surviving crew has twenty
miles of ocean to swim
Scotland followed by letter from John Watson
afternoon in August 1944, a four engine Halifax
bomber aircraft from 614 Pathfinder Squadron was returning to its base
near the city of Foggia
in Southern Italy.
There was a fire in one engine. The
pilot, discovering his
aircraft’s wing was now also on fire, had to ditch his
burning plane into the Tyrrhenian
They were 20 miles out from the Italian
mainland. The fire had unfortunately burned the
dinghy, the crew’s main
means of survival in the ocean.
pilot was badly injured in the crash and other members of the crew had
struggle to begin their long swim to safety. Only two members of the
crew were able to swim the 20 miles needed to reach the
shore. It was a
phenomenal swim and it went on for 20 hours, all night and nearly
Italian fishermen picked up the two men, but one man died in the
boat. He had been the navigator for this flight. The other
man was Helmut
Isaak the father of well known United States Rabbi Isaak.
I've had a
bit of luck in tracing the son of Helmut Isaak. He is now a well-known
rabbi, who has won a reputation for his
attempts to influence a peaceful solution to the conflict in Israel.
father Helmut sadly passed away in San Francisco
in 1993. It
about 40 years ago Helmut committed his amazing story of survival
to paper and sent it to the "Readers Digest". At that time the
publication had been requesting human-interest stories from their
they refused to print his. Instead they sent back a typewritten note
that they didn’t believe his story, or that it could ever
Isaak was a German Jew who had fled Germany
in 1937 and had gone to Palestine.
It was from there that he had joined the RAF. After the war he had
returned to Palestine
and then had immigrated to America.
Isaak actually had letters from his father that were written just
time of the crash. He had apparently been treated like a hero by the
villagers with countless dinner invitations and invitations of marriage
managed to contact relatives of the air gunner, who perished when the Halifax
ditched in the
ocean. They were able to give me a little more of an insight into
whose real age at the time of his enlistment was actually 42. He had
out by the fact that his two younger brothers were fighting in the army
navy while he was in a reserved occupation in a margarine factory.
firstly engineering his own sacking from the factory he then'
RAF that he was a good deal younger than he really was. He served with
the Bomber Command squadrons in Britain
and then was transferred to 614 Pathfinder Squadron in Italy.
of the flooded tent you sent me doesn't paint a very complimentary
image of the
living quarters for an elite Pathfinder Squadron. Not
quite the home comforts
one might have been looking for after a perilous night in air battles
part of Southern Europe! A great picture
in Tom’s book “Voice
from the Stars a Pathfinders Story”.
John Watson - nephew of the Halifax bomb aimer, who
perished in this
John is author of "The Forgotten Men"
published 2003, the story of five men of 104/ 614 squadrons
PO Box 6142
South Bunbury, WA