Frank Linc, B-17 Co-pilot, ex-POW

Frank Linc at the October 12, 2011 8th AFHS-Mn Luncheon.
 
 

Frank Linc, B-17 Co-Pilot

United States Army Air Forces, Eighth Air Force, 401st Bomb Group (Heavy), European Theater of Operations (ETO), Station 128, Deenethorpe, England. Twelve combat missions. Shot down during the 12th mission (April 24, 1944). P.O.W. for 12 months; Nine months at Stalag III, Sagan, Germany (now in Poland). Stalag III was evacuated January 27, 1945, ahead of advancing Russian troops, and the P.O.W.s began a winter force-march in sub-zero temperatures through Moskuo to Spremburg, Germany arriving February 4, 1945; They were then densely packed into rail boxcars bound for a prison camp on the outskirts of Nuremberg. Due to lengthy delays, they did not arrive until February 7, 1945. After one month, they were marched for two weeks to Mooseburg, (Moosburg) Bavaria, 30 miles from Dachau. Liberated April 29, 1945 by the 14th Division of General Patton's Third Army. The German surrender was signed in Rheims, France on May 8, 1945: VE Day.

Pearl Harbor

"I was working for Vega Aircraft in L.A. at the time of Pearl Harbor, and I remember the close-down. I worked in the aircraft company inside the fuselage of a bomber and all of a sudden all the lights went out. They were out for two hours because of Pearl Harbor." Frank started as a Vega Aircraft riveter on twin engine airplanes being built for Britain and he moved up the company ladder with two other jobs before going into the service.  This aviation background probably helped him to get into the aviation cadets.

First Mission

On his first mission he was flying as Co-Pilot, and the Pilot had a psychological breakdown and stopped functioning during the bomb run. He had to take over flying the plane on the mission.

 

6 missions in 7 days

 

Frank said his crew wanted to get through their missions quickly so at one poin they flew 6 missions in 7 days. They went to bed at around 11 and got up at around 4 so it was quite exhausting, but they were young.

The Twelfth Mission: April 24, 1944

"Our 12th combat mission over Germany was a "maximum effort" with over 800 heavy bombers participating. The 800 bombers flew in tight formation and covered the sky: an impressive and sobering sight regardless of your vantage point: from the ground seeing the contrails or from the cockpit seeing your neighboring aircraft. Our B-17 was crippled by enemy ground fire, and we lost two engines. We became separated from our formation, and then the German fighters closed in and further damaged our aircraft, including loss of power on our third engine. We dove into the heavy cloud cover, out of sight of the German fighters. Knowing that the fighters would be waiting for us above and below the clouds, and that we could not get far with only one engine, we had to bail out at 20,000 feet under the protection of the clouds."

"Within a one hour period, sixty-three bombers, including ours, were shot down with ten men per aircraft. We lost 630 men in one hour, either killed in action or prisoners of war. It was April 29, 1944."

One Year as a POW

"I was captured and interned as a P.O.W. in Germany for one year: experiencing minimal food, living in barracks and tents without heat, one blanket, and sleeping on wood shavings. I lost 45 pounds, suffered from frostbite, and back injuries. On May 15, 1944, my wife was notified by the War Department that I was missing in action. Two weeks later she received a telegram informing her that I was a prisoner of war. I can only imagine the anxiety felt by my wife and family."

The Winter Death March to Moskuo

"After nine months of captivity, the sound of Russian artillery was heard, sounding ever closer as the Russian front advanced. It was a cold night on January 27, 1945 when we were alerted that the Germans were evacuating the prison camp, and we had thirty minutes. We quickly made packs from extra shirts and other material for carrying our meager possessions and extra food, which we had been conserving for emergency use, in case we were left without sustenance. The march to a new location began about 10:00 pm. The call to "fall out" was given. The blocks assembled and marched out of the gate of Stalag Luft III. Our south compound was first to leave on that Saturday night."

"Twelve thousand Allied airmen were on the march, many out from barbed wire imprisonment for the first time in one to five years. Other camps too were on the march from the East Front to the interior of Germany. The snow lay deep and it was bitterly cold (-20 degrees). Guards were on all sides: some with dogs, all with ready weapons to prevent escapes. Those P.O.W.s too sick to walk were left at the prison hospital. As the march progressed, the roadside became cluttered with discarded articles. We soon found that the decadent life of a prison camp had left us unfit for the endurance of a long forced march with full pack. Packs were lightened at each halt. Halts were five minutes every two hours. We marched for 48 hours with a short break at daylight."

German refugees on the road

"The march was hindered by German refugees, who were also running from the Soviets. A scene imprinted on my mind forever is that of one family stalled on a slope of a country road, their horses too tired to pull their wagon on the icy slope, children and women huddled in the wagon were wrapped in blankets to ward off the wind and cold. The father approached us and showed us his frost-bitten fingers and asked for our gloves. We all understandably refused, not knowing what lay before us in the next few weeks. Nevertheless, I still hold a guilt feeling since that day and often wonder what became of that family."

Gunfire by German guards

"On the evening of the second day--we still had not slept--there suddenly was a series of gunfire from the German guards. Everyone thought this was to be a massacre of P.O.Ws in the woods by the German guards or the Russian Army overtaking us. As a consequence, every prisoner broke ranks and attempted to bury themselves in the snow. We lay there for about an hour, wondering if we would ever see our families again, when our senior officer walked along the road assuring us all was well and we should return to the road. A German guard had accidentally discharged his rifle. This caused all of us to assume the worst. The remaining guards, expecting a mass escape, set off a volley of rifle fire in the air, so as to control us."

