Bismarck Tribune, October 12, 2003 By Tony Spilde

The young American pilot, a farm boy from North Dakota, stared into the big black hole at the end of the German soldier’s rifle and lost himself in it.
“For you,” the guard said in his native language, pointing his weapon between George Ott’s eyes,”the war is over.”
Ott swallowed hard and took his eyes from the gun to meet those of the man who held it.  He couldn’t die now.
He had just fallen 25,000 feet from the B-17 he commanded to a small potato patch in rural Germany, the heart of enemy territory on Oct. 14, 1943.  His plane had undertaken a barrage of enemy fire on what would turn out to be the bloodiest air battle over Europe in World War II.
Black Thursday.
Only minutes before he found himself in the potato field, Ott was strapped in the pilot’s seat of his B-17.  Black clouds of flak from anti-aircraft guns on the ground littered the sky like gnats.  German fighters swarmed the Allied planes, shooting at them from the front, the sides, behind and
underneath, and dropping bombs on them from above.
Shell casings from German bullets fell like sparkling ice crystals onto Ott’s windshield.  He watched a ME 109 fighter swoop underneath him, then come strait up, gunning.  A large shell exploded underneath Ott, in the bombardier’s hold.
“It blew off his head,” Ott said.  One of the plane’s wings caught fire and the No. 3 engine was knocked out.  They had to bail.
Ott gave the command and held his plane steady as the eight living crewmen jumped out.  The last thing he saw before jumping were the faces of two German flyers, who had pulled along the B-17 in their twin engine fighter.
They looked him over.
Ott jumped.
He didn’t have an oxygen canister and couldn’t breath at the high elevation.  He free-fell through the fighting until he could make out the trees on the ground, then pulled his ripcord.
Ott was dusting himself off when the German soldier, carrying an old rifle from the first World War, came out from behind a tree.
For Ott the war was over, indeed.  But his life wasn’t.  He was taken to a gulag, where officers interrogated him for two weeks.  He spent the next 18 months in Stalag Luft III, a prisoner-of-war camp for flying officers.
The penitentiary housed more than 10,000 Allied soldiers.
Sixty years ago Tuesday, Maj. George Ott was second-in-command on Mission 115, an enormous air raid that sent 266 B-17s from England to Germany to knock out factories that supplied parts to the German war effort.  Without a fighter escort, the American planes were attacked immediately after crossing from France into Germany.  Sixty planes and 600 men were lost over enemy territory.  It became known as Black Thursday, the final day of Hell Week.  The Eighth Air Force lost more than 100 bombers between Oct. 8 and Oct.14, 1943.  But the mission was still successful, taking out ball-bearing plants and aircraft manufacturers in the city of Schweinfurt.
“We all knew it was a maximum effort that one week,” Ott, 84, said.
“Afterwards, they said Hell Week probably took four years off the war.  We destroyed so many of the German manufacturing plants.  We did anything we had to to knock their war effort to hell.”
Once the war was over, Col. Budd Peaslee, commander of Mission 115, said “The stakes in this game have been terrific for both sides, and the devil took the pot.”
Ott lives in Dickinson with his wife of 58 years, Clara.  They grew up near each other south of the queen City and dated before Ott left to serve in 1941.  They were apart for four years, half of which Ott spent in the POW camp.  They corresponded by letters, which were censored and couldn’t
say much.  Until he landed on home soil in 1945, Ott couldn’t tell his sweetheart that Oct. 14, 1943, was a terribly foggy day in England.  He’d risen at 4 a.m. with an uneasy feeling.  “I knew in my mind that by God, this wasn’t going to be my day,” Ott said. “I had that feeling all morning.”
Fog socked in the airfield as the major began his briefing.  He pulled back the curtains to show the crews maps of the areas they’d attempt to strike.  The men went to their planes and waited.  They took off on instruments, almost 300 bombers rallying a ways out at a radio marker for the flight to Germany.  Spitfires guided the bombers across the English Channel and P-47s took the planes to the German border.  After that, the B-17s and their crew were on their own..
“It was strange to look to your left and see one of your planes over there, then look back a couple of seconds later and it was gone,” Ott said.  “They were all over us with everything they had .  Anything that could fly they sent after us.”  Some of the bombers survived the attack and dropped their load on the German factories.  Many others, like Ott’s, were shot down.
Ott was transferred from Stalag Luft III to a prison in Moosburg, where the prisoners were freed after an Allied attack April 29, 1945.  He was put in charge of the troops on the ship to England and then to Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ott and Clara Nelson were married July 30, 1945,in California.  They moved back to the Dickinson area to farm and raised five children.