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Clayton Acre Nattier

Military

Prisoner of War (POW) Crashed at Ammendorf on 9/13/44 in B-17 Duration Plus #4231726. The flak burst that got his plane caused an immediate and intense fire in the cockpit area. By the he lef the cockpit he had received some dandy burns on face, neck and right arm. He flew 16 missions before being shot down.

Clayton Nattier had aspired to be a pilot since preschool. Whilst growing up in the 1920s a neighbour, who owned a nearby airfield, would frequently fly his aircraft over Nattier's house. This experience sparked Nattier’s interest in aviation and made him want to become a pilot. Nattier's interest in flight was further increased after he took a pleasure flight in Denver, Colorado in 1933, a man was offering rides for $5 and Nattier persuaded his father to let him have a ride.

Nattier enlisted in January 1942, and took the examination to become an aviation cadet at Santa Ana California Classification centre. After passing the exam he was classified as being eligible for being a navigator or pilot, but he chose to become a pilot because he had always been interested in flying, after passing the examination he was called to active duty in October 1942.

He then underwent pre-flight training, basic training, primary training and finally advanced training after which he received his pilots wings on 30 August 1943. After being commissioned, he went through a course of B-17 transition training, especially for pilots, at Roswell, New Mexico. Nattier described this training as very intense, there were two students per instructor. On completion, he then undertook crew training in Sioux City, Iowa in November 1943. When that was complete in June 1944, Nattier and his crew departed to England, Travelling from Kearney, Nebraska to Goose Bay onto Iceland before landing in Wales on 4 July 1944.

Nattier arrived at Thurleigh shortly after, in early July 1944. He found life on base enjoyable, because it was summertime. He enjoyed visiting the local people, and stayed at the Red Cross club in Bedford overnight when on leave. Nattier also bought a bicycle on the base. He recalled that bikes were often resold a dozen times, often after the previous owners had been shot down. Nattier and the other pilots spent a lot of time learning to shoot by practicing clay pigeon shooting, occasionally they practiced with .50 cal machine guns.

He flew his first mission on 28 July 1944, when new crews joined the 306th, the new pilots would fly their first two missions with an experienced crew. His first mission was to Mersberg, to bomb synthetic oil refineries, which made fuel for German trucks, planes, trains. Mersberg was one of the most heavily defended targets in Germany, and flak was extremely heavy. The target was dangerous as the Germans always had a good sight on the altitude the aircraft were flying at. Nattier recalled that Flak bursts were like giant balls of smoke. When you saw one you could often count one or two seconds before the smoke blocked out the windshield. If you’d been a second or two earlier, then you may not have been alive! Nattier recalled that you could often feel the concussion of flak; bursts would often lift and buffet the aircraft. He recalled that you felt lucky to get away from the Mersberg intact due to the amount of flak. Nattier flew his second mission with the experienced crew in early August 1944, his first mission with his assigned crew was shortly after.

On 13 September 1944, Nattier flew his 16th mission; it was his third flying to Mersberg. His crew were flying at 29,500 Ft, when their aircraft was hit by flak. Nattier didn't hear the aircraft get hit by flak, but an intense fire immediately started ahead of the instrument panel, on the right side of the fuselage. He later determined that the fire was probably caused by the oxygen and oil lines being severed by flak. Nattier’s aircraft needed to lose altitude quickly and leave formation, so that if his aircraft exploded it would not damage the other B-17s in the formation. The fire on board was so intense from the start, that Nattier immediately gave the order to bail out. His crew members in the back of the aircraft complied and bailed out not far from Mersberg, three other crew members, the Co-pilot, Bombardier and Navigator were gathered in the nose of the aircraft around the open escape hatch. The Top Turret gunner, Gerald Bump remained with Nattier in the cockpit and diligently attempted to extinguish the fire.

