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John stood up with much difficulty as the aircraft appeared to be out of control and in a weaving dive. Again he made his way to the astrodome and made the following description of events. "I saw through the astrodome all the starboard main plane and fuselage rear of me to be one mass of flame. My 1/C was dead, so as the navigator was carrying out jump procedure I took my off my helmet, put on my chute, and moved forward, only to lose my senses just before reaching the engineer". When John gained consciousness he lay on the ground, apparently blown from the aircraft at 20,000 feet. However he had no idea how he got down alive. Was he helped out by one of the crew, or blown out, his parachute deploying through the force of the blast? Alive he was, but he was alone, and deep behind enemy lines. On top of this he was hurting. He had broken his nose, and was bleeding from both mouth and head, which he had gashed. He was bruised and scratched all down his right side, and his spine was stiff and sore.

John didn't know it at the time but he had been the lucky one. None of the other crew had managed to escape from the stricken bomber. Eye witnesses stated that the flaming four engine bomber had approached the small village of Wasbüttal from the south west. It then made a slight turn before crashing at a shallow angle 500 meters from the township. It continued to burn through the night and intermittent explosions were heard. None of the crew survived. Wreckage and the remains of the crew were found scattered over a wide area.

 

 

 550 Squadron RAF

 

Meanwhile John had heard men approaching and ran and stumbled into a small wood. He walked on for ten hours but this was northern Germany in December and "the place was frozen solid", possibly with snow on the ground. Unable to find any shelter, his back still sore, and his mouth and head still bleeding, he had had enough. At around 0600, when the opportunity arose, he gave himself up to German troops, displaying his dog tags to identify himself. He was first taken to a local doctor before being was taken to an interrogation camp at Frankfurt. He was held in solitary confinement in a small overheated cell, with no treatment to his injuries, and was fed only a slice of bread and a bowl of soup a day. He was held there for six days before he was eventually admitted to Hohemark Hospital for recuperation. Here things were a little better. He received basic care, a Red Cross overcoat, regular meals and a hospital bed with sheets, blankets, and pillows. 13 days later he was sent to a Dulag Luft for five days, where he would spend his Christmas of 1943, before incarceration at Stalag IVB at Mühlberg, 48 Km north of Dresden on 29 December.

 

The main street of Stalag Luft IVB

 

Stan Lambert, an American prisoner of Camp IVB in his memoirs shared some of his recollections of camp life which may have mirrored John Cromie's experience. "

Very early in our stay we were processed through a shower and delousing unit common to German prisons. There bare brick and stone structures had a waiting room where we completely disrobed, leaving our boots stashed in the room, but tying our garments all in one bundle to be sent through the steam delouser. Two things were luxurious about the whole procedure. One was the hot shower where we could observe our flattening bellies but still muscular limbs, and let the warms streams of water splatter over our blue frost-bitten feet. The other was picking up our bundles of steaming clothes after shivering stark naked for half an hour in the waiting room. It was fortunate that one did not know until later how similar the procedure was to the gas chamber executions of the Jews… The first day or two in the open air of IV-B convinced me of the drabness of the place. The sun seldom shone and the sky maintained a perpetual Baltic grayness. Very little snow was on the ground. The only things on the flat horizons were the endless rows of squat barracks in most directions and a thin row of trees across a flat which lay beyond the nearest edge of the stalag. ...On the second or third day in IV-B a large number of us Americans were marched to another portion of the camp to await more processing. The Germans left much of the routine of this to some older British P.O.Ws who could have been in this stalag for a period of years. I recall an Englishman pacing slowly along in front of our group making a partially successful attempt at raising our morale. ...We were photographed and numbered, much as a convict, and issued a P.O.W tag bearing a number. This we wore like a dog tag. British prisoners gave us typhus Shots and supervised the filling out of forms".

John was assigned to a hut which he described as "Barn like overcrowded huts, little heating or light, hard bed" with "two or three small blankets and a poor mattress". Stan Lambert continues: "

My most vivid memories of our barracks were the nights in them. There was just room for all the exhausted men to lie down in the unheated building. We lay in groups of three to preserve warmth, and arranged outer garments and old German shelter halves over and under us. We were only beginning to learn from the British the fine art of improvising in a prison hut. Very soon we learned to pull our tortured feet close to us because some dysentery victim was always staggering through the darkness toward the door trampling over frost-bitten and trench-foot-afflicted feet. I believe I have known no pain greater than that suffered for ten minutes following the mauling of one's frozen feet by a stampeding, dysenteried P.O.W".

