Russell Boyko ‘s Year As Nazi Prisoner

Russell Boyko 's Year As Nazi Prisoner
Russell Boyko

Sgt. Russell Boyko thought the smoke over Berlin was from anti-aircraft shells at first. It was his 17th mission and would have been his seventh over the burning Nazi capital. At 30,000 feet the smoke was near the ceiling of his B-17.

Boyko, who now lives in Upper Darby and attends Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Clifton Heights, was a waist gunner manning a 50-caliber machine gun. His plane was at the front of the formation. As they neared the city, the aircraft began to shake. Water had mixed with the anti-freeze causing an engine to lockup. With just three engines left his pilot chose to forgo the bombing run, break formation and return to Great Ashfield, England, the ETO base of the 548th Squadron of the 385th Bomber Group.

“Not very safe,” said Boyko.

A lone B-17 was extremely vulnerable to enemy fighters.Bomber formations were organized in a way to allow guns from many planes to be concentrated on an attacker. American fighter escorts, of course, would stick with the formation for as long as the gas in their tanks allowed.

“We came close to Bremen. I remember seeing a body of water. I don’t know if it was the North Sea or the Channel.  I remember starting to have hope.”

He then saw a German plane with two engines in the distance. It would not have been a front-line fighter and did not attack. It did apparently report the bomber’s position. Nazi fighters soon  arrived.

“I don’t know if they were Fock-Wolfes or Messerschmitts,” Boyko said. “They attacked our plane. Our plane went down in a dive.”

The pilot had given a pre-flight order to bail if such an event should happen, which the crew did. The other waist-gunner, Carter, was hesitating at the escape hatch. Boyko gave him a nudge and then followed him out at about20,000 feet.

Boyko said the directions they were given for a bailout were that a count of three before pulling the ripcord would allow them to clear the plane while a count of 10 would make it harder for the enemy to follow his path to the ground to capture him.

He said both he and the other gunner counted to 10 albeit it made little difference. About a half-dozen German militia and civilians managed to get a bearing on them. Boyko said his chute was blossomed on the ground and he had trouble unstrapping it. He heard a gunshot and heard a bullet whistle past his ear. There was a bit of woods a few yards away and he ran into it.

“The Germans kept the woods nice and clean,” he said.

He said a small girl saw him and started screaming. He found himself surrounded and surrendered. He didn’t have a gun and had no intention of resisting.

It was May 8, 1944.

The Germans fed them after surrendering.

“They gave us pea soup,” he said. “It was delicious. The lady was polite. I guess she worked for the Luftwaffe. I looked in her eyes. They were green like pea soup.”

Boyko’s next stop was a prison camp.

He said the camp had four “lagers”, or sections, with 10 barracks to a lager and 300 men to a barracks.

He isn’t sure where the camp was although it was near the North Sea.

“I remember the North Sea during a thunder storm. The lighting would come straight down. It wouldn’t fork like we are used to”.

Camp life was not like Hogan’s Heroes. Each barracks had only two doors at the front and the back. To get to roll call, men would try to beat the crowd by climbing out the large windows. The Nazis gave an order forbidding this. “One or two” who ignored it were shot, he said.

After six months, they heard Russian artillery. The Germans piled the prisoners into boxcars and sent them west. After a few weeks they heard the artillery again. This time the Germans didn’t use boxcars but had them walk.

During one meal break he saw a familiar face. It was Albert Goodman with whom he attended Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia.

“He was in the chow line  ahead of me,” Boyko said. The meal was chicken. “He came back in the line. Is aid ‘Albert you are looking good’ and he was. He was in the ground forces not the air forces.”

Goodman was Jewish. Boyko asked if he said any prayers like the Our Father. Boyko said Goodman told him he said something like it.

Boyko said that during the walk he saw a large group of young girls in Ukrainian costumes but didn’t get a chance to talk to them. He said a few prisoners stole chickens for food. He said in April1945 they were told President Franklin Roosevelt had died. The prisoners went to attention out of respect.

Russell Boyko was freed on May 8. He was promoted to staff sergeant during his time in the camp. He lived in Southwest Philadelphia for 50 years attending Protector BVM, a church his mother was instrumental in starting, before it was combined with Saints Peter and Paul.

He would eventually work at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from which he would retire.

Mr. Boyko passed away in December 2013.

Russell Boyko ‘s Year As Nazi Prisoner


Kamikaze Survivor Visits Us

Kamikaze Survivor Visits UsWhile doing some clean up today at the old Garnet Valley Press office in Concord Township (Pa.) Fred Mitchell stopped by thinking the office remained open and looking for a recent paper with a story about him written by Eileen Shomo.

Fred revealed he had been a 17-year-old sailor manning an anti-aircraft gun aboard the destroyer USS Drexler  which was sunk by a kamikaze plane on March 27, 1945 off Okinawa. Out of  crew of 336 there was 158 dead and 52 wounded, one of whom was Fred.

Fred said he nursed an enduring hatred for the Japanese to the dismay of his wife and parents. He said he wished we had dropped three atom bombs on the country.

His wife noted he said the Lord’s Prayer at church and wondered if he wasn’t being a bit hypocritical when it he said the part about “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others”.

Fred said he caught a documentary on TV regarding three Marines who fought on Iwo Jima and had, had  the same hatred with regard to the Japanese. He caught them questioning whether they wanted to die with that hatred. He said the Marines decided to try to meet with Japanese who fought them there. They found three and they met on the island where they had been trying to kill each other. What died was their hatred. The Japanese also confessed to fear dying with hate.

Fred said before a reunion of Drexler survivors his group had been contacted by a Japanese-American woman who made documentaries and wanted to interview them. The ensuring film led to a visit to Japan for the survivors and their wives sponsored by the Japanese business community.

The hatred died.

Fred said they were treated like movie stars, and ever a sailor, was quite taken with the loveliness of the Japanese hostesses.

Fred said he plans to return.

Fred was also quite complementary of the health care he was receiving in the VA medical system.

Kamikaze Survivor Visits Us