EXCLUSIVE: The WWII American B-24 pilot who turned spy, saved 1,000 US POWs from certain death at Soviet hands and won medal after medal - but never said a word about his wartime heroism
- Captain Robert Trimble became one of the greatest spies of World War II, saving American POWs from certain death in Soviet camps
- The B-24 pilot was named a 'lucky b******' after surviving six months of bombing runs over Nazi Germany then reassigned to secret unit
- He was sent to the Ukraine, equipped only with a diplomatic passport to protect against arrest - 'but not murder' - his wits, and $10,000
- The Eastern Front was full of 'lost souls' from the west as the Nazis retreated and he was secretly tasked to them from Soviet incarceration
- Stalin saw POWs as traitors and refugees as potential threats so was happy to let them die - prompting Trimble's secret mission
- Among those he saved were an estimated 1,000 US POWs, and 400 French women plucked to safety by train in the dead of night
- Despite winning the highest US and French honors he never told anyone of his exploits, now detailed in new book after his death by his son
An American bomber pilot has been unveiled as a secret hero of World War II after he saved more than 1,000 Allied POWs from certain death.
Captain Robert Trimble became an spy to smuggle soldiers and civilians out under the noses of the Soviet forces on the Eastern Front in Europe.
He fooled guards, stashed $10,000 in his coat to bribe officials as he became a 'magnet for the lost souls of foreign nations' left behind in the war.
Trimble's most daring rescue was of 400 French women who he got to safety by arranging for an entire train to meet them at night in the woods.
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Danger: Captain Robert Trimble in the Ukraine, where he was stationed on a secret mission to rescue US POWs. He was told his diplomatic passport would prevent arrest but make him more exposed to murder
Heroes: Then Lieutenant Robert Trimble (standing, second from left) and his crew pose with their B-24 Liberator 'Rum Runner' at RAF Debach, in Suffolk, on the day of their first combat mission, 6 July 1944. The mission was to bomb a V-1 flying bomb storage site in France. Crew (l-r standing): Lt Warren Johnson; Trimble; Lt Walter Hvischuk; Lt Raymond Joseph; Sgt Joe Sarina; (l-r squatting) Sgt Julio 'Chico' Mendez; Sgt Gale D. Moore; Sgt Alton R. Stafford; Sgt Horace Grady Hendricks; Sgt George Di Ieso. (G. Moore)
Danger zone: This Nazi propaganda picture was taken during a Luftwaffe raid on Poltava, in the Ukraine, in June 1944. Trimble arrived months later to face the aftermath of the German defeat and retreat
Trimble achieved mythical status among POWs such that they wept when they saw him - and came begging to his door.
Before his death at the age of 90 Trimble was given a clutch of honors including the Croix de Guerre by the French and the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Bronze Star by the US Air Force.
But he was so humble that he only started speaking about his life five years earlier to his son, Lee, who has now written a book about his life.
'Beyond the Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot's Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front', tells how Trimble inadvertently became one of the most effective spies of World War II after being duped by his commanders into taking the post.
The 8th Air Force pilot had flown 35 bombing missions over Germany in six months from his base in England when he was called in by his commanding officer and told he would be reassigned.
Trimble knew his luck as a bomber was running out as he had just been awarded a 'Lucky B******' certificate by his commanding officer at the 493rd Bomb Group.
Protection: Diplomatic passport no. 2242 issued to Captain Robert M. Trimble, 22 January 1945. Page 3, identifies the bearer as 'United States Government Official'.
Photographed: The passport picture shows Trimble in his dress uniform - not what he would be wearing in the Ukraine
Circuitous: The handwritten notes show how far Trimble had to go to get to the Ukraine, in the then USSR, travelling via places including Casablanca in Morocco, Cairo in Egypt and Tehran in modern day Iran
Extraordinary achievement: Medals awarded to Robert Trimble are (top row, left to right) Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal; (bottom row, left to right) Air Medal, American Campaign Medal, Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, Fiftieth Anniversary Great Patriotic War Commemorative Medal.
