World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

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Sgt. Coleman D. Moberly - WWII pow photo id

  Sgt. Coleman D. Moberly
463rd Bomber Group
15th Air Force, based in Foggia, Italy.

Shot down March 19, 1944

Stalag Luft I POW
North 3 - Barracks 2 (Block 302) - Room 13

Coleman died 15 July, 1998

Click here to email his family.



From: The Sentinel Echo, London, Kentucky, dated May 3 & May 10 1984

Part I

By Alice Cornett

The seventh of May may not have particular meaning for you. Perhaps you were not yet on this earth on May 7, 1945.

That was the day Nazi Germany - the 'thousand year Reich', as Adolf Hitler boastfully called it surrendered to the Allies. The European phase of World War II was over, and the day became known as VE-Day, for victory in Europe.

Coleman D. Moberly, London citizen, attorney and U .S. Magistrate has good reason to remember May 7, 1945.

When The Sentinel-Echo asked him to talk about his memories of World War II, he at first was reluctant. But then, laconically and calmly as if these were everyday events, he began to tell his story .

Moberly was born on a Laurel County farm near McWhorter, in 1920. When he was 12 the family moved to another farm, on what is now KY 490, then US 25.

"Our place was about one mile north of Hazel Green School, and I graduated from the old Hazel Green High School in 1938. I played basketball there, and was team captain." Moberly had one semester at Morehead (then a state teachers college), and next semester entered Sue Bennett College, graduating in 1940 with an elementary teachers certificate. He was captain of the Sue Bennett basketball team which in '40 went to the finals of the junior college tournament. He taught school for one year in Leslie County - way in Leslie County. The school was on Lower Bad Creek. "You went on old 80 to Wooten, then 10 or 11 miles up Coon Creek, across Gray Mountain, to Bad Creek. " Moberly returned to Laurel County and worked at Laurel Grocery until September 1941, when he went to work at Reynolds Metals in Louisville, making airplane parts. America was not yet in World War II, but the USA was rearming, and turning out war materiel for the Allies. Three months after he went to Louisville, Pearl Harbor was bombed and we were at war. Moberly volunteered for the Army Air Corps (at that time the Air Corps was not a separate branch of the service). but was not called up until February 1943. He went to basic training and armory school near Denver, Col., and to gunnery school at Las Vegas, Nev., then to Salt Lake City, where he was assigned to a combat crew on a B-17 bomber. The B-17, the famed 'Flying Fortress', carried a crew of ten. The pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier were officers; the radio operator, engineer, tail gunner, two waist gunners and ball turret gunner were enlisted men. Everyone except the pilot and co-pilot operated a machine gun. Moberly, assigned as a waist gunner, was the lone Kentuckian on the crew. The others, he recalls, came from Ohio, New Mexico, New York and Minnesota. They were assigned to the 463rd Bomber Group of the 15th Air Force, based in Foggia, Italy. They arrived there via the 'southern route'

- Florida, Trinidad, Brazil, Dakar and 'Tunisia - reaching Foggia on March 16, 1944.

When asked about his impression of the Italians, Moberly smiled and said he didn't get to meet any Italians. That was soon explained. On the next day, March 17 he flew his first bombing mission. His crew was separated, so that everyone would be flying with men who had experience on missions. It was a cloudy day and the target was Vienna, Austria. As an armory gunner, Moberly had to maintain the 50-caliber machine guns and also see that the bombs were properly loaded. The type of bombs depended on the target. "If you were bombing an army camp, the bombs were 500-pounders. If it was a big target such as an aircraft factory, why, you'd be dropping 1,000 or 2,000-pound bombs. "

On the 18th, he flew his second mission, the target also somewhere in Austria, he cannot remember the name of the place. On both missions, his bomber group was attacked by German planes.

The engineer and radio operator from his original crew were on a plane that went down on the second day.

"I never found out what happened, but the report was that no parachutes were seen." On March 19 Moberly flew his third mission. The pilot, navigator, bombardier and tail gunner were members of - his old crew.

"We took off around six a.m. We had a fighter escort, but after we got out of Italy and reached what we called the - I.P.(Initial Point), they had to turn back on account of fuel.

