SITA has announced the formation of the Secure Journeys Working Group to address today s airport security threats in the US and to work towards creating a secure and efficient passenger experience throughout the airport. The launch of the Secure Journeys initiative is in response to the current security climate and recent attacks on non-secure areas of the airport, including the Brussels airport bombing and Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. Members of the working group cite these incidents as examples that demonstrate the need to rethink the approach to getting passengers through the airport quickly and safely.
Because CVG is a mid-market airport, we have the unique ability to quickly test the effectiveness of emerging technology on security and efficiency, says Brian Cobb, vice president of Customer Services, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). As a member of Secure Journeys, we can use our knowledge to help shape recommendations to the TSA and CBP based on real-world experience rather than untested concepts. We look forward to collaborating as a community to ensure the safety and convenience of the traveling public. Secure Journeys is an evolution and expansion of SITA s Border Automation User Group which was formed in 2015 to facilitate implementation of the US Customs and Border Protection s (CBP) Automated Passport Control program.
The newly extended group will address growing challenges, including:
Moving passengers and baggage more rapidly through non-secure areas of the airport, such as check-in and baggage claim areas
Reducing and effectively managing security wait times to reduce lines of people in non-secure areas
Incorporating biometrics for passenger screening authentication
Addressing ways in which identity management solutions can be used along with data analytics to reduce the growing concerns around the insider threat.
According to SITA, the value of Secure Journeys is its ability to bring together experts and representatives from across the air transport spectrum to provide input and recommendations based on their unique perspective and experience. Given the Administration s focus on transportation security and commitment to large-scale investment for the nation s infrastructure, the solutions and recommendations identified by Secure Journeys are vital to informing key decision makers.
As the US government looks for answers to a new set of threats passengers face, Secure Journeys will identify solutions to common soft target challenges, passenger screening and insider threats and develop a set of recommended standards for US airports to adopt, says David Menzel, sales director Government Markets, SITA, founding member, Secure Journeys. We look forward to continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security and our airline and airport partners to make America s airports safer and improve the overall passenger experience from reservation to destination.
Skinny, gaunt, 25-year-old William Ash from Dallas, Texas, strolled up to the wooden shed that housed the prisoner of war camp s communal latrine block the Abort, the Germans called it. A fellow POW lounging against the wall by the door gave Ash a nod. This guy was a stooge, standing lookout, and the nod indicated the all clear. Ash passed into the Abort building.
It was Wednesday, March 3, 1943, a bleak winter s day. And this toilet block was the main ablutions facility in the Wehrmacht s Offizierslager XXI-B prisoner of war camp, built on the western outskirts of the town of Schubin, Poland. Here, the Second World War s largest Anglo-American POW escape to date would soon go forward. Inside the latrine building, two rows of eighteen boxed-in toilet seats extended down each wall, side by side. The ancient Romans had devised this form of communal lavatory. Just as human plumbing had remained unchanged, nothing much had been altered in latrine design in two thousand years. Every day, from first light, a long line of prisoners snaked away from the Abort entrance, waiting their turn. Now, the Abort was almost empty. Just two toilets, at the far end, were occupied as Ash walked in. Both occupants were kriegies, as POWs called themselves, from Kriegsgefangener, German for prisoner of war. They were expecting Ash. Standing and turning to the last toilet on the left, one kriegie reached down and lifted the round wooden seat away, revealing an opening just large enough for a man to squeeze down through. As the trio looked down into the bowels of the latrine, the revolting stink of human waste wafted up from below, hitting them in the face and filling their nostrils. It was enough to make the eyes water, the head spin, the stomach heave. After three months working in this gross environment, Ash was still not immune to the smell. There was only one plus: this same revolting stink was enough to repel their German guards and disguise one of history s most disgustingly brilliant escape schemes.
With his hands on the wooden surround, Ash lifted his legs from the ground and eased them down into the hole. Letting go, he slid down and dropped into a large underground sump, splashing into a concrete channel that carried urine and feces to an exit hole in the brick wall. Via that hole, the excrement fell into a massive sewage pit beside the sump. With a grunt, another of the POWs dropped down to join Ash. Above, the third man replaced the toilet seat. He would remain on watch until the underground shift ended. Bill Ash s companion in the sump was long-faced Quebec native Eddy Asselin. Just 21, Asselin was, like Ash, painfully thin for lack of nutritious food. The tunnel they were digging from the Abort had been codenamed Asselin, after the Canadian, because this ingenious escape bid was his idea. Escape participants had several nicknames for the tunnel, including Eddy s Exit, and the SHJ ( Shit House Job ). Ash and Asselin were two of three North Americans participating in the escape. The third was Johnny Dodge, a 46-year-old major from New York City and a cousin by marriage to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Part of the first group of American prisoners to arrive at Oflag 64 in June, 1943. Escapee Lt. Ed Ward is on the far right in the bottom row. Beside him is Lt. Sid Mouse Waldman, who was in charge of soil dispersal from the Cory tunnel. (Photo courtesy Ed Ward Jr.)