Mourned: Lee Trimble says his father should be remembered as a true American hero (left). When he returned to his family - including wife Eleanor and daughter Carol Ann, in Harrisburg, PA, he never spoke of his heroism
And despite wanting to go home to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to see his wife Eleanor and their unborn daughter, he accepted.
It was only when he landed in the desolate base in Poltava, Ukraine, in February 1945 - he described it as 'hell with everybody out to lunch' - that he learned the truth about his mission.
His cover would be that he was salvaging downed Allied planes to stop the technology falling into the hands of the advancing Soviets.
In fact he would be rescuing freed POWs who were being left to fend for themselves in freezing conditions by the Russians, in breach of an agreement signed by Stalin and US President Roosevelt.
There were also horrific intelligence reports that American soldiers were being detained by the Russians in camps which were worse than those in which the Nazis had kept them.
Trimble, a railway worker in his civilian days, was no James Bond and his introduction to the world of espionage was a brief lecture by two other agents who worked for the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA.
The rest he had to figure out on his own, though he was given a special vest in which he could stash up to $10,000 under his coat.
Trimble was also given a diplomatic passport which meant that he could not be arrested, but was warned that he would be 'more vulnerable to murder' as a result.
His first job was near Lvov, the Eastern capital of Ukraine which he managed after giving the slip to his chaperone from the NKVD, or Soviet police.
He got a taxi to where intelligence reports had told him POWs were hiding out, covered his tracks, and headed for the nearest barn.
The book says: 'He thumped on the timber. "I'm an American!" he called hoarsely. "American. Open the door."
'There was a pause, then a clamor of surprised voices, the door opened wide and he stepped inside. He felt himself being seized and embraced.'
Improvised: The cover Captain Robert Trimble used was that his unit was helping salvage downed US planes. He was based at Poltava, in the Ukraine, where American air power including (front) a B-17 Flying Fortress, (middle) a B-24 Liberator and (rear) a Douglas C-47 Skytrain are seen
Landed: B-24 Liberator Judith Ann at Poltava on 12 April 1945.
Boss: Major General John R. Deane, head of the US Military Mission to Moscow, in 1944, was Trimble's ultimate boss
The scene was one of 'Victorian squalor' with unshaven, emaciated faces lit by candlelight.
Trimble passed around his backpack full of rations and listened as the men told their stories.
The next day before dawn, the Polish farmer who owned the barn offered to take them back to Lvov. Trimble bribed a guard with a handful of dollar bills from his pile and got them on the next train to Odessa, where they could fly back home.
Next Trimble saved the crew of a downed bomber and arranged for them to have safe passage home - but the following mission was not such a success.
Near Krakow in Poland, and only a few miles from recently liberated Auschwitz, he discovered dozens of men shivering in the cold who were a mixture of POWs and death camp survivors.
They led him to what looked like a concentration camp nearby where there were another 25 starving women and children, bringing the total to 75.
Some of the men wanted to leave them behind, but Trimble refused and said: 'They come with us'.
Among the group was a baby girl who had been born in the camp. He mother told Trimble that the child's name was Kasia who was sick and on the 'threshold of death'.
As Trimble ordered everyone to start walking with him, he gathered the child into his parka against his chest to keep her warm.
The book says that Kasia's 'eyes had closed and [Trimble] prayed that she could cling on to life'.
Original base: Robert Trimble was based at RAF Debach, headquarters of the 493rd Bomb Group, while he flew six months of missions over Western Europe at the controls of a B-24 Liberator
Vital transport: Douglas C-47 Skytrains in the air. The plane was the backbone of Allied campaigns and used for transport to the Soviet Union
The group were driven to Krakow by a Polish farmer and from there Trimble went into the train station to buy dozens of tickets.
He instructed the group to follow him in ones and twos; miraculously they were not stopped and were allowed on the train bound for Odessa, and freedom - the Soviets did nothing as they thought they were refugees.
