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2nd Schweinfurt

Ken Fox

Rescued by Germans in the North Sea

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John Noack lived in Port Arthur, Texas before the war. Once in a while a barnstormer would come through with a plane and land in a field. Every chance Noack could get, he would pay for a ride on that plane. Noack never had a chance to pursue his flying dream until the war came along. A month before Pearl Harbor, Noack got the word that the Navy was going to be in Beaumont, Texas giving physicals. Noack passed the physical. He had been working at Texaco for five years and had no college experience. Noack had to pass a written test in April or May of 1942. Noack thought that once Pearl Harbor was bombed, he figured things were going to be happening quickly. Noack was told there was no change in schedule for his exam. Noack went back to work and waited to be called. In the early part of March 1942, Noack got word that the Army Air Corps would be giving written exams and physicals at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. Fortunately, Noack passed both exams and was sworn into the United States Army on 23 February 1942, as a buck private. Noack was sent home on a 30-day furlough. Before the 30 days were up, Noack was informed that there would be two more 30-day extensions. Noack was eventually ordered to the pre-flight center at Lackland Air Field in San Antonio, Texas. Noack was given the buzz haircut and issued uniforms. They sat around for about two weeks and then began ground school classes. Ground school class was basic, but they concentrated on what flying was all about. Guys learned about different airplanes. They learned about weather and how that affected flying. They were attempting to familiarize the guys with flying. After San Antonio, they were given orders to report to a primary field in Oklahoma. That was a pleasant time, because there they got into the air. Noack was not really nervous about flying because he wanted to do it so badly. Noack was taught various maneuvers. One day Noack was up with his instructor and he said he was going to demonstrate a spin. He told Noack to do it and Noack put it into a spin and then recovered it. The instructor thought it was fine. Every time Noack would get away from the field he would kick his PT-19 [Annotator’s Note: Fairchild PT-19 trainer aircraft] into a spin because he loved to practice it. Noack would take his plane out and stretch it to the limit. After about eight weeks of primary training they were sent to Greenville, Texas for basic training. It was in a much more powerful plane. The PT-19 had about 150 horsepower and the PT-13 [ Annotator’s Note: variant of the Stearman Model 75] had about 450 horsepower. It only took Noack four hours to solo in the PT-13. It was a wonderful time had by all. The primary PT-19 was a very easy plane to fly. It had a fixed landing gear. When they moved to the PT-13 it turned out to be a simple airplane to fly. Noack got used to it. Noack never got the opportunity to fly jets. Noack doesn’t think he would have had any problems learning how to fly jets if he was given the opportunity.

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John Noack came close to washing out one time and that was in basic. One weekend they wanted to go home and see their girlfriends. As soon as open post took place at noon on a Saturday they jumped in a car and blazed a path to Port Arthur. They had a good time and then headed back to base. They were going about 70 miles per hour and were pulled over by a couple of police officers. Noack was told that they were going to be turned over to the MPs. They were only supposed to be 100 miles away from the base at most and they were 300 miles away. Noack’s partner knew the constable that pulled them over and it just so happened that he had helped him with a flat tire about a year before. They got into a little conversation and were able to get out of it. Noack rolled out a pretty good sob story and was able to convince the police. They were told to beware of the state troopers. Noack was sent to twin engine training because they needed bomber pilots more so then fighter pilots. Noack thought that he wanted to fly a fighter but after an experience of having a crew he knew he wanted to fly a bomber. Noack does not know quite how to explain it, but there is something there when men depend on other men. They were just ten guys by fate thrown together to perform a job. The B-17 that Noack was assigned to fly was the sweetest airplane ever made. 16 February 1943 dawned and Noack graduated from the cadets and discharged from the Army and then was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. Noack had family at his graduation ceremony. Noack’s mother pinned his wings on his blouse. Noack was a very happy guy and he did not have enough sense to be afraid. Noack was 23 at that point. Noack had to leave the next day after his ceremony. They got to spend some time together as a family and see some sights. Noack was shipped off to Salt Lake City, Utah for the purpose of being assigned to a unit. Noack’s best friend who had gotten married after the graduation ceremony had asked Noack to be his best man. Noack was in Salt Lake City for a couple of days before 48 of them were told to board a train for Washington state. There they would be incorporated into a new B-17 group. They arrived at Spokane, Washington and it was early morning. Just as they pulled into the station they saw a train pulling out. They were supposed to be attached to that train and they missed it. So the guys decided to go downtown and celebrate. Noack ended up in Ephreta, Washington. They had a word called SNAFU which stood for “Situation Normal All Fouled Up.”