We were to be picked up there by another fighter escort to - take us to the target and return. - The second escort never did arrive." What did arrive was a group of German Messerschmitt 109s and Fokke-Wulfes. Moberly's plane was hit and one engine knocked out. "The intercom was knocked out, so we couldn't communicate with the pilot and co-pilot. " After we were hit they salvoed the bombs." Moberly knew that because he felt the plane rise from the loss of weight when the bombs were jettisoned. "The bomb-bay doors were left open. All the officers had - left the plane - they were up- front and in more direct communication with each other. The tail gunner had left and the left waist gunner was gone. They'd done gone and we didn't know it because the communication system was out. The plane was flying on automatic pilot." The ball turret gunner then left his gun turret and climbed up in to the body of the B-17.

"He had 40 missions. Fifty, you get to come home. He said we'd better leave, and he went out first. I was the last one. . 'That was my first parachute jump. We were at 22,000 feet. I counted to ten and pulled the cord and it didn't work. I had to tear the chute open with my hands." When they saw the chutes opening, Moberly said, the German planes left. "Instead of regulation US flying suits (which were - electrically heated), we had been issued British flying suits, wool jacket, wool pants, wool boots. They were warm enough, but the boots had no straps and on the way down they fell off my feet. I arrived on the ground in a mountainous area, I would compare it to the area around Asheville, N.C..

"I was afraid of landing without boots, that I'd break my ankles, but the chute caught in a small tree. Actually, I came in on my rear end. I landed in an open area by the edge of a woods and I could see a house." He knew they had been flying over Yugoslavia, and "We had been instructed that part of Yugoslavia was occupied by Tito and his partisans. An intelligence officer had briefed us that if we were shot down over Yugoslavia your best bet was to try to go to a peasant's home and chances were they would be guerilla underground and would assist you in getting back to Italy. "It was about noon when I landed. I laid down in the woods until dark and then went to the house. I was in stocking feet, and there was snow on the ground, so I knew I had to have some shoes to get out of there. "So I went to the peasant's house and they took me in. They couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Yugoslav or German or whatever they spoke there. There were seven or eight kids and an old woman who I took to be his mother. They seemed welcoming. I had a map in my clothes which showed the whole area (of Europe.) The man, who was about forty, showed me where I was, and 1 showed him Foggia.

"They gave me some dark bread and a bed tick and a blanket, and I made a bed on the floor. The man indicated he'd take me through the mountains and there'd be 'nine more', which led me to believe it was the crew.

"Next morning a bunch of women came in. They had white bread and cake. About ten o'clock they brought me a pair of wooden shoes. I wore size 11 and these were about a size-10.

"The man indicated he was taking me to meet the other nine. We started walking, and three or four hours later we came out at a level field of six or seven acres and were crossing that to a road. About halfway across the field up came a squad of at least 25 or 30 men with rifles.

"I asked if it was Tito's army." He said, "Ya, ya, Tito." "When we got within 30 or 40 feet of’ em, an officer stepped out and I saw he had an armband with a swastika on it, and I knew I had been betrayed."

-Next week: Prisoner of War No.3743.


Part 11 By Alice Cornett

In Part I, Coleman Moberly of London told of how the B-17 Bomber in which he was a waist gunner was hit by fire from German planes on his third flying mission. He parachuted into a mountainous area of Yugoslavia. Believing that the peasant who took him in were friends, he was betrayed by them and turned over to a squad of Germans waiting in an open field. "We walked about two more hours, to a small town with a railroad station. They took me to Gestapo headquarters, and the radio operator from the mission was there. I also saw a boy. about 12, who was the son from the peasant's house.

(After he got to POW camp, Moberly learned there was a reward equal to $50 in US money for Yugoslavs who turned in American soldiers" And they'd be shot if they harbored Americans.") "Then they took us on a regular passenger train, with two German guards, to Gratz, Austria and from there to a German Army camp which appeared to be a basic training camp. They put us in the post guardhouse.

And the rest of the crew was there, except for one man.

"The next morning they put us on another train and at midnight we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, where we were separated and put into single cells. That was the night of March 21.

Two days before, the Americans had bombed Frankfurt all day and the British all night - 36 hours continuous bombing - but the railroad yards were back in operation."

Moberly paused before he talked about his interrogation in Frankfurt. " As a prisoner of war," he said, "1 never did feel like that we wouldn't get out. I figured Uncle Sam would come and get us. "But the German intelligence was a very efficient organization. They interrogated us every day, and all of the intelligence people that they had in the interviews were officers. All spoke fluent English, and some said they had been in the United States for 15 or 20 years - and they went back to Germany in '39 and couldn't leave.

