By Victor Ferrari, Navigator, 578th Squadron

© - Copyright 2017 392nd Bomb Group Memorial Association - All rights reserved.

After bailing out, Eddie Roberts had broken his shoulder on landing, causing him great pain, but after three days during which we hid for several hours in the waters of an icy pond, then a hayrack, the Dutch underground made contact. Peter Van De Hurk and his girlfriend questioned us closely to ensure that we weren't German spies who had parachuted into Holland, posing as Americans, to flush out the resistance leaders.

A Dutch lady, whose husband had died two weeks previously, kindly gave us some of her late husband's civilian clothes. That was a big sacrifice on her part, because it's a custom in Holland to retain the clothing of a deceased relative in remembrance.

Peter and Mimi took us, on the backs of their bicycles, to the home of a minister in the town of Meppel, northern Holland, whose house was directly opposite a German Army billeting center. There were German soldiers all over the place. We were put in the attic that night, and the next morning I could hear the Germans singing as they lined up for breakfast.

Later, the minister called us downstairs and told us he'd been helping the underground because no one believed they could harbor American airmen right across from 1,500 German soldiers. Also, as a minister, it wasn't unusual for him to have different people going in and out of the house.

We stayed in the attic for the next month, eating what little food could be provided. Then Mrs. Joke Folmer, a member of the underground, took us to the Meppel railroad station for our journey to Maastricht, a city on the Dutch/Belgian border. She told us to act as deaf mutes and pretend to be asleep so no one would question us. I sometimes wonder why the Germans didn't get suspicious.

At Maastricht we were hidden in the house of an engineer and his musician wife for two weeks. Because of his position in the city, we ate more and were much warmer than at Meppel as he could afford to heat his home. With further assistance from the underground, we eventually arrived in Brussels, the headquarters of the Comete organization.

Mrs. Joke Folmer, at that time a 20-year-old Dutch resistance member, recalls:

I guided Mr. Ferrari and Mr. Roberts from Meppel, where they had stayed at the home of the Rev. Van Nooten, down to the Belgian border at Maastricht by train, where they then came under the care of the border helpers, whose leader, Mr. Jacques Vry, was and still is very dependable. We got off the train, after a warning by the train conductor (a "good one"), via the luggage ramp. There were Germans at the station exit, but fortunately it was rather uneventful. Both evaders knew their forged identity cards and the signs of deaf mutes: one finger for a "yes" (with a nod) and two fingers, touching an ear, for a "no." They were also told not to jingle the loose coins in their pockets and not to look Germans in the eye because we Dutch didn't.

(They were sensible and quiet young men. I still have a photograph of Victor Ferrari during his leave in Atlantic City in June 1944, which, of course, I received after May 1945.)

Nick Mandell picks up the story of the five bomber crew members:

The Comete organization gave us five airmen new identities. We were all labeled as "Flemish." I was labeled a Flemish pharmacist's assistant working for the German "cause" in Toulouse, France. My travel papers showed that I was home on a short holiday.

In Holland our travel plans had been quite restricted. We were unable to travel late during the night because of the wartime curfew, 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. But our travel through Belgium and France was possible, both by day and by night, despite the curfew hours. The Comete organization had access to the official bonded Gestapo paper on which travel orders could be made. This gave us the authority to travel all night, despite the curfew. We were among the first escaping airmen to use these special travel orders.

At 1 a.m., 24 January 1944, we five "Flemish" workers left Brussels by train en route to Paris. During the early morning hours the train stopped at the border crossing of Belgium and France. We all left the train and entered the train station in order to go through the Customs search before entering France. As normal travelers, we all carried a small suitcase. When we opened our cases for customs inspection, I was shocked to see that each case contained one piece of women's underclothing, with a few men's clothes.

One of the customs inspectors was a Comete worker. The pieces of women's underclothing in each suitcase was his "clue" to our false identity. Under the watchful eyes of the many enemy patrols and Gestapo agents on guard throughout the train station, our border crossing into France was a big success.

Victor Ferrari remembers:

At the end of the line of inspectors was a German officer checking ID papers, looking so haughty and superior. I saluted him and presented my papers which stated I was a Flemish worker employed at an airfield near Paris, but he barely looked at me, just waved me through as if I were someone insignificant. I can recall thinking: "Wouldn't he just die if only he knew who I really am??"