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John Noack called the base and they sent some trucks in to pick them up. They were in a new base which was a mudhole. Ephrata, Washington was pretty much a mudhole, but at least the food was good. They found out that they were supposed to be copilots. They were in Ephrata for about two weeks before the bombardiers, navigators, and gunners showed up. They finally got crews assembled and assigned to their squadrons. Noack recalls they were also assigned to an airplane. First phase training was all low level stuff. They practiced bombing runs with fake bombs dropped on fake targets. The navigator got his practice in because they would do cross country navigation to a specific point and then bring the plane back. The pilots got used to flying. They did a lot of flying for the gunners as well. Another plane would tow a practice target so that the gunners could practice shootings at something in the air. After their first phase training they were sent to Spokane, Washington for second phase training. That consisted of more cross country flying and heavy training in flying good tight formations. This was all low level stuff as well. After Spokane they went to Glasgow, Montana. The headquarters unit and one of the squadrons split off to another base. The other two squadrons split off to another field as well. That was a three week deal and they practiced more cross country flying as well as night flying. There would be times where they would need to be out at night or darkness. It was near the end of their stay in Glasgow when they did their first high altitude flight to get used to the oxygen. They pulled out to taxi and a jeep pulled up and a flight operations officer pulled up and said that he was going to lead this flight. Noack got bumped out of the cockpit and had to hang out in the bombardier and navigator’s compartment. Their plane had a good heater in the cockpit so Noack was underdressed a bit riding in the bombardier compartment. Noack ended up getting a cold. They set a new record on descent. Noack found that he had a bloody mess behind his eardrums. They stuck a couple of q-tips in his nose to loosen things up. It took five days for the bloody mess to drain out of his ears. Noack returned to flying just before they left Montana. The flight operations officer decided that he wanted to be a pilot with a crew. He ended up taking over Noack’s crew. All four of the squadrons were cut to nine planes. They were given a six day delay and Noack was able to go to Port Arthur for a few days. Noack then had to report to Kansas to receive a new plane. They reported to Salina Kansas after being able to spend the Fourth of July in Port Arthur. It was a great time, but Noack was anxious to get off to the war. There was no plane waiting for them when they got to Kansas. They ended up sitting idle in Kansas.

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John Noack and his crew finally got a plane. They took their time in breaking it in. Finally they received orders to go to England. When they took off from Salina, Kansas with their new plane, they flew to Bangor, Maine and then to Newfoundland. Each place they had to wait about four days for favorable weather. They left Newfoundland with favorable tail winds. They flew to Scotland. In Scotland the plane was taken away from them because apparently the plane had flammable insulation. Once again they were without an airplane, so then they were sent down to a base in England. From there they were put in a replacement pool awaiting reassignment. Noack’s crew was assigned to the 306th Bomb Group. When they arrived at their base they were told that the crew would be split up. Noack’s crew was assigned to a more experienced pilot. Noack was separated from his crew and put with a very experienced crew. Noack’s plane was the B flight leader. Noack flew three missions with him and then flew four other missions with different pilots. Noack’s first mission was on the 12th of August 1943. Noack was really eager to fly his first mission. He was not too scared and he was excited that he was going to war to bomb Hitler. Just about when they were to hit their initial point for their bomb run they were attacked by a flight of German Focke-Wulf 190s. They made an approach from about one o’clock and unfortunately one of their 20-millimeter shells came into the fuselage and exploded. Noack was wounded by fragments in his shin and right hip. It felt it had penetrated his stomach and exploded there. It was an awful feeling. That one thing put the fear of God into Noack for every mission flown thereafter. Every time they were briefed for a mission he was afraid. Noack had sense enough to be scared. Noack knew what was going on when he was under attack. When they practiced back in the states they did learn what it looked like to see an aircraft buzz their bomber. Noack enjoyed seeing the planes come at him in training. With the Luftwaffe that enjoyment turned to fear. Noack did not see which particular plane hit him. The Germans would attack in waves of four. Noack did not see anything when he got hit, but suddenly it felt like someone had taken a two-by-four and swung it as hard as they could on his hip. The immediate pain was tremendous. The squadron surgeon took an x-ray and told Noack that the fragments had exited his body. Years later, Noack got an x-ray and they found fragments. It does not bother Noack.

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John Noack was apparently knocked out momentarily when he was hit. Noack himself does not remember losing consciousness. The navigator was asked to go check on Noack. Noack had a fear of looking down at his wound because he was afraid of how bad it would look. Noack found out his stomach was all intact and that the damage was somewhere else. Noack was given the opportunity to fly some of the return leg. Noack recalls saying a prayer to God and asking for him to get him back to base. About three weeks later, Noack was restored to flying. On the first few missions back, Noack noticed his wounds would open up and bleed at altitude. After a certain amount of time he got over that too. The first mission made Noack realize what combat was all about. Somehow or another when Noack went overseas he never expected to return to the United States. Noack always figured he would be one of the ones to go down. Noack noted he thought morale was great. A lot of people talk about how the morale was down, but Noack did not get that feeling. Noack thinks he might think of things differently. Noack was always ready to go. As far as he was concerned there was no reason for low morale. After the second Schweinfurt Raid [Annotator’s Note: 14 October 1943], he realized he had lost a lot of his good friends. It was not hard for Noack to get back into his plane after he had been wounded. The three weeks when he was grounded was a rough time. It hurt him to know he could not fly. The squadron’s operations officer asked Noack if he could help out in other ways. Noack would spend a couple of hours at a time helping out. Noack was asked if he could fly the trainer when his bombardier needed practice. Dan Peterson was Noack’s navigator and he asked Noack to fly the navigation trainer so he could get navigation practice. Finally the time wore off and Noack got to go back to flying. Noack was eager. Noack does not believe he was ever reluctant. When Noack was shot down he had a terrible premonition.

