392nd Bomb Group

A Textbook on Escaping

Lt./Col. Edward W. Appel (389th)

From the book "Bombs Away!" - Amazon Link

I was first pilot of a B-24 which we flew from the States around the southern route up to England in Feb. of 1944.

After flying 29 missions, I had one to go before my tour was completed. My original crew had already completed their 30 missions by volunteering to fly with other crews when we were not scheduled to fly, so this time I would be flying as command pilot with Lt. Frazee's crew, a crew I had never met.

It was September 5th, 1944 and the target was Karlsruhe Marshalling yards. We were to fly deputy lead and I remember we were flying on formation instruments nearly all the way. Just before reaching the IP we broke into the clear. We had just started our bomb run when the 88s hit. We took a monstrous hit in the right wing which knocked out the right two engines. The last two engines were still going strong but we had no turbos, and the fuel cells were ruptured. The rudder cables were also cut, so we had no rudders. The windshield had come in with the first blast and with gas flowing around I thought we were going to burn.

We managed to get turned around using the ailerons and headed back, holding direction with ailerons but losing altitude fast. Two engines out on one side, and without turbos and rudders a B-24 is like a falling rock. At this point I was feeling sorry for Capt. Paul Anderson who was a good friend of mine from my hometown of Redfield, S.D., who had elected to fly my last mission with me. He took up a position between us pilots. Being an ordnance officer he wasn't supposed to be on this mission with us and now we were in a position where he, and we, might not make it.

First we salvoed the bombs (must have scared the hell out of some cattle on the ground) and then had the crew throw out anything loose in order to lighten ship. We were at 24,000 feet, but within 25 miles we were down to 10,000. At that point I knew we couldn't make it as our front lines were 100 miles away. Time to bail out, which we all did. When my chute opened it was only seconds until I hit the ground in a plowed field. I found out much later that we had lost four men. The Navigator had jumped before we did and never got his chute open. Also, two of the crew hid out at a French farmhouse (this was in Alsace Lorraine) for about a month but then decided to get out. I understood they got in with the French Underground, put on civilian clothes and tried to make it through the lines. They were caught and shot by the Germans as spies. My friend, Capt. Paul Anderson took up residence in a Stalag Luft.

After landing in the plowed field, I shucked my chute and looking back about a half mile, I could see the last two men running towards each other, but there were farmers running toward them, so I didn't go back there. I hid in a vineyard for a while, but then decided it wasn't a very good hiding place, so I started to get up. I should have looked first.

As I started to get up there was a lot of yelling "HALT!" I looked back and there in line abreast across the fields were German soldiers with rifles. They could have shot me easy, but they kept yelling "HALT!" so I pretended I didn't hear them and kept walking away. I didn't run because then they certainly would have shot. I walked into a clump of trees and then ran like a scared rabbit out the other side and down into a slew where I jumped into the water and hid among the slew rushes. They knew I was in there somewhere because they kept walking around the edge of the water. They would all get together on one side and fire their burp guns through the weeds. Scared the hell out of me!

Finally, they all left except for one man. I could see him standing and watching the place. After a while they all came back and went through the same procedure-shooting and all. Finally, they left and I stayed right there until dark when I sneaked out.

I traveled at night toward the west and the front lines and hid in the daytime using any cover I could find. When I got hungry I would feast from a farmer's field. I also had my escape kit with concentrated rations which helped. Drinking water was another matter, but I found if I walked into a village after dark and stomped around as if I belonged there, I could go up to a pump and pump water into a bucket and carry it out of town and nobody paid attention to me.

Finally, after about ten days, I started walking across a field in daylight. There was a farmer and his wife picking rutabagas and putting them in a wagon. They asked if I was an American and I said yes, after which they motioned me to get into the wagon. I was so darned cold and hungry but at that time that I didn't figure I had much to lose. I still had to get over the mountains to the west where both sides were dug in and shooting anything in sight. After getting in the wagon they covered me with gunny sacks and took me to their home in a little village. They hid me with their son in a hayloft (they were French) as the son was also hiding out from the Germans. We stayed right there until the end of November when the Germans were pushed out and our tanks and trucks came down the road. I was out!

