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Archie  R.  Barlow

 

Personal Legacy
ARCHIE R. BARLOW
World War II
Evasion Story
January 21, 1944

Our 21 January 1944 mission was to be our first "milk run." All of our earlier missions had been to Germany or Norway at high altitudes, extremely cold temperatures, and with heavy opposition from fighters and flak. Our "milk run" was misnamed for sure. We had a mid-morning callout and briefing instead of the usual pre-dawn awakening. Our target was in the Pas De Calais area of northern France. I don't think we really knew what we were bombing at the time but later found out that it was the launching sites of the V-1 rockets that were to later bombard England. The target area was cloud covered when we arrived and we were on our third run, trying to get a good visual drop from about 12,000 feet when we first saw the German fighter formation. They made the first pass from off our right wing, then climbed ahead to make the next from about 11 o'clock high.

They must have raked us with several 20 mm hits. One exploded directly on the nose, killing the bombardier and navigator and turning their compartment into an instant inferno. We think the copilot was killed by the same blast. Another round must have gone off either on, or very near the top turret I was manning, blowing off the Plexiglas dome and sending shrapnel into my left chest and arm. I grabbed the seat release cable and dropped to the flight deck. The right wall above the radio station was on fire and Rosenblatt, the radio operator, was putting on his chute. He yelled that we had other fires in the waist area and had been ordered to bail out by the pilot. A quick glance forward showed the pilot fighting the controls and apparently unharmed. I snapped on my chute, opened the door to the nose wheel compartment and dropped down to be hit by heat and flames blowing back from the nose area. I stepped out on the cat-walk, thankfully noting that the bomb bay doors were open and the bombs had been jettisoned, just as Alvin Rosenblatt dropped down from the flight deck. I took one final glance into the cockpit. The pilot was looking back and motioning with one hand for us to jump.

I actually jumped with the intention of free-falling for two or three thousand feet before opening my chute, as we had been instructed to do many times while in training. The idea was to get you quickly out of the combat area and lessen chances of being either run into or machine-gunned by the fighters. But that falling sensation was such a shock to the system that I couldn't have been more than 20 or 30 feet beneath the plane when I changed my mind and gave a hearty yank on the ripcord. I wanted to know - and immediately - whether or not that chute was good! It was...and the heavy jerk of the canopy's opening was welcome relief.

I spent a few seconds trying to stop my wild oscillation, then looked off toward the plane. It was by then some distance off and probably at no more than 2,000 feet altitude. As I watched, it went into a steep glide and hit the ground in a fiery explosion. I saw only one chute between myself and the plane and figured that to be Rosenblatt's.

I came down in a plowed field on the edge of a small village, spraining an ankle in landing. An elderly lady, once confirming that I was an American, led me into a nearby wooded area where we came upon Charles Blakley, one of our waist gunners. Speaking no English, the lady made us understand, through sign language and by using my watch that we were to remain there until she returned at nine o'clock that night. She left, going deeper into the woods. Within 15 minutes German troops were searching for us. Three of them, talking quietly but looking neither left nor right, walked by on a path no more than 50 feet away. Their preoccupation was the only reason we weren't seen. Blakley was wearing a bright blue "Bunny Suite" (electrically heated coveralls) that could have easily been seen if they had only looked in he right direction.

Once the troops left, we spent a cold and miserable six or seven hours there. Blakley told me of a fire in the wing-root area above the bomb bays and that we had also lost one engine and another seemed sporadic. The photographer had been the first to jump from the rear hatch, and Blakley and Alfred Klein, the other waist gunner, had jumped once they saw the belly and tail gunners out of their turret positions. Blakley was unhurt, but in addition to he sprained ankle and minor shrapnel wounds, I found most of my hair had been singed off and my ears blistered from the fire.

Our benefactress was an hour late in returning for us and we were becoming quite concerned when we finally saw her approaching lantern. She and an elderly man who accompanied her, led us through the woods for a distance and then up a dirt road to her farmhouse. Upon entering, we were greeted by Rosenblatt and Klein who had been hidden there soon after their landing.