Asselin now joined Ash in sliding aside a wooden cover disguising an opening burrowed into the back of the sump s brick wall. Clambering through to a chamber dug from the earth, the pair carefully replaced the dummy wall behind them, in case an inquisitive German plucked up the gumption to stick his head, and a flashlight, down a toilet and inspect the sump below. Ash and Asselin were now in a cavern they d helped hollow from the earth beside the stinking sump. In candlelight, they joined three other waiting POWs hunched in the cramped space, and stripped down to long johns. Including the Three Stooges above, this was the digging team, first crew of the day. One man was already seated at a bellows made from old leather kit bags, to push a wooden handle in and out, which would pump air into a low tunnel that disappeared to the west. The other three would remain at the tunnel entrance to retrieve soil the day s dig produced and ready to dive in and dig out anyone caught in a cave-in. After their shift the digging team would be followed by the dispersal team, who would dispose of tunnel earth in the vast sewage pit. One POW had the unenviable job of stirring the earth into the lake of urine and feces. Once a week, contents of the pit were hand-pumped into a horse-drawn honey wagon for removal from the camp. The honey wagon s Polish driver, Franciszek Lewandowski, used the waste as fertilizer on his pig farm. Just as Lewandowski was about to complain that his sewage was being adulterated by soil, POW Josef Bryks had confided the kriegies secret to him. Bryks, a livewire young Czech, was a member of X Organisation, the compound s Royal Air Force escape fraternity. His information had brought a smile to the face of the honey wagon driver. Lewandowski kept the secret, and carted away the tunnel soil.
The third team of the day would repair and shore up tunnel walls and ceiling and extend the air pipe beneath the floor, ready for the next day s digging team. That air pipe was made from used Klim powdered milk cans, which came from Red Cross parcels, fitted end to end. Air now being pushed to the tunnel face by the pump came from the sump; thick and putrid, it nonetheless contained enough oxygen to keep men in the tunnel alive. As the pump began to wheeze, Ash entered the darkened tunnel. At its deepest, it sank to seventeen feet below ground, to avoid German seismic detectors buried to pick up the sounds of digging. The tunnel was little more than two feet high and two feet across; coffin-sized dimensions dictated by the length of bed-boards taken from camp barracks to line the tunnel walls and ceiling. Ash had personally donated every single bed-board from his own bunk bed, replacing them with a lattice of string, which was concealed from prowling guards eyes by his mattress.
Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Omar Bradley, and Courtney Hodges, Germany, 1945. Eisenhower and Patton both had men close to them behind the wire at Schubin, while Bradley was critical of Patton s mission to free Schubin prisoners. (Photo courtesy the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)
On elbows and knees, pushing a flickering candle consisting of a bootlace wick floating in margarine in a sardine tin, Ash slowly worked his way along the earthen tunnel floor. Asselin came close behind, trailing a length of thin rope. All the while, the pair s ears were pricked for sounds of moving earth above heralding an impending cave-in. This fragile tunnel, source of so much hope, was also catalyst for nightmares in which tunnelers were buried alive.
Each trip down it required a little more courage, Ash would later say. Once they d crawled to a small halfway chamber, 75 feet in, Asselin halted. Ash kept going, playing out another length of rope. From beginning to end, it took half an hour to crawl to the tunnel face 150 feet from the entrance. According to the escapers calculations, the tunnel, growing by two to three feet a day, had passed beneath the pair of high wire fences surrounding the camp. After that, it angled gently upward, and, several days earlier, had arrived beneath an irrigation ditch in a potato patch outside the wire. The last few shifts had been digging vertically, aiming for the ditch.
A wall of earth loomed up in front of Ash. A scoop fashioned from a Klim can lay waiting, along with a large cloth bag. Taking up the scoop, Ash pulled himself to a standing position inside the shaft. Setting his candle to one side, he began to hack into the earth above his head, allowing material freed to fall to the floor. After digging for a while, Ash dropped to his knees and pushed this into the bag. Once he d filled the bag, he tied it to the end of the rope he d run out, then sharply tugged the rope twice.