Part 2: Col. Appel's Experience as a Fighter Pilot

I went back to England and while orders were being cut to send me back to the ZI, I decided that instead of going home I would stay and try to hook on with a Fighter Group. I guess I was a little flak happy! I took off for the 56th FG and told Col. Dave Schilling I wanted to fly fighters. He said, "Sure. Come on down."

That was quite a kick getting out of bombers and into fighters. Like getting out of a truck on to a motorcycle. After checking out in the P-47 I flew sixteen dive bombing, strafing and escort missions. My last, the 16th of April 1945, saw me busily strafing Muhldorf Airdrome fifty miles east of Munich.

I came in on the deck and was shooting into ME 109s sitting on the field when I picked up a lot of ground flak and remember seeing holes appear in the wings. Then the engine started running rough and losing power. I started to pull up, which I shouldn't have done over an enemy airfield, and then they really started to get in the hits.

I was soon out of range, but at full throttle I still wasn't getting any power and the airspeed continued to fall off. I tried to get over one last hill before bellying in but as I started to clear the hill the right wing stalled and went under. The plane cartwheeled across the countryside and I thought school was out again. The wings broke off along with the tail, but by some miracle it came down right side up. I cut my knee and elbow a little bouncing around in the cockpit. At first I thought I was all bloody, but it was just hot engine oil from the ruptured oil tank.

I left the Mae West and parachute in the seat and crawled out. Some farmers were watching but they didn't do anything so I took off running. I ran into some trees and beyond there was a little village strung along a road. I had to get past this village as German soldiers were coming from the airfield I had just strafed and were behind me shooting. As I came to the village two German soldiers came out and drew their guns hollering "HALT!" With all the shooting going on behind me, I thought I'd pretend I was a German running away from the Americans. I yelled back "NICHT HALT, AMERICAN COMEN." They turned and looked back where I came from with wide, startled eyes and I kept on going. Then they swung back towards me again pointing their guns and yelling "HALT!"

I stopped and waved an arm back toward the woods and yelled "NAY, NAY NICHT HALT, AMERICAN COMEN!" They again turned around and watched the other woods for the Americans they thought were coming, and I made tracks. I ran into the woods and actually sat down and laughed, thinking how they would catch hell when the German soldiers came and found out that they had let me get away.

I couldn't find a good place to hide in the woods as the underbrush was all cleaned out, so I climbed to the top of a big tree and just sat there. The Germans soon came a line abreast again, hunting around under the trees with rifles, but they kept right on going. I stayed in the tree until dark, then climbed down and took off northwest toward the front lines. I walked at night and hid in the daytime, as I had done before. I had a couple of escape kits along with compasses, maps, hacksaw blades and concentrated rations in them. I also had my .45, which was a big consolation even if I didn't fire it.

I would go up to a house right after dark and knock on the door. Usually the man would come to the door and I would tell him straight out that I was an American flyer and that I needed food. Many times they would have me come in and sit at the table and give me bread, meat and coffee. I wouldn't let anybody leave the house while I was there. I would lay my gun on the table and keep everybody at a distance. Then I would leave and make many miles that night so they wouldn't catch me. Actually, some families would give me some food to take along. I finally got up near the front lines where there was a lot of shooting. I hid under some small, thick evergreens in a hollowed out spot. Looked like an old WWI foxhole, and probably was.

One night, the German Army moved over me and then for two days I was between the two lines that were shooting at each other using mostly artillery. The shells that hit the trees would really blast things around there.

One night the shooting went to the east so the next morning I crept out to the edge of the woods and watched the roads. Finally, I spotted weapon carriers and tanks that were definitely ours. I came out of the woods with my hands held high as I didn't want to get shot at by our own army.

I went back through an Artillery outfit that was the same outfit I came through the first time. The same officers, the same Colonel. The Colonel was a little suspicious of me by this time and thought maybe I was spying for the other side. HOME FREE AGAIN! By the time I got back to Paris the war was over so I rode an LST across the ocean along with a whole load of ex-POWs.

I was home on R&R helping my dad harvest in the summer of '45 when over the hill comes Capt. Paul Anderson. They had just freed him from a POW camp. His first words were "You son of a gun. You take me on a trip over Germany and you dump me out."