1936-1986; bulk: 1942-1945

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the papers of World War II bomber pilot and prisoner of war Robert A. Payne of Holyoke, Mass., including correspondence, logbooks, sketches, printed matter, and other papers.

Biographical Sketch

Robert Albert Payne (1916-1999) of Holyoke, Mass. was the son of Albert Charles Payne and Minnie A. (McMonagle) Payne. His mother's second husband was Joseph W. Russell. Before World War II, Payne worked as an electrician at the Hampden Glazed Paper & Card Co. He took courses in aviation and civil aeronautics and got his private pilot's license in 1937. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in May 1942, earning his wings on 28 Apr. 1943. In June 1943, he was transferred to Great Ashfield RAF base in England to serve in the 548th Squadron of the 385th Bombardment Group as co-pilot, with Richard Yoder, of the B-17 Flying Fortress Gremlin (or Gremlin's) Buggy. He flew bombing missions into France and Germany, including one to Stuttgart on 6 Sep. 1943 during which he was nearly struck by a 20-millimeter shell that penetrated the cockpit.

On a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 29 Nov. 1943 (Payne's twentieth), the Gremlin Buggy was shot down. Some of the crew were killed, but Payne and others bailed out and were captured by German forces. Payne was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, from Dec. 1943 until May 1945, when the camp was liberated by Russian troops.

Sometime in July 1943, while stationed in England, Payne had adopted a stray dog he named Thunderbolt after the P-47 Thunderbolt airplanes. The dog became a loyal companion, watching from the runway as Payne flew away on missions and greeting him when he returned. When the Gremlin Buggy was lost on 29 Nov. 1943 and Payne was captured, Thunderbolt kept vigil, lying on Payne's bunk for days, refusing food, and returning to the runway to look for him. Payne's friend Robert T. Lipsett cared for the dog during most of Payne's imprisonment, and, in Nov. 1945, Thunderbolt was finally brought back to the U.S. by the American Red Cross on the Queen Mary. He and Payne were reunited two years after their separation. Their story was covered extensively in the press.

In 1953, during the Korean War, Payne was recalled to active duty. He subsequently joined the Air Force Reserve and was recalled again during the Vietnam War, in 1966. In 1973, he led the Realignment Task Force for the Air Force Reserve, overseeing the transfer of Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Mass. from the Strategic Air Command to the Reserve. He served as commander of the 439th Combat Support Group at Westover from May-Aug. 1974.

On 5 May 1943, Payne married Rosamond "Rose" Irene Bilz (1916-1978), the daughter of Paul E. and Mabel L. Bilz. Robert and Rose divorced after the war. In 1964, he married Virginia C. Mahan (-2000).

Collection Description

This collection consists of correspondence, logbooks, printed matter, and other papers, primarily documenting the World War II service of bomber pilot and prisoner of war Robert A. Payne of Holyoke, Mass. Included are letters written by Robert to his wife Rosamond "Rose" (Bilz) Payne from the POW camp Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, Dec. 1943-Jan. 1945, as well as a few letters and cards from her; other wartime letters to Rose from friends, family members, and relatives of other soldiers; and papers related to services for war prisoners' families. The collection also contains Payne's flight log, 1942-1946; photocopies of U.S. War Department records documenting his 29 Nov. 1943 mission over Bremen, Germany; and papers from his internment as a prisoner of war, including a personal logbook of photographs, artwork, clippings, and memoranda; camp regulations; lessons in German and other subjects; notes and sketches; and POW newsletters issued by the American Red Cross and the YMCA.

The collection contains a number of newspapers (including German newspapers), clippings, and magazines about Robert A. Payne and World War II, as well as a printed history of the 385th Bombardment Group and miscellaneous ephemera. Many letters and printed items in the collection relate to Thunderbolt, the dog Payne adopted in England and from whom he was separated for two years. Included is a graphic magazine called Picture News: In Color and Action (vol. 1, no. 4, Apr. 1946) containing an illustrated story about Payne and Thunderbolt. One series consists of material documenting Payne's post-war service in the Air Force Reserve.

