Friday, August 17, 2012

Fullbore Friday

When do you say, "Well, the war is over for me?"
On 5 September, von Werra participated in a bomber escort mission to the area south of London. The formation encountered RAF Spitfire fighters and in the subsequent aerial combat, von Werra’s Bf 109 E-4 (W.Nr. 1480) “Black <” received hits from friendly fire. He attempted to fly home alone but was pursued by a Spitfire and forced down near Marden. Von Werra was captured and imprisoned in England. He twice attempted to escape, on 7 October and 20 December, but was recaptured both times. After his second failed escape attempt, von Werra was sent to a prison camp in Canada.
Well, he gets an A+ for extra effort I think. Then again - what is one of the duties of a POW?

Well - back in North America ....
He managed to escape on 21 January 1941 and made his way through the USA, Mexico, South America and Spain to reach Germany on 18 April. Von Werra was the only German prisoner of war held by the British to successfully escape and return to his homeland. Oberleutnant von Werra was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 14 December 1940 for eight aerial victories and five aircraft destroyed on the ground.
That is the executive summary - much better information here. For example;
The prisoners were loaded aboard two trains, and von Werra learned that the German officers were to be taken to a camp on the north shore of Lake Superior, Ontario. He realised that this journey would bring him close to the border with the United States, to where he planned to escape on account of the fact that the country was still neutral at this stage in the war. Although heavily guarded, von Werra decided that towards the end of the journey he would jump off the train. The only possible exit from his carriage was through a window, though it was so high up that the only way he could get through it would be head first. The weather was expectedly cold for the time of year and as such the window was barred by ice. Von Werra worked at thawing it so that he could get it open, a task in which he was assisted by his old escaping partners, Manhard, Willhelm and Wagner, but also from the remaining German prisoners in the carriage who unwittingly donated their own body heat to raising the temperature. Von Werra considered that in such wintry conditions he would have to make his escape near to the US-Canadian border, but at a point where there was plenty of human habitation, and therefore food and good roads. It occurred to him that the obvious place to jump out was somewhere between Montreal and Ottawa. As they left Montreal station, the prisoners worked to accelerate the thawing process, which had been completely achieved by the time they stopped at the next station. This proved to be a tense moment as the window was the only one along the entire length of the train that was mysteriously free of ice, however nobody on the platform noticed. As the train moved away, von Werra readied himself to jump. He made a signal to a fellow prisoner, who got to his feet and held up his blanket by the corners, as if he were in the process of folding it up, and now shielded from sight, von Werra dived out of the window.

He had jumped from the train in the area of Smith Falls, 30 miles from the St Lawrence River, which formed the border with the United States. His absence was not noted until the following afternoon. In total, a further seven prisoners tried to escape from the same train, but all were recaptured. On his way, von Werra obtained a local map from a garage and noted that the nearest point of the river was at Prestcott. Upon arrival, to his delight, he found that the wide river was frozen over. On the other side, in the darkness, he could make out the lights coming from a town that he supposed must be Ogdensburg. He walked two miles downstream and then began to make his way across the ice. Unfortunately, in the middle he found a channel of unfrozen water and so had to return to the other side. He searched around for a time and eventually encountered a deserted holiday camp, around which he found an upturned rowing boat. It proved to be extremely difficult work for just a single man, but he succeeded in turning it over and began to push it in the direction of the river. After considerable effort he arrived at the riverbank once more. He pushed the boat in and began to make his way across. Von Werra had succeeded in escaping to neutral territory. He immediately headed towards Ogdensburg. The first landmark he could make out was the New York State Hospital, and from here he handed himself over to the first policeman he could find.

By showing his uniform and possessions to the police, he was able to convince them that he was an escaped German prisoner of war, and so he was handed over to the Immigration Authorities, who charged him with entering the United States by illegal means. It was at this point that he began to worry what would happen to him. He was only the third German prisoner of war to make a successful escape from Canada. The first man had managed to return home via Japan and Russia, but the second had been handed straight back to the Canadians. Not wishing to suffer the same fate, von Werra contacted the German Consul in New York and in so doing received a great deal of press attention. Revelling in his new found status as a hero to those in the USA who sympathised with Germany, von Werra was only too happy to recount tales of his escape, the details of which he chose to wildly exaggerate. Making his case known to the world, however, was not the end of the matter because the British and Canadians were negotiating with the United States for his return. The process continued until April 1941, whereupon it was discovered that, following his secret stay at the German Vice-Consul's home, von Werra was already in Berlin, having been helped to the Mexican border, from where he made his way through South America to Rio de Janeiro, and then on to Barcelona and Rome, and then to Germany.
Good people and strong professionals can fight for the wrong side. I think one can say that Von Werra was one of those. All of that - he died too early;
Returning to military service, von Werra was first posted to the Russian Front but later flew fighter patrols over the North Sea. On the 25th October 1941, von Werra was flying a routine patrol from Holland when his engine failed and his plane disappeared over the sea. No trace of either aircraft or man was ever found.
Yep - they made a movie out of it, The One That Got Away.


Hat tip CB.

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