Squadron Leader Phil Lamason & the KLB Club

KLB_Club

I could have gone with any of 168 stories of the members of this club, but I decided to go with the highest ranking officer.

The KLB Club (initials for Konzentrationslager Buchenwald) was formed on 12 October 1944, and included the 168 allied airmen who were held prisoner at Buchenwald concentration camp between 20 August and 19 October 1944.166 airmen survived Buchenwald, while two died of sickness at the camp.

Buchenwald Gate

The “terror fliers” heads were shaved, they were denied shoes, and forced to sleep outside without shelter for about three weeks. They were given one thin blanket for three men.  They were assigned to a section of the camp called, “Little Camp,” which was a quarantine area.  Prisoners in the Little Camp received the least food and the harshest treatment.

After a short time, the men figured out who was the ranking officer of all the prisoners. Squadron Leader Phil Lamason, a Lancaster bomber pilot from New Zealand, was the most senior officer. Lamason called everyone together after their first meal together and made a speech, saying,

Phillip John Lamason DFC & Bar (15 September 1918 – 19 May 2012) was a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the Second World War, who rose to prominence as the senior officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany, in August 1944.

Phil_Lamason

Lamason’s Lancaster was shot down while attacking railway yards near Paris two days after D-Day. Two of his crew were killed; Lamason bailed out with the other four, three of whom eventually made it back to England. For seven weeks Lamason and his navigator were hidden by the French Resistance before they were betrayed to the Gestapo, who interrogated them at the infamous Fresnes prison near Paris. Lamason was wearing civilian clothes when he was captured and was therefore treated as a spy rather than as a prisoner of war.

AVRO_Lancaster_LM575_LS-H_Crew

On August 15 1944, five days before Paris was liberated, Lamason and his navigator were taken in cattle trucks with a group of 168 other airmen to Buchenwald, a journey that took five days .

 

As the most senior officer, Lamason insisted on military discipline and bearing. He did not do this just to improve morale but also because he saw it as his responsibility to carry on his war duties despite the circumstances.

Once at Buchenwald, he risked his life on numerous occasions as he sought to obtain the men’s release and to smuggle news of their plight to the Luftwaffe — RAF prisoners of war were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe, not of the Gestapo.

By negotiating with the camp authorities he was able to secure extra blankets, clothes, clogs and food for the airmen. In October he learned that the Gestapo had ordered their execution, and he increased his efforts to secure the fliers’ release.

In late 1944 a rumor crossed inspector of day fighters Colonel Hannes Trautloft’s desk that a large number of Allied airmen were being held at Buchenwald. Trautloft decided to visit the camp and see for himself under the pretence of inspecting aerial bomb damage near the camp.

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Trautloft was about to leave the camp when captured US airman Bernard Scharf called out to him in fluent German from behind a fence. The SS guards tried to intervene, but Trautloft pointed out that he out-ranked them and made them stand back. Scharf explained that he was one of more than 160 allied airmen imprisoned at the camp and begged Trautloft to rescue him and the other airmen Trautloft’s adjutant also spoke to the group’s commanding officer, Phil Lamason.

Disturbed by the event, Trautloft returned to Berlin and began the process to have the airmen transferred out of Buchenwald. Seven days before their scheduled execution, the airmen were taken by train by the Luftwaffe to Stalag Luft III on 19 October 1944,where their shaven-headed, emaciated appearance shocked their fellow PoWs. One of Lamason’s colleagues described him as “a man of true grit, he was the wonderful unsung hero of Buchenwald”; most of the airmen who had been sent to that camp attributed their survival to his leadership and determination.

Nationalities of the 168 airmen
United States 82 American
United Kingdom 48 British
Canada 26 Canadian
Australia 9 Australian
New Zealand 2 New Zealander
Jamaica 1 Jamaican

00345664(this is not a picture of the actual men)
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