This article is an extract from the book 'Tail End Charlie' by Dominique Lecomte, published in 2006 by Cercle Maurice-Blanchard of Montdidier. I was sent a copy of the whole transcript, translated into English by Dave Minett. I have used that translation of Dominique's very detailed original to produce this extract. The title comes from the vulnerable position that 325 was assigned in the formation for the mission that day.
Tail End Charlie
This account, dedicated to the memory of those men and women, airmen and resistants, who risked their lives for our freedom, tells the story of a crew of a B-17 bomber, brought down on the 8th February 1944 over the Montdidier region of France, on returning from its very first mission.
Dominique Lecomte has patiently investigated the sequence of events undergone by these ten allied airmen, meeting witnesses or people likely to be able to clarify what happened, gathering together documents and photographs and carrying out research to confirm the events. One airman was killed during the attack, five were taken prisoner (two are still alive today) and four escaped (only one is alive today: Robert O. Lorenzi).
A long methodical work of research lasting five years, giving rise to meetings of genuine friendship. Our knowledge of local history has been greatly enhanced. Thank you Dominique for this lovely work which it has been a pleasure for me to make into a book.
Anne-Marie Caron 2006
B17 42-31325 452 BG 730 BS FTR 8 Feb 1944
Pilot: 2/Lt Robert O LORENZI (Spokane, Washington)
Co-Pilot: 2/Lt Robert L COSTELLO (New York)
Navigator: 2/Lt Paul R PACKER (Chicago, Illinois)
Bombardier/Front Gunner: 2/Lt Abraham W ROSENTHAL (Binghamton, New York)
Radio Operator: Sgt Donald E KIRBY (Columbus, Ohio)
Flight Engineer and Top-turret Gunner: S/Sgt Edward J SWEENEY (Brooklyn, New York)
Ball Turret Gunner: Sgt Raymond W LENTZ (Toledo, Ohio)
Right Waist Gunner: Sgt William C FISCHER (Anamosa, Iowa)
Left Waist Gunner: Sgt Clyde D TINKER (Erwin, Tennessee)
Tail Gunner: Sgt René P GILMAN (Chicago, Illinois)
Shortly after dropping their bombs over the target of Frankfurt, 325 was hit by Flak - then she was attacked by Fw-190 fighters ...
Bombardier Abraham Rosenthal, nicknamed "Rosie" by the crew, told the pilot, "I'll be back" and made his way to the rear of the aircraft. The plane had suffered considerable damage. Hydraulic fluid escaping from the damaged pipes was spraying over the crew in the rear. Before being able to respond to the attack, Kirby was hit on the left side of his face and ear by a 20mm shell which exploded in the radio compartment. Gilman was also wounded. Rosenthal helped Kirby and then moved to the rear to take over the tail machine guns.
Once more the B-17 was attacked by fighters. Kirby realised that Rosenthal, at his post of tail gunner, had been killed. Raymond Lentz, in the belly turret, clearly saw the German fighters attack before a shell wounded him in the legs.
The starboard engines had been hit, causing a loss of power. At 21,000 ft, Lorenzi made a turn, dipping the wing, and throttled back. The aircraft started an abrupt downward spiral towards the clouds. The fighters did not follow. The damaged Fortress, in spite of the enormous forces of gravity it underwent, was tough enough to pull out of the dive and Lorenzi regained control. The whole crew was pinned down by the centrifugal force. As the rate of descent reduced to 500 feet per minute, the B-17 entered the clouds. At that moment, in the rear, Kirby helped Tinker get Lentz out of the belly turret. There was a hole in the fuselage large enough for a man to get through, between the radio compartment and the belly turret.
Attempts to re-establish communications with the rear were unsuccessful. The cloud cover deteriorated and then cleared away altogether. Lorenzi and Costello saw an aerodrome straight ahead, certainly that of Montdidier which was protected by six 88mm anti-aircraft guns. They had no choice but to fly over the aerodrome. The Fortress was hit by fire from the ground.