P.O.W. Stragglers

"It began to snow harder and harder. The wind strengthened and chilled us to the bone. The line crawled, for now many were lame and blistered. Lightened packs were still further lightened, and some men began to fall back, and back to the end of the column to become stragglers. The first few men to drop by the wayside were put on the one German wagon accompanying the column, but it could only hold five or six, and soon these were only the unconscious and paralyzed. Now complete packs were being thrown away. The whole line straggled, strung out for miles. P.O.W.s were helping their buddies until it was all they could do to help themselves. Men seemed to be walking in their sleep, and men were dropping to the road, being urged to keep on, for they would freeze to death where they fell, if allowed to remain there. I often wonder how many P.O.W.s had fallen by the wayside and perished."

A Lost Sole

"On that evening of the second day, my right foot felt very cold, and upon inspection I discovered the sole of my shoe had detached itself and just hung at the heel. I was literally walking on my stocking foot. Luckily we arrived at the small German village of Moskuo, after two days without sleep, about 10:00 pm, and a large group of us were sheltered in the basement of a pottery factory for the remainder of the night. The factory was warm, and the men slept on the floors and on benches. I slept well that night atop a stack of firewood near the ceiling, with my feet against a steam pipe."

"The next morning, after a a meager meal of barley soup provided by the factory kitchen, I was contemplating how to provide sufficient protection for my foot when one of the P.O.W.s who was bedding down at the other end of the building approached us. He said he had heard that someone needed a pair of shoes. I showed him my shoe. He had carried an extra pair of shoes and said, 'if they fit they were mine.' They fit."

"Imagine the probability of the two of us meeting under those circumstances--of the more than 10,000 P.O.W.s--he with the only pair of shoes and my being the only "lost sole. I have remembered that day for the past 64 years, and I know God was watching over me."

To Spremburg

"The march did not end at the village of Moskuo. After a night's rest, those who were capable marched one more day to Spremburg, the end of the march, where we were put up in a warehouse on a Wehrmacht military post. Sleep that night was intermittent. There was no heat and the cold, hard concrete floor made it necessary to repeatedly turn over. This was the end of our wintry march."

The Railroad Boxcar

"The next day we were packed into railroad boxcars, 70 men to a boxcar, in preparation for transportation to a prison camp on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany. We provided space on the boxcar floor for six men to lay, for those who were too ill to stand. The remainder of us stood for nearly three days, shoulder to shoulder. Every bone in my body ached." Frank said this standing for 3 days in a moving cattle car was physically the worst part of his POW experience.  The Germans didn't check up on their welfare either.

The Nuremberg camp

"We remained in Nuremberg for one month at an old deserted, flea-infested, bombed out, forced labor compound. There were many British night raids on the city and we could hear the tumbling sound of the falling block-buster bombs and felt the ground shake upon impact."

The two week march to Mooseburg, Bavaria

"After one month we were marched for two weeks to our next destination: Mooseburg, Germany. It was now spring in southern Germany and the outdoors were a godsend, free from the cold and fleas and lice."

Attitudes of some German Civilians

"Due to the breakdown of the German transportation system, supplying the long column of P.O.W.s and German guards with food was very difficult. The overnight stops at small villages allowed us, as well as the guards, to go door-to-door requesting food. It was interesting to note that the people in the villages were very accommodating, and seemed to have a dislike for the Hitler regime."

"One day we knocked on the door of a small farmhouse occupied by an elderly lady. We asked for food and she invited us in. While she was slicing some bread, there was a hard knock at the door. The lady was frightened. It was one of the German guards, and ignoring us he demanded food. The lady gave him a slice of bread with lard. He took the bread without thanking her and left. She then proceeded to give us each a slice of bread with jam.

Hitler's order for Dachau

"Years later we were informed that Mooseburg was only 30 miles from Dachau, a concentration camp where thousands of political prisoners were put to death. Hitler had given the order that this was to be our final destination, but the German military high command refused to follow his order. This was too close."

General Patton and Liberation

 

"The camp at Mooseburg was also an old bombed-out camp where we lived in tents among bomb craters. After one month, the American Third Army, led by General Patton, liberated us on the morning of April 29, 1945, one year after I was first captured. I will never forget the scene of General Patton entering the camp, standing in his jeep, hands on hips, and wearing two ivory-handled pistols, while the American flag was being raised. There was not one dry eye."

"After one year as a P.O.W.-captive of the Nazi, thank God I was once again a free man, less 45 pounds, and much more appreciative of what it truly means to be free."

FREEDOM

A poem by Frank Linc, ex-P.O.W.

We were liberated by General Patton and his Third Army.

He came into camp, standing in his Jeep,

Hands on hips,

Brandishing his two ivory-handled pistols,

While the United States flag was raised.

There was not a dry eye.


A half century has gone by.

We watch our flag raised to the sky.

We have a tear in our eye.

We hear the national anthem.

We have a tear in our eye.

We see old glory parade by.

We have a tear in our eye.

We hear taps.

We cry!


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Additional reading:
Frank's experiences are further described in a book written by Concordia Professor Thomas Saylor entitled Long Hard Road: American POWs during WW II (2007 MHS) pp. 23-24, 45-46, 62, 63, 212-13, 273. Frank has a written transcript of Prof. Saylor's 4 hour interview.

           

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