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


  1. Every week I am amazed at the courage of our forces and civilians, strangers who help even though it means they are in danger themselves - another great and interesting post.

  2. With each post you write Keith, I can't help wondering if we would have the same spirit and grit today. It really is amazing the lengths people went to in the war years to help each other.

    Helping these soldiers meant risking more than a mere smack on the wrist, and a bit of community service, certain death I imagine if caught?

    I find it hard to think about. Good post. Haunting pictures.

  3. The airmen in this latest engaging post by Keith all had relatively safe landings but some American soldiers had teething problems with their parachutes. The 957 men of the US 82nd Airborne Division suffered a 16% casualty rate upon landing amongst the Normandy hedgerows. Twenty five men were killed, fourteen missing and 118 wounded. Everything depended on a quick dispersal after landing and to get to the nearest cover. The delay caused by the difficulty of getting out of their chute harness proved fatal to many. In later drops, the buckles were dispensed with and the British quick-release mechanism was adopted. The following two cases show some miraculous escapes where parachutes were not an option……….
    On the night of 3/4 May, 1944, Sgt. Jack Worsfold, aged 19, was a tail-gunner on a Lancaster of 101 Squadron. Its mission was the bombing of German tank concentrations in France prior to D-Day. A total of 300 Lancasters took part and Worsfolds plane was hit by flak and set on fire. The plane then blew up killing the rest of the crew. The tail section, with Worsfold inside, was seen by civilians on the ground to fall some 7,500 feet, hit some high-tension wires then bounce on to a fir tree before hitting the ground near the village of Aubeterre. Jack Worsfold crawled out with a broken thigh and rib fractures. Captured by German soldiers he spent the rest of the war in prison camps.
    In a bombing raid against Stuttgart a Lancaster was hit by an 88 mm shell which tore through the fuel tank engulfing the fuselage in flaming petrol. The tail-gunner,Sergeant N. Alkamade reached for his parachute only to find it a mass of flames. He had no other option but to jump and threw himself into the night at 18,000 feet. The next thing he remembered was opening his eyes to find himself lying in deep snow in a pine forest. Looking up he noticed broken branches on the trees that had reduced his speed, the snow did the rest. Soon he was taken prisoner by the locals who refused to believe his story. An investigation was carried out and he was released. When he eventually arrived home he carried in his pocket a certificate signed by a German colonel attesting to the fact that he had fallen three and a half miles without a parachute.
    Someone was watching and praying for such men as these and she was closer than many to the War. From ‘The Bombers’.
    ‘I imagine a boy who's just left school
    On whose quick-learned skill and courage cool
    Depend the lives of the men in his crew
    And success of the job they have to do.
    And something happens to me inside
    That is deeper than grief, greater than pride
    And though there is nothing I can say
    I always look up as they go their way
    And care and pray for every one,
    And steel my heart to say,
    "Thy will be done."
    — Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston.

  4. Had an interesting addition to this from Sgt Jack Jack Worsfold's son. 'My father escaped the last POW camp he was in by hiding in a ditch during a forced march 6 weeks before the end of the war. Kind regards Jack Worsfold jnr.'