anzac POW freemen in europe

Part 2 - Escape from Italian Prison Camps

Chapter 11 - Bombing Schauffhausen

The Air Raid by American Bombers, April 1, 1944

While Switzerland was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention and Protocols that govern the treatment of POW in time of war, it was a founding signatory of those known as the Hague Conventions and Protocols that govern the conduct of neutral countries in such times.

By no stretch of the imagination can Switzerland be considered a maritime nation, the interests of which were the prime consideration of most other signing nations, but it was a fierce defender of its landlocked homeland. This extended to its airspace.

Rogue submarines and armed raiders could "bend the rules" to some extent at sea, but "might was right" often governed those rules in the air. Air crew that crash landed in enemy territory became POW protected by the Geneva Conventions. If they did so in a neutral country, they were interned by the government of that country under the Hague Conventions, although in some instances, by arriving in that country unarmed and in civilian clothes, they could be granted "evade" status and repatriated as soon as practical before hostilities ceased.

The status of allied air force servicemen crashing on Swiss soil for whatever reason was clear. What was not so clear was the status of allied aircraft deliberately infringing the integrity of Swiss airspace during operations and at the worst, resort either jettisoning their bombs on Swiss territory or deliberately unleashing them against plannned targets involving the Swiss civilian population generally.

Several such incidents and their circumstances are now examined in some detail.

The following is an extract-cum-summary of "Hitlers Secret Ally - Switzerland", by Don Waters, ex-USAAF pilot interned in Switzerland, 1944 (L5 Ch 13).

"At exactly 10.40am on the first day of April 1944, 38 US heavy bombers attacked Schauffhausen, Switzerland.

"Flying in clear weather and with no opposition, the bombers obliterated a small group of factories that were producing anti-aircraft shells, ball bearings and ME109 parts for Germany. Some buildings not associated with the factories were also damaged, for which the U.S. subsequently paid the Swiss a million dollars in damages. The raid killed 35 Swiss and wounded 280.

"Immediately after the bombing, Captain (later Brigadier-General) Robert Cardenas, an "evade" attached to the American Consulate in Zurich, was ordered to rush to Schauffhausen, evaluate the strike and take pictures. "It was a textbook bombing", Cardenas related, "everything in that small area was destroyed, yet not a block away, a hospital was intact and a block in another direction, a school, was untouched ... it was no accident".

Yet despite very considerable publicity and debate, both the Swiss and U.S. Governments still aver that Schauffhausen was bombed "in error". Don Waters has collected extensive evidence to prove the attack was deliberately planned.

Contrary to customary practice, the returning crews of the aircraft involved in the raid were "restricted to their aircraft until they could be debriefed by intelligence officers".

The primary mission for that day's operations of the Second Bomber Division of the Eighth Air Force, had been Ludwigshaven in central Germany. The lead B24s had been forced to overfly their target because of dense cloud cover at a height of 21,000 feet. Yet the 38 bombers that attacked Schaffhausen as a "target of opportunity" on the return flight were in clear conditions at an altitude of only some 3,000 metres. A better T/O would have been the giant industrial complex of Friedrichshafen only a few minutes from Schauffhausen, on the German side of the Rhine. Don Waters has collected considerable evidence to support that navigational error was highly improbable.

Almost a year later, on March 4, 1945, the 392nd Bomb Group set out on another mission to bomb a heavy tank depot in Aschaffenburg, south-east of Frankfurt from an assembly point near Paris. 

By this time, German resistance was negligible, ack-ack defences had dwindled, there was no fighter resistance and allied radar navigational technology had vastly improved. Yet despite these advantages, the mission was aborted near Stuttgart and Pforzheim nominated as the T/O.

The leading squadron made a good radar controlled bombing run on Pforzheim, returning to England without further incident as did the second squadron. However when the two squadrons had become separated in the heavy cloud, this second squadron had chosen Freiberg in Germany instead of Pforzheim as their target opportunity.

Regrettably, their target turned out to be the city of Zurich in Switzerland.