Acquisition Information

Acquired by purchase, February 2017.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1942-1986

This series contains correspondence between Robert A. Payne and his wife Rosamond "Rose" Payne during his detention as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, as well as letters to Robert and Rose from friends, family, and others, primarily written during World War II.

A. Correspondence between Robert and Rosamond Payne, 1943-1945

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries consists of correspondence between Robert A. Payne and Rosamond "Rose" Payne, including 25 letters from Robert to Rose during his detention as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, 9 Dec. 1943-8 Jan. 1945, and a few letters and cards from her. Subjects include his health, packages sent, news of fellow soldiers, arrangements for his dog Thunderbolt, and his homesickness. Many of Robert's letters, written on camp stationery, have been redacted. The subseries also contains Robert's will and the certificate appointing power of attorney to Rose.

Box 1Folder 1-3

B. Other correspondence, 1942-1975, 1986

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries contains letters to Rosamond "Rose" Payne and Robert A. Payne. Included are letters of support to Rose from friends and family, as well as relatives of other soldiers, while Robert was missing in action, 29 Nov. 1943-Jan. 1944; telegrams and official government letters with updates on his status and whereabouts; and notices and papers related to aid for war prisoners' families. Among the correspondents are Bertha Breslau, Rhea T. LaReau, Robert T. Lipsett, Earl Mazo, Alma Mixon, and Lyde A. Yoder. Several letters discuss arrangements for Payne's dog Thunderbolt, who was in Lipsett's care during Payne's detention. Also included is a photocopy of a four-page letter from Payne to historian Ian McLachlan, 27 Sep. 1986, describing his World War II experiences.

Box 1Folder 4-11

II. Wartime and prisoner of war papers, 1942-1946

This series contains papers related to Robert A. Payne's service in World War II and his detention as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, from Dec. 1943-May 1945. Included are logbooks, regulations, lessons, artwork, newsletters, reports, and other material.

For wartime correspondence, see Series I.

A. Logbooks, 1942-1946

Vol. 1
Pilot log, 1942-1946

Robert A. Payne's flight log lists flights made between 24 Oct. 1942-29 Nov. 1943 and 30 July 1945-30 Dec. 1946, first at the Hawthorne School of Aeronautics in Orangeburg, S.C.; at various other locations; then, beginning in June 1943, out of Great Ashfield RAF base, primarily into France and Germany. Notations include type of aircraft, engine, duration, class, and remarks on the mission. The notation for Payne's 29 Nov. 1943 flight reads: "Shot Down over Bremen / Deputy lead for group."

Vol. 2
"A Wartime Log," [1944]

This log, kept by Robert A. Payne while he was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I, is mostly blank but contains a few photographs, drawings, clippings, and jokes. Included are photographs of Robert and his wife Rose; photographs and addresses of other POWs; drawings of the Allied powers' flags, a Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft, and other subjects; and German newspaper clippings.

B. Camp regulations, 1944

This subseries consists of notices of camp regulations (in English) posted in the barracks at Stalag Luft I, including orders in the event of an air raid alarm and offenses for which prisoners of war would be shot.

Box 1Folder 12

C. Lessons, [1944]

This subseries contains papers of Robert A. Payne from classes held at Stalag Luft I, including notes on mechanical drawing (with sketches), insurance, and architecture, as well as elementary German language lessons and tests issued by Pitman Correspondence College of London, England.

Box 1Folder 13-16

D. Writings and artwork, [1944]

This subseries contains miscellaneous notes, poems, and drawings by Robert A. Payne during his imprisonment at Stalag Luft I, including portraits and architectural sketches.

For additional artwork, see Payne's pilot log (Vol. 1).

