As for my Internee experience, our B-17 was based at Polebrook’s 351st Bomb Group, 410th Squadron of the 1st Air Division 8th A.F., England.
On May 27, 1944, our target was Ludwigshafen. This was our pilot’s 27th mission, my 26th. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten such for our navigator, co-pilot and balance of crew, but all were reaching for a couple more to complete our tour.
We were flying squadron lead. The flight was okay until nearing the I.P. when we saw a large number of fighters dead ahead. We had no visible escort at the time and the closure of the fighters finally was dead on straight through us, leaving a number of planes with great adverse effect. Our plane was badly hit in the engine areas. We lost ability to retain our lead. We were obliged to jettison our bombs and had fallen out of position. The combination of engine trouble and gas loss required a decision. Our navigator, Dick Miller, proposed we try for the Lake of Constance, over which we would be in Switzerland. There were great difficulties for our pilots, but we made it over the lake and into the hands of Swiss fighters.
The Swiss directed us by wing movements to follow them to what turned out to be Dubendorf Air Force Base fairly near Zurich. Our pilot, Peters, lined up his approach and took us in perfectly. He later said a second attempt would have been disastrous. Fortunately, none of our crew was injured.
After debriefing Swiss style, we spent the night prior to which the Red Cross brought us toiletries plus preparing a cable for each to his family in which we could advise being safely in Switzerland.
The next day we were taken by train to a large lodge on Mt. Chaumont in South Western Switzerland for a 30-day indoctrination period. While there, time passed very slowly, though we heard by radio of the June 6th invasion.
As an aside, at one point in our stay, three of us decided to go down the mountain to Neuchatel. It was a long hike to reach the city. We obtained a hotel room and rested until evening, then went to a large pavilion that had drinks and dancing where we sat in the balcony to avoid attention. Of course, we were shortly approached by a plain clothed police officer. Knowing we were Americans, off we went to the station. They wanted us to hike back up the mountain, but we insisted on a cab. They agreed. No further word on this for 6-7 weeks, when we were advised of our confinement in constantly guarded rooms for an eight-day period.
After our 30 days, the NCOs were sent to the village of Adelboden and we never saw them again until post-war. We were taken to Davos, also a village in the Northeastern mountains, yet Northwest of St. Moritz.
For the record, it should be stated that at no time were we without Swiss guards day and night. True, the Platz section of Davos was open to us but we were restricted from going into the Dorf section. Yes, we were isolated and confined to a small area. Since we were prohibited from working, if such was available, our time was retricted to reading, cards, chess (contests with Serbian officers also housed in Davos), and our band, plus some athletics.
An interesting aside was when two of our members got out during the night. They went across the street to the German Legation building, climbed the front and stole the large “German Emblem.” The next morning all Hell broke loose. The German complaint was registered and General Legge, our military attaché, sent word to confine all of us until the emblem was found.
Some three days later it was located in a very large chandelier which fully hid it. We were obliged to pay for the repair and installation. The two who pulled this stupid but interesting act had taken off. I never heard of them again.
Over the next several months until the first of September, escape may have been considered, but the fact was that such lacked logic since Switzerland was fully surrounded by the enemy. By mid-September ’44, there were a number of officers that took off from Davos and I presume the same applied to the NCOs at Adelboden. At that time, there was no known aid available from our military attaché.
As for myself, it seemed best to use the help of civilian acquaintances who were most helpful. This consisted of a British Captain (retired?) who gave me the phone number of a friend in Lausanne who could help get me into France. This was followed by a friend in the food business who arranged for a wine delivery truck to hide me among the barrels, then taken from Davos down the mountains to Landquart where I used a third-class ticket to Zurich.
This effort began on September 22, 1944. All went well until I reached Zurich. I had been directed to a restaurant whose owner I had met in Davos. He greeted me with food and advice about my next move to obtain a first-class ticket by train to Lausanne.
It was his opinion that it would be most unsafe to use the train and suggested he would arrange for a taxi. A long trip and quite expensive. He later brought me a new napkin with a 100 franc note inside. This and what I had allowed me to handle the cab fare of a 330 francs. That evening, the taxi he arranged began the trip which took us until early morning when he ran out of fuel in the outskirts of Lausanne. He located some charcoal and dropped me off in the city.
I then called the phone number I had been given by the British Captain. When the party answered, I asked, in my pigeon French, if this was Pierre to which the party said “No,” but that he was his son, Alex. I asked if he spoke English, to which he said “Of course.” I told him of my reference, to which he said to grab a cab to his address.
