"The war is over, let me take you as prisoners", the story of a South African pilot shot down in Italy

(To David Bartoccini)

Peter During, 7 Sqn pilot in force of the SAAF (South African Air Force) was knocked down by crossfire coming from land in the second half of April of the 1945. At that time his Supermarine squadron Spitfire mk.IX, which was based in Ravenna, was mainly engaged in ground bombing and strafing missions along the "Gothic Line".

His Spitfire, signed TJ G, was hit hard by the gusts of the flak (antiaircraft, ed) and for this During was forced to attempt an emergency landing due to the reported damage. Spotted a suitable stretch of plain, he managed to land remaining unharmed.

However, the cancellation led him to touch the ground in a field adjacent to one of the stations Anti-Airlines equipped with machine guns Flakvierling 38. The servants, under the division of the Luftwaffe 'Hermann Göering' (Panzerflakregiment) immediately made him a prisoner. It was then that one of them, who spoke fluent English, began to talk with Peter.

The young pilot, a native of Cape Town, managed to convince him of the inevitable: the break-through of the lines by the Allies was only a matter of days, the fate of what remained of the German occupiers and the RSI was marked. So he devised a plan that would save both of them lives. He proposed to the three German soldiers to allow themselves to be taken prisoners in their turn, and to be led behind the Allied lines, where they would be delivered as POW (English-speaking acronym of Prisoner of War) with all the relevant recommendations. Agreeing with a sincere handshake, the three Germans and the South African spent the following 5 days at the bush, together, as friends, finding meals and wine safely in a nearby farmhouse (as evidenced by the photographs captured by a camera of one of German soldiers who were then donated to During) before reaching the allied lines.

The three German soldiers were handed over to the Canadian military police as soon as they crossed the lines. Meanwhile what remained of the 'Gothic Line' gave way under the Allied offensive; the 25 April the partisans rebelled in all the north of Italy, the 29 April in Caserta was signed the unconditional surrender of the German forces present in Italy.

The photos taken in those days, which portray relaxed and friendly faces, shy and totally unexpected smiles, were developed after the end of the conflict. You can see During, with the typical 'odd' flight of SAAF pilots, the Maschinenpistole MP- 40 "captured" by German prisoners, but above all: you can see a deep sense of humanity, of seeking peace, of desire to live.