Category Archives: Stalag Luft IV
I don’t know how many of you are members of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, but I am a member and receive their 8th AF News magazine. I was intrigued by the cover of the March 2017 issue I received in the mail. The cover photo was a woman named Ellen Weaver Hartman holding dog tags and surrounded by photos and other items. The item that caught my eye was a small piece of wood inscribed with “Stalag Luft IV 1944.” Stalag Luft IV was the prison camp in which my dad was held POW in 1944 and 1945.
I quickly turned to the article, “Band of Daughters.” It was a reprint of an article by Josh Green for the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. You can read the entire article here.
I went on to read the story of Ellen Weaver Hartman and Laura Witt Edge. Ellen’s dad was Joseph (Joe) Donald Weaver, who was a Radio Operator/Mechanic Gunner with the 9th Air Force, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad.
According to the American Air Museum in Britain, the 386th Bomb Group flew B-26 Marauders for the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. While assigned to the Eighth Air Force, the 386th developed the formation release procedure for the B-26, a medium bomber, on missions from Great Dunmow, England in the winter of 1943 – 1944 to aerodromes, marshalling yards and V-weapon sites along the coast of France. In October 1944, the 386th moved to Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris, and on to St. Trond, Belgium in support of the push eastward by ground forces.
Laura’s dad was Lawrence (Larry) Lee Witt, who was an Engineer/Waist Gunner with the 8th Air Force, 96th Bomb Group, 338th Bomb Squad.
According the the American Air Museum in Britain, the 96th Bomb Group flew B-17 Flying Fortresses to targets across occupied Europe from May 1943 to April 1945. They were awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations, the first for bombing an aircraft factory at Regensburg on August 17, 1943 under intense pressure from enemy fighters. The second was for leading the 45th Bomb Wing through difficult weather conditions and anti-aircraft fire on a mission to an aircraft components factories at Poznan on April 9, 1944.
Laura Edge knows a great deal about her father’s service in WWII. When her father was in his eighties, Laura sat down with him and one of his old crewmates and they told her their stories of WWII, Stalag Luft IV, and the Black March they endured while prisoners of war. Laura wrote a book, On the Wings of Dawn, a well-written and excellent record of the experiences of the American airmen who shared those experiences. I consider it a must-read for anyone whose father was confined in Stalag Luft IV during WWII and I will write more about it in a future post.
While Laura Edge knows a great deal about her father’s service in WWII, Ellen Weaver Hartman does not have as much information about her father’s service, but she would like to learn more. Who were the members of Joe Weaver’s originally assigned crew? How can she find a photo of that crew? If you have found your way to this article through an internet search on one of the names I’ve mentioned here, or if you recognize any of the faces in the included photos, and you have any information to share, I urge you to comment on this post or e-mail Ellen directly.
Joseph (Joe) Donald Weaver was born on August 28, 1923 in Ackerman, Mississippi. On October 8, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At the time, he was living in Choctaw County. He was assigned service number 14150971. Joe served in the 8th AF, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad as a radio operator/gunner on a B-26 Maurader. The 386th Bomb Group started out with the 8th AF, but transferred to the 9th AF in 1944.
Early in his overseas service, Joe was in a training accident in Ireland with pilot Robert G. Fry. The American Air Museum in Britain describes Fry as an Instructor (Pilot) with the 3rd Combat Crew Replacement Center. On December 27, 1943, B-26 #41-17961 was involved in a landing accident at Froome Airfield (Station 236) near Antrim, Northern Ireland after a local training flight. The aircraft landed in a small field. Joe Weaver and four others returned.
The four others mentioned were:
- S/Sgt. Pierre S. Buckner, tail gunner
- 2nd Lt. Vernon R. Hodges, pilot
- Sgt. John G. Latiloasis, engineer
- Captain Robert G. Fry, pilot instructor
John Latiloasis was from Louisiana and remained friends with Joe Weaver after the war.
