Major Geo Ott, POW
Today is the birthday of George Ott, who was born in 1919 on his parents’ homestead near New England, ND. After graduating from high school, Ott took two years of pre-med training at Dickinson College and also joined the ND National Guard. After finishing with the Guard, George was given a choice of what to do next. He wanted to join the Army Air-Corps, but he first had to have his tonsils out. His brother’s friend was a doctor, so George had the operation in the doctor’s office and then herded sheep until his throat felt better.
Ott joined the Air Corp in November 1940. When his dad died the following year, he flew a B-18 bomber home and buzzed New England’s Main Street before landing in Dickinson.
By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941, George was flying B-25s at Ft. Pendelton, OR, and, as a member of the 17th Bombardment Group, he began flying submarine patrols. Thirteen days later, he co-piloted a B-25 credited with sinking the first enemy sub off the West Coast.
1943 was a pivotal year for Ott; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt interviewed him for an article for the February issue of Ladies Home Journal. He was now a Major in the 8th Air Force, and he soon began flying bombing raids into the heart of industrial Germany. Fighters would escort the B-17s from England, but at the German border the bombers had to go it alone.
The results were disastrous. During what’s now called Black October, some 100 planes and their 10-men crews went down in enemy territory. More than half of these casualties took place on October 14th – or Black Thursday. The Major woke before dawn with an uneasy feeling. “I knew in my mind that, by God, this wasn’t going to be my day,” he said. “I had that feeling all morning.” He was right. He was about to take part in the war’s bloodiest European air battle.
Major Ott was commanding officer of the 325th squadron of the 92nd bomb group, but on this day he was flying with the 326th as the deputy lead. His plane was brand new, not yet painted or even marked with squadron letters. All 291 planes took off blind – in pea-soup fog – relying only on instruments to guide them. As was the pattern, their P-47 escorts turned back when they reached Germany. “It was strange to look to your left and see one of your planes over there,” he said, “then...seconds later and it was gone.”
The mission was in trouble within minutes. “They were all over us with everything they had,” Ott said. “Anything that could fly they sent after us.” With German shell casings falling onto his windshield, Ott saw an ME109 swoop below him, then come straight up gunning. A large shell exploded beneath him, killing his bombardier. The No. 3 engine went out, and a fuel tank for the # 1 engine caught fire. Major Ott ordered his remaining crew to bail out while he held the plane steady. As he, himself, prepared to jump, a German twin engine came alongside, and he remembers seeing the faces of the pilot and a gunner as they watched him leap from the aircraft.
With no oxygen, Ott had to free-fall from 25,000 feet, through the fighting, until he could breathe. He pulled his ripcord and parachuted into a potato field but was caught within minutes. A German soldier came from behind a tree and said, in his native language, “For you, the war is over.”
He wasn’t the only one; 60 American B-17s went down that day – 600 men were missing in action. George Ott spent the next 18 months in Stalag Luft III, a POW camp for flight officers. After he and his 10,000 fellow prisoners were liberated in April 1945, he and his wife, Clara, raised five children on their farm near New England. Mr. Ott is now retired and lives in Dickinson – where you may wish him a very happy birthday.
Carey, Brian Todd. “Operation Pointblank: Evolution of Allied Air Doctrine.” World War II Magazine. Nov 1998.
Nelson, Scott (Solen, ND). “Black Thursday.” Personal Interview with George Ott. 2004.
Spilde, Tony. “Sixty years later, Dickinson man recalls ‘Black Thursday’.” Bismarck Tribune. 11 Oct 2003.
92nd Bombardment Group: 326th Squadron, Daily Operations Journal. October 1943.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm