POW PRISON AFTER FRIEDRICHSHAFEN

By Clifford Peterson, Pilot

© Copyright 392nd Bomb Group Memorial Association 2017 - All rights reserved

I was at Dulag Luft Interrogation Center, Frankfurt, about four days and was interrogated at least once every day, only giving the Germans my name, rank, and serial number. They then asked questions to which I didn't give the answers. But they told me more about where I grew up, where and when I went to school, where the 392nd Bomb Group was located, who was in charge of our group, who was our squadron commander, why we didn't bomb Russelheim instead of Friedrichshafen, etc. In other words, they knew more about the 392nd than I did, and they told me many things that I didn't believe, but they turned out to be true.

The one question which I really couldn't believe was: "When do you think the invasion is going to take place?"

We were Army Air Force, just flew the missions and read the "Stars and Stripes" every day to see what was going on in the war. How did I know when the invasion is going to take place?! But I'm sure they had a reason for it, because they asked that question every time I was interrogated.

While I was in Frankfurt, it turned out to be the biggest bombing of the city during the entire war. RAF Bomber Command dropped their "blockbuster" bombs, some of which seemed only about 200 feet away, because they shook the buildings. Luckily, our building wasn't hit, although Frankfurt was bombed tremendously during the nights of 18/19 March and 22/23 March and a daylight raid by the 8th Air Force B-17s on 24 March 1944.

The Frankfurt City diary has this entry: "The three raids of 18th, 22nd and 24th of March were carried out by a combined plan of the British and American airforces and their combined effect was to deal the worst and last fateful blow of the war to Frankfurt, a blow which simply ended the existence of the Frankfurt which had been built up since the Middle Ages."

When about 100 of us prisoners left Dulag to go to prison camp, they took us to a station outside Frankfurt and even then, thank goodness, we had about 15 guards with us. The civilians were lined up alongside the roads throwing things at us, spitting at us, and the women indicated to us that some of their children had been killed. It was frightening, and if it hadn't been for the guards who escorted us, it could have developed into an ugly situation. I got to Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Silesia, on about 27 March 1944. Two days previously "The Great Escape" had occurred. That's when 76 British and Allied prisoners had tunneled out, but 73 were recaptured, 50 of whom were murdered by the Gestapo. Several were brought back to Stalag Luft III and three eventually got back to England, two Norwegians and a Dutchman.

When we arrived everything was in a great "flap," no other word describes it. Everybody was excited, the guards took us out for roll call twice a day, "appel" was the word, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. They'd sit out there with machine guns trained on every one of us and I, being new, figured this was the normal thing, but the reason for it was the great escape two days previously. From then on, of course, we had roll call twice a day and occasionally at night. The guards would come to our barracks and we had to go outside and be counted.

About a week after my arrival at Sagan I developed blood poisoning in my injured arms. An American doctor treated me. He had been captured and was helped by another prisoner who had premedical experience. They also gave me permission to go into the town of Sagan to see a civilian doctor, because as much as they tried to get the piece of steel, or whatever it was, out of my eye, they couldn't. As it hurt so much, from the day after I was shot down, I had to wear a patch over my eye. I couldn't blink because it scratched the inside of my eyelid and was very painful.

An elderly guard with his dog escorted me out of the main gate of Stalag Luft III for my appointment with the German civilian doctor in Sagan. A few fellow prisoners watched us walk out and shouted a few comments: "How is it you're so lucky? We never get out of the gate!" I'd been briefed before I left to see what credentials were needed to get into the train station at Sagan and then on to a train to help anybody in a future escape.

After walking in to the old town of Sagan we arrived at the German doctor's address, went up a stairway and into his office. The doctor was elderly, probably 75 years old, seemed friendly enough, but I didn't know if I could trust him or not. The first thing he did was put me in a chair, took a bottle of something out of a cupboard, told me to lean back and wanted to put some of it in my eye.

To this day, I dislike having anyone put drops in their eyes. I thought he might have had sulfuric acid and burn my eyeball out! Anyway, he put several drops of the liquid in my eye and left it for five minutes or so. Then he began scratching. In a matter of just two or three minutes he'd located and removed a small sliver of steel. It was about the size of a needle and about a quarter of an inch long, and had been embedded right in the coloring, not in the pupil or the white of the eye, but the blue coloring. I thanked the doctor, returned to the camp and it's never been a problem since.

We were issued one Red Cross food parcel a week. It consisted of a tin of "KLIM" which is milk (powdered) spelled backwards, chocolate bars, a couple of packs of cigarettes for trading for something else if you didn't smoke, Spam and things like that. The "Kriegies" displayed much ingenuity in making kitchen equipment, etc., from empty tin cans and food containers. The Germans would give us a bowl of soup, usually barley soup, about once a week. So we didn't do too badly.

Because we officers didn't have to work in prison camp, we spent our days either playing cards, reading books supplied by the International Red Cross, playing ball in the summer months of 1944, lying in the sack or gathering firewood for the winter time. It was funny how important little things became during the long hours of boredom in prison camp. For example, I'd wash a couple pairs of socks and make that task last two or three hours, thereby keeping myself occupied.

On 27 January 1945, we evacuated the camp as the Russian forces approached from the east. Although it was about 20 degrees below zero, we walked all night through the snow. About four days later, after sheltering during nights in farm barns, etc., we walked into the town of Spremburg, south of Berlin.

We got a limited amount of food, were packed in boxcars so tight that you couldn't really move during the long train journey to Mooseburg. All we had for sanitation was one pail in a corner, but we were let out once a day. I clearly recall jumping out in the snow, standing there looking up those big iron wheels of the steam engine. They were just as tall as I was. At Mooseburg, which held various nationalities, Turks, Greeks, Russians, French, British, Americans, etc., and lots of others living in tents, we only got half a Red Cross parcel each week.

Conditions there were very, very bad but I realized the Germans couldn't do much about it. I remember the day about 100 officers were sitting in the sun to keep warm beside a row of buildings. It was still pretty cold in March. The Germans came by with a pail of potatoes and occasionally two or three potatoes fell from the pail and about four officers dived for one small potato. That shows how hungry we were. Then, on 29 April 1945, the 14th Armored Division came in and it was a great sight. Shortly after we were liberated, Gen. George Patton himself came in on his tank.

During all this time we had very little food. Although I thought the German bread was about 94 percent sawdust and I don't know what the rest of it was, we survived on it and I cannot recall one day when I was sick in prison camp. But the first day we were liberated we went and got some fresh eggs from the neighborhood, got some fresh bread and fresh milk. Never in my life have I been so sick after eating that fresh bread, fresh eggs, and fresh milk. Our stomach couldn't take those things after a year of getting nothing but sparse rations.

Within a week we were put on a plane for Camp Lucky Strike, France, then home by sea, arriving in New York harbor on 15 June 1945. The band on the quay side was playing a number which happened to be popular at that time. It was "Don't Fence Me In."

Incidentally, in about 1980 I attended a POW reunion in Orlando, FL. I began comparing notes with a doctor and it transpired that Dr. Barks was the same doctor who had treated me in prison camp at Sagan 35 years previously.