Friday, 31 May 2013

Evasion and the Animals Part Three

P-47 Thunderbolts

1st /Lt John Balcunas USAAF 22nd Fighter Squadron was flying his P-47 Thunderbolt on a strafing mission over France on 21 May 1944 when he was shot down by flak from the last coach of a train he was attacking. Leading a group of four aircraft he had run into dense fog over eastern France and became separated from the others.
'Two AA guns on the last carriage hit me. My fuel pressure wavered and my oil was leaking when I left the train and started for home. I ran into flak in several more places and when my gas was practically gone I climbed to 7000 feet, rolled the ship over twice and dropped out on the second roll. The fog was so dense that I hadn’t the slightest notion whether I was over land or water.’
Balcunas baled out, landing near Saint-Germain-de-Coulamer (Mayenne) south-west of Alencon:
 ‘I hid the chute in a ravine and found my way to a road. I spoke to two children who did not answer, then approached an old man rather high with drink, who when I showed him my phrase card led me to a house.
The people there gave me food and civilian clothes and then indicated that I should be on my way. I went down the road a bit, stopped to examine my escape kit from which I kept only the map, compass and money, and then took up my walk again.’

He had begun an evasion which on occasions stretched the boundaries of luck and coincidence to the limit.
‘A young man directed me toward Spain, but after a long walk I found myself back at the point where I had started. Through the haze I saw two figures approaching me. They appeared to be wearing boots and carrying sticks or rifles. I therefore ran into a lane which led off of the road and then waited ten minutes to give the figures ample time to pass.

Just as I started toward the road again two Germans turned off and walked towards me. Since they had already seen me, I knew that my only chance was to continue on past them as calmly as possible. They looked inquisitively at me as I passed, but I tried to act as if I had not noticed them, and they neither spoke to me nor followed me.’
The first two figures were probably also soldiers. As Balcunas had already removed a compass from his escape kit, it is unlikely that he was using it properly at this point. 
‘I walked the rest of the day and slept in a haystack outside of a village that night. Early the next morning I entered the village and declared myself to a woman who gave me some food but could help me no further. On the outskirts of the next village, I saw a postman who was by himself. When I showed him my phrase- card he took me to his house, fed me and put me to bed. I slept there the rest of the day and in the evening the postman gave me food and better clothes and sent me on my way again. I walked all of that night and in the morning found myself in the city of Le Mans.

Le Mans St Juliens Cathedral - Jerry Pinkowski
I had got almost through Le Mans when an air raid began. Since everyone on the street was going into the nearest house. I followed an old man into one. The mistress of the house and the old man soon struck up a conversation, but I stood in silence and they said nothing to me. When the all clear sounded and the old man left, I showed the woman my phrase card. She became very enthusiastic. Got me some food at once, then put me to bed. When her husband came home, he gave me a French-English dictionary, and advised me not to walk to Tours as I had intended to, but to take the train to Nantes, Bordeaux and Irun, where he said there was an American Consul. I had no notion at the time how dangerous this plan was, but perhaps my very ignorance of the danger helped to carry me through.’
The reference Balcunas makes to danger is not an understatement. The evasion report often suggests a lack of awareness as to how much danger he was really in. Every time he made himself known by showing his phrase card could have been the last, but the more relaxed behaviour patterns may have indirectly helped him to blend in when outside in public.

The postman and timely air raid plus the woman in the house were straightforward good fortune. As for the bigger picture; organised escape lines avoided parts of this area and only travelled through with good documents. They also left the train before the risky destinations, to tackle the Pyrenees on foot. The man’s advice to Balcunas around his route to Irun was accurate, but ignored all of the dangers.
‘My friend told me that there would be a train half an hour after midnight. At 22.30 hours I went to the station and bought a ticket to Bordeaux, but the train did not come in that night and I waited in the station until morning.
When the train for Bordeaux did come in it was so crowded that I could not get on. I got a train for Angers instead, changed there for Nantes and after spending the night in the station at Nantes, finally got a train for Bordeaux. In Bordeaux I bought a ticket for Irun (Spain) without any difficulty. I had to wait all afternoon and evening for the train, but at 22.00 it pulled in and I boarded it. I always took care to sit near the window and in the middle of the car. In this way I could see what other passengers did when an official asked them for something and so could do the proper thing myself without understanding anything that was said. Fortunately I was never asked for an identity card.’

Bordeaux Station
Fugitives were often picked up at railway stations. It is possible that Balcunas got away without being asked for his papers because of the busy crowds, numbers of foreign labourers in that part of France, his behaviour patterns and simple luck.
‘After my train passed through Bayonne, I began to worry about getting across the border. There was in my compartment at this time a young couple and I decided to take them into my confidence. They turned out to be Spanish and since I know a little Spanish, I understood most of their excited explanation that the Gestapo control goes through the trains at Hendaye and I should certainly be caught there. They urged me to leave the train and walk across the border and when the train stopped just before entering St Jean de Luz they helped me out of the window.’
Another lucky break, but fortune favours the brave. Documents were often checked on the trains before Hendaye.
‘I hid in the bushes until it was dark then struck out eastwards as the Spanish couple had directed and walked all night. In the morning I met a farmer who fed me and led me to another farmer who could speak a little English. This man let me sleep in his house that day and in the evening put me on a path which he told me to follow. I walked until the moon set. At that time I had reached the crest of a mountain. There I remained until 22.00 when I took up my hike once more.’

