Returning from escorting a bombing raid on Frankfurt, Germany, on 7 February 1944, Second Lieutenant Joseph M Krebs was nursing his badly shot up Mustang P-51B fighter aircraft of the 354th Pioneer Mustang Group, 355th Fighter Squadron, 9th US Army Air Force, back to base at Boxtead, near Colchester in Essex. Well off course and with only 30 gallons of fuel left in his tanks, his chances of actually making it to base were very slim as he found himself over Jersey which was bristling with German flak batteries.
Soon the Mustang was reeling from the fire of the German batteries at St Ouen and with the engine spluttering, the aircraft began to lose altitude and Lt Krebs decided it was time to bale out. The Mustang turned onto its side and crashed close to Chemin du Moulin, where it soon burnt out.
The German gunners continued to fire at the airman as he dangled in his parachute, but with a Force 7 wind blowing, he was carried across the countrywide faster than a person could run and eventually came to earth in a field near Greenlands, St Peter, where his parachute caught in a tree. It was here that he received severe injuries to his neck and a fracture of his right shoulder. Several people went to his assistance and released him from his parachute, which promptly blew away in the storm.
The downing of the Mustang had been witnessed by Joseph Carre, who was felling trees at St Ouen's Manor. He decided to try to reach the pilot before the Germans did and so, mounting his bicycle, he was soon on the scene and remembers that he was given Lt Krebs' address just before the soldiers arrived. He kept this address for some years, but eventually mislaid it while moving house.
Although it was subsequently remoured that those who had gone to the assistance of the American pilot were arrested, Mr Carre recalls that this was not the case and he was merely asked what he was doing there and had his identity card checked.
The squad of young soldiers who had been sent to capture Lt Krebs eventually arrived and took him off on foot to a nearby farmhouse, which was being used as a command post and the billet of a high ranking officer. The officer tried to be pleasant and with the help of a German soldier who spoke perfect English, began to interrogate the American. However, the latter replied in American slang which confused the interpreter, who was dismissed and the officer became upset. After a short wait livened with a bottle of beer, Lt Krebs was taken to the Airport where he was met by a Luftwaffe Major who was less friendly than the first German.
He ordered the American to be stripped. His arm, by this time, was so swollen that his shirt had to be cut off. The Major searched every stitch and seam of his clothing with Lt Krebs gradually becoming more cold, angry and humiliated.
Examining the airman's life jacket, the Major found a packet of sea marker dye and showed great interest in his discovery, which prompted Lt. Krebs to simulate a fake concern that something very special had been found. The Major tore the packet of dye from the life jacket and spilled some of it on his uniform. Immediately the atmosphere became tense and the soldiers released the safety catches on their machine pistols. Lt Krebs then said "water", but on this being applied to the dye an even worse mess ensued. The American eventually had his clothes returned and he was taken to the civilian prison in Gloucester Street.
During his short stay in prison Lt Krebs got to know the German Unteroffizier in charge of the guard. Known as Hermann, the German was very good to the airman, making him comfortable in the office during the day and escorting him to and from his cell when necessary. Lt Krebs noticed that the other adjacent cells were empty and he did not see or hear any other prisoners.
It was in Gloucester Street Prison that he first met Belza Turner, a 21 year old Canadian whose parents resided at Richelieu, Bagot, St Saviour and owned the Bagot Laundry. Having heard on the grapevine that an American flier had been shot down, she determined to try to get to see him and bribed the German guard at the prison with some butter that she had bought on the black market for 20 Reichmarks, butter being a valuable commodity at that time.
She was still surprised when the German agreed, although he was a little apprehensive at first. So, too, was Lt Krebs as he feared that Belza might be a "plant" sent to get information out of him, so he was very cautious at first. Eventually reassured, he gave the name and address of his aunt in America (Mrs Dorothy McQueen, Madison, Wisconsin) to Belza in the hope that she could get a message to his relative, but asked that his surname not be used as it was obviously of German origin, and he did not want the military authorities to suspect anything.
Belza sent the message off the next morning through the Red Cross Message Office in St Helier and this read:
- “Joe jnr fine and dandy, will write when settled, Love Belza”.
As Lt Krebs was the only relative of Mrs McQueen serving in the US Forces, she immediately recognised her nephew as being the subject of the message, as he had been reported by the US authorities as "missing in action". Belza's Red Cross message was delivered in June 1944, and although she waited for repercussions, none came. The Germans themselves did not notify the US authorities of Lt Krebs' capture until near the end of the war.
Belza and the Mustang pilot
By Margaret Ginns, for the Channel Islands Occupation Society Review, 1986.
On the pretext of collecting laundry, Belza Turner was able to visit the American on a few more occasions, including his 23rd birthday on 12 February, when she took him a birthday cake.
Shortly afterwards his German captors informed Lt Krebs that he would soon be moved to France, but before his departure, and as a token of his appreciation, he gave Belza his Army Air Corps class ring (which she was to return to him 20 years later) as well as his flying scarf, this being a piece of 6ft x 3ft white silk.
Fortified with sandwiches and clothing which had been given to him by islanders, although short themselves, Lt Krebs, escorted by a Major and three NCOs, boarded the troopship ss La France for the trip to St Malo on 15 February 1944. Crowded on the foredeck were over 50 civilians (probably OT workers returning to France) but Lt Krebs and his escort enjoyed the rare luxury of a cabin. Upon arrival at St Malo, all was confusion as the Allies had just carried out a number of successful bombing raids and in the chaos Lt Krebs managed to elude his escort for a short while, but his injuries did not permit him to maintain his short-lived freedom.
