MAY 2013 Lester Schrenk of
The day of my capture
We were over the north sea headed for England
after our mission to Denmark. We were being attacked by formations of German
A plane just off to our right (see
92nd USAAF-USAF Memorial Association
with Missions 1944, see
Losses 22 FEB 1944.
AS) was hit and
crashed into the sea.
About 2 minutes later, I heard a very loud explosion
that sounded in the direction of our right wing. Next
I heard the pilot ask the navigator to the point of the nearest
land and the
navigator (Peacock) saying 90 degrees dead east, 20 minutes to landfall.
With this I knew
that we had been dealt a death blow and that we were going
down. The pilot (Lavies) called the Bombardier (Schuman) and told him to jettison the bombs.
This was done because we had not dropped the bombs at the target
area because of solid
cloud cover, also it was necessary not to have bombs onboard when the plane
I never did see the plane that shot us down
until later when he followed us to landfall.
Lavies also called all of the crew and said
that he was going to lower the landing gear of the plane, which we knew was
a universal sign of surrender (but followed by
only a few German pilots.)
During all this time, there would be very
loud explosions every 10 to 15 second intervals. Our #4 engine fuel tank was
on fire. The explosions were very violent to the
point where they would completely blow out the fire, but again erupt into a
huge fire ball, followed by yet another explosion. The fire was very hot and
we were trailing
fire of about 30 feet (10 meters). There was complete silence on the
intercom and I am sure that neither I or anyone on the plane thought that we
would make landfall,
but rather crash into the sea.
I could see that a German Ju88 was following
well behind us, out of range and also slightly above us. At about this time
I called the pilot and asked permission to
leave my position (the ball turret). The pilot gave me the permission, so
I exited the turret, located my parachute and snapped my chest pack
parachute to my
harness, and sat against a bulkhead waiting for what lie ahead.
I do not remember anyone saying a word.
Everything seemed routine. There was no panic and we all sat in silence just
waiting for land fall. I do not remember being scared, but I must have been!!
I do remember praying about the grief and agony that my poor parents would
be going through. Never did I think that I would not make
it through the ordeal that lay before me. I was very calm and very ready to
jump just as soon as I saw land.
The explosions appeared to be getting much
more severe and it seemed that the part of the wing beyond the fire was
bending upwards. But we were flying level and
in a shallow dive in order to fly at a faster rate. We were exceeding 300
miles per hour. And I would estimate the altitude to be somewhere like
1,500 to 2,000 feet
when we bailed out.
Just as I saw landfall approaching, I called
on the intercom stating that I was bailing out and wishing everyone good
luck. I did not hear anyone else doing this, nor did
I receive an answer. There were 5 of the crewmen in the back of the plane
that would jump out of the rear door of the plane. Swindler (tail Gun)
Harman (Left waist gun) Guastella (Right waist gun) and myself (ball turret).
drawing of the crew
of a B-17. AS)
I started towards the rear exit door, but
Guastella was ahead of me. He pulled the latch which jettisoned the door,
but then when he stepped in the doorway. He froze
and did not jump. Without hesitation, I raised my foot and gave him a boot
in the rear with him flying out the door. I jumped next, waited a second to
clear the plane
and pulled the rip cord. The chute did not deploy. I glanced down and found
that the drogue chute had been caught in the covering and quickly pulled it
deployed the main chute. When the main chute opened I cannot
describe the violent sudden snap, but then a smooth decent there after. At
first there was German
gunfire from the ground some distance away. But this suddenly stopped. The
Ju88 that had been following us made several passes above us. I only saw the
5 para- chutes that bailed out of the back of the plane. About this time I
heard the very loud explosion where Pot O'Gold crashed - it appeared to be about 5
km east of where I was.
I did not see any lakes below me.
Even before landing, I could see German
troops in the distance. I landed with such force that I was nearly stunned.
It was in a field which had been plowed the fall
before, frozen, but with above freezing temperature, the ground had a
slightly muddy surface. The field was very rough and had pockets of muddy
water. I was not
badly hurt, perhaps strained muscles and numerous bumps, but luckily no
broken bones or dislocated joints. I was very sore for a number of days
after the fall.
A few days ago I contacted the company that made the parachute. I was told
that the rate of descent was about 13 miles per hour. No wonder it felt so
I could see the Germans had formed a semi
circle around me and when I unsnapped my chute I deliberately stamped it
into the muddy water thinking it would make
it harder for the Germans to use it. The time was about 14:30 hours when we
By this time the Germans were close enough
and were calling for me to raise my hands . There were dozens of guns
pointing at me and as I did so they grabbed
both of my arms asking if I had a pistol. I then made the mistake in
answering them in German, as I thought that speaking in German would help me
in some way.
I told them that I did not have any. They frisked me and found that I did
not have a weapon.