His luck was still holding and the best was about to present itself.
‘At midnight I came upon a group of Spanish cattle rustlers who were driving into Spain. When I told them who I was, they said that they had stolen cattle from the Germans and that I could come with them. I was given a stick with which to drive the cow at the end of the column, but later a while I became so exhausted that I clutched the cow’s tail with both hands and let her drag me up mountains, down valleys and over the border into Spain. Without the aid of that cow I should never have got over.’
Cows in the Pyrenees
This is the only evasion over the Pyrenees with the aid of a cow – unless anyone knows differently?
‘When we had got some distance into Spain, the party split up. I followed the chief of the rustlers who had four cows as his share. Presently he pointed out to me the lights of a village in the valley (Echalar) , showed me the path which led to the village and told me to go there. It was now 28th May - one week after I had landed in France. When I reached the village, I found the bakery open, my knee was swollen, the baker allowed me to sleep in his shop for the rest of the night, and in the morning on his advice I went to the Police station. The police put me up at an inn and the next day. 29 May took me to the military commandant in Irun. I spent the night of 29 May in jail and on 30 May was taken to a hotel in Irun where I met a representative of the American Embassy (Brandon).

I was in Irun two and a half weeks, then the Spanish Air Force took me and about 10 others to Alhama, was there about 10 days. Left 25 June. Went to Madrid and took train to Gib – arrived 26th, left Gib 27th and arrived in Bristol UK on 28th.’ 
Balcunas had successfully evaded without any ID or false papers. The war might have shifted against Germany and D Day was imminent, but life in that part of occupied France was continuing much as it had since the Germans reoccupied the zone. The dangers remained undiminished.
Whilst this journey did not have the same distance and craft as Ft Lt Julian Sale’s evasion (see recent posts) there is no doubting initiative and opportunism, even if it involved on occasions just producing an American Serviceman’s phrase card to the natives. There is no doubting that a huge amount of luck contributed to Balcunas initially reaching Spain and then presenting himself to the right people there. The Superior’s overview on his escape report is a fitting summary:   
‘Proper briefing would have taught this evader to avoid the most dangerous of all routes to Spain, the defence zone along the west coast. Timely advice and good luck saved him – to which should be added the cow.’
Grateful thanks to Keith Janes for the story and summary

US Archives  - Escape & Evasion Report

©Keith Morley

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Evasion and the Animals Part Two

Apologies for the late post - it was not possible to access the online American escape and evasion records at NARA last week due to update and maintenance work. I was originally going to include two stories in the post, but they both warrant separate attention.  

In the Middle East during World War Two, MI9 ran its escape and evasion operations from Cairo. The initial fate of airmen shot down in the desert could often rest on a matter of luck as it did in Nazi occupied Europe. Airmen operating over the desert areas were issued with ‘goolie chits’ which explained in Arabic that Arabs would be rewarded if they helped airmen return to their own lines. For an aviator attempting to evade through endless miles of parched landscape,  it often become a simple matter of whose side the Arabs were on when an  approach for help was made.
Cairo 1942
Wrecked enemy aircraft at Derna Airport
On 31 May 1942 Sergeant Michael Mackintosh of RAF 148 Squadron took off as second pilot in a Wellington detailed to bomb Derna aerodrome. As the crew prepared for a second bombing run over the target, they were attacked by an Me109 night fighter. The Wellington was badly damaged with fire breaking out on the wing. Its starboard engine became inoperable and the hydraulics system had partially failed resulting in the aircraft’s undercarriage lowering of its own accord. The pilot, Flying Officer Bill Astell (who was later killed on the Dams Raid with 617 Squadron) managed to jettison the remaining bombs before the fighter attacked again. Mackintosh was attempting to pump the undercarriage up by hand when he was badly shot up in the elbow from the fighter’s strafe. The force of the attack threw him back into the bomb aimer’s panel. Mackintosh reported:
‘…I only had feeling up to my elbow. When I looked at my arm it was in fact still there but appeared to be only just hanging on and was twisting and swinging in all directions, with blood pouring from the wound. It was not a very pleasant sensation.’
The situation in the aircraft worsened with fire burning in the fuselage and it’s instrument panel shattered. The wireless operator had a leg wound and the pilot had no choice but to give the order abandon aircraft. Mackintosh’s right arm was useless, so the navigator (Bish Dodds) had to fasten on the parachute. With the aircraft losing height, Mackintosh described what happened next.
‘Bish picked up my dangling right arm and put my fingers around the rip cord handle, but it fell away. I again replaced it, but again it fell away as I opened the trap door. The only way was to put my left hand over my right to stop it falling…’
The plan worked, and Mackintosh was able to bale out, pull the rip cord and collapse into ‘a curled up position’ on the ground after making a heavy rough landing from 2000 feet:
‘For a few seconds I was unable to move. To listen to oneself groaning, and being unable to stop was a most unpleasant sensation. I finally stood up. My helmet was missing and bombs were falling all around me. My field service cap was in the shoulder strap of my battledress, so I removed it and tucked it under my right armpit, hoping to bring some force to bear on the pressure point and so to check the flow of blood from my injured arm.’
Mackintosh picked out the North star and set off  in a south easterly direction with his arms folded across his body and a damaged desert boot and heel impeding his walking.
After a quarter of an hour he met one of his crew, gunner Fred Hooper who had elected to head north.  Hooper was able to temporarily patch up the wound and attend to Macintosh’s other arm which was also injured. Mackintosh took up the story:
‘We then set off on a desert track, but soon I had to stop as I was not feeling very well, to the extent that I told Fred to go it alone and leave me. He was very reluctant to leave me but I finally persuaded him to go on, so once again I was alone.’
After reaching and looking for survivors in his own burnt out aircraft, he moved on staying with the desert track, but was in a bad way:
‘…walking for about two to three hours, all seemed to be going quite well. My brain was quite clear and I was taking stock of all around me but I could not keep up the pace I had set myself ‘and just as dawn broke I had to stop for a rest,  so sat down and then lay on the sand - in retrospect very foolishly.
I became very cold and decided I must move on, but this was easier said than done as I seemed to be glued to the ground and it took several attempts before I finally got to my feet. From a nearby wadi* I could hear the sound of sheep and goats and the voice of an Arab. I knew Senussi Arabs had helped other airmen to evade being captured from behind enemy line, so I decided to go to them and hope they were friendly. At this stage I was leaving a trail of blood behind me and flies were beginning to attack my wounded arm so it was now time to try and find help.’