Upon arriving and meeting Alex, I found him to be most friendly and desirous of helping. He said he was going across the border that evening. I said I was quite tired, so he referred me to his father’s bedroom for a few hours rest. In the room, I glanced at the chiffonier only to find blank stationary of the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Coincidentally, such club I had lived in for about two years before the war.
Alex woke me at about 1:00 PM. We had a bite at a local café where he told me his father was acting as a representative of the French Marquis in Switzerland and is in France now. He would meet us after we crossed the border. Since Alex was a courier, he would deliver various needs to the French as would be done that evening.
A short note at this point is to speak of the many efforts of both Alex and his father, Pierre, rendered to American escape efforts. They assisted many. Alex and I have been close friends for over 50 years now. His family and our have enjoyed many times together over all these years.
Back to the current evening, the taxi Alex would use arrived after dark. The driver and the two of us were talking when the phone rang. It was the local British Legation who said they had two Americans wishing to get into France. Alex said we would pick them up shortly.
After we picked them up, we found they were NCOs from Adelboden. The taxi headed for a previous (safe) drop-off point just North of Vollorbe. Being dark, as planned, the driver stopped and the four of us jumped out and headed West into trees and brush. Alex told us to run the short distance to a creek, over which was France. Unfortunately, we were caught by a border guard and his dog.
We were taken to the Vollorbe Border Crossing Headquarters. From there to the local jail for the night.
The next day, the mayor and two guards took us by train to Lausanne and turned us over to the civilian prison. We were kept there through the next day. They had separated us from Alex, and the last time I saw him was in the shower. I never saw him again until after the war in 1947 in Zurich, where he was majoring in engineering at a local university.
The three of us left prison with two guards for the “Punishment Camp” at Wauwil. En route, and knowingly getting closer to the camp known as Wauwilermoos, my two buddies decided to jump from the train at the next stop. They asked me to join them, but I was not feeling that well, plus having little money left, I declined, but did say I would try to distract the guards while they took off. The time arrived and they got away okay. I never heard of them again until after the war when I heard they made it into France after quite a long ordeal.
I was delivered to the camp where, at that point, I recall very little except that they took me through a large camp area which I later learned housed prisoners of various nationalities but not military officers. There were two large barracks on a rise away from the main camp where I was housed. They were surrounded by barbed wire fences and an out-house. There was a guard house quite near the two barracks with three to four guards plus a dog who made the rounds.
My barracks was empty, yet built to hold upwards of 40 persons. It had the usual pot-bellied stove but no wood was provided. The weather, by this time of year, was quite cold at night.
From here on, I will quote from my brief daily diary:
This is my second day alone followed by three more days of no heat. During this period, at night on several of these days, the guards would allow me time in the guard house to warm up.
I had been given breakfast each day, being an overload of jam/jelly plus one-half loaf of bread for the day. There was also a cocoa or other liquid for the day. In the early evening, I received whatever slop they had on hand, plus a type of tea. This procedure continued each day but, of course as others arrived, the amount of food was shared. On the 30th, Collins arrived.
We finally got wood for stove. Elliot and Pettet arrived.
Peters (my 1st pilot) and Scott arrived.
Hunter and Ambiano arrived.
One more came in.
No news, but camp headquarters held frequent medical and general rounds of the barracks led by Captain Beguin along with a doctor and aides, one of which was a Polish prisoner who spoke English. He knew I wasn’t well and that I would probably be sent to a hospital, so he warned me quietly to insist on the hospital being civilian, not military.
There are now 12 of us here. The food has been rotten ever since arrival.
Four more arrived. Nothing new.
One more arrived, making a total of 17.
Thirteen more arrived, but are being held elsewhere until they join us.
Got a radio today.
Nothing new, however, there has been efforts by several trying to escape over the wire, but none made it.
Captain McGuire arrived today and they sent Earl up to the other barracks so there would be room for McGuire in our place.
Nothing new. Heard that Gill Windes (my co-pilot) and Tunstal arrived. Possibly “Pin Point” Miller (our navigator) was the only one of us four to have made good his escape.
Comes the unexpected- “Pete” and three others in our barracks were sent back to Davos for insufficient evidence regarding their escape effort. They will be confined to their rooms for 15 days at Davos.
They moved four officers down to us to take the place of those sent to Davos—Bob Carrol, George Mears, Snyder and a boy from Milwaukee.
Nothing new except at noon today I was taken to the hospital at Lucerne where I will be given a rest and examination for my loss of weight, rheumatism, etc.
