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...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Howell’s New Year emergency landing in Portugal

On December 31, 1943 Don Howell was the navigator of Lockheed Hudson FK761 on the way from England to Egypt.

Over the Bay of Biscay they were attacked by a Luftwaffe patrol. One of their engines was hit, but they were able to escape and reach Portugal, where they made a emergency landing.

 In 2000 Don came to Portugal and we made a trip to the Grândola area in search for the place where 60 years earlier he and his friends ended their trip to Egypt.

We found witnesses of the event and also the exact place where the Lockheed crash-landed and burned.

I made a couple of images at the location and a friend of mine – Jorge Belo – helped me recording a interview with Don.

Don Howell at the left and the two witnesses of the crash-landing - José and Julio Pereira. The son of one the men is also in the picture. 

The images I collected are not in the best shape, as I used a friend camera that I did not knew how to use. In 2007 from the one hour interview and the pictures I collected I made a 20 minute movie for a English class of the University of the Algarve, where I was studying.

My English is not always the best but I hope everybody understands it. The Portuguese witnesses are not translated, and I’m sorry for that…

Unfortunately Don was not more between us when the movie was finished.

This is also in his memory…

Best regards and a happy New year…
Carlos Guerreiro

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I wish I remember...

The 20 years old wireless officer Alan Comes, from the merchant navy, was one of the few survivors when his ship was sunk by a U-boat, just after the war begun.

A couple of weeks later he sent a letter to his cousin in Australia where he tells about his nightmare and also his loss of memory that resulted of this misadventure.

He was a crewmember of the “Darino”, a small Merchant ship sunk on the 19th November 1939, a couple of hours after steaming out from Oporto, in Portugal.

The U-boat U-41, commanded by Gustav-Adolf Mugler, made several attacks before hitting the ship that took 16 of the 27 sailors with her into the bottom of the sea, including the commander William James Ethelbert Colgan.

Picture from a wreked ship published in the portuguese newspaper "Século Ilustrado", September 30, 1939.
(Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

Alan’s letter was published on February3, 1940 in “The Australian Women’s Weekly”…

MY Dear Cousin Dorothy,

This is about to be the hardest letter I've ever written in my life.

You see, it's like this everyone tells me that I've been to Australia and have therefore seen you, Uncle Mick and Auntie Tone, but the tragedy is that I can't remember anything about it at all.

I've lost a portion of my memory, and if all I have heard from other people about my trip to Australia is true, then I've lost the best portion of my life.

Anyway, I'll begin by thanking you very much indeed for the letter and Christmas wishes, and will now in turn hope that you all have the happiest of Christmases and the merriest of New Years.

You mention in your letter that I sent you a brooch. Mother has also talked about it, but I'm afraid I can't even remember what it looked like, or sending it.

The war has come home to me with a nasty experience.

My ship the Darino was torpedoed three weeks today at 3 o'clock on a pitch black Sunday morning returning from Oporto in Portugal to Liverpool (19th November). We were 300 miles from the nearest land (Cape Finisterre) and more or less in the Bay of Biscay.

The submarine gave us no warning. There were 27 of the crew altogether, but only ll of us survived.

The torpedo hit by No. 3 hatch on the after end of the ship, practically blowing us in two. We were only a little ship of 800 tons. The after mast broke off, and smashed the wireless room to pieces, just missing me.

I had been asleep when the torpedo hit us, so was only in pyjamas.

We had two lifeboats, but they were smashed to atoms.

I had to fight my way out of my cabin as the sandbags on the top had trapped me in.
The dynamo must have been blown up, as all this was happening in the pitch darkness.

I managed to pick up my Jacket coat, but could not find a life-jacket. I rushed round to the wireless room, but it was a hopeless wreck, and the screams of the poor fellows trapped below were sending me crazy.

All this was happening in three minutes because the next second I was washed clean overboard and down. My watch, which I've still got, stopped exactly at 3, and the torpedo hit us at three minutes to the hour.

Suddenly out of the water a big black shape rose. I thought it was the poor Darino coming up owing to the boilers bursting, but it was the U-boat. I had forgotten all about it.

At first I thought they were going to machine-gun us in the water, but instead they shouted to us to swim towards them as quickly as possible and they would save us.

So they took us on board, but I don't remember much of that as I was nearly unconscious. Anyway, the Germans treated us very well, wrapped us in blankets, and slept on the iron deck so that we could have their bunks.

When we counted up there were only ll of us. The captain and my pal, the third mate, were killed, and the engineers, too, all of them, and the cook, steward, cabin boy, and firemen also, making a total of 16 dead.

The chief mate and second mate were saved.

The commander of the submarine asked us three officers to dine with him, and they gave us exceptionally good food, fresh butter, too.

About ll a.m. the submarine dived and the Germans took action stations; it was a British convoy passing over us!

Any second we expected to be blown up by depth charges, as our own men above would not know there were survivors in the submarine.

Thank God the destroyers did not hear us with their listening gear, or I would not be writing this now. But, believe me, we were absolutely terrified, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Eventually we were transferred to a neutral ship named Caterina Gerolimich, an Italian one.

The Germans gave us each two packets of cigarettes, and they also gave me a pair of trousers.

The Italians treated us wonderfully, too.

We had a nightmare of a journey to Dover on the Italian ship, as she had no charts of the mined area and she wandered in and out of minefields. We expected to go sky-high at any minute.

So here I am, pretty well intact except for a slight shell-shock, loss of memory, and a slightly damaged hip.

I can't sleep very well, and daren't shave myself, so please will you excuse my writing as I'm not very steady about the hands.


Carlos Guerreiro


To know more about other shipwreked click HERE

To know more about the Darino click HERE

Monday, September 12, 2011

A few questions to Ted Hedges

Ted Hedges was a flight engineer on B-17 with 220 Sqn, RAF Coastal Command during the latter part of WWII. In October 1943 he was in one of the first allied crews to arrive at Lagens field, Azores, were he got involved in the closing the “Atlantic Gap” patrolling the sea, escorting ship convoys and ultimately searching for German submarines.

On June 22, 2011, he returned to Lagens in a visit sponsored by Heroes Return, a program supported by the United Kingdom’s Big Lottery Fund. In this case he also had the local cooperation of the Portuguese and American air- forces, the Lagens “resident’s” since WWII period….

After this visit I was able to send him questions trough e-mail…

Land in Portugal: Why did you wanted to return to the Azores?

Ted Hedges:
At age 19, I was the Flight Engineer on the third four-engined Boeing Flying Fortress to land on the grass airfield of Lagens.

For the next nine months I met and lived amongst a very poor but happy and kind people. Terceira is a very beautiful island and we found that in the midst of such people and the beauty surrounding us it was possible to do our operational duty despite the stress and strains of our flying.

When the opportunity came to go back to the island it was a wish come true. I would be able to see not only those friendly people but visit all those places which had only been names in 1943.

Land in Portugal: What places did you visited and why?

Ted Hedges: The first place I had to visit was Pria Da Vitoria. A family (now in the USA) welcomed me into their home and were very kind. Pria was a village at that time and we could get really great meals of fried chicken and chips with lovely fresh bread and butter. It was within walking distance of Lagens airfield or we could travel in the two-wheel horse-drawn carts for 5 Eskudos each. (In 1943 we got 100 eskudoes for £1.00). We had no organised transport so other than 2 or 3 visits to Angra, the remainder of the Island was only seen from the air.

My helper Eva and I stayed at the Angra Garden Hotel, which was very good, and we set out to see as much of the island as possible. We were taken on a complete tour of the island and made visits to the Portuguese command and American command bases.

