Flight Sergeant Frederick Charles Dillnutt
Unit : 77 Squadron, Bomber Command, Royal Air Force
Service No. : 1295091
POW No. : 269763
Camps : Stalag IVB
The following was written by Fred Dillnutt in 2005:
Three and one aborted escapes of RAF Sgt WOP/AG Frederick Charles Dillnutt (born 27th November 1920) of 4 Group 77 Squadron Halifax bombers of RAF Elrington, Yorkshire. I was a P.O.W. during WW2.
On the 20th December 1943 on a raid to Frankfurt and ten minutes from target a night fighter attack severely damaged plane and pilot ordered crew to bale out.
I evaded capture for 30 hours and after interrogation and solitary confinement and 4 day travel by train closed cattle truck arrived at Stalag 4B Muhlberg, East Germany on the river Elbe in the middle of January 1944.
The navigator Steve Rudge arrived at 4B at the end of January having evaded capture for seven days.
Steve and I decided to escape and we made contact with the RAF escape committee who were to arrange for us to change identities with two British Army privates to go on a working party (easier to escape from a small camp). We changed our blue uniforms for khaki [?]. It cost us dearly in cigarettes to pay for the items the escape committee provided, i.e. 2 pairs of socks, compass, maps, service type water bottle & gas mask haversack.
I sewed a packet inside my left trouser leg below the knee to conceal the maps and we prepared concentrated food by melting our chocolate from Red Cross parcels with cut up prunes, biscuits and salt, poured into each of our tobacco tins (6" x 4" x 1") and divided into cubes, to take one a day.
We had plenty of exercise around the camp compound as we intended to walk at night and hide and sleep during the day and keep washing and changing our socks.
In June 1944 we changed our huts and were transported with eight other army privates to a small working P.O.W. camp in the Leipzig area where they worked in an underground rock salt mine within walking distance of the camp. Steve and I worked on the surface of the mine for the first seven days, clearing up rubbish. We searched the area and decided after the week to make a move but to cause confusion to appear we do not go together so I hid in the roof of a small building at the mine just before finishing time. Steve joined me 24 hours later the next day and we waited until dark before going in a westerly direction across the adjacent railway line. We walked at night and hid during the day in barns, deep undergrowth, woods, middle of wheat fields and at one time under a wigwam shaped hay stack (about 12 foot across one foot of the ground). We lived on picked fruits, vegetables mainly new potatoes and of course our chocolate. Some of the incidents; Polish husband and wife gave us bread and Schnapps. Hiding near a military airfield and seeing the German planes take off and landing with a winged bomb on the top. Before leaving a barn one night some male and female came in and one of them urinated on the straw we were hiding under.
The first eighteen days went well and then Steve's feet became badly blistered and poisoned for the next three days and I had to carry him on my back for most of these three days, and eventually had to give ourselves up to the military at a [? ? ?]. By then we had covered about 200 miles as the crow flies. Held in a basement cell and the next day taken to Stalag O9A Spangenburg near Kassel. We stayed there 14 days while Steve recovered in the P.O.W. sick bay and I met and talked with John Daniel Hinton a New Zealander who was awarded the Victoria Cross while a POW though he never talked about it.
From O9A with armed escort we were taken by train back to the salt mine camp changing at Leipzig walking in the gutter and not allowed on the pavement, the devastation from the bombing was appalling. The next two weeks we spent underground with pick and shovel and found escaping again was impossible and then we were sent back to Stalag IVB to go one month in the Straf Lager (a overcrowded hut of escapee and offenders awaiting to do solitary of two weeks in a cell. Sleeping in the hut was arranged by how long you had been there, i.e. first the floor, then a form, table and later on a bunk bed. In this hut witnessed a P.O.W. court and sentence of a Irish guardsman to 20 lashes for stealing food from another P.O.W.
When we were released into the main camp Steve received a letter from his mother to say his father had died. As an only child he decided his escaping days were over. The reason - Hitler's order to shoot escaping POW's on recapture. I wanted another attempt so found another RAF aircrew partner who could speak very good German and some French, a Scot named Macgregor I called Mac.
I write the next preparation to escape as a tribute to the RAF escape committee of Stalag IVB. Mac and I made contact with them in November 1944 result they provided winter civilian clothes with hats and money, took separate head and shoulder photographs (without hats) and applied them to forged documents stating we were Swiss engineers. We were going to travel by train back home to Switzerland for Christmas. Method of escape by the camp sewers. One of the committee made a dummy run and on return to the camp became very ill so it was agreed to abort, the health risk was too great.