There was a small road nearby and a rather
small car came by. They marched me to where the car was . There was a big
sort of gas bag attached on the rear of
the car and a German was putting what looked like wood chips in a
compartment below the gas bag, then he sprinkled a white powder over the
Just between the doors of the car, near the
roof was an arm that lighted and said ‘FORD” I believe the arm was a turn
signal. They placed me in the back seat
alongside a German soldier. At this point I did not see any of my crew. We
started on our way and shortly came to a hill, not that steep, but the car
had very little
power and when we were nearly to the top of the hill, the car came to a
stop.. The German backed back down the hill and came to a stop. Went out and
on more chips and more powder, waited for some time and again started up the
hill. This time the just barely did clear the top of the hill. I believe
that we were going
in a easterly direction and after several turns in the road we arrived at
the German Headquarters (the Danish school house). I estimate that we had
3 KM, but that is a rough guess. I remember clearly the big Swastika flag
that flew on the flagpole. The first of many Swastika flags that I would see.
They took me inside and here were several of
my crew, however I do not remember how many or who they were. I do believe
that there were 3 crewmembers, but
not at all certain. During the next hour they brought in the rest of the
crew except the pilot (Lavies) and the navigator (Peacock). So now there
were 8 of our crew.
As they brought in a crew member they would
take down each persons name rank and serial number. I do not recall that
they asked any military questions. Also
they took one of our dog tags, leaving the other one. I remember when they
brought in Swindler, the German said, Ja, we too had a man called Swindler,
week we took him out and shot him!!!
When they brought Ryers in he told me that
when he had landed there was a house nearby. Thinking that maybe the Danish
underground would help him, he
knocked on the door and was greeted by what appeared a friend, she motioned
for him to come in, she could not speak English, but gave him a cup of
Then he saw her call on the telephone and he thought perhaps she was calling
the underground for help. Instead a few minutes later he was picked up by
the Danish police or by a German, I do not remember which one. I do remember
that he was very disgusted and wished that he had not gone to that house and
he called her a Nazi collaborator.
At about this time a high ranking German
officer came, he looked us over at length, but I could not understand enough
of what he said as to why he was there.
I thought perhaps he was the German pilot who had shot us down and I would
have liked to talk with him, but I knew that I would not be allowed to do
About an hour or 2 later a German came to me
with what I recognized as items belonging to the pilot. One was his wrist
watch, another was his crash bracelet
(a personal item many servicemen bought. It was worn around the wrist and
had ones name engraved into it) another was his class ring. I looked at the
and said “ No sir, I do not know who they belong to.” The German then shoved
me very angrily out the door to where a wagon was with a covered object. He
down the covers exposing the head of the pilot. I quickly touched his face
and found it cold to the touch, but was quickly booted away and the German
“maybe that will refresh your memory”. At this point I did identify the
pilot as I knew he was dead.
This bothered me greatly and when they took
me back inside I broke the sad news to the rest of the crew.
We stood there in stunned silence.
About this time I decided that my escape kit
would do me no good, and as the Germans still had not found it, I knew that
soon they would and I did not wish for
them to have it. So I asked to go to the latrine to relieve myself. I
flushed the maps down the drain and started to flush the French Franks that
were in the escape
kit down the drain. I must have tried flushing too quickly and the toilet
plugged up. I then had no other choice but to tear up the remainder of the
money and throw
the remainder in the toilet bowl and ask the guard to take me back to the
rest of the crew.
Very soon I heard loud German voices really
giving some German Guard holy hell for not finding the kit and allowing me
destroy it. I was led to a German officer
and my whole body searched.. They found my wallet which contained several
British pounds and also some American bank notes. The German officer took
the money and gave the empty wallet back to me. I demanded a receipt which
provoked the officer. He demanded to know why I wanted a receipt. I answered
“Because we are going to win the war” and I will collect the money at wars
end. This really made him mad… He then said that I was a traitor to the
and that I would be shot. He told the Guard “Get this swein hundt out of my
sight. We will deal with him later." I soon learned to try to hide my German
and when a German would ask how I had learned German I would always say that
I had learned it in school, but only took one year of learning as I did not
them to know that my Grand Parents mostly did speak German. The one year was
to explain that I did not German that well. I never did take German in
When we were with the German Luftwaffe in
Denmark we were not treated badly, although a German officer told us that
Germany had signed the
Geneva convention, however he said that that did not
apply to the air force personnel as we were murderers of women and
children and that we would be treated as such.
The lower German enlisted men would not
believe that we were American. They said that America was not at war with
Germany. When we convinced them that we
were indeed American, they said that we must be mercenaries (paid
soldiers, paid by the British).
I asked one of the guards if he would cut off
the long cord that was attached to my electrically heated suit. It was very
annoying to have it always in the way. He
agreed but had much difficulty cutting it and finally resorted to an ax to
chop it off and I thanked him for doing so. Why the makers of the suit never
had a detachable
cord must have cost many of airmen their lives.
We were held right in the German Barracks and
many of the German soldiers were getting ready to go to town. One was
telling me that he had a Danish girl friend
that he planned to see that night. Soon evening came. I do not remember
having anything to eat. They had us go to bed right alongside other Germans
and I did
have a restful night. I had been very tired so I slept until dawn when I was
awakened. Again we did not get a breakfast, but a kindly Danish man who must
been working for the Germans gave each of us some very hard brown bread and
a slice of sausage for the trip on a German train taking us first to Hamburg
then on to Dulag Luft which is near
Frankfurt, Germany. We were now in
Germany not knowing what lay before us.
(Another German pilot refrained from shooting down a B-17.See
Amazing tale of WWII pilot's encounter with German flying ace in
The Daily Mail on 9 DEC 2012. AS)