Brave POW Escapes Capture 4 Times


The date is 1941 and the second world war
is in full swing. In the deserts of North Africa, the British
Royal Air Force is tangling daily with the formidable Luftwaffe, and the costly engagements
have sounded a call for fighter pilots. Responding to that call is a unit of Australian
fighter pilots, shipped across the world to fight the Germans in Africa. Hearing of this, the German pilots snicker
amongst themselves- what do a bunch of Aussies know about air to air combat? The Germans will find out soon enough, as
an Australian rookie fighter pilot takes to the sky in his P-40 Tomahawk and quickly becomes
one of Australia’s most decorated fighter aces, and one of the most distinguished fighter
pilots in world history. This is the story of Nicky Barr. Andrew “Nicky” Barr was born in Wellington,
New Zealand on the 10th of December, 1915, along with his twin brother, jack. At six he moved to Melbourne where he grew
up and as a teenager became a rugby champion. Sent to Britain along with his rugby team,
the Wallabies, Barr’s promising career as a rugby player came to an abrupt end when
the Germans decided to kick off their favorite 20th century hobby: starting, and losing,
world wars. Barr immediately tried to join the Royal Air
Force, having admired aircraft his whole life the war gave him a new dream: to be a fighter
pilot. The British were eager to accept young Barr
into the RAF, but warned him that it would likely be a long time before he would actually
get to fly- clearly this was before Britain joined the air war against the formidable
Luftwaffe, because very soon there would be plenty of room for new pilots amongst the
Royal Air Force. Rather than waiting for months doing administrative
paperwork as an armchair warrior, Barr decided that if the British wouldn’t let him fly then
maybe his native Aussies would. He was soon on a ship back to Australia, and
upon arrival immediately joined the Royal Australian Air Force on the 4th of March,
1940. Australia at the time found itself in dire
need of bomber pilots and bombardiers though, and in order to ensure that he would become
a fighter pilot, he purposefully aimed poorly during his bombing practices. It was during training that he got a reputation
for being a bit of a rebel, and thus secured his nickname of “nicky”, for “old nicky”
or the Devil. Barr’s shenanigans worked and soon he found
himself a bonafide fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force, though his first assignment
would leave much to be desired. Assigned to fly CAC Wirraways off the coast
of Queensland on patrol against Japanese ships, Barr was dismayed at the terrible performance
of his first aircraft. The Wirraways was an Australian built version
of an American trainer aircraft, and was slow, clunky in the sky, and woefully outgunned
and outmaneuvered by any of the Axis power’s aircrafts. The time on his Wirraway however did give
Barr plenty of time to practice his flying skills, something that would come in handy
when finally posted to combat duty. On the 28th of September, 1941, Barr was finally
posted to North Africa and assigned a P-40 Tomahawk fighter. An American-made single-seat fighter, the
P-40 was widely used by the allied powers and was the third most produced American fighter
of World War II. It was an untested fighter though, and Barr
would be one of the first pilots to cut his teeth on the aircraft. Though it was far outperformed at very high
altitudes, the P-40 proved a capable air superiority fighter at medium and low altitudes, and was
widely considered a very fine ground-attack aircraft. Stationed at Khartoum, the capital of Sudan,
Barr was issued a “goolie chit”, or piece of paper that was meant to be shown to local
tribesmen if he was ever shot down. The paper contained the following written
in Arabic: “Don’t kill the bearer, feed him and protect him, take him to the English
and you will be rewarded. Peace be upon you.” While he hoped to never have to make use of
his goolie chit, Barr would soon find himself at the mercy of local natives after being
shot down. But not before he achieved his first kill
against a Messerschmitt Bf 110 on the 12th of December, followed by downing two more
German fighters the next day. Barr’s squadron was then equipped with P-40
Kittyhawks, a more formidable model of the Tomahawk, and the aircraft in which Barr officially
became an ace on New Years Day, 1942, as he claimed two more German fighters. Three months later British radar would pick
up a major raid by German aircraft and Barr would lead a flight of six Kittyhawks up against
a force of twenty four German planes! Incredibly the Australians would destroy nine
of the German planes without losing a single one of their own, with Barr personally earning
one more victory. Barr was quickly becoming one of the most
accomplished fighter aces in the African theater, being credited with twelve enemy kills, two
probable kills, and eight damaged. While he always believed that the Kittyhawk
was no true match for the German Messerschmitts, he concluded that he would make up for the
plane’s engineering shortcomings with sheer aggression. He famously quipped that he would treat aerial
combat the same as he would a boxing match up against a much bigger, tougher opponent-
the key to winning was sheer aggression. Barr’s prowess would quickly earn him command
over his squadron. In January of 1942 though, Barr was shot down
for the first time. After having destroyed a German and an Italian
