Veteran Stories:
Robert Shapiro

Air Force

  • Robert Shapiro pictured in the first row centre during physical training.

    Robert Shapiro
  • Robert Shapiro pictured in the 2nd row, 3rd from the left with Squadron 421.

    Robert Shapiro
  • Robert Shapiro's wedding photo, 1943.

    Robert Shapiro
  • Photograph of the cover of a Jewish Prayer Book.

    Robert Shapiro
  • Robert Shapiro pictured with his Squadron.

    Robert Shapiro
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"I went aboard with twelve other fellows to bring in the Nazi crew, the U-boat crew."


The Squadron, 4211 [Coastal Command], that I was with, captured in 1945, towards the end [of the war], a German U-boat, which is unusual. They were hovering over it with depth charges threatening it. It came up with a white flag. They sent for a British destroyer and they circled until the destroyer arrived. And then they brought it into Pembroke Dock [Wales]. I went aboard with twelve other fellows to bring in the Nazi crew, the U-boat crew.

We brought them all in except the engineer who was about six-foot-four and weighed about 110 pounds. The reason for that was, if they were going to sabotage the boat, we didn’t want to be onboard. And they didn’t of course. We took it in; we raised the boat. It was an ocean-going sub, long distance. It had gone to Japan and it had removed the keel plates and replaced the pig iron with tungsten and tin which Germany needed. And they carried on the decks large blocks about three-foot by three-foot of pure latex, which looked like a big chunk of cork. Germany needed that too. I removed a wrench, a chrome-vanadium wrench and kept it for many years.

And I was, a couple of times, I went up as flight engineer because of my background as flight mechanic. I don’t know why, when they were short or something. I was posted to many stations before I was permanently in Pembroke Dock. And each time I went, I had to take an armouring course, a fighting course. The reason being that they found that tradesmen in the Air Force in Dunkirk didn’t know how to fight [in May, 1940 a German spearhead advanced rapidly through the Netherlands and Belgium, reaching the French coast and cutting off the British Expeditionary Force from French and Belgian Allies and forcing the hasty retreat and evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkirk]. So they said ever afterwards, everybody would be trained. So every time I got to a new place - and I went to about ten of them - I took this course and I became very efficient at machine guns, hand grenades and all sorts of things like that. And at one point when I was a drill instructor, I worked with a flight sergeant on a gas course. And we trained everybody how to protect themselves from the various gasses: mustard, phosgene, DICK-ED [ethyldichloroarsine], all the different chlorine, all the different gasses. And we put them through quite a rigorous situation.

On several airfields, was an aircraft with something like a 10,000-gallon tank loaded with gas. Should the Germans ever use it, we would retaliate and they were aware of it, so they never used gas. So there were all sorts of things like that.

One night, I had a job of bringing in aircraft that were in trouble, landing on the water. And I’d go out with a motor boat and we’d tow two huge legs with two wheels at the bottom of them, big ones. We’d hoist them up under the fuselage with a block and tackle, hook them on, and then we’d put a bar through the leg and stand on it, trying to push the leg onto an eye where we could put a bolt through. It was very very dangerous. The sea was rough, the plane was bouncing up and down and you were standing on this iron bar with the leg swinging backwards and forwards trying to line it up. We lost a couple of fellows but we did manage to bring most of the planes in when it happened. And the flight sergeant said to me one night, in a very violent storm when I was doing it, he said, we’re going to get you Mentioned in Despatches, Bob [awarded military recognition for commendable service]. But it never happened. Went to an officer I think.

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