20th Century

Helmut Stenger - A German Friend


Comrie Camp had been built in 1939 in Dalginross just outside the village of Comrie in Strathearn, Perthshire, as a Prisoner of War Camp, and designated Camp 21.

The camp was built partially on the site of a Roman Camp called Victoria. Victoria had been built as a marching camp for the Roman army in Strathearn around a.d. 80 by that great Roman general, Agricola. Another camp – Camp 242 - was built adjoining the Cowden. Its purpose was as an auxiliary working camp providing supplies to the main camp which was situated close to the ancient graveyard of Tullichettle on the River Ruchill.

Strangely, the first prisoner to be sent to Cultybraggan was a Scottish soldier. He had gone AWOL to see that his pregnant wife was alright. She was, and he was caught and quick marched up Dalginross and incarcerated in the camp for a short period of time before rejoining his unit.

During the period from 1941 to 1945 the camp was in the main guarded by British and Polish soldiers and it is an understatement to say that the Poles did not care highly for the Germans! After the early successes in the Western desert in 1941/42 hundreds of Italian prisoners were shipped to Comrie. They were given pinkish/mauvish coloured fatigues so that they would stand out, rather than as a fashion statement! Later they were shipped elsewhere. After the brilliant success at El Alamein in 1942 new guests arrived. They were from Rommel’s Afrika Corps. When the camp became too crowded many of these German and Axis troops were marched through the village to the railway station for transshipment to prisoner of war camps in Canada. Many were sent to Bowmanville and Petawawa in Ontario, (Petawawa is not too far from Comrie’s twin town, Carleton Place), and others to other camps in the west of the country.

In late 1943/1944, as the German Reich started to collapse in Italy, German POW’s were sent immediately to Canada and the US from Italy, or those of interest to the allies, to the UK. The classification process mainly occurred in the Devizes camp in Wiltshire, with others in the Interrogation Centre in London. These Germans were classified as A, B, C or D types which defined their allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi party. Some mistakes did occur in the classification procedures as happened to Wolfgang Rosterg. For Wolfgang it was fatal! His story is told in a subsequent chapter.

After Normandy on June 6th, 1944, German POW’s began to flood into Britain and more arrived in Comrie for incarceration. Eventually incarcerated there were about 4000 battle hardened, hard-core Nazis from the Waffen SS, the Luftwaffe, the Kreigsmarine and the Fallschirmjager (Paratroopers). Most of them were not too happy about their lot and being out of the war. Later in early 1945 when it was apparent that there was no way the Germans could win this war many worked in and around the village helping the local farmers and others with planting and haying and other building projects of one sort of another. The following story tells of the journey of one German POW who ended up in Comrie Camp.

Helmut Stenger was born on August 8, 1926, in Aschaffenburg/Main. The town lies some twenty miles from Frankfurt am Main. In 1927 his mother emigrated to Chicago in the United States with her husband and was determined to set up shop there and enjoy a new life. She had not enjoyed a good marriage and returned to Germany. Returning to the United States, Helmut and his sister were to be brought up by her ageing parents until their mother had become more settled in the States. Helmut’s father disappeared from his life shortly thereafter only to be seen on occasion in the future.

As a boy Helmut attended the local school until he was thirteen years old. During that time the Nazi party was expanding all over the country and, like most young men in Germany, he joined the Hitler Youth movement. As far as he was concerned it was regarded as being some form of Boy Scout organisation. He enjoyed the sense of attachment to a larger entity, its organised lifestyle, the sense of team play, as well as the different activities offered including the joys of the outdoor life.

In 1939 War was declared and he knew that the Guldner Motor Company was always looking for young apprentices so he joined them as a trainee draftsman. The company specialised in diesel motors used by the Kreigsmarine, the German Navy, and for three years he applied himself. All mention of the War till 1942 suggested that the Germans were winning and it was all over “bar the shouting” but he also noticed that by 1942 food was becoming a little bit scarce.

Around this time he also was aware of his growing manhood and amongst all the girls he knew he espied one beauty called Margot, but alas she was just a small skinny girl of 12! Anyway the need to have more food grew in him rapidly and he asked his friends where one could get the best, and most food! Some of his friends suggested the Luftwaffe, whereas others suggested the Wermacht. Yet again others, who were home on leave from the Navy, suggested that not only was the food better in the Navy but that the best fed of the lot was to be found in the U-Boat service.

