38 day’s behind enemy lines in Brabant
The following is a narrative of William F. Baker, an American ‘Kampina soldier’. Baker was one of three crew members that bailed out of a C-47 transport aircraft before it crashed in Brabant. Baker and two of his fellow crew members were helped by the Dutch underground who kept them from falling in to enemy hands.
William F. Baker, 2nd Lt, A.C., 0-2059865, 72nd Troop Carrier Squadron, 434 Troop Carrier Group, APO 133, U.S. Army.
‘On September 17, 1944 I, William F Baker, 2nd Lt., was co-pilot on a C-47 number 316033 B plus; piloted by 1st Lt. Donald A Pahlow, Radio Operator S/Sgt. Rollin D. Ellis and Crew Chief Cristopher T/Stg S. Domitrovich. This was the thirteenth trip of our new plane and the mission was a paratroop drop with the “LZ” just across the Wilhelmina canal east of Best, Holland.
Captain William Wade, A.C., 0-902714 and intelligence Officer, and Tom A. Hoge, Cpl., 32335600, War correspondent, were going along with us to take pictures and report on the mission.
Everything went along as planned until we had dropped out troopers on the “DZ” and began to come back. We were fired upon on the way in but were not hit. We could see the bullets and tracers coming from our left. However, just after we made our 180 degree turn and started out over the same area were we had received fire all hell broke loose. We were just over Boxtel Holland when we saw Lt. Nixdorf’s plane burst in to flames. I saw two men leave the plane but I watched them as they fell into the middle of the town and observed that no chutes opened. Just about this time I felt the jar of a direct hit on our plane. The Crew Chief told us we were on fire but it was not until I felt the jar of a second burst that we heard them calling us on the radio telling us we were on fire and had to jump. Lt. Pahlow immediately yelled to the others to get ready to jump. By the time he and I got out of our seats, removed our Flak suits and snapped on our chutes I figured it was time to get out, so I wasted no time getting any equipment. I had a khaki shirt, O.D. pants, G.I. Shoes and dog tags only. Pahlow had not distributed the purses and my kit was in my A-2 Jacket that I left on the plane. Ellis, Hoge, Dimitrovish and I jumped and I remember Pahlow was fiddling with Wade’s chute when I left. He told me to go ahead and I thought they were ready to go.
I could see guns just below me and did not want to make myself a dead target so I delayed my chute until I was at approximately 300 feet, though it was 1200 feet when I jumped from the plane. The chute opened, caught me and I had a few seconds to tug at the lines to keep from falling on some high-tension wires before I was on the ground. Remembering the advice given at the briefings I lay low in the bushes for 30 hours, even though it had been raining all the time and I had nothing to eat or drink. Monday night I began to walk over the area getting the lay of the land. I remember the map from briefings and I used the North star as a guide. I found German sentries along the rail road on the east and couldn’t find a bridge across the canal that wasn’t blown up. I passed a heated battle along the canal but passed along unnoticed. Convinced that I couldn’t get that way I went back north crossing the highway to Tilburg on which were German troops moving in force. I lay in a haystack the remainder of the night and knew I would have to do something come the dawn.
I awoke in a field adjoining a machine-gun battle and approached an old woman and young boy milking cows. I told them I was American and was cold and hungry. They gave me some warm milk and the boy gave me a coat. In spite of the fact that we were in sight of Germans marching to Best, they took me to the farm house and put me by a stove and gave me food. They sent for a Priest from a nearby monastery that could speak English and he fixed his own room for me to stay in. I put on peasants’ clothes and clogs and went to the monastery where I stayed for about four days. One day I sat in the second story window while Germans fired with rifles at our own planes in the air overhead. One day I was told that there were two other Americans in the area and since I was an officer they asked if I wanted to be taken where we could all be together. I found out they were Ellis and Dimitrovich from the same plane so I fixed it so I would be taken to a certain place in the woods about two hours walk away by day and then at night the other two would be brought here. Everything went as planned and the three of us managed to get together. Food was brought from a nearby farmhouse even though there were Germans in the house most of the time.
we were kept informed of events. I was interested in trying to make it back to our lines and tried to find out the odds of making it safely. We were told that we couldn’t have much hope of making it due east but had a 90% chance of making it by swimming the canal to our troops on the other side. However, Dimitrovich couldn’t swim and I wasn’t willing to attempt it since he was deathly afraid of water, so we just had to wait it out. After about ten day’s or two weeks (I couldn’t keep a diary as I was afraid the Jerry’s would find out who had helped us) the civilians had to evacuate this area so the G’s could use the farm houses themselves. So, one night the people came to us and told us we must move immediately to another place about two hours walk from there. The young fellow that had hid Ellis and Dimitrovich came there and he went with us. He also had seen Hoge captured by the G’s and taken away on a truck. Packing everything on our back we marched for a couple of hours due west to this new place about twenty minutes’ walk from the farm house where the kid would bring us food. The Germans moved in and put dynamite under a bridge across a canal near there (perpendicular to the Wilhelmina) and they posted a sentry to guard. Since they had to pass by the sentry to get food to us, they brought food to last three days and we were left to our fate temporarily. We knew Germans were at the other farmhouse and we could hear rifle fire at intervals. One thing that worried us was that so many people knew we were there and that is always dangerous, especially since so many were woman. Again we discussed the possibility of escape and we had the kid go all over the area to see how many G’s were in each area. Again we found that to swim the canal was the only probable way out but I couldn’t leave Dimitrovich, even though the kid wanted to go along with us and guide us. Too, there was the threat that this area would be evacuated and we had no other place to go.
