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Military Traditions

May 25, 2021 By Bill Rawlinson

Wrong Agents

There is an element of fun being assigned to a “Sneaky Pete” squadron. People raise an eyebrow when they ask about the mission and you reply, “Can’t say, no comment, it’s classified, etc.” If one had driven by our base in England attempting to determine our mission, they couldn’t. They would see the B-29 “Super Fortress,” the twin-engine cargo plane, the “Flying Boxcar,” and the amphibious SA-16 “Albatross.” Our wartime mission was the “introduction, resupply, and recovery of friendly agents behind enemy lines.” That is why a mix of aircraft. As part of our mission, we trained with people from several countries. Sometimes language could be a major problem. One day that point was proven!

An Albatross crew was to fly to a lake in Germany and pick up two German agents waiting in a boat and then fly back to England. The mission launched on time and everything seemed to be going well; however, enroute, the mission was canceled. The aircrew never received the message! Upon arrival, over the lake, they made a low pass, spotted two men in a boat and landed. As they taxied alongside the boat, they could see the men were fishing. Clever ruse! A problem arose: The two men did not speak English and no one on the aircrew spoke German. It’s OK, sign language works! The Germans boarded the aircraft believing it was to be a free sightseeing flight. The crew was delighted that everything went well. Flying back to home base, coffee and rations were served and the German “agents” relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

The first indication of problems was when the crew made radio contact with Operations at home base. A scream of “What two people?!” echoed through their headsets. “That mission was canceled! Who in the hell do you have on board?”

Upon landing, crew and passengers were met by the commander, British customs, and AF security police. Within minutes, it was obvious that a translator was needed. It was a SERIOUS problem: An American aircrew had brought into the UK, two German nationals without passports. Now the British, West German and American governments would have to be notified, the passengers held in detention, the aircrew would have to be interrogated and Air Force Headquarters in the UK and in Washington would have to be notified. Heads would roll! Meanwhile, the wives of the fisherman had notified German authorities that their husbands were lost, probably fallen overboard and drowned.

On base, all parties huddled. Finally, one brave person said what everyone was thinking. Why not refuel the airplane and have the crew fly them back to the lake? Each man looked at the other waiting for a sign of cowardice. All nodded, “Yes!” The exhausted crew was notified, the fishermen were told that they were going home, and the mission launched. To this day nobody knows about this international faux pas.

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