We were well received everywhere and at the American base I was asked to do a recording (of which I now have a transcript) covering our operational flying by all the Squadrons based at Lagens in the nine months I was there.

We made three visits to the British War Cemetery. We visited all the graves and I laid flowers on my friend’s grave. Eva and I then laid flowers around the Cross from the families of men who had been lost in the seas around the islands.

We spent a morning in the garden of Angra. It is so beautiful there and the pictures we took match one I have from 1943 of some of the ground crew who serviced my Fortress aircraft, taken when sitting around the fountain.

Land in Portugal: There must have been some mixed feelings during your visit?

Ted Hedges: Feelings? Mixed? Yes. Visiting the graves of the men lying there. Reinforced my view that war is futile, wasteful, and takes the best of every nation that becomes involved. The older I get the greater the wonder and the thoughts of why was I spared. Why them and not me ? What great things might they have done if they had lived?

The cemetery is a place of great sadness, of ‘faces’ and memories which can never be forgotten, of peace and quiet. On my third and final visit I left in tears.

The sadness is bearable because when, in the subsequent time touring the beautiful villages, the coast, historic places, gardens, museums and churches and meeting the people, realising what great progress and developments have taken place since war’s end in1945, the sacrifice made by those men ensured that Terceira has had the time and opportunity to become the lovely place it now is.

Land in Portugal: Was there any particular moment of your RAF years in the Azores that you still remember strongly?

Ted Hedges: This question is most difficult. Robert’s book is full of such ‘special moments’. The first sight of Terceira as we overflew the grass valley which was to become our airfield. Our first loss and the search for the aircraft. The moment when realisation hit home of the speed with which the weather changed to downright dangerous in such a short time. Watching our little single-engined Walrus biplane landing across the width of our runway into a headwind while flying backwards in relation to the runway. There are so many moments.

Land in Portugal: Have you any particular memories related with the Portuguese people?

Ted Hedges: I left Terceira in July 1944 with very great regret. All of the Portuguese people I met were happy, kind and gentle. I was lucky enough to meet two
families. The first was the lady who did my laundry . She had two daughters and the elder was about to get married. Through her I was introduced to a very affluent family in Pria Da Vitoria and was welcomed into their home whenever I had free time from my duties. Of this family the father was, I think, the school master. There were three daughters Maria De Lourdes, Conceseion and Anna Maria. They learned that I was to be married on my next leave and after my future wife sent me a picture of the wedding dress she would like and her measurements, the family had the dress made. When I went home and was married it fitted my bride perfectly.

I have been in contact with this second family and all three girls now live in the USA.

During the visit of 2011 ted visited the British cemetery. There he put flowers in the grave of  his friend Joseph ‘Rocky’ Boudreault and payed homage to all the men that died in the Azores. 
 (Picture Eva Jones)

A mission in Ted’s word’s

In one of the questions I sent to Ted I wanted to know how was his typical day in the Azores. This was not the first time someone asked him that…

So he asked his friend Robert Stitt (see here) to give him a hand.

Robert – author of the book “B-17 in Coastal Command” (see here) – made Ted a similar question some time ago… and got a very complete and long answer.

Robert was nice enough and decided to send me part of his book – the description of a mission by Ted - and authorized me to use as much as I needed. 

I took his word and abused a little but the words of Ted are so valuable. I have cut some parts – you will be able to identify them – in order to shorten it a bit, but the credits of this belong to Robert and of course Ted.

I would like to thank both of them for the cooperation.

Before going to Ted’s words, here is some information.

Two B-17 squadrons – 206 and 220 – arrived in the Azores in October 1943. Each squadron had 18 crews of eight men.

The crews were inserted in the operation board by the name of it’s captain – usually the pilot – in a rotation system. So when you arrived in the top of the board you knew the next mission was yours.

When the flight before yours takes off you are already with your crew, because if there is a call for assistance you would be the first in line.

This said, here is the description from Ted Hedges of a typical mission. He would stay up about two hours before the mission to shave, eat and get instructions. Then they go…

We learn that our mission is to provide cover for a convoy of 100 ships sailing from Canada to the United Kingdom. (…)

Our captain, Brian Reuter, checks in with all the crew and then taxis to the active runway. As flight engineer I stand entirely unsecured between the pilots with my arms looped around the shaped armour sheet fitted to their seats. My destination in the case of accident is 200 yards straight ahead through the windshield. (…)

We weigh 56,000 pounds… we are 6,000 pounds overweight… and have four engines of just over 1,000hp each for a total of 4,100 hp. Of our 26 tons, a little over ten tons is our full load of fuel and about five tons is weapons and explosives. As we occupy our take-off positions we know that if an engine fails we are likely dead… so until we all hear the reassuring ‘clunk’ of wheels locking in their housings, we each ponder the possibilities.

(…)We have no set height on patrol or transit but never fly at more than 3,000ft. Our parachute bags remain stacked against the rear wall of radio cabin on the port side and we never bother putting on our parachute harnesses. There is no ’chute servicing facility at Lagens and if we are ever called on to use these things we doubt they will open. For months, until the Nissen huts are built, our flight equipment bags sit on the bare earth in our tents.

From now on the navigator will not cease his calculations until just before we land. The two pilots remain in their seats all the way while the remaining crewmembers, including the flight engineer, change positions every hour. (…)

In the event of an anti-submarine action or an emergency, the senior WOP/AG takes over the radio as soon as is practical while the flight engineer does whatever is called for by the captain and the gun positions are manned appropriate to the situation… the top turret gunner is designated the ‘fire controller’ in the event the aircraft is attacked by enemy aircraft.

We took off at 05:00 and it is still dark, (…)

Remember, we are heading out into the middle of the Atlantic. We have no satellites or the super electronics of today. Our navigator has only his drawing instruments, a sextant, magnetic and gyro compasses, a very accurate watch, and his crewmates’ faith that, for perhaps the next 12 to 13 hours, his math and the drawing of lines on a chart will remain accurate.

We expect to meet the convoy at 09:00 which, at an indicated air speed of 150 knots, is something like 600 nautical miles from base. We are instantly alert to any ‘click’ and exchange over the intercom so only essential instructions are given to one another. (…)

Every 15 minutes after take-off, the navigator gives the duty radio operator the aircraft’s position in latitude and longitude for transmission to base. Since base knows our take-off time, the message fixes our last ¼-hour position so our likely position any time in the next 15 minutes can be calculated. (…)

We should be within sighting distance of the convoy but the weather is changing with the clouds down to low-level and rain squalls blotting out much of the sea surface. The navigator and captain briefly discuss that we are where the convoy should be but there is no sign of it. It’s decided to undertake a search so we fly a square pattern with so many minutes for each leg, but with no success. The captain then calls for a radar search which, in theory, should cover a 60 mile pattern… but again, nothing. There is only one more chance and we call on our senior radio operator [WO Joseph E Roch] ‘Rocky’ Boudreault.


Joseph E Roch ‘Rocky’ Boudreault 
was the WO that oriented Ted's Fortress back in this mission. 
He passed away in in the post-take-off crash of Fortress IIA FK206 in the early morning hours of December 4, 1943.

(…)He transmits our call sign with an encoded request for an air-to-air homing, feeding bearings back to the pilot as he succeeds in making contact. He can tell we are approaching the holding aircraft as the signal strength increases and we at last make visual contact with the other Fortress, then using the trigger-operated Aldis lamp to communicate in Morse code.