We spent four days there while the Underground secured civilian clothing for us. They told us they had learned that the pilot had gotten out of the plane but that he was killed on impact with the ground. He had probably bailed out too low for his chute to fully open. Before dawn on the fifth day, we were taken to a small railway station and escorted to Paris. K We spent about five weeks there moving from one family to another. At times we would all be together and then we would be separated for a few days. About a week after our arrival, we were taken individually to a large department store and had pictures made for our forged identification cards. Once the cards were completed we were ready to be taken to southern France where we would be guided through the Pyrenees Mountains and into neutral Spain. We spent many hours memorizing and practicing the French pronunciation of our names, addresses, occupations, and other information on the I. D. cards. My French name was George Giraud.

After numerous delays and postponements, we finally boarded a train, escorted again by Underground members, and made an overnight trip to Toulouse in southern France. There, at a youth organization building of some kind, we were joined by eight other American and English flyers and given clothing and a briefing for our trip over the mountains. It was to take three days of continuous walking and was to get us first into the small country of Andorra and then into Spain. A short trip by train that night and a walk of several hours took us into the mountains where we stopped at a shepherd's house with an attached barn.

We spent ten days there freezing our tails off in an open hayloft. Our delay in starting our trip was, at first, explained as due to bad weather along our planned route, and later as increased German patrol activity. After a week, with several of us suffering from frostbite and becoming ill on a diet solely of boiled mutton, we confronted our Basque guides and demanded that we either start the trip or get some relief from the cold temperature. After much haggling, they finally admitted that they were actually waiting for a friend and several more allied flyers to join us for the trip. We agreed to wait three days but no more.

When the other party had not arrived by our deadline, we finally started our trip about dark on the tenth day there. After a few hours of walking, I became sick on my stomach and my wooden-slatted shoe soles began coming apart. The outcome was that I couldn't keep up with the group and in the early morning hours they had to leave me. I spent three more days in the mountains without food and then gave it up as a lost cause.

I spent another day descending to a village in the valley below where I asked a farmer for assistance. He fed me, made repairs to my shoes, and discouraged me from going any further toward the border because of numerous German checkpoints and patrols. He further pointed out that my I.D. was invalid without a special authorization stamp for a 30-mile restricted area along the border. Apparently I was somewhere near the middle of that area.

Accepting his advice, I decided to try to get back to either Toulouse or Paris and make contact with the Underground for another try at escaping. Following his directions, the next day I walked about 20 miles to a train station north of the city of Foix, the nearest point where my I.D. was again valid. I bought a ticket to Toulouse and, while waiting for my train, was questioned by two French civil police. I didn't convince them for a moment of my French identity. They laughed when I pronounced my name. The laughter soon subsided, however, and the tone became more serious and the questions much more difficult. I tried bluffing briefly but it's hard to give bluff answers when you have no idea of what the questions are. When one pulled his pistol and motioned me toward the station, I told him in English who I was and what I was trying to do. Luckily he knew enough English for us to communicate. After he had asked a few confirming questions, I received the customary hugs and kisses, and they left after wishing me luck.

I spent the next day in Toulouse trying to find the building where we had stopped on the trip down. Without an address and afraid to ask anyone for assistance for fear of compromising the Underground operation there, I gave up in late afternoon and returned to the railway station. Hopefully, I would have a better chance of making my contact back in Paris where I knew several addresses.

I got in line several times to buy my ticket to Paris but there were always German soldiers too close for me to take a chance on my few words of French, so I would drop out. Afraid that my unsure actions were becoming too noticeable, I finally took another chance and asked a civil policeman for help. My luck was holding. He bought my ticket and gave me information on my train, track number and departure time.

Although there were German M.P.'s on the train to Paris, I only had to show my I.D. to civil police and railway conductors. Thankfully, no questions were asked. Arriving in Paris, it took most of the day to locate a small restaurant where we had once spent a night hiding in the cellar. A waitress there, an active Underground member, took me to her parent's apartment where I was to remain for the next month.

