Beyond The Call - He saved 800 Eastern POWs by Outwitting Stalin's NKVD

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by frantic fighter, Apr 12, 2015.

  1. Near the end of World War II, thousands of Allied ex-POWs were abandoned to wander the war-torn Eastern Front, modern day Ukraine. With no food, shelter, or supplies, they were an army of dying men.

    The Red Army had pushed the Nazis out of Russia. As they advanced across Poland, the prison camps of the Third Reich were discovered and liberated. In defiance of humanity, the freed Allied prisoners were discarded without aid. The Soviets viewed POWs as cowards, and regarded all refugees as potential spies or partisans.

    The United States repeatedly offered to help recover their POWs, but were refused. With relations between the allies strained, a plan was conceived for an undercover rescue mission. In total secrecy, the OSS chose an obscure American air force detachment stationed at a Ukrainian airfield; it would provide the base and the cover for the operation. The man they picked to undertake it was veteran 8th Air Force bomber pilot Captain Robert Trimble.

    With little covert training, already scarred by the trials of combat, Trimble took the mission. He would survive by wit, courage, and a determination to do some good in a terrible war. Alone he faced up to the terrifying Soviet secret police, saving hundreds of lives. At the same time he battled to come to terms with the trauma of war and find his own way home to his wife and child.

    One ordinary man. One extraordinary mission. A thousand lives at stake.
    This is the compelling, inspiring true story of an American hero who laid his life on the line to bring his fellow men home to safety and freedom.

    READ MORE: #1 Best Sellerin Prisoners of War History


    Attached Files:

  2. Rav4

    Rav4 Senior Member

    Thank you New Chap. Always on the lookout for Eastern Front books. I see it is available from Amazon. Thanks again!
  3. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day new chap.12th april.2015.10:46 the call,he daved 800 eastern outwitting stalin's n.k.v.d.a great story.about an unsung hero.thank you for posting regards bernard85
  4. Captain Robert M. Trimble was my father. He revealed his clandestine "second war" to me when he was 86 years old. He survived a 35 mission tour as pilot of B-24s, then B-17s in the second half of 1944. He accepted an offer from his CO Helton (Helton's Hellcats, 493rd HBG), at the end of December 44, to go to Poltava Ukraine and bring back crashed air crews and repaired bombers. When he got there, CO Hampton revealed it was a ruse to get around the Soviets in occupied Poland, and to bring our men home. On foot, he went into Poland to find and extract our POWs. In the end, he brought out about 800 men women and some children of many countries, not just the US. One rescue alone brought out 400 French women forced-laborers. He received the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star. He was hunted by Stalin's secret police while he hunted for our sick and dying. He was the first free, western service man to see Auschwitz, just after liberation. Later he rescued many who ran for the safety of the woods nearby.

    This is the story of what happened to our POWs in the Eastern Theater, and how they got out alive. Why was it difficult? Stalin was our Ally, right? Yes, but he decreed that POWs were cowards and traitors. He shot his own on return from the war. He would do nothing to help the others therefore.

    Robert has yet to be recognized by the United States for his bravery. We seek a Medal of Honor.
    Margaret Ann and ritsonvaljos like this.
  5. More to come! Look for a feature in "Stars and Stripes" on or about May 8th (70th Anniversary V-E Day) on Captain Trimble! I will also post a mini-documentary here soon, on his story. Thank you for your interest in my father's work.


    Lee Trimble

    Attached Files:

  6. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    Frankly, It looks as if the authors have grafted a highly improbable spy story on to the real wartime experiences of captain Robert. M. Trimble. It's clear that he was at Poltava and ferried patched-up aircraft that had landed in Soviet-held territory, but there's just nothing about the "covert rescue mission" that sounds even halfway plausible, and the authors do not produce any credible evidence, or even any names of the escapees (except those four POWs he met on the street in Lwow and gave a ride to Poltava, but that hardly counts as a daring rescue), which might allow a critical reader to check one or two things.
    See my reviews on and - about the only critical ones.
    Perhaps it shouldn't, but it still saddens me when people believe stuff like this just because it's printed in a book.
  7. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

  8. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    That article in Stars & Stripes is just an uncritical rehash of the book, like most other "reviews". For some real info on the subject, see the report of the American members of the USA-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIA Affairs, established in 1992 when the relations between the two countries were better than before or since, and access to Russian archives was relatively unhindered - except for the really sensitive stuff of course.
    Of the American POWs liberated by the Russians, some 23,000 were exchanged directly across the front lines in Germany (as reported by 12th Army Group), and some 2,800 were repatriated via Odessa.

