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and the surviving crew has twenty miles of ocean to swim

Introduction by Tom Scotland followed by letter from John Watson # #

One afternoon in August 1944, a four engine Halifax bomber aircraft from 614 Pathfinder Squadron was returning to its base at Amendola 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 Sea. They were 20 miles out from the Italian mainland. The fire had unfortunately bu614 Squadron Halifax Pathfinder Aircraftrned the aircraft’s dinghy, the crew’s main means of survival in the ocean.

The pilot was badly injured in the crash and other members of the crew had to struggle to begin their long swim to safety. Only two members of the plane’s 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 all-next day. Italian fishermen picked up the two men, but one man died in the fishermen’s 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.

Rabbi Isaak said his father Helmut sadly passed away in San Francisco in 1993. It seems that 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 readers, but they refused to print his. Instead they sent back a typewritten note saying that they didn’t believe his story, or that it could ever have happened.

Helmut 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. Rabbi Isaak actually had letters from his father that were written just around the time of the crash. He had apparently been treated like a hero by the Italian villagers with countless dinner invitations and invitations of marriage besides!

I have 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 'Mitch', whose real age at the time of his enlistment was actually 42. He had been put out by the fact that his two younger brothers were fighting in the army and the navy while he was in a reserved occupation in a margarine factory. After firstly engineering his own sacking from the factory he then' persuaded' the RAF that he was a good deal younger than he really was. He served with one of the Bomber Command squadrons in Britain and then was transferred to 614 PathfinderConditions for flying crew 614 Pathfinder squadron Southern Italy 1944 Squadron in Italy.

The photo 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 over some part of Southern Europe! A great picture nonetheless!

Read more in Tom’s book “Voice from the Stars a Pathfinders Story”.

 # # John Watson - nephew of the Halifax bomb aimer, who perished in this crash.
John is author of "
The Forgotten Men" published 2003, the story of  five men of 104/ 614 squadrons


Tom Scotland DFC                              Email us 
PO Box 6142
South Bunbury, WA
Australia 6230

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