An Internee Remembers…..
8th Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group/325th Squadron – One of Fames Favored Few
Daylight Precision Bombing – Triangle B
THIS IS A STORY LITTLE TOLD... GEORGE F. SCHAUB
I joined the Army Air Corps in October of 1942. I was 19 years old, and my mother had to sign for me in order for me to be accepted into the Air Corp. Our pilot was Clifford Beach....we jokingly called whatever plane we were in “Son of a Beach”! Contrary to common knowledge...we did NOT always fly the same aircraft. We flew whatever was available.
ESCAPE FROM SWITZERLAND
“We weren’t supposed to fly that day because we had flown two missions the previous two days.” But today, Doolittle called for maximum effort. This was to be the last day of what would become known as THE BIG WEEK. (February 20 – February 25, 1944) a six day long campaign against Germany's aircraft components manufacturing plants. We were awoken unexpectedly at 3:00am and advised of our mission. I never really slept the night before known missions, but this one was unexpected. We always ate very well before a mission – fresh eggs and real bacon, since it was assumed to be our “last meal”. Following breakfast we would attend a briefing to learn what our target was. We would be briefed on the weather by a meteorologist and given an intelligence report.(If we were lucky – it would be a “milk run” from England to France. No such luck this week. We were hitting Germany.) We would then take trucks from the briefing room to our aircraft which was already fuels and loaded with bombs and ammunition. Our missions were never finalized until the last minute. The tower at Podington would shoot off flares – red for no and green for GO! The takes off were really dangerous, one of the most dangerous aspects of the mission! The crew of 10 carried 2780 gallons of high octane fuel, 6 to 8 thousands pounds of bombs and hundreds of 50 caliber shells. It took all four engines to get the aircraft off the ground and we were lined up nose to tail, taking off within SECONDS of each other.
The losses of the B-17’s at this point were enormous. On average, 170 B-17's were lost per day, at this point of the war. A B-17 crew consisted of 10 men. Ours was unusual in that our bombardier was not an officer. This was only his 2nd mission with us. The average life span of a gunner was 5 missions and most gunners tended to be boys from rural communities – those who had previously hunted and knew how to handle a gun. (Dad was a sharpshooter prior to the war so, of course he was chosen as the left waist gunner.) Our crew was placed in formation behind “Tail End Charlie”…the most dangerous position to be in! (It would frequently take us 1 ˝ - 2 hours of circling England in order to get into formation. We would meet up with B-17’s from England as well as Italy.) A tight formation was the B-17's best protection from the German Fighters. Fighter escorts, at this time could only accompany is across the English Channel, before having to turn back. We would fly at 32, 000 feet with temps reaching 60 degrees below zero. Early in the war the waist gunner positions were not staggered and there was no plexiglas window. As long as the heated suit held out – things were pretty good. The aircraft was not pressurized so we had to wear oxygen masks above 10,000 feet. Condensation on the face would result, and frostbite was the consequence. Our mission on this day, as well as the 2 previous days was to bomb the ball bearing plants in Germany. (The American Air Force flew the daytime raids and targeted key German industries directly linked to the Axis war effort, specifically those factories making aircraft of weapon parts. More American Airmen died during these daytime missions than any other American Military branch during their respective missions) Without the production of ball bearings, enemy aircraft could not be built. Today’s mission, on Friday of “The Big Week” (February 25, 1944) was for Stuttgart and Augsburg. (During the Big Week 3300 bombers were dispatched from England and 500 from Italy. All total over 225 aircraft were lost. Conversely, the mission was a success as 75% of the targets were accomplished and 600 Luftwaffe planes were destroyed.) It was our 13th mission and the Dottie G’s 12th. (B-17G #42-37755)
We successfully completed our mission by overflying our target, turning around as was policy and then dropping our bombs. The idea of this was that.. at that point we would already be headed towards our base in England, and would hopefully not take as much flak. (The Germans had timed rockets called Bf110’s that they were able to fire from their Luftwaffe aircraft. They would fire these timed rockets from behind into the formation.) Remember we were BEHIND “Tail End Charlie” so we were already on the most dangerous position possible within the group. If separated from the formation, a bomber became an easy target and literally a “sitting duck”! Still over Germany we were attacked from the rear and were hit! Engine one was on fire and engine two was smoking and disabled from flying debris. Our pilot, Clifford Beach, put us into a 5,000 foot nose dive to put out the fire on engine one! Losing fuel and flying with only two good engines (both on the same side of the aircraft) and the other two engines feathered, the aircraft shook violently. Additionally, the hydraulic and electrical systems were inoperable. The result of the dive was that we would not be able to make it across the Alps. We knew that we'd never make it back the several (6) hours back to Podington. (The average mission was 10 – 14 hours). A B-17 could possibly still make it over the Alps on 3 engines, but not on two. We’d have to divert. The Navigator gave the captain, Clifford Beach, the heading for Switzerland. We knew at that point that we were only 45 minutes to an hour away from neutral ground. Lt. Beach gave us the option of bailing out over Germany or staying with the plane. If one person elected to stay with the plane, the pilot had to try to belly land it. We had not been trained in the art of parachuting so none of us were particularly fond of the idea of bailing out over Germany where we knew we'd either be shot coming down – or if lucky enough to make it that far – on the ground. We would stay with our captain, and the plane and take our chances. (Many damaged Allied aircraft struggled to make it to Switzerland or Sweden rather than land in Germany and be tortured in the POW camps of Nazi Germany.) We set our course for Switzerland. We still weren't certain we'd have enough fuel or obtain enough altitude to make it to Switzerland so we started throwing anything that wasn't important or bolted down to lighten the load.