Nick Mandell continues:

We arrived in Paris during the afternoon on 24 January 1944. Our contact at the Hotel Pari was not available, but our guide was able to relocate us at another hideout in a villa somewhere out of the city limits of Paris. We spent about two days at the villa, owned by an elderly woman, her daughter and son-in-law. We returned by train to a new hideout in Paris on 26 January 1944.

The new location in Paris was a small vacant room in the basement of a school. In command was a high-ranking member of the Comete organization, Madame De Greef, known as "Tante Go" and her teenage daughters, Janine and Vernon De Greef. We called this hideout "The Dungeon" because the room contained no furniture nor any conveniences. Several blankets were spread out on the concrete floor to give us a little protection against the cold. We ate our meals on the floor and slept on the floor. To keep ourselves occupied we played cards, told jokes and stories about our past experiences in civilian life.

"The Dungeon" was much more than a temporary hideout for us five airmen who had escaped from Holland. It soon became the main Comete center for other rescued Allied airmen. Day after day, more rescued airmen throughout central and northern France were escorted to this location. By 3 February 1944, there were 18 airmen gathered there.

On 4 February, 17 of us departed from Paris by train on an overnight journey to Toulouse, in southern France. My navigator, Victor Ferrari, remained in Paris because he needed medical attention to cure a severe skin infection. Our guide on the train south was the young girl, Janine De Greef. My identity during the journey south was as a pharmacist's assistant.

Later that night, somewhere in central France, our train came to a sudden stop because RAF bombers were on a bombing mission in the area, causing our train to be delayed for about 30 minutes. Many hours later, during the early morning hours of 5 February 1944, we all arrived in Toulouse.

At the Toulouse train station Janine was greeted by two Comete mountain guides, Jean Greindle and Jean Francois "Franco" Nothomb. With Greindle and Franco were the two Belgians who, like us airmen, were escaping over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. It is my belief that the two Belgians were former Comete underground workers who were fleeing into Spain for safety reasons.

The road and trails our guides traveled over the Pyrenees Mountains were about 10 miles from Toulouse. From Toulouse train station our guides hired two taxis to transport us to the mountain roads. A total of 21 men were squeezed into only two taxis, but we all arrived safely at a small village at the foothills of the Pyrenees. However, unknown to us and by some unknown way, the German mountain patrols in this area of southern France were informed of our plans to cross over the mountains en route to Spain.

As we began our march up over the mountains, heavy snow began to fall. The journey over the first mountain range required about 20 hours or more. On 6 February 1944, at a deserted farmhouse in the valley between the first and second mountain ranges, we unexpectedly walked into an enemy ambush. There were six German troopers on skis, armed with rifles and with two tracker dogs. We were within range and many rifle shots were fired at us.

Twelve of the escapees were captured, including my bombardier, Omar Roberts, and became prisoners of war. The RAF flier George Watts, three other Americans and I were the only airmen that escaped. The two Belgians and our guide Greindle also escaped. Franco, the other guide was captured, but only for a short time. He luckily managed to escape and rejoined us the following day at a village.

On 8 February, Watts, the three American airmen and I left for a new hideout, high up on a mountain range near the village of St. Lawrence. We lived in small cave-style huts that the village shepherds used as their living quarters during the summer season while watching over their sheep and cattle. These caves are vacant during the cold weather season.

During the following days and weeks, other Allied airmen joined us, including my navigator, Victor Ferrari. By 15 March 1944, the Comete organization had a total of 37 escaping Allied airmen hiding in this mountainous area.

On 16 March, three new Comete mountain guides, each armed with a sub-machine gun, arrived at our mountain hideout. They were accompanied by an American. I didn't know his duties, but I'm sure he wasn't a missing airman and recalled first seeing him on 5 February, the same day we'd started our first journey over the Pyrenees.

The 37 airmen were gathered together into one large group and we began the long march over the snow-covered mountains to the Spanish frontier. The route selected by our guides took us over the high elevations of the Pyrenees. It was an exhausting two days' and two nights' march, nonstop.

About I a.m. on 19 March, we finally arrived at the Spanish frontier, which was a snow-covered mountain top, with no fence or other marking. Our guides, for security reasons, would not enter Spanish territory with us, but they gave us instructions and directions before turning back. About 8 the same morning, we entered Bosost, a small village near the base of the Pyrenees in Spain. We surrendered to the local police authorities for safety reasons. From a small grocery store in Bosost, telephone contact was established with the American, British and Canadian Embassies in Madrid.

