How a Nazi Luftwaffe Pilot Survived Stalin's Gulag

How a Nazi Luftwaffe Pilot Survived Stalin's Gulag

A young Luftwaffe fighter pilot was shot down and captured by the Soviets, endured years in captivity in the Gulag, and lived to tell the tale.

Key Point: Dulias was lucky to be alive.

Gottfried P. Dulias was a young Luftwaffe pilot who had seen plenty of action in the skies above the Eastern Front. Flying the Messerschmitt Me-109G-14/AS with Jagdgeschwader 53—known as the Pik A’s, or Ace of Spades squadron, or simply as JG 53—he shot down five enemy aircraft and became an ace.

Subsequently, he was shot down by ground fire and captured, and he spent three years in a Soviet prison camp. Dulias emigrated to the United States in 1953 and worked in residential construction and as a locksmith until his retirement in 2009. He and his wife, Hedwig, were married for 46 years until her death in 1997.

The father of three daughters, who also has two grandchildren and one great grandchild, Mr. Dulias lives today in Patchogue, New York. He and coauthor Dianna M. Popp met on the internet and later worked together to produce the book Another Bowl of Kapusta, from which this story is excerpted. Kapusta is Russian for cabbage soup, which served as a staple food for prisoners of war held by the Soviet Union.

Captured Near the Crackling ‘Gustav’

As I was passing over the front line with tracers flying by right in front of me, I had no time for evasive action and I heard loud pings hitting my engine and saw the impacts and some debris hitting my windshield. The engine started to sputter as the cockpit immediately filled up with smoke, and I knew I was doomed. The first thing I did was to jettison my canopy in order to see and breathe. I quickly searched for a suitable spot to make a belly landing. Luckily, I found a clear opening in the forested area and set my mortally wounded machine down on the snow-covered ground.

Coming to a stop, I made a quick exit, ran away from my beloved “Gustav,” and within a split second it blew up. Immediately, I headed toward the nearby woods to hide. Following my training on the procedures for bailing out, I used my survival knife and dug a small hole in the ground to hide my documents, including a photo of me in civilian clothes from my last furlough wearing the [Nazi] party pin. I intended to hide in the woods until nightfall and hoped to make it back through the nearby front line. I still heard the crackle of exploding ammunition from my burning Me-109; it was my beloved Gustav’s goodbye call.

I started walking by feeling my way through the thick underbrush. I did have a survival compass which had glow-in-the-dark directional points and a glowing needlepoint top indicator. Besides that, I had my survival pocketknife and my Luger [pistol] with 30 bullets. I continued to grope my way through the forest, and it never seemed to end.

It was now beginning to dawn. I remained in hiding there in the forest and heard some voices. Russian was being spoken. I found a secure place and hid in the underbrush. I peeked through the branches and saw a group of six drunken Russians passing by. They passed perhaps 20 feet from me. I saw that they were soldiers, not civilians, and they walked along a narrow path. I carefully observed their movement and then managed to advance forward on my way back toward our side.

As I kept stalking in the direction of the front, following my compass, and snuck past them, another troop came along, and they spotted me. They yelled: “Stoi, Stoi!” meaning Halt, Stop! Unfortunately they spotted me before I did them. I guess I was better at navigating up in the air than on the ground! I had to hold my hands extended and outstretched above my head. They shouted commands in Russian to me that I much later got to know as derogative curses.

They were a mean bunch and I knew that they hated the Luftwaffe because of the great damage that was done to them by us. It was known that downed Luftwaffe pilots were executed on the spot. They all pointed their Tommy guns [machine pistols] directly at me. Then one started talking and sounded as he was giving me orders.

I knew he was extremely angry as he was shouting at me, obviously due to the fact that we had a language barrier. I couldn’t understand a single word. He began hitting me in the chest with his gun butt. I almost fell backwards and his stroke took my breath away. He motioned for me to walk and pointed to the direction they came from. As I passed him, he kicked me hard in the back, and I almost fell forward. As I stumbled, the others cursed me too, and then hit me with their gun butts. Finally, I got knocked to the ground, yet they continued hitting, kicking, and trampling me so hard that I almost passed out.

A Fluent Russian Major

They probably would have killed me if a Russian major had not come up and stopped them. He was a most impressive character. To my complete surprise, when he and I met face to face he addressed me in fluent German without the slightest accent. At the same time he spoke Russian to his soldiers. Thanks to God he appeared just in time to spare me from certain death.

The first thing he asked me was, “Are you the pilot of the plane that went down?”

I confirmed with a “Yes.”

He stretched his arm forward with an open hand and he said, “Give me your gun!”

I handed him my belt and holster containing my Luger. He slid the holster off my belt and handed the belt back to me. I believe he was from the same troops that were doing the ground fire that shot me down and now had searched and finally spotted me. I acknowledged his questions and was really impressed with the major’s command of the German language.

He asked me my name and rank and saw that I was a Leutnant [lieutenant]. He also asked what type of aircraft I flew, although it appeared that he was knowledgeable about that already. He ordered me to march ahead of him to their field command station, which was just beyond the forested area, to the north. I walked ahead while the soldiers still continued cursing at me, but the major gave them orders to stop that.

Later, at the farmhouse, which I correctly assumed to be their post, one of the Russian soldiers approached me, pointed toward his wrist and shouted, “Ura, Ura.” He pointed to a chain hanging out from my pants pocket. I happened to have my grandfather Dulias’s open pocket watch on me. It was of a copper-golden tone but without a cover. So I had to give him the watch. He held it to his ear, listened to it tick and shouted, “Ura, Ura.” with a smiling face, obviously happy to get that trophy. In return he gave me a piece of bread. He was friendly, not too demanding, not stern, but just had to have my watch. Perhaps it was a novelty to him that he had only heard about.

At that station I saw several German infantrymen also held as prisoners of war. They were guarded by a few Russians and were not mistreated in any way. For the first time I saw a few female Russian soldiers holding their guns. When they saw me they shouted out, “Fritz, Fritz,” which was their nickname for any captured German soldier, as I found out later. In turn, the German nickname for the Russians was “Ivan.”

The major went into this command post. One by one all newly captured POWs were called into the post to be interrogated by the major. I was asked if I knew of any more German outfits (tanks, artillery, and so on) at or near the front. I couldn’t answer, due to my real lack of knowledge. Basically all I revealed was the fact that from the air I saw some German tank columns approaching the front.

I was then asked if I was able to draw maps. I knew I was skilled in doing that because I had already been copying maps for our own pilots because of a shortage; supplies had dwindled fast and replacements never made it to our field base. So he led me to an empty desk in the room where Russian soldiers were busy working on copying maps and showed me what he wanted me to do. So now, I had to do for the enemy what I originally did for my fellow pilots; but now I had no choice in the matter.

A First Taste of Kapusta

Finally toward evening they gave me something to eat, as it was their suppertime.

A bowl of cabbage soup was my first meal as “guest” of the Russians. They called it kapusta. I welcomed that warm soup, especially after not having had any food at all since leaving my base the day before. In the rush of leaving my plane I had forgotten to take my emergency rations with me. The kapusta was rich with lots of green cabbage leaves and included some potatoes and a few other vegetables along with some morsels of meat. It tasted really good and reminded me of the good Kohlsuppe (cabbage soup) we had often at home as my mother had cooked it.