The Shelburne Escape Line: Secret Rescues of Allied Aviators by the French Underground, the British Royal Navy and London's MI-9

By Agoratus, Steven | Air Power History, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

The Shelburne Escape Line: Secret Rescues of Allied Aviators by the French Underground, the British Royal Navy and London's MI-9


Agoratus, Steven, Air Power History


The Shelburne Escape Line: Secret Rescues of Allied Aviators by the French Underground, the British Royal Navy and London's MI-9. By Reanne Hemingway-Douglass and Don Douglass. Anacortes Washington: Cave Art Press, 2014. Photographs. Maps. Glossary Diagrams. Bibliography Pp. xxiv, 197. $18.95 ISBN: 978-1-934199-05-3

This book is about evasion, escape, the French Resistance, life under the enemy in occupied France, downed airmen, and the strategic air war that brought them all together. It is told from the perspective of military intelligence agents, Resistance members and civilians, and evaders who made it back to England. The namesake section relates the planning, organizing and execution of an evade-and-escape organization in the Brittany area of France, termed the Shelburne Line by its British military intelligence (MI-9) planners, that returned Allied airmen to England during the first six months of 1944. Downed aircrew were located, authenticated (to prevent enemy infiltration), provided fake identity papers and disguises, and hidden in attics and basements. Gradually they were moved--sometimes right past enemy patrols--to a safe house on the Brittany coast, where a Royal Navy torpedo boat would pick them up. Seven such operations removed just over 100 men. Hemingway-Douglas is a writer with extensive works on nautical and outdoor subjects to her credit. Studying in France just after the war, she became interested in the lives of the people who endured the occupation.

Included are accounts of downed airmen: Gordon Carter, an RAF Halifax bombardier-navigator who was smuggled back to England in a fishing boat; Chick Blakley, a B-24 gunner evacuated overland into Spain and Gibraltar; and Ken Sorgenffei, a B-24 pilot who was simply concealed in the French Alps until the Allies liberated Grenoble

Examples of how civilians became involved in the Resistance are found in the stories of Robert Janin, a student whose town in Vichy France faced constant enemy surveillance, arrest, and reprisals; and Marie-Therese Le Meur-Jouvent, a schoolgirl in Brittany wounded by strafing on D-Day, who struggled to get home through enemy patrols on the rails and roads and amid strafing and bombing by Allied aircraft that attacked anything that moved. …

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