Monday, 30 July 2012

The Food - Part One

RAF Escape Kit

Contents of Red Cross Parcel

POWs at Sagan

Once an evader had cleared his landing or crash area, thoughts would turn to using key items in his escape kit (see Post Two.) This was assuming he still had the pack, as it was sometimes lost whilst jumping from the aircraft or during an exit after a crash landing. Airmen who were forced into immediate hiding because of the location or injury would also be looking to their kit for sustenance.  

Thirst usually struck first as only flasks of tea or coffee sustained airmen during operational flights. Filling the water bottle from a stream was often the priority, and then concentrated squares of chocolate and Horlicks tablets would be used sparingly. This was not always easy if an airman found he was unable to move far on his journey. 

When these supplies were almost exhausted, airmen lived off the land applying field craft that had been outlined in their evasion training. (See previous posts)        

Sergeant Ray De Pape was second pilot in a Halifax that was hit by flak on a raid to Cassel on 3 October. He landed in Germany and walked for four days before reaching a town.

 ‘During the first three days I lived on my flying rations in my escape box. I found water plentiful and made good use of the Halazone tablets and my water bottle.’

De Pape literally walked out of Germany and approached some farmers four days later. They told him he was in Belgium. His feet were in poor shape, but he had avoided capture and travelled entirely alone. He stated in his evasion that during his journey:

‘I stole apples, cabbages, turnips and any other edible fruits or vegetables I came across.’

It took him two more days before he eventually found help.  

The escaper had a different strategy, as his rations would be minimal and would start at ‘iron rations’; enough to sustain him during the first part of his escape only. His immediate priority was to put as much distance as possible between himself and the point of escape. There would be little time to stop apart from short rests and it would be then, whilst on the move, or travelling on a train that rations would consumed.

The famous three ‘Wooden Horse’ tunnel escapers from Stalug Luft 111 (Sagan) prison camp Lieutenant Richard Codner, (Royal Artillery), Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams (RAF) and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpott (RAF) had a form of ‘dog food’ hard cake made from dried milk, sugar, Bemax and cocoa. This had been packed into small square tins (five per man) which came from Red Cross parcels. They planned to wear these around the waist between two shirts.

There were also several small linen bags containing a dry mixture of oatmeal, raisins, sugar and milk powder, as this would help ward off hunger. One method used was to sew a bag into each armpit of a jacket as an emergency ration. Codner says in his escape report:

 ‘I was carrying five tins of concentrated foodstuffs prepared in the camp, also a little chocolate. It would have been better to have taken more food, particularly biscuits, as the Germans frequently order beer and coffee at a restaurant and eat food with it produced from their own pockets in paper bags. This is done in the best hotels, often by Army officers.’

Fellow escaper Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot employed another tactic for some of his rations:

 ‘I carried a small vulcanite suitcase with, primarily the means to keep looking well shaved and smart with it and secondarily, some of the camp escape food disguised as a margarine product.’ (Amongst his nine forged documents, Philpot carried  a typed letter from the Margarine Verkauf’s Union, introducing him to prospective employers)

It is interesting that Philpot also comments on the consumption of escape rations on a train:.

‘I went to the lavatory, which is the Prisoner of War train traveller’s normal place to sort out his papers, maps, etc. and eat his escape food as well as clean up generally.’

When evaders approached a farmhouse as per their training, they often received food and drink from patriots before being sent on their way. (Many locals were sympathetic,  but simply too afraid to become involved.) Flying Officer Alfie Martin did not reach a farmhouse before receiving aid. 

He had landed near to the village of Sivry on the French/ Belgium border and commenced walking until around 6.30 am when it became too risky to continue in daylight, so he settled down in hiding. Around 1.00 pm he was disturbed by the sound of something large crashing against bushes. A cow appeared, driven from behind by a young boy. Startled and directly in the way of the animal, he stood up. The boy stopped, studying him for a moment, before putting his hand to his cap in a salute.

