The German Staff at Dulag Luft
During the latter part of 1943 Dulag Luft was processing in the neighborhood of 1,000 Allied prisoners of war a month. It is doubtful that Walter Layne or his fellow prisoners would have had any contact with the senior German staff at Dulag Luft but I feel their story is warranted here.
Erich Killinger was appointed Camp Kommandant in November 1941 taking over the position of “Kommandant” of Dulag Luft from Major Theodor Rumpel. Rumpel had held that position since the commencement of hostilities in 1939
Erich Killinger (left) and Theodor Rumpel (right)
Killinger was born in Schonau, Baden on March 21st, 1893. During the 1914/18 war, Killinger served in the Imperial German Navy. As a Midshipman, he was stationed with the “Seeflugstation Putzig bei Danzig,” an early German Naval flight unit.
After capturing the British steamer “ Glyndwr” the Germans armed and modified her as a “Mothership” for four Rumpler-Doppeldecker seaplanes, their directions were to patrol the Baltic in search of enemy submarines and shipping.
On April 6th, 1915 Killinger was acting as an Observer for Pilot Von Gorrissen. Their mission was to undertake an observation flight and attack the fortress at Libau located on the Baltic Sea. (Libau is the present day Latvian town of Liepāja, in 1915 it was part of the Imperial Russian Empire).
After making a bombing run against a battery Von Gorrissen and Killinger attacked a railway station. In the process of this attack ground fire from Russian troops hit the propeller causing it to be severed from the aircraft, damaging a float in the process. A crash landing was made in the ocean where they were soon made captive by the Russians.
Initially, Killinger was imprisoned in St. Petersburg and charged with war crimes against “Holy Mother Russia” and sentenced to death. However, Tsar Nicholas II commuted his sentence to life imprisonment on a Gulag in Siberia.
Killinger along with other prisoners destined for the Gulags were placed on a train traveling the Trans-Siberian Railroad and it was during this journey that Killinger escaped.
The young midshipman crossed Russian Siberia into China. Traveling through China he reached Japan and from that country took a ship that was crossing the Pacific to the west coast of neutral America.
Traveling across America to the east coast he caught a ride on a Norwegian bound vessel and returned to Germany eleven months after being shot down. He was the only German P.O.W. to escape from Siberia during World War 1.
Resigning his commission in 1920 he became a world traveling business man living in the Dutch East Indies, Japan, and China before taking up a position of an aircraft salesman with Junkers in Spain. Returning to Germany Killinger was employed by the Reich Finance Ministry and the German Air Traffic Control Agency but was forced to resign his post when he refused to join the N.S.D.A.P. (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, The National Socialist German Workers’ Party, known in English as the Nazi Party.
Holding the position of Luftwaffe Oberstleutnant der Reserve when war broke out Killinger was recalled to an active duty status in the mobilization of German forces of August 1939. He performed flying duties in Poland and was a Luftwaffe Welfare Officer before becoming Kommandant of Dulug Luft in November 1941.
During his early tenure as Kommandant Killinger pursued a World War 1 policy of allowing officer prisoners out of the camp on parole. The paroled officers were allowed to take walks and attend local church services. This was all done under the supervision of a German officer.
In September 1944 the nearby Frankfurt office of the Gestapo alleged that Killinger and his senior staff were undermining the moral of the Wehrmacht by fraternizing with and being too lenient towards the prisoners. Reichsfuhrer der SS Heinrich Himmler ordered a Luftwaffe court martial. The trial took place on 7th December 1944, however much to the Gestapo’s chagrin the Luftwaffe court acquitted Killinger and his staff and returned them to duty.
Dulug Luft fell to the advancing Allies on 15th April 1945. Killinger and his staff were taken into custody by the British and were brought before a British military tribunal charged with the mistreatment of British POW’s in violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention. The charges against these men can be read here. http://www.phdn.org/archives/www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/WCC/killinger.htm
Killinger was sentenced to five years in prison to be served at Werl. During his time at Werl one of his cell mates was Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring. Killinger was released after serving three years and died in Gernsbach/Baden in 1977 aged 84.
Second in command of Dulug Luft and the camp’s chief interrogator was Heinz Junge. From 1911 to 1914 Junge served as an artillery officer before transferring to aviation. Shot down in February 1918 he spent the next eighteen months in a British POW camp.
Released from prison in 1919 Junge lived in South America before returning to Germany. Mobilized in 1939 he was assigned at Killinger’s request to Dulug Luft.
With Killinger he underwent the Luftwaffe courts martial of 1944 and the British courts martial of 1945. He received the same five-year sentence as Killinger and he too was released after serving three years.
Newspaper clipping from New York Times, 4th December 1945