WWII POW shares story

  • Published
  • By Deborah Silliman Wolfe
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It is said that everyone has a story to tell. If that is true, Stan Angleton's story would be on the best seller's list. Mr. Angleton, a World War II veteran was a prisoner of war for 15 and a half months at Prison Camp Stalag 17B in Krems, Austria.
After being drafted into the Army Air Corps Nov. 5, 1942, Mr. Angleton, a Kansas native, trained as a flight mechanic in Texas.

"They told me, 'You are going to Wichita Falls, Texas, for A&M training at Sheppard Field,'" Mr. Angleton said. "I spent six months there learning the airplane. They taught us on the B-25 and B-26s. After that, they sent me to gunnery school down in Harlingen, Texas, for about six weeks. After I graduated from gunnery school, they sent me to El Paso, Texas, to join my flight crew. From there, we started flying all over making bomb runs, dummy runs, all over the country."

After training, Mr. Angleton and the nine other members of his crew, headed to Topeka, Kansas, to pick up their brand new B-24 bomber. By way of Maine, Iceland, England, and Casablanca, they finally arrived at the city of Benghazi in North Africa, where they joined the 376th Heavy Bomb Group.

"We made nine missions out of Benghazi and then they (the Allied Forces) took over enough of Italy, we moved up to San Fangrazio, Italy, located across from Bari, which was one of the main hubs to come in by ship," he said.

After flying 15 successful missions out of Italy, 18 B-24s with the 376th HBG took off Dec. 28, 1943, to bomb a ball bearing base in northern Italy.

"We had been to the same place Christmas day and bombed, but we missed one big building," Mr. Angleton said. "Command said, 'You are going back on the 28th.' When we went the first time, there were no fighter pilots or anything. Those kinds of missions we called milk runs; we flew over, dropped our bombs and came back. But the 28th of December, that was a different story.

The ambush:

"It was kinda overcast that day, and we were late taking off. We were supposed to rendezvous with another crew, but we were 30 minutes late getting to rendezvous point. (The) rule was if you missed your rendezvous, you were supposed to turn around. The other group saw we didn't make it and turned around. But we got there and the lead captain said it was another milk run, and we could make it without the fighters."

The group went on, one short of their normal 18 aircraft because one plane had engine trouble and had to turn around. Just after coming in off of the Adriatic Sea, between 75 and 100 German Luftwaffe fighters hit.
Mr. Angleton said the Germans knew the group was going because they intercepted radio transmissions between the Americans asking if the group should go on or turn back.

"We didn't even get to drop one bomb before they attacked," Mr. Angleton said. "The Luftwaffe just picked us off one after another. But we got a lot of their airplanes too."
Mr. Angleton's plane was hit and caught fire.
Cliff Wendell, the pilot, described what he saw when he was alerted the craft had been hit.

"Through the small window in the bomb bay door I saw a blazing inferno," Mr. Wendell said in a letter to a friend dated Aug. 15, 1948. "All our gasoline and oxygen was burning around 8,000 pounds of bombs we had there."

At the time the plane caught fire, Mr. Angleton was flying waist gun, meaning he was in the fuselage shooting a 50-caliber machine gun out of the side of the airplane.

"There were airplanes blowing up all over the place," Mr. Angleton said. "I saw three airplanes blow up and not a soul got out of them. That is 30 men lost right there. The pilot gave the order to bail out when he saw the fire. The other waist gunner had shot down two fighters, but was burnt pretty bad. The flames had got to him and caught him on fire. I and the lower ball bearer gunner helped him put on his parachute and got him to the camera door where he could drop out."

After making sure the badly injured waist gunner got out of the plane, Mr. Angleton hooked on his parachute and jumped, his flight suit on fire.

Mr. Angleton made it to ground safely, his suit no longer on fire, but he had been burned badly on his back and neck. A number of Italian civilians gathered the survivors and brought them to a house where an Italian woman put salve on Mr. Singleton and other injured members.

"She said she would like to let us go, but she didn't dare to, telling us her son had been killed by the Germans," Mr. Angleton said. "She said the Germans would shoot them if they let us go."

Two hours later, German soldiers arrived. The 20 or so survivors were herded into a big truck and taken to Frankfurt, Germany, where they were interrogated for five days.

"I was in a little cell, maybe six foot by four foot," Mr. Angleton recalled. "The only time I would get out of it was when they would try to ask me questions. I wouldn't tell them. They would ask me what group I was with, what was my commander's name. They already knew it, they knew more about the base then we did!"

After the interrogation, the Americans were loaded into a troop train. Mr. Angleton said there were so many men packed in the box car, that you couldn't sit unless someone else was going to stand up.