The crew members in the tail bailed out when Flak set fire to one of the starboard engines. Then Lorenzi was wounded. His anti-flak vest prevented his back being injured but his left foot was hit by an exploding shell. Lorenzi shouted to Costello "I have been hit" but he continued to fly straight ahead. Away from the aerodrome, Sgt Sweeney shouted "Fire on the starboard side". Lorenzi gave the order to abandon the aircraft. He continued keeping the aircraft in steady flight while Sweeney, Costello and Packer jumped from stricken aircraft.
Holding the joystick in his right hand Lorenzi slipped out of his seat and managed to stand on his right foot. He pulled the joystick backwards, put the Fortress into a climb, let go of the joystick, got down on his knees and dived head first out of the forward escape hatch.
The aircraft, still with the lifeless body of Rosenthal on board, continued its flight for a moment, then lost a wing over the valley of Cardonnois and finally crashed in a field near the village of le Cardonnois. The Germans were quickly on the scene and surrounded the area. Civilians who witnessed the crash gathered around the wreckage. The Germans forbade anyone to go near the parts of the plane, fearing that the ammunition would explode. The burnt body of Rosenthal lay in the field near the wreckage. The aircraft remained in this field for several months before it was removed.
Everyone jumped between 13.00 and 13.30. Sweeney, Packer, Costello and Lorenzi bailed out over Pérennes (Oise).
Sweeney jumped at an altitude of about 3,000 ft. He was in freefall until about 1,000 ft from the ground. He had not adjusted his harness over his heated flying suit and it felt tight but when the parachute finally opened he was pleased that it was indeed tight.
Seeing a man running in a field below, he tried to get further away. On landing he tipped his parachute up so much that he fell heavily on his back. He found himself in a field near the Abbemont Wood, near the village of Pérennes. His parachute got caught in a barbed wire fence. Then Sweeney noticed two men in a wood about 50 yards away. He tried to get them to come over but they refused to come near him. He got out of his parachute harness which was eventually taken away by the two men.
Two young boys from Pérennes, Jacques Mortier and Michel Bizet, who had heard the plane in difficulty and then seen the two parachutists from their houses, ran towards the hamlet of Abbemont and approached this man fallen out of the sky. A Frenchman, already there, rolled up the parachute to get it out of sight. André Durot, owner of the nearby Abbemont Farm, got to Sweeney who immediately showed him his map and M. Durot showed him on the map where he was. The farmer then grabbed him by the arm and took him into a barn to hide him. The two boys were told that on no account were they to say anything about the events which they had seen. Not long afterwards André Durot and his wife brought some food to the airman. Then the farmer took his horse and cart, hid Sweeney under his seat and set off. He hid the airman in a hay barn for the night. The next day a man came to get him and take him to another place. He would only find Lorenzi, Costello and Packer again a few days later.
When Costello landed in a field, he tumbled over and was dragged several metres by his parachute before being able to stop. He finally was able to unfasten his harness and his parachute disappeared. He saw people running towards him.
Costello began to run towards a wood. Some people picked up his equipment on the way. One of the men managed to catch up with him. The airman asked him if he was German. "French", the man replied and showed him which way he had to go. A farm worker grabbed Costello and together they ran in the direction indicated. After about 400 yards they saw Packer who was likewise running across the field. By whistling, Costello signalled Packer to follow him at a distance.
When Packer bailed out, he noticed that the nose of the aircraft was full of holes. Having passed the tail he pulled the rip cord and his parachute opened gently. He fell in a field near a copse and his landing was rather rough. While he was unbuckling his parachute some Frenchmen came and asked him who he was. He told them he was American. The Frenchmen grabbed his equipment, pointed to the other side of the field and told him to run. After about 400 yards he saw two silhouettes in the angle between two tracks. He soon recognised Costello in the company of a Frenchman and followed them. They finally met near the Morliere Farm.