Had examination today (most complete I have ever had). Strolled in the garden this afternoon and called Graham Harding this evening. He is coming down from Engelberg tomorrow to visit me.
The day I left Wauwilermoos, I had cleaned up whatever money I owed and found I had only 64 Swiss Francs left and am waiting for funds from the Legation. In recall, it is obvious that when I became aware of the recognition of the escapees that both the U.S. Legation and our Military Legation were beginning to offer their aid to us.
Time spent in hospital. Feeling much better, had made arrangements with a local cab driver, a friend of Americans whom I met while on a two-hour pass from the hospital. We met on September 26, and he drove me that evening to Munsigen, the American cemetery. In following instructions, I went into a tavern next to the cemetery and asked the owner if any Americans were there. He had me take a chair, following which I was greatly surprised to be met by a U.S. Army Captain in full uniform (I had been in civilian clothes ever since arriving at Davos).
The captain asked my name and immediately told me to leave, saying that he would have nothing to do with me since the Swiss were after me, etc. I refused to leave, so he took me to the back of the tavern only to find about eleven other escapees from both Davos and Adelboden.
That evening, they took us to the capital, Bern, where a Legation Lieutenant put is up in his apartment building in which several rooms were vacant except for a number of mattresses. The following morning, they took us to a hotel where we were kept in a private area where the food was great.
On the 28th, we were picked up by four taxis, with three of each per taxi. We left at various times, heading for Lausanne. From there we took the road along the lake towards Geneva. Had been told to watch in a certain area for a man with a red scarf, in the middle of a field. We located him, stopped the taxi and ran to him. He took us three to an old manor home which we later heard had been used for the mentally ill. Inside, we found several other Americans and leaders. None of our original twelve arrived but, unfortunately, had lost one taxi somewhere.
Since there was no inside water or electricity, we used the large outside fenced property mostly in the evening. Water was delivered in bottles and, for my first time, had “K-Rations” for meals. They were better than many of our previous meals.
This location was obviously being used as often as needed by our Legation starting shortly before we arrived. Our couple of days here was required until members of the French Marquis arrived to guide us into France.
They arrived in the P.M. along with their ruck sacks filled with terry cloth shorts and kerchiefs. When outfitted, we did look like boy scouts. At departure, we were also given 40+ pounds of medicine in ruck sacks for each to carry. These were at least partial payment to the French for helping us.
Just before leaving, I took one of two escape kit “Pep” tablets which I still had, and they truly helped me on the fairly long hike we were to take. We followed our leaders along and up the South side of a mountain above Geneva. We could see the lights of the city. After a few hours of walking, we arrived at a point where our leaders said to turn left and jump. We did, and were then told “This is France!”
We made our way to a small town where we were fed, and slept in a pre-arranged facility. The next morning, October 31st, we were picked up by a U.S. troop carrier and taken South of Geneva to Annecy, France, where the advancing U.S. forces had established headquarters. Was there for several days until a dozen or so got back on a troop carrier which took us to Lyon, France Airport. All of the bridges had been destroyed in the city, but some were replaced by our engineers with pontoon bridges.
At the airport, we boarded a C-47, I believe, and proceeded to an airport near London. We were free to stay where we wished. I had been ordered to report to Wide Wing for further interrogation. Was then given written orders on November 2, 1944, providing a 16-day leave to return to my base, etc. Carvour (67th Bomb Group) and I were staying at the Grovener House in London. We parted, and I went up to Polebrook, the 351st Bomb Group base.
Stayed at the base several days, however, all of the crews I knew had finished their tours or otherwise. I did contact the CO plus several others and obtained letters of recommendation for use back in the States.
Returned to Grovener House, London. Carvour had also returned. The V-1 and V-2 German bombs were still pounding London, so we took the train to the Prestwick, Scotland Air Base. We stayed around for a number of days before we were able to be assigned to a return aircraft back to New York. Arrived November 20, where we stayed at Fort Totan, Long Island.
Received orders to report to “Chief Prisoner of War Branch” at the Pentagon in Washington. From there, took train to Chicago where I spent my 30-day leave with my family. Was ordered to report to the Redistribution Command at Miami Beach, Florida, on December 25.
After arrival, I was reviewed by the medical department who directed I be an out-patient at the hospital due to physical problems that followed me from Switzerland. It took them two months to release me.
In the meantime, however, since I had met with the officer in charge of the Air Intelligence Division at this command, he had reviewed my references. The result was, I joined them. It was a most interesting assignment, and I stayed with them as a permanent officer in this division until being discharged on November 4, 1945.