Desert Wadi
He approached the wadi which contained three tents and staggered up to an alarmed Arab tending the sheep and goats:
‘I greeted him in Arabic telling him I was English and needed food and water and asked if he was a friend of the English. He replied that the English were good and the Italians bad. He then led me down to the farm and into a tent where I was greeted by all present including the Sheik, Braiham Haarak, an old man with a grey beard.’
Another Arab entered the tent and he spoke some English. Yadem Addual Mustaffa Said removed Mackintosh’s bandages, washed and cleaned the wounds, applying some powder before re-bandaging the most seriously injured arm with clean dressings.
After declining an offer of food and drinking two glasses of goats milk, the airman left with the two Arabs. They took him to a cave to hide in during the day, placing a blanket on the floor and rolling a boulder across the entrance. It was a sensible move, as Mackintosh could hear aircraft engines being tested nearby and had seen German fighters in the air. Searches for him in the area were a certainty and his condition was deteriorating further:
‘It was not long before the flies started to disturb me and I noticed several bug-like insects being attracted to the exposed parts of my body, particularly my injured arm…About midday Yadem returned with milk and water, but the food he brought I refused.’
He was unable to stand without Yadem’s help and had almost reached the end:
‘…when he left me to go back into the cave to fetch the blanket, I fell down and all went blank. I think he thought I was going to die, and wanted to take me to the nearest German hospital, but this gave me the incentive.  I needed to get up once again and once up I stayed up, but only with the help of the rocks nearby. We later reached the farm and all was well.’
So ‘all was well.’ Mackintosh could barely move himself around, his right arm was virtually useless, infection had started to threaten the wound, insects were attacking the open areas of his body and the Germans were certain to be closing in. It was fortuitous that he did not know what lay ahead as regards his travel arrangements.    
The next day we again set out but not to the same cave. As before Yadem returned during the day with milk and water but as he was about to leave, motor vehicles were heard coming down the wadi. They stopped in front of the cave and I could hear car doors slam and raised voices. Yadem told me to say that he had just found me and was about to hand me over. When we finally looked out we saw four armoured cars about twenty yards away, stuck in the sand, but finally they made off towards the farm. In the evening when Yadem returned he said they were looking for me, looking for an ‘English Major’ who had been shot down at Derna, my name being clearly marked on my abandoned parachute.’
The cave was 10 kilometres away from the farm where Mackintosh had been resting at night. The airman had doubts about continuing the daily journey and also the dangers to Yadem. He told him:
‘I said I was going to try as soon as dusk fell to make for the British lines at Gazala, but he said I was not well enough and if I waited a few days he would arrange something, so I agreed. We set off having had a make-do sling for my arm and it was a little easier but I still had to hang on to Yadem. To urge me on, Yadem kept telling me how the cave was just in front or just around the next bend in the wadi. I was all in, and realized I would have to rest for a few days so they left me a good supply of water and then set off back to the farm. By following the shadow in the cave entrance around, as the day went on I tried to estimate the time.’  
Mackintosh made another worrying observation:
‘I noticed maggots, not only on the blanket but my elbow as well. There were too many to brush off. In actual fact, as I found out later they were saving my arm by eating away the infection.’
Yadem visited the cave later, made up some lemonade for him and outlined a plan the Arabs had devised for an escape:
‘They were going to take me to a British patrol but to do this they would have to borrow a camel and I would have to sign a chit to enable them to borrow one.’ (Presumably with Mackintosh’s left hand!) ‘We set off and all the village came out to see us off. They told me the next time I flew over to drop them tea and sugar. After one days travel we came to another Arab encampment where I was made very welcome, and in the roofs of the tents were letters from RA and Army personnel who had passed through.
By now I was getting tired of riding on a camel. I was sitting at its back and my legs were getting rubbed raw by the continual back and fore motion of the animal but we finally reached a wadi where we met a British officer and two signalmen. They were members of the Long Range Desert Group observing German troop movements on the Benghazi/Derna road.’
Mackintosh’s experiences of traveling on animals did not end there as he recounted with an interesting addition:
‘By now I was all in. One of the soldiers gave me a drink and when I asked what it was, he said it was issue rum. A signal was sent to Cairo for a patrol to meet up with us and while waiting for them I met the famous Popski and his Private Army. He told of some of his experiences and I realised what wonderful men they were.  I travelled on his horse to meet the patrol of the LRDG and so well was the patrol camouflaged that we were on top of them before we saw them.’
He waited for the three vehicle New Zealand patrol to arrive accompanied by a British doctor. The journey to the oasis took three days where he was picked up by Red Cross aircraft and flown to Cairo and an RAF hospital. He had somehow survived:
‘They wanted to take me on a stretcher but having got this far on my own two feet I declined. It was now 26 June.’

