On Tuesday, July 5th, the former Oflag XXI-B site was visited by descendants of Alvin Ward Vogtle. Vogtle's son, Alvin Ward Vogtle III; daughter, Anne Moore Vogtle Baldwin; and granddaughter, Katie Baldwin Kirtley (+ spouses) came to walk on the same ground, where their ancestor passed many years ago. Their travel through Europe traces the places related with Vogtle’s military service and captivity and from Szubin they have traveled to Żagan to visit the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War Martyrdom (previously Stalag Luft III, Sagan).
Alvin Ward Vogtle, born in Birmingham, Alabama, was a 1st Lt. Spitfire pilot in World War II. In January 1943, while he was in a squadron that ran out of fuel over Algeria (North Africa), his plane crashed and he was captured. After spending 21 days at Dulag Luft (Transit Camp for Air Force) at Wetzlar he was sent to Oflag XXI-B (Schubin). Together with about 80 American and British officers he traveled on third-class cars for about 3 days and finally arrived to Schubin on Feb 4th, 1943. From Oflag XXI-B he had one escape attempt in March '43 – that unfortunately was never enacted. His plan was to go the same month as the tunnelers – supposedly the Asselin Escapers, but possible also those who were simultaneously developing other tunnels known as Edge’s Tunnel and Williams’ (or Cookhouse) Tunnel.
As basing on her grandfather’s journal notes Katie Kirtley wrote: “Upon arrival, Vogtle immediately began looking for ways to escape. He enlisted the help of another American, Captain Jack Oliver, and they began to search the camp for a possible way to escape. They discovered a point in the wire at which it was possible to crawl up to the wire without being seen by the guard in the guardbox at the corner of the wire. There were also guards who strolled along the outside of the wire, but the prisoners developed a system of watchers ("stooges") who would warn them of the approach of the walking guard. The wire was thick at this point so the men estimated that it would take them approximately 4 days to cut through it. They worked only 30 minutes a day, from 12:00 pm-12:30 pm, when the compound was practically free of German personnel because it was their lunch hour. Vogtle and Oliver secured permission (from an escape committee) and wire cutters, the stooges were placed, and they began operations. At first they took turns crawling to the wire and cutting it. Eventually the job got so heavy it took both of them together. They had prepared small notched stakes to support the inner bulky wire, part of which they cut away, and the rest they supported by using the stakes. It was difficult work because it was very chilly so their hands suffered the most.”
The story continues: “After 4 days, they had cut all the way through to the last fence. The stakes had been burnt black so they wouldn't be so noticeable, but the little pathway they had cut through was fairly obvious since they had to leave the stakes supporting the inner coil in place from the minute they had started working. To partially conceal their work, they replaced the little doorway they'd cut in the first wire fence. On the 4th day, they only had a few more feet to cut so they decided to leave that evening. They had prepared their pack and been bidden farewell by the senior British and senior American officers. However, on the day before, a British officer had escaped from camp by means of a large box. This box had been carried from the camp on a wagon, ostensibly bound for the railroad station in the company of several other large boxes. The officer had slipped from the box when the wagon left the camp and disappeared.”
The above mentioned escape attempt of British officer supposedly refers to the escape attempt of Flying Lt. A.H. Gould (RAF), who on March11th get out of the camp on a truck. He was recaptured as seen as the truck arrived at the local railway station and taken back to the camp.
“The afternoon of the 4th day – the day Vogtle and Oliver were planning to escape – the absence of the British escapee was discovered by the Germans. The roll call had been covered up several times, but it was felt that his absence must be revealed on the afternoon of the fourth day. The reason for this was that he might have been caught and the Germans would then by on to their game of covering up roll call. They immediately called for a routine check of the wire and discovered Vogtle/Oliver's passageway. This attempt was March [12th?] 1943”.
In Oflag XXI-B Alvin Ward Vogtle stayed till 15th April 1943, thereon he was transferred to Stalag Luft III (Sagan). While POW he made many escape attempts and ultimately made it to freedom – escaping from Moosburg to Switzerland on foot – in March 1945. After the WWII he was employed at Alabama Power, and rose through the ranks to become President and Chairman of the Board of Southern Company, one of the largest electric utility holding companies in the nation. Southern Company named a nuclear power plant in eastern Georgia the "Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant" in his honor.
- Information shared by Katie Baldwin Kirtley on the base of the Vogtle’s War Log.
- Wikipedia article about Alvin Vogtle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Vogtle.
- Camp history: Oflag XXIB (Schubin): Air Force personnel Sept 1942 - Apr 1943, The National Archives, Kew, UK (Thanks to Keith Morley).
- The photograph of 1st Lt Alvin Ward Vogtle courtesy of the Vogtle family.
Photos by Mariusz Winiecki