Those of us in the back squeezed in the radio room behind the bulkhead and prepared for a crash landing. Approximately an hour later we crashed landed in a snowy field on the shores (and border between Switzerland & Germany) of Lake Constance NOT on a runway as has been previously recorded. (All this without braking systems!) Since there were no hydraulics, we were unable to get the ball turret up. The ball turret pushed up and forward leaving those of us in the radio room in a very tight squeeze damaging sections 3 through 9 folding them like an accordion. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the landing. We were, unbeknownst to us, the first B-17G to crash land in Switzerland. And the Swiss were very interested in seeing what changes had occurred from the previous models.
This was our first time on the Dottie G and our first trip in a G-model. The G model had a unique chin turret with a wider shooting range than previous B-17's. There was an area directly below the nose of the plane for a gunner to sit (prior to this they were always standing) and shoot at enemy aircraft during a bombing mission. It also had staggered waist gunner windows, which were eventually enclosed by plexiglas. By staggering those windows, the waist gunners no longer bumped into each other while shooting, greatly increasing their accuracy. The plexiglas windows also provided some protection from the elements and flak for the waist gunners.
We exited the aircraft through the radio hatch and came face to face with armed Swiss soldiers, guns drawn. Our side arms were immediately taken from us. A young Lieutenant who had been educated in the states and spoke fluent English interrogated us for approximately one hour, prior to being bused to Berne. The crew was still altogether as we took a cog rail train up to the hotel where we remained in quarantine for two weeks, after which time we were bused to Adelboden.
Adelboden was a small village nestled in the Alps, a ski resort during peacetime. It was chosen as the spot to house internees because it was away from the populated cities – with only one road in or out. Being some of the first American internees to arrive, we were interned in the Nevada Palace Hotel and placed on curfew. After dark, we were required to wear at least one piece of our uniforms. (The Germans, however, were placed in POW camps and not allowed to roam freely.) In June, the officers were sent to Davos, and only the enlisted men remained behind in Adelboden.
A country doctor in Adelboden was treating me for athlete’s feet and he wanted me to go to the hospital in Bern for some X-rays and further treatment. The doctor in Berne that was treating me, Hans Frey, befriended me and I stayed with him and his family for a short period of time. (He was also a Major in the Swiss Army.)Dr. Frey's wife had been with the Red Cross during WWI and she was quite fond of the Americans. While there I met “Smitty” from Quincy, Illinois. At this point I’d been there not quite 8 months, Smitty and I developed an escape plan and and contacted the American Legation for help. I never did make it back to Adelboden.
The American Legation paid money to help in our escape and set us up with a smuggler who would escort us out of Switzerland. It was October in the Alps and getting colder by the day. All I had with me in Bern were a few ski sweaters which were knitted for me by Frau Frey. One night we took a taxi out of Bern to some rendezvous point at the base of the Alps. There we met out guide. He was a known smuggler, either French or Swiss-French by nationality and working for both sides. In addition to smuggling us out, he was also smuggling out industrial diamonds. We spent 2 ˝ - 3 days walking across the Alps. I remember it being very cold, too cold to sleep. We would walk during the night through the dark, rugged, snowy terrain and (attempt to sleep) in cold, damp barns or beneath a bush during the day hoping not to get caught. Eventually we arrived in occupied France . Our guide told us to get on the next bus that came by and head towards Lyon. Smitty and I were dressed in civilian clothes, neither of us spoke French, and had we been found out – we would have been shot as spies. We spoke to no one, not even to each other. Luckily no one spoke to us. Smitty maybe could have passed for French – but I could not. We arrived safely in Lyon (liberated France) and headed towards the airport which was now just under Allied control. Smitty and I reported in and were told that there were no more planes heading towards England that night. We caught a break the next day when a Colonel flew in from Italy on a B-24. (I’d never been on a B-24 prior to this.) Smitty and I were the only passengers on that B-24 as she took us back to London. I learned later that Smitty and I were only the 2nd or 3rd successful escape attempt from Switzerland. We were interrogated in England, given some uniform pieces and 30 days leave! At this point, I lost contact with “Smitty” and have never made contact again. Upon arrival in England and debriefing, a 30 day pass was awarded. After a few nights of being thrown out of bed due to the Blitzkrieg, I made his way up to Scotland and home, arriving first in Washington DC.
Had I completed my 13th mission, I would have returned to start Pilot Schooling.