Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Albanian Escape

Albanian Escape: The True Story of U.S. Army Nurses Behind Enemy Lines

Agnes Jensen Mangerich
Evelyn M. Monahan
Rosemary L. Neidel
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Albanian Escape
    Book Description:

    On November 8, 1943, U.S. Army nurse Agnes Jensen stepped out of a cold rain in Catania, Sicily, into a C-53 transport plane. But she and twelve other nurses never arrived in Bari, Italy, where they were to transport wounded soldiers to hospitals farther from the front lines. A violent storm and pursuit by German Messerschmitts led to a crash landing in a remote part of Albania, leaving the nurses, their team of medics, and the flight crew stranded in Nazi-occupied territory. What followed was a dangerous nine-week game of hide-and-seek with the enemy, a situation President Roosevelt monitored daily. Albanian partisans aided the stranded Americans in the search for a British Intelligence Mission, and the group began a long and hazardous journey to the Adriatic coast. During the following weeks, they crossed Albania's second highest mountain in a blizzard, were strafed by German planes, managed to flee a town moments before it was bombed, and watched helplessly as an attempt to airlift them out was foiled by Nazi forces. Albanian Escape is the suspense-filled story of the only group of Army flight nurses to have spent any length of time in occupied territory during World War II. The nurses and flight crew endured frigid weather, survived on little food, and literally wore out their shoes trekking across the rugged countryside. Thrust into a perilous situation and determined to survive, these women found courage and strength in each other and in the kindness of Albanians and guerrillas who hid them from the Germans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2742-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Anyone stranded in Albania during World War II would confront not only inclement weather and rugged topography but the often brutal and intricate history of this occupied nation. It would be impossible to travel through the country without meeting its history head on. Certainly this was true for the members of a U.S. Army air crew and their passengers who crash-landed there in November 1943 and struggled for two months to reach the safety of the Allied lines.

    At the geographical crossroads of many cultures, Albania has had a kaleidoscopic past, its borders, religions, and language altering in response to...

  6. 1 Crash Landing
    (pp. 9-20)

    A cold drizzle was falling when the jeeps carrying thirteen U.S. Army nurses and twelve medical technical sergeants of the 807th Medical Air Evacuation Squad (MAES), plus one young corporal with the 802d MAES who was catching a ride back to his assigned base, pulled onto the apron of a runway at Catania Main Airfield in Sicily. They stopped alongside a C-53, one of the three aircraft that would make up the flight scheduled to carry them the 260 miles to Bari, Italy, to pick up wounded and fly them to hospitals farther behind the lines.

    Winter weather in the...

  7. 2 On the Ground
    (pp. 21-38)

    There was a thunderous clash and clatter as everything that was not tied down in the tail of the aircraft, flew forward. Jens raised her head slightly and saw that the crew chief was sprawled in the aisle, along with ration cans, tins of drinking water, cardboard boxes, and a myriad of smaller objects. A strong jolt shook the plane as the tail settled back down, and one of the crew raced to open the door.

    Everyone bolted into action and tried to pile out all at once until a nurse in the rear yelled, “Now just a minute! Have...

  8. 3 Which Way Is Home?
    (pp. 39-46)

    It was almost time for the donkeys to arrive when the nurses scrambled down the outside steps to join the group already waiting on the ground. Jens spotted Baggs and Hassan to the right of the crowd and walked in their direction. She had already decided that she could learn a lot by listening to the talk around her.

    Baggs and Hassan appeared deeply involved in their own conversation. Jens stopped near three other nurses and listened. She had to strain a little to hear but was convinced it was worth it.

    “How safe will the women be on this...

  9. 4 Germans Attack
    (pp. 47-68)

    They entered the town of Berat on a cobblestone street lined with people who had come out to greet them. The crowd sang songs, threw flowers at the Americans’ feet, and snapped their pictures. The group was flabbergasted. How did these people know they were coming? How did they know their time of arrival? Jens felt a mixture of appreciation and apprehension. How could their movements and whereabouts be secret when so many people knew the answers to both questions?

    The party was led through the town to the steps of the schoolhouse, where city officials greeted them and gave...

  10. 5 Separated and Lost
    (pp. 69-78)

    Only ten minutes after awakening, the group questioned Johnny again about the missing members of the party.

    “Do these people know anything about the other Americans?” Jens asked.

    Johnny looked puzzled. “Other Americans?” he asked.

    “Yes, ten others, ten more Americans,” Baggs said.

    This time they tried more elaborate sign language to try to get their message across: they lined up, saying their names as they pointed to themselves, and held up one finger for one, two fingers for two. Finally they went on counting the ten Americans who should have been on the end of the line. A light...

  11. 6 The Enemy Closes In
    (pp. 79-86)

    Jens awakened early and was happy to walk to the stream to brush her teeth and wash her face. It was a luxury after weeks on the trail with no facilities for personal sanitation.

    When she returned, the Americans were saying goodbye to Johnny and thanking him for his help. He was taking a different trail than they would. Jens felt sorry to see Johnny go. She believed that he had genuinely wanted to help them and had no hidden agendas.

    At 1000 hours they grabbed their gear and followed Steffa at a leisurely pace. Whenever they met people along...