Underground leaders visited me there a few days after my arrival. After questioning me as to the details of my unsuccessful trip, they agreed to arrange another escape attempt once I had recuperated somewhat. At one point, seemingly worried that I might not be up to another attempt through the mountains, they mentioned that they could possibly get me out by submarine, but that it would take more time to arrange and would be much more dangerous. I responded that I didn't care for anything more dangerous and would rather try the mountains again providing I could get better shoes. A few days later they brought a pair of heavy brogans with steel hobnails, just the thing for mountain walking.

I was usually alone during the day for the first three weeks back in Paris and it was becoming quite monotonous. My only activity was calisthenics, which I took several times a day. I was much displeased with myself for having failed in the mountains and resolved to have myself in better physical shape for the next attempt. My hosts, although speaking no English, seemed to understand my feelings and I noticed they were giving me increased amounts of food, though they could ill afford it. The monotony of my stay was broken when a young P-51 pilot, Lt. Lynn Drollinger of Walla Walla, Washington, joined me. It was good to have his company for the remainder of my stay there.

About mid-April, Drollinger, myself and several other Americans were escorted to Toulouse by train. Stopping there only to change trains, we then took a southwesterly direction into the Pyrenees foothills and were joined at a small village with several other groups. A count showed four Basque guides, all heavily armed with submachine guns and pistols, and an assortment of 46 airmen representing some eight or nine allied countries. In addition, there were a couple of Underground members, also armed, who had used up their luck and were leaving France to avoid being captured by the Germans.

We were split into groups of six or seven members, and each group was given food to last for the three days it was planned to reach Spain. We started our trip at night and walked almost continuously for five days. Our only rest would be when one of our guides, leaving his weapons behind, would proceed ahead to a village or farmhouse to get information from friends about German patrol activity in he area. Because of several detours we were forced to make, our route was much longer than planned. By rationing our food supply we had enough for four days, but on the next day we were completely out and were also near exhaustion. A mid-morning we stopped at a barn to rest while two of our guides left to secure food in a village a few miles away.

After two or three hours, with some of us asleep in the barn and others outside in the sun, one of our posted guards came running in shouting that a German patrol was near and approaching very fast. Immediately most of the group ran in the opposite direction and apparently directly into a second patrol. The shooting started even before some of us were out of the barn. Several of us had our shoes off and the few seconds it took to get them on and get started was probably to our advantage. Although we couldn't see the battle, from the gunfire we could approximate the two patrol's locations and took off elsewhere. Within a couple of hundred yards, I overtook Lynn Drollinger and a little later we came upon Lt. James Lyles, a B-17 pilot from Brownsville, Texas.

The shooting went on for several minutes and for awhile we could hear bullets hitting in the trees around us. The guides and others who were armed must have put up a good fight but because of their small number it was a losing battle, as we were to find out later. We continued walking at a fast pace for an hour or more and then stopped to talk our situation over. Drollinger had an escape map of France and apparently had a better idea of where we were than Lyles or myself. He pointed out that, although the Pyrenees ran east-west, we were near the village of Bagneres-De-Luchon and actually closer to a north-south bend the border followed in that area. Further that the Germans would probably be expecting us to continue south. After some discussion, we decided that due east would probably be our shortest and safest route.

We made plans to cross the valley to the east and then see what lay beyond the opposite mountain. Just after dark we came upon an English airman, Stan Camish, who had been in our group. We walked most of that night, stopping to rest in the early morning hours at a small unoccupied cabin. We were physically exhausted and hungry, and in the darkness had become unsure of our directions.

At dawn we started up a snow-covered slope of perhaps three miles that led to a ridge that we hoped and prayed to be the border. It was slow going on the frozen snow crust for awhile with a lot of slipping and falling, but as the sun rose and it warmed up we had better success in breaking through the crust to secure a foothold. Lyles seemed to be weaker than the rest of us and we would have to help him at times.

