Quoted from the book "Canadians in the Royal Air
Force" by Les Allison
I FLEW FOR THE ENEMY
I was shot down on a fighter sweep over enemy territory
fairly early in the war and taken prisoner. There was the usual interrogations
on the spot and later in Germany and ending up in a POW camp. From the
perpetual excitement of every day in the air to a state of inactivity
as a prisoner was not to my liking or most other prisoners. Oh, there
were things to do like planning escape tunnels, sports and the library.
Because it looked like a long war, I thought more about learning something
besides fighting. Although I loved flying and adventure, would there be
a future after the war for an ex-fighter pilot? Therefore I guess I looked
at it all logically and decided on languages — German especially.
Here I could learn and practice it at first hand. The war was bound to
end just like W.W. I and a language or two might turn into a good job
— especially with my past good record.
Early 1943 came. I was bored but was getting along very well with German.
One day there was a call for me to report to the "Kommandant".
Orders were for me to go for another interrogation — this time in
It proved to be a little different as the questions proved. "You
flew fighters and really liked flying?" was the first question. "Yes,"
I replied, keeping my answers short and omitting the expected Sir. "You
are bored with POW life but are interested in languages." When I
sort of nodded, he continued, "What do you know about communism?"
Well, most of us knew little about Russia, probably because we were not
interested, but now the Russians were supposed to be our Allies. I had
read writeups on meetings back in England but since the German invasion
of Russia everything seemed to be O.K.
"How would you like to learn a little more about Russia and Communism
and see how the language works first hand, perhaps?" was the startling
Anything would be better than sitting around camp; besides, I would be
sure to see much and learn something. If I could get the Russian language
too that would be a real asset for the future.
Next day I was moved to another building where I met five other men. They
were POW but we were a little cagey because we knew something was up but
did not know what.
"O.K. you guys, you are all here to learn something. You are from
several countries and technically we are enemies but historically we are
the same — mainly Anglo Saxons. Now you all have a smattering of
German, in fact several of you are fairly good at it. I'll use English
so that you will understand perfectly what we hope to teach you and show
you. We hope you can polish up on your German, because it will sure help
a lot during the next few months.
First you'll learn what communism is because we have some real experts
on this subject. Then you'll learn what it does to a country and its people;
how it affects other countries; and of course its long range objectives.
Then you will be taken on a long tour, through countries we have liberated;
you'll be able to talk to the people and politicians; then you'll take
a trip to our fronts in Russia for a first hand look at what things are
I looked around at my "classmates". There was Al, a fellow Canadian,
Geoffrey and Morris from Britain, and Carl and Pete from the U.S. All
were ex-fighter pilots. Our questions and answers to each other were meant
to try to prove that each man was really who he said he was. We had all
been warned in POW camp, and even before, about German "plants"
intermingling with prisoners.
The "training" was all very interesting. We had films, books
to read, lectures and discussions with experts — German and foreign.
Food, drink and lodging were very good. It sure beat POW life! In a month's
time we started our promised trip — and it was a real "Cook's
Tour". We ended up among the German armies and air forces in Russia
and saw things at first hand. It was not pretty. We saw the savagery,
the ruins, the tragedy, the thousands of corpses. We saw villages taken
from the Russians where everyone had been butchered. We saw Communism
at work. Of course any brutality from the German side was non-existent
and places like Belsen or Auschwitz never heard about,
We had all seen war — but a "clean war" from a cockpit.
We hardly ever saw the results of our bombing and strafing and only occasionally
saw our victim blow up or burn in the air.
We were especially shown large numbers of Russian POWs who were now fighting
in German uniforms against their former friends, the communists. That
was real power of dedication for and against a cause. We also saw many
other European nationalities fighting the Russians and in German uniforms.
This included Dutch, Belgian, French, Danish, Norwegian - and in fair
strength. Last that we saw and met were the British POWs who were doing
the same - and in considerable strength. It was a little strange talking
to British soldiers on the Russian front complaining about being shot
at by Hurricanes-and Spitfires in the air, and Sherman tanks on the ground
— all "lend lease" war material.
When we got back to Berlin, the whole purpose and intent of our "excursion"
was explained to us, and after the episode with the British POW we were
rather expecting what came.
