Russell S. Bodwell's Narrative of Events Updated: 02 APR 2019
On 6 February 2012
Svend Ohrt-Johansen, Ribe to his great-cousin Finn Lausen,
Ribe from letter by Russell S. Bodwell.
On 9 February 2012 sent to Anders Straarup to be included in his website www.airmen.dk. Adapted by Anders Straarup.
See B17 44-6461 * Russell S. Bodwell * John Kozdeba See also Report on the Rescue of Two American Airmen.
This narrative of his escape from Denmark was given to me by
Russ on the occasion of the dedication of the Class of 1944 Hall on
October 19, 1996. Included with it were copies of other
documents written by people of the Danish underground describing their
participation in Russ's escape, one of which is included
here. The copy
Narrative of events that occurred from February 26th through early March 1945 when Russ Bodwell and John Kozdeba were shot down, south of Gram, Denmark.
This account was written after travels back to Denmark as none of the underground members gave me names in 1945. Prior to being shot down, I had read 50-60 escape reports, which highlighted the importance of delayed parachute jumps and hiding out within a few minutes of landing on the ground.
On February 26th, we took part in a mission with over 1100 bombers and nearly 700 escort fighters that went to Berlin, Germany and dropped our bombs about 1:00 pm that day. We were in a B17G, part of the 326th Squadron of the 92nd Bomb Group stationed in Podington, This was the initial B-17 Bomb Group assigned to England. Podington became a famous drag strip in the 80's.
The mission was somewhat unusual in the sense that we did not fly in our regular plane as it had problems coming back from Munich the previous day and we had to take a substitute plane. I recently found out that it was named "Slick Chick with a Hot Lick" based on a letter I received from Denmark in February 1992. Our briefing and take off was before daylight so that the plane's name was not identified to the writer.
The information on the
plane model number and name came from an individual who had recovered part
of the plane, a Danish historian named Gunnar Reese-Petersen. I sent him
correspondence such as listing all my missions in response to questions.
Unfortunately, we were picked up by two German Me 109 fighters over Denmark and were shot down at 5:10 pm. The Crew bailed out in a period of about live minutes with John Kozdeba and I being about the last two out and taking a delayed parachute jump which permitted us to land in a field south of Gram. After we landed in the field, we were shortly joined by Danish civilians who were distracted by releasing our parachutes and letting them blow over a fence at the edge of the field approximately 150 yards away. Many of the Danes were women who were interested in salvaging the nylon parachutes. (B17 44-6461 crashed here.)
Meanwhile, two brothers about our age showed up on bicycles and using the language card I carried in my flight suit I was able to communicate to them that I was an American and wanted to avoid capture. The two brothers let us ride off on their bicycles. We stopped and took off our flying boots and put on shoes we carried around our necks on bail out. We continued on past two Germans also riding on bicycles looking for us at the site of our parachutes.
The brothers led us to a hiding place in a construction shanty located at the road intersection approximately 2500 ft. from where we landed. One of the brothers took off the hinges so that we could get into the construction shanty. We hid out in two bunks in the back. Two trucks of German soldiers drove up about 5 minutes later at the road intersection to look for us. About 10 o'clock that night members of the underground showed up. We then went outside the shanty, took off our flight suits and buried them in a pro-German manure pile.
We kept our jackets and went to the house of Peder Lausen. He was one of the mailmen in the town, apparently very active in the underground who I later found out was a concert caliber flutist. We had dinner about 11:30 that night consisting of smoked eel, ham and several other Danish foods that members of the underground had brought to Lausen's to help feed us.
I was introduced to their children, their wives and after eating we were escorted through trails and fields to Erik Larsen's home in the hunting lodge of Gram Slot. He was the forester and a member of the underground and lived alone in this hunting lodge which was maintained for the duke who owned the castle in the town, I stayed there that night and next day, Erik indicated that immediately to the north of his hunting lodge was a major German ammunition depot however I did not see any Germans while I was at the hunting lodge since we were instructed not to show our faces at any windows.
The second night, John Kozdeba and the writer were picked up in an auto owned by a doctor and another member of the underground and driven under machine gun escort to Rodding where we met the architect Age Jensen. At the Jensen household we had our pictures taken and forged ID papers prepared indicating that we were deaf and dumb. We stayed overnight with the architect and his wife who worked in the bank.
That morning about noon, in our new civilian clothes, we walked through the center of town. We passed several German soldiers who were generally either very old or very young, saw planes in the air looking for us, and took a bus to Kolding. In Kolding, we went to a Lutheran minister's home and spent approximately two hours killing time until such time as a train was due in that would take us to Fredericia.
We then boarded the train (it incidentally had been shot up by American fighters as there were considerable German tanks and other equipment on the train headed for Norway). This train took us into Fredericia and we got there about 5 o'clock. The apparent member of the underground we were supposed to meet was missing. We found out later he had been picked up by Germans. Mr Jensen gave us Danish currency to go to the movies to kill time while he made inquiries to find other contacts in Fredericia.
We got out of the movies about 7 o'clock and Age took us to a restaurant filled with German soldiers next to the Gestapo Headquarters. In the back was a separate room with a Danish, English and American flag on the wall and we had dinner with many of the local underground people, complete with toasts and speeches. That night, the next day, and the following night we stayed with Mr. Foged and wife. I subsequently found out he was the head of the railroad in Frederica. He was also very active in the underground since he kept many of the ammunitions, firearms and explosives used by the underground in the ceiling of his office.