With a few French words, sign language and gestures the pair managed to communicate for nearly thirty minutes. The boy left and returned with some cold potatoes in a pot and a bottle of beer. Later the boy’s father and brother visited and a woman came to the hiding place with bread and cheese and two hardboiled eggs. She was a friend of the boy’s father, but was not able to make herself understood. Despite this, she shook Martin’s hand and kissed him on both cheeks before leaving.

Later the boy’s father and brother returned with travel directions to the village of Soire Le Chateau and an old grey coat and light brown cap to help Martin blend in. They gave him more food for the journey and left at 8.00pm with regrets that they were not able to assist any further.

Flight Lieutenant Dennis Hornsey (RAF) rode his luck in the early stages of his evasion. He had been on the move for twelve hours in Belgium without food or sleep when he approached a run-down isolated inn. It looked quiet so he decided to try and buy some bread and beer. Still in uniform but with the insignia removed he entered, approaching the inn keeper. Hornsey asked in halting French for beer and bread and produced a fifty franc note. The innkeeper stared at him, then without saying anything walked past and closed the door. He disappeared into the back, returning with a bottle of beer and a plate of sandwiches made up of black bread and black sausage meat. Despite the awful taste, Hornsey finished one and indicated that he would like to take the rest with him and have another beer. Still saying nothing, the man wrapped the sandwiches up for him and produced another bottle. Pointing to a map on the wall he asked for directions to Brussels. The man spoke for the first time, reeling off towns and villages along the route. He took the airman to the door, faced him towards it, and indicated right turn. More directions followed with a ‘bonne chance.

It was fortunate that the inn was deserted and the proprietor sympathetic to the Allies. Hornsey had not only given himself away by looking and speaking out of place, he had also offered to pay for the food with a very large note and not handed over food coupons which was the usual method. Evaders rarely got second chances and once they were into an escape line, slips could jeopardise not only the evasion, but the whole line. The stakes were massive.


Evasion Reports from the British National Archives

The Pilot Walked Home by Dennis Horsey

Escaping Occupied France With the Resistance by Alfie Martin    

© Keith Morley

Sunday, 22 July 2012

How To Evade Capture Top Tips - The Reality: Part Four

Flying Fortress - Engines on Fire

German Sentry

German Sentry

If you’ve crash landed destroy the aircraft and all secret documents…… Endeavour to get clear of a five mile radius from the aircraft, searches rarely cover beyond that.

Until the latter stages of the war, Nazi occupied Europe was bombed in daylight from the west by the Americans, and the British and Commonwealth followed up at night. This meant that the small numbers of Allied aircraft making forced crash landings in occupied territories during daylight hours were often fighters. 

Airmen landing their aircraft in this way during daylight were instantly visible from the ground, even in country areas where their progress would have been monitored by the locals and the nearest Germans. Once down, the pilots had to make quick decisions and take immediate action.  

A good example of this is recorded in the Evasion Report of Spitfire Pilot Warrant Officer Bronislaw Malinowski of 302 Polish Squadron. He took off from Northolt at 08.15 on 9 September 1943 escorting bombers to Lille. On the return journey he was attacked by 7 Messerschmitt’s at 18,000 feet and five minutes later he was under fire again at 200 feet.  He managed to shoot down two aircraft and possibly a third but he was wounded and his aircraft sustained serious damage. He was forced to crash land with the aircraft being completely destroyed.

Malinowski landed 3 miles SE of Zallebreke in Belgium and hid in some vineyards close by. He removed his badges whilst resting and described in his evasion report what happened next.

‘I could not go any further away from my aircraft as I had been wounded in my right leg by cannon fire and it was very painful.

Shortly afterwards I made my way to a farm close by and was immediately taken in by the farmer who provided me with civilian clothing. Just then three German cars passed the farmhouse on the way to see my aircraft, so I picked up a bundle of sticks and returned to the vineyards. I remained in hiding in the vineyards for the next five days as the Germans had found my Mae West with my name on it and were searching the neighbourhood for me. During this time the farmer provided me with food.
On the fifth night the farmer brought a man to see me who told me to remain where I was until he was able to get further help. By this time I had become ill owing to my wounds not having received any medical attention. That same night three men came and took me to a farm near Ypres.