You have seen what communism is and what it does to people's minds. You
have also seen those who have deemed it their duty to fight this evil,
even though they may be considered traitors by their own countrymen who
don't understand what really is going on with the communist scourge. You
all were very good fighter pilots. Now we're offering you a job flying
for us, but only against the Russians. You will fly our latest Me109 or
FW190. You know from experience how good the Me's are, even superior to
those you fought against a year or two ago. In the hands of experts like
yourselves, they would be hard to beat.
"We have pilots from every country in Europe flying in our Air Force
so you won't even be noticed. We'll do some name changes on your I.D.
cards; you'll have commissions, and your pay will be in marks, supplemented
by any cash currency you desire. You'll make a lot more than a Group Captain
or a Colonel in your old air forces. Your letters will be post-marked
from various POW camps and you'll get your mail regularly. You will wear
German Luftwaffe uniforms and be subject to our promotions and our decorations.
That should go well with those D.F.C.s several of you are wearing. Also
you will keep your old uniforms in case of emergency. We'll even get you
an extra one. In case you are shot down behind the Russian lines a Yank
or R.A.F. uniform could save your life. Our fliers are all shot by the
Russians. We will figure out a cover story as if you are an escaping POW.
Anyway, all these details will be worked out. Now, gentlemen, we'll leave
you alone to discuss this privately."
Talk about a bull session! We seemingly went over everything — patriotism,
survival, love of flying, next of kin, secrecy, hatred of POW life, ultimate
happenings, adventure and what else. Most of us had been out of circulation
for a couple of years and were not sure what those on the outside thought
of the Russians. We had heard it was only a paper alliance. But especially,
what we had seen of communism probably swayed us unanimously in the end
to accept the offer.
From then on the pace speeded up. First thing was uniforms, I.D. cards
and military papers. Then we had to doctor our names to something similar
but different — all except Carl whose name was originally German
anyway. Next was our introduction to the new Me109 with a couple of weeks
familiarization course on them, as well as the German Air Force jargon,
procedure, flying, firing and the new language. Flying the 109 was like
riding a different horse, but were they good! After years of learning
to shoot at black crosses, now we were all friends and had to be very
careful. Practice we did because we were enthusiastic pupils. Then we
joined a new fighter wing on the Russian front. That first new combat
There were plenty of Russian aircraft to shoot at and our cannon and machine
guns tore hell out of them. The aircraft were everything from their own
Yaks, and LA5's to British Hurricanes, Spitfires, Blenheims and American
P40's and Bell Airacobras. We too became a little bitter about all that
"lend lease" stuff going to the Russians. Little did the Allies
know the folly of their ways! So we had superior aircraft and their pilots
didn't have the experience compared to us. Whether it is air force or
army it is usually the inexperienced that get the chop first, while some
weather the storm, with a little luck and protection from the veterans,
and in turn become the experienced.
We were used quite often on ground strafing in addition to attacking enemy
bombers and fighters. Because this was very hazardous, we relied on speed
and low altitude. The bigger guns did not bother us low down, but small
ground fire from rifles and burp guns was always dangerous. The Russians
used mass infantry in successive waves which just kept coming in tens
of thousands. A fighter plane could kill or wound hundreds in one pass
as the two cannon and four machine guns cut quite a swath. Quite often
we attacked enemy T34 tanks and the bigger giants. We could not damage
the tanks unless we carried bombs, but enemy infantry loved to ride on
these monsters and in a surprise attack we could "sweep" them
off in scores.
R.A.F. and Yank fighter ops were tough enough, but this was a new ball
game. The old days were a picnic — compared to this. As time went
on into 1944 there was an emergency feeling about it all. We were being
pushed back and good pilots were getting scarcer. And we were caught up
in this desperate feeling! When the weather was flyable, we were up from
dawn to dusk. The R.A.F. system of "tours" did not work here.
Our missions were soon in the hundreds and still our luck held.
Our fellow fighter pilots were a dedicated bunch. They were from all over
— we even heard about a couple of Russians who flew with us, after
being re-oriented. No one asked too many questions, probably because we
all had a bizarre story to tell — especially the Europeans and us.