Mrs Foged, incidentally, was an excellent cook and we had fine meals while we were there. One was served with an appetizer consisting of Danish beer, dark bread, and whipped cream served hot. This was followed with a roast and vegetables - food not served at our air force base which was noted for Brussels sprouts and powdered eggs.
The following morning, with Mr. Foged, we took the 6:30 train out of Fredericia to Nyborg (here) since Mr. Foged knew that the 10:30 train was going to be blown up. One of the 98 incidents of track bombing in that 24 hour period. En route, we observed the fact that German soldiers were guarding the railroad, again young and older soldiers. The early start resulted in our arriving at Nyborg about 8:30 a.m. Incidentally, before we got on the train, a German soldier stopped both John Kozdeba and myself and we had to produce ID papers but did not speak to them due to our affliction that made us deaf and dumb.
We arrived in Nyborg at 8:30 in the morning, Mr. Foged suggested we go to church, since it was a Saturday, and it proved to be an interesting experience. While in the church that morning, sitting in the rear, we sat through two weddings. About 12:30 we went to a restaurant on the waterfront and ate with German sailors and we had a little problem eating as Danes do (food on the back of fork). After lunch we walked around the city, observed the arrival of an Italian troop train with its mixture of military and female cooks.
We then went through a German search and identification check to get on the ferry at 4:00 o'clock. The ferry was an interesting situation. There was an Italian troop train in the hold, most of the other people on the ferry were Germans with about 75 Danes. I sat on a bench faking being asleep while a German beside me stripped and demonstrated his burp gun. We took the ferry across to the island Copenhagen is on. Leaving the ferry I was shoved and stepped on a SS trooper's boots and he sounded off. We then took a train into Copenhagen loaded with German soldiers.
We arrived in Copenhagen at 8:00 p.m, and went to an underground contact whose living quarters had been recently shot up by the Germans so we were not allowed to stay there that night but went with some college professors and stayed overnight with them. In the morning, we went on a trolley tour of Copenhagen with the professors. They pointed out the points of interest in Copenhagen, Tivoli, museums and many other areas including the Gestapo Headquarters which also held many of the imprisoned underground members. This became important in my future interrogations.
I was then dropped off with the underground leaders in Copenhagen and stayed with them that night. The next day (Monday) around 4:30 p,m, while walking the streets we made contact with other underground members and took a train North of Copenhagen to a house were we had hoped to make further contacts and travel on a boat to an offshore island. That contact fell through so that we had to go back into Copenhagen the next day. We spent two days with a shopkeeper who had an apartment over his store.
We were then contacted by other members of the underground and brought to a fishing boat that was diesel powered. It was our understanding that the fishing boat, which was manned by an underground crew of two, ran between Copenhagen and Malmo nearly every night and their success rate was over 70% in making the trip. We were joined by the most wanted individual in Denmark since he was responsible for most of the bombing of railroad lines. In leaving the harbor, we went approximately 20 minutes out into the harbor when the motor quit and it took us nearly an hour to get the motor running again.
Meanwhile, the Germans were out looking for us but by not having any lights we made the trip into Malmo.
We arrived as Danish refugees and, again, having read escape reports, I understood that if we came in as Danish refugees they would not intern us. We had Danish ID papers, American dog tags, and letters to deliver to the Danish Embassy which did not fool the individual who interrogated us particularly when I actually asked for a visit from a member of the American Legation in the morning.
We spent that night with about 60 Estonians who had escaped from Estonia and were in the facility at Malmo. The facilities were extremely clean, we had a good meal the next morning, but the austerity of the program consisted of paper sheets, not too much heat and no other people around other than escapees. The next morning we were picked up by two Americans from the American Legation and spent the day with them at their apartment. That evening they put us on the overnight train to Stockholm.
We arrived in Stockholm on Saturday morning and were met by a member of the Embassy's office. We were taken to a hotel where we had an opportunity to get cleaned up, have a meal, and were taken by train into the suburbs for interrogation by the head of the American military attaché's office (a general whose name I have forgotten), and a couple of his aides.
It was interesting traveling into the suburbs as the Swedes were working on military preparedness with most of them carrying rifles out into the country to do their target practice on the weekend. My interview with the American general consisted primarily in highlighting the apparent disdain that Danes had for the Germans, the fact that the Germans had many foreign laborers in Denmark building tank traps which I had seen on my bus trip between Rodding and Kolding.
I identified some of the ammunition dumps that I knew of in the country and I told him about the Gestapo Headquarters location that they were quite anxious to wipe out in Copenhagen. Incidentally, that was bombed by British mosquito bombers several days after I got back to England and delivered letters I had from the Copenhagen underground members to the Danish Embassy.
We spent an enjoyable couple of days in Stockholm waiting for a plane to take us from Stockholm to England. We had new clothes and extensive briefing on how to avoid German contacts. The food was excellent and we visited musicals in the evening. There was a B-24 bomber that apparently flew every night and we were back in England about two weeks after our mission.
I spent time in London being interrogated again. Wrote up the story of our escape and was finally shipped to my base to recover clothing which had not been shipped out and was re-assigned States side.
In 1985 Barbara, my wife, and I retraced our route from Gram to Stockholm and in 1989 we had another enjoyable visit and a TV interview at the landing site and Inn where we had a reunion dinner.
In summary, we were very fortunate to be shot down on the German-Danish border where there were many members of the underground and an area about 50% pro-Allied as this was a portion of Denmark that had been German before WW1. Both John and I did not suffer significantly, either emotionally or physically, and in retrospect feel very lucky our escape was over a route that less that 30 airmen were able to take advantage of.
P.S. John Kozdeba incidentally returned to his parents' farm in New Jersey and still lives there with his wife and has raised several children.