Group Captain F. Jensen

 

Unit : Royal Air Force.

Served : North-West Europe (captured)

Camps : Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III, Stalag IIIA.

 

Note: As there is no Group Captain Jensen on the Prisoner of War lists, it could be that the rank was awarded at a later time. There is an A.S.L. F.W.M. Jensen listed, Service No.102058, POW No.3231, held in Stalag Luft 3; this could well be him. In any case the following is the account of Group Captain F. Jensen:

 

I became a P.O.W. by virtue of having been sent, in October 1943, in a rocked-equipped Typhoon, to blow up the power station at Caen, probably the heaviest-defended town in Northern France. My No.2 also was show down and crash-landed and my No.3 was, I'm sorry to have to say, killed instantly. I was not exactly amazed that we were shot down. At the briefing I proposed that we approached the target cross-country but the briefing officer - a Group Captain - ordained that we should run up the railway line to Caen, for positive navigation. I said that all the signal boxes along the line would be ringing Caen "Six Typhoons coming up" - and I imagine that this was what happened, judging by the flak which met us!

 

The next error was entirely my own. On running away from my wrecked aircraft (which effort, incidentally, undermined the popular theory that fighter pilots were superbly fit and athletic) I met a French farmer who pointed me to a nearby haystack. I burrowed into this and when I got my breath back reasoned that I was hidden much too close to the aircraft and Germans would be swarming about the haystack very soon - this was the first attack of the war by Typhoons with rockets and would be of some interest to the Luftwaffe's boffins. What the mighty Jensen intellect failed to remember was that RAF aircrew were briefed in escape and evasion lectures always to do exactly what escape helpers told us to do. So I mistakenly got out of the haystack, to get further away from the aircraft, and peered round the corner of it, to see a figure in the distance beckoning me. Thinking him to be the farmer I went towards him but it turned out to be a large German with an unfriendly-looking pistol. As he marched me, gun in my back, to the farmhouse we passed my farmer in his wagon obviously going out to get a load of hay, and Jensen. The sorrowful look he gave me as we passed clearly said "what a bloody idiot you are: why can't you do as you're told"! Thus I finished up in Caen gaol, and my No.2 did as well, though we pretended that we didn't know each other.

 

Next day we were off to Dulag Luft (Interrogation Centre) in Frankfurt, via Paris. Attempted to jump out of the train window and got the window open but the soldier guard woke up too soon. We then proposed to lay him low, with a flying boot, in the Paris Station restaurant, but I think that that was a bit ambitious.

 

I was 28 days in Dulag Luft, including 3 days in the cooler being visited by a purported Swiss Red + chap (in pinstripes) who stressed that unless I gave certain information my next-of-kin couldn't be informed of my safety. There were also agreeable Luftwaffe officers who took me out to nice schlosses in the woods for coffee and cakes and asked points, if disguised, questions. The cooler cell was alternately made unbearably hot, then unbearably cold. In the end they gave up and I was passed on to the transit camp, and at my request from there to Stalag Luft III at Sagan.

 

Life at Luft III was tolerable, with Red + parcels, German rations, sports facilities, a theatre, library and orchestra. It was an air force camp, Goering's brainchild and run by the Luftwaffe, who were meticulous in observing the Geneva Convention on P.O.W's. It was also exciting. In April 1943 three escape tunnels were and by the time I got there they were well under way. Tom, Dick and Harry they were called and the object was to get 220 kriegies out in one night, to spread chaos throughout the German security forces - and of course to get some of them home if possible.

 

In the event Tom was discovered by a German "Ferret" who accidentally dropped a pickaxe or probe on the trap and it was blown up. It had gone 265' (140' outside the wire) and was almost ready to be broken out. Dick was never discovered - its trap was under water in the washroom drain - and as far as one knows it is still there.