Being only a sixteen year old he then volunteered for the navy but as he was too young at the time he had to spend three months in the Reichsarbeitsdienst. This organization helped the German war effort in building and construction projects as well as in agriculture and emergency relief projects. Having completed his work there he moved to Kiel on the Baltic coast where he started basic training in submarines – U-Boats. Part of the course included some training in one man submarines.

Helmut Stenger

After graduation as a machinist/fireman second class Helmut was sent to a Type V11-C U-Boat operating in the Baltic in which he made two trips into the Murmansk area. No vessels were sunk. He had been told he could have the “run of the boat” and found out what that really meant when the U-Boat dived as he and everyone else, other than the conning tower crew, ran to the bow of the boat thereby assisting in its rapid descent!

Throughout these two trips Helmut spent most of his time in the engine room attending to the diesel engines – a task which was hot, grimy, smelly and sweaty. On his off hours he would join his shipmates and they would periodically sing many of the U-Boat songs such as “Das U-boat Lied, Engelandslied, U-Boatfahrer Lied, Tipperary, Lil Marleen and many others.” Sometimes they would tune the radio into a radio station called “Kameradeschafte Dienst.”

On leave after returning to Wilhelmshaven he was transferred to France arriving at 3rd. Flotilla U-Boat depot in Brest in France. Advertised on a notice board there was a notice stating that one of the submarines, U-569, required two men and those that volunteered could, after a couple of trips or so, apply to officer school. Against all advice he signed up as he wanted to be an officer in his own right! He also knew officers ate more food and enjoyed a more privileged existence!

The U-569 was a 759 ton Type V11-C U-Boat built by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg and commissioned on the 21st May, 1940. In total she made nine cruises sinking three small vessels and her normal complement was 46. Throughout her short life she had two commanding officers namely Kapitanleutnant Hans Peter Hinsch and the Hamburg-born, Oberleutnant der Reserve Hans Frederich Johannsen. She was the oldest submarine in the 3rd Flotilla and had been dubbed “Der alte Hase” (The Old Hare). She had returned from her eighth cruise with three unconfirmed hits on convoy ships and her captain, Johannsen, had been awarded the Iron Cross First Class. When he took over before this cruise he had noted the poor morale and complacency of a rather discouraged crew. As a result and in order to bolster their spirits he had painted on both sides of the conning tower a compass rose inscribed with the motto “Lets Go.”

U-Boat Type V11C

Said to be the U-569 entering St. Nazaire

The outward passage into the Atlantic was uneventful. She was escorted through the minefields by a “Sperrbrecher,” a mine sweeper.

Typical Sperrbrecher

Once clear of them the U-boat set sail for the mid-Atlantic to take up her war patrol. During this time she met up with a supply U-boat, U-460, (a milch cow), commanded by Kapitanleutnant Georg von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf who transferred additional oil and supplies. Sometime that day they received a message that aircraft were in their vicinity so a close watch was held and in the distance they occasionally saw the sunlight flashing from aircraft wings. On the 22nd May, 1943, having been submerged for most of the day she surfaced in order to effect some repairs on her pumps.

Due to the enormous losses at sea as a result of U-boat sinkings the allies in early 1943 had adopted new tactics. These involved establishing hunter/killer groups to escort convoys across the Atlantic and the Pacific and consisted of an aircraft carrier type vessel supported by a screen of destroyers and other smaller vessels such as frigates. The USS Bogue was one of the first of its type in use in the Atlantic as an escort carrier and was designated with the title Carrier Escort Vessel (CVE). She had been commissioned as AVG-9 later changed to CVE-9 at Puget Sound Navy Yard on September 26, 1942, and her appointed captain was Giles Short. She had a displacement of 7,800 tons and was 495’8 inches in length and 69’6 in width by 26’ in depth. For armament she sported 2 X 40mm, and 2 X 20mm cannon, and could accommodate up to 28 aircraft. For speed she had 8500 SHP; Allis Chalmers, geared turbines and one screw. She could do 17.5 knots and her crew complement was between 900 and 1000 men.

USS Bogue

At the time of our story in May 1943 she had completed anti submarine training in Belfast Lough in Ireland and had proceeded independently to Iceland where she refuelled and then, accompanied by the Canadian destroyer HMCS St. Laurent, made towards a West bound convoy, ON 184. Recently installed on the Bogue was a new concept in submarine detection equipment nicknamed “Huff/Duff”-High Frequency Direction Finding (HF/DF). It was to sign the death knell for many U-boats. On this day in May the Bogue carried up to 20 aircraft consisting of Wildcats and Avengers.

