B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


  Eight Months of Human Contact in a POW Camp
by Joseph R. Armstrong, 442nd Bomb Squadron


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High Point


I was riding on a train in northern Italy in the company of three Afrika Corps soldiers. The day before I had been locked in a stable in an Italian courtyard.

This morning an Italian soldier had unlocked my stable cell and walked me to a railroad station where I had been put in the charge of these three North Africa veterans. We were sitting face to face in two seats, one German and myself, and the two other Germans on the opposite seat. These three veterans of Rommel's tank corps were professional soldiers. Their hair was bleached almost white by the desert sun, they were tanned a mahogany color, and there wasn't an ounce of fat on their wiry frames. They evidenced great interest in America, and again I heard how wealthy American pilots were from being paid large sums for each mission. I tried to dispel this erroneous idea with no success.

By gestures, some Italian speech, and drawing on a paper bag they told me how they would fool the Allied forces by making life-size mock ups of tanks from cardboard and wood and painting these silhouettes black. Among the silhouettes there would be one actual tank, constantly moving and firing. They laughingly told how this stratagem would delay Allied advances. They were firm in their belief that the Germans would still be in North Africa had the Reich supplied Rommel with equipment and ammunition.

I had obtained a piece of gauze to cover the drain opening in the cast on my right hand. The gauze was soaked with blood and fluid from the wound. One of the soldiers reached into a duffel bag and produced an emergency field dressing made of paper which I substituted for the old dressing. We were traveling through the Po Valley in northern Italy, the train windows were open, and in August it was a beautiful time of year. As the train proceeded into the mountain pass separating Germany from Italy, the train was actually enveloped in clouds. I had been shot down wearing a short sleeve khaki shirt and khaki pants and the three Germans were similarly clad. We all suffered from the chill and dampness. I have been given no rations, and there was no common food supply on the train, and had their been I had no money with which to buy.

About noon, the desert men opened their rucksacks and took out the standard German fighting man's ration - black bread, sausage and cheese. All three offered me a portion of their meal, which I refused. I was hungry, but the unappetizing fare, together with the shock of my wound and fever, kept me from eating.

After some hours, the train pulled into a small mountain station where we were side tracked for an hour while a munitions train was passing us in the direction of Italy. One of the panzer men left the train and returned to hand me a paper cup and spoon. The cup was filled with a sort of cold cream cheese and in my state I never remembered anything so good. The soldier did not bring one for his companions or himself, and I can only assume he had money for just the one he had given to me.(Continued)

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