To the potential escapees, it seemed to take forever, but eventually Monday came around.
As usual, they were awaken at 06.00 by the sound of the door to their huts opening and jackboots marching up and down among their bunkbeds to the familiar cry of “Aufstefen Sie alles!”
Quickly everyone saw to their ablutions and pulled on their clothes, ready for rollcall at 06.30. As they each took their position, they saw that the weather was perfect – a warm late summer’s day in Silesia without a cloud in the sky – temperatures will be sure to reach the mid-twenties later on.
As usual, the German officers counted up all of the POWs to determine that none had gone missing overnight. Equally as usual, no one had. The German NCO’s each confirmed that the numbers were correct to Oberleutnant Klein, who then addressed the POWs in his flawed, but passable English. As normal, he started off with his usual propaganda and sundry notices of negligible importance.
But then he started reading out a list.
“The following men should reassemble here at 09.30 hours for transport to your Arbeitskommando detachments with all of your belongings.”
He then listed each of the six new comrades in order.
“Dismissed,” he said, before promptly turning on his heels.
“Kurwa, this is not looking very promising,” Piotr cursed. “I was hoping that there would be more groups so that we got the best of the assignments. But it is obviously not to be.”
He shook his head.
“Not looking good at all.”
All knew that they were committed now, however, and they just had to hope that there was no heavy work detailed.
With each of the POWs meager possessions, packing was not a major issue, and so each member of the party spent his final two hours in the camp saying farewell to the friends that they had made while at Lamsdorf. They then reassembled in the centre of the camp well before their allotted time, bringing what’s left from their last Red Cross parcels with them.
At 09.30 prompt, they were met by four guards.
“Kommen Sie mit uns,” the Unterfeldwebel barked, before marching the six of them towards the main gate.
Ten minutes later and they were in the outer compound of Lamsdorf, where the Germans had their quarters – still well enough protected that there was no chance of making a run for it.
In front of them was a standard Mercedes L3000 truck – one of the main workhorses of the German army. Despite the fine weather, its canopy was up. Either side of the truck were two BMW L75 motorcycles with sidecars, with both of the sidecars mounting MG34 light machine guns.
Standing around the vehicles were eight members of the Wehrmacht. As with the majority of the prison guards, these were no crack troops – second or third-rate troops – either too old, too young, too injured, too lucky or too privileged to be at the front. But they had weapons and they knew how to use them.
Three of them had standard issue Mauser rifles slung over their shoulders while the other four – presumably drivers and machine gunners, carried just sidearms.
The party members spent a few minutes sizing up their guards while the Unterfeldwebel finished up the paperwork which he gave to the Obergefrieter who seemed to be in command of the transfer.
The two German NCOs exchanged salutes and then it was time for the Germans to load the prisoners into the back of the truck. The Obergefrieter and the driver got in the cab of the truck while four got onto/into the motorcycles and sidecars. This left two guards to usher the prisoners onboard.
“Bekommen Sie in,” they ordered, unslinging their Mausers.
The party members climbed up on the back of the truck, seeing that, unlike British trucks which have their seats lengthways on either side, the Mercedes truck had three benches in a row. The guards made it obvious that they were going to be taking the end one guarding the rear of the vehicle, but left the prisoners free to choose their own positions on the other two benches.
The other three sides of the bed of the truck were covered with canvas.
Piotr exchanged furtive glances with the others. It’s obvious what is going through his mind. Is it going to be possible to make an escape while in transit, or are the odds stacked too much against them still?
The party members take their positions inside the rear of the truck. The group’s two bruisers, Terry and Lodd sit facing the two guards while the others head for the rear. Piotr sits between Terry and Lodd so that he can try and figure out where they are heading based upon what he can see from the rear.
The small convoy sets off from the Stalag. Piotr concentrates, trying to figure out where they are heading. Initially he figures that they are heading north-east. The others look at him for a clue as to where they are going, but Piotr just shrugs.
“Nothing much that I know of in this direction,” he says.
But after around 8 miles, the truck turns sharply to the right at a junction. It takes a while for Piotr to figure out the lay of the land, but then the Polak raises his eyebrows.
