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The Great Escape (6)

We left off in the first week of September 1963 with MK fugitives Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe still in protective custody at Francistown Prison, following the failure of three attempts to airlift them to safety in Tanganyika (Tanzania).

Their initial arrangement had been aborted when the East Africa Airways Dakota that had been chartered to fly them and other ANC refugees out had been destroyed on the ground at Francistown Aerodrome by an explosive device.

A second flight was cancelled when it was revealed that the pilot had been bribed to deliver them to the South African authorities.

A third flight was then arranged by George Clay, a liberal South African-born journalist working for American National Broadcasting Company (NBC) network, who recruited a Dar es Salaam-based charter pilot named Tim Bally to fly down in a six-seater aircraft.

But this attempt had also been foiled when Bally lost power in one of the engines of his plane, forcing him to make an emergency landing at Mbeya airfield in Southern Tanganyika. While Bally was unhurt, the plane was extensively damaged.

Neither Clay nor Bally were however, prepared to give up. Working together with two sympathetic Lusaka-based journalists, Oliver Carruthers and Dick Hall, a new plan was conceived involving two planes, which would initially both land in Bulawayo.

From Bulawayo the first plane proceeded to Francistown with Clay and his film crew, while the second plane, piloted by Bally remained behind waiting for word that it was safe to fetch Goldreich and Wolpe.

Finalising the new plan proved to be a team effort. Besides the need for proactive buy-in by members of the ANC underground, including Fish Keitseng, Ismail Bhana, Simon Tladi and Anderson Tshepe, it further required the quiet support and input of the local D.C., Philip Steenkamp and police chief Inspector, Knight.

Unable due to police hostility to land in any of the countries then making up the Central African Federation [i.e. modern Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe], it was agreed that Bally would fly the plane carrying Goldreich and Wolpe to Dar es Salaam via necessary fuelling stops in Kasane, Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi) in the Congo, as well as Mbeya.

Steenkamp worked to secure their turnaround in Kasane, while Carruthers was tasked with using his connections to facilitate the Congo leg of the flight. In the meantime, Wolpe set about forging travel papers, which would be needed once they reached the Congo.

To further secure their escape plan from the ever-present eyes of Apartheid agents, it was decided that one plane would act as a decoy, taking off from Francistown, while Bally would fly from Bulawayo to the

small airstrip at Palapye to pick up Goldreich and Wolpe.

As part of the subterfuge, two vehicles were used as decoys.

Thus, on September 8, 1963, under the cover of darkness at about 4am, an official looking black car with Steenkamp at the wheel rushed out of Francistown Prison to the Aerodrome carrying Bhana and Knight sitting in the back, who were standing in for Goldreich and Wolpe. As soon as the car reached the Aerodrome, the passengers were quickly bundled onto the decoy flight.

In an attempt to further confuse any watching Apartheid agents a lorry driven by Tshepe had followed the car from the jail carrying seven ANC members.

“Fifteen minutes later” a third ANC vehicle with Rhodesian number plates left Francistown carrying Goldreich and Wolpe, who were kept safely out of view. During its journey to Palapye, it was discretely shadowed by one of Knight’s police vehicles.  The car made good time on the then dirt road, reportedly arriving at Palapye at 6:30 AM. There, an unidentified British official was present to facilitate their quick departure.

The flight to Kasane was uneventful, much to the relief of Bally who while inflight had informed his passengers of a newspaper report that South African jets would target any aircraft carrying the two fugitives.

On landing, however, Bally was disappointed to discover that the fuel on hand did not have the correct octane. Leaving his two passengers behind, he therefore proceeded to nearby Livingstone for refuelling.

At mid-day the plane finally departed from Kasane for Elizabethville, maintaining radio silence as it made its way across then Northern Rhodesia. Greater tension was caused when the air traffic control at Elisabethville failed to properly communicate their location with Bally.

With fuel running low and darkness , the pilot was forced to rely on sight to locate his landing.

This raised alarm of potential sabotage amongst the passengers, but once they were on the ground, they encountered no further trouble. 

Rendezvousing with Clay, the party spent the night in Elisabethville. The following morning, they were interviewed by Clay for NBC before returning to the airport for the final leg of their journey.

There they were greeted by a cheering crowd of locals, as well as additional representatives of the international press.

Goldreich and Wolpe arrived safely with Bally to a heroes’ welcome in Dar-es-Salaam on September 10, 1963, finally completing their month-long great escape.

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