"The way -they approached you, they first came in with a Corporal. He came in and accused you of being an American spy, not air force. "Of course we had our dog tags. But they'd say anybody could get on an airplane and bailout. Then they'd come at you with a form: list name, rank and serial number - five or six pages long, your whole family tree, particularly if you had any relatives in Germany. "Who was on your crew? What unit? Fifteenth in Italy or Eighth in England? Where were you going? Type of bombs? What type of airplane? "I just signed name, rank and serial number and just handed it back to 'em. That's when they accused me of being a spy. "Finally they took me four floors up. They had a full-scale model of every American aircraft that we had in the European Theater of Operations. I told 'em they all looked alike to me. "Before I left they came in and named everybody on the crew. The only one they didn't know was our tail gunner , Johnson. Someone had talked." "They also had a book that listed every group and squadron at every airfield in the whole ETO, even down to the chaplains.

"'We know all about you', they said. And they had the groups in Foggia, Italy, and typed in English. On the last page they had marked '463rd bomber group' with pencil.

"Later, when I got in prison camp with the officers that I knew, I told’em we had one man on our crew who was a yellow bastard. Lt.-----, who was the co-pilot on March 19, his face turned red as a pickled beet. My feeling was that he Was the one that gave the information.

"So finally the last officer I talked to said, 'Moberly, I've interrogated a lot of American air force prisoners but you're the dumbest blank-blank I've ever talked to. I said I was never known for being

too smart. Then this Corporal came back and said they'd decided I wasn't a spy, that I was a genuine American and they'd send me to camp. Then we all were taken to a barbed wire enclosure where we could mix." Moberly studied a moment and said, "The way I figure they got all that information was from local newspapers in America. Stories about going into pilots school, or when you finally got your wings, or gunnery school, that information came into the papers and was clipped out and that information went to German intelligence. Why, they knew everybody. I talked to an officer that was there, the only question they asked him was about a change in chaplains, who was the new one."

Stalag Luft l

"The way I happened to arrive at Stalag Luft 1, which was strictly for officers, they asked for volunteers to go to sergeants camp or Officers camp If we wanted to pull KP duty. (Under the rules of war the officers didn't have to work.) I told my buddy, the boy that was with me when we got out of solitary, to go up and volunteer "Everywhere that I'd been before in the armed service, the officers got a better deal than the enlisted men, and I was going to go up."

The prisoners were shipped north through Germany in boxcars which were hooked on to regular freight trains. "The train made stops at all kind of stations and at a stop they'd feed us a stew of some kind." As they passed through Stuttgart and Berlin, Moberly observed that these cities were "pretty well bombed out." On the afternoon of April 1, 1944, Moberly and 300 other prisoners from the same bombing raid arrived at the prisoner of war camp at Barth, Germany. Barth was on the Baltic Sea - low, marshy country and only 60 miles across the water from Sweden.

The camp contained 10,000 PQWs, all airmen. Besides Americans, there were British. Australians and New Zealanders. and men of many other nationalities who were serving in the British forces.

"Part of the German officers in command of the camp spoke fluent English. We had one captain who was a graduate of VMI he knew more about the American Army than I did. The prisoners were organized into groups, squadrons, etc. and the senior Allied officer was in charge of internal affairs at the camp.

which was divided into sections of 1,000 to 1,500 men. The entire camp was one mile long.

All during the summer they were continually bringing in new prisoners from the 463rd bomber group and we got news." Moberly said he learned that the tailgunner on their ill-fated mission had made contact with Yugoslav partisans and had made it back to Foggia.

"We knew everything that was going on outside," Moberly said. "We even got a paper every day. We had an international news correspondent, Lowell Bennett, in the camp. He went on a bombing raid and got shot down. He could speak five or six languages, and Bennett would listen to the radio (we had a radio, nobody but the command knew who had it) and write a story on the progress of the war .

"They typed it up, about two pages, and when we'd get the copy we would take it through all the barracks, every room. The last room would burn it. There were 24 men to a room, a room about 14xlOx12, with six 3~tier bunks and three double bunks.

"We knew about June 6, (D- Day} before it was announced in the U.S". Of course the navigators knew maps. They drew a map of the whole ETO with pins and a string on it and pinpointed the line as to where the BBC said it was, and as to where the Germans said it was. When his plane went down, Moberly's parents got word that he was missing in action. On July I, they learned he was in the German prison camp and his father wrote to him immediately.