The six of us kind of stayed together on the ground and watched out for
one another in the air. We could all fly and fight with the very best
of them, so acceptance was easy. As time progressed and the very magnitude
of the fighting increased in the air, and on the ground, we knew our luck
could not hold out forever. Time was running out.
We were on a strafing mission against a road convoy behind their lines
and swooped in at over 400 m.p.h. I was first and was almost finished
my ammo when my engine was hit dead on and seized. There was no chance
of making our lines and death stared me right in the face, with so many
of the enemy below. Even my own uniform underneath wouldn't help now.
"Pull up and land on the highway about a mile behind that convoy,"
yelled Al, over the intercom. "I'll land right behind you and the
others will give us fire cover." It worked perfectly, and in minutes
I was in Al's cockpit and we were taking off again. It was a little crowded
but I was alive. Anything that moved within half a mile was shot up by
the rest of the squadron and in minutes we were at home base, with me
looking for a new ME. Our airfields were always fairly close to our lines
so we had no lost time between missions. For rescuing me Al got the first
of many decorations awarded to us. Naturally I was all in favor! At this
time we had another visit from our Berlin liaison officers. We agreed
that we were having an "exciting time".
And then it happened! We were on a low tank strafing job well behind their
lines when Geoffrey took a shell in the motor and it burst into flames.
There was no chance and he told us so over the intercom. "I'm going
to take as many of them as possible with me — you're a great bunch,
He hit just in front of several T34 tanks loaded with infantry, at over
300 m.p.h. I think his motor went right through one tank, but the fuel
tanks exploded and there was a firepath twenty-five yards wide and over
a hundred yards long, which enveloped several tanks. It was all over in
seconds, we were all shocked but what could we say? Geoff was a great
guy and his personal score was around 60. Sure, we expected this, but
the death of a real friend is so final! His next of kin in Britain were
notified he had died while a POW.
Our second loss happened very soon. Pete was having trouble with a couple
of Yak fighters. They were always tough because of the heavy armor around
the engine and pilot. He had downed one, but then there was just a flash
in the sky; and two aircraft were spinning down in flames. It was one
of those mid-air collisions that happen sometimes.
I never believed in that "three in a row" stuff but within a
week Morris "got the chop". This time it was well behind their
lines on a dawn attack against one of their airfields. We were really
shooting things up but it was that "one more time" sweep that
ended a great guy's life. A stray burst of fire dead on and Morris went
in at 400 m.p.h. — and not a word over the radio.
We were getting a week's leave and one of our German pals invited us to
his place. We were all dead tired from constant flying and fighting so
when Franz suggested some quiet country air we all accepted. He lived
between Hamburg and Brunswick on a beautiful farm, well treed, just off
the main highway. There were big buildings and a long hayfield perfect
for a landing field. We arrived in two Me109's "doubled up"
to conserve gas, and spent a week I'll never forget. Allied bomber raids
never bothered us, and here we found peace and quietness — a wonderful
contrast to our year of savagery and murder. Of course we visited the
local beer cellars and dance halls — and fell in love a couple of
times. Life was so short now that we were down to half!
Now it was into early 1945. We were being pushed back into parts of Germany.
Most of us suspected the end was coming, but some still believed in some
miracle weapon. Gas was scarcer but for the Air Force especially, it was
a necessity, so we never really went short. Our groundcrews were super-human
and we became fairly close after well over a year together. The pilots
were being steadily replaced as some were killed, wounded, transferred
or just couldn't take it. Carl, Al and I still kept together, carefully
watching each other in action.
We did a couple of missions with Eric Hartmann, who ended the war as the
top ace with 352 enemy aircraft shot down. We thought we were very good
fighter pilots, but he was a natural born flier and a dead shot. No one
who flew with him during the war or postwar, has ever doubted his score
as a minimum one.
Our German speech now was fairly good and no one ever suspected we were
not German. We almost felt it ourselves and at times it felt more like
a dream — or a nightmare. But we made our plans as the end came
closer. It was cold so we wore our own uniforms under our German ones.
