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  • John Adler

Fritz Dewig’s WWII Experience


The compound at Stalag 17B, where Frtiz Dewig was a POW

The below has been summarized by Fritz's wife, Betty Mae (Loehr) Dewig from his own notes.

Frederick J. (Fritz) Dewig was drafted into the Army Air Force on February 2, 1942. Fritz was sent to gunnery school at a number of Air Force bases in the western states. They trained in old BT-13 and B-17 planes. The 305th Bomb Group was formed and Fritz was listed as a ball turret gunner.

In September, 1942 they flew to Syracuse, N.Y. and received new B-17 planes. On October 1, 1942 they left for England. When they landed at Prestwick, Scotland, Fritz received a telegram that his father had been killed in a train accident. There was no way he could go home.

Starting on November 1, 1942 the missions began with raids over France. In January, 1943 the raids and bombings began over Germany. Fritz took part in fifteen bombing missions over France and Germany as a gunner on a B-17. On February 16, 1943 the targets were the dry-docks at St-Nazaire, France. After the bombs were dropped, they were hit by flak which knocked out two engines and the German fighter knocked out a third engine. They also hit the front of the plane, killing the pilot and injuring the co-pilot. The crew bailed out as the plane went down. Fritz landed near an air base and was immediately taken prisoner. All were captured except for one who made it back to England.

Fritz was taken to Dulag Luft for interrogation. He only gave name, rank, and serial number. That night he got no bread. The following day the interrogation continued, except this time, he was knocked to the floor and given no bread, no water, and no bed.

About March 1, 1943 they boarded a box car with about thirty other prisoners. They arrived at Stalag VIII B late at night after four days and nights with no food and no bathrooms, just a bucket. The temperature was about zero degrees Fahrenheit. The barracks had no heat, no beds, and they were given only a thin blanket. That night they nearly froze to death. The next morning in their barracks there was a tub of thin coffee, “ersatz coffee” they called it. The POWs thought it was made with turnips. They hadn’t had food for four days, so they drank it. They were given a ration of bread. At noon they had a small bowl of soup and a small potato and that evening “ersatz coffee”. That day they were given their dog tags. There were 117 men, all airmen and sergeants; they were together the entire time they were prisoners.

They were moved from one camp to another, six different ones in all. At this time Fritz weighed 119 pounds. He had weighed 175 pounds when he entered the Armed Forces.

It was about mid-September 1943 when they were taken to Stalag XVII B (Stalag 17), their home for the next nineteen and half months. It was north of Krems, Austria. There were 1350 American Airmen but over 29,794 prisoners of war there. There were Russians, Poles, Serbs, French, and a few English.

The first day they were sent to the showers and their heads were shaved. The barracks were wooden structures with rows of triple decked wooden bunks, about three feet between bunks. Four of them formed two 2-man combines, so when the Red Cross parcels came, there was one parcel for two men. The four ate together each Sunday night and shared food received from home or the Red Cross. This made for a good meal once a week. This combine helped them watch their food and belongings.

It was November, 1943 and the camp was not very far from the Alps Mountains with a lot of snow and cold winds. The barracks had no heat so they wore all the clothes they had and were still cold. The food was about the same. Sometimes they thought they couldn’t eat the soups, made from greens, fish, or worms, but they were hungry.

Just before Christmas Rev. Stephen B. Kane, a Roman Catholic priest, and a doctor were taken prisoners. Fr. Kane stayed, but the doctor was taken away. He had Mass every Sunday and had Jewish and Protestant services also. Beginning in April, 1945, the POWs were told to start walking toward the Alps.

There were about 200 men sick out of the 4,000 that stayed at the camp. The rest started walking, taking only what they could carry and wear. Each day they walked 12 to 15 miles and stopped at night in the fields. To survive the POWs had to find their own food, so the farms along the way were stripped of everything edible. They walked for nearly a month. At the end of April, things seemed to be different. On the morning of May 3rd when they woke up, all the guards were gone.

Soon a jeep full of GIs came by and told them that help was on the way. A couple of days later, trucks came to take them to France. There they boarded a plane to the port of L’Havre to Camp Lucky Strike. They were back in the U.S. Armed Forces again!

Years later Fritz heard from his camp leader that Hitler had ordered that all air men should be killed before they were liberated, but fortunately the German guards did not carry out these orders.

Fritz Dewig survived the war and returned to Haubstadt. He married Betty Mae Loehr in 1946 in Evansville. She is the great granddaughter of Nicholas Adler and the daughter of Henry Loehr of WWI fame.

Fritz Dewig died on January 9, 2013 at the age of 92.

Official notes on Stalag XVIIB (Stalag 17)

Evacuation

On 8 April 1945, 4000 of the POWs at Stalag 17B began an 18-day march of 281 miles

to Braunau, Austria. The remaining 900 men were too ill to make the march and were left behind in the hospitals. These men were liberated on 9 May 1945 by the Russians. The marching column was divided into eight groups of 500 with an American leader in charge of each group, guarded by about 20 German Volkssturm guards and two dogs. Red Cross parcels were issued to each man in sufficient amounts to last about seven days. During the 18-day march, the column averaged 20 kilometers each day. At the end of the day, they were forced to bivouac in open fields, regardless of the weather. On three occasions the men were quartered in cow barns. The only food furnished to POWs by the German authorities was barley soup and bread. Trading with the German and Austrian civilians became the main source of sustenance after the Red Cross parcel supplies were exhausted. The destination of the column was a Russian prison camp 4 kilometers north of Braunau. Upon arrival, the POWs cut down pine trees and made small huts, since there was no housing available. Roaming guards patrolled the area and the woods surrounding the area, but no escape attempts were made because it was apparent that the liberation forces were in the immediate vicinity. The day after their arrival at the new site, Red Cross parcels were issued to every POW. A second issue was made a few days later of one parcel for every fifth man.

Liberation

On 3 May 1945 the camp was liberated when six men of the 13th Armored Division arrived in three Jeeps and easily captured the remaining guards who numbered 205. Other units of the 13th Armored followed shortly and organized the evacuation of the POWs by C-47 to France on 9 May 1945.

Editor's Note:

In October 2013, my wife and I drove this same route from Krems, Austria along the Danube River to Braunau am Inn - birthplace of Adolph Hitler, near Salzburg. It took 3 hours driving fast on the Autobahn. Little did I know that our relative, Fritz Dewig, survived a forced march by foot along the same route 68 years ago. 281 miles in 18 days in poor weather. An extraordinary yet sorrowful feat against all odds!

-John Adler

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