Long Range Desert Group - IWM E13 12385
There is little to add to a narrative full of courage, fortitude and again the huge  underplay of how it really was. Mackintosh’s elbow was rebuilt by surgeons and although his right arm was two inches shorter and remained painful, it was saved. Had he been picked up during the early part of the evasion, German or British doctors would almost certainly have amputated it.  

Mackintosh in later photo on camel - M F Mackintosh 

Sergeant Michael Mackintosh - M F Mackintosh

National Archives

Free To Fight Again  - Alan Cooper - Recommended Reading

Later this week – In the final part of Evasion and the Animals - the cow which helped an American P-47 pilot climb over the Pyrenees.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Evasion and the Animals

Art Horning - Photo For False ID 

Elton Kevil - Photo For False ID

Evaders and escapers came to depend on their helpers and guides during the journey, but there are personal accounts and memoirs which show that animals could also play a key role.
For the fugitive making his way south towards the Pyrenees, sitting around in safe houses with little or no exercise did not prepare them for the gruelling journey ahead over the mountains. Treacherous terrain, adverse weather, unrelenting spells of hiking and climbing in inadequate clothing and footwear all tested physical resolve to the limit. Some evaders may not have fully recovered from wounds or injuries, and despite the valiant efforts and sacrifices of helpers who sheltered and fed the men, food shortages often meant a thin diet.  
In November and early December 1943, B-17G Navigator Art Horning was holed up with another US airman (Elton Kevil) at 92, Rue de Locht in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. Their hosts were Monsieur and Madame DeBerghes, a middle class French couple in their early forties. Horning describes the daily set up:
‘We naturally were not allowed to go outside or even go to the windows to look out. We knew this for our own good. We did have the run of the house, however most of the time we just sat. I smoked cigarettes and we listened to the radio which was played very softly.’
A sedentary routine was not helpful, so Horning fell into a strategy to help his fitness.
‘My daily exercise consisted of chasing a cat all over the house. Madame DeBerghes owned a Siamese cat which early on, started to play war games with me. I cannot remember when or why it started but I do remember the cat getting in the first licks by raking my ankles from under the sofa as I sat there. It happened more than once and I declared war. While alone during the day our war went on until the day I left the DeBerghes. With broom in hand, I went to the war front daily and chased the cat up the stairs, down the stairs, into the kitchen, under the sofa and other furniture and while I got in a few licks, the cat stalked me as well. Occasionally, when I walked down the stairs, the cat would lie in wait on a higher flight of stairs and try to rake my face through the spindles of the bannister as I descended.
Never was a truce declared even when in the evening the cat would purr in the lap of Madame – keeping one eye on me and daring me to make a move while she was in home port. If Madame had known of the war, I am sure both the cat and I would have found ourselves out in the street.’
Horning’s fitness was to play a vital part during his crossing into Spain. On Christmas Eve 1943, he was one of a party which attempted to wade across the fast flowing Bidassoa river into Spain. American evader James Burch and key Comete operator Antoine d’Ursel (Jacques Cartier) were swept away and drowned. 
RAF Sergeant Jon Dix reported a remarkable incident after he left the train with his guide near the Belgian/French border.
‘There were strict controls at all rail and road border crossings and to avoid those they would get off the train at the last station before reaching the frontier. It was getting dark when they left the train and they then walked for about three miles across country to a farm. On entering the farm he was surprised to be introduced to two American airmen who would be joining him for the journey to Paris. Their hosts were an older farm couple and the man briefed them on what would happen next. After a meal they would be taken across the frontier to another farm on the French side. The three evaders would remain there until daylight and be collected by two girls who would take them into the town of Lille, where they would all catch the train for Paris.’
Rumes Railway Station (left) Where Dix Probably Left the Train
Dix noticed how tense the hosts were - border crossings in this area were extremely dangerous. He chatted with the two Americans over the meal and at around twenty two hundred hours their host came into the living room with a man and an Alsatian dog. The evaders were carefully briefed on the next stage of their journey.
The men listened intently, with translations being necessary in parts. Those who could speak the language must have questioned their knowledge of French, as the content of the brief sounded too farfetched to be true, as Dix described:
‘None of the people at the farm would be with them on their walk across the frontier into France...the dog would be their guide. They were told not to touch the dog or try and make friends with him…the dog was fully trained to take them to the farm on the French side, he had made the journey many times before.’