Lorenzi was the last to leave the plane. His parachute opened gently. During his swinging descent he could see two parachutes already on the ground and one which was almost there. At the end of his third swing Lorenzi's feet hit the ground. The parachute collapsed on him and he was dragged a little along the ground. Being wounded by the Flak he could not run. He cut the cords on his parachute with his knife. He had landed near the Conseil Wood, by the road which runs from Welles to Perennes.
Lorenzi's foot was numb. He took off his flying boot to look at it. He had a wound behind his heel and a second open wound at the bottom of his foot and he could see the swelling. Taking advantage of the numbness he thoroughly examined the wound with his knife. The blade came into contact with a metal object. A shell had exploded on contact with the aircraft. He expected to be taken prisoner by the Germans.
The radio operator, Kirby, came down in the same region but further away. A young Frenchman found him and took away his .45 calibre pistol, assuring him it would be given to the Resistance. The Frenchman ran off just as the Germans, looking for the downed airmen, came into view. Kirby, who was injured, could not follow him and was taken prisoner. Lentz, Tinker and Gilman who had also bailed out safely, suffered the same fate, along with Fischer, who had jumped long before the others.
The Mortier Family
On the 8th February 1944, two young women, Lucienne Mortier, aged 24, and her cousin Charlotte Bizet, aged 30, were coming home along a track across the fields from the neighbouring village of Plainville. Only Charlotte was married but her husband had been a prisoner of war in Germany since the collapse in 1940. They both lived in Pérennes where Lucienne's parents had a farm at the heart of the village, in the rue de Montdidier. That day they had attended a burial at Plainville. On the way back they suddenly heard the noise of battle in the sky above their heads.
Panic stricken and frantic, they raced to get back to their village for fear of being injured. Then they found the American pilot. Robert Lorenzi was surprised to see them but he realised immediately that these women had come to help him and he trusted them. They could see he was wounded in the foot and helped him to get up. He held his boot in his right hand and put his left arm on Lucienne's shoulder while she held him around the waist. She helped him hop in the direction of the village.
They passed around the first houses, thus avoiding the main road and a possible meeting with German troops who had certainly been alerted about parachutists and the plane in the area. They went into a barn and then cautiously crossed the road before going almost opposite through a large door into the courtyard of the farm belonging to Lucienne's parents, Gabriel and Lucine Mortier. The pilot was immediately hidden under some hay in a barn at the end of this courtyard.
Gabriel Mortier, aged 56, was a veteran of the Great War and had always kept a certain animosity towards the Germans. He knew what his duty was. Also, his son Lucien had been a prison camp in Germany since 1940. So Gabriel and his wife Lucine told those present, especially the children who were there when the airman arrived, not on any account to tell anyone about anything they had seen, and that if they were interrogated by the Germans they were to speak of "typhoid", a disease which the occupier was terrified of catching.
Lucienne's younger brother Jacques, who was 16, was asked to go and fetch a doctor. With his cousin Michel Bizet, they jumped on their bicycles and headed off to Montdidier, 6 kms from Pérennes, to tell the Doctor de Léaucourt about the wounded airman at their parents' house.
Claire Girard
A young woman, Claire Girard, was likewise informed. She was a graduate of the National Agricultural School and had been running a farm at Welles for several months. She spoke a little English and was perceived as a woman who would know a way of moving the pilot. Dressed in a large black cape and a hat she came to talk to Lorenzi in the barn. It was certain that she advised other trusted people who later would take it upon themselves to help the airman.
Claire Girard was arrested by the Germans on 27th August 1944 near Pontoise. After a pseudo-trial she and one of her comrades, were shot.
Hidden in the barn, Lorenzi had to wait until the end of the afternoon before being taken into the farmhouse. He was given wine and fried eggs. Hidden in a small room which overlooked the road, he awaited the arrival of the doctor in darkness as the shutters and door of this room were closed.