fighter, Barr spotted a fellow pilot who had crash landed in the desert below. He brought his aircraft down and began to
touch down so as to recover the stranded pilot when suddenly two German fighters dove on
him from above. He aborted the landing and pulled up into
the sky, taking on the two aggressors and managing to shoot one down, though he was
eventually forced to undergo an emergency landing behind enemy territory after more
Germans showed up and damaged his aircraft. Climbing out of his aircraft with a German
fighter bearing down on him and ready to light him up, Barr decided that the best thing to
do to throw the pilot’s aim off was to run directly at the oncoming aircraft- and the
suicidally aggressive trick worked, with Barr’s life being spared albeit at the cost of being
injured by shrapnel from rocks shattering from the fighter’s cannon shells. A friendly tribe of Arab nomads happened to
find him however and treated his wounds, helping him return to friendly lines. For this and his exploits to date, Barr earned
himself the Distinguished Flying Cross. Four months later Barr would have another
close call when his engine overheated and he was forced to land his plane to allow his
engine to cool off. He removed the cowling protecting the engine
but spotted enemy tanks rushing towards him. Armed with only a pistol, Barr decided it
wouldn’t be wise to bring a gun to a tank fight, and risked crash landing by taking
off with the overheating engine. Luckily for him, the plane would bring him
safely back to base in one piece. Five days later though he was shot down for
a second time and crash landed in the middle of a raging tank battle. Wounded and staying put by his aircraft, he
was helpless to watch as the two armies battled each other, both sides trying to reach him
first. The British would be the first to reach him
and treat his wounds, returning him to his squadron. A month later though Barr was forced to bail
out of his stricken Kittyhawk and was captured by Italian soldiers, then shipped off to Italy
where he was imprisoned in a POW camp. The Italians were nice enough to treat his
very serious wounds, but Barr decided that his place was in the skies and not in a POW
camp, so as soon as he had recovered enough to escape, he promptly did so, heading for
the Swiss border. There he was discovered by an Italian customs
official and Barr struck the man in the head with a rock, but unfortunately he would be
recaptured. Charged with the official’s death, Barr avoided
the death penalty when a Swiss red cross colonel representing him at his court martial located
the official and proved he had not died in the attack. A year later in 1943, Italy would find itself
on the verge of surrender, and German forces began rounding up prisoners to ship to Germany. Not particularly in the mood for a holiday
in Deutchsland, Barr decided to jump from the moving train he was being transported
in, and managed to link up with a force of Italian partisans. For two months Barr fought the Nazis behind
enemy lines before being recaptured. This time he was taken to a transit camp located
just over the Austrian border, and once more Barr kindly refused the German’s hospitality
by digging a tunnel under the barbed wire and escaping along with fourteen other prisoners. He linked up with an allied special operations
unit in the mountains who were helping allied prisoners and Italian refugees escape over
the Apennine Mountains, but unfortunately he was recaptured by the Germans who at this
point were really insistent that Barr stay put. Barr however wanted to not be a German prisoner
of war about as badly as the Germans wanted him to be a German prisoner of war, and thus
he escaped one more time and lead a group of twenty POWs on a harrowing journey over
the mountains to freedom. Finally reaching friendly lines in March 1944,
Barr was immediately sent to a military hospital when he stumbled into an allied camp weighing
only 121 pounds (55 kilograms) and suffering from malaria, malnutrition, and blood poisoning. For his numerous escapes and assistance to
allied POWs, Barr would earn himself the Military Cross, awarded only to six RAAF pilots during
World War II. Not quite done with the war though, Barr was
posted to Britain and landed on Omaha Beach two days after D-Day as part of an air support
control unit. Later he would be assigned a Hawker Typhoon
and sent to rain rockets down on German V-1 rocket launch sites in a bid to stem the tide
of V-1s exploding across Britain. Barr would finally return to Australia on
the 11th of September 1944, where he would become a chief instructor and help train a
new generation of Australian fighter pilots. Not quite done with the war though, he would
fly ground-attack missions against Japanese forces in New Guinea until the end of the
war shortly after. Andrew William “Nicky” Barr would go on
to die on the 12th of June in 2006 at the age of 90, one of Australia’s most decorated
fighter pilots. His leadership in combat saved countless other
pilot’s lives, and his selfless efforts to help other allied soldiers escape from prison
camps across Europe exemplified the honor and courage of the Australian fighting forces. Would you have been like Nicky and volunteered
to join the military during World War 2? Would you have wanted to be a fighter pilot,
a bomber, or some other job? Tell us in the comments. Also, for more crazy stories from World War
2, be sure to check out our other video Mad Jack – A Real Life World War 2 Mad Man. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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