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John Noack had a premonition on the day he was shot down that he was not going to come home that day. Noack felt like he did not want to go but he could not tell the guys that he was scared or chicken. Outside of that one moment, there was never a time when he was not ready and eager. Schweinfurt was Noack’s ninth mission and his second as a lead pilot. It was exhilarating getting his own crew. The copilot from the crew had finished his 25 missions. Noack recalls a mission to Münster Germany where the lead plane got the target wrong and they ended up bombing a small town. After that mission Noack’s copilot did not fly any more missions with him. After the Schweinfurt mission, Noack asked Junior Fallow why he was not made pilot instead of Noack. He told Noack he cannot land a B-17. The man had no practice doing it. Noack was able to procure a plane and teach him how to land. Noack taught him to teach the B-17. When he finished ten landings, he was putting the plane down on the runway nice every time. It was not too long after that he was assigned a crew. Noack had one guy who flew two missions with him at copilot. The day Noack got shot down, he was flying with a new copilot. Noack did not fly on the 8th of October. Noack flew on the 10th and the 14th of October. Noack guesses his squadron did not fly on the 8th. Schweinfurt mission of 14 October 1943, Noack was awakened at about 4:30 in the morning. He was told breakfast was at five and the briefing was at six. They learned they were going to Schweinfurt that day and it did not mean much to them. Their squadron and group had flown to Schweinfurt on the 17th of August and received little damage. It was just another target to go bomb. That particular day and mission they were assigned to fly in the lead wing. The wing commander would be flying with the 92nd who was leading that day. Noack’s group was going to be the high group and the 305th was the low group. They had trouble getting together that day. The 305th never did meet up. They took off over the English Channel with two groups in their lead wing. It was not supposed to happen like that. Somewhere along the line, the 305th got together and flew to comprise a four group wing. When they reached the enemy coast, they circled up and formed up with the 41st combat wing.

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John Noack notes that everything was fine that day. They had escort until they had to turn back. The fighters reached the end of their fuel range. At the German border there is a town named Aachen, Germany and immediately upon reaching there they were swarmed by the Luftwaffe. They had Me109s and Fw190s that were attacking from the front. They had four engine planes such as Ju88s [Annotator’s Note: Junkers Ju 88] German fighter plane] which came in behind and fired rockets at them. They flew such tight formation that the rockets did most of the damage. The rockets were long and cylindrical. Noack saw one tumble by his plane and it appeared to be about 20 feet long and two feet in diameter. The rockets wiped out planes. They lost four planes out of their squadron. The lead plane and Noack’s plane were the only two left in their squadron. Some of the shrapnel from the rockets may have penetrated their plane. Their engineer was hit with a shell and his foot was dangling. As soon as Noack found out about that, Noack called the navigator up to take a look at the wounded engineer. They put a tourniquet on his leg to stop the bleeding. Ken Fox was the engineer and he would not desert his post. He had to hold himself onto the top turret with his elbows and with his good foot he could pull the dangling foot back into the stirrup. The turret would not move unless both feet were in the stirrup. It was the greatest act of bravery that Noack saw in the war. Fox was not going to leave his post. Fox manned the guns until they stopped encountering fighter opposition. The raid contained an hour of the most intense firefight that Noack had ever witnessed. They lost 60 planes on the raid. Noack lost ten planes out of his group. They bombed that day with five planes. The lead bombardier had his bombsight knocked out by shrapnel. Noack tacked onto the 92nd with their five planes and dropped bombs. Their 30 bombs were a part of the greatest bombing their group ever did. All of their bombs were on the button. Strike photos showed success. The German fighter planes generally did not follow the bombers into the flak areas. The planes on this mission flew without disregard for the friendly flak coming up from the ground. It was the greatest air battle that had ever taken place and that rings true with Noack. After they got over the target one of the planes pulled off to the side of the formation and they started bailing out. Everything looked fine. They had already dropped their bombs. Later they found out that they were on fire and the plane exploded shortly after they bailed out. They were still dealing with fighters so they did not pay much attention. After they dropped their bombs, they tacked on with the 41st Wing and made their way back to England. Noack noted that when they took off they figured they would be called back because of how bad the weather was. Noack figured if they took off they would have a bunch of crashed planes at the end of the runway. The mission still occurred and it was not into the wild blue yonder, but rather into a big cloud bank. Noack relied on the artificial horizon. Noack looked at the new pilot in his plane just to see how he was dealing with it. Noack looked out and saw that the right wing was not too far above the treetops. Noack looked at the horizon indicator and everything looked alright. Noack deduced they must have been in a right turn. Noack turned to his instruments to fly.

