Friday, December 02, 2011

Fullbore Friday

Good German, bad German and the changing odds of a war staggering to an end.
Moser's ordeal dates to Aug. 13, 1944, when he flew his 44th mission in the cramped cockpit of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

Flying over the French countryside, the 22-year-old first lieutenant from Ferndale was assigned to seek out any sign of the German occupiers, unload his plane's two heavy bombs on them, then strafe them with the plane's cannon and four machine guns.
Moser spotted a convoy of trucks parked in the open on a country road, an inviting target. "I didn't stop to think that it might be too obvious," Moser said. "It was a trap and I had fallen right into it."

As he swooped toward the convoy, anti-aircraft fire erupted from both sides of the road. His plane gave a sharp shudder as a shell ripped through the left engine, and it burst into flames.
He did what he was taught, releasing the canopy, then turning the plane over to fall out. But his shoe caught in a hinge, and he barely managed to get loose and open his parachute before he hit the ground. "The good Lord was riding with me, I'll tell ya," said Moser, a devout Catholic.

French farmers tried to hide Moser, but German soldiers who saw the crash soon caught up with him and demanded to know the whereabouts of his co-pilot, not realizing the P-38 was a one-man plane.

Moser was first taken to a French prison, but a week after his capture he and nearly 170 other captured Allied fliers were crammed into railroad boxcars for an five-day ride to Germany.

At Buchenwald, they were marched past rows of snarling dogs and armed guards, then were stripped, shaved from head to toe, swabbed with a stinging disinfectant and forced to sleep outside in a rocky field, with three men sharing a single blanket.... when a guard who spoke English "told us the only way we'd leave was as smoke up that chimney," the reality of the horror in front of Moser began to take shape.

In the weeks to come, he and his fellow prisoners would see corpses piled up outside the crematory. "People were dying faster than they could dispose of the bodies."

A typical day's "rations" consisted of a small dish of watery cabbage soup with cabbage worms still wriggling on top, and a hunk of bread laced with sawdust. Toilets were unsanitary trenches; dysentery was rampant.

Unlike "death camps" such as Auschwitz, developed for mass executions, Buchenwald was a sprawling compound of munitions factories, fields and barracks — built as a forced-labor camp for political prisoners.

But as the Nazi cause became increasingly desperate, conditions at Buchenwald grew more brutal. It's estimated that at one point, as many as 500 Russian prisoners a day were shot to death, and that over the course of the war, 56,000 of the camp's 250,000 inmates were either executed, starved, worked to death or died from illness.

Fortunately for Moser, conditions in the SS-run camp apparently shocked even some members of Germany's power elite, including high-ranking members of the Luftwaffe, Germany's air force.

Luftwaffe officers had heard that Allied aviators were at the camp, and arranged a visit with the top officers among the prisoner group, a colonel from New Zealand and an American captain.

"The disgust they felt for their fellow German SS officers was clear," Moser said. "It was also certain that they did not approve of the way we were being treated."

An unusual sense of fraternity was at work: Although Allied and German pilots wouldn't hesitate to blast each other out of the sky in battle, they felt a kinship that predated World War II.

A week after the Luftwaffe visit, the Allied pilots at Buchenwald, which included about 60 Americans, were told to gather up their belongings. They were marched to a warehouse and handed back the clothes they had arrived in.

"There were smiles on our skeletal faces," said Moser. The fliers correctly surmised that they wouldn't be getting their belongings back if they were on their way to be cremated.

Moser, who weighed 155 pounds when he was shot down, had dropped nearly 40 pounds in his two months at Buchenwald.

Years later, after Allied forces examined camp records, Moser would learn Buchenwald's SS officers planned to execute the Allied fliers, and likely would have done so within days if the Luftwaffe hadn't intervened.

Even after he was transferred to a regular prisoner-of-war camp, life was not easy for Moser. As the Germans held less and less territory, he was twice relocated on wintertime "death marches," one of 60 miles and one of more than 100. But at the three POW camps where he was held, life seldom approached the hopelessness that pervaded Buchenwald.

On April 29, 1945 — eight months and two weeks after his capture — Allied forces finally burst into his camp. A battle-scarred U.S. tank appeared in front of him.

"A roar went up from the camp that rolled through the acres ... a roar of relief and joy and exhilaration that only the liberated can truly know."
Interesting story ... but ...
... he ran into skepticism regarding his story about Buchenwald, partly because there were no official records that Americans had been held there. Rather than defend his account, he opted to keep it to himself.

Even his wife, Jean, whom he married in 1946, didn't know about his Buchenwald experience until the early 1980s, when the editor of the Lynden Tribune, who'd heard Moser's story at a meeting of a local POW group, persuaded Moser to tell it to a reporter from the weekly newspaper.
As they say - the rest is history. In this case, also a book and a documentary.

Hat tip AT1.


ewok40k said...

and then there were people like that one, who voluntarily entered Auschwitz to gather intel and organise resistance:

CDR Mike Harkleroad said...

I met Joe Moser at my grandfather's funeral in 2002. My father introduced him to me as a good friend of my grandfather for many years. Joe is a very unassuming man and one I admire and respect very much.

I was told he had flown P-38's during the war and had been shot down over France. I had no idea of his true story until a couple of years later while watching a show on either the History or Discovery channel and his name was mentioned as an inmate at Buchenwald. What an incredible story!

Aubrey said...

Then there are people like your current foreign minister who are ready and willing to surrender your sovereignty to Germany. What was it all for?

ewok40k said...

It is better tho have union-bound Germany as ally than to be between totally independent one and Russia... see the analysis by Stratfor, if available (they give one article free for non members) : . The choice is tough, but faced with return of geopolitics as usual, it is better to be one of the states of German-centric USE than being independent between economic powerhouse of Germany and resurgent, militaristic Russia, as US is torn between Middle East and South China Sea hotspots.

