Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Escaping from Stalag I, and then from Germany, by flying a German aircraft into Holland. Possibly the only escape flight out of Germany in an enemy aircraft

In April 1945, the Russians were getting closer, and German guards started deserting. Hoover had been a POW for more than 15 months. His partners in his latest escape scheme were Jerry Ennis, from the 52nd Fighter Group, and a Canadian airman named George.

“We found a board underneath one of the buildings,” Hoover said. “A bunch of people who had worked on the escape committee created a diversion. They started a fight on one side of the compound, so the guards were all looking over there. We ran out with this plank, put it up over the top of the fence and climbed out.”

When Hoover and Ennis left that area, they came across an abandoned Luftwaffe air base, just inside Germany’s border. The base was deserted, except for a few ground crew.

 As the men looked for an aircraft that might be flyable, they were surprised to be totally ignored. They discovered at least 25 Focke-Wulf 190s, but none were airworthy. “They were all shot up,” Hoover said. “I finally came to one that had a lot of holes in it, but not in any of the vital organs.”

When a mechanic noticed the men, Hoover motioned him closer with a gun he’d acquired during their travels. They discovered that the German could speak French. “Jerry told him that if he didn’t help me get airborne, he’d kill him,” Hoover said. “I got in the cockpit and the German helped me get the engine going. The fuel gauge was full and the engine ran up nicely.”

Realizing that the Germans could shoot at him as he took off, Hoover closed the canopy, opened the throttle full power and went across the grass field to the runway. “I got airborne and pulled the gear up,” he remembered. “The stupidity of what I was doing hit me. I thought, ‘Here I am in a German airplane, without a parachute.'” Since he was flying a plane with a swastika painted on the side, the Allies might take aim as well.

Hoover headed north until he saw the North Sea. “I didn’t have any maps or charts,” he said. “I knew that if I turned west and followed the shoreline, I would be safe when I saw windmills, because the Dutch hated the Germans.” He followed the coastline to the liberated Zuider Zee in Holland. When he saw windmills, he looked for somewhere to get fuel.

“I had passed over some airfields that appeared to be deserted, but I knew that deserted runways were often mined,” he said.

He found a field and decided to land, but hit a ditch he hadn’t spotted from the air.

As darkness approached, he remembered seeing a road past some trees.

“I thought if I walked to that road, maybe a military vehicle would come along,” he said. “Just as I got ready to go into the trees, farmers with pitchforks came at me from all sides. They thought I was a German. They couldn’t speak English, so I kept pointing towards the other side of the trees, and they took me there. I stopped an English truck. I said, ‘I’m an American, but they think I’m a German!’ This fella said, ‘Get in here with us.'”

Hoover grins and says that later, everybody considered him a hero.

“People made it sound like a great escape, but the guards had deserted us,” he said.

Hoover doesn’t know of anyone else who flew an enemy plane out of Germany. He didn’t talk about the incident for many years, even though a Nashville paper had reported his story soon after his return to the U.S. He finally talked publicly, 20 years later, at an air show performance in Redding, Penn.

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