“Now we are heading south-east. This will take up to the industrial heartland of Silesia – to the coal mines and ironworks. This is not good.”
The guards seem to speak no English; they are chatting to one another, their Mausers between their legs.
“I’m not working in no coal mine,” Piotr whispers. “I think that we should try and taken them – as soon as we reach the next forested section as long as there is no traffic. The journey to the industrial will not take long – we have less than an hour to make our move.”
The next wooded section is a long time in coming. It takes over 40 minutes until the terrain changes from open fields to another wooded section.
“This could be our last chance,” he whispers. “It’s now or never.”
Terry and Lodd nod in agreement. Terry counts down on his fingers. As one, both Terry and Lodd luge at the two guards in front of them. Terry’s training and Lodd’s pure brawn easily win the day and the two totally surprised guards both collapse from well-placed punches to the jaw and are dragged into the centre of the truck.
Piotr advances and peeps over the tailgate. Much to his relief, he sees that the two crewmen of the BMW R75 rearguard are totally oblivious as to what went on in the back of the truck, too busy chatting with one another and admiring the scenery to see the two guards go down.
Bob and Taffy take the two Mausers dropped by the guards. Bob advances back to the front of the cab and uses one of the guards’ bayonets to slash open the canvas so that he can see the motorcycle in the vanguard. At the same time, Taffy takes the other and draws a bead on the driver of the R75 in the rear. After taking aim for a while and then squeeze the triggers.
Both shots find their marks and the two motorcycles slur to a halt. The noise of the rifle shots have alerted the driver of the truck, however, as he puts his foot on the brake and the Mercedes L3000 skids to a halt. This simply provides a more stable firing platform for the two riflemen, however and, before the two machinegunners have quite figured out what’s going on, Taffy and Bob have taken both of them out. There is just the driver and the NCO riding shotgun to worry about now.
Terry and Piotr are the first out of the back of the truck, trying to rush those in the cab. Piotr’s recklessness is rewarded by his getting shot in the arm, leaving him stunned. Terry manages to open the cab before he too is stunned by a flesh wound from the driver. The Padre dashes out to see if he can fix up the Pole, while Taffy and Bob head around the other side to give supporting fire to Terry.
Piotr shrugs off the injury, a look of grim determination on his face as he charges the NCO.
“To dla mojej ojczyzny, skurwielu matka!” Piotr growls as he punches the NCO in the face, sending him to the floor.
Lodd remains in the rear of the truck. He hurls one of the unconscious guards at the canvas, only to see the body bounce back before crunching to the ground.
Despite the truck driver being the only Nazi remaining, he doesn’t give in easily despite being totally outnumbered, stunning Terry again with another shot from his Luger. The driver’s days are numbered, however. Bob wounds him with a shot through the cab, while Lodd finally punches his way through the canvas and the window, grabbing the driver by the throat and ripping open his neck on the jagged glass. The guards are all dead or knocked out.
The Padre immediately sees to Piotr who was the only one injured. Fortunately the Pole’s wounds were not severe and he is quickly patched up.
The party members go through the downed Nazi’s gear, dividing up the eight guards’ weapons between them. They decide to change into the guards’ uniforms, despite the warning from The Padre that to do so will lead to their being shot.
Piotr just shrugs at The Padre’s warning:
“For what we have done, they will shoot us anyway if we are captured. So what have we to lose?”
“S’pose your right, cobber,” The Padre says with a shrug as he too puts on a uniform and takes a Luger.
“Let us put motorcycle in back of truck, da?” Lodd suggests.
The others nod in agreement – better than leaving them here for someone to find in any case.
While the other maneuver the motorcycles into the back of the truck, Piotr goes through the guards’ belongings. He takes their IDs and what little cash they have – a total of 25 Reichsmarks. He also finds the NCO’s orders.
He nods as he sees them:
“The Delbrückschächte Hindenburg coal mines,” he says with a sigh. “Good that we escaped now. It would surely be hell there.”
He looks at the others:
“But, my novy przyjaciele, this was just the easy part. The Nazis place their camps in this part of their territory because they know that we are so far away from neutral territory. Where do we go now? The Baltic ports in the hope that we can get passage to Sweden? Switzerland where we may be interned again? The Russian Front? Yugoslavia? All are 300-500 miles away.”
