written by Marilyn Walton 

Masters of the Air series Tuskegee Airmen

Apple TV+

WWII Eighth Air Force historian and US POW expert, Marilyn Walton, sent us a response to her viewing of Masters of the Air, Episode 8. Marilyn served as an advisor on the Apple TV + series and shared her expertise with us on Greatest Generation Live

Tuskegee Airmen Daniels, Jefferson, and Macon

Episode 8 is when Masters of the Air (MOTA) introduces three real-life Tuskegee Airmen: Robert H. Daniels, Jr., Richard D. Macon, and Alexander Jefferson.

Daniels and Jefferson flew P-51 Mustangs with the all-black 301st Fighter Squadron until they were shot down on an escort mission to bomb radar sites at Toulon in southern France on August 12, 1944.

Macon was also a P-51 pilot with the 302nd Fighter Squadron, and also on the Toulon Raid on August 12. His fighter was hit, and Macon was thrown out of the plane. His parachute opened, but he broke his neck and shoulder upon landing.

All three would eventually become prisoners at Stalag Luft III (SL3).

I liked the Tuskegee Airmen sequences and thought that MOTA handled the story well. Jefferson was a good friend of mine, and I detailed for MOTA the story of Macon breaking his neck and being found in the barn by Jefferson and Daniels. I also researched the Toulon Raid how the Ramitelli Air Field looked. Everything was accurately depicted. Not show is when Jefferson came down. He landed in a tree which was soon surrounded by Germans.

On the way to Stalag Luft III, the trio was escorted by two German guards carrying rifles. The train stopped in a small town, and Jefferson and Daniels, still caring for Macon, were walked through the station to catch another train. In the distance, they saw the approach of a group of Hitler Youth singing a spirited marching song. When the Youth spotted the Airmen, the young Nazis began yelling obscenities and haranguing them. The two guards were nearly overwhelmed before they managed to get the prisoners through the station onto a waiting train and into a compartment which they quickly locked shut.

The Hitler Youth contingent was not deterred, running up and down the train platform screaming and yelling with all the hatred they could muster. Soon civilians joined them. In desperation, the guards threatened to shoot at the mob before the train pulled out. Jefferson told me that was the most scared he had ever been in his life.

Once they got to SL3, Lt. Col. Clark saw Macon lying on his back on the ground in pain and got him medical help. Germans cooperated fully.  Jefferson told me that the Tuskegee Airmen suffered no discrimination in the POW camps. There were 10 Tuskegee Airmen at SL3.

Air battles with Tuskegee Airmen were spectacular. Bomber streams loved seeing the Red Tails as escorts due to their stellar reputation. Bomber crews called the escorts “little friends.”

It is also true that the POW barracks liked getting the Tuskegee Airmen. The POWs were assured that the Black Airmen were not German spies trying to infiltrate. Jefferson was told by the senior officer, “We can trust you.” They got that line just right.

Here is Alex Jefferson’s Personalcarte (I.D card) at SL3:

Tuskegee Airmen Alex Jefferson’s Personalcarte (I.D card) from Stalag Luft III

(Marilyn Walton)

Commanders at briefings did not really go by their first names. I’ve seen this several times now at the Target for Today briefing. Not sure why a sign for the Tuskegee Airmen briefing says “To-Day.” Odd spelling.

More recent photo of Airmen Richard D. Macon and Alexander Jefferson in their uniforms

Macon (left) and Jefferson – friends for life – Macon preceded Jefferson in death (Marilyn Walton)

Alexander Jefferson in a leather jacket with Tuskegee Airmen on the back

Jefferson in Dayton, Ohio, 2012 at SL3 Reunion – Viewing where the Wright Brothers took off (Marilyn Walton)

The D-Day Invasion

My father flew over Normandy, and he described the ships below as looking like lots of match sticks. Those men who saw the invasion from the air never forgot that scene. As mentioned in MOTA, no Luftwaffe planes were seen, which was significant at that point in the war.

I had found the exact German news recording where D-Day was announced in the camp. It was not used (perhaps because of a licensing problem?).

The men could hear the German news broadcasts daily, and the POWs who spoke German translated for the others. They gathered around the speaker you see hanging on the wall of the cookhouse. The news would always start with the sound of a gong. Then the German broadcaster came on giving the news.

I thought you and the Veterans Breakfast Club readers would like to hear exactly what the prisoners heard that uplifting day. Up until then, they always referred to “The Invasion.” It was part of their daily conversations knowing that once the Allies were on the Continent, the war was coming to a close, we would be victorious, and they would be freed.

Here is the German recording from 1944. Listen for the gong.

The male voice is an announcer reporting the Allied invasion on the various sectors along the coast. He identifies the areas by naming the cities in close proximity. He talks in detail about attack supported by ships, artillery, aircraft, and the use of landing craft. Of course, he mentioned the strong and successful defenses and admits that “after heavy losses the enemy managed to establish a beach head, and the fight for the Continent was on. Then it switches to a female voice. The announcer is talking about a music school and its merits and involvement in a presentation at a senior home, and the cultural influence on the population. 

