Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes

Khalid Elhassan - November 11, 2021

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
A young Johnny Torrio in 1903. My Al Capone Museum

16. The Mob’s Fox

Johnny Torrio, also known as “The Fox” and “Papa Johnny” (1882 – 1957), is best known as the founder of the Chicago Outfit – the criminal empire inherited and made infamous by his protege and successor, Al Capone. A criminal with a vision, he created what became known as the National Crime Syndicate in the 1930s, and became an adviser to infamous mobster Charles “Lucky” Lucky. Torrio was also known for his exceptional luck and a miraculous escape from an attempt by rivals to rub him out.

Torrio had started his criminal career in a street gang, and eventually became its leader. He then steadily worked his way up the criminal world’s ranks as loan shark and bookie, before he caught the eye of Paul Kelly, leader of NYC’s Five Points Gang, who took him on as a protege. Eventually, Torrio was invited to Chicago by his aunt’s husband, “Big Jim” Colosimo, the owner of over 100 brothels, to deal with extortionists who sought to prey on his businesses. Torrio took care of the problem, and stayed on as Colosimo’s right hand and muscle.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Big Jim Colosimo, left. Pinterest

15. Prohibition as an Opportunity

As soon as Prohibition was declared in January 1920, Johnny Torrio recognized that it represented an opportunity to reap fabulous riches. He proposed to make alcohol and sell it at a steep markup, now that it was illegal. He came up with an idea to buy breweries, now shuttered and thus readily purchased for pennies on the dollar from desperate sellers. He would then operate them illegally to supply the thousands of speakeasies, brothels, and nightclubs in Chicago and the nearby region.

However, when Torrio ran the idea by his boss, he shot it down. Big Jim Colosimo reasoned that all of Chicago’s criminal outfits were bound to have had the same idea, and that if got involved in the illegal alcohol business, it only invite trouble and drag him into confrontations that he would sooner avoid. When Torrio proposed to run the racket on his own, assume all the risk, and split the proceeds with his boss, Colosimo flatly prohibited him, and decreed that nobody in his organization was to participate in bootlegging. That was bad news – for Colosimo.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Frankie Yale mugshot. Al Capone Museum

14. The Creation of the Chicago Outfit

The potential profits to be made from illegal alcohol were too lucrative for Johnny Torrio to listen to his boss. So he, with the assistance of his protege Al Capone, went ahead and bought breweries behind Big Jim Colosimo’s back, and began to operate them rake in the profits. However, it became increasingly difficult to juggle the books, which were regularly inspected by Colosimo, and thing began to get tricky. When Colosimo started to get suspicious, Torrio decided that he should best strike first. So he called in a business associate from New York City, Frankie Yale, who shot Colosimo dead in May, 1920.

Within hours of Colosimo’s death, Torrio took over his empire, created what became known as The Chicago Outfit, and became that city’s biggest mobster and one of its most powerful kingpins. As the Outfit expanded its operations from its base in Chicago’s South Side, it came into conflict with the Irish-American North Side Gang. After initial attempts at peaceful coexistence failed, Torrio ordered the murder of the North Side boss in November, 1924. The result was a bloody gang war, in which only a miracle allowed Torrio to escape with his life.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Johnny Torrio after he managed to escape death, and his bullet riddled car. Chicagology

13. Jonny Torrio’s Miraculous Escape

In retaliation for the assassination of their boss, the North Side Gang ambushed Johnny Torrio outside his apartment on January 24th, 1925. The hitmen unleashed a fusillade of gunfire, and Torrio took bullets to the jaw, lung, abdomen, groin, and legs. As he lay severely wounded on the ground, a hitman walked up to the stricken mobster to finish him off with a coup de grace shot to the head. Fortunately for Torrio, the killer’s gun jammed. The miraculous escape from death shook Torrio, and convinced him to get out while he still could. So he handed control of the Chicago Outfit over to Al Capone, and moved to Italy. His retirement did not last long, however. Italy’s Fascist dictator cracked down on the mafia, and Torrio had to return to the US in 1928.

Back home, he became a mob consultant and respected emeritus figure, and demonstrated that he was a criminal visionary and one of the American mafia’s most talented and intelligent leaders. Torrio branched out from traditional rackets and went into the boardrooms, to become the godfather of corporate crime. He also set up the National Crime Syndicate – a loose confederation of several ethnic organizations. It included the Italian-American mafia and the Jewish mob, and to a lesser extent, Irish-American and African-American gangsters, among a total of fourteen different organizations, which cooperated from 1929 until the 1960s. Torrio managed to escape the violent end of many mobsters, and passed peacefully of a heart attack in a barber’s chair in 1957.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Staff Sergeant Alan E. Magee, poses for the camera halfway into the tight confines of his B-17 ball turret. Historic Wings

12. The Turret Gunner of Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into WWII, Alan Eugene Magee (1919 – 2003) of Somerset, New Jersey, stepped up and joined the United States Army Air Forces. After he completed aerial gunnery training, he became a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ball turret gunner, and was sent to the Eighth Air Force in Britain. He joined the crew of a B-17 nicknamed Snap! Crackle! Pop! that was part of the 360th Bomb Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group.

