This blog is part of a site named where you can find the stories of more than one hundred planes that during WWII landed or crashed in Portugal. Here I will announce the updates and also publish stories and information related with WWII in Portugal. All the stories will be in English and there another twin blog in Portuguese... forgive if sometimes the English is not always correct...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lisbon… International mail office

It is well known that Portugal was, during WWII, a door to get in and out of Europe. Many cases related with refugees or spies are often remembered, and truth is that Lisbon was a base used by both sides in conflict for many different things.

Many of the so called parcels from the Red Cross that were delivered to the allied prisoners passed through Lisbon. They arrived on ships from the USA and from Britain and were delivered in this country to the International Red Cross (IRC), that would take them by train to the prisoner camps. This parcels usually had food, candies and cigarettes between other things. Also the mail between the prisoners and their families used channels that crossed Lisbon and other neutral countries.

So it no news that Portugal was a big mail office to the allied forces.

The Dornier DO 18. About 170 of this aircraft were produced.

The German flight magazine “Flieger Revue”, from last March, brings more information that ads more importance to Lisbon and Portugal on those days: the Germans also tried to establish a “post office” to ling their prisoners – many sent to the USA – to the mother country.

One article signed by Hand-Heiri Satpfer states that it was already known that IRC, with the headquarters in Geneva, had explored this possibility. New is the fact that recently discovered documents in the Swiss archives reveal a slightly different story.

It were the Germans that made the proposition to the IRC and not the contrary. And it was a very concrete approach, as the German regime were ready to offer two DO 18 so that the IRC could cross the Atlantic.

The contact was made in the Spring of 1943 with the objective to deliver food and mail to 250 thousand German prisoner soldiers and some more thousands civilian internees.

In the end of 1942 the Germans had suffered the first defeats on the hands of the western powers. First Montgomery had sustained and defeated the Africa Corps in El Alemein. Soon after, in November, British and American forces landed in the Moroccan and Argelian coast.

In the beginning of 1943 about 130 thousand Germans were imprisoned by the western allies. In the Spring, with the total defeat of the axis forces in North Africa, that number grew to a quarter of million men.

The allied had already decided to take those prisoners to a place where they could be easy to keep and there were no possibilities for them to cause problems. Reason enough to transport them to the USA. The US had about 155 main camps and 511 secondary camps for German prisoners in 44 of the American states.

German prisoners in 1944
(Picture Nara)

With no other way to make mail and other things reach those men – the allied would never make direct negotiations – the nazi regime searched for another option. It was on thos occasion that the Luftwaffe put the two DO 18 planes at the disposal of the organization.

They had the “Werknummer’s” 866 and 869. They would be painted with the colors of the IRC and would be based in the Tagus River, in Lisbon. The voyage would include stop in the Azores for refueling, as it already happened with the Clippers that connected the Portuguese capital with New York.

Hans Stapfer reveals some curious information’s ,although. Even with the refueling operation it would be difficult for such one airplane to complete the voyage between the two coasts. A little stronger contrary wind would immediately jeopardize the three crew members of the plane.

The installation of a reserve tank would reduce the transport capability of the aircraft. Besides the volume of the tank that had to be mounted inside the fuselage, you had also to count the weight of that extra fuel. The calculation points out that about 50 thousand letters had to be kept behind so you could install all those extras.

Problems that were never discussed. For reasons unknown to the author the process never went a step further and the Lisbon Axis Mail post was never created either.

The Dorniers DO 18 would return to the Luftwaffe and the final destiny of the two planes is not known.

Certain is the fact that by May 1945, when V day arrived, there were about half a million German prisoners in the USA…

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