The War's Over For You

Robert W. Charman

RCAF

RCAF
Rank: Sergeant
Squadron: 427
Aircraft: DK243 Halifax F. Freddie
Date: 17/8/43
Target: Peenemunde
Stalag 4B
POW# 222492

The War's Over For You

Ed. Note: The above painting is by Robert Taylor, and this reproduction, autographed by Bob and other aircrew, may be viewed at Lancaster Air Museum, Nanton, Alberta. All in all, 596 aircraft took part in the raid, including 324 Lancasters, 218 Halifaxs, and 54 Stirlings.

“I had never seen such a night before or since. All over the sky, RAF planes were going down in smoke. The great German fighter armada, poised for the expected raid on Berlin, had all been brought into service and arrived in time to catch the last wave into Peenemunde.

I recall asking the captain, Frank Brady, to get down on the deck and break the order to climb on track, as we wouldn’t have a chance against the waves of fighters. He refused, said if everyone did that it would screw up the whole mission. What an unselfish, dedicated person; they didn’t come any better.

I had barely given Frank a course for home when Jimmy Fletcher, the tail gunner, broke in with evasive action. A Junkers 88 was bearing down on our tail.

We went down in a dive, trying to avoid the fighter. Then the aircraft quivered, like in killing poultry where you strike the brain with a knife and the feathers release- that is the way the aircraft felt. A horrible smell of gunpowder enveloped the aircraft and the wireless operator beside me lay dying, with his entrails exposed.

Then Frank issued the order, ‘Abandon aircraft…’ a cut, and that was all. I rushed back and he was wriggling the controls without effect. They had been severed and we were spinning down. The centrifugal force was enormous and I crawled along the floor to get my parachute. I lifted the floor hatch and the night air rushed in. My maps and navigational aids were all sucked out immediately. I put my hand on the ripcord of the chute. I remember thinking to myself that I had better know where the cord was or it was going to be hard finding it travelling through the air.”

Wow! Alone in enemy territory, 6, 300 miles from home. Where do I go from here?

I thought of the lectures on what to do in enemy territory, Number one, bury parachute, check rations and water purifier, maps, etc. I checked the maps, hoping for a detailed one, but no such luck. Whoever had packed the maps thought the operation was Italy or North Africa for that was all the maps there were. I became angry and searched the heavens for the North Star. It was quite easy to locate so with a bearing on it, I began skirting the Baltic coastline westward. Even in those days, Sweden had a reputation for beautiful blondes. That would be a lot more fun than dropping bombs on the fatherland!’

Ed. Note: Charman never got to meet any blonde Swedish beauties... he was captured a few hours later. The above excerpt was written by R.W. Charman, and taken from The Peenemunde Raid by Martin Middlebrooke (out of print). Many crews from the Canadian squadrons of 6 Group were caught in the battle. During the raid 237 airmen were killed. There were 45 men made POWs. Pilot Officer R.W. Charman was the navigator in this 427 Squadron Halifax. Only one man followed Pilot Officer Charman through the door escape hatch. His name was Sergeant Johnson. They were the only survivors.

POW Stalag 4B

I was shot down at Peenemunde, Germany on August 18, 1943. This was a special raid. The German’s were making the V weapons. We were told to get this target at all cost.

I was flying with the 6th Group, 427 Squadron. The name of our aircraft was F- Freddie. There were seven in our crew. I was the navigator. Only two of us survived on the crew- the bomb aimer and me.

I was taken prisoner and imprisoned at the local jail at Greiswald. After two or three days we were put in a boxcar on the railway and taken to Dulag Luft in Frankfurt. There we were interrogated and had all my possessions taken away from me. I lost both my watch and my flying boots.

We were all put in solitary for a couple of days. Then we were given the royal treatment to soften us up for questioning. - good food, cigarettes, recreation, etc. – the better to get information out of us. Following this nice treatment we were interrogated by a German Officer who had lived in England for 30 years, and who surprised us with his knowledge of our Air Force intelligence system! From Dulag Luft we were put back into a boxcar and taken by train to Muhlberg-on-Elbe in Saxony. The camp was called Stalag 4B.

Upon arrival, we were allowed to keep our air force battle dress, and they gave us clogs to replace our air force boots, which they had confiscated. I did not have a prison dog tag as such.

Our daily routine was exactly the same very day. Every morning at 6:00 AM the bugle would sound and we would have to quickly move out to the parade ground. We would line up in threes, and they would do a head count. If the count did not match the records, we would be forced to stand out in the cold for 3 or 4 hours.

In camp we lived in long rectangular buildings. Our sleeping accommodation was on 3- tier bunks made up of slats with straw ticks. There were no sheets but we had one blanket and one pillow each.

Our food rations was one cup of turnip soup and one-tenth of a loaf of black bread per day. There was drinking water available to us. Red Cross parcels were supposed to arrive every week out of Geneva, but due to transportation problems, the supply of parcels was very irregular. When they did arrive, sometimes the Germans would punch the tins, so that we had to use them immediately.

After we were established in the camp, the Red Cross sent us sports supplies – baseball bats and balls. We had a competition among the Canadians. It was Western Canada against Eastern Canada. The WEST WON! Other things we did to keep ourselves busy and fit were to walk the compound and to play bridge.

The goofiest thing all of us young 20 – something’s did in camp was to watch the pretty Polish girls in the next compound. During 1944 there was an uprising in Warsaw and some of these women and small children attacked the German forces. They were all rounded up and placed in a compound next to ours.

My best buddy in camp was my bomb- aimer who had survived along with me, to become a POW, and we were friends with all the other Canadians there as well. In camp with us we got to know and make friends also with the British, Americans, Serbs, French, Dutch, Russian, Romanians and Poles.

We were liberated on April 23, 1945 by Kossack Russian Horsemen. They immediately hung most of the German guards from the trees. The Russians intended to take us to Odessa and then charge the allies so much per head for our liberation. So about ten of us decided to escape and make our own way to Halle, Germany, which was a US camp. We were very well received there. We all had dysentery and our stomachs were unable to tolerate much good food right away, but gradually we started eating again. Wonderful wonderful food! After about 4 days in Halle, we were flown back to Brussels, Belgium, where we stayed overnight. Then we were flown to Guilford, England where we were deloused before being shipped to Bournemouth. We stayed in Bournemouth where we were fed five small meals a day as part of our rehabilitation process. I weighed in at 150 lbs, not much for a tall guy like me.

After one month we were shipped to Southampton and took the Isle de France back to Canada. We were home.

Bob Charman, 1945, 3 months after liberation

1986 Reunion

In 1986, some of us gathered for a reunion for the inmates of Stalag IV. In this picture is Alicia, who was one of the original Polish girls who participated in the Warsaw uprising.

We Will Remember

animated maple leaf

Thank you, Veterans,

With sincere gratitude from all Canadians


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