B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


Tragedy on the Mountain
by Paul Schamberger


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The Scene Opens in Northern Italy


The Scene opens in northern Italy. The date is Saturday, 20 January 1945. The weather is abysmally cold. A group of 16 Allied servicemen, in mufti and on the loose in Italy, is climbing towards the formidable Alpine frontier that marks the end of awful Italy and the beginning of free Switzerland

Led by three Italian guides, the group comprises five Russians, four South Africans, three Americans, two Australians and two New Zealanders. The men are wearing Italian civilian clothing, and seem reasonably well protected against the biting cold.

The South Africans are Rfm. John Frederick Welsh (29), his younger brother, Rfm. Edgar Aubrey Welsh (26) (both Kaffrarian Rifles); Pte. Charles van Rensburg and Pte. Douglas William Clarke (26) (both Umvoti Mounted Rifles).[1]

With the defeat of the Axis clearly in sight, the Second World War is in its final phase, but our group cannot know that. They have lived in limbo for months and have not heard any reliable news about the way the never-ending war is going. All they wish to do is to seek refuge in neutral Switzerland.


Mount Gridone
Mount Gridone is located near the Italian-Swiss border high up in the Alps.

By and by the party arrives at the deserted Italian-Swiss border high up in the Alps. Standing on the ridge of a towering mountain which today we know was Mount Gridone ("Limidario" to the Italians), they peer down with much relief into the snow-covered Swiss canton of Ticino. It is some time after midday. Up where they are, they are already within Switzerland but only just. No border fence and, on these frozen heights, no sign of Italian border guards.

The three Italian guides leave them and turn back. Elated, the happy 16 stop only to smile and shake hands. Congratulations freedom at last! Their spirits perking up considerably, they move further and further down into Swiss territory, stiffly at first because of the unaccustomed descent. The lakeside town of Brissago is their goal, which, their knowledgeable guides had assured them, could be reached without difficulty before nightfall.

Since the fitter men can get downhill quicker than their slower comrades, the group loses its cohesion. Soon three separate groups dot the mountainside and the valley below. Two smaller groups are fleet of foot and make good time. A larger one, however, seems to move awkwardly and lags behind.

Escapers on the
mountain of death

The 16 Allied soldiers who comprised the escape group of 20 January 1945 were:

S/Sgt. John J. McGowan (USA)
Sgt. Donald E. Lundgren (USA)
Sgt. Leonard J. Hoyne (USA)
Cpl. J.W. Rowe (Australia)
Pte. R. Jackson (Australia)
Rfm. E.A. Welsh (SA)
Rfm. J.F. Welsh (SA)
Pte. C.C. van Rensburg (SA)
Pte. D.W. Clarke (SA)
Pte. R.R. Cameron (NZ)
Pte. W. Frost (NZ)
5 Russians, names unknown


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