This is the continuation of a story written by S/Sgt Chuck Walter, the armor gunner on my cousin Rufus' B-26. He is recalling the last flight of their crew and what happened to them after they were shot down.
At age twenty, Charles “Chuck” Walter became a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. He would spend most of the war in a B-26 Marauder as an Armor Gunner attached to the 9th Air Force’s 323rd Bomb Group with the 455th Bombardment Squadron.
The Marauder was a fairly new plane to the Air Force. Ordered as a “twin-engine bomber with great emphasis placed on speed, range and operational altitude,” it was manufactured by the Martin Company. 5,157 planes would be used in the war efforts, including one flown by Jimmy Doolittle in North Africa to prove: “It’s just another airplane. Let’s start it up and play with it.”
The 323rd was first assigned to the 8th Air Force, then transferred to the 9th in October of 1943. In July of 1943 the group began attacking marshalling yards, airdromes, industrial plants, military installations and other targets in France, Belgium and Holland. It then undertook numerous attacks on V-weapon sites along the French coast and attacked airfields, and Leeuwarden and Venlo as part of the Allied campaign against the German Air Force and aircraft industry from 20-25th February 1944.
VALENTINE DAY MISSION #25
Flight going well until we encountered heavy flak at about 10:00 A.M. Right engine took heavy hit. We feathered the prop and dropped out of the formation, as we couldn’t maintain speed and position. We started back toward our lines, were met with oncoming flak from the ground. The engine caught fire at about 3500 feet. We did evasive action, trying to avoid getting hit. I was in the tail telling Willie, my pilot, where the shell bursts were, and we would turn away. We weren’t hit again but every time we turned to the dead engine side, we would lose altitude until we were at about 1200 feet.
My pilot rang the “bail out” button and the enlisted men bailed out. I was the farthest away in the tail, but was the second man out. My chute opened and I did one or two swings, being fired at on the way down, having bullet holes in my chute to prove it. I landed real hard on my butt, injuring my back. I also sustained burns from the flames that were coming in the waist window as I bailed out.
The gun crew that was shooting at us picked me up. Their crew chief was a little 5’5” fellow, but he had a P38 pistol pointed at me before I could get to my feet. The radioman, Rouser, was picked up by the regular army and was treated okay. Frank Miller, our engineer, was picked up by the townspeople and was beaten quite badly.
The first 24 hours were the worst because we didn’t know if any of the crew had survived. I was put in a jeep-type vehicle and taken by a private in the German Army to a gathering point. Our planes, fighters, were circling overhead; and every time my captor saw a plane, he would stop and run for the ditch, leaving me in the car. I was sure glad that our fighters didn’t see us. We finally arrived at the outpost where I was thrown in an upstairs bedroom in an old farmhouse, scared to death.
During the next twenty-four hours, planes bombed close enough that as I lay on the floor, I could see the plaster crack above me. The next day we made the outpost where I was joined by my engineer and radioman. While we were there, an ambulance arrived. In it were my pilot, Lt. Rufus Wilson, my co-pilot, 2nd Lt. John Weinstein, and my bombardier, 2nd Lt. James Rudig. Lt Wilson had a broken neck, dying three days later. The co-pilot, Weinstein, had broken bones, but Bombardier Rudig was not injured very much. The three officers had gone down and crash-landed with the plane. The hydraulic system had been shot out, and the doors of the plane would not open. The plane was on fire when it landed and was damaged quite badly.
There was a lot of screaming coming from within the plane when it landed. The rescuers thought that the enlisted men had not gotten out of the plane and were trapped inside by the flames. There may have been some of the enemy on the ground and the plane landed on or trapped them.
The interrogators took our money, anything else they wanted, and one dog tag. We were marched to the next place by one guard—an old soldier in the regular army. As we marched, we met forced laborers from different countries. They told us (sign language) that we would be killed.