My 2nd Mac's 1st Escape
Again made contact with the committee early March 1945. Because some of the French were allowed out on a pass to visit the village of Muhlberg we were provided with French army greatcoats and forage caps more money and passes to do the same and we walked out of the main gate of the camp, showing our passes at gatehouse the Thursday (day before Good Friday) about midday the 29th of March and kept walking complete with an eraser to rub out and write in the next place along the line to COTTBUS (Russia/German Eastern Front line) which is 60 miles from MUHLBERG STALAG IVB as the crow flies. Walked through the night and next day (Good Friday) and Saturday came to a railway station had a snack and coffee in the buffet before boarding (with tickets) a passenger train to FINSTERWALDE (about 15 miles) and continued walking from there the rest of the day and night. During Sunday when walking through a forest came upon a large band of blue uniformed armed soldiers who were either White Russian or Ukrainians who had defected to the Germans. We reached COTTBUS about noon on Easter Monday the 2nd of April came to a park and hid in a slit trench and was found by a German patrol at 4pm. Taken to and locked in a first floor room of the town hall for the night. Found in a cupboard a crust of bread which we shared. The Russians were not far away because all night heavy mortar and machine gun fire.
The next day (Tuesday 3rd April) taken to a English speaking German officer for questioning and we requested to continue through the line to the Russians which he refused saying the Russians would given us a rifle to fight back also if we had come the day before the Russians were in COTTBUS but a counter attack sent them back. He showed us some of the 14/16 year old uniformed armed schoolboys under his command and said within 6 weeks of the end of the war England and American would be at war with the Russians. Under armed guard were taken in a open horse drawn carriage back South West approx 20 miles to a small village possibly SENFLEABER passing German officers and their wives and were forced to dig up their gardens. Packed up at night in a small brick hut with 10 Russian P.O.Ws all of us having to sleep sitting up as no room to lie down. The officers wives were good to us providing some food and coffee.
On the 18th April we were taken further back to a small army P.O.W. camp of about 200/300 P.O.W's. On the 26th April we were marched at night under guard heading South towards CZECHOSLOVAKIA and in the morning stopped at a farm barn and provided with pea soup. We were allowed to exercise on a small dirt track which had an incline with a steep drop the other end. Mac and I made sure each time we walked back and forth we got nearer the top and over we went.
My 3rd Escape Mac's 2nd Escape
27th April. This was about 3 miles to the BAUTZEN/DRESDEN Road and we walked West towards Dresden during the evening made friends with a German mother who was going to visit her son in hospital so Mac offered to carry her case and what Mac's conversation was I never knew as I was the deaf one. We left her at the hospital and we arrived at the outskirts of Dresden caught a tram for a couple of miles in Dresden by midday. Dresden was a mess having suffered from the 3 day aerial bombing by RAF and Americans in February. [Moving?] about going from one to another open air soup kitchen and left at 4pm heading North (If we were stopped our excuse was we were going back to IVB P.O.W. camp at MUHLBERG). East side of the river Elbe for 35 miles to RIESA arriving about 9am and joined eight army POW under armed escort and taken across the bridge to the West side of the Elbe and the German engineers blew up the bridge to delay the Russian advance. Walked another 15 miles West to DOBEIN (German Western front line). A German officer said he could not feed us and nowhere to imprison us. Also repeat the same statement as officer at COTTBAS (6 weeks and at war with Russia) he gave us a armed soldier escort and a pole with White flag and let us through their lines to go and find the Americans, this was midday. We set off and walked another 18 miles passing through villages with evidence of American activity because on some of the buildings were posters saying "OUT OF BOUNDS TO AMERICAN TROOPS" and at 3.45pm we saw a tank coming towards us and it was American, we looked a motley band with one of our group pushing a babies pram with some loot. It was then we knew we were really FREE. They asked us to walk another couple of miles to ROCHITZ which was the American Western front line. On arrival we were lorried to ATTENBERG an abandoned munitions large factory and provided with plenty of American K rations and told to make ourselves comfortable sleeping on the office floor (this was 29th April). The factory had an assembly hall and stage though the hall was full of dirt. Two bunk beds probably for forced labour workers must have disappeared though some were still around. We were there until the 8th May exercising to the local beer cellar (the factory was called HUGO SCHNEIDER).
We left by lorry on the 8th May first to GERA and 9th May to ERFURT a German military airfield and housed in the barracks with other Ex P.O.Ws mostly American. The food was very good because they had American cooks. The Yanks only seemed interested in moving their own Ex P.O.Ws some Brit Ex P.O.Ws got fed up with the long wait so the Brits had to do their own organising in groups of 10/15 ex-POWs priority being on arrival (first in first out). We had to wait until 11th May before Mac and I's group were moved airborne 10.04 in a American DC 47 plane to REIMES (France) landed 12.30 then by lorry to another airfield airborne 16.30 by Lancaster plane landed at RAF TANGMERE (South Coast) England 17.50. Particulars taken (No counseling or medical) and off by train to RAF COSFORD for kitting out and 6 week leave and promoted to Warrant Officer.
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