Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Airman jumped about 18,000 feet with no parachute and survived.

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This is an incredible but true WWII story of survival.  It is one thing to have to face a choice of  life or death but to be forced to choose how you will die in a combat situation is completely beyond the norm.

This is the story of Warrant Officer Nicholas Stephen Alkemade, RAF.

He was a rear turret gunner on a Lancaster bomber 18,000 feet over the Ruhr valley in Germany on the night of March 24-25, 1944 when his plane was attacked by a German night fighter that hit and exploded one of the fuel tanks on the Lancaster.  When the pilot ordered every one to bale out the rear gunner in a Lancaster had to crawl back into the plane to get his parachute because there was no room in the turret.  But when he did this he saw to his horror that  his chute had started to burn. At this point he had a choice of staying with the plane that was going to blow up any moment or when it hit the ground or to jump with no chute!

He chose to jump backwards from the turret of his flaming bomber knowing he will die a quick death on impact. During his drop he passed out and to his great surprise he woke up under a bunch of fir trees and lying on top of some snow covered bushes.  Part of his uniform was gone and he had 3rd degree burns on the upper parts of his body and arms.  Needing help to stay alive rather than worrying about being captured he used his distress whistle (issued for water bale outs for the crew to find each other) until he heard some people shouting as they looked for him.

After his capture he was taken to a hospital where he was treated for all his wounds and burns before he was questioned by the Germans as to where his chute was because only spies usually buried their chutes.  All he could tell them was that he did not use a chute.  Of course he was not believed but since he was captured in what remained of his uniform he was sent to a POW camp near Frankfurt.  Here the Germans started to question him again and again about his missing chute.  All he could do was tell the Germans to find the wreckage of his plane and look for the harness for his chute that would still be there.

The Germans did find the remains of his chute and now believed his story and announced it to the rest of the prisoners who now thought of him as some sort of hero  for his survival and the German account of this story and his own were witnessed by Flight Lt. H.J. Moore the senior British officer and two others and has been recorded in the official records of the RAF.

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