World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


If you are a former Prisoner of War or a next of kin of a POW, we invite you to sign and leave your email address so others that come may find you. Please mention camp, compound, barracks and room numbers if possible.

 Sign or view our Guestbook

Visit our
Online Store




If you would like to
  help us keep this website online, please click on the above PayPal link, where you may make a monetary contribution to this site using your credit card.  Thank you.



Stalag Luft I - E-mail us

Click to send us e-mail


Mark Altvater - WWII B-26 Pilot

H. Mark Altvater
of Greensboro, NC
B-26 Pilot
386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad
Stalag Luft I
- North 2 Compound, Barracks 2, Room 2 & 3.

Mark passed away on January 30, 2001.  We will miss his e-mails and friendship.  Rest in peace, Mark.

E-mail his daughter at


Mission 63

  I was a member of a bomber crew in the 9th Air Force, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squadron (B-26 medium bombers) located at Great Dunmow, Essex County, England. I was a pilot in the crew which consisted of two pilots, a bombardier/navigator, a radio/top turret gunner, an engineer/waist gunner and an armorer/tail turret gunner.

  The mission for that day (and this was the second mission of the day) was a German fuel dump near Foret d'Andainne, France. Our regular gunners had finished their missions and we had three new gunners - their first mission.

  The required number of missions was 65, but our regular gunners had flown some extra missions with other crews, so this was the 63rd mission for the three officers.

  Our target was hidden in the forest and could not be seen from the air, but our intelligence officers had pin-pointed the spot for our bombardiers and navigators and we dropped our bombs on that spot. We hit the target and this was made evident by the large amount of smoke, flame and explosions on the ground.

  On the way back to the base in England, our bombardier/navigator said we are going too close to Le Havre, which was defended by many flak guns. He could not understand why we did not turn, but we had to follow the lead aircraft so there wasn't much we could do about it. We could see the fighters in front of us were getting a lot of flak but, for some reason, we did not change course.

  As we neared the coast, there was an ear-splitting explosion and we realized we had taken a direct hit from the 88mm flak guns in Le Havre. The windshield was hit and the pilot compartment was full of dust and debris and Plexiglas splinters and some shell fragments.

  One of the gunners called on the intercom and said the top turret gunner had been hit and killed. He also reported that both fuel tanks in the right wing had been punctured and were spewing aviation gasoline. Shortly after that he called and said we were on fire.  I told him to throw the turret gunner out of the aircraft and pull his rip cord and that he and the other gunner were to bail out immediately. Our bomb/nav said we were only three minutes from the British lines,  but I said we do not have three minutes - we may not have one minute . I was afraid the wing would burn off or that we would explode.

  Our normal exit from the aircraft was through the nose wheel well so I tried to lower the landing gear and discovered that the hydraulics had been shot out. We remained calm, but I can tell you that all three of us were white as a sheet. Our only salvation was an emergency air bottle that would open the bomb bay doors and hold them open for sixty seconds. The three of us bailed out through the bomb bay taking care that we went out head first so that if we hit anything on the way out it would be our heels and not our heads. We were at approximately 10,000 feet altitude.

  None of us had ever jumped before but we had been told not to pull the rip cord until it appeared that the ground or water was coming up at us. After the initial rush of air when I bailed out everything got very quiet and I waited until the water looked like it was coming up at me and I pulled my chute. I had never pulled a rip cord before and it came so easy I thought I had broken the cable, but then I felt the pilot chute pop out and then the main chute.

  I was over the water near the beach, but I spilled my chute a bit to carry me closer to the beach and, with the help of an onshore breeze, I landed on a sandbar about fifty feet from the beach. I landed very hard and ended up on my back.

  It was low tide so there was shallow water between the beach and me. I realized that I needed to get out of there before the tide came in so I started walking toward the beach. I had taken only a couple of steps when a machine gun ripped the water about 25 feet in front of me. I still couldn't see anyone so I tried again and the same thing happened. This happened one more time and I put my hands in the air and very soon six Wehrmacht soldiers and a very young-looking 2nd Lt. came out of the trees and waded out to get me. They took my pistol and the young German officer asked me (in perfect English) if I was an officer. I told him I was and he saluted me and I returned the salute. He said " I must apologize for firing at you, but I found it necessary to stop you from walking. You were walking into an underwater mine field". I thanked him (he probably saved my life) and they took me up to a building that was serving as a headquarters building for a communications battalion. Soon the other two officers of our crew were brought in and the German sergeant told us we were in Trouville, France and that they had found our gunners and that one of them was dead.