Their host explained, it was simply too dangerous for any of them to travel in person with the three evaders. Instructions must be carried out to the letter, as Dix explained:
‘They were to follow the dog closely without talking to him or talking amongst themselves. The dog would have a piece of white cloth attached to his collar so that they could follow him in the dark. They were to keep close behind him and if the dog sensed anything unusual en route he would flatten himself down into grass. If this happened they were to scatter as quietly as possible and hide in the fields and hedgerows. If it was a false alarm the dog would come and find them to continue the journey. The dog would lead them into a farm yard on the French side and bark at the back door. The French farmer would take them inside and send the dog back to their starting point.’
'Cocquette' -  Probable Identity Of  The Dog 
The dog was on a leash when it was brought around to all three of the men to let him smell them. The evaders were reminded that on no account were they to touch or talk to him. Dix made an interesting observation:
‘He did not seem to be very friendly, his tail did not wag as most dogs would have done, it was held tightly between his legs. He was on duty and under instructions and knew it.’
The dog was taken out of the room and the farmer explained that the distance to the farmhouse on the other side of the border was only a few miles, but the journey would take up to two hours as the trail through fields and woods was especially winding and narrow in places.  The route had clearly been chosen to maximise the chances of making it into France without detection. The airmen were warned that the animal would go under fences, and if this happened they were to climb over them. As this route passed into France without any marked frontier, no visible signs would exist that the party had passed into France.  
An hour before midnight the three evaders were taken out into the yard and followed the dog away from the farmhouse.  Dix took up the story:
‘It was a dark but clear night, with stars shining brightly and just enough glow in the sky to see faint outlines of trees and buildings. The dog loped slowly along with three rather scared airmen in tow. Once their eyes became accustomed to the dark it was not difficult to follow their leader and the track was not hard to follow either. They kept their eyes glued to the dog ahead in case it flattened itself in the grass.’
There were no problems until one of the Americans stumbled over one of the fences and fired off a string of choice language. The dog seemed unfazed by this and waited whilst the evader dusted himself down before continuing on without distraction.
‘After around two hours travel the men were led through some orchards into the backyard of a farm with the dog’ approaching ‘and  barking at the back door. Almost immediately a man appeared with a lantern and shone it in their faces. He motioned them inside, gave the dog a few words of instruction and their ‘guide’ turned and disappeared into the darkness.’
The identity of the dog has never been completely verified, but it is likely to have been ‘Cocquette’, belonging to Maurice Bricout (The Border Policeman see posts Sept-Oct 2012). Whoever the dog belonged to, he was part of an amazing story.
In The Footsteps Of A Flying Boot - Art Horning
Come Walk With Me - John Dix 
©Keith Morley

Friday, 10 May 2013

He Made It Back Alone - Part Two

Flt Lt Julian Sale had defied the odds in reaching occupied France by 22 May 1943 without any direct help from the Resistance or Escape Lines (see last week’s post.) Securing aid and shelter from patriots had sometimes been assisted by his basic knowledge of French, along with a careful scrutiny and judgement around specific situations. Any reader of his Evasion Report should not be fooled by the matter of fact narrative and apparent string of good fortune and friendly faces – Sale was a resourceful and shrewd operator.  

After crossing the Belgian border at Esschen at 15.00 on 22 May, Sale is stopped by two Belgian Customs officials who wave him on. He is then halted by two Belgian policemen who ask for his papers. Sale tells them who he is and the policemen advise him not to keep his bicycle as it has no Belgian licence plaque on it.  

He decides to head south for Spain, keeping to the east of Paris with a plan to cycle through the day; then seek food and shelter at night. Statistically, most evaders still free after travelling this kind of distance would be in the hands of an escape or resistance organisation. The training airmen received on evading capture recommended they attempt to make contact with these organisations as soon as possible. Sale hopes that a suitable opportunity will still arise and he continues to travel alone, cycling through the day, carefully selecting isolated farms at night to watch and subsequently approach. He usually manages to obtain food and shelter, often in barns.     
The bicycle given to him by the elderly ladies in Holland is showing serious signs of wear. There is only one pedal operational and punctures are becoming a problem. Following the encounter with the Belgian policemen, he has used more coloured card and tin to try and replicate the various local licence plaques on the bicycle. Travelling south through Laon, Chateau-Thierry, Sens and Bourges he keeps a sharp look out for the police and soldiers, but eventually ends up having to push his bicycle after struggling for two days. He manages to get repairs to the bicycle frame and the punctures in his tyres mended.