At Oflag XXI-B, honey wagon escapee Josef Bryks, left, and Asselin tunnel escapee Otto Cerny, second from right, with (left to right), Australian Ambrose Haley, Briton John Ireton, and, far right, Czech Pablo Cryanski. (Photo courtesy the Australian War Memorial, Canberra)
From the halfway chamber came an answering pair of tugs. The bag trailed off into the gloom, as Asselin hauled it in. Once Asselin had the bag, he attached it to the rope he d played out from the entrance. Giving that rope two tugs, he received a reply, and the bag slid away toward the entrance. This laborious method of earth removal was not as sophisticated as the system of railroad tracks and trolleys that would be employed in the famous Great Escape tunnels at Stalag Luft 3 outside Sagan, Germany, a year after this. But in virtually every other way, methods employed in that later escape were pioneered here at Schubin, below ground and above.
* * *
Bryks had secured a camera to take ID photos of escapees, for use on their forged identity papers. First, he d wangled his way onto a detail occasionally taken under guard to a German-owned Schubin produce store. There, the detail bought a few luxuries for the kriegies, from a fund set up with the paltry sums paid to prisoners by the German Government under the Geneva Convention. Polish girl Stefania Maludzinska was serving in that produce store, and she soon fell for Bryks charms. Before long, she was writing to Bryks parents in Czechoslovakia. He hadn t dared write to them using the camp s mail system, as this would have alerted the Germans to his true identity and brought repercussions down on family members. Bryks parents wrote back to Maludzinska, who smuggled the replies to Bryks when he came into the store. After a while, Bryks confided to the Polish girl that he and comrades were planning an escape, and sought her help. Maludzinska had friends working at the town hall steal German forms, which she passed onto him for copying by X Organisation forgers.
Stefania Maludzinska, photographed after the war. She helped POWs escape from the Schubin camp at risk to her own life. (Photo courtesy the Museum Szubinskiej im Zenona Erdmanna, Szubin, Poland)
Then came the most fraught task of all. Acquiring a small camera and film from a local who d been a teacher before the war but was now forced to toil on the roads by the Germans, Maludzinska arranged for them to be smuggled into the camp by a seventeen-year-old youth who worked in Schubin s German bakery and delivered the kriegies black bread ration. The teenager also developed the film in his parents tiny apartment. Mug shots of escapees found their way back into the camp in bread deliveries. Maludzinska and her helpers would have been shot had the Nazis discovered their activities. Meanwhile, X Organisation s security team watched over all escape activities. With the weather improving and frozen ground thawing, seven tunnels were being burrowed by industrious inmates. But Asselin was X Organisation s gem. Not only had it gone the farthest, it stood the best chance of avoiding detection. Not even the Germans believed that men could be so desperate to escape they would immerse themselves in human waste for months.
Like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape movie, Ash had frequently spent time in the solitary confinement cellblock, the Cooler, across the street from the camp. While there, he dreamed of far-fetched escapes. Sometimes, he fantasized about a giant catapult flinging him over the wire. Other times, he was flying to freedom with wings on his arms. This Asselin tunnel project was the most realistic, planned, structured and prepared escape bid in which this serial escapee would ever participate. After digging for an hour, Ash calculated the exit shaft had approximately two feet to go before emerging up into the potato patch. He proved his theory by poking a long stick into the earth above. For approximately two feet, he felt resistance. After that, the stick moved easily. It was time to stop work. When they came to dig that last 24 inches of earth away, it would be the day of the break. The Texan slowly, wearily retreated along the tunnel, dousing candles as he went. Dirty and haggard-faced, looking like refugees from the Underworld and smelling like nothing on Earth, Ash and Asselin emerged into the cavern beside the sump. Back on the surface, they would wash themselves as thoroughly as they could. Wearing the same clothes year-in, year-out, and with limited washing facilities, most prisoners stunk anyway. At the twice-a-day outdoor Appells, or prisoner assemblies, called by Wehrmacht camp security officer Hauptmann Simms for headcounts, diggers aromas blended in with those of neighbors as guards moved through their ranks, counting them.
Now, with a weary grin, Ash informed his colleagues in the cavern that they had just two feet to go, vertically, to reach freedom. The next dig would be the last.
