Blackburn Skuas. Captured Wings

An Unexpected Truce

Captain Partridge and lieutenant Bostock came through the crash landing relatively unscathed, without either of them being much the worse for wear. The same could not be said for the German bomber crew they had shot down: Lieutenant Horst Schopis, the pilot; sergeant Karl-Heinz Strunk, the crew chief; lance corporal Josef Auchtor, the plane’s mechanic; and private Hans Hauk, the tail gunner. Their return to earth had been far tougher, all of them were dinged up when their plane crash landed in the mountains, and Hauk, the tail gunner, was killed.

During his forced descent, Partridge had spotted a dwelling near his intended landing site, which turned out to be a reindeer hunter’s hut. After crash landing, he and Bostock trudged through high snow drifts to find shelter there. No sooner had the British airmen made it to the hut, shaken off the snow, and started to warm themselves, than they were alerted by a piercing whistle that they were not the only people in the area. Through the swirling snow, they saw three figures approaching their hut: the three survivors of the downed Heinkel.

Understandably, the Luftwaffe men were not in the best of moods, alternating between scowls and shouts, and wildly gesticulating as they brandished pistols and knives while approaching the British airmen. It was clear that the Germans were in a dangerous frame of mind, and were unlikely to let bygones be bygones and be good sports about things if they came across the enemy airman who had shot them down. So Partridge and Bostock lied.

Richard Thomas Partridge. Traces of War

Figuring out that this was one of those times when discretion was clearly the better part of valor, the downed British aircrew refrained from volunteering the information that it was they who had shot down the Germans. Instead, Partridge and Bostock convinced lieutenant Schopis and his men that they were bomber crew just like the Germans, and that they had been flying a Wellington bomber when it was shot down by a Luftwaffe fighter.

Having established some commonality that crossed nationality, based on a supposed mutual detestation of fighter pilots – a detestation that was quite genuine on the Germans’ part – the grounds for a temporary truce were set in place. It was cold outside and getting dark, so Partridge and Bostock invited the German airmen into the hut, while they decamped to find shelter elsewhere. They found it at the nearby Grotli Hotel – an empty summer vacation chalet that was shuttered for the winter.