 

Harry was the Great Escape tunnel, as I expect some of you know. Harry finished 336' long, with an entry shaft 28' deep and exit shaft 20'. Unfortunately the exit came out short of the target line of trees, partly in the open. The drive was 22" high, 22" wide at the bottom and 20" wide at the top. It had various chambers in it. It was fully shored, with 7000 bed boards (for which the German charged 7/6 per board barrack damages), had an air pump made from kitbags and milk tins, had 700' of railway lines for the trolleys and was lit by 700' of electric cable purloined from the Germans and tapped into the German electrical system. It was planned to get 220 kriegies out, every one equipped with clothing, passes, maps, compass, money and survival food. For various reasons which affected the flow only 80 emerged from the tunnel (it should have been 1 every 3 minutes) 4 of whom were captured at the exit, when a German guard accidentally discovered it. 76 got away, 50 of them were re-captured and murdered by the Gestapo, 23 were re-captured and put back into Stalag Luft III and other camps and 3 - 2 Norwegians and a Dutchman made it home. 97 kriegies were still down in the tunnel and more than 100 were still in the barrack block awaiting their turn. When a German "Ferret" eventually got down in the tunnel to examine it he got to the trap end but couldn't get out and the German commandant had to ask the SBO to reveal the trap and let the "Ferret" out.

 

The Germans knew that a tunnel was being dug but couldn't find it. So a few weeks before it broke, at a moment's notice, they rounded up 20 kriegies who they thought were the architects of the escape activity and moved them to another camp 5 miles away, called Belaria. These included the heads of the tunnel engineering, security and dispersal, and Wing Commander Stanford Tuck, the great fighter ace. Nevertheless Harry broke soon afterwards. I also went along to Belaria.

 

Belaria was as tolerable as North Camp, and being new offered various possibilities for the escapers, one of them being to start a tunnel in the abort, the trap of which could be made pretty undiscoverable - not surprisingly, you may think! However, at that time escape activities were suspended, until such time that German (Gestapo really) policy was about escaping prisoners.

 

There was also an increasing belief that the invasion would be along soon, and possibly the end of the war. We had our secret radio and maps every kriegie knew exactly how the war was progressing. Many were the wagers, in chocolate, meals, money, etc and written on odd bits of paper, about the invasion and when the war would end.

 

One such was a "Montescu" Brown, a Canadian journalist in the RCAF, who bet me that the invasion would be in May 1944. The stake was that the loser had to crawl completely round the compound on his hands and knees. It was stipulated that it must be a dignified event. We therefore appointed various officials. Bucklers made from milk tins were made by the tinsmith-at-large for Montescu's knees and appended by the Master Buckler. The crawler then appeared from Tuck (Wing Commander Stanford Tuck) Mansions to a fanfare by the Master Herald. The Master-of-Arms, bearing the Staff of Office, and the Bodyguard of Honour, with the Master Buckler, took up their positions about the crawler. The winner, with envoy plenipotentiary, followed half a pace to the rear, with the fourth estate. Then a second fanfare by the Master Starter and the crawl commences to a roll of drums. Victuals provided by the winner and served by the Master Victualler at the corners of the course. Crawler played in to the finish by the Master Herald. Unbuckling by the Master Buckler and buckles carried in state to the hall of Tuck Mansions. Everyone properly turned out in their best uniforms. The Germans were astounded by all this. Couldn't make it out and strongly suspected another Great Escape plot. Kriegie humour was strange to the Germans. They could never understand why, when we were summoned on appel for the announcement of some punishment - withdrawal of privileges, consignment to the cooler or some such - the whole parade would cheer like mad.

 

By mid-September 1944 the Russians had advanced from the Dnieper to the German border, occupying all the Eastern European countries: and the British and Americans were facing the German border in the West. The kriegies, who by then had gone on to food parcels, started thinking of early liberation. T'was not to be, however, for in January 1945 the Germans suddenly moved us out of Belaria, heading NW on foot and carrying whatever we could, mostly food, ahead of the Russian advance. It was very cold and snowing heavily, and we improvised sleds from barrack furniture. It was heartrending to see the streams of refugees who were fleeing from the Russians - women and children in horse-drawn carts, little food and trying to keep warm in their worn bedding. They were not hostile, though - more, I suppose, a fellow feeling for other unfortunates. Nor were the German people along the roadside and in the villages. We received many kindnesses - water, sometimes coffee or even milk. And bread was easy to get in exchange for cigarettes, coffee, soap or chocolate. Some of the children didn't know what chocolate was and it was wonderful to see their faces when they ate some. We sledded for five days until the thaw, then walked for another two to a place called Spremberg. There we stayed an afternoon in the tank barracks and were given a tin of watery barley. Previous to that we had fallen in with the remnants of a German tank division that was stranded for lack of petrol. They were quite friendly, and traded bread. Gestapo aside, most Germans we met, civil and military, were not hostile - some were far from it. We wandered around Spremberg at will, getting water and food with no hindrance from our guards - indeed we could have wandered away almost at any point during the march. Our guards were largely Volksturm (Home Guard), very fed up with the war and not as fit as we were for a long wintry march. Sometimes we carried their rifles on the sleds, to help them along.