The fire continued to grow in intensity very quickly and Nattier and Bump chose to also bail out, Nattier believed that the three crew members in the nose had already vacated the aircraft but he found them still gathered around the open front hatch. Nattier approached their position and saw and motioned to the Navigator, who was facing him, to bail out by intensely signalling thumbs down. With equally intense motion, the navigator put up his hands in a stop motion and gestured ‘no’. There was no time to discuss the situation, so Nattier quickly returned to the flight deck, in order to stabilise the aircraft as well as possible and allow the other crew members to bail out.

On his return to the cockpit, Nattier stood behind the pilot’s seat reaching out for the controls, the flames prevented him getting any closer. During the short time he attempted to stabilise the aircraft, Nattier received burns on his face and neck and right wrist. Bump and Nattier looked to the front hatch, but the flames were so intense they couldn't see the other crew members and did not dare to attempt to go through the fire in order to bail out themselves. They therefore headed for the bomb bay, where they bailed out and landed close to Halle, Germany.

As Nattier was descending in his parachute, he could hear an aircraft close by which he was sure was an FW190, in hindsight he believes the FW 190 pilot was circling him, in order to report to a nearby Luftwaffe school where his Nattier’s landing position may be. Bump, the Top Turret Gunner, landed first to be met by dozens of people from the Luftwaffe school. When Nattier landed, the first thing they did was roll him over to get to the escape kit on his back. Nattier presumed that they had probably seen allied crew members land close by before, as the students seemed to know exactly what they were after. They looted his .45 cal pistol and some 1,500 dollars in German money, in addition to the large silk map of Europe, used by the crew members for evasion, and a large chocolate 'D-Bar' which Nattier is sure they had seen before and they were glad to see again. It was their priority to claim the items from the escape kit before taking him Prisoner of War.

Nattier’s next recollection was that he heard what sounded like a horse walking and opened his eyes to see a donkey; he was laid over its back. The next thing he remembers was that he was put into a little car along with Bump. Nattier recalled that he had never heard an engine that sounded the way the one in the little car did, though years later when Volkswagen began to export vehicles to the US, he recognised the sound and realised that the little car must also have been a Volkswagen.

Bump and Nattier were taken to the jail in Halle, in the car and their wounds were treated by a medic from the Luftwaffe school. Bump had broken his ankle when he landed and the medic set the ankle, and wrapped it. Nattier, believes the ankle did not give Bump any problems in later years. The medic also bandaged and treated the burns Nattier had received, with a bandage over his right eye and face, neck and right wrist. Nattier was glad he treated the burns, but at the same time, had no kind feelings towards any German. Nevertheless, the bandage lasted throughout Nattier’s interrogation in Frankfurt, while he was held in solitary confinement and the train journey from Frankfurt to Barth, to Stalag Luft I.

On 26 September 1944, Nattier arrived at Stalag Luft I, where he was immediately taken to the camp hospital and his bandages were removed – the burn wasn’t infected, which convinced Nattier that the German medic had done a very professional job of dressing his burns. He stayed in the camp hospital for 3 weeks while the burns were treated, before he was sent to North Compound 2. A few days after arriving, the burn on his wrist became infected, and blood poisoning was evident by red streaks up his arm. Nattier believed that this was caused by the dirty conditions in the POW camp. The infection was treated at the hospital and eliminated with sulphur drugs and bandaged, there were no further problems with the wound healing.

When Nattier arrived at Stalag Luft I, the prisoners were receiving Red Cross parcels to the extent of half a parcel per man per week. The parcels were designed to feed one man for one week. The reduced rate of Red Cross food continued until Christmas 1944, when Nattier recalls that the Red Cross parcels stopped entirely on Christmas Day 1944. This seemed to be the pattern not only at Stalag Luft I, but at other POW camps according to literature Nattier's read in subsequent years. The Germans provided little food in absence of the Red Cross parcels, and the prisoners received rations of potatoes, rutabagas (swedes), and cabbage. This "diet" continued until late March 1945, by which time the inmates had been subjected to such starvation that they were extremely weak.

