Almost every German town and city was now damaged by bombing, many were completely laid waste, and still there was no end in sight. It was a perilous time for any downed aircrew who happened to fall into German hands. There were several incidents of mob lynching where the German military authorities either failed to intervene or openly provoked a crowd into attacking their prisoners.
As the situation in Germany deteriorated men who had been injured during their escape from their plane faced a very difficult time. James Romine had been a rear gunner in a bomber squadron in the 8th Air Force. He had been shot down on the 10th February, and was shot in the leg by small arms fire from the ground as he descended by parachute. Bleeding heavily, his attempts to evade capture did not last long, and he had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the SS:
I was taken prisoner by SS troopers who forced me at fixed bayonet to walk on my injured leg to a village about two and a half miles away. Had I at any point come across with the information they sought I’m sure they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of taking me prisoner.
Before we got to the village I sat down and refused to walk further, so they held a confab and sent for transportation to carry me the rest of the way. There was a German first aid station in the village, but they merely took a look at my wounds and replaced the bandages I myself had put on.
Three SS officers proceeded to question me for several hours, then stripped me of all my clothing, wrapped me in a blanket and took me about 16 kilometres by horse and wagon to a point somewhere west of the Rhine. We arrived at a German evacuation hospital, where there were about 300 wounded Germans and where they left me for a day and a night with no medical attention.
Then we started on another trip further into Germany, to the finest hospital one could ask for anywhere — large, modern and shining. Here at last, I thought, was a chance to have my wounds dressed.
Instead, they tossed me into a small room in the attic of the three-storey hospital along with nine other American infantry boys, two of whom were to die during my three days there. There were four legs left among those nine men in that room, their stumps were raw and uncared for.
We lay on filthy straw mats, lice-covered and nauseous from the indescribable stench that hung over the room. The daily diet consisted of coffee and a piece of black bread in the morning and at night a small cereal bowl of potato soup. SS men came in periodically to question me further; how they could endure entering the room is beyond me.
The cruel deaths which those fellows were lefi to face, amid supposedly civilised surroundings where all medical facilities were at hand, is a testimonial to German brutality that will never be forgotten by those of us who lived to relate the facts.
After three days of futile questioning the Germans put me in an ambulance and drove me across the Rhine to a waiting train, the carriages of which were painted white with red crosses and which, I found out later, were loaded with ammunition for the Russian front.
I was laid in a carriage, with a foot—deep layer of horse manure and straw as a mattress. Inside with me they put a Polish pilot who spoke very little English and for six days we lay there with no water to drink and just two or three sandwiches during the whole trip. The train was stopped several times by American planes but they were fooled by the red crosses and it wasn’t strafed.
This account appears in War’s Long Shadow. The account states that Romine was with the 544th Bomb Squadron, flying B-26s. The 544th flew B-17s but the 344th flew B-26s – so one or other must be a misprint.