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Thread: Why did RAF stop the issue of Escape Boots ?

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    Default Why did RAF stop the issue of Escape Boots ?

    Hi,


    In an Evasion Report held in Kew (Autumn 1943) I have read that an evader told that helpers have great difficulty in getting civilian clothes and still more difficulty in getting shoes. It is nonsense to have stopped the issue of Escape Boots.

    Does anybody have already read similar infos about these Escape Boots and why would RAF stop the issue of Escape Boots ?

    Thanks in advance

    Bertrand

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    Bertrand,
    Perhaps not quite the same thing, but a former Mosquito pilot of my acquaintance (23 Squadron, night intruders from late 1944 flying over Europe from UK) told me that they did not wear proper flying boots, preferring to wear their normal officer shoes as they were considered more comfortable! Also they had no intention of being shot down! Although the last "reason" was in jest, nevertheless the basic reasoning was obvious -comfort above all else! This crew only had one "dicey do" during their tour when they received a large flak hole through one wing which caused the sortie to be aborted and a dash for the safety of home, having to land on a very long (10,000 feet?) and famous runway at night, the name of which escapes me. The pilot had already determinted by experiment that the stalling speed because of air disturbance over the affected wing was likely to be in order of about 160 MPH. The aircraft was apparently a write off, but crew escaped unhurt. Of course crew members of 4-engined bombers would have been much more likely to wear proper flying boots ("escape boots"), particularly the guuners who occupied parts of the aircrsft somewhat more remote from heated air supply (the opposite of Mosquito crews who drew their hot air from a small heater radiator supplied from the large coolant radiator just through the "wooden wall" alongside the cockpit.)
    David D

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    Default 'Escape Boots'

    Bertrand - Wasn't there a type of flying boot where the upper part could be cut off leaving what looked like normal shoes. Much better than full flying boots in the event of being shot down and trying to pass oneself off as a member of the local public.

    David - Presumably that was at Manston, but if it was Woodbridge I'd be interested in any more details you have. Researching a/c arrivals at Woodbridge I've come across a number of damaged a/c which had to land at 140, 150 or even 160 mph. There was even one poor guy in a USAAF P-47 with a jammed throttle who had to land at 300 mph. SCARY!

    Ian

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    Hello Ian

    Yes, that's it. It seems that at one point in 1943, the issue of these "escape boots", the top of which could be removed and so they were looking like shoes and were less suspiscious when in occupied countries, had been stopped.

    While giving civilian clothes to evaders was not a problem in occupied countries, it quickly appeared that the procurement of shoes was a problem. Hence the invention of "escape boots".

    Each evader was interrogated at length by MI9, in order to improve equipment, training, etc...

    Zenon "Charly" Bartkowiak, a Polish pilot in No. 303 Squadron, had these when he was shot down in May 1944. He still had one upper part of these boots. He was posted to the Squadron in mid-1943, so either he kept them for about a year, or these were a later issue.

    The question of Bertrand is raised to see if other forumites have any knowledge about the issue of such equipment, or the cease of the issue, through their various readings.

    Joss

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    I guess statistics of the number of people able to make use of them did not justify the increased cost in spite of material shortages. The answer is no doubt in TNA.

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    Thanks Ian and David for your replies. As Joss told I'd like to know if we have any knowledge about the issue of Escape Boots, or the cease of the issue through your various readings or RAF official note !

    Bertrand

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    The boots you refer to were initially designed by a Major Clayton Hutton at MI9, and were produced as a private contract under the direction of Lord Nuffield. They comprised a standard 'Oxford' pattern shoe that was lined with sheepskin, to which an upper leg portion in leather and with a front zip and top strap were attached. Inside the leg portion was a small pocket housing a small bladed penknife, intended for use in cutting away the leg section leaving just the shoe, in the event of a successful bail out. These were field tested in 1942 by Squadrons flying low-level sorties over France, with feedback given on their use.

    As such these are commonly known as the 'Nuffield Pattern' and dont have a stores reference number. Although generally black, photos do exist of them in brown leather also.

    The design evolved to instead incorporate a black suede upper section with a side zip (that didnt interfere with the laces on the shoes), and these were put into full production and issued under stores number 22C/917 to 22C/924 (for different sizes - 22C referring to any item of flying clothing).

    They became standard issue later in the war for both bomber and fighter crews and remained an issue item well into the mid-1950s when such an item was deemed to be no longer necessary. However, some who used them found the sheepskin lined shoe to be uncomfortable if walking any distance.

    So to answer the question, they were not discontinued in 1943, they had to that point only been used on trial, and from late 1943 on they became standard issue.

    Regarding the note that bomber crews in particular relied on heating outlets in the aircraft for warmth, all crews had available to them a range of heated clothing including gloves, inner suits, booties (slippers for inside the boot), waistcoats and even microphone heaters. Prior to that crews had used chemical pouches which when dampened gave off heat. However, the latter were prone to giving the wearer chemical burns if they burst, while the former would occasionally short out, so many crews simply relied on scarves, jumpers and other items of clothing.

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    Many thanks "Airman1" for your detailed reply about these escape boots. Probably "my" pilot was given one pair of these for the trial period, and thought that the experiment with these had been stopped, hence his sentence in his evasion report "it is "nonsense" to have stopped the issue of escape boots".

    Bertrand

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    Airman 1 is correct 1943 pattern flying boots were worn into the 1950s when they were replaced with a smaller similar design, with no sheepskin lining.

    The 1943 escape boots were designed with escape in mind, they contained a small knife to help separate the upper section, giving the appearance of normal shoes. The upper section could then be used as a body warmer. On some boots between the sheepskin and outer leather silk escape maps were concealed, the laces could contain a thin chain and the heel when peeled off a small compass.

    To the best of my knowledge, they were quite popular with aircrew as they were less cumbersome than the 1941 pattern boot and the other advantage, they did not fall off when bailing out of an aircraft.

    However I know of one pilot that must have regretted his issue of the Escape Boot, piloting his Halifax Bomber fully loaded thundering down the main runway, next stop Berlin, the Halibag swerved of the runway onto the grass, I believe collapsing the undercarriage. A very shaken crew evacuated the aircraft very quickly all getting away with it, the only bonus a scrubbed op and to the pub early. At the court of enquiry it was discovered the lace of the pilots flying boot had snagged on the rudder peddle, making the aircraft swerve off the runway.

    BCS

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    BCS, Hi.
    Last para brilliant. I'll bet a large amount of your (and my) pension that there are 10,000 other stories in the same vein. We need more of these!! Ross may have to invent a separate section to cope with "You'll never believe this" stories!! But, to be serious for a moment, if enough of these 'stories' are put on record then a pattern may begin to appear which the statisticians were not aware of!!
    Rgds
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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