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John Noack pitied his copilot because he had to endure that rough take off. They got above the clouds and assembled into formation. Noack gave the controls over to his copilot for a little part of the mission. He let the plane get a little too high and so he lost eye contact with the lead plane. Noack took over and let him settle down a little bit. He let him take control and he let the plane float higher again. Noack said okay that is enough and took over flying the entire time. When the group forms up and assembles and on the way back from missions the copilot would usually get a little bit of practice in. The enemy fighters would try to hit the bombers near the targets, but they left after they dropped their bombs. Noack was concerned about returning to the airfield because of the weather they had taken off into. They had five planes left when they returned to base and were able to find a break in the clouds to take the planes through. Every plane had battle damage and wounded men aboard. By the grace of God, Noack got to land his plane at his field. All planes fired the red flares coming into base. Nobody had first rights to land because everyone had wounded aboard. Noack’s group leader flew a different plane that day. When they pulled up to their hard stand, the squadron commander came up in his jeep and asked what the hell happened. Noack explained what happened and he was extremely upset. They lost four planes out of their squadron. Noack got in the jeep and he was taken to the debriefing. Crews were debriefed after the missions. On the way to the debriefing the squadron commander was so mad, he said he wanted to load a plane of bombs and go drop them on Hitler himself. On the way to the debriefing, Noack told the captain that he wanted to put Ken Fox in for the Medal of Honor. Noack never did hear anything at the time if anything had come about because of the recommendation. Noack met Ken after the war and he received the Distinguished Service Cross. Noack was glad that he got the recognition for what he had done. Noack thought it was the greatest act of bravery he had ever seen. That was the outstanding mission Noack flew. The Schweinfurt raid had the intensity that other missions did not.

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John Noack notes that it was a sad day when they returned to base. Everyone was down about it. Too many of the guys lost friends. Losing as many men as they did, it poked a big hole in their group. Noack’s top turret gunner and his radio operator suffered frost bite in their hands and feet so badly they did not fly any more missions. Noack was so tired from the mission he did not think about food or anything else. There was not much interest in eating or card games or anything like that. After a bit you shake those memories and get new guys coming in. Noack did not dwell on the guys who were gone. Noack thought of the guys lost, but he also understood you had to keep flying and doing your job. Noack cannot really describe the feeling of what it is like to watch B-17s go down. The crew that Noack had trained with meant the world to Noack. To see them jumping out of their plane and bailing out, it was a weird feeling. It is hard for Noack to describe exactly how he felt. Noack lost family that day. Noack hoped that the men who bailed out got safely to the ground. There was a big job to do and everybody had trained for it. You are sad about what happened, but you have to get together with new guys and get the job done. Three or four days after the Schweinfurt mission, Noack was ordered to go to some other air field. They did not have enough equipment or men in their group to put a group in the air. They came up with a deal where they were going to bomb near the edge of France or Belgium. They called it a “Milk Run” because no opposition was expected. The five that returned from the Schweinfurt mission were assigned to other groups. They had to take off early in the morning. They were flying at night to another field and Noack got in and made a good landing. All of a sudden the landing light illuminated what looked like a mound of dirt blocking the runway. Noack did not have enough power left to get above the pile. Noack and his copilot hit the blockade at a good clip and it turned out that they ran right through it. Apparently this had happened before so the guys on the ground got a good laugh out of it. Noack never kept a diary of the missions or what fields they were at. It was an enjoyable day because the mission was scrubbed before the briefing. They shot the breeze and enjoyed themselves and then flew back to their base. Their next mission was in early November and it was Noack’s tenth mission. Charlie Schofield’s crew and Noack’s crew were given a week off for rest and relaxation. They took the officers down to a big estate in southern England. They had a delightful week of lying around and doing whatever they felt like doing. The enlisted men went to a different place where they had their week. Every morning the butler would come in and say “Wakey, wakey, wakey, gentleman. It’s a beautiful morning.” The fog usually burned off by the time breakfast was over so they did whatever they wanted to in the countryside. For a whole week Noack did not hear a single airplane. They were away from the war for a whole week and it passed too fast.