* * *
In the early evening of March 3, X Organisation s executive met in the camp theater with Asselin and Ash and the Senior British Officer, or SBO, Wing Commander Harry Wings Day. Stooges stood at every window and door to warn of the approach of Germans. In this secure environment, Asselin told his associates that his tunnel was ready to go. Escape clothes, maps and documents were also ready. All that was required was a date for the break. To help avoid detection, the break would need to take place on a relatively moonless night. According to meteorological experts among them, the best option was two days away, March 5, and the meeting unanimously agreed to break out on that night. Next, they had to decide how many men would go out, and their identities. It was agreed the men making the break should be concealed down the tunnel in the early evening, immediately following the five p.m. Appell, and wait down there until lock up at nine p.m. when the goons closed up the barrack blocks and the night guard came on duty. The entry would be sealed up once the escapees were in the tunnel, so, the number of men going out would be dictated by the number who could survive in the tunnel until the exit was dug.
It was nine Wehrmacht Hetzer tank destroyers like this one, photographed at Hammelburg, that stood in the way of the success of the rescue of Schubin kriegies being held there. (Photo courtesy Peter Domes, www.taskforcebaun.de)
A mathematician among them calculated that 23 men lying head-to-toe along the tunnel s length, and another ten crammed into the entrance cavern, could survive on the available air. Several of those present voiced concerns that men would suffocate as they lay waiting. But the experts were confident there would be enough oxygen for 33 men for six hours, and this was the number finally agreed upon. Asselin, as the originator of the scheme, would be first man out, with Ash his wingman. Those who d dug the tunnel would go next, followed by leading lights in the X Organisation.
To mask the mass movement of escapees to the Abort on breakout day, it was agreed that a rugby match would be staged late in the afternoon of March 5: England versus Australia. With details agreed, the meeting broke up, with prisoners hurrying away to make preparations. Rugby players would be aware the match was designed to cover an escape, but details of the nature and location of the break were confined to the men taking part and members of the escape committee.
* * *
At five p.m. on the day of the break, the guards counted the POWs as they stood in ranks on the recreation ground for Appell, then reported to squat little Hauptmann Simms that all prisoners were present. After they were dismissed, most of the eight hundred men flooded to the recreation ground s perimeter, talking animatedly among themselves. Rugby players and officials stripped down to shorts. The camp s 130 USAAF men joined the crowd. The SBO had asked Senior American Officer Colonel Charles Rojo Goodrich of the 12th Bombardment Group, a native of Augusta, Georgia, to get his men to join the RAF spectators and create as much noise and movement as possible to help cover an escape. Rojo Goodrich and his men had no problem with a little inter-Allied cooperation, especially as it had the potential to cause the Krauts grief. Ash mingled with the crowd, chafing to get on with the break. A greatcoat covered his escape clothes, its pockets stuffed with four-ounce cans of the mixture, a high-energy escape food produced by the prisoners. Also in Ash s civilianized clothes were his forged German papers, an accurate map of the region drawn in the camp, and a homemade escape compass. Ash looked to the heavens. Heavy gray clouds were massing overhead, and gusts of wind blew into the camp from the west, setting the wire humming. German guards on duty in the goon towers on the western side of the camp had turned their backs to the wind, pulling up the collars of their greatcoats, stuffing hands in pockets, and hunching their backs.
The other escapees salted themselves among the rugby spectators and waited their turn to visit the latrines. Clad in greatcoats concealing escape rigs, some even toted small suitcases and haversacks to enhance their traveler status in the eyes of German police and troops. In the closely packed crowd, these accoutrements were invisible to the tower guards.
The Oflag XXI-B and Oflag 64 White House (right) and hospital (center) at Szubin (Schubin), present day. A Polish war memorial stands in the foreground. (Photo courtesy Mariusz Winiecki, Szubin, Poland)
The rugby game got under way. The ball flew downfield. Aussies and Limeys ran at each other. The crowd roared. Asselin eased in behind Ash and tapped him on the shoulder. Without a word, Ash followed the Canadian toward the nearby Abort. The stooge at the door nodded, and the pair passed in through the doorway. Volunteer helpers waited at the last toilet seat on the left, which was now lifted. As Ash and Asselin removed their greatcoats, Ash, although excited by the prospect of escape, wasn t looking forward to going down into the filth yet again.
Let s pray this will be the last time we do this, said Ash to Asselin, who nodded, then slid down through the toilet hole to the sump below.