C-dore 14 said...

Several of the Seattle area papers and TV stations have profiled Joe Moser over the past two years.  An interesting footnote to his story is that he didn't receive his Distinguished Flying Cross for his WW II actions until 2009.

James said...

Russia is rising again, China is rising, the middleast is becoming more democratic......and more seems like a pretty good time to wake the freaking Prussians up.

Byron said...

No offense, Ewok, but Poland once had a lot more balls than that.

Byron said...

Nothing sickens me worse than the Nazi's and their assembly-line genocide. Had not my 4 times removed great grandfather left Germany, I would not be here now. Thank God he did! I also look forward to the times when I can meet up with a jackass who proclaims to be a Nazi...the last one I ran across, I snatched his beard from across the table and flipped open my Zippo and offered to bbq HIS ass, that this Cajun with Jewish blood wasn't going easy.

Good on ya, Joe Moser, I would have liked to have shook your hand.

ewok40k said...

And a lot less strategic thinking... there is anecdote about Pilsudski, that his generals asked him how to code war plans. Easy - W for West, E for East. And if there will be war on both fronts? Then you do it alone because I wont led my soldiers to the slaughter.
Germany is stable democracy, with much less risk of going ballistic. Russia is authoritarian cleptocracy with tendency to shoot first ask terms later.

Outlaw Mike said...

The Germans are a people of engineers, scientists, warriors, writers, builders and poets. The nazis did not invent or create German military prowess; they cleverly harnessed it for their political purposes.

Perhaps that same military prowess is what will be needed to save Europe.

As for Mr Moser: how the hell did he, an allied aviator, end up in Buchenwald in the first place? Oh I believe his story all right.

Outlaw Mike said...

What is of course disturbing is that a lot of 'good' Germans fooled themselves that they could keep a good conscience within the terror state that nazi Germany was as long as they looked the other way or did not participate directly in the atrocities.

There are so many stories about German soldiers and officers doing what they perceived as their duty so bravely and courageously that you can't help to admire them. And yet so few, so damn very few, seem to have made the calculation that every day that they held the allies back was one more day of massive horror for the nazi victims.

How many conspirators were arrested post July 20, 1944? Some 5,000. Throughout the war, Nazi Germany mobilised some 17,000,000 troops.

ewok40k said...

re: Moser's fate - it might come as a surprise, but Nazi Germany was all but clean, well oiled machine where trains never missed schedule. Hitler has built a network of rivalling beaurocracies, with results like Luftwaffe fielding armored division under patronnage of Herman Goering, Waffen SS vying for best tanks with Wehrmacht and no less than 4 security/counterintel agencies (Abwehr, RSHA, Gestapo and SS). It would probably fit into petty turf wars that some POWs - possibly captured by SS - to end in Buchenwald.
As for German's martial spirit and war prowess, it was built on centuries of Prussian tradition, coupled with ingenuity of Rhine-area industrial states. Hitler merely hijacked ths machine for his evil purposes, and he did a pretty clever work of hiding the grisly details from society at large. Most Germans though Jews were just resettled somewhere in conquered East, maybe in harsh conditions, but they were themselves suffering a total war and didn't mind too much. One peculiar thing I noted was that gas chambers were invented because Himmler was concerned about mental health of his own SS troops - rate of alcoholism and suicides skyrocketed apparently, even thogh Sonderkommandos were recruited from hardened criminals and the like.
As a last note - despite the whole machine of terror working, there are accounts of Jews living thru war in Berlin itself, all the way to the fall of the Reich, protected by the what possibly was the 10 just men in Gomorrah. Because there were few of them, doesnt diminish their bravery.
Also, keep in mind the political side to all of this - Hitler made his position starting from general elections up. He got enough of votes in the parliament then to change constitutional order in way that fitted him. US soldiers would have been in no less of a dilemma should a skilled demagogue manage to pass enough amendments to the constitution to become tyrant.

Byron said...

And once upon a time, both Russia and Germany feared Poland...

ewok40k said...

Well, nowadays it would be a confederation of Poland , Ukraine, Byelarus, and the Baltic states - but yep we were right up to the Smolensk and Black Sea once... mind you back then Habsburg Empire was quite on allied terms with Poland, see the Vienna 1683...

Outlaw Mike said...

First time ever I read about SS guards having alcholism and high suicide rates as a result of their gruesome 'work', ewok.

Outlaw Mike said...

Btw soon we will come your way. My wife is from Silesia. What part of Poland do you hail from?

ewok40k said...

Szczecin, just near the German border and the sea :)

Outlaw Mike said...

Aha. On holidays she used to go to the sea, a place called Swiednice or something.

C-dore 14 said...

@Ewok, Good points.  Corneilius Ryan first wrote about the surviving Berlin Jews in his book, <span>The Last Battle</span>, although he attributes part of the reason for their survivial to the fact that the citizens of Berlin weren't all that fond of Hitler in the first place.  

You're also correct about the rationale for developing the gas chambers although the SS was also looking for something that was more efficient (and also used less petrol) than the carbon monoxide vans and, ironically, more "humane" than firing squads.  For info, the Sonderkommandos were recruited from extermination camp inmates not the SS.

ewok40k said...

I meant the original Sonderkommando - the units of SS that followed in the wake of Barbarossa to exterminatee Jews were also named that way, not only the extermination camps "body handling" squads.

ewok40k said...

Also, spot on with the "Last Battle", Ryan was quite good with all his "battle series" books, and I was happy that I could read this one after Iron Curtain fell.