My friend Burt Newmark passed away June 11th 2012. We used to get together and share lots of stories and I will miss him a lot.
Here is my interview with him.
2nd lieutenant Burt Newmark had some amazing experiences during WWII as a fighter pilot. He started out in the awesome Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" but in January of 1945 his fighter squadron, the 84th based at Duxford England, transitioned to the P-51 Mustang.
Burt was kind enough to share with me some of his stories. I hope you like them!
What are you doing in my country?
“‘What are you doing in my country?’ asked Hanns Joachim Scharff, my interrogator. I’d been dragged into his office and he’s wearing a beautiful German uniform. He’s sitting in his office with books behind him, at his desk, and I’m shoved into a chair. He looks at me and says, ‘What are you doing in my country?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Burt Newmark, 716204, Second Lieutenant.’ He said, ‘Why are you telling me this, it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ So I pulled out my dog tags and I showed them to him and he said, ‘If I show you my dog tags they say Colonel Bullshit.’
“His job is to get information from me. He knows it and I know it but he’s trying to tell me that name rank and serial number is insufficient to identify me as a soldier. He says, ‘You’ve arrived in my country by parachute, you’re not wearing a military uniform (I’m in my flight suit), you’re a spy. I’m going to have you taken out and hung.’ I said, ‘You’ve seen my parachute and your people saw my airplane nose into the ground.’ ‘Oh, I see you’re claiming to be a flyer,’ he said
‘Yes,’ I said
‘So that’s why you’re using the Geneva Convention. For you the war is over. For me the war is going to be over in three months.’
“This was February 22nd or 23rd. I’m not sure exactly because I was in pretty bad shape from being shot down. I was shot down near the town of Kriegsfeld on the 21st of February, 1945.
“So he said, ‘Tell me the two letters on the side of your airplane, it will go easier for you and it will prove to me that you are a pilot.’
So I said, ‘WZ’
‘Oh,’ he says, ‘the 84th Fighter Squadron! How is Ray Smith?’ Ray Smith was our operations officer and had crashed the week before and was in the hospital. What he was doing was letting me know that he knew more than I did. He knew the name of every pilot in my group and that Ray Smith had crashed.
Burt in his Mustang "Lady Eve"
Flying and fighting
“I enlisted right out of high school. I loved pilots and what they did. My heroes were people like Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, and Charles Lindbergh. As a little boy I read pulp fiction magazines and loved reading exciting fighter pilot stories. My friends and I used to build balsa wood airplanes.
“My first airplane ride was at Syracuse University after I’d enlisted. I went up in a Piper Cub with an instructor for one flight. It was not part of the flight instruction but an indoctrination flight.
“The P-47 was the first big fighter I flew. A lot of people will tell you that the P-51 was the best fighter. In my estimation and a lot of other fighter pilots, it wasn’t. The reason they switched from P-47’s to P-51’s they say is because the P-51 had long range, which is true, it did have a little longer range, but they should have used them for that purpose. But the P-51 cost half of what a P-47 cost. It weighed half, it had half the horsepower, it had 2/3rds the firepower, and it would not protect a pilot against any damage. We didn’t like the idea of changing to the Mustang because we knew we weren’t protected as well. The P-47 had 1 inch of solid steel armor plate behind the pilot. The Mustang had a mechanical supercharger instead of the exhaust gasses driving the turbo charger in the P-47, so at very high altitude, where we were used to, it lost some power. The Mustang was a beautiful airplane to fly but if you’re going on a fighter pilot mission, you chose a P-47. If you’re going to have a picture taken to send home, you get in front of a P-51.”
“I never saw a German fighter. By the time I’d gotten over there, the German fighters were hiding from us. Zemke’s Wolfpack had torn the Luftwaffe apart. Zemke’s Wolfpack, the 56th Fighter Group, was the only fighter group that was dedicated to finding German fighters. We were dedicated to protecting bombers and if we weren’t interfered with, we’d go down and strafe targets of opportunity.”
