Over a million Allied airmen flew missions over occupied Europe during WWII. Many of their planes were shot down, but the parachute played a pivotal role in saving the lives of tens of thousands of these troops. Fascinating stories of miraculous parachute drops abound. Today's post covers a few experiences of Royal Air Force (RAF) flyers. If you missed the previous stories, you can find them here and here and here.
|The British Stirling Heavy Bomber (Public Domain)|
After his Stirling Bomber was shot down by flak over France in 1944, Flight Engineer Joseph Cashmore baled out from below 300 feet. The flight was halfway across France and traveling at 300 feet to avoid radar detection when searchlights revealed its presence to the enemy. After the ensuing bombardment destroyed the plane, the pilot ordered his men to bale but then rescinded the order while he attempted to bring the Stirling higher. He wasn't successful.
Each crew member prepared to jump. Cashmore went to the rear floor escape hatch and kicked the locking handles that were preventing the hatch from opening. They broke off. Cashmore and the flight sergeant beside him each insisted that the other jump first. By the time Cashmore exited, the bomber was in its last dive.
After pulling his ripcord, Cashmore "felt a sharp jerk as the harness tightened between his thighs and a thud, after which he knew no more." He came to but had no injuries. "He had landed in a depression which contained the only patch of deep snow in the whole field."
The French Underground rescued Cashmore, but the Germans captured him escaping near the Swiss frontier. After the war, he returned to England and was appointed Warrant Officer-in-charge of an enemy prisoner-of-war camp. Unteroffizier Heinz Ulrich was a prisoner there and, after learning that Cashmore had flown in Stirlings, bragged to Cashmore that he had earned an Iron Cross for shooting a Stirling down in 1944.
The date was March 4th, the same night Cashmore had been shot down. Cashmore grabbed a map of France and had Ulrich point out where the kill had taken place and at what time. Both answers, along with other descriptions, matched up with Cashmore's ill-fated flight. Ulrich was the man who had ended Cashmore's active participation in the war. The two became friends, and after Ulrich's release, they corresponded for several years.
Return on July 1st to read more stories of miraculous parachute escapes during WWII.
Mackersey, Ian. Into the Silk: The Dramatic True Stories of Airmen Who Baled Out - and Lived. Sapere Books.