They put me on a bicycle as I could not walk, and when I arrived at the farm, a doctor was brought to see me. He could do little for me as I still had bits of shrapnel in my leg, so I was removed to the hospital at Ypres and attended to in the mortuary. I remained here for fifteen days after being operated on, attended to solely by a doctor and a nurse.’

The selfless actions of these amazing people stand out here. The farmer’s first thought is to help a complete stranger and get him into civilian clothes despite the dangers. Once the German’s are sighted, Malinowski is anxious not to compromise the farmer in any way: so despite his injuries he hides in the vineyard, bringing his evasion training into practice by using a bundle of sticks to masquerade as a workman.

Once it was realised that the Germans had found Malinowski’s Mae West and were intensifying their search, the situation needed cool heads. The pilot’s injuries were worsening due to shrapnel wounds in his leg and the logistics of moving him and obtaining sufficient medical treatment without discovery were immense.  

With Malinowski being unable to walk; the transportation by bicycle, the operation on him in the Ypres hospital mortuary and the pilot’s subsequent convalescence there amongst the dead for fifteen days without discovery is a testament to what could be achieved by these patriots in adversity. The doctor and nurse in the hospital who solely attended to Malinowski somehow managed to avoid him being discovered.

Around 29 September Malinowski was moved to a church. He had already been photographed and given an identity card. He was passed from the priest’s house into the hands of the Comete Escape Line and reached Gibraltar on 17 December. This was after being been hidden in a safe house for nearly two months until the end of November as he was still not fit to travel until then.  The risks surrounding a shelter of any kind have been noted in previous posts. Statistically a stay of this length in one place was highly risky and again patriots risked everything in trying to help.

If you bale out during the day, avoid opening your parachute until the last moment so as not to make yourself too visible. Once your chute is sighted there may be a race between the locals and Germans to reach you first. * Airmen reported seeing parachutists machine gunned or shot at from the ground whilst drifting down.
When you reach the ground, unclip and bundle up your chute, then run away from the site, checking the lie of the land as you go. Make for any nearby trees; observation without being seen is vital to the next decision you will have to make.   

On your way to the first hiding place, carry out minor alterations to your uniform to make it resemble as far as possible civilian clothing. Try to avoid being seen and do not arouse suspicion by being too furtive. Evaders have bluffed the Germans by carrying a bundle of wood, or pretending to work in fields and vineyards.

The contrast in experiences between baling out in daylight and baling out at night (last week’s post) is clearly visible in the daylight accounts of American airmen Temporary Sergeants Harold Pope and John Burgin.

In daylight, parachutes were spotted from the ground as soon as they opened and the race was often on between patriots and the Germans to reach the airmen first. Both Pope’s and Burgin’s accounts give vivid pictures of what happened next.

Pope landed in a swamp near Bree in Belgium on 5 November 1943 following fighters hitting his aircraft just before the target of Gelsenkirchen.
‘I landed on my left side and rolled over onto my back. It knocked the wind out of me, but I wasn’t hurt. People were coming toward the landing place. Before I’d unhooked my chute, girls were rolling up the silk and my Mae West and helmet were grabbed by another fellow. I still had my flying boots on. A boy of 16 motioned towards timber and I was led off to some woods, stumbling a bit because I was still a little shaken. I went to a hedgerow and took off my flying boots which someone else seized. In a few minutes a couple of other people brought Sergeant Leon MacDonald ‘(Waist Gunner on the same crew.)
Both men eventually evaded capture separately via the Comete Escape Line.

John Burgin was a top turret gunner on a B17 Flying Fortress. The bomber took off from Thorpe Abbots at 08.00 on 19 August 1943 and was hit by flak on ‘the right wing which quickly caught fire.’ An FW190 pumped 20mm cannon shells into the bomb bay resulting in the bale out order to be given. Burgin jumped out at 12,000 feet and delayed pulling the ripcord for another 5000. In his Evasion Report he takes up the story:
‘When I pulled the ripcord I could see the aircraft circling and thought it was coming back on me. I counted eight chutes to the North of my position……When I looked to the South I could see the Germans getting ready for us. I was over a forest. The Germans were placing a man over each road that went through the forest. I immediately planned to go in the opposite direction from the sentries.