The resultant diplomatic hurricane that blew up lead to the court martial of the pilot, bombadier and navigator of the lead crew of the second squadron involved. The court martial was held at 2nd Air Division Headquarters at Ketteringham Hall near Norwich presided over by Colonel Jimmy Stewart better known as the famous film actor. The legal officer was Colonel Chavez, a U.S. senator from New Mexico. Myron H. Keilman, who led the 329th in a B24 No. 454 equipped with H2X radar, testified on behalf of the accused.

Arguing that when the second squadron had separated from their radar-equipped lead squadron in the dense clouds, they had been blown off course. With the poor visibility and scattered brokend cloud conditions, Zurich had been mistaken for Freiberg.

Of all the hazards facing precision bombing missions, the prevailing weather conditions along the route to the assigned target when it was reached were the greatest hazard of them all.

While the leading squadron of the aborted mission to Aschaffenburg had sophisticated terrain-scanning radar in successfully bombing Pforzheim, this was not available to the second squadron who thought they had identified Freiberg as their target of opportunity, but had dumped their bombs on Zurich instead. The weather conditions were not dissimilar to those prevailing a year earlier around Schauffhausen on April 1, 1944.

While for that matter, if the U.S. Air Force had wanted to prevent vital ball bearings being sent from Switzerland to Germany a planned attack on the Orlikon factories would have been more effective than an attack on Schauffhausen.

The court martial of the three American airmen lasted two days and the result was aquittal.

Dan Culler, an internee in Switzerland, who infringed Swiss federal law by attempting to escape and was sent to the infamous Swiss Wauwilermoos Prison, writes:

"Shortly after I had returned from my Switzerland trip in 1955, I was in a group talking about the trip (to receive the official apology of the then Swiss President for that imprisonment), the conversations came to the American bombings on Switzerland and I made the remark where it was a mistake, as the factory in Germany they were supposed to have bombed was close to the Swiss border and the bombadiers got the wrong target. A very large elderly person with a very demanding voice in the group, came back to me saying "like hell it was a mistake!" It seemed he was a high-ranking General in the air force and he informed everyone it was no mistake, as it was a small laboratory factory along the German/Swiss border. They were developing secret guidance and other equipment for a larger V2 rocket that was supposed to hit New York City. He said the place had both German and Swiss rocket engineers in it."

Kurt Ashers, a retired Swiss architect, now dividing his time between homes in Beatenberg, Switzerland and Melbourne, Australia, informs the recorder that other "planned" bombing raids took place on other occasions at targets om Zurich and Lausanne.

He happened to be in Zurich when a single British Mosquito bomber targeted the villa of a Swiss Nazi sympathiser who was actively organising a pro-German propoganda camaign under cover of Swiss neutrality.

Kurt Asher has no doubt that the raid on Schauffhausen, a town he knows well, was a planned attack on the SIG factory on the banks of the Rhine, near the main railway hub, which specialised in the production of machine tools and aerial components which were eagerly sought by both belligerent sides.

Wherever the truth lies on the allied bombing raids on neutral Switzerland, no Swiss citizen nor uninvited allied "internee" or "evade" in Switzerland in 1944/45 who watched the amazing sight of a thousand bomber daylight raid flying through Swiss air space en route to destinations in Germany by the shortest possible route, will ever forget that manifestation of "might is right".


L4 "Black Hole of Wauwilermoos", Dan Culler, 1955. ISBN 18877601X
L5 "Hitler's Secret Ally - Switzerland", Don Waters, 1992. ISBN 0964001179
G17 "Infringing Neutrality - The RAF in Switzerland", Roger Anthoine, 2006. ISBN 0752434209
G27 "Target Switzerland - Swiss Armed Neutrality in WWII", Stephen Halbrook, 2003. ISBN 0306813254
G29 "The Day We Bombed Switzerland", Jackson Granholm, 2000. ISBN 1840371358
Evidence given by Myron H. Keilman, lead crew commander 392nd Bomber group at the Ketteringham Hall court martial

Acknowledgments and Thanks to:

Kurt Ashers
Dan Culler
Peter Kamber
Clair Runyan
Tom Robertson
Hans-Heiri Stapfer
Don Waters

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