Franz suggested we fly to his place as it would likely be in Allied hands
shortly. Things were confused all over Germany. Allied POWs were being
moved ahead of the Russian armies and refugees were on the move on most
But again tragedy struck in April. Al, my fellow Canadian and such a good
friend, just blew up one day as we were over the front. It must have been
an artillery shell that hit him. We could see both sides firing from below.
Just how can a man cope seeing all his friends being killed one by one!
Our personal "scores" were substantial — all over one
hundred with so many hours in the air — we just kept shooting the
enemy aircraft down. We had the experience, the better aircraft, and the
determination to do our best. Four of us were killed, but all by flukes.
In early May we decided to leave this hell on earth. We were all nerves
and physically worn out. All we thought was fly, shoot and kill. Carl
and I, Franz and two other pilots gassed up before dawn one morning and
prepared to take off. We were determined to take as many of our groundcrew
as possible, so had to lighten our ME's. We didn't expect any action so
only carried a minimum of ammunition. We made enough room in the cockpit
for two and then made enough room in each aircraft for two more in the
fuselage, just behind the cockpit. Each fighter took off with four men
aboard and we flew wide open on the deck to our old holiday retreat. Landing
at the farm was like another world. All the aircraft were covered so they
would not be spotted from the air. The extra gas if mixed would come in
handy for the spring work.
We lay low for a few days, just sleeping, eating, drinking and relaxing.
The radio announced the war was over. Our worldly possessions fitted into
a haversack. One thing we had plenty of was cash, plus the usual watches
and rings. We had been paid regularly mainly in American and Canadian
dollars, and English pounds — just enough marks to keep us going.
And we had arranged at the beginning that our pay would be divided up
by the survivors. We promised to visit the next of kin of those who were
killed, and make sure they were not suffering financially. We had about
$50,000 each in cash. But what a price we had to pay! With four of our
six gone, it felt like ill-gotten gains.
It was hard to say goodbye. However, we all had permanent family addresses
and promised to keep in touch and visit when the world returned to normal.
We donned our old uniforms and started walking along the highway like
a couple of lost POWs. A couple of Yank jeeps came barreling down the
road and stopped. We explained who we were and one jeep took us to an
American base nearby for interrogation. Everything was in order and in
a couple of days we were flown to England.
As an F/L for over four years as a POW, I got a lot of back pay but left
it all in my paybook. My big bankroll was divided up by adding to my British
bank account, sending a couple of drafts home and keeping the rest in
my money-belt. I phoned Carl to ask about leave and we both had over a
week. We met and visited with Morris' and Geoffrey's families a few days.
I think they felt a lot better knowing that we had been such good friends.
But we had to be careful with our arranged story of what supposedly happened.
Carl and I parted and were home shortly after. Home — with no fighting
and killing! I decided on a job even if money was no object. In a few
months I visited Carl and by the next year we were both married. No, we
didn't forget Franz and the boys. We sent him parcels of cigarettes and
sweets mainly. The next year we all went over by boat to Germany. Our
wives had to be told of our experiences. It was a shock at first, but
it didn't take long for the Russians to show their true communist colors,
and our wives even began to realize maybe what we did wasn't such a bad
Al's parents were told he was killed on one of the many death marches
so many POWs were on at the end of the war. But I told them he had saved
my life in the process. We are still very close.
Now our families are grown up but we still see all our old friends. As
things turned out over the years, who was right or wrong? War doesn't
prove anything and man doesn't seem to learn from war. Ask the man who
was there! I found just as good men on both sides doing a duty. Could
my own children do or take what I did? Each generation ponders the same
question — and perhaps sells its youth a little short.
Everything man needs is within his grasp — love, family, security,
social acceptance and to be able to do what he wants. But to be able to
live in harmony with others — and the world, is what we perhaps
need the most. To hell with war, it’s all the same — no one
ever really wins.
According to Les, this story is true ... is it ? And if so, who were these guys?
I received an email from Andy Payne (who's uncle, Joe, was an airman in WW2) in which he points me to this page here. A little down from the top is a section called,
"Copy of material given to POW's in Germany in 1945"
The article seems to provide more evidence that the Germans did indeed try to recruit Allied airmen to their cause and adds a little more credibility to the story on this page.
Thanks Andy !
--- Canadian Aces ---