They discuss among themselves. Eventually they decide that, because of Lodd’s connections, Yugoslavia is probably the best option.
“Dobze,” Piotr agrees. “Note, however, that we probably won’t get very far with the truck. There are road blocks at the entrances to most towns and cities where they will want to see our papers and our papers are only good to take us to Delbrückschächte Hindenburg,”
“Well let’s see how far we can get anyway,” suggests Terry.
Piotr can’t argue with that.
“Dobze, so let us see.”
Terry takes on the role as truck driver, while Piotr rides shotgun in case there is any talking to be done. The others hide in the back together with the motorcycles, ready in case of any trouble.
Terry lets out the clutch and continues on the road to Hindenburg. After just a couple of miles, however, there is a crossroads and Terry takes the turn to the south. He continues driving for another 40 minutes due south. However, as Piotr predicted, they see in the distance a police checkpoint at the start of a major town. The Germans have removed all of the signposts and so Piotr does not know exactly where they are.
“As I thought, we would not get far by truck before we are stopped. So what do we do now? Do we try and bluff our way through even without papers? Fight our way through? Abandon the truck and try and bypass all of the obstacles in our way? Takes the motorcycles although they can be heard for miles or continue on foot?”
“I vote for a recon of the checkpoint, then a frontal assault,” says Terry, stroking the MG34 next to him, blood-thirsty as ever.
“Maybe we go to Francia instead,” Lodd says. “I see pictures. Looks pretty.”
Terry says, “Je voudrais aller en France. Ma grand-mère était française, et je ne parle pas la langue.”
Seeing the other man’s blank look, he adds, “I said I speak French, ya mook.”
“The more trouble we cause, the more attention we attract,” says Taffy. “We can’t fight the whole Wermacht through 500 miles of enemy territory.”
“We are half a dozen indifferently equipped raggedy arsed soldiers, not an army. We should use our brains rather than mashing them against the nearest wall.”
“Too right, cobber,” The Padre says, nodding his head vigorously. “There’s no point in causing any needless death and injuries if we can avoid them.”
Bob also agrees with the Welshman and the Aussie:
“If we’re heading to Yugoslavia, we definitely need a plan. I suggest we avoid trouble, keep out of sight, skirt the roadblocks, and knife any fu*^ing Nazi we come across.”
“Well said, Bob,” Taffy agrees.
“Once one of us takes a serious hit, we’ve no means of recovering-and so that man is effectively dead. Which is why we need to avoid trouble as much as possible. I’ve no doubt we won’t be able to avoid it sometimes, but need to minimise the amount we have.”
“If we start to be a real pain the Nazis will also throw additional resources to catch us-and then we’ve had it.”
“Hm. What’s yer play then, Limey?” Terry asks Taffy.
“The first thing we need to decide is on our mode of transport,” Piotr interjects.
He looks up at the position of the sun through the clear blue skies in order to determine the time. It’s around midday.
“We should be arriving at Hindenburg around now – probably around thirty minutes ago. I don’t think the Krauts will start panicking yet, but they will definitely figure out that something is up by the end of the afternoon. If we’re lucky, they will leave it until first light until they start to see what happened. Fortunately we didn’t leave any clues at the scene to my knowledge so they should be clueless as to what happened and where we went.”
“This truck sticks out like a sore thumb,” he continues. “From tomorrow, the Krauts will definitely be putting all of the police in a wide area on high alert to look for it. Option B is to dump the truck and take the bikes. As they can go offroad, we can go cross country with them. They make a hell of a racket though and with three of us on each bike, we will immediately arouse suspicion if anyone sees us.”
“Plan C would be to simply abandon the vehicles and walk. It’s a hell of a long way to walk though and the going is tough – from memory we have three mountain ranges to cross to get there. If we made it in less than two months, then we would be doing well.”
“Plan D would be to try and take trains some or part of the way, but we don’t have any papers and will look incredibly suspicious dragging MG34’s onboard a civilian train.”
“None of the options are particularly attractive. But it’s just going to be a case of going with the least worst of them.”
Piotr looks around at the terrain. While the ground is open to the south, there are woodlands to both the west and east.
