Sunday, December 15, 2019

Travel Between the Reich and Allies During World War II

Do You Feel Lucky? Well, Do You?

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Lucky children leaving Lisbon, Portugal during World War II. Well, they were lucky as long as their ship wasn't sunk.
Let's say that you wanted to travel between Berlin and Moscow during the height of World War II. Was that possible? The answer is yes, and it wasn’t even particularly difficult. However, it was dangerous and quite time-consuming. The question came down to how much risk you were willing to take. Shorter journeys meant more risk, while safer journeys took much longer. No matter how you chose to make the journey, it involved more time and risk than during peacetime. There were no safe routes and no quick routes, but some routes were quicker and safer than others.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
While traveling through Portugal, you had to pass muster with the PVDE, shown here.
The standard route for travel between the two powers was through neutral Lisbon. For a brief time, the capital of neutral Portugal became the major world transit hub because it offered the safest link between the Axis powers and the Allies. Any free person in the Reich could make it to Lisbon was unimpeded, though they might have some difficulty explaining to the authorities why they needed to go there. Travel through Portugal was closely monitored by the PVDE (Policia de Vigilancia e de Defesa do Estado, or “State Surveillance and Defense Police,” which weeded out political undesirables. Assuming that you made it to Lisbon, the world was open to you. All travel within the Reich required special papers which were checked by train conductors. You would be arrested without them - so you had better have permission or be willing to walk.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Luft Hansa operated throughout World War II. Here, Luft Hansa Ju 52 D-AJAN "Rudolf Berthold" flies into Dresden in August 1935.
The downside to this route was that Lisbon was crawling with spies, double agents, and informants throughout the war because everyone wanted to keep tabs on what the other guys were doing. Once spotted in Lisbon, you went on a list that you probably didn't want to be on. The Germans allowed people to use Lisbon as their gateway and even used it themselves at times, but you weren't really safe until you got across the Portuguese border. Getting to the border was fairly routine if you had the right permissions, as there were regular Deutsche Luft Hansa A.G. (predecessor of the current Lufthansa) flights from Berlin to Madrid right up until April 1945. From Madrid, the border was a fairly easy drive.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Refugee ship Serpa Pinto provided a way out of Lisbon to the Allied powers during World War II.
Once safely in Lisbon, you had a variety of options. One option was a refugee freighter such as the Serpa Pinto, but there was a lot of demand for tickets. There also were regular civilian BOAC air flights from the United Kingdom to Lisbon throughout World War II. These were regular but could be hazardous, as there was no wartime immunity given to these civilian flights. Actor Leslie Howard, for instance, was shot down on 1 June 1943 on one of these “safe” flights. Let's assume that your ultimate destination was Moscow. Once in London, you had a panoply of options: for instance, you could board an Arctic convoy and run the risk of air or U-boat attack. Or, you could join a convoy around Cape Town to Iran if you wanted and only run the risk of being torpedoed. Once in Iran, it was a simple (though hardly pleasurable due to wartime deprivations) trip into the USSR. That was a long trip, however, so you couldn't count on finishing that kind of journey in less than a few months.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
The Pacific route allowed travel between the Soviet Union and the United States during World War II. However, you had to pass the US Navy - and that could be dangerous. USS Sunfish is shown here. Sunfish mistakenly sank Soviet-flagged freighter Ob in the Sea of Okhotsk on 6 July 1944.
Of course, once in the United Kingdom, you could cross to the United, and that opened up another option. You could use the Pacific route into the Soviet Union. Perhaps counter-intuitively, your greatest danger on this route was from the Allies, not the Axis as the US Navy sank six Soviet ships "by mistake." After its epic defeat at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol in August 1939, Japan never wanted to go to war with the USSR and was quite wary about provoking it. Japan routinely permitted Soviet-flagged ships to transit between Vladivostok and the US even during the most bitter fighting of World War II as long as they did not contain war materials. Some clever European refugees used this route to reach San Francisco. The possibility of “accidentally” being sunk along the way, which happened infrequently in the Pacific, was simply part of life during the war. Of course, having your ship sunk could happen either in the Atlantic or the Pacific. This was a long and tedious route but among the safer routes.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Luftwaffe planes such as these Junkers Ju88C interceptors patrolled the skies over the Bay of Biscay. Planes similar to these shot down the flight carrying the actor Leslie Howard from England to Lisbon on 1 June 1943.
If you could not make it to Lisbon for some reason, there were other options. A more dangerous but potentially quicker route was through neutral Sweden. Sweden, like Spain, played both sides against the middle during World War II. It maintained regular trading relationships with both sides, though these could be hazardous. A fairly quick ferry ride out of Copenhagen, Denmark to Sweden would put you in the position to make a hard choice. Once in Stockholm, you could try to make the fairly short hop over to the USSR. This would have taken you past both Finnish and Wehrmacht forces and been very hazardous. If you made it from Stockholm to Leningrad by either flying at night or making special sea arrangements (risking mines or interception by air or sea). One in Leningrad, you would have to continue your journey over Lake Ladoga (also somewhat perilous), after which you could continue on your way in relative safely to Moscow.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Swedish tanker Castor, a lejdtrafiken blockade runner from Sweden to the Allies which traveled via the Skagerrak. Castor was sunk in the North Atlantic on 31 March 1941. 
If you didn't want to risk traveling through one of the most bitter corridors of the war to Leningrad, Sweden also maintained regular trade with England and the United States. This was done by using blockade runners (lejdtrafiken, aka Gothenburg traffic). Once in Great Britain or the United States, you had the same choices as if you had traveled through Lisbon. The lejdtrafiken route, however, had its own peculiar dangers. Ten out of the 79 ships used on this route were sunk (out of 459 transits).