However, he didn't get that letter until November (he still has the letter .) "I had been writing them as quick as I got there. Letter writing was allowed two or three times a month." Outgoing and incoming mail was censored. That first letter was brief, among other things his father mentioned that 'I was over at Louisville the other day and sold the wool for 49 cents'.

On arriving at Barth, Moberly lived in a compound of 1500 to 2000 prisoners. We had a mess hall, and I worked in it eight or ten months. We had two meals a day; a bowl of barley that made a fair cereal, two slices of black bread, sometimes jam made from beets. In the evening we had a stew of potatoes.

The men got Red Cross parcels, at first one parcel per man. "You'd get by pretty good Eight ounces of sugar, salt and pepper, Spam, can of milk, peanut butter, four or five packs of cigarettes, You could trade cigarettes for potatoes. They had an economic system based on cigarettes. You could go to the food storeroom with a pack of cigarettes and buy something."

The prisoners did their own cooking. But as the war went on, the Germans ran out of potatoes and the Red Cross parcels no longer were one to a prisoner but one to four men, then six, finally 24 men to a parcel.

"Then nothing. The Germans said they couldn't get 'em through."

In his free time (if one can speak of a prisoner having free time), Moberly said he read "rather prolifically" in the library provide by the Red Cross. There were also basketball courts and a football area.

There were many escape attempts, and Moberly helped dig some of more than 1,200 tunnels that the Barth POWs started in the deep sand of the Baltic coastal area.

"They got five or six men out, but we were so far inland you had to go all the way through Germany and then through the American lines. "Some tried to escape by going down the coast to a boat 'going to Sweden (a neutral country), but they'd get captured and in six to eight weeks they'd be brought back to Barth." Moberly said there was plenty of talent among the prisoners, who could take a British uniform and convert it into a regular suit for an escapee. They could also make fake German passports.

By April 1945, the POWs knew that the Third Reich was very near collapse. Moberly told one of the guards in the mess hall, who wasn't too friendly, "Russians in Berlin, Germany is.kaput ." Before the Germans could evacuate the huge camp, the advancing Russian army cut the Barth peninsula in two. "On the night of April 30 we woke up and the Germans were gone and had turned the keys over to the American commanding officer. On May 1, Russian reconnaissance tanks came in with Russian officers. Next day they came in, in force. They had some American trucks, but their artillery was drawn by horses. They lived off the land, didn't carry supplies with them.

"They brought in cattle and hogs from the countryside, and the Americans slaughtered them and we had fresh meat. The Germans had left behind 700 or 800 bushels of potatoes." On May 8 the camp learned of the German surrender the day before, and celebrated VE Day. It was May 12 before they started leaving Barth, however, because the Russians had to have a list of every prisoner's name, which had to be translated. On May 15 and 16, 40 aircraft airlifted prisoners to France, where they were taken to the port of Cherbourg. Moberly said he was in reasonably good health when he was released and weighed about 150, down 25 or 30 pounds from his normal weight. On June 26, 1945 he arrived by ship at Newport News, Va., and was sent to Camp Atterbury , Ind., where he got a 30-day furlough. He took a Greyhound bus home. The route ran on US 25 to London, so Moberly could get off right at the family farm. His mother, father and youngest brother were there to meet him. Two other brothers were still overseas, one in Casablanca and One in Italy.

He got two extensions on his leave before returning to active duty. On November 30, 1945, Moberly was discharged, and the following January he entered the University of Kentucky. He says he knew while still in prison camp that he would go to school when be got back to the States. He had wanted to be a lawyer since he was in the eighth grade.

Two years later, while still in law school, Moberly was elected to the state legislature and served in the 1948 session and the 1949 special session. In that year he finished law school and passed the bar examination. He decided to practice in London.

"I was born and raised here. 1 thought it was a pretty good place to live." Moberly practices general law, specializing in workman's compensation, negligence and social security cases. He was county attorney for 16 years, and is now U.S. magistrate for eastern Kentucky.

He is married to the former Geneva Pennington of London, and the couple has a son, Charles, who is in the personnel department at FlavoRich; a daughter, Nancy is a lawyer in northern Kentucky, and a daughter, Susan who teaches at Lafayette High School, Lexington.

Seated in his Broad Street office today, Coleman Moberly remembers clearly that tenth of May 39 years ago in eastern Kentucky …free after more than a year of captivity, the war in Europe over, waiting to come home to Laurel county.

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