“The German fighter pilots that were there at that time were inexperienced, they’d lost all of their good pilots, they knew that their air force had been destroyed by the Americans, and they weren’t about to take us on. They knew the bombers would be handled by the flak and they would fly high and wait to see where they could find an unprotected formation, especially with their jets because their jets were much faster than our planes. I did see a couple of German jets but they were far away. We started toward them but they just disappeared.”
“We had a computing gun sight. It would tell the amount of G’s you were pulling. You could also set the dial for the wingspan of the airplane and it would construct the proper lead. We didn’t use tracers because if you used tracers, the guy you were shooting at knew you were shooting at him. Some groups liked every fifth bullet to be a tracer but our CO said no way. So we couldn’t tell where our bullets were going but we knew. We used armor piercing incendiary .50 caliber rounds.”
“On my first P-51 ride I did have one experience. They were sending us up on orientation rides after a blindfolded cockpit check where you had to point to everything in the airplane. I was the first one to take off in the morning and nobody noticed that the air was kind of moist. I got up just about the time the sun was coming up and I had nothing but white clouds below me. One the sun get up above a certain altitude and there a certain amount of moisture in the air, it’s fog from above but when you’re on the ground you look up you can see sky. The sun was reflecting off this moisture layer. So I had to fly around in this fog for about an hour and I finally found a hole in it over the end of a runway. So I dove down and found myself perfectly lined up with the runway, and in the middle of the runway was a repair crew! This field had been closed down! They got out of the way and I got out of their way. I didn’t want to take off again. It was a British air base and two British officers who were in charge of the repair crew took me in for lunch and we talked for a while. They refueled my airplane and I went back to my base.”
Burt is kneeling and holding the prop. Bob Johnson is standing next to him giving a lesson.
Burt's Mustang "Lady Eve" - WZ-K
February 21st, 1945 - Shot down by a train!
“The day I got shot down I was assigned to fly cover for the B-17’s and there was no enemy activity. Our controllers told us there was no indication of enemy fighters. We had controllers on the ground that would pass on information to us. So our CO said, ‘Let’s hit the deck.’ We went down on the deck and broke up into pairs and went off in any direction we wanted to go, looking primarily for airports. I never found one but we spotted a train line and followed it for a few minutes and saw there was a train on it. Now we’d lost a lot of pilots strafing trains and we were always told you didn’t want to fly parallel to the rail line because that’s easy for them to track you. You always want to be perpendicular and you never want to pull up to look at your damage because that’s when they can get you. You’re slower and not moving away as fast if you pull up. I didn’t follow instructions. I loved to look at the explosions. This was about the third train I’d blown up. My wingman yelled, ‘Flak Car!’ and I turned to look and I heard the bullet and saw the hit go through the cowling. I knew I was in trouble because I saw the oil coming back so I started preparing for bail out. The engine was burning and fire was coming at me through the firewall. If I’d been in a P-47 I would have gotten back home it’s just that the bullet had just ticked my cowling and I was in a P-51. A little stream of liquid came back and the plane was burning. I only got to about 1,000 feet and bailed out. My parachute opened just as my feet hit a tree. 1,000 feet wasn’t high enough but I sure wasn’t going to ride down in a burning airplane. I was scratched quite badly from going through the tree and I was burned a little bit. A lot of molten metal was coming off of the engine and some of it hit my face and my jacket had holes in it. I started looking around and there were people coming towards me with rifles and shotguns and pitchforks. A hunter with a big rifle yelled ‘Halt!’, and I did! Most of them I think were civilians but a couple of them looked like home guard. This was my 25th mission. As a matter of fact, if I’d gotten back home I would have gone up to Scotland on two weeks of Rest, Recreation and Rehabilitation (R, R & R).”