Nattier’s Commanding Officer in the camp, Colonel Hubert Zemke, managed to make an agreement with the Kommandant, to furnish as many men as might be needed in addition to one German truck driver to collect Red Cross parcels from Rostock. The Kommandant had said they couldn't spare German personnel in order to collect them. It was decided that American POWs would help to load Red Cross Parcels and would guarantee not to harm the driver, or make any attempt to escape, but return to the Prisoner of War camp with the food. The Kommandant agreed to Zemke's proposal and the first Red Cross parcels began to arrive at their camp on 29 March 1945. This routine continued day after day, until thousands of parcels were held in the warehouse at Stalag Luft I.

When the starving inmates were administered their parcels, they were warned to eat any amount of food very sparingly, otherwise it would make them sick and could potentially kill them. With the resumption of food from the Red Cross parcels, every prisoner Nattier knew got sick. Their digestive systems could not tolerate the food. Nattier recalls that the sickness was not like an upset stomach, it was extremely painful throwing up the food, as it couldn’t be tolerated. Nattier describes the pain as unlike any he had ever experienced. Eventually, into April 1945 the inmates began to tolerate increasing amounts of food, and by mid to late April, they were all in better shape, not cured, but a great deal better.

In late April 1945, Zemke, and the Kommandant of the camp, discussed a plan that would allow the German staff to leave the camp in order to escape the advancing Russians, and turn it over to the Americans and British inmates. Under this plan, inmates were ordered to stay in their barracks with the shutters closed and were to come out only when they were given the all clear signal. On 30 April 1945, they were told that the Germans would be leaving that night. Throughout the night, Nattier remembers that there were a lot of men shouting, and sounds much like a riot, dogs barking, and constant noise. At 1 or 2 AM the camp fell completely silent, the Germans had left the camp, but inmates remained inside with their shutters closed until daylight. When Nattier looked outside the next morning he could see Zemke’s MPs inside the guard towers, they had no guns, but waved in a very friendly manner "good morning".

Nattier recalls that at noon on 1 May, the Russians arrived, the first to arrive and maybe most that arrived that day were thought to be drunk. The Russians made it very clear that they wanted to destroy everything, mow down the fences and alight every building on fire, and destroy the camp totally. Zemke, who had trained Russian pilots to fly the P-40 Warhawk prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, negotiated with the Russian Officers who had “Liberated” the camp to allow the Allied inmates to be flown to France from a nearby Luftwaffe airfield. The Russians had wanted to transport the camp inmates back to Russian soil.

From 11-14 May, the prisoners from Stalag Luft I marched to the nearby airfield to board B-17s that would transport them to France. Nattier was transported to Camp Lucky Strike, near Reims, where he was given a superficial physical examination and sent to a delousing shower. He was also given new clothes, which like many other prisoners, he desperately needed.

On 9 June 1945 Nattier was taken to a French port, and put on a Liberty ship to return to the United States. He landed in New Jersey on 20 June, and remained there for a couple of days. He boarded a train to his home town and received 60 days leave. Following the period of leave, in late August or early September 1945 he reported to Miami Beach, Florida, where the Army Air Corps had acquired almost every hotel in Miami Beach in order to process the returning POWs to further active duty or discharge. Nattier received a thorough physical examination and interrogation as to what had happened to him whilst he was a Prisoner of War at Miami Beach, following which he was sent to Fort Leavenworth to be discharged. Nattier’s effective date of discharge was 2 December 1945, and he remained in the Army Air Corps reserves for 7 years after.

Following the war Nattier, wanted to get back into college as quickly as possible, he had left after his first year in order to enlist. After leaving Fort Leavenworth, he went to Manhattan and enrolled in in classes at Kansas State University to study chemical engineering. He finished the course and graduated with a Bachelor in May 1949. Nattier pursued a career in Oil and Gas production as a petroleum and chemical Engineer until retirement in 1989.