    Trimble & Dronfield devote quite some space to LtCol James D. Wilmeth, who supervised the repatriation via Odessa and was fiercely critical of the Soviets, but they seem to cherry-pick his comments and omit to quote his final report of 20 April 1945 (a couple of weeks before Germany surrendered) in which he concluded that the Russians had handed over all American POWs except a handful of problem cases (people too ill to be moved, men who wanted to take their Polish war brides with them, a couple of men whose identity was in doubt, etc.). Wilmeth characterized Russian cooperation as "reluctant" but did not suggest they had not been cooperating at all, much less that they had tried to prevent Americans (or any Frenchwomen for that matter ...) from going home.

    There seems to be very, very little room in the historical record for Trimble's alleged heroics. In fact the authors themselves slip up when describing Wilmeth's experiences; on page 165 they state that on 29 February in Lublin, where Wilmeth then was, "267 American and British POWs were loaded on a train and dispatched to Odessa".

    So apparently there was no "stalemate" after all, contrary to what the preface of the book claims, and no refusal from the Soviets to let people go?
  9. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    I notice, by the way, that Trimble Jr. in his post of 15 April says "We seek a Medal of Honor."

    Well, good luck with that. I hope he is aware that the Congressional Medal of Honor is not awarded lightly, and he certainly would need to build a much better case than the book does, because that doesn't contain a single shred of evidence that would even begin to justify such an honor.

    The authors rather cleverly suggest at various points that their "research" has produced such evidence but it hasn't. For example, in the bibliography there is a link to a French website about the Service de Travail Obligatoire (STO). Trusting readers will assume that this website contains some info that somehow supports the story of the 400 young Frenchwomen allegedly rescued by Trimble, but there's nothing of the kind there, not even the most oblique reference.

    So why is it listed in the bibliography? If the authors feel that their readers need to be educated about the STO, then why not throw in a few dozen books about the Red Army 1939-45 as well, that would be just as relevant?
  10. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    In setting the stage for their story, the authors state in the preface that wandering Allied POWs were sometimes “indiscriminately shot at by Russian troops”, suggesting sadistic and criminal behaviour and providing a reason why the poor POWs had to hide in the woods. However, once again, the authors provide no evidence that such things happened.

    What did happen was that on 31 January Russian troops opened fire on a column of POWs and their German guards preparing to leave Stalag III-C near Küstrin, killing five according to the report of the Joint Commission (fifteen plus 25 wounded according to “Beyond the Call”).

    Such regrettable incidents happen in war. On 7 November 1944, between Nis and Aleksinac in Yugoslavia, a Russian column was attacked by P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd Fighter Group, and Lieutenant General G.P. Kotov, commander of the 6th Guards Rifle Corps, and some of his men were killed.

    It would clearly be a serious distortion to write, on the basis of this single incident, that “advancing Red Army columns were sometimes shot up by American fighter bombers”, thereby suggesting that a) they did it on purpose and b ) it was a regular occurrence.

    In the main, and contrary to what the authors suggest, liberated Allied POWs had no real reason to hide from the Red Army, even if they did not always get the hoped-for assistance. Of course there may well have been instances where Russian soldiers, drunk or not, relieved them of their watches or other possessions.
  11. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Through my reading many official documents for this time period, it should be noted that many Allied POW's would not be recognisable as such, because by this time many were wearing whatever they could find to keep warm and dry (if that was possible), some even wearing civilian clothes as they were working outside of the camps on farms or mines etc.
    Also the front line Russian troops had not had instructions so that they could differentiate between Germans, Allied POW's (in an assortment of unrecognisable military uniforms to them, or basic clothing) civilians etc etc. The majority were not, if I may say, of the highest IQ, nor were they experienced in the situation, they were cannon fodder being driven to gain as much territory as possible and basically anyone in front of them would have been construed as 'enemy'.