The Grumman TBF Avenger aircraft used in this action had been created in 1939 in answer to a call from the US Navy. They needed a combined bomber/fighter with improved performance. After discussion they awarded a contract to Grumman for the aircraft powered by a Wright 2500 engine. It was designed for a crew of three people (pilot, radioman and gunner) and to a large degree was carrier based. Its armaments consisted of a synchronized forward firing through the propeller 50 calibre (12.7 mm) Browning machine gun, with a turret gun located in a canopy facing towards the rear of the aircraft. In the bomb bay they were able to carry four 500 pound bombs or a 22.4 inch, 2000lb Mark 13 torpedo.

The aircraft dimensions were as follows: a span of 54 feet (wings folded for storage the span was 17 feet), a length of 40 feet and empty weighed 10,080 lbs. The maximum speed it could handle was 271 miles per hour and it cruised nicely at 150 miles per hour with a range of approximately 1200 miles.

Avenger aircraft above a flat top similar to the USS Bogue

The HMCS St. Laurent was a River ‘C’ class destroyer purchased by the Canadian Navy from the British. Her keel had been laid down on the 29thSeptember, 1931 and she was launched at Vickers Armstrong in Barrow and named HMS Cygnet. This destroyer type had a displacement of 1375 tons and she was 329 feet in length by 33 feet in beam and 10 feet in depth. She was capable of 31 knots and was armed with 4 X 4.7 inch single guns with two two-pounder guns and eight 21 inch torpedo tubes. Her complement was around 170. She was purchased by the Canadian Navy on February 17, 1937 and renamed HMCS St. Laurent. Since the start of the war she had been involved in escort duty in the Atlantic and at the time of this action was a destroyer escort to the USS Bogue.

HMCS St.Laurent – H83

At about 1400 hours on May the 22nd the U-569 surfaced in a sea with quite a swell on to effect repairs to some pumps. After they were repaired for some inexplicable reason at 1727 its skipper, Johannsen, sent a radio signal to Germany. The transmission used a fifty-nine group Enigma message and was picked up by the Canadians in Ottawa who flashed it to the USS Bogue. The Bogue was leading a hunter/killer group and immediately she launched several Avenger aircraft to search for the submarine. Why Johannsen sent the message no-one can tell, but it signaled the death knell of the U-boat.

Helmut, who had spent a long time down in the engine room that day, around that time, had asked to go up to the conning tower for a smoke. One had to do things fast in a submarine and he managed to smoke one and a half cigarettes in a short time. In his haste for a drag he had even forgotten to harness himself to a railing. One of his fellow mariners had done the same thing. Helmut, in glancing towards the cloudy sky saw an aircraft appear out of the clouds. The pilot, as it turned out, had honed in on the U-Boat and then cut his engines in the clouds so that he could not be heard approaching the submarine. It was moving fast and before Helmut knew it he saw two or maybe three projectiles coming right down on his head! There were several explosions and he and his pal were blasted into the cold Atlantic.

Depth Charges being dropped on the U-569.

Moving away from the Bomb Swirl

The end of U-569

They managed to grasp hold of a piece of wood and watched the action as it continued without them. The U-boat crash dived with the aircraft following it and after about 20 minutes it resurfaced. The original plane (piloted by Lieutenant (jg) William F. Chamberlain, the “Champ”, had flown away and had been replaced by another Avenger aircraft piloted by Lieutenant H.S. “Stinky” Roberts. He and his crew wasted no time is strafing the submarine. Pandemonium then started on the deck on the U-boat as the crew put up white towels and subsequently white sheets in surrender.

Both Chamberlain and Roberts are in this photograph

The HMCS St. Laurent came alongside the U-Boat and tried to board it but it began to sink rapidly. Its sea cocks had been opened by the Chief Engineer who sadly died doing that brave action. However they did rescue many of the crew and brought them on board where they were given hot food and interrogated.

Survivors from the U-569 climbing up the scrambling nets of HMCS St. Laurent

Other survivors from the U-569 in the Atlantic

In the meantime Helmut and his mate Rudi were about a mile away and had a ringside seat of the final moments of U-569. They themselves, however, were almost invisible against the swell of the sea. Helmut, who had received shrapnel wounds in his legs, somehow managed to hold on all night and all the following day initially doggy paddling and then luckily finding another piece of driftwood. They were eventually rescued by a jolly boat left by the Canadian destroyer. He vaguely recalls drinking some fiery liquid before passing out.