Box 1Folder 17-18

E. POW newsletters, 1943-1945

This subseries consists of copies of the newsletters Prisoners of War Bulletin, published by the American National Red Cross for the Relatives of American Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees, and War Prisoners Aid News, published by War Prisoners Aid of the YMCA.

Box 1Folder 19-22
Prisoners of War Bulletin, June 1943-May 1945
Box 1Folder 23
War Prisoners Aid News, Oct. 1944-Feb. 1945

F. Casualty reports [photocopies], 1943-[1945]

This subseries contains photocopies of U.S. War Department records related to the 29 Nov. 1943 mission of the Gremlin Buggy and the fate of its crew. Included are casualty questionnaires of surviving crew members, including Robert A. Payne, with their recollections of the mission; certificates of death and interment; reports of capture; and other records. These records probably date from the crew's liberation in 1945. The subseries also contains one original document, an Army Air Forces Special Order No. 220 shipping Heavy Bombardment crews overseas, 23 Oct. 1943.

Box 1Folder 24-25

III. Air Force Reserve papers, 1958-1975

This series consists of papers related to the U.S. Air Force Reserve and events at Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee, Mass., including programs, newsletters, memoranda, and newspaper clippings. Robert A. Payne served as commander of the 439th Combat Support Group at Westover from May-Aug. 1974.

Box 2Folder 1-5

IV. Printed matter and ephemera, 1936-1976

This series consists primarily of printed matter related to Robert A. Payne, World War II, and Payne's dog Thunderbolt.

Box 2Folder 6-8
Newspaper clippings (English), 1942-1947

Included are newspaper clippings related to Robert A. Payne, Rosamond Payne, and World War II, including articles about some of Payne's missions, pieces written by prisoners of war in Germany, and clippings about Payne's dog Thunderbolt.

Box 2Folder 9-11
Newspaper clippings (German), 1944-1945

Included are issues of Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Der Angriff, and Stralsunder Zeitung.

Box 2Folder 12
Magazines and catalogs, 1941-1945

Included are three issues of Time magazine, Apr.-June 1945.

Box 2Folder 13
Picture News: In Color and Action, vol. 1, no. 4, Apr. 1946

This graphic magazine contains a three-page illustrated story about Robert A. Payne's dog Thunderbolt.

Box 2Folder 14
History of the 385th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and Its Affiliated Units, 424th Air Service Group, 877th Chemical Company (AO), Detachment 155, 18th Weather Squadron, February 1, 1943 - August 14, 1945, edited by Lt. Col. Marston S. Leonard USAF (Ret.) (San Angelo, Tex.: Newsfoto Publishing Co.), undated

This book was signed by Williston P. Bunting, group surgeon, on 11 Jan. 1949.

Ephemera and certificates, 1936-1976

Box 2Folder 15-18
Identification cards, certificates, aircraft silhouette flash cards, and ephemera, 1936-1976
OS Folder (in drawers)
Certificate of retirement from the Air Force, 18 Aug. 1976

Preferred Citation

Robert A. Payne papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Leonard, Marston S., 1912-1988.
Lipsett, Robert T., 1900-1947.
Payne, Rosamond Irene Bilz, 1916-1978.
Yoder, Lyde A.


American Red Cross.
Stalag Luft I.
United States. Air Force Reserve.
United States. Army Air Forces. Bombardment Group (H), 385th.
YMCA of the USA.


Aeronautics, Military.
Airmen--United States.
Military prisons--Germany.
Military prisons--Photographs.
Prisoners of war--Germany.
Prisoners of war--Photographs.
RAF Great Ashfield (England).
Westover Air Force Base (Mass.).
World War, 1939-1945--Aerial operations, American.
World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns.
World War, 1939-1945--Germany.
World War, 1939-1945--Great Britain.
World War, 1939-1945--Missing in action.
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945--Prisoners and prisons.
World War, 1939-1945--Regimental histories--United States--385th Bombardment Group (Heavy).
World War, 1939-1945--Women.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives.

Artifacts have been removed to the MHS Artifacts Collection.