An attempt to recover a Spitfire from a peat bog in Donegal, Ireland reveals the peculiar story of men - both Allied and German - who spent much of World War II in internment camps in Dublin.
From BBC News: The WWII camp where Allies and Germans mixed
NORTHERN IRELAND 1941: A routine Sunday afternoon sortie, 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 served on the front line from the first to the last day of the war. Bailing out was no easy task.
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 WWII.
The pilot was 23-year-old Roland "Bud" Wolfe, an RAF officer from 133 "Eagle" Squadron, a unit composed entirely of Americans.
Bud 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.
South of the border from (British) Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland 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 City of Derry Airport, in Northern Ireland just 13 miles away, but to Curragh Camp, County Kildare, 175 miles to the south.
Bud Wolfe was very keen to get back into action
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.
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.
CURRAGH INTERNMENT CAMP:
- 140 Germans, mainly Luftwaffe and U-boat crew
- 100 Allied servicemen from Poland, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and sole American Bud Wolfe
- There were also 400 IRA internees in the camp
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 dark hour, 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.
Bud Wolfe's epic story did not end with his death; thanks to the highly unusual nature of the Irish peat bog where his Spitfire crashed, a team of archaeologists is attempting to dig up his aircraft.
Dan Snow is following the attempt to recover Bud Wolfe's Spitfire in County Donegal and will be posting updates via the Twitter account @DigWW2.
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