When I landed on my feet at the edge of the woods, a Belgian was waiting for me. He wasted no time in conversation. As I pulled off my equipment, he pulled my chute out of tree branches. There were a lot of shell holes here that had been made in 1940. I hid my equipment in one while he put my chute in another. Then we pulled up the grass and brush that had grown on the side of theses holes and arranged it so that every trace was well concealed.
We could hear the German pick up truck coming. The man ran to the road for a clear view and then motioned me in which direction I was to run and run fast. He took the opposite direction. I took off through the woods as he had directed. As I left I heard the truck stop and the soldiers yell as they got out. I ran for three miles. When I came to a clearing in the woods I remembered my I.O’s advice to hide in open fields, rather than woods and stopped. There was a ditch in the middle of this little field. I crawled into it and pulled the high grass which I found matted on the bottom, up all around me. Here I stayed for two or three hours.

When I felt very cramped, I raised up to a position which allowed me to look around. The first thing I could see was two Germans coming towards me. I ducked. One of them came straight into the opening. He stepped over me and stopped about eight feet on the other side of the ditch. He yelled to the other soldiers, and then went on. Then I noticed that the German soldiers yell every ten or fifteen yards as they search. I believe this is to make the airmen think they have been spotted and reveal themselves by a sudden movement.
As they moved on I raised up again and watched them safely out of sight. I stayed in my ditch until 19.00/20.00 hours. I had crawled in at 10.40 hours. I moved over into the woods. I could hear dogs all night but they never came near me. The next morning I started to walk south toward France. After that I reached a farmhouse.’

As per his evasion instructions Burgin hid and observed ‘two men who looked poor working in the fields.’ He waited until one of the men went away and then approached the other. By sign language he gestured that he was very hungry and thirsty and having assisted an American before the man knew what to do. Food and wine were brought at regular intervals to Burgin on the edge of the woods.

There was an additional problem because Burgin had lost his dog tags in the aircraft, as they were not around his neck at that time. The evasion report reveals a potential strategy for dealing with this problem if he was captured in civilian clothes. Additionally, as he was about to be filtered into the Comete Escape line there is an interesting ‘cure all’ for influenza.
‘The next day the two men returned and told me I would be leaving that night. That afternoon I hid my heated suit. I had lost my dog tags in the aircraft, as they were not around my neck. I wanted to be sure and have something that would prove I was not a spy if the German’s caught me, and the Belgians might have collected my chute at the same time. I had been given this idea by our I.O at the P/W lectures. We were told that the Germans would escort one back to one’s hidden equipment, if it could be produced and thereby clear a captured airman of charges of being a spy.

The men came that night as arranged. They had a bicycle for me and civilian clothes. I put on the clothes, and gave them my overalls. I was catching the flu, but they produced a litre of wine, and made me drink it all there and then. Then they put me on a bicycle to sweat it out.’


Evasion Reports from the US and British National Archives

Next week:   The Food 

© Keith Morley

Friday, 13 July 2012

How to Evade Capture Top Tips – The Reality Part Three


Crashed Lancaster


If you’ve crash landed, destroy the aircraft and all secret documents, divide into parties of no more than two and head off initially in different directions (should have been decided before take-off). Endeavour to get clear of a five mile radius from the aircraft, searches rarely cover beyond that.

Few Allied bomber crews flying over enemy territory operated at low enough heights to consider crash landings. An aircraft losing altitude was usually due to damage from flak and/or enemy fighters which caused fire to break out. Some bombers developed engine trouble or other serious mechanical problems after it was too late to turn back, but these were in the minority.

Mechanical problems often resulted in an aircraft becoming isolated from the main Bomber Stream, making it an easy target for night fighters and ground to air defences on the outward and return journeys. By the time a bomber reached the height where a crash landing could be considered, it was either in pieces from attack or explosion, it was spiralling out of control (crew that were left alive often still on board and unable to bale out because of being pinned to the fuselage due to G forces) or it was minus any crew members who had managed to bale out.