Pierre Bruyant
Meanwhile near La Morlière farm, Costello and Packer were being taken care of by Pierre Bruyant. He was a gardener and foreman who worked at the Gibert Farm at Sains-Morainvillers. He came with a cart loaded with hay, pulled by a mare, and took the two airmen, hidden under the hay, across soaked tracks as far as Fay Wood, one of the numerous plots of land in La Morlière Wood. On the way a shaft broke but they were able to continue. Costello and Packer spent a part of the afternoon hidden in the wood. They concealed themselves and took it in turns to rest. Pierre Bruyant took the cart to Sains-Morainvillers and cleaned both the cart and "Mousmee" the mare. At about 17.30 two Frenchmen came to the wood, bringing wine and water to the airmen.
Count Jacques de Baynast
At about 19.30 they were taken to the Chateau de La Borde. Count Jacques de Baynast, the owner, gave Parker his fur-lined jacket. In exchange the airman gave him his flying jacket which the Count kept afterwards. On the back was written the name and number: "Packer 0692335".
Doctor de Léaucourt
At Pérennes, the village was buzzing but apparently everyone knew how to keep quiet about the events. The schoolteacher warned the children of the danger if the affair were to come out into the open. The village risked German reprisals, especially for those who had directly helped the American airman. German vehicles were seen around and they were surely looking for the airmen.
In the evening Doctor de Léaucourt arrived at the Mortier farm on his bicycle. He insisted that Lorenzi drank a large quantity of alcohol. The doctor talked with the family and the American could only listen without understanding anything. He felt strange as he had never been drunk before in his life.
Helped by the family, the doctor laid the airman down on the bed in the little room. He put a piece of cardboard in his mouth making signs that he should bite on it without making any noise. He pulled out the piece of shrapnel from the 40mm shell, cleaned up the wound and bandaged the injured foot. Lorenzi was pleased that the drink had made him numb. Then he slept a little.
When he awoke, he was given civilian clothes and the piece of shrapnel which had been taken out of his foot. Lorenzi has kept it in his possession as a souvenir ever since.
Albert Antoine, Marcel Gibert and Jacqueline Pamart
After nightfall a large four wheeled cart pulled by four horses, arrived at the farm. It was loaded with hay and driven by Albert Antoine, accompanied by Marcel Gibert. Lorenzi was hidden in the cart and so left the Pérennes farm.
The cart arrived at the Gibert Farm at Sains-Morainvillers. Lorenzi was fed and put in a room where he went to bed. His foot still hurt him. Marcel Gibert then informed the Pamart family, owners of La Morlière Farm, that a wounded airman was at his farm. They came over and Jacqueline Pamart gave a shot of morphine to the pilot who went to sleep for about one hour. Returning to their farm afterwards after curfew, they were stopped by a German patrol who fortunately were only asking directions.
Meanwhile Albert Antoine went to collect Costello and Packer whom he brought back to Gibert's farm in a hay cart. Lorenzi was surprised to be awoken by Costello and to see that Packer was with him. The Gibert family gave the airmen food as well as cognac and champagne. Then in the dining room they took off their flying suits and boots. They were dressed in civilian clothes.
Doctor Edmond Caillard
At about midnight Edmond Caillard, a doctor in Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, arrived at the farm to take charge of the airmen. A little later, Pierre Bruyant saw a patrol of five or six gendarmes on bicycles stopped in front of the farm gates. They were certainly curious about the lights at such a late hour. M. Bruyant immediately warned everybody in the farm. Once the gendarmes had left Doctor Caillard took the three airmen in his Simca to hide them in his friends houses.
Marcel Gibert and Pierre Bruyant were later denounced to the Gestapo for their activities in the Resistance.
Having been warned by Father Dutriaux from the village of Ferrières, they left the farm. Two German policemen and an interpreter arrived at Marcel Gibert's farm, where they questioned Mme Bruyant and stayed all the morning just waiting. Pierre Bruyant who was working in the courtyard, took advantage of this to escape and take refuge in a farm at Tricot. Marcel Gibert got away to hide in Gouvieux.
On the 8th July 1944 Pierre Bruyant also saved an Australian airman near a wood at Montigny together with M. Plinguet, a butcher from Maignelay and on 31st August 1944 he took part in the Liberation of Sains-Morainvillers.