We join the convoy at 09:45, some 4¾ hours after takeoff. Our relief aircraft is due to arrive at 13:00 so for next three hours we fly escort as requested. Our first task is to circle the convoy and count the number of ships to see whether they have had any losses and if there are any stragglers. We then communicate with the convoy commander and are instructed to carry out the type of cover required. We learn that the convoy changed course after we took off to avoid a U-boat concentration and that for more than four hours it has been steaming at over 15 knots some 70 degrees to port of its original course.


We have now been airborne for nearly eight hours and are expecting a relief aircraft to arrive. The weather is still deteriorating and it’s getting very rough in the aircraft. The power of the sea terrifies me. I’ve looked down on a convoy and seen 40,000-ton vessels buried up to their bridge structure by sea water and then seen the whole length of their bilge keels… smaller ships seem to disappear completely. (…)

The radio operator calls the captain to report he has received a signal that our relief aircraft has been recalled to base, as have we. The weather at Lagens is closing in and we may have problems getting down. The convoy commander is told we are departing and will not be replaced...


One’s awareness level is suddenly boosted to a very high level when the pilot and navigator hold a conversation regarding the latter’s inability to accurately determine wind and drift for the last 90 minutes. He has maintained two plots since we left the convoy, one based on his plot of our position when we found the convoy, the second on the position given to us by the convoy’s navigator. The latter should be the more accurate but the lack of a drift estimate applies to both plots and our actual position is now suspect, although both plots suggest that we should to be around 60 nautical miles from base.

The captain orders ‘Rocky’ to have the ASV radar manned, with the operator concentrating on our forward track to hopefully pick up the beacon at Lagens… there is silence as we await his report. It’s been 12 hours since takeoff and our fuel is getting low… what feels like a year goes by before there is the click of a mic switch and the report: “Radar to skipper, beacon ahead, 10 degrees to port.” The operator calls for a slow turn to the left until the beacon’s glow is dead on the centreline of the radar screen.

We know Lagens is 60 miles ahead but we are in solid cloud at 3,000ft and approaching our base with its 3,000-foot mountains on one side of the runway and a 500-foot hill on the other… we have to arrive in line with a runway or it could be very nasty. So we will conduct a BABS approach, a demanding procedure that requires absolute co-operation and trust between the pilot and senior radio operator.

We arrive over Lagens, invisible below us, at our safe height of 4,000ft and enter a circular pattern. ‘Rocky’ begins receiving signals from BABS while Brian flies the aircraft in accordance with a stream of instructions from the radio operator and with reference to a small instrument with two cross needles. Meanwhile the crew take up landing positions while I perform a final security check to ensure there are no loose items to fly around in the event of a rough landing… I then take my position standing between the pilots.

All is now set. ‘Rocky’ has guided the captain directly over the island and at a certain point the cross needles tell him we have over flown over the centreline of the airfield. The co-pilot starts a stopwatch at that instant and we are now fully reliant on the skills of ‘Rocky’ and Brian. They must follow a precise pattern, timed to the second and adjusted constantly to Rocky’s instructions.

A final turn should put us in line with the centre of the runway and we begin our descent at timed intervals. At the captain’s order, it’s “Undercarriage down” as the co-pilot strains for a glimpse of the runway. Next come: “Flaps down” and “Airspeed” and from this point on I constantly call out the airspeed. We pass through 1,000ft and are still in cloud. On through 700ft… 500ft… but still no sight of the airfield. ‘Rocky’ gives a slight heading correction at 400ft and at any second we will have to apply full power to climb to safety.

Then, just off line to the right, we spot the runway lights. With a slight right bank and correction we are lined up, then it’s throttles right back and the airspeed bleeds off. Brian has the control wheel pulled right back and we are just a few feet up. A slight forward and back movement of the wheel and there’s a thump followed by the immense clatter of the planked runway as we roll out and brake to a standstill. Touchdown is at 17:45 hours, 12 hours 45 minutes after we took off, 15 hours 15 minutes after we were woken up.

(…) As we climb into the truck, our captain speaks for us all: “Thanks, ‘Rocky’” No one has anything to add.

Note: This post has undergone changes related to historical aspects after contact was made by the author Robert Stitt on 13 September 2010. I wish to thank him

Carlos Guerreiro

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lecture Portugal and the refugees 1940-1942

The video is about 36 minutes long and is a lecture from pelo professor Neill Lochery in UCL Hebrew and jewish Studies.

The refugee invasion that happened in Portugal in the begining of 1940 is the theme of this lecture.

It is interesting and very complete... I thank my friend patrick Gerrassi for calling my attention to this lecture...

Carlos Guerreiro

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Good bye Bill

My friend Bill Littlejohn has passed away last November. He is one of the persons I refer in my book and one of the great helpers in this project.

He landed in Lisbon in the end of 1942 and was interned for a time. In 2008 he was invited back to see the book release were he is refered. Unfortunatly he could not come, but he made a video with his son where he tells his story.

Thank you Bill for everything, where ever you are....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A few questions to Tom Hamilton

Director and Producer Tom Hamilton is going to launch – this September – a documentary about the actor Leslie Howard. “The Man who Gave a Damn” puts together the home-movies still in the hands of the Howard familie and also testimonies of the life of this main character from “Gone with the Wind”.

Tom Hamilton is also preparing another movie about the desapearence of the actor in June 1, 1943, when he was flying from Lisbon to England in a flight that was shot down over the Bay of Biscay by Luftwaffe fighters.

Land in Portugal: What attracted you in this two projects?

Tom Hamilton: Actually they started life as just one project – “The Man who Gave a Damn” - on the life and career of Leslie Howard. That came about almost by accident. My wife and I were visiting Toronto (attending a film festival there) and trying to set up other projects. It came about through a chance encounter with Leslie’s grand-daughter Vicky at an art gallery one evening.

I didn’t know who she was but we were chatting about my interest in old films and she happened to mention that her grandfather had shot lots of home movies in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s in Hollywood, The Riviera, Broadway and other places. When she told me who her grandfather I don’t think she expected me to recognise the name – and was so pleased when I did that she invited me to meet her mother, Leslie’s daughter Doodie for Sunday tea that very weekend.

So less than 48 hours later my wife and I were meeting the wonderful Doodie and being entertained by some great first hand Hollywood tales.

She’s a great raconteur and I found myself increasingly interested in this dimension of movie star as a father. Of course Leslie was much more than just a movie star and I found that the more she told me of his attitude to life and parenting the more I wanted to somehow preserve her words.

Leslie Howard (center) and Alfred Channels (right) in Lisbon in May 1943.
(Picture newspaper Século Ilustrado/ Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

Part of the reason we were invited round was on account of my interest in the Home Movies that Leslie had shot. But they didn’t have a projector and I discovered that some of the films were already badly decayed. So we re-arranged our flights home and stayed an extra few weeks until we could borrow a projector to see the films.

When we finally viewed them, they were stunning and I started trying to think of ways in which these precious films might be preserved. I quickly realised the only way to justify the considerable outlay (£5-6,000) necessary to transfer these was if we could then put them to some sort of use – and at that point I began seriously thinking of a documentary built round Doodie and the home movies.

Doodie had long refused to be involved in anyone’s biographies of her father – but I belief she saw – right away – that my motives were quite different – and that first an foremost it would allow the home movies to be preserved free of charge.

For myself I thought it would be a nice little project (I still have emails saying I expected to finish it in 5 or 6 months – that was back in October 2006 and now it’s June 2011!!!)

As I soon discovered – a project such as this needs to be done properly – and it grew.

Obviously the manner of his death is something that interests a lot of people – myself included – but I was anxious that my film look at his life – rather than his dwell on his death.

