This narrative is by Staff Sgt. Roland V. Rakow, a crewmember of the 83rd Squadron, 12th Bomb Group of the United States Army Air Force. It describes the mission on September 1, 1942 when his plane was shot down.
The narrative also covers the events that followed—his capture, POW experience, escape from camp, and finally his return home.
In compiling this account, Sgt. Rakow drew on his personal experiences, as well as information from Capt. Croteau, as relayed in correspondence by the captain’s wife to Sgt. Rakow’s mother.
83rd Squadron, 12th Bomb Group (M), 9th United States Army Air Force
Attached to the British 8th Army—based at Ismailia, Egypt—El Alamein
Capt. Hubert P. Croteau—Prisoner of War in Germany
Army Serial No. 0-404012
2nd Lt. Irving Biers—Prisoner of War in Germany
Army Serial No. 0-659064
2nd Lt. Robert J. McPartlin—Killed in Action—El Alamein
Army Serial No. 0-659067
2nd Lt. Thomas F. Archer—Killed in Action—El Alamein
Army Serial No. 0-850959
Top Turret Gunner
Staff Sgt. Leonard George Andersen—Killed in Action—El Alamein
Army Serial No. 57030832
Radio Operator–Lower Turret Gunner
Staff Sgt. Roland V. Rakow—Prisoner of War in Italy
Army Serial No. 16004997
“On September 1, 1942, as our B-25 was returning from its second completed mission—dropping its bomb load on tanks, trucks and troops on the front line at El Alamein—it was struck by a German anti-aircraft 88 mm shell on the left side of the aircraft, adjacent to the top turret gun position. The shell made a gaping hole, which caused the aircraft to break open and go into a 30-or 40-degree dive.
[See further details of the crash on a later post, Roland Rakow’s Story—An Update.]
“After the aircraft was hit, I looked for a way of escape and found the gaping hole where the shell had hit. After some effort, since the aircraft was in a dive, I bailed out at the hole. Before exiting, I looked for Sergeant Andersen. He should have been adjacent to the hole, as this was the location of the top turret gun. I could only conjecture that he had been blown out of the aircraft when the shell hit.
“I bailed out and waited a few seconds, then felt for the ripcord—but I couldn’t find it. Frantically, I tried to locate it and finally found it, almost completely behind my back.
“With my last energy, I pulled the cord. The parachute opened with a jerk. My left arm became so entangled in the parachute’s lines I sustained a compound fracture of the left clavicle. I had no control of the chute before hitting the ground, my face down. There was a strong wind as I landed. The parachute ballooned and dragged me approximately 300 feet, until German soldiers came and stopped me from being dragged farther.
“Lt. Archer and Lt. McPartlin were unable to leave the aircraft and died in the crash. Capt. Croteau, Lt. Biers, and I parachuted to the ground. We landed in separate locations. Each of us sustained wounds and injuries.