The American Air Museum in Britain web site notes that after flying fifty-one missions with the Lt. Fry crew, Joe Weaver was assigned to the 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squadron of the 9th Air Force. Joe was a Radio Operator/Mechanical Gunner. On the August 6, 1944 mission to bomb fuel dumps near the Forêt d’Andainnein, east of the Domfront region of Calvados, France, Joe was flying with pilot Walter Edward Payne in B-26 #42-96184. This was Joe’s fifty-second mission, but his and the other gunners’ first mission with Captain Payne. Joe replaced Payne’s regular radio operator who had just completed his tour. Hit by flak, the plane crashed in the English Channel, one mile off the coast at Trouville-sur-Mer. Joe Weaver was made prisoner (POW) and was interned at Stalag Luft IV in Gross Tychow/Tychowo, Poland. Four others, including Captain Payne, were also made prisoners of war. Gunner Franklin E. Swanson was killed.
Aboard B-26 42-96184 that day were officers…
- Pilot/Captain Walter E. Payne
- Co-Pilot 1st Lt Hubert M. Altvater
- Bombardier/Navigator 1st Lt Edward William Roggenkamp
Payne, Altvater, and Roggenkamp were all on their 63rd mission. All three were made prisoner.
And enlisted men…
- Radio Operator/Mechanical Gunner T/Sgt Joseph D. Weaver (Ellen’s Dad) (POW)
- Ap. Armorer Gunner Cpl William L. Salyer (POW)
- Ap. Armorer Gunner Sgt Franklin E. Swanson (KIA) (injured by flak and his chute failed to open – Killed In Action).
The three enlisted men on board were all experienced gunners who had flown on earlier missions and were replacing the Payne crew’s regular gunners who had flown more than the sixty-five required missions (some with other crews) and had completed their tours.
The AAM (American Air Museum) reports that B-26 42-96184 was on its second mission of the day when it was hit by an 88mm flak shell above Le Havre, causing a fire in the right engine. Included in the missing air crew report, MACR7875, is this eyewitness statement from S/Sgt. Leonard J. Zuckerman:
I was flying as tail gunner in lead aircraft of formation in which Captain Payne was flying deputy lead.
Capt. Payne’s aircraft was hit by flak, causing fire in the right engine, which didn’t seem too large and was apparently unnoticed because ship was equipped with engine fire extinguishers. The flames subsided for a moment then flared up brightly and I saw three chutes from the tail end of the ship.
The pilot held the ship in formation for a time but was losing altitude slowly and the engine was burning brightly.
Two more chutes which evidently came from the front end of the ship, blossomed out as the ship began to lose altitude more rapidly. When about one mile off shore the right engine and wing came away from the ship and the ship itself spiraled into the channel.
I did not see a sixth chute from this aircraft. My vision was blurred after the first few minutes by hydraulic fluid which was smearing my plexiglass windshield.
This map, included in the missing air crew report was likely drawn by S/Sgt. Zuckerman to indicate the path of the aircraft, flying through the flak area and over the English Channel until it crashed in the Channel. Zuckerman also includes lattitude and longitude markings on his drawing. Zuckerman has drawn an outline around the flak area. Note the zig-zagging pattern of the aircraft through the flak area, attempting to evade the flak guns. The crew bailed out somewhere along the line indicating the aircraft’s path and probably landed somewhere between the flak area and the coastline at Trouville-sur-Mer, except for the co-pilot who actually landed in the channel about fifty feet offshore on a sandbar.
More information is provided in the Missing Air Crew Report, MACR7875, and in a narrative of “Mission 63” written by co-pilot H. Mark Altvater. Among the details are these:
- According to Lt. Altvater, bombardier/navigator Lt. Roggenkamp commented on the return trip from the target that they were getting too close to Le Havre, which was heavily defended by flak guns. He did not understand why the formation did not turn to avoid Le Havre, but they had no choice but to follow the lead aircraft.
- Lt. Altvater reported an ear-splitting explosion and realized that they had taken a direct hit from the 88mm flak guns in Le Havre. The windshield was hit and the pilot compartment was littered with dust, debris, Plexiglass splinters, and shell fragments. The fuel tanks in the right wing were punctured and spewing aviation fuel. Shortly after, they were on fire.