Of course the questions surrounding the shooting down of the Ibis are deeply intriguing and I found that as I filmed the interviews much attention was focused on what exactly happened that day.

Public anouncement of the movie "Gone with the Wind" that arrived in Portugal in August 1943
(Newspaper "Diário de Lisboa" 7 August 1943)

This is why - relatively early in the production of Man Who Gave a Damn, I realised I had to make a second film which could deal with the disappearance.This is called "The Mystery of Flight 777" and by doing this and having it be a companion piece I can concentrate on the other individuals who were on that flight or involved.

This is still only about half shot – since all my energies have been on The Man Who Gave a Damn, but now that this is almost complete I’ll push forward with Flight 777.

LP: What exactly are looking in one and in the other documentary?

TH: "Leslie Howard: The Man who Gave a Damn" is a feature length look at the life, career and passions of Leslie Howard. Whilst we see a great deal of his Hollywood film career, particularly Gone with the Wind, we also see much of the informal Leslie - through never before seen Home Movies and the memories of his daughter Doodie.

The film also takes an in depth look at his role and importance in the British war effort and the events leading up to his disappearance in 1943.

Leslie Howard is one of those stars whose star seemed in danger of extinction – only being remembered for the part and film he liked least, Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the wind. But in the last two or three years several new books have come out which are either about or are inspired by the man’s life and I hope my film will help bring his name to a new audience.

His daughter, Doodie, wrote an excellent biography of Leslie (A Quite Remarkable Father), published in the late 1950’s. It’s a great read but due to when it was written she left out quite a bit of detail on Leslies extramarital affairs – mainly because her mother was still alive.

Now however, Doodie has written new chapters which offer a much franker account of his affairs – and a deeper insight into what made Leslie tick. I’ve read these chapters and can confirm they give the book a fresh perspective – there are several publishers interested and I feel a tie in between the launch of the documentary and a new edition of Doodie’s book could stir up a great deal of media interest...

Asside from Doodie we interviewed in the documentary are - Leslie's assistant director (on Pimpernel Smith and The Gentle Sex) Norman Spencer, Wartime expert Professor Doug Wheeler, British Film Historian Matthew Sweet, Playwright and fan Mark Burgess, Biographer Quentin Falk, Propaganda Expert Prof Nick Cull and Maude Queirós Pereira, who I interviewed at the Ritz Hotel in Lisbon.

Maude was a teenager when Leslie came to Portugal and she attended all of his lectures in Lisbon. Maude also relates her memories of meeting Leslie when her father invited Leslie and his manager to their home for an evening meal.

Leslie Howard in the role of Ashley Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind".

Our narrator of course is Derek Partridge - in whose life Leslie played a brief but incredibly important role - since it was he who gave up his seat so the actor could fly on June 1st 1943. Derek has been an absolute gem throughout the very long production this film has gone through – never failing in his support and even on the day I wrote these words filming a new piece of on-camera narration to be used in the film. So in a real sense the production has just this moment wrapped.

With “The Mystery of Flight 777”, I’ll be looking exclusively at the circumstances surrounding the shooting down of the Ibis – as well as the wider implications of what was happening in Lisbon at the time.

We’ll be bringing some previously unknown material – such as a recorded interview with Herbert Hintze (one of the Junker pilots) into the open as well looking more closely at the work of Wilfred Israel and Ivan Sharp.

Doug Wheeler naturally plays a major part with his 25+ years of research on the subject. Additional interviews are with Ben Rosenvink (son of the Ingbertus Rosenvink - the Navigator on Flight 777) and Frank Plugge, another child who narrowly missed being on Flight 777 (due to an attach of tonsilitis) interestingly he has clear memories of one other child who was on the flight - Petra Hutchence.

There is still considerable work to be done on this project - hopefully once The Man who Gives a Damn is being shown I'll attract the necessary backing to complete this.

And of course there’s the personal aspect of the story – of the families who were suddenly struck by tragedy – Frank Plugge remembers going with his mother to meet the father of Petra Hutchence, a man who had been expecting to see his daughter for the first time in 2 years and his infant son for the first time ever.

LP: Leslie Howard is the link between this two documentaries. Besides being one actor, who was this man?

TH: He really is an enigma - a multi-faceted figure - and very hard to pin down. His daughter was as close to him as anyone could be and yet even she admits that there were sides of her father she never saw. However in The Man Who Gave a Damn I think we've managed to unearth a few sides of his character that people might not be aware of.

On the one hand he seemed very unassuming - a man who liked to stay in the background observing, and quite uncomfortable with the idea of acting - whilst the other side of his nature was very strong willed - prepared to go up against moguls such as Jack Warner in order to have his way on a project – one of the very few freelance stars in the thirties. But he was also someone who was driven to create.

Throughout the 1920’s he was writing very funny articles for Vanity Fair and a number of plays – one or two of which he produced – anything in fact which could make him more than just an actor.

And he was able to win the support of notable collaborators. Everyone knows about Bernard Shaw in the late 30’s but as early as 1920 he had formed a film production company with backing from such figures as H G Wells and A A Milne – when Howard himself was hardly a well known actor. Although Minerva films folded Howard would return to film production in earnest at the end of the 30’s someone who found the whole star system in Hollywood ridiculous.

I also admire the way he abandoned a lucrative Hollywood career to work for the British War Effort.

LP: Was there something that surprised you while collecting material for the documentaries?

TH: When I started these projects, I didn’t know a great deal about Howard’s life. I knew of most of his films and of his help towards Humphrey Bogart. I think most people know about the fact that Bogie named his daughter Leslie in honour of Howard - but I discovered that before The Petrified Forest, he had helped other co-stars in similar ways – William Gargan (who named his own son Leslie Howard Gargan), Ilka Chase to name a couple.

News about the accident from the Portuguese newspaper "Diário de Lisboa".

Of course the Home Movies provided their own revelations – showing an informal, playful and mischevious side to Leslie, you wouldn’t expect from the man who played Rhett Butler.

LP: You talked with some Portuguese people that contacted with Leslie Howard in Portugal. Is there any particular story that surprised you?

TH: Most histories describe Leslie Howard in mid 1943 as a broken man (one who never really recovered from the death of his mistress) – even his son and daughter describe him as being distant and preoccupied with spiritualism.

But when Maude Queirós Pereira she described a man who was bubbling with enthusiasm for his new film idea – a British-Portugese co-production about Christopher Columbus.

That was a real surprise and suggests his adventure in Lisbon had much revived his appetite for life and creativity.

LP: There is still a discussion about the moment when Flight 777 was shot down. Was it one accident or one intentional ambush? Where you able to reach some conclusion from the information you collected?

TH: It’s a question I haven’t reached a conclusion on – mainly because I still have interviews and research to carry out on the Flight 777 documentary.

So far I've heard the recorded testimony of Herbert Hintze - one of the Junker pilots who was involved in the actual shooting down in which he insists that they came upon the plane unexpectedly – with the direction of the sun making it hard to decipher it’s markings and that 2 of the squadron immediately opened fire before he realised it was a passenger plane and - too late - ordered a halt the attack.

Then again there are other reports – which have recently resurfaced of captured German pilots boasting to each other of shooting down the Ibis – so even from the German side the messages are mixed.

One thing is clear - from the timings of the radio messages received from the Ibis in the moments leading up to and during the attach – there’s a space of several minutes – surely a long enough period for the Junkers to identify the plane.

Ultimately we may only get the full story when the classified papers are released.

LP: Have you any idea when the documentaries could be released?

