Newport's War Dead

formerly Newport, Monmouthshire, UK

The one or two that almost got away!

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Following his arrest Oberleutnant Harry Wappler was sent to the No. 13 PoW camp at the Shap Wells hotel located in the Lake District, Cumbria between Kendall and Penrith.

On the Sunday 23rd November 1941, a foggy day, the two German officers, both pilots hid in a wood pile within the camp until it was dark and using wooden pliers made by the PoW's, opened the wire allowing them to reach the nearby railway and stow away on a train heading for Carlisle which was climbing the 1 in 75 Shap Bank.

These officers were fighter pilot Lt. Heinz Schnabel and Heinkel pilot Oblt. Harry Wappler that parachuted to safety over Newport when his aircraft was brought down by a barrage balloon killing his three crew members and the two children in the house it landed on.


Shap Wells PoW camp sketch

Leutnant Heinz-Georg Moellenbrock's sketch of the Shap Wells camp


The pre-planning of the escape included the preparation and forgery of identification documents that said that both Schnabel and Wappler were supposedly Dutch airmen and the men wore flying jackets over their German uniforms.

On reaching the Carlisle area, they went to RAF Kingstown later known as RAF Carlisle (No. 15 Elementary Flying Training School) and in an act of sheer bravado, bluffed their way onto the camp with the help of their forged documents. Alan Gaydon, an air apprentice was completely unaware of their true identity, entered and started up a Miles Magister RAF aircraft of which there were a number used for pilot training on the airfield which they then took off in and headed south.

On the journey south,  the aircraft started to run short of fuel as it had been used the previous day and had been parked separately from the other aircraft, reason why these men chose it and on finding another RAF airfield landed and and again bluffed their way into getting the fuel tanks of the aircraft filled up again.


Miles Magister

Mile Magister aircraft


This time they headed for Nazi occupied Holland and as the journey across the open water of the North Sea continued, they realised that the Miles Magister did not have the fuel range to get them to Holland. Reluctantly they knew, for their own safety’s sake that they would have to turn around and head back to England.

They landed in a field about 5 miles north of Great Yarmouth and still pretending to be Dutch airmen they were taken to the RAF Bomber airfield at Horsham St. Faith now Norwich airport in East Anglia. By this time, news of the theft of the Miles Magister had been transmitted around the country and the two men were arrested

They were given a punishment of 28 days solitary confinement for their escapade and then shipped to Canada for the remainder of their interment.

Some information in this article contributed by Steve Simpson, manager of the Shap Wells Hotel



© Shaun McGuire 2008