Post by Dave Homewood on Dec 22, 2007 12:04:41 GMT 12
Great Escape pilot dies aged 92 12:25PM Saturday December 22, 2007 By Max Lambert
New Zealand fighter pilot Mick Shand, who twice escaped narrowly with his life, once during the Battle of Britain and later in the aftermath of the Great Escape from a Nazi prisoner of war camp, has died at the age of 92.
He died at his home in Masterton on Thursday according to a newspaper death notice today.
Shand was posted to 54 Squadron at Hornchurch on the outskirts of London in late August 1940 as the Battle of Britain approached its climax.
The Royal Air Force was desperately short of pilots and Shand was rushed to the squadron with just 20 hours flying on Spitfires; he had never fired its guns.
He flew his first sortie as number two to dashing New Zealander Alan Deere who told him to stay close and just watch what was going on.
On his next flight, on the evening of August 25, Shand was hit by an enemy Me 109 and made a forced landing.
A wounded arm kept him in hospital for several months and it was not until October the following year that he returned to action with 485 (NZ Spitfire) Squadron.
Shand became a skilled pilot and flight commander, specialising in low-level attacks on German transport across the Channel.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in September 1942 after his 60th sortie but the same month was shot down while trying to destroy a train in Holland.
Imprisoned in the notorious Stalag Luft 3 - Sagan - southeast of Berlin, Shand took part in the famous Great Escape of March 1943 when 76 RAF officers tunnelled their way to freedom. Almost all the escapers were recaptured and 50, including three New Zealanders, were murdered on Hitler's orders.
Shand was on the point of escaping when a guard stumbled on the tunnel outlet and raised the alarm.
He dashed to freedom in nearby trees as the guard fired but was soon recaptured.
The New Zealander was lodged in a jail near Sagan for interrogation and was one of the lucky survivors who were not picked for execution.
Michael Moray Shand was born in Wellington February 20, 1915 and educated at Nelson College. He was working for the fruit industry in Central Otago when he enlisted in November 1939.
He did his pilot training at Wigram and sailed for England in June 1940.
Shand, who farmed all his postwar working life in the Wairarapa, is survived by a son and daughter.
Shand: the 76th man to emerge from the tunnel codenamed ‘Harry’
Obituaries Flight Lieutenant Mick Shand
Flight Lieutenant Mick Shand, who died on Thursday aged 92, was a fighter pilot interned at Stalag Luft III at Sagan and survived "the Great Escape" - the last to emerge from the tunnel before it was discovered, he was recaptured after four days on the run.
Shand and his fellow New Zealander Squadron Leader Len Trent, VC, planned to "hard arse" it on foot to Czechoslovakia in the hope of getting to Switzerland.
They had no great expectation of reaching England, and felt it would be impossible to make it across the frozen countryside undetected - but they felt they "had to do something".
The two men moved down the 100-metre tunnel, codenamed "Harry", after midnight on the night of March 24/25 1944. Delays meant that it was almost 5am when they reached the exit, which came out in the open, a few yards from the intended spot in the cover of woods.
Shand was the 76th prisoner to emerge from the tunnel and was running across the dead ground to the woods when a patrolling guard spotted Trent emerging.
Shand threw himself to the snow-covered ground. In later years he observed: "I knew we had been rumbled. I don't think the goon knew what was going on either as we all froze.
"The minute he looked away, I made a run for the woods. That was it, I was out." The startled guard fired his rifle, but the bullet passed over Shand's head as he dived into the woods.
Finding himself alone, Shand began to walk and was on the run for almost four days, travelling at night and resting by day. The weather conditions were harsh, and he was finally caught by two railway workers as he was waiting to jump on a freight train.
He was taken to Gorlitz Prison, where he found himself amongst a group of fellow escapers.
Over the next two days the Gestapo took most of the recaptured RAF prisoners away. Shand was one of a group of four who were collected by the Luftwaffe and returned to Sagan, where he was horrified to learn that most of his colleagues had been shot by the Gestapo.
The final total of those murdered was 50. Some time later the PoWs learned that three men - two Norwegians and a Dutchman - had successfully made it back to Britain.
Michael Moray Shand was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on February 20 1915 and educated at Nelson College. He was working in the fruit industry when, in early 1939, he applied for a short service commission in the RNZAF, starting his pilot training later that year. After gaining his wings he sailed for England in June 1940.
The RAF was desperately short of fighter pilots, and Shand was rushed through training. After just 20 hours' flying on the Spitfire, during which time he never fired its guns, he was posted to No 54 Squadron.
The squadron was based at Hornchurch, in Essex, and when he arrived in late August, the Battle of Britain was reaching a climax. He flew his first sortie as wingman to the outstanding New Zealand ace, Al Deere, who told him to stay close and watch was going on.
Three days after his arrival Shand was on an evening patrol over Dover when a Messerschmitt Bf 109 attacked him, damaging his aircraft. He managed to crash-land on the airfield at Manston, but had been badly wounded in the arm. He spent several months in hospital.
Shand returned to operations in October 1941 with No 485 (RNZAF) Squadron, flying Spitfire Vs from Kenley, in Surrey. The squadron was heavily involved in operations over northern France, escorting bomber formations and attacking road transports.
Shand was appointed a flight commander in May 1942, and he and his pilots provided withdrawal cover during Operation Jubilee, the raid on Dieppe. By September he had flown 60 operations over France and was awarded a DFC, the citation describing him as "a skilful pilot and fearless leader".
On November 28 Shand led a formation of six Spitfires on a low-level sweep off the Dutch coast seeking targets of opportunity. They successfully attacked a tanker-barge on a canal and, as they returned, Shand and his wingman went down to shoot up a train.
Two Focke Wulf 190s attacked them. Shand was shot down and quickly captured. Within a few weeks he arrived at Stalag Luft III, 100 miles south-east of Berlin. It was Goering's "show camp", administered and guarded by the Luftwaffe.
After the Great Escape, Shand remained at Stalag Luft III until the camp was evacuated in January 1945, the PoWs being forced to march westwards in the harshest winter for many years.
In May he was liberated. He returned to England before going home to New Zealand in September.
Shand always considered himself extremely fortunate to be one of the few survivors of the Great Escape, in which three of his fellow New Zealanders were murdered.
In later years he said he thought the venture was worth it, explaining: "We had to do something to hit back at the Germans. We did it to cause chaos behind enemy lines, and that's exactly what we did."
Mick Shand farmed at Wairarapa, in the south-east of North Island, until he retired in 1978. His wife died in 2000; a son and a daughter survive him.