- About four minutes before the crew bailed out, Sgt. Swanson announced by interphone that he had been hit by flak, but that he would not leave his guns.
- They left formation approximately three minutes south of Trouville-sur-Mer.
- Lt. Roggenkamp, then Lt. Altvater bailed out of the aircraft through the bomb bay slightly west of Trouville, France. Cpl. Salyer, then Sgt. Weaver, then Sgt. Swanson left the aircraft through the waist window over Trouville. The last to bail out, Payne followed Altvater and Roggenkamp out the bomb bay.
- Captain Payne reported that his aircraft struck the ground in the English Channel approximately 10 miles west of Trouville and that none of the crew were in the aircraft at that time. (Although the witness, Zuckerman, noted the crash as one mile off shore, Payne noted ten miles off shore).
- The other gunners reported seeing blood on Swanson’s clothing near his groin, but they did not believe he was badly wounded before he bailed out. They saw his chute come out of its pack, but it did not canopy. It merely trailed behind, apparently caused by cut shrouds.
- After bailing out, Joe Weaver watched Franklin Swanson pass him on the way down. Swanson was trying to get his chute open as he passed Weaver. Weaver reported that Swanson’s chute was “one long streamer” and that he watched Swanson almost to the ground.
- Payne’s supposition was that at the time that Swanson was injured, his parachute was also hit by flak causing it to fail to function properly.
- The Germans provided Swanson’s dog tags and reported him found dead in a nearby woods. The Germans also said they buried him. He was likely buried in a local French cemetery, probably near Trouville-sur-Mer.
- The exact locations of where all of the crew landed are not noted other than Swanson’s body was found “in a nearby woods” and Altvater reported landing in the Channel, having to wade ashore.
After enduring six months in Stalag Luft IV and three more months on the road in the Black March, Joseph Donald Weaver was liberated and returned to the US. His formal date of separation from the Army Air Forces was October, 15 1945.
Ellen Weaver Hartman would like to find relatives her dad’s crew mates, and especially relatives of Franklin Swanson, the only crew member killed aboard 42-96184 that day. When Ellen’s dad, Joe Weaver, was picking up his gear for the August 6 mission, he didn’t pick up the parachute that he was supposed to get. Instead, he picked up the previous one in the gear line. Franklin Swanson picked up the parachute that was intended for Joe, the chute that didn’t open properly and didn’t deliver him safely to the ground. Joe Weaver was so upset over this that when he was liberated and returned home after the war, he and his parents drove from Mississippi to New York to visit Franklin’s parents. But, probably not considered by Joe was the possibility that the parachute Swanson picked up from the gear line was damaged by flak rather than defective.
Sgt. Franklin Swanson was born in 1923. His parents were Charles and Margaret Swanson and he had a younger brother named Carl. They were from Buffalo, Erie County, New York. Franklin enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 28, 1942 in Buffalo and his service number was 12139321. He was noted, at the time of his enlistment, as being employed in the building of aircraft and also as single, without dependents. He served as an Ap. (airplane) Armorer Gunner with the 386th Bomb Group (Medium), 554th Bomb Squadron in WWII.
Franklin Swanson died August 6, 1944. He was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. He was re-interred in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Plot B Row 9 Grave 6. Ellen plans to visit Franklin Swanson’s grave this summer.
Ellen Weaver Hartman would like to find the names of the men on which her father, Joseph Donald Weaver, served as an original crew and would also like to find a photo of the crew. Was the pilot of his original crew Robert Fry? Or did Weaver only fly with Fry on training missions?
She’d also like to find the exact location where the crew bailed out of the aircraft before it crashed into the channel, and also the places they landed and where Franklin Swanson’s body was found. In sixty seconds after bail out, the plane would have been over the sea, so it must have been very near the coastline, probably within a mile of Trouville-sur-Mer.
Ellen would also like to know what happened next. Her dad mentioned going to Chalon, France, and her mother told of a packed train ride to Dusseldorf, Germany.
