Prisoners of War - POWs
Captured WW2 and Korean War Aviators
"For you, the war is over." - German greeting to aircrew POWs
By Stephen Sherman, Aug. 2001. Updated June 27, 2011.
Over seventy American aces of World War Two were captured and spent time as POWs. Here is a brief introduction to those POWs, with links to their pages and relevant sources.
The story of American POW fighter pilots in WWII is largely a story of pilots who fought in Europe. In the Pacific theatre the vast over-water distances and the brutal nature of that war resulted in relatively few captured fighter pilots there. Pappy Boyington's story was one of the few to emerge from the Japanese camps.
Also, it's a story in which the fighter pilots' experience corresponded to the bomber officers. Many thousands of U.S. airmen, mostly bomber crews over Germany were shot down, bailed out, and spent time in the POW camps. Inside the German camps for captured airmen, Stalag Luft I and Stalag Luft III, the bomber aircrew outnumbered the fighter pilots. They were all Kriegies, with identical concerns and issues. Another feature of the Stalag Luft experience was the strict military hierarchy; enlisted men went to certain camps, officers to others.
In the Japanese camps, POWs were very poorly treated, and many died; in Germany, the Luftwaffe itself controlled the POWs and they were relatively well treated. ("Relatively well-treated" means they were neither starved or worked to death.)
In the Korean War, fighter pilots Bud Mahurin, Hal Fischer, and others were captured and subjected to brutal treatment by the Communists. Read about Fischer's last mission and Mahurin's POW experiences - he was tortured, 'brainwashed' and forced to confess to false allegations of germ warfare.
|World War 2 POW Aces||The Camps:|
Henry Brown, P-51 ace, 355th FG
Michael Quirk, P-47 ace, 56th FG
Gerry Johnson, P-47 ace, 56th FG
Walter Beckham, P-47 ace, 353rd FG
Willard Millikan, P-51 ace, 4th FG
John Godfrey, P-51 ace, 4th FG
James Morris, P-38 ace, 20th FG
Korean War POW Aces:
Dulag Luft - Reception & Interrogation, near Frankfurt am Main
Stalag Luft I - Barth
Stalag Luft III - 100 miles SE of Berlin (now Poland)
In Germany, perhaps after parachuting down from a flaming fighter, an American flier was taken to Dulag Luft, for initial interrogation. Here, skillful Luftwaffe interrogators, like Hans Scharff, elicited what they could from the pilots and aircrew. Shortly, officer POWs went to Stalag Luft I or III, while enlisted men went to Stalag Luft VIB. Stalag Luft III, in particular, was a model POW camp, and its "Kriegies" were humanely treated.
The POWs shared a few basic concerns: food, escape, and diversion. The German civilians were on short rations themselves, and the Red Cross parcels were all that kept the POWs alive. A typical Red Cross parcel included: powdered milk, margarine, chocolate, sugar, biscuits, coffee, cheese, liver paste, fish, pork, raisins, soap, and (of course) cigarettes. Men with time on their hands needed to keep busy, and the Y.M.C.A. coordinated the delivery of musical instruments, sporting goods, and books. (Undoubtedly the German prison authorities were happy for these legitimate distractions from escape efforts.)
Escape was the constant occupation, and duty, of the Kriegies. By
far the most famous of these was The
Great Escape of March 1944, when 76 Allied POWs tunnelled out. By
Hitler's personal order 50 of 76 re-captured POWs were executed. The
movie version (starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, and
Steve McQueen) is worth a look. The movie depicted fairly well the
elaborate preparations, security, and German counter measures involved
in every escape attempt. The POWs at Stalag Luft III were so
inventive and productive that the German prison authorities used the
huge amount of confiscated escape materials for training of guards.
Undoubtedly the most famous American ace of World War Two, Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington led the famous 'Black Sheep Squadron', VMF-214, during the latter part of 1943, when they claimed 197 enemy planes destroyed or damaged. He was shot down on January 3, 1944, became a POW, survived, and came home to a hero's welcome and a Medal of Honor award. Later on, his best-selling autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and the 1970's television series by the same title solidified his fame.
Read the Pappy Boyington article on this site.
Pappy Boyington wrote "Scratch a hero and inside, you'll find a
bum." Buy Baa
Baa Black Sheep at Amazon.com, and draw your own conclusions.
It's been a best seller since it was first written 40 years ago. His
open admission of all-too human weaknesses make up a big part of the
book's appeal. His tales of working in the Japanese POW camp kitchen,
befriended by an elderly Japanese woman, are equally entertaining.
Gabby Gabreski spent his WWII combat tour with the 56th Fighter Group. He was the highest scoring ace in Europe in July, 1944, when his Thunderbolt went down. He stayed in the military after the war, and served as CO of the 51st FIW in Korea - and shot down another 6.5 MiGs, to become "America's Greatest Living Ace".
Read the Gabby Gabreski article which focuses on his WWII and Korea experiences.
Gabby: A Fighter Pilot's Life, (available at Amazon.com) covers
all of his eventful life: growing up as a Polish immigrant in Oil City,
enlisting in the Army Air Corps, surviving Pearl Harbor, flying combat
missions with the 56th FG, his time as a POW, flying F-86 Sabrejets
over Korea, and working many years in the aviation industry.
Sources, Web Links, and Recommended Books:
- STALAG LUFT ONE: The Men, Their Machines and Their Missions - stories of Marcus Kolb and several other bomber aircrew, a photo essay of 25+ actual photos from Stalag Luft I, several color photos of Barth today, and more. A fine site!
- behindbarbedwire.com - A Stalag Luft 1 site, with camp photos, a roll call of prisoners by compound, and the story of Frank G. Zywiczynski, a B-24 waist gunner. A unique resource.
- Stalag Luft I - 398th Bomb Group - 600th Bomb Squad - dedicated to Dick Williams, Jr., best site I've found on Dulag Luft, "The Interrogators," camp photos, POW stories, document images, an article from Stars and Stripes: "Nazi Camp Held Galaxy of U.S. Aces" by Andy Rooney, and images of the prisoners' secret newspaper
- Advocacy & Intelligence Index For POWs-MIAs Archives. A huge site. Reports, testimony, statements, depositions, documents, news, articles, lists, updates and announcements on POWs and MIAs from ALL wars.