Captured, Becoming A Prisoner Of War
After a few rounds of gunfire, my plane appeared to have been hit. The engine started to sputter as the cockpit immediately filled up with smoke, and I thought I was “doomed.” The first thing I did, was to jettison my canopy in order to be able to see and breeze. I quickly searched for a suitable spot to make a belly-landing. Luckily, I found a clear opening in the forested area and set my mortally wounded machine down on the still snow covered flat ground.
I made a quick exit from my beloved “Gustav,” and within split seconds it blew up. Immediately, I headed towards the woods to hide. Following my training of the procedures for bailing out, I used my survival knife and dug a small hole in the forest ground to hide my documents, including a photo of me dressed in civilian clothes wearing the party pin. I wanted to hide in the woods till nightfall and hoped to make it back through the nearby front line. I still heard the crackle of exploding ammunition from my burning 109.
I started walking by feeling my way through the forested area. I did have a survival compass which had glow-in-the-dark directional points for N. S. E. W. and a glowing needlepoint top indicator. Besides that, I had my survival pocketknife and my Luger and thirty bullets. I continued to grope my way through the forested area and it never seemed to end.
It was now dawn and I still remained in hiding in the forest when I heard some voices. Russian was being spoken. I found a secure place, and hid in the underbrush. I was peeking through the branches and saw a group of about six drunken Russians passing by. They were perhaps twenty feet from me. I noticed that they were soldiers. They walked along a path and I carefully observed their movement and managed to advance forward on my way back towards our side.
I kept walking in the direction of the front following the indicator of my compass. I snuck past them, however, another troop came along and they spotted me. They yelled: “Stoi, Stoi!” meaning Halt, Stop! Unfortunately they spotted me before I did them. I guess I was better at navigating up in the air than on the ground! I had to hold my hands extended outstretched above my head. They shouted commands and continued shouting at me in Russian.
They were a mean bunch and I knew that they hated the “Luftwaffe” because of all the great damage that was done to them by it. It was known that downed Luftwaffe Pilots were executed on the spot. They all pointed their Tommy guns (machine pistols) directly at me. Then one started talking to me.
I knew he was extremely angry just due to the fact that we had a language barrier. So then he began hitting me in the chest with his gun butt. Later on I realized that he was cursing at me. When he struck me, I almost fell backwards and his stroke took my breath away. He motioned for me to walk and pointed to the direction they came from. As I passed him, he kicked me hard and I almost fell forward. As I stumbled, the others also cursed and hit me with their gun butts. Finally I fell to the ground. Yet they continued hitting and kicking me.
They probably would have killed me if a Russian Major had not appeared. He was a most impressive character. When he and I met face to face he spoke and addressed me in fluent German. At the same time he spoke Russian to his soldiers. He appeared just in time to spare me from certain death.
The first thing he asked me was: “Are you the Pilot of the plane that went down?” Confirming with a: “yes,” he was stretching his arm forward with an open hand and he said: “Give me your gun!” I handed him my belt and holster containing my Luger. He slid the holster off my belt and handed the belt back to me!
I believe it was this same troop that were doing the ground fire shootings and had searched for me and perhaps spotted me earlier. I acknowledged his questions and was really impressed with the Major’s command of the German language.
He then asked me my name and rank and saw that I was a Leutnant. He also asked what type of aircraft I flew although it appeared that he was already knowledgeable about that. Then he ordered me to march ahead of him to the Field Command Station, which was beyond the forested area, towards the North side. I did so while the men continued cursing at me.
Later, one of the Russian soldiers approached me, pointed towards his wrist and shouted: “Ura, Ura.” He saw a chain hanging out from my pants pocket. I happened to have my Grandfather Dulias’ open pocket watch on me. It was of a copper golden tone but without a cover. I had to give him the watch. He held it to his ear, listened to it tick and shouted: “Ura, Ura.” In return he gave me a piece of bread. He was friendly, not demanding, but just had to have my watch. Perhaps it was a novelty to him.
When reaching the Station I noticed several German infantrymen also held as Prisoners Of War. They were just guarded and not restrained in any way. For the first time I saw a few female Russian soldiers holding their guns. When they saw me they shouted out: “Fritz, Fritz” so it appeared that was their nickname for any captured German sol