Pierre Coulon
Then the airmen were separated. Lorenzi reached Pierre Coulon's house in stages. Pierre Coulon was a 40 year old joiner who lived at Bulles. With the complicity of his wife and two daughters, Denise (15 years old) and Colette (5 years old), he was the relay, and harboured airmen in spite of the risks they were running. A dozen airmen were hidden in this house during the war. The house was small. It reminded Lorenzi of his uncle Pete's house in the mountains of Idaho where he spent many days during his youth.
Pierre Coulon was very keen on wireless and had been a radio amateur for a long time. He was able to send messages for the Resistance to England either from his cellar or from the Breche marshes.
Lorenzi stayed upstairs in a small room. The day he arrived he was very thirsty. He pointed to a bottle which appeared to contain water. After a movement of his hand indicating that he would like to drink it, Pierre Coulon looked at him suspiciously. He poured a little of the liquid into a glass. Lorenzi indicated that he wanted more and so Pierre Coulon poured out a little extra. The airman took the glass and emptied it. He thought he was going to die before he could get his breath. It was pure apple alcohol!
Lorenzi realised that the Coulon family lived quite frugally. At meals he always let the family serve themselves first. Pierre Coulon had given the pilot a stick so he could get about more easily.
The biggest problem was the lack of toilet facilities. At the foot of the bed was a coffee tin which invariably overflowed. It bothered Lorenzi very much that it had to be the Coulon family who cleaned it up. There were enough toilets outside the house but during the day he had to remain confined in the room and only go down in the evening for dinner.
One day, Pierre Coulon got a small radio out of a cupboard and, looking at Lorenzi, put a finger to his lips. He put on the earphones and sat in front of the receiver. After a few minutes he put it back. Lorenzi realised that his host was active in the Resistance.
After three days, early in the morning, Costello, Packer and Sweeney were brought by Doctor Delignon, to Pierre's house. The four men stayed hidden for long days on end in the little room overlooking the joinery.
M. Couradin
Food was a problem because there was rationing. A local farmer, M. Couradin, supplied some provisions whilst passing along a little street next to the house. The morning and midday meals were taken in the airmen's room. They only came down into the kitchen in the evening to eat. They took advantage of the only stove in the house to warm themselves. Colette sat on a little bench in the corner of the kitchen and did not move, intimidated by these four big guys who barged in when night fell.
One evening the doors were double bolted and the meal had started when they heard a noise outside. Someone was knocking repeatedly on the gate at the end of the courtyard. There was panic.
Jacky du Pac
The four airman quickly got up into the room upstairs in the darkness. Pierre Coulon, very worried, decided to go outside and was greatly relieved to see that it was a member of the Resistance. This man was Jacky du Pac, one of the security people of the Shelburn network and had been sent into the region to interrogate all airmen and ask them questions to trap them. He was fluent in several languages and familiar with American slang and it was his job to detect spies.
The four airmen were put in front of this well dressed man. He immediately began to converse with them. As he spoke he mentioned facts which were incorrect and needed a reaction from the airmen. For Lorenzi he suggested that Spokane was on the Eastern side of the United States. Lorenzi interrupted him and retorted that Spokane was in Washington State, on the West Coast, near Canada. The airmen realised that they were being questioned and tested. This man was seen again later by the four airmen after they had returned to England.
Lorenzi, Packer, Costello and Sweeney stayed hidden in this house for about twelve days. Before leaving the Coulon family the airmen scribbled their names and addresses on a scrap of paper. Paul Packer gave his watch to Pierre Coulon as a sign of appreciation for all that he had done for them. "I will never forget you" he said to him in English and the two men embraced each other. And so they left the Coulon family in a truck
Marie Dorez

The four airmen arrived at Montataire and the home of M and Mme Dorez. Lorenzi and Packer were going to stay there while Costello and Sweeney were to be entrusted to the Duchateau family at the other end of the street. Lorenzi was told that he would stay in this house until he could walk. Mme Marie Dorez showed Lorenzi and Packer where the toilet was then took them upstairs where there was a second bathroom and the room in which they would stay. On the bed were two pairs of pyjamas, bath towels, a double-edged razor and an adjustable crutch. When Mme Dorez had gone downstairs both men went to bed.

