Carter Lunsford interviewed by Greg Hatton
I was a radio operator on a B-17 ( 390th Bomb Group), that was shot down on January 21, 1944. I spent the following 16 months as a P.O.W. in Stalag Luft VI and IV, then on a forced march. That lasted from February 2 until April 26th, 1945 when we were liberated by the 104th Division at Bitterfeld, Germany. During that time I served as assistant camp leader under Tech/Sgt. Frank Paules.
According to the rules of the Geneva convention on the Articles of War, they had to separate the officers and non-commissioned men. Your privates up to corporal are allowed to work in the fields, factories and what have you, as long as they don't promote the war effort. The non-commissioned flyers like myself, went to one camp while the officers went to theirs. The Germans put us on a train headed for Heydekrug on the Baltic coast. Frank Paules and I met on that boxcar trip. None of us knew each other, so we just got to talking and so forth.
Luft VI was a new camp, but the RAF had been there for several months before we arrived. Our train load of eighty prisoners was the first American contingent to come in. The British were fascinated with us when we got there and put us in a block house along with their guys.
In our training, they hadn't given us much information about what we were supposed to do as prisoners of war. We knew that we could only give our name rank and serial number, and they had told us that it was our duty as soldiers to try to escape. Dixie Deans was the British camp leader. He gave us the whole rundown. Those RAF boys had been down for several years and they knew what it was all about. Dixie himself was quite a smart boy and had the camp really well organized. He explained to us how the camps were operated. How to stay away from the perimeters where the guards were. How to elect men to the office of camp leader and barracks leader and so forth; how to set up people to handle education, a library, sports and so forth. Most importantly, how to deal with the Germans to get food, medical attention, clothing and mail.
Frank Paules was a natural leader and fellows just gravitated to his leadership. He was very intelligent and well educated, but it was more in the way that he handled himself, the way he handled us and ultimately, how he handled the Germans. Frank asked me to be his assistant and we put together a staff rather quickly. We were fortunate to have many talented men among us who we voted on. All the guys cooperated and we became the accepted leaders. Whatever we said was OK with them and that gave us leverage with the Germans. They knew we were in control and they could depend on that.
One of our key guys was Bill Krebs, from Pennsylvania, whose folks were German. Bill had been a railroad engineer before the war and he was really sharp. At these meetings we had with the camp officials, he was a great help in getting the complete knowledge of what they were saying. That was of great assistance in helping us decide what to do. For example, we'd say: " Bill, we need more bed boards. These guys are falling through their bunks." Well, he would interpret that in a way, so that it was accepted by the Germans as a proper reason to complain. He used his own head when he said things to the Germans. If we just depended on their interpreter, you wouldn't know what the hell they were saying to the Commandant... but we had Bill there all the time. We were very fortunate.
Oberfeldwebel Dumbrowski was our slightly shell-shocked lager counter. Tom Mchale was an ex-newspaperman who wrote the Barbed Wire News every week on a large sheet of paper; Frank called him " the Old Man" because he was one of several guys who were into their forties. He and Dumbrowski would walk inside the perimeter of Six for hours, hands behind their backs. The thing was, Dumbrowski didn't know any English and McHale didn't know any German.
At Luft 6, Col. Von Hoerman was our Commandant. Escapes got going almost as soon as we got settled. One group of four guys cut their way out and went down through a drainage ditch that ran around the perimeter of the camp. We protected their disappearance for well over a month. Feldwebel Schroeder came in and told us that half the German officers thought we had men out and half thought the men were still in camp. We had them that confused.
I used to stand and take the count at parade, twice a day. I knew just when the men were going to start jumping around to mess up the count and I could see them doing it, because I knew what to look for. The Germans would be counting and finish up one barracks. Then I'd see two or three guys get down and quickly scoot over and get into the next line. The Germans never caught us and the count would always turn up right. But we did have some close calls.
One time, a new bunch of fellows came in and were moving the men into barracks G. The Germans were all over the place and they started to make a surprise count. They told us: " Everybody out so we can make a count!" I said to myself:" Oh my... Jesus, we haven't any protection here!" The missing men were from barracks F, which was adjacent but separated by an open lane about 15 yards wide. I knew I had to do something in hurry!
I ran into H block and grabbed four of the new PW's and said: " Look...You've got to fill in for the count over there. This count's going to be all screwed up, anyhow! There's too much going on here for them to get it right." We started across the alley and this Major Heinrich, who had three soldiers with him, spotted us running. He yelled for us to stop and came tearing across the compound with those guards. Of course we came to a quick stop!
They called for an interpreter and Schroeder showed up. He was a big help. Heinrich wanted to know: "What are you doing out here? Why aren't you in the barracks?" I said:" I'm the assistant camp leader and I'm bringing these men back over where they belong. They're just in block H to see their friends who've just come in." All the while these guards are standing with their guns leveled at us and I can see Schroeder carrying on with the Major:" Yes, yes, he's bringing them here and so forth ...everything is in order." Finally, Heinrich shouts at us: "All right, get in there, and don't let me see another guy on this street!" We fell in with the rest of the guys from Block F and of course the count came out right! The fellows who'd escaped had been gone for well over a month and eventually the Germans did what was called a corral count. This is where you all get out into one big group, then they pass you two at a time past a guard. We did that for two or three days. Finally the British gave us the word : "Hey, look this has gone far enough. Just forget the count. They may have your people anyway!"
It was always cat and mouse with us and the guards, but there were times when we could understand each other. There was a propaganda newspaper up a Six that published a picture of a whole group of PW's which, they claimed, had been recently captured all at once. It was actually the entire group of British and Americans, some of whom had been prisoners for years. Some of the guards really blew up and got mad! It made them look like fools. They threw their hands up in the air as if to say...eeeeehhh!!!