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John Noack went on to fly on 1 December to fly his 13th mission. It also happened to be Noack’s 24th birthday. He came through without a scratch. The plane was untouched. Noack began to think that he might make it after all. Ten days later on his 15th mission Noack was going to Emden, Germany. Noack flew to Emden as a copilot once before, but this time he was with his own crew. They got to the initial point and they had not encountered any enemy resistance. The only thing they had to contend with was flak. His tail gunner yelled that the flak was getting closer. All of a sudden there was a huge explosion. A flak shell hit the number two engine and blew it off of the plane. Noack had to feather the prop on engine one because of shrapnel damage. The number three engine had oil streaming out of it. The number four engine was good and working to perfection. Noack throttled the plane when he got the plane level. They passed the red line on the gauges. Their engines got them out to the North Sea where they ended up ditching. Right after they got hit, Noack heard someone screaming to bail out. Noack got on the intercom and told everyone to calm down and report in. Each of the guys reported in with what damage they could see. The navigator did not reply, so Noack called the bombardier and asked him to check on the navigator. The bombardier said the navigator was gone. Noack thought the navigator was gone because his position in the plane was right next to engine number two. Noack told the bombardier to bring the maps up to the cockpit. He could not find any maps in the shattered nose compartment. Noack figured he would take a 270 degree bearing and on that course he would have to run into England eventually. When they reached Holland, Noack asked the crew individually their feelings on bailing out. Noack’s copilot had a wound on his face and he was bleeding. Noack had blood on his hand. Noack thought his copilot might have lost his eye. They got about 20 miles off of the Dutch coast. Noack tried to get a little help out of the number three engine, but it caught fire. It was too low on oil. Noack cut off the number three engine and there was nothing left to do but ditch. Noack asked the copilot to put it on full flaps and ditch it. Noack called for full flaps and the seas were slightly choppy. Noack wanted to slow it down to maybe where they had a chance. Noack thinks that the good Lord was telling him what to do. Noack brought the plane to a good stop. They were supposed to abandon the plane within 30 seconds, because it was not expected to float any longer than that. Noack looked back and saw the tail gunner and after that everybody was able to get out and get into their life rafts. Since the water was choppy, they immediately had to start shoveling water out of the raft.

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John Noack got the emergency radio set up. Noack had a little difficulty getting everything set up. Noack got seasick from all of the tossing and turning. Every now and then he would try to focus on the horizon to ease his seasickness. He was able to get the emergency SOS out. Much to Noack’s surprise, the B-17 stayed afloat in the water for about an hour. After about two hours of sitting in the water, they looked out and saw a couple of boats. They were German boats that were probably escorts to some type of convoy. One of them came over and started circling the life raft. It had several cannons on the deck and there was about 20 guys who had submachine guns standing along the rail. They called out to them and told them to pull their balloon down. The guys deflated the balloon and the Germans came over and pulled them aboard. Everybody was soaking wet and freezing. They were taken aboard and the captain introduced himself. Noack identified himself with his name, rank, and serial number. They were asked who they were with and they informed they could not answer that. Noack and the crew had their clothes dried. Noack was taken to a Luftwaffe airfield. They were given a meal in the mess hall. While they were there eating, several Germans walked over and asked if they had been to Schweinfurt. Noack said they had gone to Schweinfurt. The Germans responded they were there too. The crew was then put into solitary confinement. Noack was in solitary for only about an hour and a German officer came in and said, “John Noack, we have been waiting a long time for you.” He asked various questions about what group they were with and targets they had hit. Noack repeated name, rank, and serial number. The German officer gave a sheet of paper and said, “If you fill it out, we will pass it along to the Red Cross.” It had name rank serial number as well as group and unit information. Noack only filled in name, rank, and serial number and crossed the rest out. Shortly before the interrogator left they heard the sound of a door opening and supposedly they were bringing a prisoner out. They heard rifle shots outside and the German said, “It seems another one of your crew members was shot for not cooperating.” In reality no one was shot, they were trying to trick Noack. The interrogator left and Noack did not see anybody the rest of the day.

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John Noack was visited again by the interrogator on the third day. Noack held fast and the interrogator did not ask many questions. A few days later a guard came by and motioned that Noack should come with him. They went outside to a building that was a few hundred yards away. Noack was sat down in an office and a German major was sitting there. He asked Noack to sit down. He wanted to know if Noack had been wounded. Noack responded his shin was busted and his hands were a bloody mess. He asked if Noack was offered medical aid. Noack told him he was alright. He also offered a shave to Noack. The interrogator asked about different types of formations and planes. Noack continued to play dumb. He asked why some of the missions carried different types of weaponry. The interrogator reached into his desk and pulled out a big book about two inches thick and tossed it over to Noack. It was a technical manual from a B-17. Noack knew that no B-17 carried a technical manual, so they had to have gotten it from somewhere else. Finally he realized Noack was not going to say anything. He pulled out another folder and started reciting everything Noack had done in his military career. Noack’s mouth dropped open because he could not believe the interrogator got every part of his personal history correct. The German interrogator said you would be surprised what the United States probably has on us. The next day a guard came and got Noack and took him into a room in another building. One by one Noack’s crew was brought over. They started talking and one guy said they saw someone who looked like their navigator. They kept hoping they would bring him in. Having bailed out over the target by himself, the Germans wanted him to admit that Noack’s crew was all there. The navigator was eventually brought in and it made the guys feel good because they were all together. Noack found out that the copilot was given medical treatment and eventually repatriated. They were happy that they were going to be able to spend Christmas together. They got to sing songs and carry on and it meant a lot to them. On Christmas Day they sat around with not much to do. Most of the guys were wondering about what their families were doing. Noack kept hoping and praying that the families were notified. Noack’s family ended up being informed about him being shot down on 23 December.