* * *
This is an edited excerpt from The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told , to be published in January 2017, by St. Martin s Press, which tells the true story of the escape of 250 American officers imprisoned by the Nazis at Schubin. Visit the publisher s official website for more information.
- ^ from The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told (amzn.to)
- ^ official website (us.macmillan.com)
1 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption Capt. Matthew Maxcy, team outlaw and Outlaw Troop commander, 4th Cavalry Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, marches his Soldiers past leadership signifying the conclusion of the Slovak Shield 2016 opening ceremony Oct. 6, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke) VIEW ORIGINAL 2 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption Lt. General Pavel Macko, 1st Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, walks the formation of troops while saluting to begin the Slovak Shield 2016 opening ceremony Oct. 6, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke) VIEW ORIGINAL 3 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption U.S. Army Soldiers, Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, Czech Army, Polish Armed Forces and Hungarian Defense Forces soldiers stand in formation during the Slovak Shield 2016 opening ceremony Oct. 6, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke) VIEW ORIGINAL 4 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption Lt. General Pavel Macko, exercise director and 1st Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, speaks to the troops during Slovak Shield 2016 opening ceremony Oct. 6, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL 5 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption U.S. Army Soldiers, Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, Czech Army, Polish Armed Forces and Hungarian Defense Forces soldiers stand in formation during the Slovak Shield 2016 opening ceremony Oct. 6, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL 6 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption U.S. Army Soldiers, Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, Czech Army, Polish Armed Forces and Hungarian Defense Forces soldiers stand in formation during the Slovak Shield 2016 opening ceremony Oct. 6, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL 7 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption Lt. General Pavel Macko, exercise director and 1st Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, discusses combined engineer cohesion with Lt. Col John E. Pitt, Tactical Operations Center officer-in-charge, Indiana National Guard, while visiting engineer training during Slovak Shield 2016 Oct. 9, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Rep. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL 8 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption Lt. Col. Todd Baker, officer in charge of Indiana Guardsmen observes combined chemical training during Slovak Shield 2016 Oct. 9, 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Rep. Key leadership seeing the hands-on interoperability of joint force units training side by side is important to the success of future exercises. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
LEST MILITARY TRAINING AREA, SLOVAKIA — U.S. Army cavalry scouts and Indiana Guardsmen are fully engaged in joint-operations training alongside their NATO allies from the Czech Army, Polish Armed Forces, Hungarian Defense Forces, and the Ministry of Defense-Crisis Department and the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic.
4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Stryker Combat Team, based in Vilseck, Germany and Chemical, Engineer, Military Police and support personnel from the Indiana National Guard are taking part in Slovak Shield 2016 at Military Training Area Lest, Slovak Republic, from Oct. 6 to 13
Slovak Shield 2016 is a multinational training exercise involving more than 2,000 participants. This year the training expanded beyond MTA Lest to include assets as far away as Bratislava, Slovakia and other locations fully integrated into the exercise. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are part of the Visegrad Group, known as V4, an alliance established since 1991. The Group’s aim is to encourage optimum cooperation between the V4 countries and democratic development for all of Europe.
“Slovak Shield 2016 is a flagship exercise of V4 countries, plus our strategic partner, the United States,” said Lt. General Pavel Macko, Slovak Shield director and 1st Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic.
“We’ve come together to train together to show the strength of our alliance, to show our competence and improve it; show our populations we are here to protect them.”
During the exercise, multinational units are working side-by-side on combined arms ranges and in conducting a live fire exercise, testing every ally’s ability to function as one.
“For us, I hope also for you, this is a unique exercise, but also a unique opportunity to train together and gain experience from the combined multinational environment,” Macko said. “We can achieve and improve our interoperability and stand together, forming a strong alliance.”
Slovak Shield is a part of Atlantic Resolve, a U.S.-led effort in Eastern Europe that demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and enduring peace and stability in the region. The full integration of the Regular Army troops and Indiana Guardsmen was fitting after their many years working together through the National Guard State Partnership Program and U.S. Army Europe initiatives.
“It is an honor to be able to participate in this exercise with all of our NATO partners,” said Lt. Col. Todd Baker, officer in charge of Indiana Guardsmen. “The Indiana National Guard has had a partnership with Slovakia for 25 years.”
U.S. Army Europe is uniquely positioned in its 51 country area of responsibility to advance American strategic interests in Europe and Eurasia. The relationships we build during more than 1,000 theater security cooperation events in more than 40 countries each year lead directly to support for multinational contingency operations around the world, strengthen regional partnerships and enhance global security.