Because of the avalanches on the Spanish slopes of the Pyrenees, many roads were blocked by deep snow, thereby preventing our American military attaché to reach Bosost, but on 20 March, we Americans were taken by bus down mountain roads to Viella. For reasons unknown, we were not allowed to ride inside the bus even though we had purchased tickets. We were forced to ride on the roof of the bus, despite the many available seats inside. Luckily, we arrived safely in Viella at the base of the mountains. There we were greeted by Mr. Garcia, a Spanish employee at the American Embassy, accompanied by two armed Spanish military personnel as our escorts.

On 22 March, we traveled by bus to the village of Sort and on 23 March to Lerida, where we finally made contact with our Military Attache. It was here that several of our American airmen were badly mistreated and jailed by the local police, but were freed after four days due to intervention by the American authorities. We then spent the next five weeks at a recreation center, and on 3 May, we departed from Lerida by bus and arrived at a small hotel in Alhama de Aragon.

On 7 May 1944, we left Alhama de Aragon by Embassy automobiles and arrived at the American Embassy in Madrid. Later that same day we departed Madrid by train, escorted by the American Military Attache, and arrived in Gibraltar the next morning.

We were issued military clothing in Gibraltar and during the early evening of 10 May 1944 we boarded a C-47 cargo plane, piloted by two British Intelligence personnel. After an all-night flight over the Atlantic, off the west coast of Europe, we arrived safely at Bristol Airport, England, very early on the morning of 11 May 1944. It was the end of a six-month journey to freedom.

Victor Ferrari concludes:

The C-47 flew a roundabout, dog-leg route to avoid the Germans. Just as we turned north for England, the left engine, only one of two, began to sputter. The pilot called back, "We're having trouble with an engine, but it's still going and as long as it keeps going I can hold it. If not, we'll have to ditch and you all know the difficulties of ditching at night."

Everyone else inflated their "Mae West" life jackets, but mine wouldn't work. I was in trouble if we ditched and I recall thinking, "Why does everything happen to me?" That engine spluttered all night and I prayed.... I was praying Hail Marys continuously and thinking, "What a way to die.... "

Fortunately, the sputtering engine held out, but instead of going to London we landed at Bristol, in southwest England, and continued onto London by train. I was allowed to return to Wendling. However, according to the Geneva Convention, I was technically considered a spy after coming out of occupied territory and, like other American evadees, I was removed from further combat duties and awarded the Air Medal.

The other eight members of our crew who went down during that second combat mission of ours on 13 November 1943 were in various POW camps in Germany and Austria until the end of the war: S. Marx, pilot; J. Chenet, copilot; E. Roberts, bombardier; H. Posey, top turret gunner/flight engineer; M. Sanna and S/Sgt. Fletcher, waist gunners; Wright, ball turret gunner; and J. Stewart, tail gunner.

Ferrari and Mandell were shot down on the Bremen raid on 13 November 1943 and reached Madrid on 10 May 1944. Arthur Horning, navigator, 91st Bomb Group (H), a B-17 outfit, was shot down over Holland during a raid on Munster on 10 October 1943, a raid in which the 392nd did not participate. He was part of the first group which blazed the trail which Ferrari and Mandell followed through Holland, Belgium, France, and across the Pyrenees.

While Ferrari and Mandell were still moving across Europe, and during the last week of December 1943, Art Horning arrived in Madrid. His story" is, then, part of the story of Mandell and Ferrari. To contrast the patriotism, courage and sacrifice Ferrari, Mandell and Horning, the members of the Dutch, Belgian and French resistance workers, and all other the airmen and resistance workers who lived through the war or who died trying, with the duplicity of certain European and U.S. companies doing business with the enemy, and the reported complicity of the American government both during and after the war, part of Hoering's story is included here.

In mid-January 1944, prior to traveling south to Gibraltar and then by air to England, Lt. Horning and several other Allied evadees were transferred from a Spanish jail to Hotel Del Norte in Irun, northeastern Spain, allowed to come and go, provided they stayed in Irun.

"Art" Horning recalls:

"Every morning after breakfast John Masin and I would take a morning stroll, and it wasn't long before we noticed German tanker trucks going down to the railroad station and then going back over the border to France with their loads. When we inspected further we discovered they were loading up with gasoline.