  12. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    Testimony from a POW from New Zealand, which I would venture to suggest was fairly typical ( ... 9_-_odessa ). My point is, there wasn't any need for dramatic James Bond-type rescues by captain Trimble, apparently.

    The story starts the morning after the German guards leave the Stalag, accompanied by those POWs who preferred to go West:

    "Early next morning there was a burst of cheering and we went outside to find a group of Cossacks mounted on shaggy ponies had galloped into the camp carrying a large red flag with the hammer and sickle on it. The Russians had arrived at last!

    A couple of hours later we were told we could start our journey eastwards, so with a light heart we set out, free at last after three and a half years of captivity. Shortly we were passing through elements of the Russian forces and I was amazed that such a motley collection had defeated the might of the German Army.

    The following morning our first priority was food. One of the party found a cow that needed milking and another found a nest of eggs so we made an omelette, something we had not tasted for years. We caught some of the loose horses around and one man found a bicycle without any tires. In high spirits, we started out eastward journey.

    Along our route were mute evidences of the fierce fighting that had taken place. Burnt-out tanks and vehicles littered the fields on every side. We always managed to find an empty barn or deserted house in which to spend the night plus also caches of vegetables to keep ourselves from starving. Our faithful little mare did best of all - the barns contained plenty of hay.
    About every 40 km we would strike a road block manned by the green-capped military police. We would be questioned and then allowed to proceed. We were never given any rations or any assistance whatsoever.

    As we progressed further into Hungary, we found that some of the villagers had returned to their homes and we were able to barter for food. By this time we were about 40km from Budapest. That afternoon, way out in the country, we came to a railway station where there was a train waiting. We learned that it was proceeding to Budapest that evening so we decided to join the couple of hundred others who were hitching a ride. We turned loose our faithful little mare who had drawn us so many miles, gave her a thankful pat on the rump and hoped she found a new caring master. Early the following morning we arrived in Budapest.

    On April 12, we were told that President Roosevelt had died suddenly.

    The real British Military Mission had dis-possessed up of the comfortable quarters we had mistakenly been given on our arrival in Budapest. We were now in a barbed-wire stockade. The food was adequate, the only nark - our lost liberty.

    After several days we were told that we would be taken to Odessa. We were marched to the railway station and put aboard our usual mode of transport - box cars. But they were not crowded and the doors were left open. Our armed guards travelled in a passenger carriage. For rations each man was given the dried front quarter of what might have been goat, each car had a sack of toasted bread crusts, truly hard rations indeed.

    We had no means of cooking the meat. We had to gnaw what we could cut off the bone. In a couple of days all the food had gone. We had to resort to bartering clothes for food, which was mostly bread or boiled eggs. Thefts by the locals was prevalent and we always left someone to guard our gear. One chap in the box car was using his boots for a pillow and when he woke up one morning they had gone! The guards however, found him a replacement pair.

    It was the tail end of winter, with snow still on the ground. We also got an insight into the Russian method of crowd control. While waiting at a station, a train came in with the usual horde of people hitching a ride on top. Ignoring commands to get off, a burst of machine gun fire changed their minds.

    But we did have a couple of pleasant breaks. One evening, somewhere in Rumania, we stopped at a station with a large shed attached. In it were a group of Russian soldiers, both men and women. It was decided to hold a party. They entertained us with a delightful display of Cossack dancing and songs. The refugees put on their national dances and my British mates did their best to demonstrate their artistry at ballroom dancing.

    In Bucharest, Rumania, the station had a canteen. By this time we had accumulated enough roubles through our trading ventures to have a meal and some drinks.

    We finally reached Odessa and were taken to a building where we were given a lovely hot shower the first for many weeks. Our bath attendants were women soldiers, but our years of army life had banished modesty. Meanwhile our clothes had been taken away and fumigated. Afterwards, we were again fully interrogated, finger printed and given a hot meal. We were then driven to a villa about 4 km from the city.

    There we met quite a number of other Allied servicemen, including a number of American airmen who had been force-landed in Russian territory, when they ran out of fuel returning from bombing raids over German lines. Their planes had been impounded. It was actually all political. The Allies were holding large numbers of Russian POW, many of whom did not want to be returned to Russia where their fate would probably be liquidation as the Russians were of the opinion that no soldier should be taken prisoner.

