Escape from Albania
When the group of World War II flight nurses and medics set out from Sicily to Bari, Italy, little did they know that what should’ve been a short flight would turn into a two-month-long ordeal in Albania, trapped behind enemy lines.
The 13 nurses, 13 medics, plus the plane’s 4 crew members boarded the plane on 8 November 1943. They knew bad weather was possible but thought they’d get to Italy ahead of it. Unfortunately, they got caught in a storm midflight, and since the navigation and communication equipment had stopped working, the crew didn’t know where they were. After a run-in with the Germans, the American plane had to crash land. With no serious injuries, everyone exited the plane and were shortly greeted by some locals, who told them that they were actually in German-occupied Albania—definitely not Italy!
Luckily, the Americans had been found by some anti-German partisans who were willing to hide them and help get them out of the area. The catch was that they’d have to walk. At the time, Albania, especially the countryside, was extremely undeveloped, isolated, and poor—not to mention the country was full of mountains and winter was coming on fast. So the Americans had a challenging time as they were led on a slow, cold trek from tiny village to tiny village, with generous Albanians putting them up for the night and sharing what little food they had.
Finally, the Americans made it to Berat, a larger town, where they hoped to get more help and maybe be able to send a message back to Italy. But the Germans ruined their plans by invading the town, so the Americans had to flee in a hurry in the dead of night, getting separated in the process. Eventually, everyone but three of the nurses were reunited. Since the group couldn’t go back to Berat, they had to keep hiking through the snow, narrowly surviving a blizzard.
They finally managed to make contact with some British officers who were in the country. The British decided that they’d walk the Americans to the coast to make their escape. So after some recuperation time, the group was back to hiking. At one point, after finding an abandoned airstrip, the Americans convinced the British to contact the Americans’ superiors to request that a plane be sent to airlift them out. The American military responded with gusto, sending in more than 20 planes of different varieties, but the group on the ground couldn’t signal them to land due to the Germans positioned nearby. So the Americans set off walking again towards the coast.
They were finally met by an American officer who had been sent into Albania to lead them out, and under his guidance, in January the group finally made it to the coast and a waiting ship. They had been in Albania for 2 months and had walked somewhere between 600 and 800 miles with little food and no changes of clothing.
The three nurses that had been separated from the group in Berat made it out of Albania too, though not until March. Instead of fleeing the city when the German’s came, the three had been hidden by an Albanian family for months. Finally, the same American officer who was sent in to rescue the bigger group came for them too. They were given Albanian clothes and papers and driven most of the way by car, hiking the final leg of the journey over the mountains.