"We never got latrine breaks," he said. "They had five gallon cans, three or four of them, and you can figure what they smelled like by the time we got off. We were on (board) for about 4 days. They took us to Krems, Austria, to prison camp Stalag 17B."

POW camp, Stalag 17B:

Stalag 17B housed close to 5,000 American prisoners, and the other side of the camp housed Italians, Poles and a few other nationalities. The two camps were separated by two large fences. Mr. Angleton described the barracks to be similar to duplexes, where one end would house 300 men with a washroom in the middle, and the other side housing 300 more men. Mr. Angleton was in barracks 19B.

"They turned the water on three times a day for two hours a time and that was all the water they would let us have," he said. "And it was all cold. There was no heat, no hot water at all. In the winter, it was pretty cold, a lot of snow. I was wearing what I bailed out in, and we did get G.I. overcoats that the government sent in."

As far as food, the POWs mainly ate rutabaga soup or potatoes.

"We would get Red Cross parcels that had a D-bar, which was a chocolate bar, a small can of cocoa, a small can of powdered coffee," Mr. Angleton said. "But by the time they got to us, the coffee had drawn dampness and was harder than a rock. We would also get butter which we would melt and we would stick rags down in the can to make a wick. We could light that at night because they would shut off the electricity as soon as it got dark."

The POWs were supposed to get Red Cross parcels weekly, but usually only got one or two every six weeks.

Overall, Mr. Angleton said he felt he was lucky because he was in one of the better camps. The prisoners were able to write plays and perform them every two weeks. Boxing matches and basketball tournaments were allowed. Mr. Angleton's barracks only lost one basketball game the entire time they were in the camp.

Mr. Angleton learned some German while imprisoned, and became familiar with a few of the German guards, with whom he started trading.

"About once a month, you could get a small package from home," he said. "They would send stuff you could trade for something else. The German's loved those D-bars, so you could get about anything you wanted for those. We got some radio equipment and the guys made crystal sets. They traded those for a small red radio that they were able to get BBC signals on so they could tell what was going on. We knew more of what was going on than some of the Germans."

When Mr. Angleton got to the camp, he was able to send a card to a family member and let them know he was in a POW camp. They sent him cigarettes and other items which he traded. There were only a few POWs, including Mr. Angleton, who were willing to trade with the Germans because if they got caught, the Germans would put them in a confined cell and only feed them bread and water for seven, 15 or 21 days.
Mr. Angleton said he spent the maximum in one of the small cells, a total of 43 days. But that didn't stop him.
After his third confinement, he continued trading but avoided detection.

The escape:

After Mr. Angleton had been in the camp for 15-and-a-half months, the war was nearing a close. The Germans decided to evacuate camp in two sections to avoid capture.
They marched the Americans out first and then the other nationalities out second.
Mr. Angleton and three American friends thought they had a better chance of escape if they marched with the non-American group, so they bribed two guards with cigarettes to let them move to the other side of the camp. The next day, the Germans moved the American camp, and the day after they started moving the other camp where Mr. Angleton was hiding.

After marching 20 miles the first day, Mr. Angleton, three other American and two English soldiers fell to the back of the group and told two of the German guards they were planning on "taking out".

"They told us to be careful and not let the SS (meaning Schutzstaffel or Shield Squadron) catch up because that would be the end of us," Mr. Angleton said. "We gave them cigarettes; they shook our hands and told us to be careful. When they started around the hill we went the other way."

For the next weeks, the group traveled by night and hid by day. Eventually, they found a cave near Lintz, Austria, where they made camp. By day, they could see where farmers planted potatoes, and at night, they scavenged for food. Two weeks, passed and two of Mr. Angleton's companions came across two German deserters on a steep hill when they were scouting the area.

"They (the Germans) had been injured but were about well and they were going to get sent back to the front," Mr. Angleton said. "They didn't want to go back up to the front so they deserted by this little town where their folks and a lot of their relatives lived. They invited us up that night, and they fed us and gave us all the wine and schnapps we wanted."

For the next three weeks until the war was officially over, the Mr. Angleton's crew and the two Germans stayed together on the hill.

"When the war was over, we knew it right quick, because some of their folks came and told us," he said.

The group went down to the village, split up into groups of two and lived with local families until American forces came through and picked them up two weeks later.

Mr. Angleton said he was glad he made the decision to escape from the Germans.

"We were glad we escaped, because we found out later that on their march, if you got down or were sick or couldn't move or something and if you didn't have a buddy to help you, that was the end of you. They shot them right there. They didn't care because they knew the war was about over. We thought we made a wise decision."

After the war, Mr. Angleton, now 87, worked and retired from Trans World Airlines. After 40 years of employment, traveled the world and will be celebrating 64 years of marriage to his wife Hazel this spring.