Escape from Switzerland

Oscar Sampson's and John Garcia's escape
after their theft of the Nazi Consulate plaque
Sampson and Garcia were among the first American internees to successfully escape from Switzerland and reach their home base in England. The incident that led to their early escape was their theft of the Nazi plaque prominently displayed on the front of the German Consulate. The theft was the culmination of a series of pranks the American officers played on the Germans.  First arriving in Davos Platz on June 24, the Americans had wasted no time in acting out their frustrations on the Germans. The first major incident was the firing of home-made fireworks and rockets at the German Consulate on July 4, 1944, to celebrate America's Independence Day.

The most famous incident between the Americans and the resident Germans, however, was the theft of the Nazi insignia on the outside of the German Consulate building on Sunday, August 6, 1944, by Sampson and Garcia. As a result of the theft, the Germans pressured the Swiss to charge the two officers with tresspass, theft and vandalism. The Consulate building, of course, was sovereign German territory. After the theft and subsequent investigation, Garcia and Sampson were under house arrest at the Palace Hotel until August 16, when they were to be sent to the dreaded Wauwilermoos punishment camp by order of Gen. Legge, the American military attaché.

Garcia (left) and Sampson sitting in front of the Palace Hotel, under house arrest.
Note the 20 bomb symbols on Garcia's jacket, signifying 20 missions as a bombardier. Also, note the large insignia on each jacket - "The Swiss Theater of Inactivity".
Photo courtesy of Paula Scherrer-Buol.

The threat of facing imprisonment at the infamous Wauwilermoos punishment camp prompted their pre-arranged escape. When the police arrived on August 16 to take them to "Wauwil", the officers had already escaped.  The other participants in the theft, two young Swiss men, had obviously risked imprisonment, but they were not identified by the two Americans during the investigation, and thereby remained free to help their American friends escape. These two Swiss became the core of the first organized group of Swiss citizens assisting Americans to escape. Swiss citizens who were caught helping escapees were subject to imprisonment and then exile from their homeland, which was a punishment worse than that facing the Americans!

Garcia and Sampson spent a week hiding in Geneva at the home of a Swiss IBM executive before crossing the border into Nazi controlled France to meet up with the French underground. Southern France had been invaded on August 15, Grenoble was reached by August 22, but the lines had not advanced much past Grenoble, almost 100 miles from Geneva, by August 28. Garcia and Sampson probably left Geneva around August 23. According to Garcia's family, when they reached Lyon, the German garrison had not yet surrendered, probably because they feared their fate at the hands of the Maquis. The French had Sampson and Garcia dress as American paratroopers to convince the Germans to surrender. According to Parramore's notes, Sampson and Garcia met up with an American captain in the OSS near Annecy. The two escapees joined the captain and the French Underground for an "adventurous week" in and around Annecy before being guided to the American front lines in Nice. Note from the map cited below that Nice was just beyond the American lines on August 28. Their journey home continued on to Italy, then Casablanca, then on to their base at Podington. An initial escape report was dated August 29.

Upon their return to England, they were put up at a very nice hotel. Unfortunately, German V-1 buzz bombs were falling in London, so they decided that the comfort of their hotel was less desirable than the safety of their officers' hut back in Podington.

See a map of the front lines in southern France during August, 1944.

Read the Official Investigation Report on the theft.

Read the Letter from Gen. Legge requesting that Sampson and Garcia be sent to Wauwilermoos.

Read the Letter of Regret from the American Camp Commandant.

Read a Series of Letters written by Oscar Sampson after the escape.

John Steichen's and Woody Parramore's escape

The incident that sparked the escape of John Steichen and Woody Parramore was a bar fight on October 6, 1944, involving Steichen and a Swiss that he suspected of being an undercover policeman. Anticipating being arrested and sent to Wauwilermoos, Steichen told Parramore that he planned to escape, and Parramore joined him.

They started their escape on foot from Davos the night of October 7. Instead of heading south towards Geneva, the best place to cross into France near the Allied front, they decided to head north, and visit their wounded crew mate, Roy Hommer, before they left Switzerland. They were able to reach Sargans before Parramore's feet became so sore that they had to stop. They then bought train tickets to get to Rorschach, where they saw Hommer. Roy was now well enough to walk around in the hospital.

With the help of the American Consul, Steichen and Parramore took a train to Zurich, where Parramore remained to have his feet tended to. Steichen set out for Bern by train, where he stayed overnight at the American Consulate. The next day he and another escaping American airman were given train tickets to Geneva, but because Steichen was nervous with so many Swiss soldiers on all the trains, they decided to pool their money and take a taxi to Geneva!

After missing their contact at the Geneva train station, they happened to join up with several other Americans in a nearby bar, waiting for the same contact person. The whole group spent all day drinking, waiting for their French Maquis guide. When he arrived at about dusk, he brought them all down to the wine cellar to drink a toast to their escape to freedom. The group then went out the back door of the bar and they started their hike to freedom, heading south over the mountains towards France.