But as he counted them on Trimble realized that one passenger was not among the group.
The book says: 'The soul he had most wanted to bring to freedom - the ticket that he most wanted to buy - was not among them.
'Baby Kasia had not made it through that cold night on the outskirts of the city, Robert's heart had come close to breaking as they laid her to rest, still wrapped in his scarf, on a secluded patch of ground near the roadside and raised a little cairn of stones over her.
'She had found a different kind of freedom from the pain of the world.'
By this point 'something had altered' in Trimble and he would 'never be the same', his son writes.
He says: 'It was only when you saw the suffering and the aftermath up close, lived among it, and knew that your own world and everything in it was just as vulnerable to the inferno - only then did you discover your place and your purpose.
Station: While stationed at Poltava, the US troops, including Robert Trimble, mourned the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a color guard leading the march to the memorial service for the president
Center of operations: Trimble encountered many significant figures during his time at Poltava. In February 1945 the field was a staging post for the Yalta conference. Major General Edmund W. Hill (left) was commanding general of the USAF in the USSR. while W. Averell Harriman (right) was America's ambassador to Moscow. The RAF officer in the center is unidentified.
In uniform: Captain Robert Trimble outside the Operations Office at Poltava, Ukraine, February 1945.
'Robert Trimble had been to the abyss, and looked over the edge, and could never see anything the same way again'.
Over the next few months Trimble grew in confidence in his role and became something of an accomplished spy.
He got used to playing cat and mouse with his Soviet minders who never quite worked out what he was really up to until the end.
He pulled a gun on a Soviet commander who was trying to lure him away to an ambush in a display of bravado that left him later stunned.
And after landing a C-47 Douglas Skytrain in the wilderness he was fired on by Cossaks who, after he told them he was an American, welcomed him with endless rounds of beetroot wine and dancing by the fire.
Trimble's most daring rescue was also one of his last.
Sitting in the lobby of the palatial George hotel, which served as his base and office in Lvov, he was approached by a French girl who called herself Isabelle.
She explained that there were 400 French women who stranded outside the city who were starving and had no way of getting home, with no help from the Russians.
Trimble began a complex operation under which he gave a friendly ticket seller at the Lvov station a stack of money and asked him for help from sympathetic rail workers who wanted the Soviets out.
The plan was nearly rumbled when the ticket seller was arrested and Trimble was held and questioned at the station.
Key cover: A P-51D Mustang undergoing maintenance work at Poltava air base, April 1945. The unit Trimble was assigned to was officially recovering damaged aircraft but in reality was keeping US men and materiel out of Soviet hands
Souvenir: Captain Robert Trimble signed this dollar bill directly above the main 'ONE' in the center of the note. His comrades also signed it and someone wrote: 'Fighting b****** of the Ukraine.'
The book is published in the US (left) and UK (right)
But at the very same time Soviet guards were searching all the trains, at a remote location outside the city Isabelle flagged down the train that had been sent to meet them, and all 400 women got on board as they shouted: 'Allons en France!'
Trimble's mission ended when the War came to an end in November 1945 and by that point he believed he had saved more than 1,000 people.
He died in 2009 in Harrisburg having spent his last years finally opening up to his son.
In the book, Lee writes: 'Robert Trimble never wanted to be a hero. He just wanted to fly and taste a little of what he believed would be the adventure of war.
'But when the time came to go beyond the call of duty, he went, and did his best, laying his life on the line in order to bring his fellow Americans safely home.'
Lee adds: 'I am proud of my father. America - the land that gave birth to him and shaped him - can be proud of him too.
'An ordinary American who undertook a most extraordinary mission.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2967750/The-WWII-American-B-24-pilot-turned-spy-saved-1-000-POWs-certain-death-Soviet-hands-won-medal-medal-never-said-word-wartime-heroism.html#ixzz3T3ce3nn4
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