This house, at 4 rue de Condé in Montataire, was surrounded by big iron railings which protected it from prying eyes. It was ideal for hiding escapers - T/Sgt Kenneth A Morrison (#690) had already stayed there from 3 January until 4 February 1944. Next morning the two airmen were woken for their first breakfasts. They found the meal tasty even though it contained food which they had never tried before.
M and Mme Dorez were wholsalers in cheeses, butter and eggs and so the airmen were able to eat well in spite of the fact that the Germans controlled food supplies. Marie Dorez introduced them to her youngest daughter Jacqueline who had learnt enough English to serve as interpreter and help the airmen familiarise themselves with the household and its habits.

On the first Sunday that Lorenzi and Packer spent there, Mme Dorez and her daughter Jacqueline went to church. When they came back they were accompanied by Jacqueline's elder sister Genevieve and her husband Edmond Bourge. It was Edmond Bourge who supplied the first false papers for the airmen. Edmond and Genevieve lived with Edmond's parents Raymond and Germaine Stubert in rue Henri Pauquet in Creil, who were themselves sheltering two more American evaders, 1/Lt Earl J Wolf (#487) and S/Sgt Leonard F Bergeron (#488).

Wolf and Bergeron joined Lorenzi and Packer for lunch and the airmen were placed between the members of the family. Everybody stood behind a chair and, before sitting down, one of the family gave a toast to the evaders. They really appreciated this first Sunday meal which began with hors d'oeuvres. There was conversation and laughter to enhance the meal. The few words of French which Packer knew came in useful. The men watched, listened and acted as the family did. Lorenzi ate the hors d'oeuvres not without hesitation as he was just discovering French cuisine. According to Lorenzi nobody seemed in a hurry to eat and the conversation took place in French. The laughter aided communication and everybody was laughing. One of the men spoke a little English and so, together with Packer's help, the airmen were able to understand. The table was cleared and reset after every course. The second course was savoury clear onion bread. The third course was the main one and then came the desert.
Lorenzi and Packer stayed four weeks at the Dorez house, visited by Costello and Sweeney whenever circumstances allowed, and every Sunday passed in the same way - with some anecdotes.
On the second Sunday during the meal Lorenzi went to the toilet. When he returned he set off a farting cushion. His embarassment was minimised by the laughter of the others. On the third Sunday, before the meal, the four airmen were warned that some guests would stop for a short visit. The Americans were advised to be quiet and to behave normally. During the meal Lorenzi left the table. When he came back this time he checked his chair so as not to be surprised again. Once seated, he took a sip of wine which dripped down his chin. A few minutes later he drank again and once more the wined dripped down his chin. This time he examined his glass and found that they had substituted his glass for a trick glass with a hole in it. So he laughed along with the others.
A man called in one evening in the middle of the week. He spoke a little English and Lorenzi took advantage of this to ask him the time. The man asked him to wait. Time passed and soon there was an explosion. He then said "10 o'clock now". The Resistance had blown up a section of railway line.
The Duchateau Family
Costello and Sweeney stayed with Jules and Hortense Duchateau at 21a rue de Condé. Jules was a hairdresser by trade and worked at the Marinoni factory while Hortense worked worked with Marie Dorez selling produce. The two Americans were lodged upstairs in the same room. They were free to move around durng the daytime and at the slightest suspicious noise could take shelter in the cellar through a door in the kitchen.
Rene Loiseau

One the afternnon of 16 March, Mme Dorez and her son-in-law Edmond Bourge drove the four airmen by truck to Creil station where they were joined by Wolf and Bergeron plus 2/Lt Clyde C Richardson (#497) and 2/Lt Richard F Schafer (#499) who had recently joined them at the Stubert home. Coming from Paris, Rene Loiseau and Genevieve de Poulipquet, guides for the Shelburn network, were waiting for them at the station. Edmond Bourge separated the airmen into two groups and discretely indicated that Lorenzi, Packer, Costello and Sweeney should go with Rene Loiseau while the other four airmen would travel with Genevieve de Poulpiquet.

