histoire d'une forteresse volante abbattue à Saint-Colomban, près de Nantes, le 4 juillet 1943
1943 - 2004
July 3,4,5, 2004
# 42-5053
crash on July 4, 1943
in St-Colomban
Focke Wulf
into grand-lieu lake
10 young
american boys
B17 technical
Ralph D. McKee
(his escape)
Pilot escape
thanks to
american families
Ralph D. McKee escape

Lieutenant Ralph McKee, Londres, June 1943 11. Back to England

Several days later a prison official came to our cell and informed us that we were leaving the prison. The formalities of being released required some time in the prison office. Before I left, the prison commandant showed me the piece of molded black rubber that had been taken from me. The rubber had been stripped back and the hacksaw blade was bared. The commandant seemed extremely pleased to have finally discovered what the object was.

Our escort was a handsome, engaging Spanish Air Force major. He drove us to the resort town of Zaragoza in an official automobile. During the ride, I wondered how many thousand political prisoners might be serving sentences in other prisons in Spain. Many of the prisoners were still young. They couldn't have been more than boys when they were fighting in the civil war.

What would become of the young Frenchmen who had escaped into Spain with us? They had left France with the dream of fighting for their country. Would they ever realize that dream? The Spanish major registered us in an old resort hotel. We were required to stay within the town until further arrangements were completed. The hotel dining room served good food and I looked forward eagerly to mealtime. My weight was now about twenty pounds below normal and I was weakened by the dysentery. The hotel had a number of baths which were fed by warm mineral springs. I spent hours in the baths reading and relaxing. The mineral water seemed to have a beneficial effect on the sores that were caused by bites from the bugs that had inhabited the prison mattresses.

Several days later the Spanish major returned and drove us to Alhama. There would be several more days, he said, until we could leave Spain.

We had finished registering at the hotel when we were approached by a young man with a shaved head. He introduced himself as Lieutenant John Dunbar. John helped us get outfitted with clothes from a cache in the hotel. We spent enjoyable hours sipping beer and talking during the next few days. He had escaped from France with no organized help - a feat in itself - and had often gone for days without food and water.

The story of our trip out of Spain and our return to England is told in Dunbar's exciting book, "Escape Through The Pyrenees," and will not be repeated in detail. In brief, from Alhama, we were driven to Madrid where papers were arranged for us to leave the country. From Madrid, we traveled by automobile to Gibraltar where we were delivered to the United States military authorities. Several days later we flew to Marrakech and after a delay of several more days, we were flown back to England.

After returning to England (1), I attended a royal Air Force Intelligence school and later gave several lectures on my experiences to newly arrived bomber crews.

While attending the school, I learned that an unofficial emblem existed for airmen who completed their last mission on foot. Some former escapee had devised the emblem, which consisted of small silver boot with wings attached. It was symbolic of a mission I would never forget.

When I returned to my bomb group for a visit, there were many unfamiliar faces. Losses had been heavy during the summer of 1943. Perhaps some of my friends, if they were fortunate enough to evade capture, were now starting the adventure which I had completed.

The elapse of fourteen (2) and one half years has faded my memory of some of the exact dates and places that part of the events occurred. My memory will always remain bright, however, for the group of Frenchmen who risked death to help me.

The courage and fortitude of that group of Frenchmen - and other groups like them - symbolized the spirit and determination of a freedom-loving people in resisting oppression.


(1) Arrived in England on September 8, 1943, about 2 months after the crash in Saint-Colomban
(2) Ralph McKee wanted to write this story for years and finally did so in 1958 to satisfy a journalism requirement at the USAF Air Command and Staff College.

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1. Damaged engine
2. Parachute
3. Two young french
4. The farm
5. Around the lake
6. In the city
7. By train
8. By Bus
9. Spanish border
10.In prison
11.Back to England
Ralph McKee

RALPH D. McKEE, P.E., C.M., Lt. Col., was born Sept. 19, 1921 near Southard, OK. Joined the U.S. Army Air Corps on Feb. 22, 1942. Graduated from the Air Corps Navigation School. Mather Field, CA on Sept. 5, 1942. Flew with 366th Sqdn., 305th BG, 8th A.F., Chelveston, England, B-17, WWII.

Shot down near Nantes, France on July 4, 1943. Evaded capture, escaped into Spain and was interned briefly at Pamplona. Returned to England in Sept. 1943.

Performed B-29 navigation duties in the 370th Sqdn., 307th BG during the Korean War, and a variety of air training and research and development assignments until retiring from active duty Sept. 1, 1965. Since then has performed a number of engineering assignments supporting the Apollo and Shuttle programs at the Kennedy Space Center.