"About a week after we were in the hotel, the young American consul with his beautiful senorita came to see us. I asked when we would be leaving because I had important information from my stay in Europe that was hot and had to be taken to the military soon. He gave me a rather indefinite answer to which I replied that if he didn't start me on my way within a week that he needn't come for me. He asked me where I thought I was going. "Call me in Lisbon," I replied immediately. Then I asked if he knew the gasoline being taken across the border was coming from the U.S.A. He answered, "We know - don't worry about it."

"I got hot with that reply as we were losing men and planes in the bombing of refineries and oil storage tanks; the Germans were having shortages of fuel and here we were supplying them with gasoline in through the back door, all seemingly approved by the U.S.A. It didn't make sense. I lost all faith in the State Department in Washington.

`By the latter part of the week, a few other men and I were being transferred to Madrid in an automobile chauffeured by a major. I sat in the front seat and told him about the gasoline affair and what had transpired between the consul and me. He said nothing but when we got to Madrid he dropped the other men off at a hotel and told me to stay with him. We drove to another building where our military had an office. The major escorted me in, telling the colonel I had some information for him.

"After telling the colonel the story, he asked if I had confirmation and I told him about John Masin. Without blinking an eyelash he picked up the phone and called someone representing the state department. Using Army language, he made it known that they had been looking for this information for over two years, and even though the State Department knew of this and were told of it by me, they did nothing. He promised an embargo on oil the next day. I was told that this was done, but checking old 1944 newspaper files in 1989 didn't disclose it.

"However, in 1992 I came across the following excerpt which confirms my report of gasoline or oil being supplied to the enemy during wartime. The excerpt is from the book, Trading with the Enemy, written by Charles Higham, biographer and former New York Times writer, and published in 1983 by Delacourte Press, New York, NY: INDENT

"In 1946, the young, very sharp lawyer James Stewart Martin of a Department of Justice investigative team came to Europe from Washington.

"At the I .G. Farben headquarters in Frankfurt, Martin discovered files that confirmed beliefs that Schmitz had laid out plans for a conquered world in which America would join in triumph. He began to understand why Schmitz and the others at I.G. had turned against Hitler. It was clear that Hitler wanted to attack the United States with Goering's bombers when sufficiently long-distance aircraft were developed. But Schmitz was loyal to his American colleagues, preferring to maintain the alliances in perpetuity. These alliances could be sustained if Himmler and/or the German generals ran the Third Reich. They would be content with Schmitz's dream of a negotiated peace.

"Further evidence came to light showing the continuing connection between Schmitz and the United States during the war. In 1943, a magazine article by R.T. Haslam of Standard Oil appeared in `Petroleum Times.' It stated that the relationship with LG. Farben had proved advantageous to the U.S. government. A special report of I.G. Farben emphatically denied this, pointing out the innumerable benefits that Germany had obtained from her American friends, including the use of tetraethyl, which had been approved by the U.S. War Department.

"The report said, `At the outbreak of war we were completely prepared from a technical point of view. We obtained standards not only from our own experiences but also from those of General Motors and other big manufacturers of automobiles.' The report also revealed that Standard had sold $20 million worth of mineral oil products, including "airplane benzene" to I.G. The report concluded: `The fact that we actually succeeded in buying these quantities demanded by the German government from Standard Oil and the Royal Dutch Shell group and importing them into Germany was only because of the support of Standard Oil Co.'

"Even more damning, Martin found that LG, had, in 1944, placed a 50 million mark credit to Karl Lindemann, Standard's subsidiary in Germany, in the Deutsche Landesbank, which was wholly owned by I.G. and whose chairman was Hermann Schmitz.

"Thus, it was clear that Standard's business in Nazi Germany was open as usual, and that its German subsidiary was being paid handsomely for prewar agreements.

"Martin and his team were hampered at every turn. He wrote in his book, All Honorable Men: `We had not been stopped in Germany by German business. We had been stopped in Germany by American business. The forces that stopped us had operated from the United States but had not operated in the open. We were not stopped by a law in Congress, or by an Executive Order of the President, or even by a change of policy approved by the President... in short, whatever it was that stopped us was not "the government." But it clearly had command of the channels through which the government normally operates. The relative powerlessness of governments stood on the sidelines while bigger operators arranged the world's affairs."