A bomber left in a position to consider a crash landing was a very rare occurrence unless it was over the sea and there was no choice but to ditch (damage, mechanical failure or running out of fuel.) Coaxing a large stricken aircraft down for a crash landing in enemy territory without loss of life and serious injury (especially at night) was a massive task. On the night of 18/19th October 1943 the pilot of Halifax II LW281 found himself in just that position.

The aircraft from 138 Squadron RAF Tempsford had taken off alone just after midnight. The crew of eight were involved in a secret operation, SOE Dutch agents ‘Apollo’ and ‘Brutus’ were on board. They were to be dropped in Belgium in order to make their own way back into the Netherlands. The RAF were beginning to incur heavy losses over Holland on these operations and there were suspicions in certain quarters that something was wrong with SOE’s parachute operations there. (* The Germans had control of SOE’s Dutch section and were waiting on the ground ready for agents as they parachuted in. They knew that Apollo and Brutus would be returning via Belgium within a 3 day period, what they did not know was exactly where and when. )

The Halifax was flying low after take off. Squadron Leader Cyril Passy DFC and the crew members who evaded provided the narrative of what happened next for the ‘Report of Loss of Aircraft On Operations’.

‘The moon which was up throughout the flight was 5 days past the full. The English coast was crossed at 1200 feet and over the sea the pilot descended and crossed the Belgian coast as low as possible. No opposition was encountered here and the flight continued over Belgium on a slightly weaving course.
The aircraft was unable to find its first pinpoint and much time was spent searching for it. When it was finally located the pinpoint was lost again. As the time was past zero hour(03.00) it was decided to fly on to the second pinpoint near Herenthals.

This pinpoint was found, but as the Captain was not quite positive of his identification, and as no flak defences were shown here on the intelligence maps, he decided to make a circuit of the town to obtain confirmation of his position. He then turned back across Herenthals to come in again at about 500 feet and carry out the mission. As the Halifax crossed the town it ran into a box barrage of 20 and 40 mm guns which immediately opened fire on the aircraft. The aircraft must have been an easy target in the moonlight and the informants were of the opinion that the enemy had observed them as they circled and deliberately waited until they had turned and were right in the middle of the concentration before opening fire. The flak was accompanied by a single searchlight which illuminated the Halifax for 5 seconds then switched off.
The Halifax immediately sustained numerous hits in the wings and fuselage. The Bomb Aimer reported that the starboard wing was on fire and the Flight Engineer that the tanks had been hit…… The fire burnt very fiercely from the moment it broke out …...Flames were licking over the wing and the Pilot feathered the starboard inner engine to reduce the slipstream and pressed the extinguisher button. This had no visible effect and the fire continued to spread. The Pilot gave the order to prepare to abandon but realising they were too low cancelled it and ordered crash stations. All of the crew took up crash positions in the centre of the fuselage close to the rest bed.

The Halifax skidded straight across a field and came to rest in about 300 yards on the edge of a ditch. The nose struck a pole or a tree and this removed the whole of the starboard side of the fuselage as far aft as the main spar. The burning wing passed close to a haystack which was set on fire. The emergency exits had been opened and the Flight Engineer left by the mid upper hatch. The rest of the crew were able to make their way out by the entrance door. Nobody was injured in the crash.

……about a quarter of an hour after the crash there was a series of explosions. The first which was small was probably the Verey cartridges and this was followed by a violent explosion accompanied by much black smoke…..the wreckage burnt for 4 hours and only the tail unit from aft of the entrance door was left intact. The Germans removed the undamaged portion which included a new ‘D’ type rudder.'