    We had been well supplied with food and other supplies from the well-stocked Red Cross stores, but the Russians had never signed the Geneva Protocols, so were ineligible for such help.

    At that time, Mrs. Churchill had been on a goodwill tour of Russia. Unlike her husband she was very popular with the Russian hierachy. She saw to it that we would be on a boat “next morning”. That evening a big bonfire was lit and we all gathered around singing songs from our various homelands. But not all were happy.

    My little Greek friend from Salonika and a Canadian soldier who had married a Polish girl while on the loose, had to stay behind. On May 8, we pulled into the port of Naples. We were taken to Caserta Barracks where we were told that Germany had surrendered that morning."

    Of course, for some it was a good deal more difficult. A history of the STO by Patrice Arnaud mentions a group of French forced labourers who were first sent to Odessa, then for unexplained reasons to Moscow, with endless delays, before they were finally repatriated via Romania. In all they spent nearly eight months as "guests of the Soviet Union" and very nearly starved to death.
  13. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    To return to the book: At the beginning of his mission, Trimble meets two OSS agents at Poltava who brief him (page 83-85): “They were nondescript; their clothing was civilian, utilitarian, neither expensive nor cheap, neither smart nor shabby. They could have passed for tradesmen, shop workers, or laborers. (…) All Robert knew about the two men was that they were OSS, and that they had been diverted from their original mission to be his contacts. Their purpose was to go deep into Soviet-occupied Poland, making contact with locals and gathering intelligence on liberated Allied prisoners of war: their condition, health, the locations where they had concentrated, and what, if anything, the Russians were doing to help them.”

    Question: if the OSS already had highly trained agents on the ground, who could move about more or less unhindered, then what did they need Trimble for? Why couldn’t those agents put people on a train, if that was all it took, or exfiltrate them in some other way, once they had located them?

    What was Trimble’s added value supposed to be?
  14. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    in that context: the authors' fertile imagination peters out when it comes to the not unimportant question of how Trimble got his ex-POWs and former slave workers out of the country once he'd found them. They state – a bit lamely I think – that “once people were on the train for Odessa, they were likely to be let alone.” (page 237). Really. And why would that be? Because the train was a kind of rolling sanctuary that NKVD troops did not dare to board? And what happened when they reached Odessa? The same NKVD that had hunted them mercilessly through the Polish forests merrily waved them through and let them board whatever ship they liked?
  15. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    On page 120-125, Trimble "saves" a bunch of POWs and others vaguely described as "civilian ex-prisoners", including 25 women and children by bringing them out of the woods and putting them on a train in Krakow.

    P. 125: "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."

    IMHO any writer, and especially one claiming to write nonfiction, should be ashamed of this kind of gooey sentimentality, but more to the point: why did Trimble bury "baby Kasia" by the roadside like a dead dog? Were there no priests or churches left anywhere in or around Krakow? Why was it beyond Trimble's capabilities to arrange a decent Christian burial? James Bond would have managed it.
  16. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    Regarding Trimble's Croix de Guerre (see post nr. 7 above), I inquired at the French "Service Historique de la Défense" and they can't find any trace of any such medal being awarded to Robert M. Trimble.
    However, there still might be something in the archives of the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air). If there is, it (almost) certainly concerns Trimble's service as a pilot, and not his alleged humanitarian rescue work.

    Attached Files:

  17. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    "Frantic Fighter" and his co-author do not exactly invite serious discussion about their book, I was blocked from the book's FB page pretty fast - not surprising perhaps. I see there is now a Polish version, I would be interested to know what Poles with knowledge of the real situation in Poland in 1945 think about this whole story. For example, Trimble moves about in taxis (or the cars of private citizens who transport him in exchange for money or perhaps goods, which amounts to the same thing). How many privately owned cars/taxis were still running in say Lvóv in early 1945, after five and a half years of Soviet/German/Soviet occupation?
    Also, Trimble repeatedly goes to railway stations in Krakov, Lvov and other places to buy tickets for his charges. My impression is that at the time there were no timetables, passenger cars, or tickets, and that people just piled into any cattle car they believed might be going in their direction?

Share This Page