• LOCATION 9 | The Battle of Britain House: A Walk Through Ruislip Woods

    Poor's field gate

    Poor's field gate on London audio tour The Battle of Britain House: A Walk Through Ruislip Woods

    Making your way towards the Water's Edge pub by the Ruslip Lido.

    The heathland beyond the gate is called Poor's Field, and it's been reserved for grazing since the 1600s. In fact, it's not unusual to see cattle grazing along your path. Nothing to worry about - they are typically docile, and you can just walk past them.

    Following the successful launch of the HAMMER mission, the OSS prepared another pair of Free Germans for insertion close to Landshut in Bavaria. Walter Struwe and Emil Konhauser's mission was codenamed PICKAXE, and their objective was to report on troop movements and on the treatment of Allied prisoners of war in German camps, and also verify the existence of a National Redoubt, a rumoured self-sustaining stronghold in the Bavarian Alps where Hitler was suspected of making extensive preparations for a final stand that could last for years.

    The PICKAXE mission was another outstanding success. The pair spent nearly one month hiding in the woods, living off counterfeit ration books they exchanged in nearby towns. They trekked the Bavarian mountains extensively, but found no evidence of the National Redoubt, removing that potentially dangerous factor for good from Allied war plans.

    However, they returned detailed information on mass troop movements that led to the successful air bombing of Landshut rail station, denying the use of that hub to the enemy. By Visiting beer halls and shops they were able to evaluate the local population's morale and willingness to carry on fighting, reporting it back to headquarters. In early May 1945, they received the signal to wrap their mission up, and give themselves up to the first American units reaching the area.

    Not all of the TOOL missions had a positive outcome. The CHISEL mission was to take Kurt Gruber, a German miner and Free German socialist activist into his birthplace of Hamm to report from Germany's industrial heartland at the Ruhr Valley. The plane took off one night in March 1945, but never returned. The fate of the CHISEL flight was only revealed after the end of the war: the ill-maintained aircraft, flown by an inexperienced crew, and despite the weather warnings, was caught in a storm near Munster, causing it to crash not far from its intended target.

    The BUZZSAW mission also had a sad ending. Werner Fischer, the Free German communist had been tasked to report from Leipzig in Saxony, especially on the status of Germany's huge synthetic oil plant at Leuna. After parachuting out of the plane at night on April 7th 1945, Fischer never reported back, vanishing without a trace.

    The story of what happened to him was pieced together by friends and relatives long after the end of the Cold War. Apparently, Fischer had landed right in the middle of a Soviet forward patrol scouting the outskirts of Leipzig. Despite his proclamations of allegiance, and the identifying evidence he tried to procure, the Soviets didn't believe him. Accussing Fischer of being a Gestapo agent, they summarily executed him on the spot.

    Despite their outstanding successes, the Free Germans who survived their missions were hardly welcomed back as heroes. The secrecy of their missions coupled with their communist affiliation made them uncomfortable liabilities in the dawn of the Cold War era. Some of them were held in captivity by the Red Army, and only released after the end of the hostilities in late 1945.

    Kurt Gruber's Scottish wife was pregnant with his child when the OSS took her blindfolded to a secret location to present her with the news of his tragic death and a presidential citation. Most of the survivors chose to return to a communist East Germany after the war, a state of affairs that they could only dream of a few years back. Alas, the returning heroes were received with resentment and suspicion in East Germany, owing to their work and training with the OSS, which had already morphed into the CIA at the end of the war.

    You will have reached the Water's Edge by now. Walk around the side of the pub for a great view of the Ruislip Lido, and stop there.

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The Battle of Britain House: A Walk Through Ruislip Woods