.  The War Department had informed them on February 23, 1945 that I was MIA, but never notified them that I was a POW.  After being liberated, I had sent my folks a V-Mail letter telling them that I had been a POW, had been liberated, and would be home soon, not knowing exactly when.  About the time I arrived home, they finally received a telegram from the Adjutant General dated June 4, 1945, that said I was returned to Military Control on April 29, the day we were liberated from Moosburg.”

 Howard Leach could not remember any details from his trip home. “I cannot to this day remember any details of the six day trip to New York or when we arrived. Disembarking late at night, we were taken to an Army installation to be placed on a train the next day enroute to California.  I was setting alongside a colonel when he was asked by the train commander if the boys should be permitted booze.  Every stop for 3,000 miles, we jumped the train to purchase ice and beer.  I arrived at Camp Beal on June 22, received my 60 day furlough and caught a Greyhound for Fresno.  I arrived late at night and walked the streets of Fresno before catching a taxi for home.  The folks found me the next morning asleep with the dog, Sport, in the backyard.”

 Part Five gives us the story that started the search for this Chronicle that we have all been enjoying.  It is the story of a German man reaching out to the 100th and the reuniting of one of the Dixie’s Delight crew journeying to the resting place of his aircraft.”


PART FIVE

It all started with the Fall 06 issue of Splasher Six and the following item in Notes and Quotes:  Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, First I would like to tell you, that you have a fantastic Website of the 100 BG. I am from Germany, and my name isWerner Oeltjebruns. I am involved in the WWII air history over northern Germany.  My friends and I found several crash sites of American, English and German aircraft. In this way I found the crash site of 2nd Lt. Waldo Oldham’s B-17 in the area of Eichholz (south east of Hamburg). We also found a few remains of the B-17, and I spoke to an eyewitness who saw the air combat, probably with ME- 262 Fighters.  We would be delighted to be in contact with the crew, and ask your help. Thank you. Yours sincerely, Werner Oeltjebruns / Germany

 This notice was seen by Howard R. Leach, the bombardier on Dixie’s Delight, who notified the other two remaining crew members, Ralph Kalberloh, tail gunner, and Tom Ramsey, waist gunner.  The gentlemen quickly began a dialogue with Mr. Oeltjebruns, sending emails back and forth as they got to know each other.

 Ralph and his wife, Barbara, returned to German in 2000 and visited all the cities where he was held prisoner.  So now they began planning a trip to visit the crash site. Following is his account of the trip.

 When I told Werner I was coming to Brussels, and if he was agreeable I would meet him at Luneberg, he was delighted. He should receive a lot of credit, because it was his detective work that provided proof in identifying our plane.

 I was excited, apprehensive, and concerned about what kind of reception I would get when I met Werner and Egon Detloff, who saw our plane crash as a 14 year old.  We fought the Germans, and our bombers destroyed much of their cities, factories and infrastructure.  Werner and Thorston met us at the train station, since we had not met I told him I would be wearing a black hat, pants and white shirt with a black sleeveless sweater.

 They greeted us with open arms.  He had driven over 250 Kilometers to meet us, in a little car that only had 2 seats. Barb and I got a taxi and Werner told the driver (did not speak English) where we were going, and we followed Werner to Egon's farm. They knew the time of arrival of my train, and so Egon and Sarah Essing (German newspaper reporter) were waiting for us out in front.  Egon could not speak or understand English, Sarah could, and we stood in the yard and talked.  Egon was very excited, he had a folder with a picture of a B-17, a local map on parchment like paper, where he marked the spot of the crash.

 Sarah had her own car, with two wheels in the back seat mounted with snow tires, so there was no room to ride with her.  Egon became our chauffeur, on the way we stopped at the neighbor’s farm and picked Martin Barz, who could speak both English and German.  He was a great guy, very funny. He brought put a huge basket loaded with four or five kinds of German Beer.

 Egon then drove a short distance to a small gravel road that ended at a small bridge, which had barbed wire stung on it so no one could use it. On the other side of the bridge in a wooded area I could see one of the propellers from our plane "Dixie's Delight". What a moment that was! The men began taking the wire off the bridge, and when done, we walked across.  A man came out of the farm house and began yelling and shaking his fist.  Egon and Martin told him who I was and why we were there, and he immediately became apologetic and friendly.

 Our plane had crashed about 100 yards from Martin's house, Thank God, it did not hit anybody nor did it cause much property damage.  We went to the area where the plane crashed and burned.  All four engines were buried and most of the plane had burned. The remains had been moved from the field to a brushy area next to the small creek and bridge.  You could see the sunken areas where the engines went into the ground. Werner and Egon had used a backhoe to dig up one of the engines.  Werner used the parts he found to ID the plane. He confirmed with the German Military anti-aircraft records that they had shot down a bomber @ 12:45 p.m. on Feb. 3, 1945. He used 100th Bomb Group records to identify the plane and pilot.  An article in Splasher Six asked any living crew members contact him and that's how we got together.

 After picture taking and viewing the remains, Reinhold Porth, the farmer, took the dining room table out of his house, including table cloth and chairs, and we sat around and drank that good German Beer.  We had to catch an overnight train back to Brussels from Luneburg via Hamburg, so it was necessary that we leave.  They begged us to stay longer, and I became even more proud of my German heritage (my paternal grandfather came to the USA in 1884 from Essen, Germany. Before we came home we went to Essen and walked through the train station that he walked through in 1884), when I saw their neat farms and homes.  We did what our government asked us to do in the war, and their government required the same of them.  When we met we were friends and not enemies.

 Seeing the crash site of Dixie’s Delight was a thrilling moment!  However, the most memorable moment and the greatest day of the my life, was when Gen. George Patton (after defeating the German and SS troops the night before) rode into Stalag Luft 7A at Mooseberg with a tank in front of his jeep and a tank behind him.  He was standing and saluting us.  I still tear up every time I write or remember it.

 The End

 Ralph Kalberloh continues to stay busy and often does public speaking on WWII.

 Warner Oeltijbruns is still excavating crash sites.  To date he has located over 100 German, English, and American crash sites, and located the remains of 19 MIA.