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John Noack and the crew sat around and talked during Christmas. The day after all of the enlisted men were separated from the group and taken to their respective camp. They ended up at Stalag 17B in Northern Austria. Eventually enough officers were accumulated to justify sending a big group to the officers’ camp. For the five to six days they were in the temporary camp, they had to endure nighttime bombing raids by the British. The first raid they endured had the men scampering to the air raid shelter which turned out to be a six foot deep slit trench. Noack was the last one to go in on that first raid. There was a guy next to Noack who claimed he was a British pilot and Noack was not sure. He thought he might be a German spy. While they were standing there they heard explosions in the distance. Maybe 100 feet from the mouth of the trench a white flare dropped and the guy who claimed he was a British pilot claimed that was the drop signal. Noack was more scared enduring that bombing than he was for any of the missions that he went on. Noack was scared during the missions. On the 28th or 29th of December, Noack and the prisoners were transported to a permanent camp. They thought they were going to be put into a boxcar, but they ended up being put into a passenger car. They did have to change trains a few different times. They got to Berlin and they ended up sitting on the tracks in Berlin Station all night long. They sat there and prayed that the British were not going to bomb Berlin that night. They eventually got to Barth, Germany and the prison camp was about two miles away from the town center. When they were walking through the town, Noack noted how clean everything was. Noack saw women out in the middle of the street cleaning it. Their barracks had already contained English airmen before. There were a few American officers in there already. They were in that camp for about three or four days because they were building another compound. The second day they were in there, the British guys had set up a still to brew some whiskey. When roll call came the next morning, most of the British guys were drunk and it was a sad sight. The bootleg liquor had blinded a bunch of the guys. They were then moved into North Compound One. Two or three barracks were already ready. Noack’s navigator had been trained while in England in intelligence. This training was in case he became a prisoner of war. He learned how to code messages too, so that he could sneak out information via letters. He asked Noack if he would be willing to help him out.

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John Noack’s navigator wrote a letter home in code. Noack was allowed to write two letters home per month. They were given four post cards. Noack was able to code messages in his letters. They would glean information from some of the new guys who had come in. Sometimes a senior officer wanted to get a message out. Whenever there were messages that would need to be sent out they would keep track of them all and get them out when they could. The rest of the barracks were made up of rooms that had 12 prisoners per room. They had 13 barracks in their North Compound and they filled up quickly. One barracks held all of the Jewish fliers. It was not the most pleasant experience in the world, but it was also not a terrible experience. Noack cannot say that they were mistreated. Japanese prisoners suffered way more than they did. The Germans gave them a ration of food. The ration consisted of barley potatoes and dehydrated vegetables. That type of food came on a more regular basis. They did get a meat ration one day a week. In the compound they built a mess compound. When they got Red Cross parcels they would be sent over there. The parcels were not all the same, but they had a good mixture of cigarettes and food. In the mess hall they would take all of these things and use them to produce mass meals. They got powdered milk in cans labeled “klim” which was “milk” spelled backwards. They had two meals per day. In the morning they would have barley which was prepared like a hot cereal. At around 4:30 in the afternoon, they would have another meal that would have meat and some vegetables. There were lots of potatoes. With that kind of diet they actually began to put on weight. Noack weighed 163 pounds as a pilot. Noack ended up at around 200 pounds. One morning they woke up and they had no more mess hall. It was a smoldering pile of ashes. The Germans claimed it was out of control before it was noticed and they could not save it. Noack felt like they burned it down on purpose. From that point on they went back to cooking for themselves. In their barracks they decided to pool their resources together for food.