 

After the barley we were put on a train, 55 men to a cattle truck (standing room only!). A milk tin, emptied through the high narrow window, served for natural functions. During the day the train stopped numerous times (air raids etc), during which the kriegies got hot water for brews from the engine and bread from troops on passing trains. After 20 hours to travel 80 kilometers we clattered into Luckenwalde, where was our new camp. We could all have walked off then but we were very tired. So much for dreams! Luckenwalde so-called camp was a hovel. Long shed-like buildings, filthy beds in close proximity, broken dirt-grimed brick floor, thin grimy straw palliasses, two broken-down unlit stoves and a few battered tables. Tired as I was I stayed up for 12 hours before I could persuade myself into one of those beds.

 

We were at Luckenwalde from 5th February to 20th May. Food, ever the kriegies preoccupation, became minimal, to the extent that in February and March we were too weak to walk very far. Playing cards was our main exercise. The Germans did their best to give us our legal ration but they were half-starving themselves and sometimes the 1/5 loaf, cup of soup and four small potatoes did not materialise. There were then no Red + parcels, of course (though on liberation it was claimed that French workers had cached some thousands of parcels in the town. They used to come up to the camp bartering various items from these parcels). The smokers had got down to passing their cigarettes from one to another. Nevertheless, with the Allied armies getting very near spirits were high and in the RAF compound normal service was maintained, as it was in all the POW camps, so far as I know. In fact, Bob Stanford-Tuck, with his Herbert Johnson hat and all his gongs used to make the German guards stand to attention when they spoke to him. And when Douglas Bader was removed from Luft III to a more secure camp - he was an inveterate escaper, despite his lack of legs - the Germans lined up two rows of troops to secure Douglas' exit and he insisted on inspecting them!

 

In mid-April '45 the Germans moved the British kriegies out of the camp to the railway station. The object apparently was to move us further west. However, the railways were in a hell of a mess and they couldn't find us an engine. All we did was spend two days bartering with the civilian population and soldiers in passing troop trains and two nights locked up in the cattle trucks, this time only 40 to a truck. Then we were returned to the camp. An enjoyable change, really. A touching incident as we were marched out of the camp was when an officer in the Norwegian compound played "God Save the King" on his silver flute. The Norwegian general, General Ruge, also made us a courteous speech of farewell.

 

The senior officers of the RAF contingent, headed by the SBO (Wg Cdr Collard), prepared a contingency plan against the time when the Germans would have to abandon the camp. We could foresee that without some sort of organisation there would be an absolute shambles, what with all the different nationalities in the camp as a whole, the lack of food and facilities, the desire to set off for the American lines and so forth.

 

On 21st April the German relinquished control of the camp and surrendered to us. Some left, with friendly farewells, others we locked in the cooler and then took control of the camp. The Germans were terrified of becoming prisoners of the Russians - and I didn't blame them. Our various designated squads and departments took up their duties and everything went quite smoothly. German citizens also were coming up to the camp asking for British protection but we had to turn them away.

 

Next day, 22nd, at 6 a.m., a Russian armoured car drive into the camp, its commander greatly excited, tears down his cheeks and kissing all and sundry. It left shortly afterwards, when a burst of gunfire was heard, the commander now looking very ferocious at the notion of anyone firing guns in his hearing. I don't know why he was surprised - the battle had been raging round the camp for days, on the ground and in the air: and there was an SS division threatening us from the woods outside the camp. At 10 O'clock Russian tanks rumbled into the camp, with armoured cars and motorised infantry. Fit-looking, well-equipped troops, some of them very young. The faces of the German prisoners riding on the fronts of the tanks showed plainly what fate they were expecting. Within half an hour the tanks had charged down the barbed wire fences and thundered out again, en route for Berlin. They were followed by the Russian prisoners who had just been liberated, armed with any sorts of weapons they could lay their hands on. British kriegies just wanted to go home. Not so the Russians: they were after blood in Berlin, despite being quite unfit to go to war.

 

The ex-Mayor of Luckenwalde came up to the camp early in the morning to surrender the town to us, for subsequent surrender to the Russians. Many Germans also tried to get into the camp. 3 soldiers came up and we turned them away, then they arrived in French uniforms, were turned away again and then they appeared as civilians. Each time with a different set of papers.