Magee’s seventh mission, on January 3rd, 1943, was a daylight raid against U-boat pens in Saint-Nazaire, France. Little did he know that it would end with him falling over 22,000 feet from his B-17, without a parachute. The ordeal began when Magee’s ball turret was struck by antiaircraft fire over Saint-Nazaire. The damage rendered the turret inoperative, so Magee exited – and discovered that the flak that had damaged his turret had also shredded his parachute. Before he had time to contemplate the implications, another flak hit destroyed the B-17’s right wing. Then things got worse.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
A B-17 on fire over Nis, Yugoslavia, in 1944. War History Online

11. By a Miracle, Sergeant Magee Managed to Escape Death

The antiaircraft shell that destroyed a wing of Alan Magee’s bomber also started an uncontrollable fire, and sent the B-17 spinning towards earth. As he crawled toward the stricken aircraft’s front, Magee blacked out due to lack of oxygen. Unconscious, he fell out of the burning plane. He plummeted for four miles, and crashed through the Saint-Nazaire railroad station’s glass roof, which shattered and observed some of the impact, then slammed into the station’s floor. He somehow managed to escape death, and was injured, but alive.

Alan Magee’s fall left him a bloody mess. In addition to 28 shrapnel wounds he took in the Flying Fortress, he sustained damage to his lung, kidney, nose, and eye, had several broken bones, plus a nearly severed right arm. Nonetheless, he had miraculously survived. Magee spent the rest of the war in a POW camp, until he was liberated in 1945. In 1993, on the 50th anniversary of his fall, Saint-Nazaire erected a monument in honor of Magee and the crew of Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
A North American P-51 Mustang. Wikimedia

10. The Other Allied Pilot Who Managed to Escape in a Stolen Nazi Airplane

The Second World War had no shortage of extraordinary deeds by heroic figures, and Mikhail Devyataev, above, was not the only Allied pilot who managed to escape the Nazis in a plane stolen from under their noses. Another intrepid pilot who matched Devyataev’s feat was US Army Air Forces Second Lieutenant Bruce Ward Carr (1924 – 1998). Like the Red Air Force flyer, Carr also boosted a German plane – in his case a fighter, rather than a bomber – and flew it to the safety of Allied lines.

Carr ended WWII as a fighter ace with fourteen confirmed victories and a Distinguished Service Cross. He also ended the war as the only USAAF pilot to have left on a combat mission in an American plane, and returned to base in a German one. It happened in November, 1944, when Carr flew a strafing mission in P-51 fighter, but was shot down over enemy territory. As seen below, he evaded capture, then made his escape in a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter that he stole from a German airfield and flew back home.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
A modern replica of Bruce Carr’s 51, ‘Flying Angel’. Lock on Files

9. A Born Flyer

Bruce Carr began to fly in 1939, when he was just fifteen-years-old. In 1942, at age eighteen, he joined the USAAF’s Flying Cadet Training Program. He had the good fortune to get assigned to the same flight instructor who had taught him how to fly in 1939. Carr’s prior experience in the cockpit got him sent to Spence Airfield in Georgia, for an accelerated pilot training program in P-40 Warhawk fighters. After 240 hours in the air, he graduated as a flight officer in late August, 1943, and was sent for more advanced instruction.

After he graduated from Spence Airfield, Carr spent an additional two months on qualification for the early models of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, and its ground attack and dive-bombing variant, the A-36 Apache. He was sent to England in early 1944, and was assigned to the 380th Fighter Squadron, 363rd Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force. Until then, Carr had never flown above 10,000 feet. When he took his P-51 to 30,000 feet, he was so impressed by its handling that he named his airplane “Angel’s Playmate“.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
A P-51 makes a low level pass on a German airplane. Art Station

8. This Pilot’s Superiors Alleged That he Was Too Aggressive

Bruce Carr notched his squadron’s first kill on March 8, 1944, when he pursued a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Berlin, and chased it to near-ground-level with his guns blazing. Only a single bullet hit the enemy fighter, but its pilot panicked. Unable to escape in his Bf 109 from Carr’s P-51, the Luftwaffe airman figured that ought to abandon his plane and parachute to the ground. Unfortunately for the German, he jumped too close to the ground for his parachute to fully open.