This may have been the wounded Helmut Stenger being taken on board the HMCS St. Laurent

Along with all the crew they were taken to Argentia in Newfoundland, where all were sent on to Boston for internment in the States except Helmut who was initially hospitalized and then sent over to England. He had no idea where he landed in England and has only the haziest memories of both hospitals where his legs were treated for shrapnel wounds. He does know that he was sent to the London Cage as the British were interested in knowing about his knowledge of one man submarines and once this was completed he was sent north to Comrie Camp, Camp 21, in Perthshire, arriving sometime in the latter part of 1943. He was classified as a “B” type prisoner of war, B43666 – a number he effortlessly recalled!

Cultybraggan Camp, Camp 21, Comrie, Perthshire – much the same today as during the war

Typical Nissen hut for POWs

The POW Chapel at Camp 21

Helmut was kept in the Kreigsmarine compound and in time was sent out in work parties under guard to the local farms. On one occasion the soldiers guarding his section were Irish and perhaps had a long day. They had wandered off early and had left their rifles behind. Helmut and his colleagues decided to return the weapons to the camp when they returned to the camp in the late afternoon. To be on the safe side they removed the bullets which they gave to Helmut to put into his jacket pocket.

One can imagine the horror expressed by the camp authorities when they saw what were perceived to be armed German POW’s marching into the Camp. They were all quickly rounded up and brought up on various charges such as possessing weapons belonging to the British army, etc. All were given a confined to barracks punishment for 24 days and then marched out at the double quick. On his way out Helmut thought he should mention the bullets in his pockets and lightly touched a corporal who, with the prison escort, rounded on Helmut and pinned him to the ground all the time shouting at him and calling him “an ‘orrible little man.” More charges were laid including assault on a soldier of the King Emperor and a further penalty of an additional 24 days solitary confinement imposed. Rule number 1 to 100 in the army – never touch a corporal in the British army!

Helmut visiting his punishment cell at Cultybraggan camp with Margot in 2002

In the compound Helmut having the lowest possible rank in the German navy and being only 17 was poorly treated by many of his comrades. The vast majority were hard case Nazis who strutted about the camp shouting at and to each other and saluting anything that moved. However, Helmut had been able to contact his mother in America and she started sending him monthly food parcels. Not only did the parcel contain jam and marmalade and other luxuries, but it also contained cigarettes. Cigarettes were worth their weight in gold and he found that his status rose tremendously when this became known. He relished telling me of those who had treated him like dirt doing a volte face when the parcels arrived. He used to say with his German accent “they vude ‘ave keesed my ess for a third of a cigarette!” He was the only German POW in the camp to receive these parcels. The Red Cross in Germany did not send out any to their compatriots!

The prisoners had made a couple of homemade radios not unlike crystal sets and they received news of the deteriorating conditions in Germany. Over the years they would sometimes slip out of the camp at night and go and steal a chicken or two. They had dug several little tunnels under the fences at different spots. There was one at the bend in the roadway and they went out periodically. One even said they had pinched a small Christmas tree which they put up in their Nissen hut. None were really interested in escaping but some did want to provoke the authorities. One local farmer was sent a POW and had to send him back to the camp as he was a bit of a nasty type.

They organised sporting events such as jogging and athletics and even had a football team. This German team once played Glasgow Rangers who, according to Helmut, were “luckily” beaten by them by seven goals to none! He recalls it may have been at Hamden Park! It would be interesting to hear if they ever had played Comrie Rovers! In time all the POW’s went through de-nazification programmes and as the war slowly closed were allowed to fraternise with more of the locals.

Helmut was transferred to a small work camp in Crieff and there one day was sent to a farm outside Muthill. All POW’s were something of a talking point by local folk. Some wore British battledress uniforms without designations but with patches in the knees and elbows and the letters POW prominently displayed on the backs of the clothing. Most spoke no English but most would at least smile at the girls and speak to them sometimes in German.

At this farm Helmut met a young 14 year old girl who was fascinated by him. As an adolescent she fell madly in love with him and eventually introduced him to her mother and brother and sister.

