Horace William Austin – Capture and Evasion 1943


Information provided by Rob Austin (son):

My father, 1st Lieutenant HORACE WILLIAM AUSTIN, JR. (1921-1966) Serial # O-793711, Aircraft Commander of B-24D Southern Comfort shot down over Foggia, Italy, August 16, 1943 was captured by Italian forces upon escaping and parachuting from his stricken aircraft.

Of his crew, two officers, navigator SINGER and bombardier FINDER were KIA. The rest of the crew was also captured.

I believe AUSTIN was taken to the POW camp at Bari.

Upon the surrender of Italian military on September 8, he and the other inmates (all officers) were taken by German forces, placed on a train for transportation to German POW camps. AUSTIN was able to dismantle the locking device on the train car in which he was traveling. Other prisoners gave him and two other officers a blanket into which they put as much food as the others could spare. The train was composed of an engine, tender, flatbed car with machine guns manned by Nazi gunners, cattle car with prisoners, flatbed car, cattle car, and so on. AUSTIN waited until the train was going uphill and around a curve so that his car bellied out a bit. He opened the door, threw out the blanket and jumped. The other two officers followed.

AUSTIN rolled down an embankment and began to run, having lost the blanket. He heard the train stop. He never saw the other two officers, although he did hear rifle fire. He found a small cave-like shelter and buried himself in it. He then heard the train start and depart. He assumed the Germans had only seen the last two jumpers and left after having either recaptured them or shot them. AUSTIN waited until dark and headed south towards Allied lines.

After at least several days of walking by night and sleeping/hiding at night and having only unripe tomatoes and other vegetables to eat, he became quite weak and decided to take a chance by identifying himself as an American to a farmer. The farmer took him to his house, fed him and gave him clothing. After regaining his strength, AUSTIN determined to continue his search for Allied lines. The farmer and his family purchased false papers, a railroad ticket, and dyed AUSTIN’S hair black from its natural blond, and gave him money. The papers identified AUSTIN as a farm worker. The farmer told AUSTIN to pretend he was asleep when he was on the train because otherwise the Germans would see his blue eyes and become suspicious of a blue-eyed, black-haired man of military age.

AUSTIN boarded a train (station unknown) but lasted only one stop due to the presence of many Germans, including SS, on the train, and their constant walking up and down the aisle. Debarking, AUSTIN went to ground again. After about four days, he came across a communications wire on the ground and followed it. It led to British Eighth Army anti-aircraft battery.

AUSTIN was sent to London where he stayed on leave for several weeks, and then returned to the USA where became a flight instructor at Galveston, TX and later Victorville, CA. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal w/ two oak leaf clusters, the Presidential Unit Citation (Ploiesti, August 1, 1943), Purple Heart and various theater medals.

AUSTIN was assigned the 506th Squadron, 44th Bomb Group (Heavy) flying out of Benghazi, Libya/Benina Main. The 44th was an 8th Air Force Unit, originally based at Shipdam, England, but temporarily assigned to the Ninth Air Force for use in the preparations for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. Its commanding officer was Col. Leon Johnson, Medal of Honor winner. The Foggia mission on which AUSTIN was shot down was his 13th. His aircraft carried the tail designation “T- Bar” : The letter “T” with a bar beneath. He bombed targets in Rome, Weiner-Neustadt, Lecce, among others. Of particular note was the first Ploiesti raid of August 1, 1943. No one on his crew was injured as they successfully bombed Blue Target that day. His co-pilot was FABINY who also was imprisoned.

He died in 1966 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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