Burt Newmark: Shot Down By A Train!
“What are you doing in my country?” asked Hanns Joachim Scharff, my interrogator. I’d been dragged into his office and he’s wearing a beautiful German uniform. He’s sitting in his office with books behind him, at his desk, and I’m shoved into a chair. He looks at me and says, ‘What are you doing in my country?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Burt Newmark, 716204, Second Lieutenant.’ He said, ‘Why are you telling me this, it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ So I pulled out my dog tags and I showed them to him and he said, ‘If I show you my dog tags they say Colonel Bull Shit.’ “His job is to get information from me. He knows it and I know it but he’s trying to tell me that name rank and serial number is insufficient to identify me as a soldier. He says, ‘You’ve arrived in my country by parachute, you’re not wearing a military uniform (I’m in my flight suit), you’re a spy. I’m going to have you taken out and hung.’ I said, ‘You’ve seen my parachute and your people saw my airplane nose into the ground.’ ‘Oh, I see you’re claiming to be a flyer,’ he said ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘So that’s why you’re using the Geneva Convention. For you the war is over. For me the war is going to be over in three months.’ “This was February 22nd or 23rd. I’m not sure exactly because I was in pretty bad shape from being shot down. I was shot down near the town of Kriegsfeld on the 21st of February, 1945. “So he said, ‘Tell me the two letters on the side of your airplane, it will go easier for you and it will prove to me that you are a pilot.’ So I said, ‘WZ.’ ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘the 84th Fighter Squadron! How is Ray Smith?’ Ray Smith was our operations officer and had crashed the week before and was in the hospital. What he was doing was letting me know that he knew more than I did. He knew the name of every pilot in my group and that Ray Smith had crashed.
February 21st, 1945 - Shot down by a train!
“The day I got shot down I was assigned to fly cover for the B-17s and there was no enemy activity. Our controllers told us there was no indication of enemy fighters. We had controllers on the ground that would pass on information to us. So our CO said, ‘Let’s hit the deck.’ We went down on the deck and broke up into pairs and went off in any direction we wanted to go, looking primarily for airports. I never found one but we spotted a train line and followed it for a few minutes and saw there was a train on it. Now we’d lost a lot of pilots strafing trains and we were always told you didn’t want to fly parallel to the rail line because that’s easy for them to track you. You always want to be perpendicular and you never want to pull up to look at your damage because that’s when they can get you. You’re slower and not moving away as fast if you pull up. I didn’t follow instructions. I loved to look at the explosions. This was about the third train I’d blown up. My wingman yelled, ‘Flak Car!’ and I turned to look and I heard the bullet and saw the hit go through the cowling. I knew I was in trouble because I saw the oil coming back so I started preparing for bail out. The engine was burning and fire was coming at me through the firewall. If I’d been in a P-47 I would have gotten back home; it’s just that the bullet had just ticked my cowling and I was in a P-51. A little stream of liquid came back and the plane was burning. I only got to about 1,000 feet and bailed out. My parachute opened just as my feet hit a tree. 1,000 feet wasn’t high enough but I sure wasn’t going to ride down in a burning airplane. I was scratched quite badly from going through the tree and I was burned a little bit. A lot of molten metal was coming off of the engine and some of it hit my face and my jacket had holes in it. I started looking around and there were people coming towards me with rifles and shotguns and pitchforks. A hunter with a big rifle yelled ‘Halt!’, and I did! Most of them I think were civilians but a couple of them looked like home guard. This was my 25th mission. As a matter of fact, if I’d gotten back home I would have gone up to Scotland on two weeks of Rest, Recreation and Rehabilitation (R, R & R).”
“I was extremely lucky when I bailed out because I landed in a little town called Kriegsfeld where there was no damage. It was a little town with a railroad siding and they treated me like a guest. He asked me to show me how to fire my gun into the earth. I had a picture of my girlfriend in it under the plastic handle and this guy took his penknife out, unscrewed it and handed me the picture. Then they took me visiting and these two soldiers who were in charge of me were took me visiting and we would sit down and have tea and crackers and they would tell the homeowner how they’d shot me down – which they hadn’t done! But they were making heroes of themselves. We did that all night long until they put me on a train.” “In prison camp one night we were having a discussion with British bomber pilots about precision bombing. We were describing how an American bombing formation would stretch from horizon to horizon. They would sit in formation in their box and their combined firepower was their only protection against fighters. When each group’s bombardier would drop his bombs, everybody else in that group would drop theirs so they laid down this big pattern around the target. So the British said, ‘Well, let’s tell you what we think is precision bombing.”
“At night we sent a pathfinder bomber that caries radar, locates the target, and drops a white flare under a parachute and in the light of the white flare, a Mosquito bomber swoops down and it drops a red and green cascading flare at point zero. One at a time a British bomber comes in at a different altitude and a different direction and drops its bombs on the green and white cascading flare. And all night long, bombers are coming in from different altitudes and different directions dropping on that flare. We were in a prison camp and we are maybe 15 miles from the Nuremburg train marshalling yards and the air raid sirens go off. We go running outside to see a red and green cascading flare come down on the Nuremburg yards. We watched all night long as the British bombers did just that. We saw the searchlights going after them. We saw a German night fighter shoot down one of the British bombers. All night long and all morning long, bombs continued to go off because they dropped a lot of time delayed fuse bombs that kept the work crews from cleaning up. I believe that because of what we did, the 9th Air Force did, and what the British did, we defeated Germany because they couldn’t move anything. You can’t supply troops if you can’t move anything.”
“I experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of a strafing run because when I was at the prison camp they put us on a forced march from Nuremburg to Moosburg, Bavaria. I was in the group that was just crossing a rail line right near a little lumber yard. There was a train alongside the lumberyard. Somebody looked up and said, ‘Oh look, a Focke-Wulf!’ I looked up and said, ‘Focke-Wulf – oh, hell, they’re P-47s!’ Just about that time, here they came and we ran for shelter. We got under some piled logs and I heard those bullets hit the ground. Each bullet sounds like a sledge hammer hitting the earth. 700 per minute out of each gun and there are eight guns on a P-47! They shredded the locomotive and killed two of the POW’s. We figured out a way to write POW in an open area with an arrow the way we were going so they could know we were prisoners of war.” “I was in a prison camp for about two and a half months. When we were liberated I wound up in Paris a couple of days before the war ended. Of course Paris knew that it was ending and unfortunately for me, here I am unattached, 20 years old, and you can imagine what Paris was like. I was feeling sick so they sent me to sick call and they diagnosed me with infectious hepatitis and they sent me to a French hospital so I had no time in Paris!”