  It is still Aug. 6, 1944 (the day we got shot down) and we are in the headquarters building of a German communications center while the Germans are deciding what to do with us. They decided to take us by car inland to a temporary holding area for captured prisoners. We were put into an open French car with an officer and driver in the front seat, the three of us in the back seat and two German guards rode on the back of the vehicle.

  We traveled about 12 kilometers inland to a small town called Pont L'Eveque which was also the location of another communications center. We were taken to an old three story building which, at one time, had been a schoolhouse which the Germans were now using as a holding area for transient prisoners. We were taken inside and up to the third floor. A guard opened a door where a young woman was sleeping on the floor on a bed of straw. The guard yelled at the woman to "raus" and go find another place to sleep. This then became our bedroom where the only thing in the room was straw on the floor. We were all so exhausted that it took very little time for us to fall asleep. 

  The next morning we were taken downstairs to the office of the German sergeant in charge of this unit. He got our name, rank and serial number and told us we were free to roam in the enclosed compound in back of the building. We soon discovered that, other than the sergeant, there was only one other guard and he was a man who had to be in his 60's. His name was Pvt. Schneider. He spoke enough English and, with what little German I knew, we could converse fairly well. He had sons in the military and grandsons in
Germany.  It was not long before he was calling me Mark.

  I teased Schneider from time to time telling him to keep a sharp lookout because I was going to escape from that place. He took this very seriously and became quite agitated  saying no! no! no! no! - you must not try to escape. They will shoot you.

  Each morning three or four very young French Red Cross girls came to the compound and brought us fresh milk. They also had sulfa powder (American) and I needed some for a bad cut on my left hand. They also informed us that they were Resistance members and advised us not to try to escape from there. There was simply no place we could go without being caught.

  On about the third night, the guard came up to get us (1:00 AM) saying the sergeant wanted to see us.  We went downstairs to the office and the sergeant was quite drunk. He put come glasses on the table and poured a drink of Calvados for each of us. All he wanted was some drinking buddies. The Calvados tasted like a mixture of cough medicine and machine oil, but, after I got the first one down, the rest got easier.

  Toward the end of the week four more officers were brought into the unit - three army officers and an RAF fighter pilot from Canada.    

  The next day we were informed that the Americans and British forces were advancing in our direction and that we were to be evacuated that night. The truck arrived after dark and we were all in the hall near the door when I saw Schneider in the background.  I went over to him and took off my gun belt and holster and gave them to him
and told him to give these to his grandsons as souvenirs.  He said Mark do not try to escape and his eyes were full of tears.  I think he looked upon me as a little boy, sometimes prone to be naughty.

  We were loaded onto the truck, which was a wood-burning truck, and headed east in pitch black darkness. The RAF pilot had spotted an opening in the front wall of the truck, And whispered to us to have the tallest of us to stand up and stretch. He was about 5 ' - 1" and very small and when we did get up and stretch he went out that opening into the camouflage foliage on the truck. He must have picked a good time to jump because he got away.

  When we made a relief stop down the road, a German sergeant counted us and, of course, came up with six, not seven. He kept yelling in German -where is the seventh officer? Naturally, we made out like we did not understand what he was saying and I thought he was going to shoot us. He was so mad he did not know what to do. After all, he was responsible for losing a POW - poor fellow. Since he had decided not to shoot us there wasn't much else he could do so we traveled on.

  We came to a large open field near Laigle, France which was a large collection point for captured personnel. They gave us some thin soup which was so bad I could not eat it. Shortly, we were all loaded onto open trucks and headed for Paris.

  This was a very dangerous time because a large convoy of trucks is just what fighter pilots love to see. Fortunately, that did not happen. 

  The truck convoy that left Laigle, France appeared to consist of about 20 trucks, each carrying 20-25 POW's. We had to stand most of the way since the truck bed was so crowded that it was difficult to sit down. Here, again, we were in great danger from attack by our own aircraft, but we were lucky again.

  When we reached Paris, we crossed the river near the base of the Eiffel Tower and proceeded down a wide street.  As we were moving, a shot rang out and this was frightening. As it turned out, one of the German soldiers in one of the trucks had fired at some French people and the bullet ricocheted and hit the windshield of a truck behind him. This caused the convoy to stop while the truck drivers got out and started arguing and cursing each other.  The driver of the truck that got hit was furious and it appeared that he was trying to find out who fired that shot. It also appeared that he found the culprit since he vented his wrath on one particular soldier.

    After calm was restored, the convoy moved on and stopped in the middle of a park or plaza. The Germans wanted to show off how many prisoners they had, but it did not work out quite that way. The French people around us, and there were many hundred, were friendly toward us and kept crowding closer to us. The Germans tried to keep them back but the crowd got very noisy, flashing the victory sign, and  pressing ever closer. The Germans got very angry and beat one poor man unmercifully and then mounted machine guns in the plaza. The French did pull back then and the convoy moved on.