The next step is to get into the Zone Zud (South Zone) formerly Vichy France. Since November 1942 after the Allied Landings in North Africa, the German Army has occupied much of the area with the Italians looking after the eastern sector. The demarcation line between north and south zones is still patrolled and is a major problem for the evader. A few miles south of Bourge Sale weighs up the options and decides to approach a local farmer. The man knows a point where there are no guards and Sale crosses via the bridge.
Demarcation Line Bourge 1940

He continues to head south, covering huge distances on the bicycle and avoiding checks. Castres is reached on 1 June; then the small town of Revel the following day. Since crossing into Northern France from Belgium, Sale has covered over 500 miles, and the Pyrenees are close. All he has to do now is travel to the foot of the mountains through an area where frequent checks are made on personnel by the police and military via patrols and roadblocks. He must avoid being stopped, as in addition to a main identity card and ausweis work permit, special authorisation documents are also required to travel in this area. Sale has no papers of any sort. Once at the foot of the Pyrenees, in this section of the mountains he may have to climb up at least 9,000- 15,000 feet with no proper clothing or footwear, avoid the German Alpine patrols, cross the border, dodging the Spanish Guardia Civile and their prisons and try to reach a British Consul somewhere.
It is hardly surprising that he elects to hide on local farms for nearly three weeks to arrange his next move. In the first few days after arriving at Revel, he meets a young Frenchman who has already attempted to get into Switzerland, but failed as the border was too well guarded. The two men decide to team up and attempt a crossing of the Pyrenees. On 21 June they travel to Toulouse, finally leaving Sale’s trusty bicycle behind. He does not say how they manage to get train tickets from Toulouse to Carcassone or from there to Quillan. Looking at how Sale has operated in the past, it is likely that the young Frenchman fronts the operation, having a fluent command of the language, knowing the system and possibly having some documents.  
At Quillan, they take a bus and ride the 15 miles to Belcaire in the foothills of the Pyrenees, electing to stay in a small hotel. Discreet enquiries lead them to a guide who is already scheduled to cross the mountains with a party of six. They approach him and he agrees to take Sale and the Frenchman.
The group leave early on 24 June but the guide becomes lost and the party are forced to stay overnight in the open. The following morning they continue climbing and by mid-afternoon the group is only two miles from the border with Andorra. The guide refuses to go any further. The terrain is especially difficult and it has been selected as a route because of its difficult access for German patrols and border guards. Sale and the Frenchman continue alone crossing a 7,000 foot mountain with large snowdrifts despite it being June. They cross the frontier late on 25th June and stay overnight in a shepherd’s hut before making the short journey into the Andorran town of Camillo at first light the next morning.   


In Camillo they manage to make contact with a man who passes them on to a Spanish smuggler who agrees to take them to Barcelona. Crossing the closely guarded Spanish frontier will be difficult and dangerous, but the smuggler knows his routes. He takes them by car back to the border where they join up with more smugglers and Sale plus the Frenchman cross the mountains with them at night.
It takes ten days of difficult gruelling descent and rough shelter to reach the town of Manresa. Their guide goes on ahead and makes contact with the British Consulate from Barcelona, who arrives on 7 July to take the two men to the Consulate. They stay there until arrangements are made to travel to Gibraltar.

Gibraltar 1942

Julian Sale left Gibraltar on 5 August 1943 just short of three months after he landed near the German- Dutch border. He had walked and cycled over 800 miles and only towards the end of the journey did he take three short train and bus journeys. All of this was without any involvement with the escape lines. It is a truly great solo evasion of the Second World War. By 2 September he was back with his squadron and later that month was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his achievements. The citation included:
‘ His unconquerable spirit of determination, great gallantry and fortitude have set an example beyond praise.’
A further endorsement of this amazing man is contained in the citation for the bar to his DSO. The London Gazette recorded the recommendation on 1 February 1944:
‘One night in December 1943, this officer was pilot of an aircraft detailed to attack a target in Germany. Although heavy clouds prevailed over the target, Squadron Leader Sale displayed great persistence and made five runs over the area before releasing his bombs. The return flight was safely accomplished but whilst over base at a height of 1,500 feet some stores exploded and flames broke out near the rear turret and the underside of one of the wings of the aircraft quickly became filled with smoke and fumes, and fire spread rapidly. The danger of the tanks exploding was soon apparent. Coolly Squadron Leader Sale turned away from the airfield, regained height and ordered his crew to leave by parachute. By this time he could hardly see the instruments as the smoke in the cockpit was so dense. As he was just about to leave the aircraft himself, Squadron Leader Sale saw standing beside him a member of the crew who had been unable to leave as his parachute was badly damaged and unusable. Squadron Leader Sale therefore decided to attempt to land the burning aircraft and succeeded. In so doing the floor of the fuselage, some equipment and some stores were blazing as he and his comrade got cleared. When they were a bare 200 yards away, the aircraft exploded. In circumstances of great danger Squadron Leader Sale displayed great courage and determination, setting an example of the highest order.’
The awards did not stop there, as he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on 19 June 1944 and this was reported in the London Gazette on 27 June 1944 in recognition of flying 51 sorties (305 operational hours).