The crew split up almost immediately as per their evasion training. Only the Pilot Cyril Passy (went South West), and one of the Dutch agents set off alone. Sgt. Joe Healey (RCAF) who was on his third night as a Despatcher in Training and had just been assigned to Passy’s crew for the mission left the burning aircraft with the other Dutch agent. The Bomb Aimer P/O George Ward set off North with Navigator F/O Geoff Madgett. Flight Engineer James Bruce, F/Sgt Kenneth Rabson (Air Gunner Special Duties), P/O Reginald Mantle (Rear Gunner) and F/Sgt John Grout (Wireless Operator) also went north together.
Incredibly six out of the eight airmen managed to evade capture via the Comete Escape Line and reach Gibraltar, but from the groups that left the aircraft, only Mantle and Rabson stayed together throughout the whole journey. In the early stages there were a number of narrow escapes and instances of pure luck for all of the airmen who evaded, as noted in their evasion reports (some noted below).

James Bruce was only miles from freedom when he was captured near the Spanish border. After a day the Dutch agent was forced to leave Joe Healey and Joe's evasion started with the help of patriots. He was filtered into the Comete Escape Line and had to flee a safe house in Brussels in the early hours of the morning just before a Gestapo raid. Healey was told that they had his name and picture, so with evasion now a remote possibility, he finished up using his signalling and communication experience to work with the Resistance on parachute drops. He was liberated by the Allies on September 1944.

The two Dutch agents (one of them minus his entire equipment, radio etc. which had been left to burn in the aircraft) made their way separately twenty four hours apart to an SOE safe house in Brussels. Operating from the safe house was Agent F2087, George Rudderhoff, who really worked for the Germans and was part of the mass Englandspiel deception/ German control of SOE’s Dutch operation. Apollo and Brutus were back on the Nazi radar again.

Once you are well away from the landing point - hide. Good places are woodland, bushes, a ditch next to a hedge or a haystack. Treat farm buildings with care. Surveillance of the place in daylight is advisable before any approach is made. If you land in a town or city, find a deserted shed, hut or garden to conceal yourself until it is daylight.

The reports indicate that these airmen followed the essence of their evasion training. What becomes clear is that they did take calculated and uncalculated risks. This is understandable in the situation they found themselves in, especially as the days passed and rations from their escape kit diminished. Surveillance of farms and houses before asking for assistance may have been brief judging by the number of properties mentioned where shelter was unsuccessfully sought. Many locals in this area seemed to be patriots but were afraid to take the airmen in, and sent them on their way with food.

Ward and Madgett, still in uniform, reached a Belgian canal and hid, watching 3 Germans searching the banks. The airmen were refused shelter at the first farmhouse they tried as they were told that the nearby bridge was guarded by Germans. Madgett described what happened next:

‘We continued walking due West parallel with the canal, looking for a bridge to cross by. We walked by one ferry thinking that it would not be safe to cross by this means, but when we came to another we went up to the ferryman, who was alone, and I asked him in French if he could take us across. We reached Tangerloo on the other side of the canal about 23.00 hours. Here we hid in a barn and next morning we were found by the farmer. I told him that we were RAF. He allowed us to shelter in the barn until the following night and during this time gave us food. In the morning (23 Oct- 4th day since crash) the farmer told us that the Germans would shortly be arriving for potato crops. We therefore set off again South West and about midday stopped at a farmhouse where we were given a meal. At 15.00 hours we reached Boisschot. Here we stopped at a house. We were given a bath, a meal, some civilian clothes and out RAF uniforms were taken away to be burned. Our helper then asked us if we had any friends that we could stay with. When we told her that we had not she got in touch with someone else in the village and that evening we were taken to another address.’

Rabson’s group had similar experiences, seeking help and shelter at a number of farms and houses. They nearly walked into a German checkpoint inspecting papers. The multi-lingual Cyril Passy who spoke good French and German also crossed the canal by ferry and received help within 48 hours. His mastery of French and German would cause difficulties later when the escape organisation thought he was a German plant.