TH: Well we’re planning the premier screening of “Leslie Howard: The Man who Gave a Damn” at present. We’ll be showing it in mid- July at a special press conference at Leslie’s former home of Stowe Maries in Dorking – where the current owners hope to erect a plaque in Leslie’s honour. We’re hoping to have a VERY special guest at that event – if her health allows – but I can’t say any more than that for the time being.

After the launch we’ll be entering the project into some of the key film festivals – in order to secure the best distribution deal for it.

Turner Classic Movies in the US will be showing it probably at the end of the year – possibly around Christmas – but for broadcasters outside of the US it’ll depend on what distribution we get.

However I hope we can have Mystery of Flight 777 wrapped rather faster than “Man Who Gave A Damn” but watch this space.

Carlos Guerreiro

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ivan Sharp, the wolfram man

“We know he had a ticket for another day, but someone gave up to enjoy some more suny days. My grandfather had finished his work in Portugal, and took that place disappearing when the aircraft was shot over the bay of Biscay”, explains Ivan Sharp, that has the same name of his grandfather, one 44 year old mining engineer, involved in the wolfram business and traffic between Portugal and Great Britain.

Ivan Sharp was a mining engineer involved in the Wolfram traffic that was happening in Portugal.
(Picture Ivan Sharp)


Even today Ivan does not know exactly what kind of work his grandfather was doing in Portugal. “My grandmother was a old fashion lady. Sometimes we could seat her and ask her some questions. She usually talked for a while but she just shut up and we could get anything more out of her”, he explains.

But the memory pieces collected from his grandmother, mother and aunt drove Ivan to the conclusion that he was involved in something important during the war. He knows wolfram was one of the most disputed merchandises between the allied and the axis, and that still today there are strange stories of instantaneous richness in some parts of Portugal.

Ivan Sharp has the same name of his grandfather, and was the man behind the homage’s to the victims of Flight 777 in Lisbon and in Bristol.

In 2009 he was in Portugal to take part in the homage to the passengers and crewmembers of flight 777, and he met someone from the Portuguese government who had a family member that “lived the other side of the story”.

“His father in law was also involved in the wolfram business selling it to the British and to the Germans. He told me the story that once his father in law made a mistake putting one more decimal number on the German account. When he saw the mistake he thought he was going to be killed, but the Germans just paid and went away”, Ivan retells leaving the impression that he would like to know more about what happened in Portugal during that period. “There are still a lot of secrets and it is important to dig some more where all this took place”.

Telegram received by Sharp’s family after his disappearance. 
(Picture Ivan Sharp)

About the strange times of “the wolfram war” Ivan also remember s another story that his aunt normally told. “Once she saw a small bag on the kitchen. She felt some hard things inside and thought they were marbles but when she opened it she saw that there were uncut diamonds. We think he used them to pay for the wolfram”.

More joyful are the memories of the times when the mining engineer returned home from Portugal . “He always brought fresh fruit. My mother and my aunt usually gave some of it to the kids from their street. Everybody was amazed with this offers, because fruit was so scarce during the war and most people had no access to this kind of luxury”.

A sporty men the engineer Ivan sharp was part of the team from Sledge&Trust, one company that was later bought by the Rio Tinto Group, one of the biggest mining groups in the world. “we still think what could have happen to our lives if he had survived the war. We would certainly much better”, say the grandson.

He still looks to the event that made his grandfather disappear with mixed feelings. The accident theory does not convince him completely. “I don’t understand why the Germans reacted so fiercely in the next day’s reinforcing the patrols in the area. Why did they wanted to avoid the British rescue team to be successful.Why were they so committed. That is one answer I would like to have”, he reveals.

Ivan Sharp was using diamantes to pay for the wolfram.  
(Picture Ivan Sharp)

There also other mysterious events that would like to have one explanation. “When the war ended the Dorset Regiment announced that they had captured one photo album with pictures of the plane being shot. For some reason those pictures disappeared. If there were only pictures of the aircraft being shot down, why did the album disappeared?”.

“On the other hand there were some important people inside that plane. One very known movie star, people related with military and espionage personnel. If the germans where really interested in someone inside that plane it would have been easy to divert the flight to France. The Gestapo would have a lot of questions for these persons, wouldn’t they?” asks Ivan Sharp, one of the most responsible persons for the homage ceremonies that took place in Lisbon and in Bristol, in 2009 and 2010.

He had the idea if a homage some years ago and after several phone call and the help of the Bristol airport people, and latter the ones form Lisbon, he was able to see those ceremonies take place…

Hear what he has to say about his grandfather…

Carlos Guerreiro

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Quirinus Tepas, the “warm, bearlike” commander of Flight 777

Quirinus Tepas receiving the “Order of The British Empire”. 
(Picture Jean Pratten/ Roger Fennely)

The pilot from Flight 777 was a big men, that entered the life of the brothers Jean Pratten and Roger Fennely when he became ill, acouple of time after his escape from Holland. The father of these youngsters – they were 12 and 10 years old – was a doctor and he was called to assist the Dutch KLM pilot.

Jean Pratten and Roger Fennely in 2010

Both remember a “warm, bearlike” man, with worries about his family that he left behind in Holland. They also remember the presents they received from Portugal, especially the oranges and the bananas, something they had no way of getting in a wartime Britain.

Letter published in a newspaper after the disappearance of Capt. Quirinus Tepas. (Collection Jean Pratten/ Roger Fennely)

They also speak about the day they received the call announcing the dead of Quirinus Tepas, and the fact that he was already expecting something like this to happen.

Hear Jean Pratten

Hear Roger Fennely

Carlos Guerreiro

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Engebertus Rosevink, a search for the unknown father

Engbertus Rosevink desapeared with Flight 777. Tewnty years ago his son searched for the german pilots that shot down his plane... (Picture Ben Rosevink )

“My Father was the flight engineer of that flight and there where so many mysteries about it that 20 years ago I decided to find the truth about what had happened. The only way of doing it was to find the German pilots that had shot the plane down”, These are the first explanations of Ben Rosevink, son of Engebertus, Navigator and one of the four crewmembers that were in flight 777 in June 1, 1943.
“We changed letters and he finally invited me home. I was there with him for a week and he gave me all the information’s I needed”.

Ben Rosevink in Bristol in 2010

Twenty years ago Ben started his search for the story of his father, and he was able to find Herbert Hitze, the commander of the Luftwaffe squadron that shot the IBIS over the Bay of Biscay. Latter he was able to find other Luftwaffe men, that were also involved in that mission, and they all told him the same story: shooting the “Ibis” was one accident.

Ben Rosevink talks about his father and his search.

In this recording Ben Rosevink explains the details he was able to collect in his contact with the German flyers, and also speaks about his father, a man he never knew because he was only born two months after he went missing…

Carlos Guerreiro

Friday, May 27, 2011

Derek Partridge, the accidental survivor

His voice is well known in the movie industry, in television, in documentaries. He also made journalism, presented programs and whatever. In the last decades Derek Partridge was a constant presence in the houses of most of us, and that has only been possible because a famous actor took his place in Flight 777.

Derek Partridge, a well known voice and face. To know him beter you can go to his site were he has a video and tells his story in Flight 777. Click here

When the actor Leslie Howard entered the aircraft with his manager, Alfred Channels, in that morning of June 1, 1943 all seats were taken. Opposite to the door was seven year old Derek Partridge, with his nanny Dora Rowe, that was “escorting” him home, in the UK, and had already crossed the Atlantic Ocean on board of the Portuguese passenger ship “Serpa Pinto”.

