AN EVADER'S EXPERIENCE by William J. Miller
William J. Miller’s story was published in the 379th
Bomb Group WWII Association’s magazine/newsletter
‘CONTRAILS’ in August 1992. Mr. Miller is now deceased.
September 16, 1943. It was mission number thirty for
the 379th Bombardment Group (Heavy). The
target was a ball bearing plant, Nantes, France. The
379th flew as high Group in the formation of
the 41st Bomb Wing. The Triangle K Group
scheduled nineteen planes. One aborted due to
mechanical failure. Total bomb load was 164 X 500
pounders. Leading the Troup was aircraft commander and
pilot Lt. Col. Robert S. Kittel; navigator, Capt. James
Edwards; bombardier, Capt. Joseph G. Glaser.
the formation was B-17 No. 42-29876, “Battlin’ Bobbie”,
piloted by 1st Lt. Elton “Pete” Hoyt. Aboard
with nine others of the crew was Technical Sergeant
William J. Miller, left waist gunner. Bill’s story of
his twenty-third mission unfolds below.
at 25,000 feet, “Battlin’ Bobbie” was under fighter
attack from above and both sides while flying through
heavy flak. A shell went through the gas tank in the
left wing and it caught fire. “When an inferno fueled
by one hundred octane gasoline is in front of you, there
are no heroes around. You need no one to push you out
of the plane. It’s all voluntary as fast as you can –
out you go!” Bill said.
dropped down and down in errie silence until at 5000
feet I pulled the rip cord. The chute didn’t open.
When it didn’t ‘blossom’, I muttered, ‘Well, it’s no use
to depend on the Army!’ and threw up my hands in
disgust. The flap opened and out came the chute. One
hand had been on the flap.” He landed in an apple
orchard and immediately was surrounded by Frenchmen.
They gathered up his chute and took off through the
orchard heading north. By this time he had his map and
compass handy and he started south. Scared stiff, with
a “Boy Scout” knife held tightly in his hand, he was
ready for anything.
just a few minutes after he started to walk down a
country road that he passed a young man about twenty
years old who was sitting on a fence rail. He watched
Bill go by, then jumped down and started to walk
alongside of him.
are an American?” the young man asked in French.
“Yes.” Bill replied in French learned years ago in high
Germans are looking for you.” the young man remarked.
know.” Bill replied.
“Follow me,” the young man said.
went with him for about a mile through the brush and
trees to a swampy willow patch. They stopped and the
young man advised, “Wait here on this log and I will
return when it’s getting dark-about seven o’clock.” It
was then about three. “When I return I’ll be singing La
Marseillaise.” What luck! Bill had made contact with
the French Underground.
night Bill met up with Lt Hoyt and Staff Sgt. Herbert J.
Dulberg, radio operator-gunner of his crew. They
compared notes and agreed that everyone had gotten out
of the plane. Bill was the last one to jump from the
rear and Lt. Hoyt was the last one out of the front.
next day they met Sgt. Edward R. Shaffer, tail gunner of
the crew. And Staff Sgt. Cyril G. Koval, right waist
gunner on a plane from the 526th Squadron
that was shot down, joined them, too. They were picked
up in the center of the town of Redon by a chartered bus
run by The Underground. Staff Sgt. Harry L. Minor,
right waist gunner of the crew, was already on it. They
were taken to the home of Rene’ Pansart located on the
edge of the town of St. Malo. With their arrival, nine
Americans were now there in hiding. One was there since
hiding at Pansart’s, they were joined by another
American. For some reason the canny French didn’t feel
comfortable with this American even though he spoke good
English. All of the fellows had conversations with
him. John Bielstein, one of them, asked what kind of a
plane he flew in. He said it was a Thunderbolt. John
asked what happened to the rest of his crew. He replied
they bailed out when they first got hit. They knew then
something was fishy. From then on he was carefully
night when he was undressing for bed, he dropped a
shoe. The heel came off and a paper fell from it.
Written on it were the names of towns and the people who
had helped him travel all the way from Holland to St.
Malo. They were members of The Underground. He was
from the Gestapo posing as a downed American flier. He
had lived in Chicago for eleven years before the war.
Doubtless, that experience helped him learn to speak
English as well as he did. The French hung him in a barn
before dawn and buried him under the carrots in a
decided to split the group - too many men hiding in one
place. Shaffer, Koval, Dulberg and Bill went to a
garage (second floor) behind a hotel that housed German
officers. They ate food from the same kitchen that
prepared theirs and it was fine food. They smoked their
cigars and cigarettes, too. The woman who ran the hotel
had lived in Chicago for thirteen years. She wanted the
Germans to stay at the hotel until the end of the war.