 

It was the heart-rending, frightened women and children who made it so difficult to say no. The Russians had stated that we weren't to harbour any Germans at all. Even in the hospital, from which they had been turned out. Women were threatening to commit suicide if we didn't let them in.

 

The Russians expressed their surprise and satisfaction at the orderly manner in which we had taken over the camp, and they were most cooperative. They said that this was the first prison camp they had liberated which was completely under control, needing no admin. staff from them. Their methods were direct, and they poured food into the camp simply by requisitioning everything we needed from the Germans, including radios and pianos. When we asked for meat they brought in twelve live head of cattle and left us to get on with it. Many of the soldiers were new to western standards. They commandeered bicycles and it was amusing to see them learning to ride them. They wanted watches, too, and some of them sported quite a collection, from wrist to elbow. When one of the kriegies complained to a Russian officer that he had been relieved of his watch at gunpoint the soldier concerned was taken away and summarily dealt with - shot.

 

Discipline in the RAF, Norwegians and American compounds was very good but I'm sorry to have to say that the French and other nationalities began to ransack the camp stores. The Russian kriegies had been let loose previously by the Germans and had justifiably broken into the clothing stores, poor wretches. They really had had it rough in the hands of the Germans. We found 8 of them dead of starvation in their barracks. The filth they had to allow in killed them regularly, and there were over 5000 of them buried in the camp cemetery, dead from starvation and typhus. At one stage I became responsible for the burial of some of them. There were supposed to be 8 but I found 11, one of them unboxed. The Russian authorities weren't concerned about numbers but wanted some propaganda pictures, so we sent 200 British, 200 Americans, 200 Norwegians and 10 others to make a show. I had to tell the Serbian doctor to bury only 8 to avoid complications. Yet the church which the Russian kriegies had contrived in a barrack was breathtaking in its beauty, with murals and tableaux and ikons and tapestry - all done from cardboard and sacking and odd bits of wood and glass.

 

The Russians, so far as we were able to tell, generally were well-conducted in Luckenwalde town. Everything there was under control - they liaised with the ex-mayor and allowed him a car and petrol - and it appeared that the rap, pillage and murder that went on came largely from foreign workers who rampaged in the town. My diary says that the French workers and prisoners behaved "in sickening fashion". Some among the RAF contingent were beginning to murmur. We had been "free" for 4 days and we had kept the in the camp, whereas hundreds of others were wandering into the town. Meanwhile there were pockets of Germans still operating round the camp and the Russians having to mop them up. The Russians, including women soldiers, were ruthless with those they caught who were wearing swastika armbands. We saw a woman soldier shoot a German wounded soldier in the head, because he wore a swastika.

 

The saddest thing to see were German women and children coming up to the camp begging for food, even a crust of bread. Many of them well-dressed and obviously respectable but the women ashamed to look one in the eye, for having to beg. Many women were asking our officers and NCO's to live with them, not for questionable reasons but as a guarantee against Russian company. Some kriegies got married to refugee women, one of whom - a Belgian - had been raped seven times.

 

Luckenwalde was still in a front-line zone and when eventually we walked outside the camp we ran into various groups of German soldiers, some hostile but most of them ill-equipped and starving, trying to get west to surrender to the British or Americans. Some tried to surrender to us but we couldn't help them. We kept well away from woods, and Russian soldiers we met advised us to go back to the camp for safety. Meanwhile we came across all sorts of abandoned weapons and uniforms, and corpses. And ransacked houses, personal belongings, letters, photographs and so on, strewn around. Some of the letters, when one could make oneself read them, made deeply sad reading.

 

By this time, since there was no sign of us being taken to the American lines many officers and NCO's had set out west, on bicycles, motor bikes, carts and one on a donkey. The RAF officers stayed put, because we thought it dangerous to do that. At the same time streams of Italian refugees were coming into the camp, with their carts laden with luggage and loot. They changed the nature of trading in the camp. An American bought a horse for two cigarettes, another a horse and cart for a tin of cheese and two cigarettes. The food situation was getting serious but we managed by careful bartering.