  We traveled through some narrow streets where women on the second floors of several of the buildings tossed long loaves of bread to us and little children ran beside the trucks trying to hand bread up to us.

  We traveled to a place called Meaux where we were told we would spend the night. We off-loaded and were taken into what appeared to be an empty warehouse. We spent the night sleeping, or trying to sleep, on the concrete floor.

The next morning we traveled to a place called Chalon-sur-Marne, to an old French army barracks which was filthy and spent the night on beds with nothing but steel slats

  Shortly after we were liberated, a group from our camp entered the concentration camp located near our camp and came upon a scene of utter horror. The German staff had obviously fled many days before the Russians arrived and had left the prisoners locked up and helpless. Many of them were dead and many were transported into our camp hospital. I was standing near the gate into the camp and saw as many as I could stand to look at. Their conditions were too horrible to describe. The British doctors did all they could, but I do not know how many they were able to save.

  A German major and several of his men stayed with us and helped our people remove the mines from the runway at the nearby air base and left before the Russians got there. I never learned his name, but he was very helpful to us.

  After the runway had been repaired, the B-17's could then come in and start the airlift. This was a tremendous undertaking since one plane could take only 30 men.

Thus began a period of anxious waiting for each of us. Since there was almost 10,000 of us, it took weeks to accomplish this enormous task and we simply had to wait for our turn to go.

  When my time to board the plane came, the first thing I thought of was a parachute since I had sworn I would never fly without one again, but I found out that was exactly what I was getting ready to do. None of us had chutes, but I felt better about it when I remembered we had little chance of getting shot down.

  The B-17 I was on took us for a lower level look at the Ruhr Valley and I was amazed at the destruction.

  We landed at Rhiems, France and sat on the runway until trucks came to pick us up. It was now dark so I'm not sure just where we went, but we stopped and they fed us a good meal. After that, we began the trip to Camp Lucky Strike at St. Vallerie, France.

    After we got to Camp Lucky Strike we were deloused the assignment process began. We were divided up into packets by state and North Carolina and South Carolina were considered one state. There were eleven officers and over 100 enlisted personnel. It was the task of the high ranking brass at the camp to choose a packet commander and since all of us were 1st Lt.'s, a colonel asked each of us our date of commission and I won the nomination. We were taken to our tent area, and I asked the ranking sergeant to be my assistant. His first duty was to call the group together so I could talk to them. I had to tell them that I had no idea of when a ship would be available to take us home. I did tell them I would write passes to Paris, but I also told them that when I got word a ship was there for us, I would have the sergeant call the roll and if you are here you go and if you were not here you stay. I did write out the passes and made up some silly excuses to explain why they weren't there when the high ranking officers would come by and ask me how things were going. I would generally reply " fine, sir - the men are on egg nog break right now". They would say very good - carry on. I think they knew I was lying. The only thing I regret was that I never got to Paris myself.

  While we were there General Eisenhower came and told us personally that he was sorry that we were having to wait, but that the ships were needed to carry troops to the Pacific.

  Also, while we were there, an A-26 (my group had changed to A-26's) flew from Liege, Belgium (where they were then stationed) down to Camp Lucky Strike and took the three officers in my crew back to Liege and threw a big party for us at a local hotel including a girlie show from Paris.  We did get back to Lucky Strike O. K.  

  Finally, after over three weeks, I was informed that we were scheduled to be shipped out very soon, probably in 24 hours. I had the sergeant call the roll and every man was there with one exception and he was in the hospital. The word of the ship grapevined to Paris that quick.

  In a very short time we were put on trucks and taken to Cherbourg, France and boarded the Coast Guard Ship U.S.S. Admiral Mayo and headed for home. Because I was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was ordered to be officer of the guard. I didn't have the nerve to ask just what the hell are we guarding.

  My duty was to go around most of the night to each guard station and when I found someone asleep he got a swift kick on the bottom of his foot and when he looked for his rifle he was a mite sheepish when he saw I had it. Nothing was ever said about any of that.

  My guards were to come off duty at 4 AM and I had to make arrangements for their meal. The non-com I dealt with was Victor Mature. He was very efficient and told me " It'll be ready, sir" and it was.

  It took us a week to cross the North Atlantic. I didn't get sick but many did. We finally got to Boston and were taken to Camp Miles Standish where I reported to the Commanding officer and soon we were on a train and finally on our way home.

Mark Altvater in 2000 - Former POW

Mark Altvater - 2000


Return to POW Stories

Return to Kriegies



This site created and maintained by Mary Smith and Barbara Freer, daughters of Dick Williams, Jr.