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Albanian Escape

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

Agnes Mangerich

Publication Year: 1999

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page

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pp. vii

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Author's Note

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pp. ix-x

Lost in bad weather, we crash-landed in German-occupied Albania, where we were hidden, led, and fed by Albanian partisans for sixty-two days. I carefully kept a diary on three tiny pieces of paper, logging as best I could names of towns, weather and walking conditions,...

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pp. xi-xiii

We are honored to help tell the story of a unique event in World War II history. The November 1943 crash-landing of a U.S. Army C-53-carrying thirteen army flight nurses, thirteen army medics, and a four-man flight crew-into Nazi-occupied Albania led to an...

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pp. 1-7

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...

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1. Crash Landing

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pp. 9-19

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...

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2. On the Ground in Enemy Territory

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pp. 21-37

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...

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3. Which Way Is Home?

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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...

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4. Germans Attack

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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...

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5. Separated and Lost

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pp. 69-78

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...

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6. The Enemy Closes In

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pp. 79-86

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....

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7. Blizzard on the Mountain

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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...

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8. The British Captain Smith

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pp. 93-120

As the snow turned to slush and mud, the group's week-long hike over the mountains became more precarious, but now the terrain had leveled out to a large plateau with a few trees scattered here and there. Just as Sergeant Allen took a position behind Jens, he started...

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9. Lieutenant Duffy Leads the Way

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pp. 121-131

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...

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10. Germans Strike Again

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pp. 133-140

From Shepr they started out much the same as other mornings, two or three people riding mules, the rest walking. It was extremely cold, and many walked with their heads down to keep the biting wind out of their faces and to make breathing a little easier. Every now and...

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11. By Air or by Sea?

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pp. 141-167

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...

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12. Marathon March

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pp. 169-180

Refugees continued to come to Doksat and brought news of life in the city since the takeover. Some of the refugees described the American planes that had been seen the previous day, but they had no idea why the planes came....

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13. The American Captain Smith

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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,...

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14. Smith to the Rescue

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pp. 203-209

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....

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pp. 211-213

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,...


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pp. 215-217


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pp. 219-220


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pp. 222-237

E-ISBN-13: 9780813127422
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813121093

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 1999