Ellen would like to find more information about Franklin Swanson, pilot instructor Robert G. Fry, and the other men with which her father served in WWII. If any relatives of any of the men mentioned in this article stumble across it, Ellen Weaver Hartman would love to hear from you to learn more about the men her father flew with under pilot Robert Fry (Robert G. Fry, Pierre S. Buckner, Vernon R. Hodges, and John G. Latiloasis), and the men he flew with under pilot Walter Payne (Walter E. Payne, Hubert M. Altvater, Edward William Roggenkamp, William L. Salyer, and Franklin E. Swanson).
If you are related to any of these men or have any information for Joe Weaver’s daughter Ellen, please contact her through e-mail using this link: contact Ellen Weaver Hartman.
To learn more about the B-26 Marauder, click here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
With her son a prisoner of war of the Germans, Raleigh Mae Farrar received the monthly Prisoners of War Bulletin. As stated in the mast head, the bulletin was published by the American National Red Cross for the Relatives of American Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees. The February 1945 edition included a map of prison camps.
Raleigh Mae circled Stalag Luft IV where her son, George Edwin Farrar of the John Oliver Buslee crew, was being held. Also held at Stalag Luft IV were Harry Allen Liniger and Wilfred Frank Miller of the James Brodie crew. George Marshall Hawkins, Jr, navigator of the Brodie crew was held some distance away to the southwest at the Obermassfeld Hospital which served Stalag 9-C.
The February 1945 issue of the Prisoners of War Bulletin also noted that Russian advances in January were bringing many changes in the camps, with the expectation that men held in the camps would be moved to stay ahead of the Russian advances. The Soviet Red Army crossed the Oder River into Germany and reached within fifty miles of Berlin.
In a section of the bulletin named Camp Movements, the following information was reported:
Grosstychow, in Pomerania, where Stalag Luft IV with its large complement of British and American airmen was located, was close to the combat zone in late January.
Also a blow to the Germans, earlier in January the Germans had withdrawn from the Ardennes, giving the Allies the victory in the month-long Battle of the Bulge on January 25.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
The next communication Raleigh Mae Farrar received about her son was from the War Department. Her son, George Edwin Farrar, was now identified as prisoner #3885, confined at Stalag Luft IV (4). She now had instructions on how to send her son parcels and tobacco and revised instructions for sending letters.
January 6, 1945
Headquarters Army Service Forces
Office of the Provost Marshal General
Washington 25, D.C.
Re: S/Sgt. George E Farrar,
United States Prisoner of War # 3885,
Stalag Luft 4, Germany.
Mrs. Raleigh M Farrar
79 EastLake Terrace North East,
Dear Mrs. Farrar:
The Provost Marshal General has directed me to inform you that the above-named prisoner of war has been reported interned at the place indicated.
You may communicate with him by following instructions in the inclosed circular.
One parcel label and two tobacco labels will be forwarded to you every sixty days without application on your part. Labels for the current period will be forwarded under separate cover with the least practicable delay.
Further information will be forwarded as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee,
Colonel, C.M.P. Director,
Prisoner of War Information Bureau.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
On November 7, 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States, an unprecedented fourth term in office.
Two days later, on November 9, and far away from home and family in the states, George Edwin Farrar was still a patient in the hospital of Stalag Luft IV, a subsidiary camp of Stalag Luft III. It was now forty-two days after the mid-air collision between the Lead Banana and Lazy Daisy. This day, Farrar wrote his second letter home. This letter was postmarked January 17, 1945, and was marked with the date when the Farrar family in Atlanta, Georgia received it – March 23, 1945.
From the time of its writing, this letter took 134 days to reach its destination. Farrar’s situation by that time was much different from the day he penned that letter. In late November 1944, he had been moved from the hospital into a barracks in the prison camp. In his own words, Farrar described his condition at the time of his placement in the barracks as “I could only walk by shuffling my feet as I could not lift either leg to walk.”
Farrar must have worked very hard to regain his ability to walk. He could not have known at the time that in a few months he and all the other prisoners at Stalag Luft IV would be forced to march out of the camp and begin an 86-day journey across Germany to their final liberation on May 2, 1945. By the time of the Farrar family’s receipt of this letter on March 23, George Edwin Farrar had been marching for forty-five days. He was not, as it seemed from his letter, sitting in a German prison camp and “feeling fine.” He was tired and hungry to the point of starving.