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John Noack was able to keep a fair distribution system set up in his barracks to ensure everybody got a decent share. In mid-February they ran out of Red Cross parcels. If a train that was carrying the Red Cross parcels got hit by American planes they would not make sure the goods got on to its final destination. For about six weeks they had no Red Cross parcels and the German food became sparse as well. The weight began to melt off of all of the guys. Noack went from 200 pounds to about 110 pounds. When they finally got word that a train load of parcels had gotten through there was a big celebration among the guys. Noack was the main cook in his group of guys. Noack liked to make vegetable soup with as much meat as he could put in there. They would use the same bones as a base for the soup for multiple days. Their imagination was rampant but they believed they were eating vegetable soup. If Noack saw the soup today he would probably be shocked. Sometimes Noack would find leaves and dead grass and throw it into the soup. They were ready to march out of the camp on 30 April 1945. Noack told the German commandant that they were in no shape to move. The commandant said that there had been enough bloodshed. The Germans left at midnight. When they got out of sight the major and the four German enlisted men turned their guns over to the Americans. The major ended up sweet talking the Russians who came through. A Russian colonel and some of his officers came riding up to the compound on horseback. They wanted to see the American commanding officer. The Russian colonel asked why the barbed wire was still up. The answer was that the Americans wanted to make sure everyone was accounted for. The Russian told them they were free men and that the wire should not be there. The Russian ordered them to get rid of the wire. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the barbed wire down from the camp. Noack has often wondered what that area looks like. Noack was able to see a picture later in life. Philip Higdon was one of the guys who was on the intelligence committee. They had a complete B-17 crew for their intelligence committee.

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John Noack was flown out of Barth, Germany and taken to a camp in France. They stayed there for about three or four days. Noack requested Washington, DC as the place to come into. He figured he would have to be briefed on the intelligence side. It took them eight days to get home on the ship and two days of those eight were interrupted by rough weather. Noack got seasick and was glad that he was not a Navy man. They ended up landing in New York City and the next morning Noack saw a ton of ships in the harbor. They berthed in New York City and then disembarked and were taken to an Army base. They were given a meal but they had to pay for it and that was a different experience. They had not paid for a meal in three years. The meal was 25 cents and it was a huge steak with all of the trimmings. Fort Meade was the next stop on the line. Phil Higdon lived in southern Indiana right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. They ended up not having to go to Washington, DC. Higdon and Noack rode the train to their respective hometowns. When Noack got home his whole family was there to greet him at the train station. Noack had a pretty big family and it was a happy moment. The only one who was not there was Noack’s brother in law and he ended up getting back later. Noack was a little bit afraid to come home because he was not sure what people would think of him. Everything was wonderful. It was silly of Noack to be afraid to come home. Noack did not keep up contact with Higdon or any of the other guys immediately after the war.

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[Annotator’s Note: Interviewer explains to Noack about an item in The National WWII Museum's collection.] John Noack could not live through that life again. Coming home from the war, it was hard to field the questions from people about how the war was. It was about 40 years before he started answering questions. Noack wanted to forget the whole experience, but that is impossible to do. In 1989, Noack received a phone call from Trigby Olsen who was the copilot for the Schweinfurt Raid. Olsen wanted to know if Noack could get together with him. Noack had found out that they were having a reunion in Arkansas. Noack and Olsen agreed to go to a reunion together. That was the first time that Noack had been to a reunion. When Noack saw Olsen there it began to open things up. Noack got a call shortly after the reunion that Olsen had died. His wife called and told Noack how Olsen used to think about her. He never tried to contact any of the guys. A couple of years later after that a bombardier on a crew that Noack had trained with contacted Noack and asked him if he would join a group. Noack did not care that much to join up with that reunion group because it did not interest him. He was able to convince Noack to come to a reunion in New Orleans and when he got there he saw a bunch of people that he worked with and it made him happy. The bond is there whether they served together or not. The shared common experience helped open the doors for Noack. It caused him to write down his story. He never had any intention to put anything down on paper. Noack would not talk about it at all.

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John Noack notes that everything was fine that day. They had escort until they had to turn back. The fighters reached the end of their fuel range. At the German border there is a town named Aachen, Germany and immediately upon reaching there they were swarmed by the Luftwaffe. They had Me109s and Fw190s that were attacking from the front. They had four engine planes such as Ju88s [Annotator’s Note: Junkers Ju 88] German fighter plane] which came in behind and fired rockets at them. They flew such tight formation that the rockets did most of the damage. The rockets were long and cylindrical. Noack saw one tumble by his plane and it appeared to be about 20 feet long and two feet in diameter. The rockets wiped out planes. They lost four planes out of their squadron. The lead plane and Noack’s plane were the only two left in their squadron. Some of the shrapnel from the rockets may have penetrated their plane. Their engineer was hit with a shell and his foot was dangling. As soon as Noack found out about that, Noack called the navigator up to take a look at the wounded engineer. They put a tourniquet on his leg to stop the bleeding. Ken Fox was the engineer and he would not desert his post. He had to hold himself onto the top turret with his elbows and with his good foot he could pull the dangling foot back into the stirrup. The turret would not move unless both feet were in the stirrup. It was the greatest act of bravery that Noack saw in the war. Fox was not going to leave his post. Fox manned the guns until they stopped encountering fighter opposition. The raid contained an hour of the most intense firefight that Noack had ever witnessed. They lost 60 planes on the raid. Noack lost ten planes out of his group. They bombed that day with five planes. The lead bombardier had his bombsight knocked out by shrapnel. Noack tacked onto the 92nd with their five planes and dropped bombs. Their 30 bombs were a part of the greatest bombing their group ever did. All of their bombs were on the button. Strike photos showed success. The German fighter planes generally did not follow the bombers into the flak areas. The planes on this mission flew without disregard for the friendly flak coming up from the ground. It was the greatest air battle that had ever taken place and that rings true with Noack. After they got over the target one of the planes pulled off to the side of the formation and they started bailing out. Everything looked fine. They had already dropped their bombs. Later they found out that they were on fire and the plane exploded shortly after they bailed out. They were still dealing with fighters so they did not pay much attention. After they dropped their bombs, they tacked on with the 41st Wing and made their way back to England. Noack noted that when they took off they figured they would be called back because of how bad the weather was. Noack figured if they took off they would have a bunch of crashed planes at the end of the runway. The mission still occurred and it was not into the wild blue yonder, but rather into a big cloud bank. Noack relied on the artificial horizon. Noack looked at the new pilot in his plane just to see how he was dealing with it. Noack looked out and saw that the right wing was not too far above the treetops. Noack looked at the horizon indicator and everything looked alright. Noack deduced they must have been in a right turn. Noack turned to his instruments to fly.