Flying Officer Maurice Garlick (see last two posts) had reached an isolated and large farmhouse desperate for help. He had arrived at a farm run by Charles Decreon, the head of the local Resistance Group. Once Decreon was convinced of Garlick’s identity he agreed to help him. The fugitive had to be moved immediately as German agricultural inspectors called there frequently, so he was taken to another house where a doctor called every day for the next six days to tend his burned legs. The daughter in the house had to remain there feigning sickness so as not to arouse outside suspicion.
As the head of a nearby resistance organisation had been arrested, Garlick was moved around to various locations. After further treatment on his legs he eventually finished up working with the local Resistance and narrowly avoided capture by the Gestapo or worse. During this time he learned that the Gestapo had attacked the local Maquis in a wood and killed two RAF evaders who were with them. One was an air gunner on his crew, Sergeant J Davidson.

In September 1944 after liberation, Garlick was flown home to England. His is an amazing story that so typified these men who did their duty and more. A more detailed account can be read in ‘Shot Down and On the Run’ by Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork.

Next week. ‘Crash Landings by Fighter Pilots’ and ‘The Americans – The Daylight Game.’


National Archives

‘Shot Down and On the Run’ - Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork.

London Calling North Pole – H J Giskes

© Keith Morley

Thursday, 5 July 2012

How To Evade Capture - Top Tips: The Reality Part Two

Lancaster on Fire

Crashed Halifax - Rear Section

Inside a Lancaster - Wireless Operator's Position
 Looking Forward Towards the Cockpit

Bury or conceal your parachute, dispose of any secret papers, operational maps etc. and get away from the landing area immediately otherwise your liberty may not last long. Enemy patrols usually motorised, will reach the area within half to three quarters of an hour.  If you’ve not been spotted already, full searches and sweeps will begin at first light.

Few aircrews had high security documents on them when they landed. Lower security items such Navigators maps and Wireless operators codebooks were left in the aircraft as most crews had little time to evacuate once the order was given. RAF and Commonwealth airmen approaching the ground at night by parachute had three immediate priorities, land safely, bury or hide their parachute, Mae West and helmet and get away from the landing area immediately. It was not always that straightforward.

F/O Ross Wiens (RCAF) baled out of his Lancaster on the night of 16/17 August 1944. As he was in a Pathfinder Squadron, the aircraft had led the rest of the Bomber stream into the port of Stettin. Flak damage eventually forced the crew to abandon aircraft an hour after turning for home. Wiens made a very good landing, dropping behind some hills. He followed his evasion training, burying his parachute, Mae west and flying helmet and removed all flying insignia from his uniform. Hurrying away from the landing site, whilst being thankful for landing safety he must have wondered what would happen once it was daylight. He was in Nazi occupied Denmark.

W/O Dennis Budd (RCAF)was a rear gunner in the same aircraft as Ross Wiens. He landed 10 kms from Tollose in Denmark and had injured his leg. Resting in a wood for a day he roughed up his uniform, removed the insignia and lived off some of the rations from his escape kit. He set out north-east for Copenhagen and the first German soldiers encountered on the road ignored him. His injuries were slowing him down and he quickly realised he would not get far without assistance and approached a farmhouse for help. The farmer ushered him into a barn, then locked it. The farmer was a collaborator and tried to telephone the local authorities, but there was a crossed line and the call somehow ended up at his neighbour’s Magnus Neilson. Neilson threatened to report his neighbour for sheltering an evader if he tried to alert report it to the Nazis. Budd was removed by the Danish resistance and placed in an isolated farmhouse whilst his identity was verified before continuing his evasion to neutral Sweden.      

F/O Robert Clements (RCAF) (see last week’s post) said in his Evasion Report  ‘I was second out of the aircraft and I landed in a field near Exel  I hid my parachute, Mae West and helmet and made straight for the shelter of some woods, where I took out my maps and tried to ascertain my position. I thought I was in N.E. Belgium. I started walking South West by my compass, but found out later that it had been affected by the zip fastener on my gloves  and also the fly-button compass which I had sewn on to my shirt cuffs, so that I was actually walking due West. About midnight I came out of some woods and saw an aircraft burning on the ground nearby. A German patrol was coming up the road towards it, so I waited until they had passed and then made my way as quickly as possible through the fields in the direction they had come from.’