BOAC began covert air flights during the night of 2 March 1941 between Scotland and Stockholm, virtually passing over Luftwaffe airfields where night fighters were based. Lufthansa also maintained regular passenger flights within the Reich, but they didn't go quite so close to enemy fighters. The flights enabled a trickle of trade past the German blockade in the Baltic and also provided a rare source of British input (documents, passengers, special equipment) to isolated Sweden. Sweden happened to be a major producer of ball bearings and supplies both sides with them throughout the conflict.

The flights were rare at first but increased with time. They received a variety of nicknames, including "The Ball-bearing Line" (for the cases of ball bearings flown out of Sweden) to "Bashful Gertie, the terror of the Skagerrak" to the official military code name, "Scrutator." The Royal Norwegian Air Transport generally crewed the flights and various aircraft (such as a Polish airline Lockheed 14) were used, with their quality increasing with time. While many ascribe this operation to the Air Transport Command of the Royal Air Force and give it the credit, in fact, the Air Transport Command is not in existence yet and will not be until 11 March 1943. So, give BOAC the credit for these flights. If you were looking to get out of the Reich zone of control, maybe you could hitch a ride.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Turkish Heinkel He-111 bombers fly over the Bosphorus in 1939 during chemical warfare exercises.
A final option for traveling from Berlin to Moscow lay to the southeast. You could not just the Orient Express (the Express d'Orient began running in 1883) during World War II because service was suspended. However, there were ways to get to neutral Istanbul and then continue your journey from there to the USSR. Once in the Black Sea area, you would be traveling through a war zone, and this could be very dangerous. There were some infamous incidents of non-combatant vessels being sunk in the Black Sea by both sides. In one famous example, Soviet submarine Shch-213 torpedoed refugee vessel Struma just off the Turkish coast on 24 February 1942. Almost everyone aboard perished, so you were dicing with death by traveling on the Black Sea. However, on the bright side, it was a fairly quick and easy route if you survived.

Routes out of Europe during World War II
Make no mistake, travel between Occupied Europe and the Allies was always dangerous. The actor Leslie Howard was killed when his flight was shot down on 1 June 1943. 
If forced to make the journey, I’d prefer to take a longer route rather than travel through an active war zone, but maybe you would be in a hurry. You certainly had options for traveling between Berlin and Moscow at any time during World War II. You would choose your route based on which kind of risks you preferred and how long you were willing to travel. Were I to do it without any special military help, I’d use Lisbon as my gateway and find a freighter around Cape Town and make sure I knew lifeboat procedures. All you had to do was accept the risk, there was some element of risk no matter which route you chose.


No comments:

Post a Comment