Tragically he did not live to learn of the DFC award.  During a bomber attack on Leipzig his Halifax aircraft was shot down by a German night fighter. Sale who was badly wounded when his parachute failed to open properly, died in captivity as a Prisoner of War on 20 March 1944.
He was one of the Greats.
Bomber Command Losses Of The Second World War 1943 – W R Chorley 

MI9 Evasion Report

Shot Down And On The Run – Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork (recommended read)



Friday, 3 May 2013

He Made It Back Alone - Part One

Flt Lt Julian Sale (third left back row) With His Crew & Ground Crew - RAFES

Arnhem- Nijmegan Railway Bridge (before war damage)

Dutch Bicycle in 1941

On the night of 12/13 May 1943, 35 Squadron were detailed to attack Duisberg and at 00.23 hours Halifax ‘DT801 TL – A’ took off at 22.00 from RAF Graveley,near Cambridge . In the Pilot’s seat and skipper of the aircraft was Canadian Flt Lt Julian Sale RCAF, the remainder of the crew were five British and another Canadian. The aircraft had crossed the Zuyder Zee and was approaching the turning point to head on south towards the target when Oberleutnant August Geiger attacked in a night fighter. Almost immediately Sale gave the order to ‘abandon the badly damaged aircraft. As Pilot he would be the last to exit, but there was an explosion and Sale was blown through the dingy escape hatch which he had removed. clear but managed to open his parachute, landing in the top of a pine tree near to the Dutch town of Haaksbergen.(Sale states it was in the vicinity of Oldenzaal in his report)
He was about to begin an epic journey to freedom, with only the help of local patriots and no organised escape line. Reported in a matter of fact way and often underplayed, the style of his Evasion Report is typical of so many other servicemen at the time.
The Allied airman attempting to travel from Holland to Spain in 1943 without linking in with some form of organised escape network would almost certainly have been arrested or captured. Whilst luck played a part in Julian Sale’s evasion, there is no doubting the special qualities of this man. Reading between the lines of his Evasion Report, it is likely that his observation, sound judgement, clear planning and instinct to survive were major factors in his success. These were further illustrated later in the citation in 1944 for a bar to his DSO for ‘great courage and determination, setting an example of the highest order.
Once he had disentangled himself from the string he unclipped his parachute harness and carefully climbed down to the ground. It was too difficult to try and disentangle his chute from the tree, so Sale put both socks on to the foot which had no boot and called out for his fellow gunner for about an hour. He then made the only decision he could under the circumstances – get away from the initial landing point before dawn. He had sustained a bruised leg and was missing one of his flying boots.Searches would already be imminent in the area where the aircraft had crashed or parachutes had been sighted. At first light, the Germans would carry out full sweeps. (aircraft crashed 02.00 at Buurse Overijessel, a village close to the Dutch border with Germany. 2 of the crew killed, 4 taken prisoner)
Sale had seen some of his crew exit the aircraft through the forward escape hatch before the explosion, so was hopeful they might have survived. He attempted to cover up his Mae West (lifejacket) at the bottom of the tree but was initially forced to make adjustments to his footwear before striking out. He doubled up socks on the foot which had no boot and began walking in a north westerly direction by the stars. Although he may have drifted over into Germany or been close to its border with occupied Holland, he would head north west as per his training, guided by the stars.
As first light came up he hid in some bushes between two farms trying to get his bearings. There was a stream where he could fill his water bottle, so he lay low, trying to decide if the farms were German or Dutch.   It was unsafe to make himself visible, so he remained under cover for the rest of the day until darkness, when he set off again at 23.00 hours in a westerly direction keeping to minor small tracks and back lanes and covering around 20 miles.. At this early point in the journey, Sale had encountered nothing unusual for an evader who was still free. German soldiers and police had been avoided and no approaches to houses or farms had been made yet.
The evader’s first choice of where and who to approach for help was crucial, as it could shape the path of a future journey or result in capture. Sale had covered another 20 miles with his strange combination of footwear, but his feet were beginning to deteriorate.  He kept going by drinking milk from his water bottle which he had filled up from a churn, and chewing Horlicks tablets from the escape kit carried in his jacket. As the light faded on 14 May he decided he had walked far enough to have crossed the border into Holland. After checking the immediate area, Sale approached a farmer for food and assistance with his footwear.
The Journey Through Holland
The farmer understands who Sale is. He is prepared to give him food, and some clogs to wear, but will not shelter him because of the risk of discovery by the Germans and the consequences. Sale is sent on his way with food, a pair of clogs and basic directions to Arnhem.
By now it is night and he follows his evasion training, taking minor roads. Rather than skirting around some villages he chooses to sneak through by taking off his clogs to avoid making a noise. There is another reason - his feet are blistered, their condition is deteriorating and his RAF trousers are almost falling to pieces.
As per his training, he finds a place to hide and rests throughout the day, setting off again once it is dark. The clogs are eventually abandoned and Sale decides that he must seek help again. He needs suitable footwear and apart from the food the Dutch farmer gave him, he has been living only on the emergency rations from his escape kit. On 16 May he spots another farmhouse on the edge of the village of Linde. As dawn comes up, he monitors the place, and then decides it is safe to approach. By now at least 40 miles have been covered since landing.