A commandeered car took the prisoner and his escort to the railway station, from where he was taken by train to Paris, where he was confined in a large prison for seven days before going on to Dulag Luft III near Frankfurt for three weeks of interrogation. The Germans had a particular interest in Lt Krebs as he had been flying a Mustang P 51B, one of the very few aircraft that fought in World War II that had been designed after the conflict had begun. The first P 51B flew on 30 November 1942, and Lt Krebs had been scheduled to take part in test flights of the then newly developed jet aircraft.
Following his period of intensive interrogation, Lt Krebs was then transferred to Stalag Luft I at Barth, near the Baltic Sea in North Germany. Travelling in a freight car with about 50 other airmen, the American remained at this camp with about eleven thousand other Allied air force officers until it was liberated by the Russians in 1945. "Liberated" is perhaps a misnomer as they all had to remain in the camp under Russian guard for a further two weeks before being flown to Camp 'Lucky Strike' near Le Havre, France, where all newly released American prisoners received food, clothing and medical attention.
When captured Lt Krebs had weighed 160 lb, but at the time of his release he had gone down to just 90 lb.
When Belza Turner visited Lt Krebs in prison, little did she imagine that she herself would become an inmate of the building within seven months.
The hoped-for liberation of the Channel Islands, with the invasion of France on 6 June 1944, had not been realised and, with the adjacent French coast firmly in the hands of the Americans by September, Jersey was well and truly under siege. With the nearest point on the French coast 15 miles away, it was inevitable that some inhabitants would attempt to escape by small boat. Some succeeded but there were also several failures, some of which ended in tragedy.
Belza Turner was one of those who decided quite early on to make the attempt, in the company of a young Dutch seaman who had been working on the barges which had, until recently, been plying between the Islands and France, but were now laid up in St Helier Harbour. The attempt was fixed for 16 September 1944, and the Dutchman, Siebe Koster, with access to the harbour, was able to remove a rubber dinghy from one of the boats laid up there.
Belza met Siebe at 6.30 pm on the appointed day on the beach at Havre des Pas, from where the escape was planned to start. Why Havre des Pas was chosen is somewhat mystifying as this spot is by no means the closest point to France, but additionally the rocks and currents would make any journey in a small boat hazardous enough even under normal conditions. Nevertheless the attempt was made and it is amusing to recall that some Germans swimming in the pool at Havre des Pas waved to them no doubt thinking that the bearded and fairheaded Siebe was one of their comrades taking his girlfriend for a row.
Expecting to make the trip in a matter of hours, they rashly took no extra food with them, and it was not long before they were in the open sea; but with changing winds and currents, and even though they tried to use Krebs' flying scarf as a sail, were soon off course and lost. Cold and hungry, and drifting to and fro in the winds and currents, they eventually reached land — not France, as they had hoped, but La Corbiere, Jersey, where German soldiers and the Field Police were waiting for them on the rocks.
Both were taken to the Gloucester Street prison where they were kept in solitary confinement for 14 weeks until their trial on 19 December, when they were sentenced to be held in prison for the duration of the war.
While exercising in the prison yard on Christmas Eve, 1944. Belza heard someone singing "Lullaby of Broadway" in his cell. She called out to the voice, who replied (they could not see each other), and said that he was an American from New York, and when Belza told him she was a Canadian, he replied: "I guess that makes us cousins". Belza chatted with the prisoner and promised to share her Christmas dinner (or what passed for Christmas dinner in those days) if she could return to the yard.
As a political prisoner, Belza was able to receive food from outside and her mother was able to send in a cooked rabbit and some vegetables. Belza wrapped up a share for the unknown "Voice", who threw a length of string down from his cell window and was thus able to haul up his share.
The weather turned cold and wet after this episode and Belza was not able to go outside for a week or so, and when she did manage some exercise the "Voice" had gone. It was not until 1985, when reading the article entitled "British and American POWs in Jersey", published in the 1983 edition of the CI Occupation Review, that Belza realised that the "Voice" was that of Lt George Haas, who attempted to escape from the POW Camp at South Hill (hence his incarceration in Gloucester Street) but eventually escaped successfully to France in January 1945.
Belza was eventually released from prison on 30 April 1945, nine days before the liberation of Jersey
On his return to the United States in 1945, Lt Krebs married Rosemary Schmit, the girl he had met in 1941 when she was serving in the WAVES, the American equivalent of the Wrens.
Meanwhile Belza joined the Field Ambulance Nursing Yeomanry and took her training at Chickley Hall, before being stationed in London. She returned to Canada in 1946, later marrying Reginald Greene of Montreal. Lt Krebs kept in touch through his aunt, Mrs McQueen, and in 1963 Belza and her family moved to Toronto, and it was here that the Army Air Corps class ring was returned. Joseph Krebs had stayed on in the Air Force and was soon promoted to Major. During the spring of 1964 he had flown up to Canada for a training weekend with the 440th Troop Carrier Wing at General Mitchell Field at Peterborough, 80 miles from Toronto. It was during a weekend break that he drove over to see Belza, and it was then that the ring was returned to its owner.
Joseph Krebs finally retired in 1971 with the rank of Lt-Colonel, the father of three sons and two daughters.