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John Noack pitied his copilot because he had to endure that rough take off. They got above the clouds and assembled into formation. Noack gave the controls over to his copilot for a little part of the mission. He let the plane get a little too high and so he lost eye contact with the lead plane. Noack took over and let him settle down a little bit. He let him take control and he let the plane float higher again. Noack said okay that is enough and took over flying the entire time. When the group forms up and assembles and on the way back from missions the copilot would usually get a little bit of practice in. The enemy fighters would try to hit the bombers near the targets, but they left after they dropped their bombs. Noack was concerned about returning to the airfield because of the weather they had taken off into. They had five planes left when they returned to base and were able to find a break in the clouds to take the planes through. Every plane had battle damage and wounded men aboard. By the grace of God, Noack got to land his plane at his field. All planes fired the red flares coming into base. Nobody had first rights to land because everyone had wounded aboard. Noack’s group leader flew a different plane that day. When they pulled up to their hard stand, the squadron commander came up in his jeep and asked what the hell happened. Noack explained what happened and he was extremely upset. They lost four planes out of their squadron. Noack got in the jeep and he was taken to the debriefing. Crews were debriefed after the missions. On the way to the debriefing the squadron commander was so mad, he said he wanted to load a plane of bombs and go drop them on Hitler himself. On the way to the debriefing, Noack told the captain that he wanted to put Ken Fox in for the Medal of Honor. Noack never did hear anything at the time if anything had come about because of the recommendation. Noack met Ken after the war and he received the Distinguished Service Cross. Noack was glad that he got the recognition for what he had done. Noack thought it was the greatest act of bravery he had ever seen. That was the outstanding mission Noack flew. The Schweinfurt raid had the intensity that other missions did not.

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John Noack got the emergency radio set up. Noack had a little difficulty getting everything set up. Noack got seasick from all of the tossing and turning. Every now and then he would try to focus on the horizon to ease his seasickness. He was able to get the emergency SOS out. Much to Noack’s surprise, the B-17 stayed afloat in the water for about an hour. After about two hours of sitting in the water, they looked out and saw a couple of boats. They were German boats that were probably escorts to some type of convoy. One of them came over and started circling the life raft. It had several cannons on the deck and there was about 20 guys who had submachine guns standing along the rail. They called out to them and told them to pull their balloon down. The guys deflated the balloon and the Germans came over and pulled them aboard. Everybody was soaking wet and freezing. They were taken aboard and the captain introduced himself. Noack identified himself with his name, rank, and serial number. They were asked who they were with and they informed they could not answer that. Noack and the crew had their clothes dried. Noack was taken to a Luftwaffe airfield. They were given a meal in the mess hall. While they were there eating, several Germans walked over and asked if they had been to Schweinfurt. Noack said they had gone to Schweinfurt. The Germans responded they were there too. The crew was then put into solitary confinement. Noack was in solitary for only about an hour and a German officer came in and said, “John Noack, we have been waiting a long time for you.” He asked various questions about what group they were with and targets they had hit. Noack repeated name, rank, and serial number. The German officer gave a sheet of paper and said, “If you fill it out, we will pass it along to the Red Cross.” It had name rank serial number as well as group and unit information. Noack only filled in name, rank, and serial number and crossed the rest out. Shortly before the interrogator left they heard the sound of a door opening and supposedly they were bringing a prisoner out. They heard rifle shots outside and the German said, “It seems another one of your crew members was shot for not cooperating.” In reality no one was shot, they were trying to trick Noack. The interrogator left and Noack did not see anybody the rest of the day.
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