Unfortunately for Carr, higher ups declined to give him credit for the downed enemy fighter, on grounds that it had crashed, rather than been shot down. He argued that it was his close pursuit and aggressive flying that had caused the crash. As Carr saw it, he had literally scared the enemy pilot to death, and made him kill himself. Carr was not only denied credit for his first kill, his style of flying got him labeled as “overaggressive” by his superiors. His days in the 380th Squadron, 363rd Fighter Group, were numbered.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
A P-51 sets an Fw 190 on fire. War Thunder

7. A Transfer to a New Unit Was Just What This Fighter Ace Needed

As Bruce Carr‘s relationship with his superiors began to grow toxic, it was decided that it might be better for all involved if he served in a different unit. So he was transferred to the 353rd Squadron, 354th Fighter Group. It was his old squadron’s and fighter group’s loss. Carr became one of the 354th Fighter Group’s top aces, and it began on June 14, 1944, when he was credited with a probable kill of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Normandy, France. Three days later, on the 17th, he shared a kill when he helped another pilot down an Fw 190 fighter. That August, Carr was commissioned a second lieutenant.

On September 12th, 1944, Second Lieutenant Carr’s squadron strafed Ju-88 bombers on a German airfield. On the way back, his flight spotted more than 30 Fw 190s two thousand feet below them. The Americans pounced, and in display of exceptional airmanship, Carr personally shot down three enemy fighters in just a few minutes – an aerial hat trick. He then escorted a fellow American pilot, whose airplane was badly damaged, back to base. His exploits that day earned Carr a Silver Star, America’s third-highest decoration for valor in combat.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Gun camera view of a P-51 as it strafes German bombers on the ground. World War Wings

6. Shot Down Deep Inside the Third Reich

Bruce Carr became a fighter ace on October 29, 1944, when he shot down two more Bf 109s over Germany, to reach five total kills. Four days later, as he led a flight of P-51s on a strafing run over a German airfield in Czechoslovakia, Carr’s Mustang, Angel’s Playmate, was hit by antiaircraft fire. He bailed out from his fatally damaged plane, and parachuted safely to earth. Carr had managed to escape death in the air. Now he set out to escape Germans on the ground.

Stranded deep in enemy territory, hundreds of miles from friendly lines, Carr managed evaded capture for several days. Eventually, cold, wet, exhausted, and famished, he reached the end of his tether and decided to surrender. Aware that German airmen treated enemy airmen better than other POWs, Carr headed to a Luftwaffe airfield that he had spotted. He made it to its fence, and decided to hide in adjacent woods that night, and walk up to the front gate and surrender the next day.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Focke-Wulf Fw 190D-9 cockpit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. US Air Force

5. A Spur of the Moment Escape Plan

As he hunkered down outside a German airfield’s fence, Bruce Carr saw something that made him rethink his decision to surrender. Just a few yards away, Luftwaffe ground-crew were fueling and performing maintenance on an Fw 190 fighter near the runway’s edge, not far from where Carr lay hidden. When they were done, the Germans tightened the panels back on the plane and departed, leaving it ready for combat the following morning. An escape plan began to form in Carr’s mind – but it required extraordinary courage to pull off. That night, he worked up the nerve to sneak up to the enemy fighter, and climbed into its cockpit.321

Next, Carr had to fight off sleep until dawn’s early light allowed him to inspect the instruments. Everything in the cockpit was labeled in German, but there were enough similarities between it and American cockpits for Carr to guesstimate what did what. He found the Fw190’s starter lever, spent half an hour to build up his courage, then pulled it. Nothing happened. German starters worked the other way around. He eventually worked out that he needed to push it forward, and the fighter’s BMW motor roared to life.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
The stolen Fw 190 in which Bruce Carr made his escape. Large Scale Planes

4. A Dramatic Escape Worthy of an Action Adventure Film

With the Fw 190’s engine turned on, Bruce Carr decided that he would not risk his escape with an attempt to taxi to and line up on the runway. He poured on full throttle, raced across a corner of the airfield, slalomed between two airplane hangars, then took off over the heads of the sleepy and befuddled Germans below. When he reached Allied territory, ground troops opened up with flak on his Fw 190. To avoid friendly fire, he flew just above treetop at 350 mph.

After 200 miles, he reached his airfield. Unable to deploy the landing gear, or communicate via radio, Carr decided to make a belly landing before his escape was ruined by his own airfield’s defenses blasting him out of the sky. Military police surrounded the crashed Fw 190, and refused to accept Carr’s word that he was an American airman. It was finally sorted out when the group commander arrived, and identified his missing pilot. Carr is the only Allied pilot to fly off on a mission in a P-51, and return to base in an Fw 190.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Distinguished Service Cross. War Relics

3. An Intrepid Escape Was Not the End of This Ace’s Heroics

Bruce Carr’s extraordinary escape earned him a well-earned promotion to first lieutenant, as well as a well-deserved leave. However, his wartime exploits were not over. On April 2, 1945, First Lieutenant Carr led three other American fighters on a reconnaissance mission, when they spotted 60 Luftwaffe fighters above them. He was game to have a go at the enemy despite the 15:1 odds against his flight, and immediately led an attack. Within minutes, he and his companions had downed 15 Germans. Carr personally downed two Fw 190s, three Bf 109s, and damaged a sixth enemy fighter.