  12. 7 Blizzard on the Mountain
    (pp. 87-92)

    It was midmorning as the Americans began their hike to Terlioria. Between them and the village lay Mount Tomorrit. At 8,136 feet in altitude, it was one of the highest peaks in Albania, and with the cold drizzle that had just begun the climb promised to be anything but easy or comfortable. The beginning of the trail ascended gently up the side of the barren mountain. In the light rain and persistent overcast the landscape looked brown and gray, and the wet earth soaked quickly throughJens’s worn shoes. She hoped that the growing numbness from the cold would soon ease...

  13. 8 The British Captain Smith
    (pp. 93-120)

    1. The following radio was received from the Air Service Command Advance Headquarters at Bari:

    “Suggest that General Eisenhower CMA, the surgeon NATOUSA, CMA and Troop Carrier Command be given the following information which may or may not be known in their headquarters PD From Oboe Sugar Sugar it is learned that Middle East reported that a party of three zero Americans including one three Uncle Sugar Army Nurses are believed to be in Albania PD It is presumed here that they are attempting to reach the coast PD British plans for rescue party awaiting details on location CMA requested...

  14. 9 Lieutenant Duffy Leads the Way
    (pp. 121-132)

    We moved off from Krushove at approximately 0800 hrs in the direction of Voskopoj, M. 96. We arrived at Voskopoj and staged a short halt in order to collect bread and cheese; also to fix up by ‘phone five houses at Gjergievice for accommodating the party. The foodstuffs were eventually produced by the “SHTABIT” (Military Commandant). So I pushed on. The journey so far had been only about two hours and travel not so bad, so I increased the pace, and everyone was pleased because it was freezing.

    Eventually we arrived at our destination at approximately 15.00 hrs. We gathered...

  15. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  16. 10 Germans Strike Again
    (pp. 133-140)

    The next morning (Dec. 15, 1943) at 0730 hours, I was awakened by a messenger from the Commissar informing me that the three Ballist guides had been taken prisoners and that he would not allow them to accompany me. I went down to his headquarters and had a long argument after which it was agreed that the men would be released to me but that I would not be allowed to proceed to Dukati with them until he got a note of clearance from the Commandant.

    At this time I noticed that the villagers were getting very nervous and jittery....

  17. 11 By Air or by Sea?
    (pp. 141-168)

    Unexpectedly summoned to gather their belongings and leave Progonat for Kuc, the group assembled outside in anticipation of news. Jens looked in vain for Gary, Blondie, and Panda. When it was determined that everyone was present, the guides motioned for the group to follow them. Jens increased her pace to catch up to Steffa.

    “Where’s Gary?” she asked.

    “He left with Blondie and Panda about two hours ago and will wait for us in Kuc,” Steffa said.

    “How far is Kuc from here?” Jens asked.

    “About two and a half hours.”

    Jens allowed herself to fall back in the line...

  18. 12 Marathon March
    (pp. 169-180)

    A later message dated December 30, 1943, instructed me to proceed according to the original plan. (At this time, I knew nothing about the attempt at air rescue.)

    By this time (December 30, 1943) German activity around Dukati, Terbaci, Brataj, and Ramica was greatly reduced.

    Reports from our men stated that the Germans had withdrawn from most of the villages. This is SOP with the Germans. They move into a village, kill a few Partisans and after a few days, move out again.

    I accordingly decided to move down into the Palasa-Dhermi area and to send out couriers on all...

  19. 13 The American Captain Smith
    (pp. 181-202)

    When Jens stepped off the trail to rest, straighten her shoulders, stretch her aching back, and wiggle her aching toes, three figures approached them and began shouting something to Gary, who was somewhere behind her. As Jens strained to see the three more clearly, Allen shouted, “My God, it’s Smith. Captain Smith, that is!” He and three other sergeants ran up to Smith, gave a halfhearted salute, and gripped his hand.

    Sergeant Allen said, “You don’t know how good you look to us. Even those railroad tracks are a sight for sore eyes!”

    Captain Lloyd Smith, the long-awaited American OSS...

  20. 14 Smith to the Rescue
    (pp. 203-210)

    Orders were received from the Commanding Officer, SBS on January 30, 1944 to proceed with the evacuation of the three American nurses of an air corps medical unit who were reported to be in the vicinity of BERAT.

    Due to naval operations the American ship YANKEE was unable to leave its port at BRINDISI until 1000 hours February 2, 1944. It arrived at the base at SEAVIEW at 2300 hours of the same day.

    At SEAVIEW I was met by Major Kendall (Dale McAdoo, SI). He informed me that several individuals who were quite prominent BALLISTS had promised to bring...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-214)

    On 21 January 1944 Lieutenant Agnes Jensen was released from the hospital and returned to her squadron in Sicily. In accordance with military policy that anyone who had crash-landed in and escaped from enemy territory could not remain in the same theater of war, orders were waiting for her, and on 23 January she began the first leg of her journey back to the United States.

    When Jens arrived at her parents’ farm, she learned that the military had contacted her parents on 26 November 1943 and informed them that she was missing in enemy territory. One week later, on...

  22. Glossary
    (pp. 215-218)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-221)