This letter also indicates that by November 9, he had been told that he was the only survivor on the Lead Banana.
November 9, 1944
Lager-Bezeichnung: Stalag Luft 3
Postmarked January 17, 1945
Marked Received March 23, 1945
In a few more months I should be hearing from you and it will sure be nice. I think this is the longest I have ever gone without hearing from you. I hope you and Dad, and the rest of the family are getting along fine. As for myself, I am feeling fine, but miss that good cooking of yours. I’ll really keep you busy when I get home. I guess I have more luck than anyone to still be here, and not a thing wrong with me. Your prayers came in good. I still can’t believe I am alive. They said I was the only one out of my ship that is alive. Write often. Love, George
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
Twenty-six days after the mid-air collision between the Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana over Magdeburg, Germany, George Edwin Farrar (my dad) was allowed to write his first letter home. At the time, he was in a prison camp hospital, unable to walk from injuries suffered in the collision.
Farrar was also treated for wounds possibly sustained from the collision and/or perhaps during his capture. In a letter to his mother after he was liberated in May of 1945, he wrote, “When I hit the ground I received a little rough treatment from the Germans, but I expected it.” The “rough treatment” could have been anything from my recollection of what he described as being beaten with a stick to my Aunt Beverly’s recollection of his telling of being attacked with farm implements, like pitchforks and hoes. She also recalled his telling of the German soldiers saving him from being killed by the German peasants, and carrying him to a house where he was held until the next POW transport train took him to the interrogation center.
Aunt Beverly is my dad’s youngest sister, who was eight years old when my dad returned from the war. She also recalls him telling her that his wounds were treated with what she remembered as “gen-gen violet”, a liquid medicine that turned his skin purple. This must have been the antiseptic used by the Germans in WWII, gentian violet. Beverly is the only one of my dad’s siblings still alive today, and whose memory of the events of 1944 and 1945 in the Farrar household are helping me put together this history.
Farrar was held at Stalag Luft IV in Gross-Tychow, Poland, which was a subsidiary camp of Stalag Luft III. Even though this letter is dated October 24, 1944, it was not postmarked until December 15, 1944, and was not received by the Farrar family until January 18, 1945, exactly one week before his mother’s fifty-fifth birthday.
October 24, 1944
Lager-Bezeichnung: Stalag Luft 3
[Postmarked December 15, 1944]
Dearest Mother: I find it rather hard to write even a letter as small as this. Of course, we can’t say much, but are being treated O.K. We have plenty books and I spend most of my time reading. I hope you will have plenty chicken when I get there. I think I could eat a couple all alone. I guess Gene is doing good in school by now. Tell him to study hard, and make good grades. How is Martha getting along with her new job. I hope she likes it. I’ll bet by now she is having a hard time with her boyfriends. I wish you would send me some candy. Be sure it is something that will keep until it gets here, because it is a long trip. I’ll make up for these letters when I get home. Love to all, George
Was Farrar telling his mother that the small letter was “hard to write” a way to tell her that he was injured? The reference to being able to “eat a couple [chickens] all alone” was probably a way to tell her he was not being fed much and was starving. Martha and Gene were a younger sister and brother. Martha would have been 16 and Gene would have been 13 years old at the time of the letter.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
On his eighth day of captivity, October 5, 1944, George Edwin Farrar filled out a postcard to be sent to his family advising them that he was a prisoner of war and in good health. Either he was instructed to lie about his physical condition or he did not want his family to know he was injured. His family did not receive this card until after the end of the year, sometime in 1945.
Dulug Luft was the interrogation center. Kriegsgefangenenpost means prisoner of war post. Gebührenfrei means without charge.
At this point, the Farrar family had not been notified that there son was missing.
I do not have any information on what the families of any of the other survivors, or the families of those that did not survive, received other than that information that was conveyed in letters to my grandmother, Raleigh Mae Farrar. From this point, I can only share information from my dad’s and his family’s perspective, but I assume the families of all 18 boys in both planes received similar information as the Farrar family other than information specific to their son’s fate.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014