 

On 4th May an American Army colonel came into the camp and promised to bring 70 trucks to take us out - great excitement! In the event more than 70 trucks arrived two days later, were part-loaded with American kriegies, then unloaded on the orders of the Russians and sent away, at gun point. Eventually the Russians said that we couldn't go until they received the order from their HQ, and by now we generally believed that we were being held by the Russians for political bargaining purposes with the Allies. Meanwhile we were smuggling out Norwegians dressed in British uniforms with British names. At that stage it was said that the Norwegian prisoners (mostly elderly) were to be marched 140 miles into Poland and repatriated via Murmansk. This was believed to be a political ploy and I was landed with a Norwegian Army colonel, to get him to the Allied lines at all costs, to reveal this. We dressed him in British clothing and called him John Chase, and he gave me his gold Norwegian sports badge! We managed to get on to an empty returning American truck but were pitched out by the Russians so we set off cross-country, only to be stopped again and turned back. I'm not convinced that John Chase's mission was that urgent and I don't know what eventually happened to the Norwegians. Meanwhile Dutch refugees were pouring in.

 

In mid-May food was still a great problem. Our ration was dry bread and one soup each day, with a couple of small potatoes and occasionally cheese, a little sugar or peas. But we weren't complaining - not much good - because the ration for the German civilians in Luckenwalde was one pound of bread and 100 grammes of horseflesh per person per week. No potatoes, no sugar, margarine, jam, flour or anything else. It was dreadful to see women and children roaming around looking for scraps of food - mouldy bread or anything - and we gave them whatever we could. We thought that they would soon starve to death.

 

Refugees from all over Europe were flocking to where there was a British flag and by 19th May there were 17000 people in the camp, of 25 nationalities. The camp was beginning to smell, VD had started, most women were with child and we thought that widespread disease was just a question of time. And by now we had to believe that we were being held by the Russians as political hostages. Later we learnt that settlement of the Polish issue was involved. I can't recall that this worried me personally but some of the long-term chaps (5+ years) were getting into a very bad mental state, having had their hopes raised to high and then dashed. It was becoming difficult for the senior officers to counsel caution about making a break for the American lines.

 

Happily, however, at 9 p.m. on 19th May our SBO, with Russian officers, announced that the Allied agreement for the exchange of POW had been concluded.

 

So it was that on 20th May dozens and dozens of Russian trucks rolled into the camp and at 2.50 p.m. we pulled out in convoy, with a last unregretful look at that squalid camp. It took 4 hours to do the 50 miles to the Elbe, because of all the blown bridges and widespread devastation. As we crossed the Elbe I uncrossed my fingers - though that was a bit premature for Russian territory extended to the Saale! There was no formality about the handover. We just climbed out of the Russian trucks, straggled across the pontoon bridge and climbed into American trucks on the other side. My only problem was that I had acquired a ceremonial Luftwaffe sword as a souvenir and knowing that the Russians would relieve me of this I stuffed it down my trouser leg. If ever you've tried climbing in and out of trucks with a sword stuck down your trousers you will know that it is difficult to be inconspicuous!

 

So we came to rest in Halle. The Americans, with their usual hospitality, had pulled out all the stops to make us welcome and comfortable, though I'm afraid that none of the kriegies could match up to the lashings of food put before them. It took some time to get back to normal eating. Eventually we were taken by Dakota to Brussels and thence to UK by Lancaster.

 

I would not claim to have enjoyed being a POW for 19 months. But compared with the long-term kriegies and those poor chaps in Japanese camps it was largely tolerable, and certainly salutary. How well men can get on with each other when they have to - there were 9 men, of widely different backgrounds, living in the one small room of which I was the Stube Fuhrer. How impossible it is to make people equal - you push them through the front gate equal, regardless of rank and with just the clothes they stand up in and a Red + parcel and in months, if not weeks, you've got different levels of behaviour. The leaders are the led; the managers the managed; the diligent and the pit-bashers; the moaners and the irrepressible; the diggers and the actors; the spivs and the cheats. A society in itself, starting equal but soon at different levels of thought and achievement. And I found that there were two greatly different nations, if you can call them that, in Germany. The ordinary, the decent, caring people and the police state - Gestapo, SS, Politzei and the rest. And I witnessed the sufferings of women and children in particular, such as we are seeing now in Bosnia. It never should have happened.

 

One small of discontent I share with other RAF Ex-POW in Germany. In the early days POW were issued with lagegelt, with which to buy sundries in the camp canteens. The cost of this was divided from POW's pay by the British Government, to reimburse the Germans. By the time some of us got locked up there were no canteens or lagegelt. Yet after the war the Government refused to repay the one-third pay they had deducted.

 

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