“My vote would be to follow the woods to the east and see how far we get before they run out,” he says. “Whether we go on foot or try and take the bikes down some bridleways, I’m not sure about.”
He looks around at the others:
“Any suggestions or better ideas?”
“I suppose we may as well resign ourselves to footslogging most of the way anyway," Taffy replies. "As long as we can find thick forest to move through, and we can manage the food problem.”
“Food problem?” asks Terry, “Isn’t this like Deli Central?”
“My ex, Sarah, used to tell me that all the best delicatessens were in Eastern Europe. Wouldn’t every local farm have a pile of Corned Beef and Blintzes stashed away?” he adds with a laugh.
“Just kidding. If we get desperate we can eat the big guy.”
Then, more seriously, “Why don’t we take those bridle paths Ol Petey was yammerin’ about, but say we walk the bikes? If Lodd and I put the MG’s in the sidecars we’re strong enough to push ‘em, and then we’d have wheels if we needed ‘em in an emergency like? It’ll slow us down, but not so much so’s you’d notice and I always feel better about facin’ trouble if I’ve got wheels nearby…”
Lodd looks into the forest with a peculiar look in his dark eyes, seemingly unaffected by the New Yorker’s cannibalistic jest. Growing up in a desolate Slavic village cut off from most civilization he has more then his share of superstition. It seemed that every year news of children lost in the dark woods would filter into his village and once again the wizened elders would preach in hushed tones about the foolishness of traveling into the woods.
Lodd feels fear. Fear has been his constant companion since all this ‘War’ business started. He knows its flavor well. He is not a coward, but the fear of what lies waiting for them all in the shadowed hollows of the forest turns his heart to stone. He’d rather take his chances against all the bullets in Germany.
Unfortunately, due to his lack of education and his smattering of any common language the others would understand he is unable to convey his deepening sense of dread. He says “Road ist goodt.” and points north even though he knows that the decision has already been made.
“I’m afraid that it looks like yer out-voted, Lodd, me ole mucker,” The Padre says, glad that the numbers are on his side and he didn’t have to beg the others not to try anything too heroic.
“Dobzhe,” agrees Piotr with a nod.
Cautiously, Terry shifts the gears into reverse and slowly backs up the Mercedes L3000, Piotr’s eyes never leaving the guards at the roadblock in case they see this strange behavior. Fortunately though, they are far away and did not see the vehicle approach. Once out of sight of the roadblock, Terry turns the truck around so they are heading north again.
Piotr keeps his eyes peeled for any minor turning where they will be able to get the truck off the road and out of sight. It only takes 300 yards before they find a suitable logging path, so Terry turns off the road. They only get 250 yards down the track before it becomes too narrow. Terry then drives the truck into the forest as far as it will go.
“Help me try and hide it as best we can,” Terry says.
After taking the two motorcycles off the truck, they use their captured entrenching tools to cut off boughs from the conifers. After half an hour, it is covered as well as it will ever be. There’s no way that a 3-ton truck is ever going to be completely hidden, but in this less well-traveled part of Silesia, hopefully they should be days away before anyone stumbles upon it.
They then maneuver the bikes onto the bridleway, getting into formation. Bob takes the vanguard position, travelling 20 yards ahead of the bikes to check the route. Terry and Piotr maneuver the first of the bikes with Lodd and Taffy taking the second. The Padre brings up the rear, relieved of any of the heavy pushing work.
The group makes fair progress during the afternoon. Most of the way they are able to follow paths where the going is not too bad. Rarely, however are the paths heading directly south-east so they find themselves zig-zagging through the forest, sometimes going due south, at other times going due east.
By 7.00pm, it’s almost pitch black in the gloomy forest and they realize that they will have to stop. Not only would using the bike’s lights drain the batteries after a couple of hours, but they would also be spotted from miles away. So they pull off into the forest and make camp under the trees. Fortunately the weather is fine so sleeping under the stars is no great imposition. Having not eaten for 24 hours, they use up some of their precious rations.
It’s been a long day and so they set up a watch rota – two on/four off. Pushing the bikes was hard work and so they soon fall asleep, even with just the forest floor for beds.