We arrived in one town and went to the railroad station. While we were there, a group of townspeople gathered and started yelling. A crowd surrounded us, and we were afraid they were going to hang us. We walked out of the town with our soldier guard following behind. We finally arrived in Wetzler where they took all of our Air Force clothing and issued us plain U.S. Army clothing. Each of us got a long winter coat. We were then sent to Frankfurt on the Main to be questioned.
I was placed in a very small room and asked all kinds of questions about the U.S. Air Force. If we refused to answer questions put to us, the heat was turned up with each refusal. We were told that they didn’t need our answers—they were just trying to verify the information they had. They knew everything. They told me where we were based, the type of plane we flew, the
name of our commanding officer. Since they were getting no answers, they finally gave up and shipped us to Wuerzburg to a camp where we stayed for some time. Wuerzburg was a camp by a small town that held a 20MM gun barrel factory.
Our camp, located on top of a hill, was divided into two parts. One section was for POWs and the other was for the German Army troops. They thought it was a safe location for them, but the British low-level bombers could pinpoint their section and bombed the German part of the camp without touching our section. Every morning, weather permitting, our 26s would come in and bomb their factories. All of the townspeople would race up the hill to our camp for protection.
It was while we were in this camp that we first saw their jet fighters. We saw one of our planes attacked and shot down by their jets. Only three of the crew parachuted.
We arrived in Nuremberg and walked by the station and on to camp. At one time while we were there, the city was under siege for an entire day. The British Air Force took over where the Americans left off and bombed the city the entire night. The next morning there were a lot of new members in our POW camp—mostly British.
At times the British were firebombing. During those raids the Germans would attack the British planes in their night fighters. A direct hit on the incendiary-laden British planes lighted the skies for miles around.
Our Army was now moving in for the kill, so the Germans began moving us out of there to keep our troops from releasing us. There were many thousands of us on the road. The Americans were first in ranks. The British were next. I don’t recall how the remaining POW’s were lined up.
We walked seventeen days, arriving at Moosburg. During the march, we were kept alive by the Red Cross rations that were passed out to us—one package per three prisoners. The food didn’t always serve the whole formation. The captors did feed us at times, but the rations were very poor. But we were hungry so the bugs in the bean soup went unnoticed.
En route we would pass through small towns. If we spent the night, there was a ring of soldiers with guard dogs stationed around us. In the morning the dogs would get us out of hiding. I was the cook, my engineer was the fireman and the radioman was the thief. That radioman could steal an egg from under an old hen without her ever realizing it was gone. We slept in a barn one night and explored and found the farmer had hidden some wheat behind and under the hay. When we left, we had our socks and pockets full of grain. We traded for a coffee grinder and ground our wheat—almost like Cream of Wheat.
We slept one night in a shed of pine boughs. We discovered that the boughs covered ice and the “ice house” was a storage place for the farmer’s potatoes. I spent the night with a stick spearing potatoes. We had all we could carry when we left the next day.
One day while on march, we were going under a train trestle and some P47s dive-bombed it and strafed it while we were under it. Some of our POWs were killed but the planes had cameras synchronized with their guns. When they returned to base and studied the films, they discovered that they were attacking some POWs. From that point on, while we were on the march, we were put to bed every night and awakened every morning by a P51. He would fly beside us on a road fill, wave and smile and give us the ol’ “Thumbs Up”. Each time we stopped to rest, we marked our campsite with a ground sign, “POW”, made of toilet paper. We finally reached Moosburg, staying there some time before we were liberated.
On April 29th 1945 General George Patton overran our camp, releasing us. Our first act was to look for something to cat. We went down the road to a farmhouse, confiscated some tame rabbits and on the way back to camp, picked up some chickens—really traded for them. We took the chickens but left the rabbits in their place.
We were flown out of Germany, then taken by train to Reims, France, on May 8th 1945, the very day the Germans were signing their surrender. We were taken to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Harve, France. After four weeks we boarded the ship, Monticello, for our journey back to the States. The time at Lucky Strike was spent sleeping, eating and getting our strength back.