Once this was translated in all the compounds, the 10,000 men erupted in joy. But, the Germans had not heard this yet and had no idea why the men were so happy. They soon found out!

Dulag Luft and Oberursel Interrogation

Dulag Luft was not in Frankfurt, but it was near there. Captured airmen were taken to the Frankfurt train station, where angry crowds often surrounded them. They traveled by tram a short distance to Oberursel where the interrogation center was located.  They walked from the train station to the front gate of the camp. Along the way they saw a gas station on the corner– an Esso station, and were stunned to see that brand name. An angry elderly woman screamed at the POWs and chased them away from a water spigot with her broom.

In this episode, Hans Scharff, Master Interrogator of Germany, is shown, but he is not named. He is shown interrogating Jefferson. He only interrogated fighter pilots  but Jefferson was not one of them. Scharff was the lowest-ranking interrogator a corporal, but he was the most effective.

Scharff, in one case, made contact with the mother of an extremely worried incoming prisoner, afraid that his ill mother would not survive knowing he had been listed missing in action. Scharff had a telegram sent to her from Germany’s Portuguese Embassy to assure the mother her son was alive and would be all right. His mother or wife often sent homemade bread to Scharff, and Scharff would share it with the prisoner he was interrogating.

WWII photo of master Interrogator of Germany Hanns Scharff

Hanns Scharff (Marilyn Walton)

When POWs  were processed at Dulag Luft, their possessions were taken away, but the men were also given a receipt. Only possessions issued by the military were not returned, including pilots’ watches.

Enlisted men bought their own watches so they were returned. The watch on Scharff’s desk would not have been kept by Scharff, nor would a pen he mentioned. In fact, the interrogators had no access to such items. Neither would Scharff have kept Lucky Strike cigarettes. His interrogation room was #47. The Germans there catalogued everything they confiscated and made sure the items were returned. His desk would normally be covered with just folders, a telephone, ash tray, and a lamp.

Oberursel Train Station

Oberursel Train Station (Marilyn Walton)

Dulag Luft entrance to the isolation cells during WWII

Dulag Luft entrance to the isolation cells (Marilyn Walton)

Outbuildings at Dulag Luft during WWII

The cooler where Egan and Cleven were held (Marilyn Walton)

Dulag Luft was the interrogation and evaluation center, not a transit camp. The transit camp came after interrogation. In September 1943, the transit camp element of Dulag Luft was relocated to the Botanical Gardens in the center of Frankfurt.

There was much consternation about this location which was less than 2km north of Frankfurt’s main railway station. After many fruitless complaints to the International Red Cross and two very heavy air-raids in March 1944, the heavily damaged transit camp was abandoned. After interrogation at Oberursel, POWs would then be sent to Wetzlar which was a transit camp approximately 60 km to the north. This is where Cleven and Egan went.

POW camp at Wetzlar, Germany during WWII

Wetzlar (Marilyn Walton)

Leaving the transit camp for their permanent camps, the men were given cardboard suitcases with toiletries to take with them.  Red Cross provided the contents of the suitcases.

Other Notes

Use of term “Airmen”: Note that in MOTA what we would call “Airmen” are continually referred to as “Soldiers.” The Air Corps was still part of the Army. It was not until 1947 that that Air Force became and independent branch.

In 1950, according to Air Force history, “Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the second Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF), officially introduced a new term, Airman, to distinguish Air Force enlisted personnel from the Soldiers, Marines, and Sailors of other services.”

 Two years later, the Air Force made this change more official by replacing the Army’s “private” and “corporal” ranks with “Airman Basic,” “Airman Third Class,” and so on.

Curtains, Candles, Radios: Once again, MOTA incorrectly depicts curtains in the barracks, candles on the table (there were no candles), and daylight discussions of intelligence from the radio. Such discussions wouldn’t have happened that way.

SPAM: I haven’t seen any SPAM cans—the men lived on SPAM from their Red Cross parcels.

Dog Tags: Note square dog tags issued by the Germans. They were to be worn constantly.

Stump Puller: I sent MOTA pictures of a Kriegie stump puller. And in this episode, they showed up on screen! This ancient German device pulled many stumps in the camp. The Germans cut down many trees so the guards in the goon boxes could have a clear line of sight. Sometimes, the stumps were leveled off and made into small seats that the POWs made. And surrounding compound fields had to be cleared for sports as well, so the stump puller got lots of use.

Commandants: On April 6, 1944, the new camp commandant Oberstleutenant Erich Cordes  replaced Col. von Lindeiner.  The Gestapo were at Stalag Luft III and  eventually arrested Cordes for dealing on the black market. Cordes was replaced soon by a man named Oberstleutenant Franz Braune.

On to the last episode – Episode 9!