The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Arizona Prisoner of War
Great Escape

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

The time is December 23, 1944 and the place is the Papago Park, German prisoner of war internment camp in Arizona.

Freggattapitan (Comman der) Fritz Guggenberger of the Imperial German Kriegsmarine (Navy) was in a very awkward and humiliating position. His clothes were torn, dirty and wringing wet with sweat. He was gasping for his breath as the air was stale and damp. Fritz was exhausted for he had been crawling on his belly, hands, and knees for 178 ft. A string of light bulbs made the tunnel very hot. It was a small tunnel, only about 2 1/2 ft. wide. Guggenberger was also worried about what he might encounter at the the end of the tunnel. I hope it will not be a 6 ft. diamond back rattlesnake, coiled to strike, he thought. And hopefully, there will not be too much water in the canal that would flood the tunnel, for the tunnel came out on the West bank of the Cross Cut Canal. (In the West, a canal is a large concrete lined ditch.) This canal was about 25 ft. across and 20 ft. deep. It brings water down from a Dam in the mountains to Phoenix. Close behind Guggenberger crawled Commander Jurgen Quaet-Faslem, as the men were traveling together in pairs. Finally, around midnight, both men struggled out of the narrow tunnel. They lay on the canal bank, gulping in the cool night air. As his breath returned, Fritz exclaimed "Seig Heil" to mine glorious Fuhrer. We have escaped so we are free to return to Germany."

Cecil Owen

The next person to emerge from the tunnel was their leader, Commander Jurgen Wattenberg. With him was Johann Kremer and Walter Kozar, members of his Unterseeboot (U-Boat) crew. Other small groups followed every twenty minutes, until a total of twenty-five seamen had escaped. Several groups went separate ways to avoid being captured all at once.

During World War ll. the United States had 500 prisoner of war camps, located in 45 states. Jurgen Wattenberg was shuffled from one camp to another, for nobody wanted to keep him. He was considered a "Super Nazi" because he caused trouble everywhere he was sent. Finally he was transferred to Papago Park prisoner of war camp, in the Arizona desert. This location was only 13 miles from the city of Phoenix, the capital of Arizona. The camp covered several thousand acres and was divided into two sections. (One section for German and Italian prisoners and one section for Japanese prisoners.) This was early 1944 and Papago Park housed 3,500 German naval officers and seamen.

As soon as Wattenberg arrived at the camp, he was put into compound A-1. It was a special place established for hard core Nazi troublemakers. Most of them were his crew members from U-Boat 162. Now that he was there, he would be able to figure out a way for them to escape. So Commander Jurgen

Wattenberg, along with Commander Fritz Guggenberger and Commander Jurgen Quaet-Faslem devised a brilliant escape plan. Dig a 178 ft. tunnel that would come out on the bank of the Cross Cut Canal. This would be outside the barbed wire fence, so they could travel down to Mexico.

They located the tunnel entrance behind the camp bathhouse. Seaman Walter Kozur built two shallow wooden boxes to hide the tunnel entrance. He planted tufts of grass and watered them regularly, so soon the grass filled the boxes. When they were fitted over the entrance, it was completely hidden. Every night the Germans could usually dig two or three feet of the tunnel. Three shifts were used, the prisoners stole

electric wire, sockets, and light bulbs to light the tunnel. For electric power, they simply plugged the tunnel wire into the bathhouse socket.

A small four wheeled cart was built to haul out the dirt, Now a big problem arose, how can we get rid of all the tunnel dirt. Commander Jurgen Quaet-Faslem talked to the camp commander, Colonel Will Holden, could we level off a sports area. The men would like to build a court to be able to play "faust" ball (Volley ball). The colonel was very pleased with this idea, for it would be a way to keep the prisoners occupied. The camp engineer agreed to truck in some extra dirt to help. Every day the Germans would work to level the area, leaving a large pile of dirt. And every night they would secretly spread it around. Then at midnight, new dirt was hauled out from the tunnel. It was formed to be the same size and shape as the other pile. American guards and officers got used to seeing a pile of dirt sitting on what would become a volley ball

court. But they never realized that it was a different pile every day.

Wattenberg decided that after they escaped, they would travel in pairs or groups of three. Each group had to be responsible for their own food, clothing and other travel items. All groups would travel only at night and rest during the day.

Early in the war, he was navigation officer on the German pocket-battleship, the Graf Spee. It sunk nine British merchant supply ships off the coasts of South America. The warship was damaged in a running

battle and docked in Montevideo, Uruguay for repairs. Uruguay was a neutral nation, so it could only stay there for 72 hours. So her Captain, Hans Langsdorff had the Graf Spee scuttled (sunk) and the crew were taken into custody. They were sent to a prisoner of war camp in Argentina. However, Wattenberg promptly escaped and made his way back to Germany. He was greeted as a hero and was given command of submarine U-116.

Commander Jurgen Wattenberg was very proud of his new U-Boat, the U-162. So he crossed the Atlantic Ocean with great expectations. His patrol area was the Caribbean Sea, where many Allied ships passed through. But on December 3, 1942, his dreams were shattered as his submarine was sunk by a British destroyer. However, Wattenberg and his crew were pulled out of the water by another destroyer. At first they were interned on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Later they were handed over to become prisoners

of war in the United States.

Heil Hitler, they exclaimed, we will meet again in our beloved Germany. But, alas, this was never to come to pass. The next day six prisoners were captured only a few miles from the camp. Later several of the escapees surrendered to a deputy sheriff. They decided being cold and hungry in the Arizona desert was not for them. Two weeks later, Commander Fritz Guttenberger and Commander Jurgen Quaet-Faslem had traveled almost 170 miles. They were tired and hungry but in high spirits, for a roadside sign read ...Mexico 10 miles!! "We will take a short nap, for soon we will be free," Jurgen shouted. Can you imagine their surprise when they woke up in hand cuffs? They were spotted by an Arizona Border Patrolman sleeping in a ditch.

Commander Jurgen Wattenberg was a very clever, intelligent, and resourceful young man. Instead of heading for Mexico he went North into the mountains with Johann and Walter. Jurgen, found a cave where they could stay until things died down. It was an adventure for them, "we will live the way the American Indians do." For three weeks they holed up in their cave. Until finally they were the only prisoners still on the loose. The three sailors made several trips down to Phoenix just like regular tourists. They even went into a Phoenix bowling alley. They were fascinated as they had never seen American bowling before.

However, they had become too bold, both Kozer and Kremer were captured on 40th street and McDowell Road. Thus Wattenberg became the only one left of the twenty-five escapees. On January 28th, he was out of food, so he slipped into Phoenix once more. It was late at night, so Jurgen slept in the lobby of the Hotel Adams. Then he went into the cafe there and spent his last seventy-five cents. A bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea would be his last meal in freedom. Then Jurgen approached the foreman of a street cleaning crew. "I need to know where East Van Buren Street is? The foreman looked very puzzled, this is East Van Buren Street .. You are standing right in the middle of it.

As he left, the foreman told a passing policemen about Wattenberg. The officer ran up to Jurgen and asked, "where are you from?" "I am a rancher in town for the weekend." Jurgen said. "You might be a rancher but I want to know where are you from?" "Why, can't you tell that I'm from Glendale?" "But is that Glendale California, or Glendale, Arizona?" Said the policeman.  "Neither one, but Glendale back East." "Then please show me your tour card." (Selective Service Registration Card)

So ended the biggest and most sensational prisoner of war escape in the United States of America!!!