The 30 January 2017 the Associated Press, the New York Times and in addition 100 American newspapers have published - on the occasion of the death of Harold Hayes, military doctor, the 22 January 2017 occurred at the age of 94 years in the city of Herdford in Oregon - an article of particular interest to Albania.
Dr. Hayes was the last survivor of a group of doctors and nurses who - during the Second World War - spent nine weeks in Albania occupied by German troops escaping capture and suffering terrible deprivations.
The incident had until now been covered by military secrecy in order to protect Albanian partisans, villagers who had given them food, shelter and directions for the road ahead and the secret agents who had helped them save themselves from reprisals. .
The 8 November 1943 Hayes, with a group of doctors 13 and nurse 13, in addition to 4 crew members, was aboard an unarmed aircraft departed from Catania and directed to Bari, where numerous wounded American soldiers were awaiting repatriation . The medical personnel were destined to give their own care to the wounded during the landing on the Italian coasts, and then to return to their base after a short period of stay in Bari.
But, due to the adverse weather conditions, the clouds that prevented visibility and a failure of the ship's compass, the plane went off course, crossed the Adriatic Sea and was attacked by German anti-aircraft and enemy fighters.
Left without fuel, the pilot attempted a makeshift landing at about 50 kilometers from the coast, in Albanian territory.
The landing was rather adventurous and the plane turned upside down due to the muddy ground. Only one member of the crew was injured, while all the others were unharmed.
The bewildered Americans had no idea where they were. Fearing the explosion of the plane, they immediately left the aircraft. They had a stroke of luck, meeting a group of armed men. Hasan Gina, a partisan who knew a few words of English, explained to them that they were in Albania. Later they learned that they were about 300 kilometers from Bari, surrounded by German troops and in the midst of a civil war between groups of partisans of opposing factions.
The Americans knew nothing of Albania: there were no railways and only a few roads: mules and horses were the only means of transport and they started marching in the wrong direction, inland and not towards the Adriatic coast. In the following weeks, led by partisans, they crossed valleys and mountains, often making longer turns to avoid German patrols.
Being unable to walk due to the knee injury, all the comrades took the injured crew member with them in the landing and beat over 600 miles (about 900 kilometers).
They suffered hunger, thirst and spent marching for 24 hours in a row.
Because of the advancing winter season, they suffered from the cold, as their summer clothes and their shoes were no longer usable for long marches in the mountains.
After five days they arrived at Berat, controlled by the partisans, and were mistaken for a vanguard of the allied troops that were supposed to liberate Albania.
Just five days after their arrival, Berat was occupied by the Germans and then the group precipitately left the city, walking up to a mountain village, where they found themselves in the middle of a fight between rival partisan groups.
In the confusion of Berat's occupation, three nurses stayed behind the lines. They took refuge on a farm in the countryside, where they remained for four months.
They were considered, by their command, "Dispersed on a mission", And letters were sent to their families communicating their status as missing in the war.
The Secret Rescue: American Nurses and Doctors Returning from Albania (Cate Lineberry Video)
The 27 November 1943 the English Secret Service in Albania received news from the partisans that an American plane had crashed in Albania and that all those who were on board had survived and were trying to reach the coast. This news was communicated only to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of the allied troops in Europe and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The families of missing soldiers were informed.
Immediately began an action of search and recovery on the American and English side with ups and downs and considerable difficulties: but the 9 January 1944, after 63 days of hardships, 10 nurse, 17 doctors and crew members embarked on an English launch and - across the Adriatic - they reached the southern Italian coasts.
The three nurses, who had remained behind the German lines at Berat, also reached - on horseback mules - in March of 1944 the Albanian coast and from there, with a military boat, they crossed the sea towards Italy.
The news of their escape from Albania was kept secret for years to safeguard the Albanian partisans who had facilitated their journey. Some of them fell at the hands of the Germans in guerrilla actions.
But, after the end of the war, the communist dictator Enver Hoxha shot those partisans who were suspected of helping the Americans in this affair.
"For many years - Dr Hayes stated in an interview with the New York Times in the 2015 I never talked about what happened in Albania in 1943 ".
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