Two weeks into Johns imprisonment at the camp he would celebrate his 21st Birthday with the little they had to share. Their rations were small and of poor quality however one could cope quite well with the addition of Red Cross parcels. They would shower only every six weeks, and had two taps to every 600-700 POWs. Cooking facilities were poor and overcrowded. Recreational activities were however quite good but only due to the efforts of the prisoners. As the war wore on numbers in the camp swelled considerably and by the start of 1945 only about 1/8 to 1/4 of their Red Cross parcels actually made it into the inmate's hands. John's promotion to Warrant Officer came through on 12 May and after nearly 18 months of incarceration John and his fellow captives were liberated by the Russians on 23 April 1945.

John was to describe his treatment under the Germans as ranging from good to bad, but as Stan Lambert would later write "The amazing thing was the facade of humane treatment which the Germans partially maintained toward their captives from the West, while they systematically destroyed their own Jews and sorely neglected their Russian captives..." After repatriation home, John recuperated and was discharged from the RAAF on 13 January 1946. He died at age 51 in 1974 .

See Also:

RAAF Casualty Database

 

Collier Crew, 2 December 1943

Rank

Name

Serial #

Position

Age

 

 

 

 

 

P/O

Albert Thomas Stanley Collier

RAAF 414446

Pilot

21

P/O

Peter Allen Lee

RAF 162786

Navigator

22

F/Sgt

Herbert Sidney Bennett

RAF 1339124

Bombardier

24

Sgt

William Dowson

RAF 1590162

Air Gunner

19

Sgt

Edward Arthur Topham

RAF 1818440

Air Gunner

 

Sgt

Frank Turner

RAF 1685409

Flt. Engineer

 

F/Sgt

John Andrew Cromie

RAAF 410633

Wireless Operator

20

 

 Collier Crew Missions

Date

Sqn.

Location

Aircraft

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

2.9.43

460

Gardening

KB138

Mine-laying operation. 2 x 460 Squadron aircraft despatched.

5.9.43

460

Mannheim

W4967

19 squadron Lancasters (1 aborted) despatched out of a total force of 605 aircraft. 34 aircraft lost. First of seven missions flown by Cromie in W4967 "P" for Peter. This aircraft completed 54 missions and is thought to have been lost on operations with 101 Sqn.

6.9.43

460

Munich

W4967

17 squadron Lancasters (1 aborted) despatched out of a total force of 404 aircraft. 32 aircraft lost.

1.10.43

460

Hagen

W4967

17 squadron Lancasters despatched out of a total force of 251 aircraft. 2 aircraft lost.

2.10.43

460

Munich

ED664

18 squadron Lancasters despatched out of a total force of 296 aircraft. 8 aircraft lost. ED664 completed 16 missions and was lost over Berlin on 24.11.43.

4.10.43

460

Ludwigshafen

W4967

A force of 6 Lancasters carry out a diversionary raid to cover the main effort of 406 aircraft at Frankfurt.

7.10.43

460

Stuttgart

W4967

20 squadron aircraft (1 aborted) despatched out of a total force of 343 aircraft. 4 aircraft lost.

8.10.43

460

Hannover

W4967

18 squadron aircraft despatched out of a total force of 504 aircraft. 27 aircraft lost, many to night fighters. 460 Squadron losses- The crew of W/C R.A Norman DFC.

18.10.43

460

Hannover

W4967

19 squadron Lancasters despatched out of a total force of 360 aircraft. 18 aircraft lost.

10.11.43

460

Modane

LM375

15 squadron Lancasters (1 aborted) despatched out of a total force of 313 aircraft. LM375 completed a total of 36 missions with 460 and 463 Sqn. Lost while with 463 Sqn.

18.11.43

460

Berlin

DV296

The Battle of Berlin begins. 29 squadron Lancasters despatched out of a total of 440 aircraft. 9 aircraft lost. 460 Squadron losses-The crew of F/Sgt J.G Gibson. DV296 completed 16 missions. Lost over Berlin on 1.12.43.

22.11.43

460

Berlin

ED370

25 squadron Lancasters (3 aborted) despatched out of a total force of 764 aircraft. 20 aircraft lost. ED370 completed 5 x 460 Sqn missions, lost over Berlin 26.11.43.

2.12.43

550

Berlin

LM301

12 squadron Lancasters (3 aborted) despatched out of a total force of 458 aircraft. 40 aircraft lost. 550 Squadron losses- LM301 Shot down by flak on route to target.

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