Vicky (age 14) and Helmut (age 17) in Muthill

“Queenie” Ballantyne”,Helmut, Vicky and brother, Peter, in Perth

Helmut soon became a helpful fixture to the family and would do chores for them. On occasion he gave them food which he received from the Red Cross parcels sent to the camp by his mother in America. Oddly enough at that time the POW’s were allocated a higher per diem calorie intake than the local people! The family in turn adopted him and would take him on the odd picnic or outing to the surrounding community.

Parties of POW’s from the small camp at Crieff were sent to Tullibody in Clackmannanshire where Helmut was involved in construction work.

Helmut Stenger far left (back row) at Camp in Crieff

There he recalled a young girl who lowered down to him a basket of fruit from an upstairs window. She thought he looked on the thin side.

One way occasion on New Year’s Eve in 1945 he and a pal went to Grilli’s chip shop in King Street in Crieff and had a fish supper. Afterwards they were greeted by a local policeman who invited them to have a dram at the police station thinking they were Poles! They did not say they weren’t!

Helmut Stenger (Middle Front) at Tullibody

Helmut with a Luftwaffe POW

Helmut Stenger (X) in Tullibody

In time and through the de-nazification process he realised what kind of system he had served and after having been sent to another POW camp at Ladybank in Fife he was released in 1948. He was sent to Southampton and then to France and from there was shipped to Dachau concentration camp. There he became fully aware of the horrors perpetrated on so many millions by the Nazis.

He eventually returned to the ruined town of Aschaffenburg where he met up with some of his relatives. One day, when walking with a friend, he saw a beautiful girl and asked who she was. His pal said that her name was Margot and in an instant he recalled the skinny girl of 12 of so many years before. He got to know her and it was love at first sight and they were married in 1949.

Helmut and Margot on their Honeymoon in 1950

Shortly thereafter he left Germany for the US to pave the way for the possibility of a new and better life. After two years he returned to Germany and persuaded Margot, who had remained there that they should move to the US. It took a further two years to arrange and eventually they set sail for America. On arrival there they had to go through Ellis Island Immigration centre.

At this time the US and its allies was at war with North Korea. Noting Helmut’s military record the immigration official mentioned to him that as he had a military background he would only be granted permission to enter the US if he joined the US military. Asking what the alternative was and being told that he would be returned to Germany and never be allowed to step on the US mainland ever again he signed up and became Private First Class Stenger.

Private Helmut Stenger US Army 1951 in Maryland

Eventually as a sergeant he and Margot lived in an army barracks in Aberdeen in Maryland, and after two years he was demobbed. In the meantime their first child was born and the family moved to be with his mother in Chicago. As the child was asthmatic they were advised to move to California. They departed and headed west eventually ending up in Phoenix, Arizona. The temperature when they arrived was about 100 degrees in the shade.

The author’s involvement in this story came about because of his fondness for his home village of Comrie. He had done some research on the net and by accident rather than by design had received an email from Helmut’s son, Roy. The family in Muthill who had befriended Helmut had allowed him to use their camera and he took photographs of them. In addition he took photographs of working parties of Germans sent to Alloa to repair buildings and drains, and also of the lady in Tullibody who had lowered the fruit to him in a basket. He had kept the photographs but had forgotten their surnames. When I received the photographs I sent them to my sister, Christine Aiton in Muthill.

Christine Aiton, Helmut and Ginette McNaughton in Tombstone, AZ 2005

The was immediately was able to identify them as Victoria (Vickie) and Shirley Ballantyne. Once the connection was made I arranged for Helmut to be put in touch with his first girl friend, Vickie Ballantyne, now living near Perth, Scotland, and her sister, Shirley, who lived in Comrie. He was also able to write to the young girl in Tullibody who lowered the basket of fruit down to him. He had not seen them in almost 60 years and met the Perthshire girls at Prestwick in June of 2002.

Helmut visiting his Nissen Hut at Cultybraggan camp, Comrie in 2002

He was then taken to Comrie Camp where he was lavishly entertained by the camp commandant, Captain Graham, and taken round the camp. Afterwards he was shown around the small POW barracks at Crieff. He even met a man there whose uncle had been one of the guards there during the war and was now retired in Yorkshire.

He had some wonderful recollections of the local people in Strathearn for their kindness during his time as a POW.