“The reason I thought we had been taken off, was because we happened to be sitting opposite the entrance door and I figured we were simply the nearest and easiest to remove. It wasn’t until I met Leslie’s son Ronald (just finishing his book “In Search of my Father”), that I realized it was just a matter of priority and being the least important”, explains Derek Partdridge.

In fact he does not remember much about that day. He knows that he was inside the plane and then had to come out. “I then spent about 5 days in a hotel in Estoril and my only memories are of a beautiful beach, where I found many, exquisitely patterned, tiny sea shells”, refers Derek.

His father had not such delightful moments, especially in the first hours after the shooting of flight 777. Involved in the intelligence world, a specialist in the Middle East, Derek’s Father had suddenly a impossible new mission in front of him: “My father was in MI6 and so was one of the first people to learn of 777 being shot down… he spent 24 hours wondering how to tell my mother, before he received the news that I wasn’t on the flight”.

Five days latter Derek and Dora were back on a plane. “My only memory of the flight back is that - following the Luftwaffe shooting down of Flight 777 - the windows had been covered with several layers of muslin, to prevent lights being seen from outside. It was disappointing, not being able to see anything on my first flight. I had no idea that Flight 777 had been shot down”.

“If it’s a strange feeling knowing that my whole life has only been possible through pure chance… and fate”, concludes Derek, and in fact he might have had a big protecting hand covering his life.

Whit five he was on his way to the United States, send by his family to his aunt in order to be away from England that was under siege and bombardment by the German forces. Two years later – and even before arriving in Lisbon – he almost fell from the ship on the way back.

Derek Partridge with seven years old, the age he returned to Europe from the USA.

“I was talking to a crew member and I was leaning against the rails… unfortunately where I was leaning was where the pilot comes on board and someone had forgotten to close it properly. It opened and I started to fall backwards into the ocean when—fortunately--the crewman grabbed me!”

To know more about Flight 777, click here.

Carlos Guerreiro

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Prisoner exchange in Lisbon

A RAF sergeant leaving the train. 
(Século Ilustrado/ Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

The transports carrying more than 800 Italian and British war prisoners made the activity start at 9 in the morning in the Alcântara Maritime Station, at the Tagus River, Lisbon. It was at that time that the hospital ship “Newfoundland” arrived. It had left the UK and was waiting for two days on the entrance of the Tagus, for news about two trains, coming for Italy, and that should arrive there also.

On the ship were 409 Italian prisoners while on the train travelled 448 British. On the 18 April 1943, Lisbon, under the surveillance of the International Red Cross, was the stage for the exchange of 857 prisoners, mostly sick or incapacitated men.

The newspaper descriptions of the time leave no doubts about the health situation of those expected that morning in Portugal. Between the Italians, a group of 33 officers (two of them chaplains) and 376 sergeants and soldiers, were, as the newspaper “Diário de Lisboa” states, “11 madmen, 84 mental affected and nervous, some with tuberculosis and many mutilated”. They were being accompanied by one team of 135 doctors, nurses and stretch carriers.

The hospital ship “Newfoundland”, that brought the Italian prisoners (on the back) and one of the trains, that brought the British (on the front). 
(Século Ilustrado/ Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

In the trains, between the British prisoners, were “289 that could not walk, 3 blinds, 2 madmen and 2 seriously wounded, explains the “Século Ilustrado” another Portuguese newspaper. Between them was a General Willis captured by the Italians in North Africa.

The “Newfoundland” was received by the Portuguese authorities, and representatives from the Italian and the German governments. The ambassador from Mussolini in Lisbon made a welcome speech and so did the German representative, in the building of the Portuguese Cod Fish Comission, where the prisoners lunched.

The newspaper “Século Ilustrado” dedicated two pages to the prisoner exchange, in his 4th April 1943 edition. The title is “Portugal, Europe’s Oasis”. 
(Século Ilustrado/ Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

The first train with British prisoners arrived before mid-day and the other one hour latter. The most serious cases were transported directly to the ship and those “that could walk were sent to different British organizations”, explains the “Século Ilustrado”. The “Diário de Lisboa” is more specific and writes that they went “in busses to the English Club, to the Seamen Institute and the British Repatriation Office, for lunch”.

By the end of the afternoon the Italians were sent to the trains, for home, with a package containing “cognac, vermouth, chocolate, tobacco, soap” and other products offered by the Italian colony in Portugal.

Italian prisoners leaving the “Newfoundland”. 
(Século Ilustrado/ Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

Another British soldier leaving the train in a stretcher.
(Século Ilustrado/ Arquivo Histórico de Portimão)

The British ex-prisoners, with “sweets and tobacco” offered by the British community, sailed in the “Newfoundland” at 22 hours, ending – as the Diário de Lisboa called it – “one more admirable chapter of the humanitarian action of Portugal and the Red Cross in this war”.

Carlos Guerreiro

Saturday, April 9, 2011

RAF men remembered in Sagres, Portugal

Two RAF sergeants were remembered on the 9th April “Combatant day” in Sagres, Portugal, where they are buried after their Catalina exploded in the air.

Sergeants Orton and Gibson were members of a Catalina that – as local witnesses remembered a couple of years ago – almost crashed in the small village. In the last minute the aircraft gained some altitude, was able to climb a cliff, but suddenly exploded over the water. Only these two men were recovered from the entire crew (if you want to know more about this event click here).

It was on this day that in 1918 the Portuguese positions in Flanders were overrun by overwhelming German forces loosing thousands of men as prisoners, killed or missing. Since that date Portugal pays homage to all his combatants one this day.

Besides the two RAF men the ceremony also paid homage to five local soldiers that lost their lives in two wars that involved Portugal during the 20th century.

Carlos Sequeira e José Joaquim Abelum died on World War I, in the 9th and in the 12th April 1918. Both were members of the 1st Infantry Regiment, that curiously was at the cemetery as Guard of Honor.

Henrique José de Freitas (1962), Joaquim Pereira Dias Leite e Joaquim António Conceição (both in 1966) died during the portuguese colonial war that killed thousands of men during the sixties and the beginning of the 70’s. Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Guinea and parts of India were part of the Portuguese empire until 1974.

About one hundred persons were at the cemetery paying homage to these combatants.

The British Consul in Portimão, Clive Jewell, and Major Oliveira pay homage to the Portuguese soldiers that fall in the two wars.

Local veterans put flowers on the graves of the two RAF airmen. Sargeant Correia and the local presidente of the veteran association, Bernardino Martins (on the back), prepare do pay homage to those men.
Major Oliveira (1st Infantry Regiment) pays homage to the RAF Sargeants.

The British Consul in Portimão pays tribute to the two RAF men. Standing beside him is the local Mayor (Sagres belongs to Vila do Bispo), Adelino Soares.

Guard of honour

The graves from RAF sergeants Orton and Gibson.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Catalina crew remembered

The 9th of April is, in Portugal, the official “Combatant Day” were all the fallen Portuguese soldiers are remembered.

It was adopted after the battle of “La Lys” battle on this day in 1918, in Flanders area, where the two divisions of the Portuguese expeditionary force were almost wiped out by a huge German offensive.

This year, in Vila do Bispo, Algarve (in the south) the commemoration will take place at the local cemetery and the remembrance will extend also to soldiers form other countries. There will be made a special reference to the two RAF men buried in that cemetery.

They were members of a Catalina crew that exploded in that area in 1943.

If you want to know more about Catalina FP 154 click here

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The first “escape”

The tugboat left the Leixões Harbour under the cover of the night e, about four miles from the Portuguese coast, she waited. The meeting – that she didn’t want to miss – had been arranged between two and four in the morning.