They had killed her husband and she wanted revenge. She
was optimistic that the American army would arrive some
day and if the six officers were still occupying her
hotel she wouldn’t have to find them. The day of
reckoning arrived and she retaliated by killing them.
Underground eventually moved Bill and Shaffer to Paris.
In February 1944 they lived with Monsieur Ernest Bernard
at #3 Rue de Emile Zola in the Livery Gargan section of
Paris for over three weeks. Then they moved to a place
on Avenue De La Convention.
January 1944 eighty men of The Underground were lost
because a spy penetrated the organization. Koval and
Technical Sgt. Samuel M. Blatchford, 526th
Squadron, radio operator-gunner on pilot 2nd
Lt. Walter C. Euwer’s crew (Euwer was killed on the
mission) were taken prisoner and spent the rest of the
war in Stalag Luft III after many days of torture by the
related an unbelievable incident that began on July 14,
1943, Bastille Day. The ultimate conclusion came to
light in February 1944 while he was in Paris. It
pertains to the eleventh mission for the 379th
and Bill flew on it. The target was an aircraft
components plant located at Villa Coublay. There was a
camera aboard his plane that was activated by the radio
operator on the bomb run. It took pictures at
three-second intervals. Approaching the target there
were broken clouds but it could be seen. There was
fighter opposition from Goering’s Yellow Nose Squadrons
from Abbeyville and some “ack-ack” fire. The bombs were
dropped. On the way home the B-17’s met their fighter
escort about fifty miles from Paris and arrived safely.
landing, he and other crew headed for the film
processing laboratory anxious to see the photos as they
came out of the developer. They were great! There were
photos of the bombs leaving the bomb bay in a good
cluster. One bomb, however, went off to the right
immediately. Since they were at about 25,000 feet, it
wasn’t likely that it would land near the others.
Captain Paul Crum, the bombardier, and Bill took a good
look at the series of photos and agreed that the bomb
had a bent fin as it drifted out of the series of
pictures. “Well,” Crum said, “it won’t hit anything.”
day in February 1944 during Bill’s stay with Mr.
Bernard, they, along with Shaffer, were talking about
the war. Mr. Bernard remarked he was working in the
machine shop at Le Bourget on Bastille Day in 1943 when
American bombers came over about three o’clock in the
afternoon. He said they were always glad when they came
because all the workers quit and headed for the
underground shelters as soon as the sirens started. He
said when they returned, the machine shop was a real
mess and the barracks, about two hundred yards away,
hidden in the woods, were wiped out completely along
with the German army personnel present. It was accurate
bombing with all the bombs in a group except one.
Bernard said the one bomb landed two and a half miles
away on a large German bomber set in concrete. It was a
Heinkel III used to teach students how to load bombs and
to study the bomb racks. It must have been the bomb
that went astray, Bill thought.
don’t know how from that high in the air you could be so
good at placing the bombs,” Mr. Bernard remarked.
“That’s nothing,” Bill replied. “If there had been two
planes set in concrete over there, we would have sent
two bombs that way.” Shaffer almost swallowed his
tongue when Bill told him in English what he had told
Mr. Bernard in French.
time The Underground moved Bill and others by train to
Toulouse. It took three days. From there they moved on
to St. Godens, a ski resort town in the Pyrenees
Mountains. Three weeks were spent there in sheepherder
huts. Their number grew to sixteen airmen: two
Australians, two Czechs, three English, one Dutch, and
eight Americans. They were waiting for the snow to melt
so they could cross the mountains into Spain.
Around the first of May 1944, one night with three
guides they walked thirty miles through streams with
floating ice, and through snow into Spain. They arrived
in the small town of Bosost and were promptly thrown in
jail by the Spanish Frontier Guards. The Captain of the
Guards let Bill use his phone to call the American
consulate in Madrid but he could not speak in English.
His French was good enough to make conversation. He
told the embassy person that sixteen airmen were being
held in Bosost. In a few hours they were out of jail
and were taken to a hotel by the governor of the
territory. The next day they moved on to Zaragoza and
two weeks later to Madrid. Next stop Gibraltar. From
there the Royal Air Force flew them to England.
spent nine months and three days in France evading the
Germans before reaching Spain and freedom. He traveled
about one thousand miles aided by the French Resistance
Group or The Underground. On one occasion he rode on a
German troop train part way that was enroute to the
the end of World War II, Bill has returned to France
four times on visits. He has had the pleasure of
meeting with some of the folks who were part of The
Underground that helped him. “Let me tell you, it’s
great to be alive!”