Sale knocks the door at the back of the farmhouse to minimise the risk of being seen. He is in luck. The family are friendly but afraid of discovery. They give Sale a change of clothes, socks and shoes. Through a family friend who visits the farm, the Canadian learns of arrests in the area due to locals assisting evading aircrew and is advised to give himself up. The situation is dangerous, so it is decided to hide him in the attic overnight where there is a bed, feed him and provide a map to aid his navigation. He leaves the following evening, with a large scale road map.
Travel is still risky, as despite having a reasonable set of civilian clothes, Sale has no identity papers. If the local police or Germans stop him, arrest is a virtual certainty. If he continues to journey at night after curfew, discovery is less likely providing he keeps off the main routes and avoids towns and large villages. The practicalities around following this strategy are clear. Whilst lessening the risk of capture, distances travelled will be greatly reduced, navigation more difficult and a need for further assistance will soon be required. Sale has a huge number of miles to go before reaching the Pyrenees and then Spain. This route is the only real option open to him.
The road map is a constant reminder of just how far he has to travel. Sale decides to continue his journey on foot by day and take more major roads. His plan is to bypass Arnhem to the north and make for Oosterbeek where a suitable point to cross the Neder Rijn can be located. This leg of the journey passes with little incident, apart from him stopping to help a German Officer push his car which has broken down. He reaches the Arnhem- Nijmegan railway bridge, and as daylight begins to fade he decides that it is unguarded. The river is only about a hundred yards across, so Sale makes his move and starts to walk on to the bridge. This is his first mistake, as a sentry shouts a challenge, then fires at him as he turns and runs away down the riverbank.
The sentry does not give chase and he manages to hide until it is fully dark. No soldiers arrive to begin a search, so he breaks cover and tries to find a boat to cross the river. This is unsuccessful. He has little choice but to strip off his clothes, bundle them in his overcoat, secure this to a plank of wood and propel the plank across the river – an ingenious way of getting across and keeping his clothes separate.
By morning he reaches the River Waal at Druten. He meets a Dutch boy who speaks a little English and tells him there are no checks or controls on the ferry. Sale manages to swap a British half-crown with the boy for a few cents which is enough for his fare across the river.
There is no way of avoiding the River Maas which has to be negotiated next. Sale reaches this point later in the day and a group of workmen help him across on a private industrial railway. It is not clear how he keeps successfully getting help without incident, as he speaks no Dutch, having only a basic knowledge of French. There are clearly skills in weighing up situations and having an instinct in knowing who and when to approach.
He decides to select another isolated house to ask for assistance. A schoolteacher, who lives there and speaks a little English, agrees to help him. He gives Sale a meal and some new socks before the journey continues.
The following day he must have thought his luck has finally run out as he walks through a small village. A Dutch policeman stops him and requests his papers. Sale tries to explain in basic French why he has no documents. The policeman cuts him off and replies knowingly in broken French that ‘he is a Frenchman going home from Germany.’ The pair shake hands on it and the policeman wishes him luck.
Evaders were advised in their training to look for priests as they were seen as someone who might give shelter or aid. In St Oedenrode, Sale knocks on the door of a house which he thinks may belong to a priest. He is mistaken. There is no man of the cloth, only three elderly ladies, who invite him in for food. He stays there for two nights and is given a new pair of boots, three days food, a map and a bicycle. The ladies also outline a safe location where he can cross the Dutch/Belgian border.
Into Belgium
The border is reached on 22 May at 3.00pm and approaches are made to a Dutch family in an attempt to find out if this section of the border is patrolled by guards. They advise it is clear to cross at this point, so Sale heads south west on his bicycle into Belgium towards Antwerp. Two Belgian policemen stop him very quickly, as his bicycle still has the blue Dutch plaque on it. Each bicycle must carry an appropriate licence plaque and there is no Belgian one visible. He identifies himself as an evading Canadian airman as there is little point in trying anything else. In that region of Belgium the predominant language is Flemish. It is not clear whether he addresses the policemen in English or French. Either way, they manage to understand him and turn out to be friendly towards the Allies. Their advice is to ditch the bicycle as there is no Belgian licence plaque, but Sale manages to create a passable copy from an old cigarette packet. At least it might prevent him from being routinely stopped.
He presses on, cycling in a southerly direction, keeping well to the east of Antwerp and Brussels, passing through Louvain and Charleroi, before hiding for the night having cycled 100 miles in the day. Incredibly he is not stopped or questioned and has still not made contact with the resistance or an organised escape line. The next day he searches for a remote house and the prospect of information about crossing into France. Once again he tries his luck and the farmer is friendly, agreeing to escort him over the border at a safe point away from a control point.
Eleven days after being shot down on the Dutch/ German border he has reached France having walked and cycled nearly 200 miles, some of it without shoes. All Sale has to do now is cover at least another 500 miles, cross the Pyrenees mountains on foot and then plan a further strategy once in Fascist Spain.

Continued next week

Bomber Command Losses Of The Second World War 1943 – W R Chorley  

MI9 Evasion Report

Shot Down And On The Run – Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork (recommended read)