On board were 13 passengers. Eleven were Royal Air Force (RAF) men expecting that they could finally reach home. That dawn of 26 march 1941 should be the last moments from one operation that involved diplomacy, secret services, people with no name and a planning… in the Portuguese way: few resources, but lots of good will.

It had begun one month before. The night from 14 to 15 February turned the country upside down. A violent cyclone destroyed cultures, houses, ships and many other things. More than one hundred persons died and the wounded largely surpassed half thousand…

It was one the biggest natural tragedies that hit the country in the last century.
Caught by this phenomenon was also one Sunderland aircraft from the RAF, destined to Africa.

The Sunderland in Setúbal, Portugal (Picture Olinda Couceiro)

They had started just before midnight near Plymouth, expecting weak winds. About five in the morning the aircraft was being violently shacked. “The navigator, Jack Banfield, decided to measure the wind velocity and we could not believe the readings that showed wind speeds above 90 miles per hour”, explained Roy Booth, one of the crewmembers in 2001 in a interview to Neil Owen, involved in telling the stories of the men and aircraft that went through Oban - his hometown – during WWII.

There where winds that sometimes blew at more than 150 miles per hour and it was impossible to stay airborne. They had to land also because flying against the wind they had almost finished the gas reserves.

A fast look at the maps showed that Portugal was the nearest place they could reach.
“The waves were 30 feet high and the pilot “Shorty” Evison made a real miracle landing the plane. We thought that the best he would achieve would be a landfall before the inevitable crash in the weather conditions”, explained Roy Booth that had a vivid image from the pilot’s face after the landing, when he “emerged from the cockpit, tears streaming from his face from the nervous tension”.

The big mess

The aircraft beached approximately midday, but they would not receive any help the rest of the day or during the night, because of the storm that was tearing the country apart. Only on the next morning they would be taken to Setúbal.

They were the first allied crew to land in Portugal. The “Laws of War”, although not very clear, suggested the possibility that they could be interned for the duration of the war. It seems although that the Portuguese authorities were never very interested in that.

Several British documents assure that they were lightly guarded. It was almost one invitation to evasion, but it found many obstacles on the way. The letters changed between several british services show a puzzling scenario.

The secret services proposed a rescue operation using the fact that the crew – already in Figueira da Foz – was lightly guarded. They would be transported by car to one of the ships that patrolled the Portuguese coast.

They even suggest that the operation should take place in the Algarve, a more deserted area when we talk about boat traffic.

The British Embassy in Lisbon does not disagree, but does not want to know anything about the operation. They fear the reaction of Salazar – Portuguese ruler and also a fascist – and the implications in the relationship with the Portuguese government. If they know nothing they would not need to lie latter.

The Foreign Office does not want any operation to take place. They don’t even want to make a official request to free them. It would open a precedent that could be used latter in other neutral countries by the enemy.

There is also a note pointing out that it was not advisable to involve any national in the operation, but it would be a Portuguese officer to take care of everything.

A help request

Major António Dias Leite, from the Portuguese Aeronáutica Militar (army air arm), was known to be one enthusiast “of the allied cause”, so he was not surprised to receive one invitation from the British Embassy for a cocktail. Between the persons at the party was someone he knew from somewhere, but he could not locate where.

That man went over and talked to him. It was Squadron Leader Lombard, commander of 95 Squadron, to wish the Sunderland belonged, and one of the internees himself, as he had been a passenger on the flight.

The crew from the Sunderland in the house of Dr. Augusto Cunha in Aveiro. Ten members of the crew are in the back- I was not able to identify them. In the front, on the left, is the owner of the house, his mother and S/Ldr Lombard. On the right is Major Dias Leite and Olinda Couceiro. (Picture Olinda Couceiro)

They had met in 1938 in one RAF advanced instructor course in the United Kingdom. Lombard asked him to find a way out.

A German crew from a FW200 that had landed in Alentejo had already escaped through the Spanish border. That was not a solution for them as Spain was not a friend of the british.

Dias Leite understood the problem but he explained him that he couldn’t do much. He was just a Major in the Aeronáutica Militar. They talked a little, but nothing further was discussed. A few days later he was contacted again by Embassy people. He decided to try something…

In a four page document, preserved by the family of Dias Leite, he recount’s some of the details. He contacted “Someone” (the capital letter is so in the original) to explain the problem. It was certainly “Someone” high ranked in the government, because he got a green light for the operation under some rules: the authorities would look to the other side, but if something went wrong the Major had to assume all responsibilities.

Dias Leite agreed. He contacted some friends that had boats and they prepared a plan. One of the British ships based in Gibraltar would guarantee a “rendezvous” with the Portuguese.

The evasion

Some days before the date the airmen escaped from Figueira da Foz to Aveiro. In his interview Roy Booth reports a car chase and shootings conducted by local Gestapo members.

António Dias Leite on the other hand assures that everything went as planned and the men arrived in groups to the house of a friendly doctor, Augusto da Cunha.
“My uncle warned my mother and my grandmother that some British airmen would arrive, but that nobody could know about it. My grandmother was appalled when he told her that the Germans would cut our throats if this became public”, explains Olinda Couceiro laughing, niece from the house owner.

Olinda Couceira remembers many stories related with the presence of those men in the house, especially the fact that fear was always present. “The backer started to make questions, because suddenly we were buying bread for more eleven persons, and there was also someone playing the piano”.

On the evening of the 25 March the group went to Leixões and during the night they jumped into the tugboat. Besides the eleven RAF men, Dias Leite and Augusto da Cunha were also on board.

Around four in the morning one British ship enlighten himself right in front of the tugboat. The first “escape” – a word used many times in documents and newspapers of the time – had taken place.

This ceremonial dagger was offered to Major Dias Leite by one of the crewmembers.
(Picture Maria Leite)

There was still time for a glass of Port Wine. One unlucky bottle fell into the floor and broke itself. A “big loss” everybody agreed, although the times they were living.

This route would be used by dozens of other airmen in the following years. Dias Leite assures that about 300 “escaped” this way.

The daughter, Maria Leite, still keeps some objects the airmen left behind as thank you gifts. Dias Leite also met one of those men latter when, after the war, the Queen of England visited Portugal.

(I thank the cooperation of Neil Owen, Maria Dias Leite and Olinda Couceiro)

Carlos Guerreiro

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Proud saviours from the “Sines”

By Carlos Guerreiro

The picture was published on the 23 March edition of the Portuguese newspaper “Século Ilustrado”, with some other pictures and a very simple note: “The crew from the steamer Sines that saved 71 shipwreked men from one American ship torpedoed in the Atlantic”.

It was a small note in a conflict that brought to the Portuguese ports hundreds of shipwrecked men from all nationalities. It was not by chance that, already in April 1940, a delegation of the “British Seaman Institute”, was created in Lisbon, in order to support those arrived in the Lisbon port but also, and especially, to support those that came to Portugal, brought by different kinds of ships, after seeing their own sunk.

In fact the 71 men saved by the Sines never arrived in Lisbon, as they were delivered in the port of Horta (Azores), one island much nearer from the place where they were torpedoed by the German submarine U-172, about 450 miles west from the islands.

They belonged to the “Keystone” a 5.5 Ton ship that was part of a convoy with 45 ships (named UGS-6) that started from the USA (on 12 March) on the way to Gibraltar (Arrived on 19 March).

The “Keystone” was the first victim of this convoy from a U-boat pack that was patrolling the area in the vicinity of the Azores. The ship had problems from the start in the engine room and, after a while, he was alone, away from the rest of the ships. When the first torpedo hit her –at 22.28 hours of the 13th – she was already 50 miles behind.

