Thursday, November 21, 2013

Unrelated But Related: Kapitein Luitenant Francis Steinmetz

- The Telegraph, Feb 2006

Kapitein Luitenant Francis Steinmetz, who has died aged 91, completed a successful "home run" escape from Colditz Castle by descending from the middle of a British rugby scrum into a manhole beneath the pitch.
He and Luitenant Etienne Larive, a fellow officer in the Dutch Royal Navy, hid in the hole for some hours while the German guards searched elsewhere after another Dutch officer had allowed himself to be captured with a pair of wire cutters. The manhole's cover was secured with a steel bolt, which the two escapers replaced with a glass replica which they could shatter by pushing from below.
After climbing out in the dark they replaced the original, walked off the field, which was outside the castle walls, and climbed over a wire fence and a wall before setting off for Ramsen on the Swiss border. They decided to head there because Larive had been told it was the best crossing point when he was interrogated after being captured in a previous escape attempt.
His German interrogation officer had arrogantly pointed it out on a map, and Larive memorised the location and later identified it on an escape committee map at Colditz.
Steinmetz and Larive travelled for 30 hours by train and on foot before entering Switzerland on August 18 1941.
On their arrival, they were confronted by the local police chief, who required them to sign a parole declaring that they would not attempt to escape, and then told them that they could live in freedom and safety there. If the pair decided to escape, the police chief told them, all they had to do was ring him up and tell him they were withdrawing their parole.
The phone call was never made. Taking advantage of a sealed train in which neutrals were able to pass through France into Spain, the Dutch Legation arranged for Steinmetz and Larive to travel as sugar planters on their way to Cuba. They were disguised to make them look over 40, which was considered over the age for combatants; provided with passports and visas; and given tickets for a neutral ship, Isla de Teneriffe, which was sailing for Havana from Barcelona.
As the ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar the Royal Navy, which had been forewarned that two unusual passengers were aboard, sent a cutter alongside. A sub-lieutenant came aboard, placed the two Dutchmen under armed guard and took them off the ship amid protests from the captain and cheers from the 300 Jewish passengers. Steinmetz recorded that the young British officer, who seemed to revel in his role, had had the foresight to bring a bottle of whisky, which he felt marked him out as a future admiral.

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