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 Spitfire diaries: The strange life in Dublin's PoW camp

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Ingalls Friend for Life
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PostSubject: Spitfire diaries: The strange life in Dublin's PoW camp   Tue Jun 28, 2011 6:11 am

I found this real interesting!

An attempt to recover a Spitfire from a peat bog in Donegal will highlight the peculiar story of the men - both British and German - who spent much of World War II in relative comfort in neighbouring prisoner of war camps in Dublin, writes historian Dan Snow.

In Northern Ireland in 1941, a routine Sunday afternoon sortie by a pilot flying one of Britain's Spitfire fighters runs into difficulties.

Returning to base after flying "top-cover" for maritime convoys off the coast of Donegal, the Rolls Royce Merlin engine overheats and fails.

The pilot yells into his radio "I'm going over the side", slides back the bubble canopy, releases his seat straps and launches himself into the air.

The Spitfire is one of the most vaunted examples of British engineering's history. The greatest ever single-seat, piston-engined fighter, it had played a vital role during the Battle of Britain the year before.

Its design was so advanced that it became the only fighter aircraft in World War II that served on the front line from the first to the last day of the war. Bailing out was no easy task.
Continue reading the main story
Curragh internment camp

140 Germans, mainly Luftwaffe and U-boat crew
100 Allied servicemen - Canadians, Poles, New Zealanders, British and Bud Wolfe, the only American
There were also 400 IRA internees in the camp

The air flow hit this particular pilot like a freight train and tore off his boots. Luckily he was able to deploy his parachute and landed in a peat bog. His aircraft smashed into the bog half a mile away.

It sounds like a typical wartime accident but it was anything but. It was the beginning of one of the strangest incidents of World War II.

The pilot was 23-year-old Roland "Bud" Wolfe, an RAF officer from 133 "Eagle" Squadron, a unit entirely composed of Americans.

Bud himself was from Nebraska, one of a number of Americans who had volunteered to take up Britain's cause. Since the US was not yet at war with Germany when the men volunteered, the American government stripped Wolfe and others of their citizenship. These pilots were a mix of idealists and thrill seekers.

When Wolfe was found by the authorities he realised his, already unusual, situation was much more complicated than he had guessed. He had crashed over the border.
Bud Wolfe's identity card Bud Wolfe was very keen to get back into action

Since the South was neutral it had been decided that all servicemen of any belligerent nation that ended up on Irish soil through navigational error, shipwreck or other accident would be interned for the duration of the war.

Wolfe found himself heading not back to his airbase, RAF Eglinton, now Derry International Airport, in Northern Ireland just 13 miles away, but to Curragh Camp, County Kildare, 175 miles to the south.

Here, a huddle of corrugated iron huts housed 40 other RAF pilots and crewmen who had accidentally come down in neutral territory. They were effectively prisoners of war.

It was an odd existence. The guards had blank rounds in their rifles, visitors were permitted (one officer shipped his wife over), and the internees were allowed to come and go. Fishing excursions, fox hunting, golf and trips to the pub in the town of Naas helped pass the time.
Map of RAF Eglinton

But what was really odd was the proximity of the Germans.

It was not just the British and their allies who got lost above and around Ireland. German sailors from destroyed U-boats and Luftwaffe aircrew also found themselves interned. The juxtaposition of the two sides made for surreal drama.

Sport was a notable feature. In one football match the Germans beat the British 8-3. There were also boxing contests.

It appears that the rivalry on the pitch followed the teams into the pub afterwards as well. They would drink at different bars, and the British once complained vigorously when the Luftwaffe internees turned up to a dance they had organised.

Anything further from front-line service is hard to imagine.

It may seem to us like a welcome chance to sit out the war with honour intact, plenty of distractions and no danger, but for Wolfe it was an unacceptable interruption to his flying activities.

On 13 December 1941 he walked straight out of camp and after a meal in a hotel, which he did not pay for, he headed into nearby Dublin and caught the train the next day to Belfast. Within hours he was back at RAF Eglinton where he had taken off two weeks earlier in his defective Spitfire.

He could not have expected what was to happen next. The British government decided that, in this, the darkest hours of World War II, it would be unwise to upset a neutral nation.

The decision was made to send Wolfe back to The Curragh and internment. Back in the camp, Wolfe made the best of it, joining the fox-hunting with relish.

He did try to escape again but this time he was caught. Finally in 1943, with the US in the war, and the tide slowly turning, The Curragh was closed and the internees returned. Wolfe joined the US Army Air Force and served once again on the front line.

So great was his love of flying that he also served in Korea and even Vietnam. He eventually died in 1994.
An Eagle squadron The Eagle Squadrons allowed Americans to fight before the US entered the war

But Wolfe's epic story did not end with his death. Thanks to the highly unusual, soft nature of the terrain in the peat bog where his Spitfire crashed, a team of archaeologists is attempting to dig up his aircraft.

This week I will accompany them with a BBC television crew and record what we hope will be substantial pieces of wreckage emerging from the bog. The bog defeated the attempt in 1941 to gather up the wreckage, so there should be plenty of Spitfire down there, but it may well defeat us.

The digger has to sit on bog mats, big railway sleepers, to spread its 20-ton weight. But even they may not be enough to stop it sinking in. There is also a danger that the hole will simply fill with water or the sides cave in.

It is one of the most difficult excavations that an experienced team have ever faced. Whatever happens, I will be updating Twitter minute-by-minute as the excavation takes place.

Hopefully we will find the physical evidence that will shine a light on the events of that November night 70 years ago and also provide us with a connection to one of the most bizarre moments of the war.

Ireland and World war II

When the UK went to war against Germany in 1939, Dublin stayed neutral. It was, after all, only 18 years since the country had secured a partial independence from London after centuries of British rule
Indeed, Taoiseach Eamon de Valera - who would later become president after the Republic of Ireland was declared in 1948 - even paid his respects to the German representative in Dublin when news of Hitler's death emerged
However, the Irish people in the 26 counties were not all so impartial as their government. A 2009 study by the University of Edinburgh found more than 3,600 soldiers from the South died on active service during the war
It estimated that in the British army alone, as many as 100,000 people from the island of Ireland served in World war II - half of them from the South.

Dan Snow is following today's attempt to recover Bud Wolfe's Spitfire in Co Donegal and will be posting updates via the Twitter account @DigWW2.

Bud Wolfe and the story of Curragh Camp is part of Dig WWII a series for BBC Northern Ireland to be presented by Dan Snow and due to be shown next year.


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PostSubject: Re: Spitfire diaries: The strange life in Dublin's PoW camp   Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:32 pm

I passed the link to my brother. I thought it was an interesting story for him. I've found it quite interesting too...But not being an experty in this kind of issues, I can't really leave my opinion on it... ShyGirl


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PostSubject: Re: Spitfire diaries: The strange life in Dublin's PoW camp   Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:22 pm

Really an interesting story, Alex. Thanks for posting it.
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