Most of the Americans, other than Steichen, seemed to be suffering from drinking all afternoon. Walking in the darkness up the trail near Mont Saleve (1375 meters)  helped wear off the hangovers, but not before one inebriated American fell down a steep slope. It took 2 or 3 men to drag him back up, and the French guide complained about the "lack of progress" and had to let the group take a nap in a barn. The next morning, they got up and walked all day, then ran downhill when La Chapelle came in sight. More wine and a buffet awaited them when the Americans were warmly welcomed to the celebration of the Germans' departure only 6 hours earlier that very day. Good timing!

The next day, Steichen took a bus to Lyon, where the Americans offered him a flight back to England on a B-24. Being a loyal B-17 airman, he had to think twice about  flying on a B-24, but given the alternatives, he reluctantly accepted. While on an overnight stay in London during the following days, he was rudely awakened by a violent explosion on the next block.
Hitler's V-weapons had made London a very dangerous place. John headed for the safer, but less sumptuous, lodging at Podington the next morning.

La Chapelle-Rambaud, where Steichen entered France, is only 10 miles southeast of the center of Geneva, as the crow flies. Note the Swiss-French border (in orange) surrounding Geneva.

La Chapelle-Rambaud, Haute-Savoie, Rhône-Alpes, France


Maps by Travel

Roy Hommer's escape

Roy Hommer spent much of his internment at the hospital in Rorschach, where he was admitted immediately after the landing on April 24, 1944. He was finally able to travel by October, and the American Military Attaché was able to arrange a leave for him in Bern, at the American Legation, from October 20 until October 30. Hommer was scheduled for a major operation in November, so this leave was designed to boost his morale beforehand. Hommer returned to the Rorschach hospital November 11, and was transferred to Adelboden on January 3, 1945. As a testimonial to the excellent medical care he received, he was able to escape on January 16.

During August, several crew members, including Parramore and Steichen, were allowed to visit Hommer at the Rorschach hospital. In late August, When McKee was designated as his permanent companion and practical nurse. McKee accompanied Hommer while on leave in Bern, and then back to Rorschach for Hommer's final operation.

Carl Stetson's escapes

Carl Stetson attempted escape from internment three times; the last attempt was successful. His Swiss internment card shows the following details:

April 24 - Altenrhein

April 25 - Chaumont/Adelboden

June 14 - escaped

June 15 - Adelboden

June 16 - Wauwilermoos

June 17 - escaped

June 19 - Wauwilermoos (solitary confinement?)

August 3 - Wauwilermoos

August 18 - Adelboden

September 18 - Wengen

October 1 - escaped

Early escape attempts, before September, 1944, did not have the assistance of an organized network of Swiss civilians to help evade recapture. Consequently, escapees were often apprehended within a few days. The second stay at Wauwilermoos from June 19 until August 3, most probably in solitary confinement, would have been in terribly inhumane living conditions. Note that the October 1 final escape date does not agree with the date of September 27 in the following report.


The escape of Carl Stetson is documented in the escape report of S/Sgt. John J. O'Hara, who was a ball turret gunner on a B-24 named Liberal Lady, which crashed near Kirchberg (almost equidistant between Zurich and Altenrhein). The B-24 crashed on a mountainside after all crew members had bailed out. O'Hara escaped with Stetson while they were both held at the Victoria Hotel, Wengen. O'Hara had previously attempted escape from Adelboden, and had landed in Wauwilermoos, where he probably met Stetson.

The escape report:

    "On 27 September 1944, source, T/Sgt Carl Stetson (8th AF) and a hotel waiter walked through Lauterbrunnen to a waiting car, to Interlaken. Here they boarded a train to Bern, thence to a town 20 miles from Lausanne on the French border (town - Rolle). On another train, with a new guide, they traveled to Chopet (Coppet) (afternoon 28 September) and walked towards French frontier, through marshes across river Dobe (which they swam) into France. The guide left them about 2 miles from French border. No Swiss guards. Were immediately picked up by Maquis and taken to Grilly town for one night, with maquis Forces. Very good treatment. Following morning taken to Gex for one day and on 30 September to Campagne?, in a car to American engineers on a fighter base nearby. Americans took sources to Lyons Air Base where General Thomas (12th AF) arranged their evacuation. Source was taken by the General himself to Aix, thence to Italy."

J. G. K. Kennedy
Capt., I. S. 9,

Repatriation of the rest of the crew

The remaining crew members, Bradshaw, Dorsa, McKee, and Gass, were transferred from Adelboden to Wengen on December 20, 1944, and repatriated on February 17, 1945, in Geneva.

Chapter 1
The Flight Across the Atlantic
Chapter 2
Life at Podington
Chapter 3
The Missions of Baby's Crew
Chapter 4
The Last Mission
Chapter 5
Life in Switzerland
Chapter 6
Escape from Switzerland
Baby's Crew
Retracing History:
The Author's Trip
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Copyright © 2001 by Ed Rathje

Web page created by Ed Rathje - last updated February 2, 2003.