Escape From A German Prison Train
In the heart of Nazi Germany, 1943
It was somewhere
between Frankfurt, Germany (about 10 hours after leaving Dulag
Luft (30 plus miles N of Frankfurt) where most downed airmen were sent for interrogation before they
were shipped to various designated prison camps. It
was just after midnight, May 1943. We were on a prison train with forty
other POWs. Most of us were still supporting bandages from wounds we had
received only weeks before when we were shot down, and crashed or
parachuted into the hands of the Germans.
It was an old, European
passenger train, with staggered compartments that could accommodate about
three adults on each side, facing each other, and luggage racks overhead.
The windows could be lowered or raised by using a thick canvas strap, very
much like the ones that American old steam engines trains had in those
days. But to prevent us from opening these windows, the straps where
nailed down to the wooden frame of the coachs.
Several of us were
secretly planning an escape, preferably near midnight. Some of the more
seriously wounded, would try to block the guards from shooting, or try in
some way attempt to get in their way. The rest of us would, at the sound
of the signal "TALLY HO," and jump out one of the window.
It was a slow process
using our fingers to pull out the nails holding down the window straps,
then very slowly lowering the windows so that the guards would not hear
the sudden outside noises of the train.
We were in luck. Just
before midnight the train came to a water stop, and we waited while the
engineís tank was being filled. When the horn broke the silence, the train
began to move. We were ready.
Up went the windows,
and out we dove into the blackness. Then all hell broke loose.
My jump from the train
carried me just over the rocky ballast of the track bed and I rolled over
some soft ground into some sort of a hedge that had grown around a barbed
wire fence. I was trapped.
By this time, the
wheels of the train were screeching to a halt. Searchlights were
everywhere. The German guards where screaming and shooting. Bullets were
zinging all around us. And I was helplessly trying to fee myself from the
"Bob, Iím stuck."
I hollered. "See
if you can pull me out of this damn stuff."
We didnít know it
at the time, but Bob Hansen and I were the only ones who got out of the
train. He and I were shot down together on the Bremen raid, April 17,
immediately, I saw Bob reaching into the hedge, and after a
few seconds of twisting and pulling, he managed to pull me through the
barbed wire, but my pants, and part of my shorts, were still clinging to
the wire in the hedges. I was practically naked. By this time, many of the
German Guards were all over the place, and shooting in all directions, but we had made it to the other
side of the hedge and were running full speed into the night, swinging and swaying with every stride.
It must have been
around 5 a.m. when we dropped from exhaustion. It was still dark when we
crawled under some bushes, and curled up together to help keep warm, and
went to sleep.
Just after daylight,
we were awakened by the sound of voices. Two German soldiers were walking
along a bicycle path that would bring them within yards from where we were
hiding. And because of the leafless bushes, in a few seconds, they
could not help but see us.
Bob and I must have had the
same idea at the same time, because we reacted accordingly.
Bob rolled on top of me, I
raised a bare leg in the air, and tried to giggle like a girl.
The two soldiers made several remarks
in German that we could not understand, laughed and joked for a few
seconds, and went on their way.
By Roy Livingstone
What happened later? See
Life and Death of POWs
Obviously, this story is not over. The days
and months (two years, plus) that followed were not so funny. I did manage to
find an old pair of pants (infected with lice) in an abandoned chicken
coop. We found one chicken egg that we sucked dry. The only other food we
found during those fourteen days were bugs that we got out of a spring.
Fourteen days later, we were recaptured trying to cross a river. We were
put into a civilian jail for a few days. Later, we were shackled, and two
Guards transported us to Stalag 7-A, in Mooseburg (near
Munich)Munich) where we were thrown
into a Suderbarakie (a detention Barracks fenced off from the other
compounds) where all "bad" Russian prisoners were kept) While
there we never saw a Red Cross food package, only sickness,and death.
Months later, after we were moved to Stalag XVII-B in Krems,
learned about Barbed Wire Johnson. It seemed that at the time of our
escape from the prison train, Johnson had been sitting or laying on the
luggage rack above the seats in our compartment on the train. After Bob
and I jumped out of the train, in an effort to keep the guard from
shooting us through the window, Johnson intentionally fell on top of the guard. When
the guard got back on his feet, he whacked Johnson in the head with the
butt end of his rifle. Evidentially, that seriously damaged Johnsonís
mind. Later, in the American Compound at Stalag VII-A, Johnson habitually would be seen
counting the barbs on the barbed wire fence, hence the name, "Barbed Wire
Johnson". Before we were released from the Detention Barracks, Johnson
stepped over the warning wire which was five to ten yards from the main
fence which guarded us from the outside world. The guards called "Halt,"
but Johnson kept going towards the main fence. Other POWs called Forickt, Forickt, meaning crazy, crazy. It was too late. The guards shot and
killed him, anyway.
You may want to Click on STALAG VII-A