The three day’s lengthened to four or five and we thought we were deserted. But one night the farmer came to us and told us the kid had not returned from Tilburg. To secure our position, we were moved one night to a small tent erected by a fellow at the farm. It was within sight of the farm and we had to talk in a whisper since there were paths on either side of us. We camouflaged the tent, sat ore lay in cramped positions and awaited further developments. It rained all the time and the tent leaked badly. Finally the blow came and the area had to be evacuated by noon of that day. The kid knew of a man in the next town of Moergestel that might take care of us. Having no one else to turn to, we put on civilian clothes (except our GI shoes), put a rolled-up blanket under our arms and struck out. The kid walked by himself and we followed just keeping him in sight. We knew we were taking a great chance for we had no identification and we had to walk along the main highway for at least an hour. The Jerries all looked at our GI shoes but luckily, none of them stopped us, though the highway had lots of traffic, bicycles, autos, trucks, motorcycles; both enlisted men and officers. Just about dark we had contacted the man of the underground and we were taken to a farm north of the town where we were taken care of for the night. We were told that the G’s had dug in along the canal and had mined it, so it was impossible to try to break out.
They did know where forty-seven Americans were hiding in the woods and they would take us to them in the next morning. We were well fed, listened to the radio and slept in the barn on the hay. We cleaned up the next morning and the fellow came to show us to where the American troops were. A Dutch girl and a Dutch boy were to go with us to talk to any Jerries that might ask questions. We walked for a couple of hours through the town of Oisterwijk to near Boxtel and with G’s all around but we had no mishaps. We found that other fellows had come into the woods and that we made 100 American and English troops in the wood. (F/O Jacobson of my outfit was in the bunch and we stayed together.) The underground was very helpful and kept us informed of events and conditions. They also kept us supplied after a fashion with food although some day’s the rations were very short and at best it was a couple of slices of black bread with some butter and jelly or sugar. It tasted good, however.
All of the troops were well armed and eager for a battle. Some of them wanted to try to fight their way through the G’s lines and get to our own lines, but we kept them from it until we had a good chance of getting through. Five German soldiers were brought in by the underground and they were deserters who had helped the underground. We let them keep their guns and sleep with us. There was one Austrian, one Czech, one French, one Pole and one German. We used them for patrol duty in their own uniform. One day we counted the different nationalities and counting Americans as one, there were eleven. We called it the Foreign Legion. We were cleaning German guns and they were cleaning ours, all in the same dugout. One was a former officer reduced to a Corporal. He was said to have been active in the Hitler Plot.
One day the underground came in with the news that the long-waited push had started on all fronts in Holland and we were elated. The English send out a patrol and shot a German Officer and captured six Germans who were manning a machine gun nest within sight of our woods.The same day news came in that English tanks were sighted on the opposite side of the canal east of Boxtel and that the G’s were making a delaying retreat from the town. They were digging in from three sides of our woods on the way out and 88 guns were all around. That evening as the G’s moved out of Boxtel along the main woods and by ways west of the town. We went in east parallel to them in the woods and reached the town just about dark. We did not fire a shot and we and our eleven prisoners marched into the town amid thundering shouts and welcomes of the people. We were the first troops into the town. That night we drank five-year-old Scotch, wine, Cognac and celebrated with the people.
The next morning about 08.30hrs an English tank came into the town to liberate the town and saw us already there. “Were in the Hell did you Yanks come from?” Then the town was officially liberated and it was something to experience. American airborne went out in the town and brought three more Jerry prisoners in. The next day F/O Jacobson and myself went to the cemetery and saw the grave of Harry Dunbar, Radio Operator on Lt. Nixdorf’s plane. The sister who saw him said he was burned badly and he was crushed from the fall. There was another grave of an unidentified American. On the way out of town we saw the grave of Lt. Charles F Nixdorf and the co-pilot, Lt Crawley. The ones in the cemetery were buried in good boxes but Nixdorf and Crawley were just in the ground without a box. I went to Eindhoven and from there to Nijmegen, then to Brussels. I was behind the lines 38 days, some good, some terrible, but everyone filled with a great hope and faith that I would get out alive by the grace of God. The people of Holland were wonderful and risked a fate worse than death for us every day. I appreciate it and thank them.