About mid-morning we looked back and could just make out a German patrol leaving the area where we had spent the night. We put on all possible speed but in our weakened condition that couldn't have been much. Lyles was having to stop to rest often and appeared to be weakening fast. I stayed back to help him for awhile but he finally passed out completely, not responding to my shouts or shaking.

Looking back at the patrol, still not within firing range, I could now make out six troops and two leashed police dogs. Another glance up the slope showed Drollinger almost to the ridge and Camish perhaps a hundred or more yards behind, and both just barely able to move. After more attempts to revive Lyles proved unsuccessful, I had to walk off and leave him passed out in the snow. It was to the point where it was him being capture - or shot - or the same for both of us if I stayed any longer.

By the time I reached the ridge crest, the others had gone into a wooded area some distance below and were out of sight. Some minutes later I heard rifle shots. I hated to guess at what they meant. It took a couple of hours to reach a road in the valley. I stopped at the first house I came to and asked if I was in France or Spain. I got the right answer. It was Spain! When I asked about a telephone, I was told I would have to walk several miles to a village to find one. I'll never forget the mixed emotions running through my mind as I plodded out those last few miles. One emotion, of course, was the relief of having reached Spain and safely. The other was of sadness for Lt. Lyles and others of our group.

On reaching the village, I located Lynn and Stan at a small hotel. The proprietor had allowed them to register and then recommended they report to the village police and to a small hospital nearby. The police only wanted our names and we received first-aid for our many cuts and bruises at the hospital. After returning to the hotel, we were having our dinner when Lyles walked in. Seeing him alive had to be one of the happiest moments of my life.

He had come to at the sound of gunfire, with bullets hitting in the snow around him. He said these sounds were the only incentive he needed to struggle the rest of the distance to the mountain crest and over it. After he had eaten and been to the police and hospital, he had to make the long distance call reporting our presence to the American Consulate since he was the only one of us speaking any Spanish. The representative he talked to, after taking quite a bit of information, spoke to the hotel owner and made arrangements for her to put us up and advance us a few dollars for personal needs.

The next day two more from our group joined us there, an English and an American flyer. The American, after fleeing from the patrols, was hiding in brush sometime after when the German troops and their captives came by. He reported many of the captured airmen were having to help others who had been wounded. He saw none of our guides in the group. The few of us (probably no more than seven or eight) who made it into Spain never actually knew the fate of the others. It would be interesting to get the rest of the story from one of them. The date that the patrols surprised us was 22 April.

Because of heavy snow blocking the pass south of us, we had to spend two weeks in the village and then walked out - with a Spanish police as our guide - to another town where we took a bus to our official internment site west of Zaragoza. I forget the name of the small town where we stayed at a resort hotel. There were nearly a hundred of us there - all allied airmen who had gone through experiences similar to mine - with 15 or so of us coming and going each week. At the end of May, a group of us went by bus to Gibraltar and were then flown by British aircraft to London, arriving on 1 June.

After three days of interrogation at a joint British-American intelligence unit there, I was allowed to visit back with the 44th group at Shipdham for a couple of days. When I attempted to return to London on 5 June, everyone had suddenly gotten busy and secretive and no one was allowed to leave base. June 6th, however, made the news and the secrecy was over. The invasion of the continent had started. Late that afternoon I was allowed to return to London to await my flight to the U.S., arriving in Washington, D.C. on 17 June 1944.



ARCHIE R. BARLOW
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter forwarded to Will Lundy)

310 42nd St.
Gulfport, MS 39501

Dear Sina:

I would appreciate information on joining the society. I am especially interested in escape and evasion activities. I was engineer-gunner with the 44th Bomb Group stationed at Shipdham, England from October 1943 to January 1944. Shot down near Amiens, France 21 January 1944 and MIA until the French Underground got me into Spain in late April.

Sincerely,

Archie B. Barlow
 
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