Cultybraggan camp, Camp 21, Comrie, Perthshire - today

It is always interesting to know what happened to some of the vessels and people involved in this story and the following has been recorded: The USS Bogue went on the record the highest number of sinking of submarines of the Axis powers. In the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships the Bogue was originally classified AVG-9 but was changed to ACV-9, 20th August 1942; CVE-9, 15th July 1943; and CVHP-9, 12th June 1955. She was launched 15thJanuary 1942 by Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co., Tacoma, Washington., under a maritime Commission contract: sponsored by Mrs. W. Miller, Jr., wife of Lieutenant Commander Miller; transferred to the Navy 1 May 1942; and commissioned 26th September 1942, Captain G.E.Short in command.

After an extensive shakedown and repair period the USS Bogue joined the Atlantic Fleet in February 1943 as the nucleus of the pioneer American anti-submarine hunter-killer group. During March and April 1943 she made three North Atlantic crossings but sank no submarines. She departed on her fourth crossing 22 April and sunk her first submarine 22 May when her aircraft sank U-569 in 50° 40’ N., 35 degrees 21’W. During her fifth North Atlantic cruise her planes sank two German submarines: U-217 in 30° 18’, 42° 50’W., 5 June and U-118 in 30°N 33° 49’ N., 12 June. On 23 July, 1943, during her seventh patrol, her planes sank U-527 in 35° 25’N., 27° 56’W. W. George E. Badger (DD-126), of her screen, sank U-613 during this patrol.

Bogue’s eighth was her most productive with three German submarines sunk: U-86 by planes, 29 November 1943 at 39° 33 N., 19° 01’W., U-172 by planes, 13 December at 26° 19’N., 29° 58 ‘W’; and U-850 by planes, 20 December in 32°54’N., 37° 01’W. George E. Badger, DuPont (DD-152), V. Clemson (DD-186), and Osmond Ingram (DD-255), 13 December at 26° 19’N, 29° 58’W.; and U-850 by planes, 20 December at 32° 54’N., 37 degrees 01’W.

The USS Bogue had a break from her anti-submarine operations during January and February 1944 when she carried a cargo of Army fighters to Glasgow, Scotland. The carrier then returned to her anti-submarine role and in 13 March her aircraft teamed with British planes, Haverfield (DE-393), Hobson (DD-464), and HMCS Prince Rupert to sink U-575 at 46 ° 18’N., 27 ° 34W.

On 5 May 1944 Bogue and her escorts departed Hampton Roads, Va., for a cruise that netted two more submarines and lasted until 2 July. Francis M. Robinson (DE-220), of the screen, sank the Japanese RO-501 (ex-German U-1224) on 13 May and Bogue’s planes sank the Japanese I-52 in 15° 16’N., 39° 55’W on 24 June. Between July 24th and September 24th, 1944, Bogue’s planes sank another German submarine, U-1229, 20 August at 42° 20’N., 51°s 39’W.

Following her return in September 1944 Bogue operated on training missions out of Bermuda and Quonset Point, R.I., until February 1945 when she made a trip to Liverpool, England, with Army planes. In April 1945 she put to sea again as an anti-submarine vessel, forming part of Captain G. J. Dufek’s Second Barrier Force. On 24 April success came as Flaherty (DE-135), Neunzer (DE-150), Chatelain (DE-149), Varian (DE-241), Hubbard (DE-211), Jansse (DE-396), Pillsbury (DE-133) and Keith (DE-241 sank U-546.) This was the last of the 13 submarines sunk by the Bogue or her escorts.

With the war in the Atlantic over Bogue moved to the Pacific, arriving at San Diego 3 July, 1945. She then steamed westward to Guam, arriving 24 July. She made a trip to Adak, Alaska (19 August – September 6, 1945, and then joined the “Magic Carpet” fleet returning servicemen from the Pacific Islands. She was placed out of commission in reserve 30 November, 1946 at Tacoma, Washington.

The USS Bogue received a Presidential Unit Citation and three battle stars for her World War 11 services. Surviving members of her crew and those of the HMCS St. Laurent live throughout the United States and Canada. They enjoy an annual reunion and have several websites under their name. Both Helmut and I were members of the USS Bogue Association.

Sadly Lieutenant Chamberlain did not survive the war. He transferred to another escort carrier, the USS Solomons, and was killed attacking, from low level, the U-860 on June 15, 1944, south of St. Helena. The depth charges dropped from his Avenger aircraft exploded prematurely killing all on board. By a rather odd coincidence his brother was killed in a US submarine later on in the war! Lieutenant Roberts survived the war and was awarded a British Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his courageous attack. There were only 46 of them presented to American Military personnel.

