Post #16

Major-General Alois Siska

25th September 2003, lunch time | Comments (0)

A dandelion

The behaviour and bravery of people during war time never ceases to amaze me. Here the Daily Telegraph reports on the death of Major-General Alois Siska:

Major-General Alois Siska, who has died aged 89, spent six days in an open dinghy on the North Sea before being captured on the Dutch coast and sent to Colditz Castle; however, when he returned to Prague from two years’ hospital treatment in England after the war, he was not welcomed as a hero, but jailed and forced to do menial jobs.

On December 28 1941, “Lou” Siska — as he was known to fellow members of the RAF’s all-Czech 311 Squadron — piloted a Wellington bomber in a raid on Wilhelmshaven docks on the German coast. He was turning for home after dropping his load when his port engine caught fire. Shortly afterwards, the engine fell off, and the aircraft ditched.

Siska was knocked out as his head struck the instrument panel; but he was revived by the rising waters and managed to climb out on to the port wing. Although swept off by a wave, he hung on until he was rescued by four members of his crew who had scrambled aboard a dinghy; the rear gunner had gone down with the aircraft.

A floating mine narrowly passed them by; several ships in the night failed to respond to their signals. On New Year’s Day they sighted a seagull, indicating that land was close, and one of the crew suggested that they try to catch it in order to drink its blood; but they were too weak to make the effort.

After two of the crew had died and one had passed out, Siska and his front-gunner decided to end their lives with drugs from the medical box. But a cocktail of these mixed with sea-water did not have the required effect, and they now discovered that the dinghy was sinking. As they attempted to tip their two dead into the sea, the front-gunner sighted land. Later that day, they were washed up on the Dutch coast and taken prisoner.

Siska’s time in the dinghy had left him with frostbitten legs, and gangrene had set in. He was taken first to a naval hospital at Alkmaar, then to a military hospital in Amsterdam, where it was decided to amputate his legs. As he was placed on the operating table, Siska had a heart attack.

All thoughts of amputation were shelved. Alternative methods of saving his legs were attempted, and he responded in some measure to the treatment. Six months later, Siska was moved to Germany where he was confined to several PoW camps until the Gestapo sent him to Prague in July 1944.

Since Czechoslovakia had been incorporated into the Reich, Siska was charged with espionage and high treason and sent to Colditz to await a court martial. He was lucky that the Gestapo was diverted by the July Bomb Plot against Hitler; the Red Cross also intervened, saying that Czechs in the RAF were British for the duration of the war.

Siska spent 10 months in the fortress, but the day before the Americans arrived he was moved to another camp, where some 300 Allied soldiers wounded at Dunkirk were awaiting liberation.

A few days later, the 12 young German soldiers at this camp abandoned their guardroom to the prisoners. Seven more Germans arrived who, having been persuaded by the senior British medical officer that the war had virtually ended, fled to a nearby forest to cook a meal; but, when an American fighter strafed them, they ran off.

Believing that the Germans’ meal would be too good to waste, Siska went out to collect it. As he returned, 12 more Germans turned up, and were promptly made prisoners by Siska and his fellow inmates who had found weapons abandoned in the guardroom.

The following day, Siska hobbled out on his crutches with a white sheet to greet a column of American tanks. He was transferred to Brussels and then flown to RAF Manston on his 31st birthday, before being sent to Sir Archibald McIndoe’s burns and plastic surgery unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. It took Siska two years to recover the partial use of his legs there.

Jump up to the start of the post


No comments have been made for this post.

Jump up to the start of the post

Add your comment

I'm sorry, but comments can no longer be posted to this blog.