Paris - The Escape Network

There were no problems on the journey from Creil to Paris. On reaching the Gare du Nord at about 6.30 that evening the two groups met up at the entrance of the Metro station outside. Schafer and Richardson were taken to stay with the comtesse Bertranne d'Hespel at rue Maspero while Rene Loiseau took the other six airmen to Levallois and an apartment building at 5 rue Baudin. He took them into the building and walked up the stairs to the top floor and an apartment owned by Marguerite Di Giacomo (Margot). Her neighbour on the same floor, Yvonne Latrace was in connivance with her as and when necessary. Mme Giacomo had a piano on which Robert Costello played some tunes. Shortly after, a man arrived to take their photographs and fingerprints for making false identity papers.Then they were left alone and their meals brought to them.

At about ten o'clock the following morning three men arrived. One of them was Marcel Cola - who spoke excellent English - and he gave each airman a false identity card, a work permit, a certificate of residence in the no-go coastal area and a ticket for the Metro.
The false documents were in the names of people who lived or had lived in the Cotes du Nord (today called the Cotes-d'Armor) the area to which they were going. A certificate of residence in the coastal area was necessary for whoever was going to or who lived within 25 kilometres of the Forbidden Zone along the northern coasts of France. From then on Lorenzi was called Jean-Pierre Broudic, born in 1918 at Plouézec and living in Troguery. His job was given as a farmhand. Costello's false papers were in the name of Louis Marie Eugene Goantiec, a farmer born in 1916 at Dinan and living in Pontrieux.
The four Americans were now going to leave the apartment. Marcel Cola explained to them the procedure that they were to follow once the other two men were in place below the building on the other side of the road. Rene Loiseau led them out to the Metro to take the train from Pont de Levallois to Montparnasse with a change at Reaumur-Sebastopol.
Costello was the first outside. The two men he was to follow had begun to walk just before he left the building. The next one was Packer who was not to let Costello out of his sight. Then Sweeney followed Packer at a distance. Finally Lorenzi followed behind Sweeney, likewise taking care not to let him out of his sight. He was the last one in case his injured foot prevented him from keeping up. If this did happen then someone would come to his aid.
In the tunnels of the Metro nobody could avoid an identity control by a policeman obeying his superiors or even a collaborator. Nobody was immune from the danger of the militia or a spot check. What was to be done when the guides were accompanying escapers who did not speak a word of French? It was simply a case of trusting in Providence. The airmen used their tickets by putting them in machines to be punched. On the concourse at Montparnasse station they were discretely entrusted to Henri Bois, a former teacher who was head of Shelburn's network of guides. Henri Bois had their tickets, supplied to him by M Bernard who worked on the French railways. The airmen were passed on to two young English speaking guides who took them onto the platform and into their reserved compartment.
Heading for Brittany on the train
Once seated in the overcrounded train, the airmen were asked to pretend to sleep and under no circumstances to speak. This was not easy in a train packed with travellers. On that day the four airmen watched two German officers in uniform, and a civilian enter their compartment. The four airmen were relieved by their departure and wondered what was going to happen next. They were surprised when the civilian returned to the compartment. He shut the door behind him and then, speaking in English, asked them if they would like a cigarette. He had a packet of Lucky Strike. Packer and Costello accepted and lit up. The man never revealed his name but he helped the escapers pass the time by asking them questions. The conversation ended when he told them that they had to get off at the next stop. When he left he gave them instructions to follow the other passengers who were getting off the train and told them that someone at the station would be waiting for them.
They arrived at St Brieuc. At the station, as arranged, they joined the other travellers on the platform and made their way to the back of the train. Lorenzi experienced a feeling of fear when he realised that they were passing right next to wagons full of German troops. He became even more frightened when they went alongside a flatbed wagon at the end of the train which was equipped with a pivoting battery of four 40mm rapid firing guns, operated by German gunners who watched them pass and reach the other side of the station. They changed platforms.