The HMCS St. Laurent continued her escort duties and had a hand in sinking U845 on 10th March, 1944. Thereafter she took part in the Normandy invasion and then returned to Canada where she served out her time. She was eventually de-commissioned and scrapped in 1947.

The captain of the U-569, Hans Frederich Johannsen, ironically was sent as a POW to Papago Park POW camp in Phoenix, Arizona. It was said that he was one of the twenty five German POW’s who escaped from the camp on Christmas Eve, 1944. He was recaptured shortly thereafter. He returned to Germany and was employed on the Kiel Canal. It is another coincidence that he was a POW in the same city that Helmut eventually lived out his life!

Helmut and Vicky sharing a milkshake

His Scottish girlfriend, Vickie Ballantyne from Muthill, married a chap from Iceland and lived for many years with him until his death – today she lives in Perth, Scotland. Her sister, Shirley, still lives in Comrie, and was a close friend of my late Mother, Ena McNaughton – both were volunteers in the cancer charity shop in Comrie run by the founder, David Robertson.

One of my late aunts, Eileen Ross, who later served as an Officer in the British Army on the Rhine, recalled that one of her more striking memories was of a host of German POWs marching in step through Drummond Street with the sound of their singing reverberating off the walls of the houses on both sides of the street. They were heading for the railway station and from there off to a new camps further north in Scotland, and on to others in Canada. It may have been on that day that my brother, David, ran up to one of them thinking it was his father and shouting “Daddy, Daddy!” His father had been away from home for five years serving in Normandy, Antwerp, and then Java and Sumatra. Ironically my aunt went on to be an officer in the British Army on the Rhine where her billets were in an SS headquarters in Wiesbaden! She mentioned the barracks were spotless and the floors highly polished!

By a further odd coincidence the town of Perth, Perthshire, Scotland is twinned with Aschaffenburg in Bavaria in Germany. Both Helmut and Vickie would agree that they were the pioneers in this twinning arrangement.

No trace remains today of the guards supply compound at the Cowden (Camp 242). It is now part of Eaglesfield in Comrie.

Camp 242 – Cowden Camp. Comrie, Perthshire

In 2005 it was announced that Cultybraggan camp (Camp 21) would be closed. The village of Comrie has purchased the site and the small POW huts at the Brigend in Crieff have now also gone.

Helmut at the small POW camp at the Brigend in Crieff in 2002

Helmut Stenger lived out most of his adult life in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and sweetheart, Margot. They started their own business and had two sons, Ralph married to April, and Roy married to Mary, and a daughter, Carol married to Richard. Their grandchildren are Ralph, Jackie, Jeremy, Mathew, Sarah, Ashley and Justin.

Helmut and Margot Stenger 50thWedding Anniversary

Helmut Stenger died on the 16th April, 2005, at his mountain home and eerie called “Breezy Pines” in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott, in Arizona. There he had created a small, but moving, shrine commemorating his lost comrades of the U-569. He loved that second home.

Memorial to the lost crew of the U-569

Peter and Helmut at “Breezy Pines” near Prescott, Arizona

Helmut Stenger was among the last of the German POW’s at Cultybraggan Camp 21 in Comrie, Perthshire, Scotland.

Ich hatt' einen Kameraden

von Ludwig Uhland


Ich hatt' einen Kameraden, Einen bessern findst du nit. Die Trommel schlug zum Streite, Er ging an meiner Seite In gleichem Schritt und Tritt. Eine Kugel kam geflogen: Gilt's mir oder gilt es dir? Ihn hat es weggerissen, Er liegt vor meinen Füßen Als wär's ein Stück von mir Will mir die Hand noch reichen Derweil ich eben lad'. "Kann dir die Hand nicht geben, Bleib du im ew'gen Leben, Mein guter Kamerad!"

I Had a Comrade

Translation by Frank Petersohn


In battle he was my comrade None better I have had. The drum called us to fight, He always on my right, In step, through good and bad. A bullet it flew towards us, For him or meant for me? His life from mine. It tore, at my feet a piece of gore, as if a part of me. His hand reached up to hold mine. I must re-load my gun. "My friend, I cannot ease your pain. In life eternal we'll meet again And walk once more as one."