As the campaign for Normandy continued, the 371st Fighter Group settled into its new home at A-6 Airfield near Ste Mère Eglise. By the 8th of August, it had really become a mystery as to where the ground echelon of the group was at.
The last members and equipment of the group had rolled out of Bisterne on 30 June, and should have arrived at A-6 already. The group’s “attached” units found their way to A-6 in the first week of July. But not the remainder of the group itself. One had to wonder if they got lost looking for A-6, or was it known as Ste Mère Eglise? Or should it be called Beuzzeville, or perhaps La Londe? Having several names from which to choose, the new airfield could be a bit elusive to those unfamiliar with Normandy.
Members of the 405th Fighter Squadron also speculated on this matter, and expressed such thoughts as “They’ve gone back to the States, why didn’t I stay with them?” or “They’ve all been sunk in the channel. I’m glad I didn’t stay with them.” But as the war continued on anyway, they all seemed to agree that Frisky was “…doing right well without them anyhow.” This impression was, in part, due to the fact of the arrival of increased numbers of replacement pilots and the type of mission being flown. As a result the flying time for the veteran pilots was cut back a bit.
But the missing ground echelon and change in individual pilot tempo did not allow for missed missions, and whenever the weather was good, Frisky flew. Such was the case on July 8, 1944. The 405th Fighter Squadron flew a morning mission of armed reconnaissance on that day, which is described in an operational report generated afterwards by the 371st Fighter Group which read:
“The 405th Sq. led by Capt. Leonard, took off at 1045 to perform armed recce south to T-673508. Sq. arrived over target 1115-1200. Results of bombing good. 6 hits on or near bridge at T-2352, 1220 B, 1 miss S of bridge, bridge still standing when left. 2 hits on flak position T-2521; 2 on flak position T-5050; 2 jettisoned in woods T-4851. 1 bomb ret. 7 A/C with bombs, 4 as top cover. 1 staff car, one half track destroyed, one truck damaged. One staff car stopped at T-7026. Half track going NE, both were strafed and left burning. Truck damaged at T-7026 while stopped. Gun positions and troops at T-2449. 2 plus gun positions silenced by Capt. Leonard. Flak intense and accurate at T-4015. 10/10 stralics (sic) with base at 4,500, vis. Under 3.4 mile except in rain. T. D. 1250.”
During the mission, Captain Luther P. “Luke” Canup was hit by flak near Vire, some 24 miles south-southeast of St. Lo, while leading his flight in P-47D-20 serial number 42-76454. Forced to bail out, he did so just before his stricken aircraft exploded. The 371st report on the mission succinctly noted the event: “Capt. Luther P. Canup hit by flak and was seen to bail out and floating down in open parachute at T-4015,” no doubt a victim of the “intense and accurate” flak reported above. For the rest of the month squadron members hoped he would be able to evade capture and turn up at A-6 but as things turned out, this veteran of 41 combat missions was captured and became a “guest” of the Third Reich. He was placed in care of the Luftwaffe, at a “Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager,” a POW camp known as Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Silesia, in eastern Germany.
Stalag Luft III is well-known as the place of the “The Great Escape,” which occurred in March, 1944 – although there were no Americans involved in this epic prison break, unlike depicted by Steve McQueen in the movie. Less well known is the smaller-scale escape by three men, involving a sort of Trojan Horse, which occurred in October, 1943.
Luke Canup did not stay at Stalag Luft III, however, for as the Russians advanced later in the war, the Germans force marched 80,000 POWs from various POW camps to other stalags farther west. He eventually ended up in Bavaria, at Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg Langwasser 49 11, according to POW information at the ww2pow.info website. (Note: there were other Stalag XIII camps, e.g. Stalag XIII-A, XIII-B and XIII-C) Stalag XIII was a real stalag, not the Stalag 13 of “Hogan’s Heroes” comedy fame, unfortunately. A number of POWs did not survive this wintry trek, though Luke did, and he survived the war. (Luther Canup passed away in 2010)
In fact, it appears that Canup survived another POW evacuation by the Germans, based upon a move of POWs from Stalag XIII-D on 12 April 1945 and the presence of his hand writing on a Nazi flag that once flew over the city hall in Moosburg, Germany, located some 94 miles southeast of Nuremberg and 35 miles northeast of Munich, Germany.
Moosburg was the site of Stalag VII-A, and was the largest POW camp in Germany, with over 80,000 men by the end of the war in a camp designed for holding 10,000. Even as German forces retreated before the Allied onslaught they tried to retain control of POWs.
When he was liberated by the soldiers of General Patton’s 14th Armored Division on 29 April 1945, Luke Canup became one of over 100 former POWs who signed the Nazi flag that was removed from the top of the city hall in Moosburg when that flag was replaced by the American flag. The POW flag was returned to the US by a member of the 303rd Bomb Group, and was eventually donated to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia.
Meanwhile, back at A-6, the loss of an experienced pilot such as Luke Canup had several implications. One was on morale of the unit, as it was a telling event to young and bold fighter pilots to see an experienced comrade suddenly vanish from their midst. They were not so invincible.
Another effect was on the combat efficiency of the unit, as an experienced leader would have to be replaced. Fortunately, experience was being accrued all the time, and a unit never ceased operations because of such individual losses. Depending on the level of loss, say for a flight commander, operations officer, etc., the ripple effect could be greater, and several people might be given new responsibilities as they stepped up in echelon to replace the vacancy resulting from the missing man.
But any way they looked at it, loss or not, the show still went on, and so it did in the 405th Fighter Squadron and the 371st Fighter Group, with a war yet to be won.
However, as Saturday, 8 July transpired, there was a small joy to be had at Ste Mère Eglise when the remainder of the ground echelon finally showed up. They were greeted “…with the usual “horror” and “hero” stories of the veterans who had been here (at A-6) since “practically D-Day.” Finally, the full 371st Fighter Group team was together again, on the continent, in action against the enemy. The new arrivals would soon be put to work helping the rest of the team continue to batter the Wehrmacht in Normandy and beyond.
405th Fighter Squadron history, July, 1944
POW Database information for Luther P. Canup, at: http://www.ww2pow.info/index.php?page=directory&rec=50797
Biographical information on Luther Paul Canup, at: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~lbpage/page-frick/ps33/ps33_116.html
Stalag Luft III, entry in Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_Luft_III
Stalag Luft III aerial view, at: http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/SL3/PicSL_3_Aerial.htm
Stalag XIII-D, Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_XIII-D
History of the Real Stalag 13, at: http://www.uncommon-travel-germany.com/stalag_13.html
The March (1945), Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_March_%281945%29
Moosburg POW Flag, at: http://www.303rdbga.com/pow-moosburg-flag.html
Stalag VII A: The Liberation, at: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/14theng.html
Stalag VII A: Aerial views, at: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/luftbilder.html