FORMER POW RECALLS WARTIME
There was no Christmas joy for Frank A.
Kravetz 50 years ago. On Dec. 25, 1944, Kravetz was recovering from burns and serious
shrapnel wounds to his legs in a makeshift hospital for Allied prisoners of war in
Kravetz, 71 of Chalfant, had been a POW since Nov. 2, 1944 when his B-17 bomber was
shot down over Hanover, Germany. When he first reached the hospital set up in an old
school, conditions were bearable. But by Christmas Day 1944, the hospital was jammed with
new patients, most of them young American soldiers wounded and captured in the Battle of
the Bulge, Hitlers last-gasp effort to turn the tide of World War II in western
The hospital in the days following the Battle of the Bulge was overwhelmed with
patients. The newly wounded were laid on stretchers on the floor between the bunks.
Supplies of food and medicine were running low. "In fact, you had guys literally
dying left and right," Kravetz remembered. The new patients who survived brought
devastating news. Prior to Hitlers massive winter offensive, launched Dec. 16, 1944,
it was widely believed that Allied forces would quickly bring Hitlers war machine to
its knees. But information brought to the hospital by the new patients dashed any hopes
that Nazi Germany was ready to quit fighting.
"The Germans were overrunning our troops," Kravetz said. Red Cross
packages arrived in time for Christmas. Kravetz received a pipe and took tobacco from
cigarettes to smoke in it. Pitchers of beer were provided, and the Germans arranged for a
midnight Mass to be celebrated in Kravetzs ward. Still, news of Germanys
surprise offensive, which caught Allied commanders off guard, over-shadowed the gifts.
"Our morale at the hospital really went to a low ebb," Kravetz said.
A retired purchasing agent for Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Churchill, Kravetz
enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in November 1943. After gunnery training, he was
assigned to the 457th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force stationed in
England. On Nov. 2, 1944, Kravetz and his crew took off from Glatton Air Force Base in
England as part of a massive strike against German oil refineries. Ten crewmembers usually
flew on the B-17, but the tail gunner of the bomber was sick. Kravetz agreed to man the
guns in the tail. "Immediately after we dropped our bombs, we were attacked by German
fighters," Kravetz recalled. "They happened to concentrate on our group. They
came in directly at the tail level."
Shrapnel from the fighters cannons tore apart Kravetz legs. Two of the
B-17s engines were knocked out. Other crewmembers ditched extra ammunition and
equipment to lighten the plane. Kravetz, who was slipping in and out of consciousness, was
dragged from the tail to the waist section of the aircraft. As the bomber limped along at
an altitude of between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, enemy anti-aircraft gunners zeroed in on the
crippled plane. "We were sitting ducks at that time. We were pretty low so our pilot
dipped the wings (a signal that the crew wanted to surrender) and ordered us to bail
out," Kravetz said.
Kravetz fellow crewmembers treated his wounds with sulfur powder and
compresses. After giving him morphine, they strapped Kravetz into a parachute harness,
rolled the cloth chute into a ball, and placed it in their wounded buddys arms. Then
they tossed Kravetz out of the plane.
"I was conscious all the way coming down in the parachute. In fact I noticed
it was 2:10 in the afternoon because I had my watch on" Kravetz said. He landed in a
cabbage field where he managed to wriggle out of the parachute and give himself an
injection of morphine. German civilians, set on retribution, spotted Kravetz. However,
German soldiers interceded. "They fired some rifle shots in the air to scare off the
civilians. They (the civilians) probably would have abused me and everything else"
Kravetz said. "I just took my .45 out of my holster and I held it out in a
non-threatening position," he remembered. "I wasnt going to offer any
resistance to them. What I needed was a lot of help because I wasnt going to move
anywhere for a long time.
The solders took Kravetz wallet, personal photos, watch and jewelry.
"Then they waited awhile. Someone went and found part of a fence and they used that
as a stretcher to carry me to the road," he recalled. Kravetz was loaded onto a farm
cart. As he was being wheeled down the road he saw another crewmember being escorted by
soldiers. It was Bill Rhodes, a waist gunner who now lives in Madison, Wis.
"Bills face was all battered, bloody and everything else," Kravetz
recalled. "I asked him, what happened to you?" He said, "They
me." If you were wounded, I guess they had some sympathy toward you, which
was my case," he added. Kravetz was taken to a barn. The soldiers left assigning the
task of guarding him a group of Hitler Youth. After a few days, Kravetz was taken to a
German hospital in Hanover.
"At that point I thought surely they were going to amputate my left leg
because it was turning black," Kravetz said, but a German surgeon saved the limb.
Hanovers rail yards and train station were the targets of air raids by British and
American planes. During the raids, Kravetz remained in bed instead of being taken to an
underground shelter. "Windows would shatter. Glass would fly. Beds would jump and
everything else, it was just a horrible time to be alone. It would have been different if
I had somebody with me to communicate with. I didnt have anybody," Kravetz
From Hanover, he was taken to the hospital staffed by the Allies in Obermassfeld.
By the end of January 1945, Kravetz was scheduled to come home on a Swedish repatriation
ship. But after the Battle of the Bulge "There were a lot more higher priority people
so I went way down on the list," he said. He was sent next to a POW Camp called
Stalag XIIID. After several weeks, he and other captives embarked on a 15-day forced
marched to Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany.
Prisoners were given the option of walking or traveling by train to Moosburg.
"I and a lot of the other fellows said, "Lets walk, because youre
taking your life in your hands by going by train, everybody is strafing trains." They
werent putting any markings on them (train cars) to signify that they were carrying
POWs" Kravetz said.
The march was difficult. "When you did stop to sleep, you slept in barns or
under any kind of roof, whatever the Germans gave you. Or you just huddled together with
someone else in the woods and just tried to sleep," he explained. American forces
liberated the Moosburg Camp on April 29, 1945. By then, Kravetz who at the time of
his enlistment had to lose weight to come in under the 175-pound limit weighed just
"I remember the flag going up over the barracks, the swastika coming
down" Kravetz recalled. "(U.S. Gen. George) Patton came in and told us,
"Everybody stay put. Dont go roaming around the countryside because there are
mines around. You fellas arent in any kind of shape to be traipsing around a
For the first time in months, Kravetz ate a slice of white bread. The liberated
POWs were also treated to hot chocolate. "It made guys sick because it was too rich
for them," Kravetz remembered.
Frank Kravetz returned to Moosburg summer of 1999 to observe the 50th
Anniversary of the liberation of the POW Camp.
Photos during my internship!
to see letters to my loved ones.