Lorenzi, Costello, Packer, Sweeney, Wolf and Bergeron, still accompanied by their two young guides, caught a local train towards Guingamp. After a few stops they arrived mid-morning at Chatelaudren-Plouagat where they got off and began walking towards the village of Plouagat.
They soon arrived at an isolated farm in the hamlet of Kerjagu where Jean-Marie Le Sommier and his wife lodged numerous evaders waiting to be repatriated back to England. The six men spent the rest of the day and the night of 18/19 March on this farm. Next day six more Americans (Schafer, Richardson, Dicken, Hennessy, Risch and Scanlon) arrived from Paris along with their guides.
Getting Allied airmen back was of prime importance for Allied Command. Different escape routes went via Spain but the crossing of the Pyrenees sometimes proved difficult for airmen who were unfit because they had been hidden up or injured. Moreover, the Francist police patrolled the length of the border and sometimes stopped fugitives who were then interned. Evacuation across the English Channel by Motor Gun Boat (MGB) appeared to be a much quicker way to repatriate airmen.
Two French Canadians, Lucien Dumais and Raymond Labrosse were given the job of organising the "Shelburn" network in France. Paris was the hub before conveying the airmen towards Brittany (the region around Saint-Brieuc, Guingamp and Plouha). The beach at Anse-Cochat (aka "Plage Bonaparte") near Plouha, in the Cotes-du-Nord, was chosen as the embarkation beach. A huge mass of fallen cliffs offered access to the beach. The airmen had to scramble down this cliff in the dark before the arrival of boats from the MGB anchored off shore.
La Maison d'Alphonse
The whole operation took place under the noses of Germans soldiers posted on the surrounding cliffs. On the evening of the embarkation the airmen left their different lodgings scattered throughout the region. A garage man from Guingamp, Francois Kerambrun, drove the escapers with his gazogène lorry to Plouha. Thus everybody discretely got to the "La Maison d'Alphonse", a few hundred metres from the beach. It was then explained to the airmen what the last part of their journey in France was to be and they were asked to keep absolutely silent at the risk of compromising everyone.
On the 19th March a message was sent out by the BBC announcing the night operation. Francois Kerambrun collected the airmen from already arranged different places and drove them to Plouha.
Having got out of the lorry at the edge of Plouha, Lorenzi and his escaping companions were guided by two men in the darkness. They passed a German 88mm gun near enough to be able to see and hear the gunners talking around a fire. Dogs barked and then at one moment they were ordered to get down flat on the ground. A few moments later they heard the rhythmical marching of a German patrol approaching. The enemy passed by and the steps faded into the night, along the path which they were about to cross. That night, sixteen airmen were got together at La Maison d'Alphonse, whose owners were Jean and Marie Gicquel.
On orders from the chief, the escapers made their way in single file along the narrow paths leading to the beach. The muscles of Lorenzi's left leg were beginning to tire. On reaching the cliff it was clear that he could not go on much further.
At the appointed time, MGB 503 (Lt Mike Marshall RNVR) appeared off shore. Surf-boats were lowered in absolute silence and came to the beach, guided by signalling lights from the cliff. A sailor, seeing Lorenzi had difficulty in walking, said to him, "Come on, I will carry you!". Then he put him on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and took him to his boat. The whole operation lasted about twelve minutes. Then the MGB slowly moved away from the coast until it was in the open sea.
On board the escapers were given drinks and reassured. The crossing took place in heavy seas and many of the men were sea-sick. The state of the sea reminded Lorenzi of a roller coaster in the Natatorium Park in his native town of Spokane. At dawn, approaching Dartmouth, the sailors allowed the airmen to go on the deck of the MGB so they could see the English coast. Two Spitfires appeared in the sky as if to welcome them.
My grateful thanks to M Dominique Lecomte for letting me use his work here
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