The burning aircraft may have been the remains of Lancaster W4822 from which Clements and Jimmy Elliott had baled out earlier (see last week’s post). Neither airmen say in their reports that they saw the aircraft explode, only that Clements was told by locals two aircraft were seen to crash that night and another blow up in the air, spinning down to earth with the tail section landing separately to the main fuselage. Clements believed the latter aircraft was his and that the photoflash had exploded. The navigator P/O Norman Buggey corroborated this after the war. He was the third and last man out and saw the Lancaster explode. As he was injured on landing and became a POW, neither Clements nor Elliott would have been aware of this information when they were interviewed by MI9 in London in early January 44.

With both gunners probably dead and the Wireless Operator and Flight Engineer still mid aircraft trying to get back through thick smoke and fire to find their parachutes after abandoning fighting the fire, the pilot, an American, F/Lt D West stayed at the controls, holding the aircraft for as long as possible to give any remaining crew members time to reach the escape hatch. He died with the others in the explosion, sticking with his crew to the last, when he could have saved himself.  Time and time again official reports and accounts from surviving aircrew show this selfless sacrifice that pilots and crew displayed. War can make ordinary people do extraordinary things and aircrew were no exception. In the air the close knit team depended on each other for survival, and so it was in the ultimate adversity, working together and following orders from the skipper.

Clements must have replayed the sequence of events countless times as walked across country. As a Second Pilot that night he was on board for a single mission to gain experience of Operations before he took his own crew out for the first time.

‘I walked until 04.00 hours when I found myself in very scrubby heath land. I could find no suitable hiding place as the country was flat and bare, so I was forced to keep on walking. At 07.00 hours I heard a bugle call and men shouting, so I hastily jumped down into a slit trench covered with heather. An hour later the Germans began their drilling about 50 yards away from where I was hiding and I was forced to remain in hiding in the trench for the whole of that day. Luckily I had been able to fill my water bottle previously and had with me my rations from my aids box, which eased the situation considerably.’ Clements was able to steal away after dark.

Navigator F/O Maurice Garlick (see last week’s post) had decided to crawl over fields towards a wood about two miles away. There was little use in his legs, only pain, which increased as some of the circulation returned. He heard and saw several farm workers, but no one on their own. He reached a small copse and managed to cut down saplings to make a rough pair of crutches and with some parachute cord made a sort of sling for his right foot. This enabled him to hobble and crawl to the wood. Using the the lid from his escape kit to catch rainwater and Horlicks tablets and chocolate he managed to keep going hobbling and crawling to the wood. It took him two days and the pain in his legs had become severe.

The trees were not as thick as he thought and after a night’s rest he knew there was no choice but to try and continue and seek an isolated farmhouse. After hiding from a patrol of passing German soldiers he hobbled and crawled for the remainder of the day and night. He had managed to eat some potatoes and wild rhubarb and during the afternoon was fixed his position by the spires of Troyes Cathedral which were now in sight.

He finally located an isolated farmhouse and hid in bushes watching the occupants. An elderly farmer came out and after watching him working for a while, Garlick decided to make an approach and hobbling up on his crutches he explained who he was.

The family took him in, bathed his legs and gave him a meal. He had a shave and was given a jacket, a pair of trousers and a penknife to replace one he had lost. The family were anxious that he left as it was too dangerous to stay overnight. Garlick left with some food and drink they had prepared for him and the family refused any payment. (Airmen would have carried a money wallet in their uniform containing various currencies including French Francs.)

He hobbled through the countryside for the next six days travelling mainly at night,  hiding in woods and out of sight during the day. By 14 May he was becoming very weak and the burns on his legs were infected. Approaching a large farmhouse near Bucy, he hid and observed it until the evening when he spotted a young boy working in a nearby field.  

What must have been going through Garlick’s mind when he saw the youth?  Eleven days after being shot down he had crawled and hobbled for miles and was still free, but what a state the airman was in. Exhausted and dirty, weak from hunger and thirst and the pain in his infected legs, Garlick’s war was soon to change into something totally unexpected.   

Sources - National Archives Files

Shot Down and on the Run - Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork

We Flew We Fell We Lived – Philip Lagrandeur

© Keith Morley