On 8 May 2015, Nattier received the French Legion of Honour. Friends of his in the 8th Air Force Historical Association had also received the medal in 2014, and they told Nattier that as he had flown missions to France, that he was eligible to receive the French Legion of Honour. Nattier described it as ‘most unusual to receive a medal 70 years after the end of the war’. Nattier did not receive any of his medals from the Second World War, despite his discharge papers showing that he was eligible for various medals Nattier worked in conjunction with a constituent service representative to attain his medals, and finally received them at an award ceremony on 2 July 2015.

Service

People

  • Gerald Bump

    Military | Sergeant | Top Turret Gunner | 306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers
    He flew on Lloyd Johns crew. Reported to ETO on 13 Apr 1944. ...

  • Hubert Zemke

    Military | Colonel | Fighter Group Commander; Pilot | 479th Fighter Group
    17 air victories with 56th FG flying P-47s, 2 1/2 with 479th FG flying P-51s. Lost 30 October 1944 when P-51 broke up in storm. Prisoner of War (POW) Stalag Luft I, Was appointed as head of American Prisoner of War (POW)s while in camp. . Retired from...

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Units served with

  • 306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers

    306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers

    Group
    Constituted as 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on 28 Jan 1942. Activated on 1 Mar 1942. Trained for combat with B-17's. Moved to England, Aug-Sep 1942, and assigned to Eighth AF Eighth Air Force in September 1942 Station 111 Thurleigh. During combat,...

  • 369th Bomb Squadron

Aircraft

  • 42-31726 Duration Plus

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Denver 12/12/43; Kearney 30/12/43; Prestwick 15/1/44; Assigned 367BS/306BG [GY-O] Thurleigh 10/2/44; Missing in Action German oil insts 13/9/44 with Clayton Nattier, Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Gerald Bump, Radio Operator: Edwin Block,...

Associated Place

  • Thurleigh

    Military site : airfield
    Built for RAF use in 1941-42, Thurleigh was initially used by RAF Bomber Command before being handed over to the Eighth Air Force. Its runways and hardstandings were improved, and the B-17s of the 306th Bomb Group began using the base. It was their...

Events

Event Location Date
Born Concordia, KS, USA 22 January 1923
First flight in an aircraft Denver, CO, USA 1933
Enlisted Santa Ana, CA, USA January 1942
Called to active duty Santa Ana, CA, USA October 1942
Journey to UK Iceland July 1943
B-17 Training Roswell, NM, USA August 1943 – September 1943
Commissioned 30 August 1943
Crew training Sioux City, IA, USA November 1943 – June 1943
Departed for UK Kearney, NE, USA June 1944
Journey to UK Goose Bay, Canada June 1944
Arrived in UK Wales, UK 4 July 1944
Based Thurleigh 5 July 1944 – 13 September 1944
First Mission Mersberg, Germany 28 July 1944
Shot down and Captured Halle (Saale), Germany 13 September 1944
Interrogation & Solitary Confinement Frankfurt, Germany 14 September 1944
Prisoner of War Stalag Luft I 26 September 1944 – 1 May 1945
Transported from Stalag Luft I to Camp Lucky Strike Near Reims, France 11 May 1945 – 14 May 1945
Based Camp Lucky Stripe 14 May 1945 – 9 June 1945
Returned aboard a Liberty Ship New Jersey, USA 9 June 1945 – 20 June 1945
POW Processing Miami Beach, FL, USA August 1945 – September 1945
Discharged Fort Leavenworth, Leavenworth, KS, USA 2 December 1945
Awarded the French Legion of Honour 8 May 2015
Received Medals 2 July 2015

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
15 June 2015 13:17:49 Emily Changes to nickname, service number, biography, awards, unit associations and place associations
Sources

I interviewed Clayton Nattier, when he visited IWM Duxford on 15 June 2015.

Date Contributor Update
15 June 2015 09:47:16 Emily Changes to events, unit associations and aircraft associations
Sources

Transferred information from duplicate record.

Additional information from MACR 8829 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:06:24 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

306th BG Association Directory, 1 September 1999 Edition,MACR 8829, First Over Germany pg. 279, / Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / http://www.306bg.org/crewphotos/Crew%20Pictures%20Adam-Rector/Crew%20Pic...

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