The first explosion killed two of the crew and left the ship incapacitated. After the rest of the men left, the “Keystone” was hit by another torpedo that broke her in two.

She would not be the only victim of this confrontation. Between 13 and 18 March the U-Boats would claim three more ships and damage another, continually escaping the eight American destroyers that were escorting the convoy.

The crew of the “Sines” found the survivors seven hours after the sinking and made their duty as seamen, taking them on board.

They would not be the first or the only Portuguese crew to do it during the war… but they certainly deserve the proud look in the picture.

To know more about convoy UGS-6 click here.

To know more about the “Keystone” click here.

Sources: / Século Ilustrado - Arquivo Municipal de Portimão / War Diaries 1942-1945 – NARA –

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A few questions to Robert Wilson

By Carlos Guerreiro
(Pictures from Robert Wilson oficial site)

Robert Wilson is a British author living in Portugal for many years. At this moment he lives in Redondo, a small village in Alentejo, and it is there that his latest books have been written. From the ten he already published two are related with Portugal: “A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON” (1999) and “THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS” (2001). Both of them center one important part of their action in the Portuguese WWII era, and that is the reason for a couple of questions to the author.

In the center of this conversation is specially the first book that focus on the badly known “wolfram war”, that only in the last years has been better revealed even in Portugal. Also this is one of the most important books from Wilson as he received the “1999 CWA Gold Dagger” award the “2003 International Deutsche Krimi Prize”.

Land in Portugal: Part of the action of the books you wrote about Portugal is taking place in the WWII period. Why have you choose that era and subject?

Robert Wilson: I had written four books set in Africa, and at that time Africa was not a very popular place for people to read about.

When I finished those books I was already living in Portugal for ten years. I thought: people knew more about Portugal; they felt more identified with the country, so maybe I should write something about it.

As I was already living here for a couple of years, I felt more comfortable writing about the place. I knew something about the people and the language.

It was then just a question to find the right subject. These were the 1990’s and I was reading a lot about Nazi Gold in the newspapers. I believed that maybe there could be a story for me related with the way it was coming from Germany, trough Spain, into Portugal and then mysteriously ending up in South America.

But as I thought more about it, gold did not looked such one exciting subject, strangely enough. My wife was doing some research with me in London and I told her to cross-reference gold and Portugal, and see what would come out.

She came back, very quickly, and told me that the gold was coming into the country during the period of Salazar, during WWII, because of wolfram.

What is Wolfram? - I asked, and she answered: “I don’t know”.

We found out that wolfram was tungsten, and when Hitler invaded Russia he cut himself off from the biggest supply of wolfram in the world that is China. That meant that – because he was fighting a particular kind of war, a tank war – it demanded lots of hardened steel, and the way you harden steel is using the alloy tungsten, so he had to find one alternative supply.

There was a little bit in Sweden – only about 300 tons - and most of it was in Portugal. At that time there were probably around 3000 tons in the country. So I thought here was one interesting possibility…

Land in Portugal: You searched and talked with Portuguese people trying to understand what was happening at the time. What’s the image you have of the country in the forties?

Robert Wilson: In England people write diaries and they keep records all the time, of what is happening. There are personal accounts and that sort of things. In Portugal this was the time of Salazar and people were afraid and so they didn’t keep that kind of accounts. That was the most difficult thing, finding information about what was happening.

When I went up to Fundão, for example, I met one journalist there and I asked for some newspapers from the 1940’s for research. He told me he could give them to me, but it would help me much because of the censorship of the time.

It was necessary to find people that had been around at that time. Meeting one or two people was enough to have one impression of what was going on: entire villages in Alentejo were just leaving their fields and coming up to the Beira, because a rock of Wolfram was worth a month’s money. There was this fever that went through Portugal. Suddenly there was a chance for everybody to make their fortune.

Land in Portugal: When you start digging into this period you get contradictory information. This was a fascist country with a big control over the population. But on this particular period it looks as if there was a loose of that control. It was at least a strange period.

Robert Wilson: That was certainly the first impression I had.

You see that there were centers of control, like Lisbon. You felt that that the city was under control. I remember some research I was making on people commenting the noise that people were making every night, at nine o’clock. It sounded like gunshots. But when asked you were told you that people were only allowed to beat their carpets at night. You realize that this was a very controlled society.

But in Beira suddenly there was not such control.

You also had lots of influences there. You had British there. You had Germans there. You had Portuguese and Spanish business people there.

There was also lots of smuggling going on also.

In the area there was not such control and there was money, and money makes people do things that they ordinarily would not do.

I remember trying to decide, just looking at a map, where the smuggling would have taken place. To me, looking, it looked that the Serra da Malcata, would be a good place for that to happen. I went up there and I verified that there is still smuggling going on there. Not Wolfram, but cigarettes.

They dump the cigarettes of the coast near Aveiro and then they are transporting trough that place…

Land in Portugal: What has surprised you more in your research?

Robert Wilson: It was surprising to me and I was very impressed by Salazar. He had a very difficult game to play.

He was between the Allies and the Axis. They were both applying pressure on him. The Axis was threatening him, basically saying we will cause trouble for you, we will attack your shipping, unless you do as you are told.

The Allies were saying we have the longest peace treaty ever, since 1386, so let’s be friends.

What Salazar did was just play this careful game. He tried to satisfy both sides, and in doing so, he made a tremendous amount of money ob Wolfram.

That was probably the most surprising thing. Salazar came out of WWII as a success story, and I did not expected that. He was a fascist, a great supporter and admirer of Mussolini. I thought he would have been tarnished with that association. But I don’t think he was. He came out of WWII looking very good. 

Oficial synopsis from "A small death in Lisbon"

1941. Berlin. Klaus Felsen, businessman and chancer, is drafted into the SS for a special entrepreneurial mission to Portugal. Reluctant to leave his successful, comfortable life in Berlin, the SS shows him he has no choice. And so he arrives in Lisbon and the strangest party in history, where Nazis and Allies, refugees and entrepreneurs dance to the strains of opportunism and despair. Felsen's war takes him to mines in the moutainous north where a brutal battle is being fought for an alloy vital to Hitler's blitzkrieg. There he meets the man who makes the first turn of the wheel of greed and revenge, which rolls through to the century's end.
Late 1990s. Lisbon. Inspector Zé Coelho, a widower with a young daughter, is investigating the murder of a troubled teenage girl. As he digs deeper into all levels of Lisbon society he overturns the dark soil of history and unearths old bones. The 1974 revolution has left some injustices of Salazar's fascist regime unresolved. But there's and older, greater injustice, for which this small death in Lisbon is horrific compensation, and in his final push for the truth Zé must face the most chilling of opposition.

Oficial synopsis  from "The company of strangers"

Lisbon 1944. In the torrid summer heat the streets of the Portuguese capital seethe with spies and informers while the endgame of the Intelligence war is silently being fought.
Andrea Aspinall, mathematician and spy, enters this sophisticated, dangerous world as a secretary for an oil company. She stays in the magnificent mansion of a sinister Irish businessman above the casino in Estoril.
Karl Voss, military attaché to the German Legation, arrives from the Eastern front on a secret mission to rescue Germany from complete annihilation.

In the lethal tranquillity of this corrupted paradise the two meet and attempt to find love in a world where no-one can be believed.
After a night of terrible violence, Andrea is left with a lifelong addiction to the clandestine world that takes her from the understated brutality of Salazar's fascist regime, to the paranoia of Cold War Berlin, where she is forced to make the final and the hardest choice.

You can find the oficial site from Robert Wilson here