That made Carr the European theater’s last ace-in-a-day (somebody who shot down five or more enemy planes in a day). It also earned him a Distinguished Service Cross, the country’s second highest award for valor. By war’s end, Carr had flown 172 combat missions, scored 15 confirmed air-to-air kills, several more unconfirmed victories, and numerous ground kills. He flew another 57 combat missions during the Korean War, and 286 more in Vietnam, and in the process earned a Legion of Merit and Three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1973, and succumbed to prostate cancer in 1998. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Ivan Chisov and an Ilyushin Il-4. Hello Travel

2. Ivan Chisov’s Dilemma

World War II saw multiple airmen survive falls from thousands of feet without a parachute. As seen above, British airman Nicholas Alkemade survived a fall without a parachute from 18,000 feet. American airman Alan Magee topped that, and managed to escape the clutches of the Grim Reaper despite a 22,000 foot fall without a parachute. However, Soviet airman Ivan Mikhailovich Chisov (1916 – 1986) exceeded both records with his miraculous survival of a 23,000 foot fall without a parachute.

It happened in January, 1942, when an Ilyushin Il-4 bomber in which Lieutenant Colonel Chisov served as a navigator was jumped by Luftwaffe fighters. The bomber was wrecked and spun out of control, so Chisov exited at a height of 23,000 feet. He had a parachute, but he was worried that if the nearby German fighters spotted him as he drifted slowly to the ground beneath its open canvas, they would pounce upon and shoot him. Neither side paid much attention to chivalry on the Eastern Front.

Daring Escapes from Concentrations Camps, Enemies, and Crashed Planes
Ivan Chisov. Wikimedia

1. A Soviet Airman’s Extremely Lucky Escape From the Grim Reaper’s Clutches

Because he feared that might get shot by German fighters while he dangled defenseless beneath a parachute, Ivan Chisov decided that he would not open his parachute until he got close to the ground. However, lack of oxygen in the thin air so high up caused him to black out. Unconscious, he continued all the way down without deploying his parachute. As a result, he plummeted 23,000 feet from his stricken Il-4, before he hit the ground at an estimated speed of 118 to 150 miles per hour.

Luckily, for the Soviet airman, he hit the edge of a snowy ravine, and the snow absorbed and dissipated enough impact energy to keep him alive. Chisov bounced from the ravine’s edge and slid, rolled, and ploughed his way to the bottom. He was seriously hurt, and suffered spinal injuries and a broken pelvis. However, he had managed to escape the Grip Reaper, and was alive. He underwent surgery, and spent a month hospitalized in critical care. He was a tough Russian, however, and three months after his dramatic fall, Chisov was back in the air, flying more missions against the Nazis.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

303rd Bomb Group History – 20,000 Feet Without a Parachute: The Alan Magee Story

Air Force Magazine, February 1st, 1995 – Valor: Thanks, Luftwaffe

Aviation Geek Club – The Story of Bruce Carr, the P-51D Pilot Who Left on a Mission Flying a Mustang and Returned to Base Flying a Luftwaffe FW190

Baer, Joel H. – Pirates of the British Isles (2005)

BBC – Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese Soldier Who Held Out in Guam

Check Six – The Free Fall of Sergeant Magee

Encyclopedia Britannica – John Avery

Encyclopedia Britannica – Johnny Torrio

Historic Wings – The Miracle of Saint Nazaire

History Collection – 16 Steps These Criminals Took to Escape From Alcatraz

History Net – Devyataev’s Flight: A Russian POW Stole a German Bomber and Lived to Tell the Tale

How Stuff Works – Japanese Holdouts

La Bruja la Verde – The World War II Airmen Who Survived Falls From Thousands of Feet High

McPhaul, Jack – Johnny Torrio: First of the Gang Lords (1970)

National Park Service – The Soldier Who Did Not Surrender

Rogozinski, Jan – Honor Among Thieves: Captain Kidd, Henry Every, and the Pirate Democracy in the Indian Ocean (2000)

Royal Air Force Museum – The Indestructible Alkemade

Russo, Gus – The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America (2003)

Together We Served – Carr, Bruce W. (DSC), Colonel

War History Online – Amazing Escape: Soviet Prisoners Stole a German Plane and Flew Home

Wikipedia – Ivan Chisov

Wikipedia – Mikhail Devyataev

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