American POW Escape

Captain Edward Clark,  Assistant Division Engineer and First Lt. George C Haas, an aerial observer with the 231st Armoured Field Artillery Battalion, were captured in Brittany's region in early August 1944 and taken to St Malo by the Germans. They were brought by boat to Jersey to avoid falling back into allied hands. 

Haas, from Mt Kisco, New York, was captured near Dol near Dinan when his Piper L-4 plane, piloted by 1st Lt. John Townley, was shot down by 20mm Flak. Townley was hurt so severely by the crash that he died an hour later in a German ambulance. Flak hit Haas, and the impact broke his left leg,  just above the ankle. When German Ground troops came on the scene firing, one round struck Haas only an inch above his first wound, causing another break. Following treatment on his leg, he was taken to a hospital in St Malo. Haas and other American prisoners were sent to Jersey due to the advancing American forces.

Clark, whose home was in San Benito, Texas, was in the Dinan area on August the 2nd searching for a water point for the division. He and his driver were surrounded by Germans firing small arms and throwing hand grenades, forcing them to surrender. Unhurt, the two were taken to St Malo and then to Jersey by boat.  

John H. Townley

John H. Townley source: College of Emporia - Alla Rah Yearbook (Emporia, KS) - Class of 1941

Ed Clark

Ed Clark source: National Archives

George Haas

George Haas source: National Archives

Piper L-4 Plane

Piper L-4 Plane

RAF Aerial photo of the Allied P.O.W Camp Jersey, April 1945

RAF Aerial photo of the German P.O.W Camp for Allied soldiers , April 1945

After George was released from the Jersey hospital, he was moved to the POW camp and shared a room with Ed. On the 20th of December, 5 Germans escaped an American POW camp in Granville, France. The German stole an LCVP landing craft and made their way to the Minquiers (a group of rocks southeast of Jersey) and then into St Helier. 

Treated like heroes, the Germans celebrated the escape and boasted about it to the Allied prisoners whenever possible. George and Ed, however, took the news as a challenge and thought if Germans could make it to Jersey, they could make it back to France. 

Plans were made to try and escape the camp by digging a tunnel from the latrine in the Officers’ Quarters, that would take them under the fence and to freedom. The plan was put into action, and George began digging. Unfortunately, a guard noticed that Hass took a considerable time when going to the latrine. The guard investigated, and the tell-tale marks of tunnelling mud were discovered. 

George was arrested and tried before a Military Court on a charge of “Attempting to escape and destroying public property”. The next day, The Commandant, announced the sentence was to be 10 days’ solitary confinement in Newgate Prison. George was moved to Newgate Prison for 10 days’ solitary confinement only to discover he could easily talk to the other inmates. All of whom were locals that had been held for resistance activities. 

These loyal Jersey residents gave George detailed plans of the island, as well as a list of loyal friends that would help them if they got out. All this was memorised by George.

Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison

George returned to the Camp with all the information safely stored in his head. He met Colonel Reybold, Allied Camp Commander, to request that he be permitted to escape with another officer. This was agreed and the officer selected was Ed Ed. A simplified plan was put into place, with Ed suggesting scaling the wall was to have the best chance of success. Lt Blacker, the only survivor of a C47 that was shot down near Bouley Bay three months earlier, suggested they could make a ladder using George’s crutches and a bent iron poker. A list of all the men at the camp was written on toilet paper and Colonel Reybold and Lt Blacker wrote letters to their families for the escapees to pass on. Just before dawn on the 7th of January Ed and George escaped over the wall & barbwire fence via the improvised ladder. Two dummy body shapes were left in their beds to fool the guards making regular checks. This worked very well and it was not until after 10 am the two were reported as missing.

They made their way through Harve des Pas and followed the 60cm gauge railway only changing the route slightly to avoid gun positions. The first property George and Ed visited were ‘Saltaugh Samarès’, which was about a few miles east of the camp. The house belonged to the Laurens family and the Americans arrived there at 8 am. The family provided George and Ed with tea and scones. Both noticed that their presence was causing some alarm and decided to shelter in the rough. They dug a slit trench about half a mile from the house and camouflaged it with brambles and leaves. They lived in the trench for a few days during which the weather turned to rain, sleet then snow. Relief was provided by the Laurens who left warm food and clothes at a prearranged point close to their house. 

German Proclamation

With the success of the first memorised address, the escapees pushed on and continued east. The pair used the inner roads to get to the area known as Fauvic. The next stop for them was to be at a property called “East Lynne” owned by Deputy Wilfred (Bill) Bertram. Bill, who served in the First World war as a Corporal in the 24th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force.

 

He welcomed the two Americans into his home like old friends. They were introduced to two elderly female relatives, his brother Charley and John Bertram, a nephew from Canada who had become trapped in Jersey at the start of the Occupation.

 

Ed and George were given warm milk, fried eggs and potatoes and beds. The Americans declined the offer of beds as they had been alerted to the fact that the Germans had threatened death to any islanders that assisted them.

 

Bill gave the two blankets and took them to a large haystack close to his property. Then early before sunrise the next morning Bill took them to a property known as “Mon Repos” which he had been given the key to from Alexander Woodrow. Alexander, who was not born in Jersey and had been deported to Germany in 1942.  After discussion, it was agreed to force a window at Mon Repos to make sure if they got discovered nothing would lead back to Bill and his family.

 

George and Ed over the next few days would sleep during the day and in the evenings, they visited Bill and all listened to nightly BBC news broadcasts and he offered them more warm food and drinks. Bill and his friends desperately looked for a small boat to get the Americans back to France. Bill had already assisted with multiple escapes from the Island but on this occasion, the Germans had been searching and checking that all small boats were secure for fear the Americans would try to leave the island. 

East Lynne

East Lynne

Wilfred (Bill) Bertram

Wilfred (Bill) Bertram
Courtesy of Jersey Heritage

Escape Route

Above the rough Route the George and Ed Followed.

Ed and George decided they had imposed enough on the Bertrams and feared Bill would get caught hunting for a boat. They discussed surrender but instead decided to try their luck at Gorey Harbour which was very close to their location. In the dark of night, the American officers followed the coastal path to Gorey, they encountered a large bungalow blocking the walk and slip down from the seawall to the beach. They then waded to a rowboat. When they realised the weather was too rough, they found a beached German trawler and sheltered in its wheelhouse until conditions improved.

 

At the break of dawn, they started observing the harbour, they soon realised the bungalow was a well-camouflaged bunker and the harbour was a busy strongpoint of German activity. They kept their heads down and watched the patterns of the patrols and German activity. 

WN Gorey Hafen

The bungalow was, in fact, a type 626 bunker making part of Wn Hafen Gorey

On the 19th of January 1945, they took the rowing boat and floated out the harbour dodging the ever-present German combat patrols. When they reached the channel, however, the wind climbed to an estimated 60 miles an hour, and waves mounted 30 to 40 feet. This was in some way helpful as all the German Naval craft were kept inshore. The oars for the 12-foot boat didn’t do a great deal of good in that type of sea, but with Ed’s skilful navigating and George’s energetic bailing of water, they kept afloat.

 

Snowfall cut visibility to zero for many hours of the row. Sighting land at daybreak, they paddled for three more hours until they came ashore near Coutance. Just before striking land, they were fired on by a cavalry patrol, causing them some uncertainty as to what coast they were landing on.

 

When they saw that it was Americans, they were greatly relieved to be safely back on their own lines again after 14 hours afloat. 

World War II War Diaries

Above is an extract of the US Army's War Diary on the 20th of January 1945