“I was extremely lucky when I bailed out because I landed in a little town called Kriegsfeld where there was no damage. It was a little town with a railroad siding and they treated me like a guest. My gun had a picture of my girlfriend in it under the plastic handle and this guy took his penknife out, unscrewed it and handed me the picture. He asked me to show me how to fire the gun into the earth. These two soldiers who were in charge of me were took me visiting and we would sit down and have tea and crackers and they would tell the homeowner how they’d shot me down – which they hadn’t done! But they were making heroes of themselves. We did that all night long until they put me on a train.”
“In prison camp one night we were having a discussion with British bomber pilots about precision bombing. We were describing how an American bombing formation would stretch from horizon to horizon. They would sit in formation in their box and their combined firepower was their only protection against fighters. When each group’s bombardier would drop his bombs, everybody else in that group would drop theirs so they laid down this big pattern around the target. So the British said, ‘Well, let’s tell you what we think is precision bombing.”
“At night we send a pathfinder bomber that caries radar, locates the target, and drops a white flare under a parachute and in the light of the white flare, a Mosquito bomber swoops down and it drops a red and green cascading flare at point zero. One at a time a British bomber comes in at a different altitude and a different direction and drops its bombs on the green and white cascading flare. And all night long, bombers are coming in from different altitudes and different directions dropping on that flare. We were in a prison camp and we are maybe 15 miles from the Nuremberg train marshaling yards and the air raid sirens go off. We go running outside to see a red and green cascading flare come down on the Nuremburg yards. We watched all night long as the British bombers did just that. We saw the search lights going after them. We saw a German night fighter shoot down one of the British bombers. All night long and all morning long, bombs continued to go off because they dropped a lot of time delayed fuse bombs that kept the work crews from cleaning up. I believe that because of what we did, the 9th air force did, and what the British did, we defeated Germany because they couldn’t move anything. You can’t supply troops if you can’t move anything.”
“We had an escape committee. The escape committee owned pistols, radios, wire cutters, and they got them from the German guards. The German guards were old men who were sick and tired of the war. They had probably served in World War One. Cigarettes were worth maybe $100 a pack in German money and we would get American Cigarettes in our prisoner of war parcels. And they would use those cigarettes and chocolate bars to barter with the guards. The guards were very friendly and they would offer to escape which would have been a very dangerous thing crossing a field with a German soldier towards the third army!”
“I experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of a strafing run because when I was at the prison camp they put us on a forced march from Nuremburg to Moosburg Bavaria. I was in the group that was just crossing a rail line right near a little lumber yard. There was a train alongside the lumberyard. Somebody looked up and said, ‘Oh look, a Focke-Wulf!’ I looked up and said, ‘Focke-Wulf – oh, hell, they’re P-47’s!’ Just about that time, here they came and we ran for shelter. We got under some piled logs and I heard those bullets hit the ground. Each bullet sounds like a sledge hammer hitting the earth. 700 per minute out of each gun and there are eight guns on a P-47! They shredded the locomotive and killed two of the POW’s. We figured out a way to write POW in an open area with an arrow the way we were going so they could know we were prisoners of war.”
“I was in a prison camp for about two and a half months. When we were liberated I wound up in Paris a couple of days before the war ended. Of course Paris knew that it was ending and unfortunately for me, here I am unattached, 20 years old, and you can imagine what Paris was like. I was feeling sick so the sent me to sick call and they diagnosed me with infectious hepatitis and they sent me to a French hospital so I had no time in Paris!”
“After the war I flew in the reserve in Tucson, Arizona, at Davis-Monthan air base for three years in AT-6’s but I got tired of it. I did continue flying as a civilian in gliders for several years out of the sail plane port by the old Fremont Drag Strip.”
Three cool Mustang pilots:
Dan Martin, Burt, and Stu Eberhard
Here I am with Burt and the P-51A "Polar Bear"
Here you can watch Burt giving a talk to high school students about his war experiences
Evan Isenstein-Brand 12/24/08