RAF gunner Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade was in the tail of his Lancaster, named Werewolf, when it caught fire and began to drop. He heard the pilot’s order to jump over the intercom.

nicholas alkemade

Sgt. Nicholas Alkemade

Sgt. Alkemade, then 21, scrambled for his parachute only to find it was on fire. As the flames spread in the plane he decided he would rather jump to his death then burn alive. He knew it was the end of his young life, but he decided to jump and “make a quick, clean end of things.” He regretted that he would never make it home alive but he got out of his turret and somersaulted into the night.  It was quiet after leaving the four engine bomber. Above him, he saw his plane explode. Alkemade dropped in the darkness from  18,000 feet, falling fast until he blacked out.

Nicholas Stephen Alkemade was born on 10 December 1922 in North Walsham, Norfolk and was a market gardener in Loughborough and was assigned to 115 Squadron as a rear gunner. Alkemade’s plane blew up on its 15th mission after a raid on Berlin on the night of 24/25 March 1944. Alkemade’s aircraft, DS664, was a Lancaster II coded A4-K that took off from RAF Witchford, Cambridgeshire at 18:48 on March 24.

Oberleutnant Heinz Rökker

Oberleutnant Heinz Rökker. The German pilot who shot down Alkemade’s Lancaster

Shortly before midnight on 24 March, a Junkers Ju 88 night-fighter flown by Oberleutnant Heinz Rökker of Nachtjagdgeschwader 2, intercepted Werewolf on its return journey and attacked from beneath with cannon and machine-guns.

Nicholas Alkemade was one of seven crewmen aboard the stricken Lancaster. Sgt. John P. Cleary (Navigator) and Sgt. Geoffrey R. Burwell (Wireless Operator) become prisoners of war after being blown out of the plane when Werewolf exploded. Sgt. Cleary’s damaged parachute self-deployed during his descent. He was knocked unconscious when he hit a tree trunk upon landing. Cleary nearly lost a leg to frostbite as well as suffering a collapsed lung. Cleary spent the next six months in Meschede hospital, before being repatriated as part of an exchange of sick and wounded prisoners in February 1945.

The other four men, FS James Arthur Newman (Pilot), Sgt. Edgar William John Warren (Flight Engineer), Sgt. Charles Alfred Hilder (Bomb Aimer) and Sgt. John Joseph McDonough (Mid-Upper Air Gunner), were killed and are buried next to each other in the Hannover War Cemetery.

Three hours after his fall, Alkemade woke up in a snow drift, lying beneath a fir tree. He could see a hole in the forest canopy where he had fallen through and could see the stars above him. Besides the cuts and burns he had received when his bomber was shot down, he only had a few bruises and a twisted knee. His flying boots were gone, probably torn off in the fall. He took off his parachute harness (which did not have a parachute attached) and lit a cigarette.

Nicholas Alkemade

Lancaster bombers of 44 Squadron in 1942

Nicholas Alkemade had landed in snow 18 inches deep under young fir trees. Outside of the grove of soft, supple trees, where he landed the ground was free from snow and would not have cushioned his fall.

Unable to walk without his boots, Alkemade blew his distress whistle to attract attention. German civilians, possibly Home Guardsmen found him and carried him to a local infirmary which sent him to Meschede hospital.

The next day, Alkemade was interrogated by the Gestapo who demanded to know what had happened to his parachute. When Alkemade told them he hadn’t used one, the interrogators laughed and accused him of being a spy and burying it. Alkemade angrily told the Gestapo to find his harness, lift the webs, which would unclip and extend when the parachute deployed, and they would see there were still be in the stowed position.

A search confirmed Alkemade’s story. More proof came from the wreckage of Werewolf which had crashed 20 miles away. The metal ripcord handle and cable of his parachute were still in their stowage container.

After three weeks in the hospital, Alkemade was sent to the Dulag Luft prisoner of war transit center. His fellow prisoners were told of his miraculous survival by a Luftwaffe officer. Alkemade was even provided with a commemorative certificate stating:

“It has been investigated and corroborated by the German authorities that the claim of Sergeant Alkemade, No. 1431537, is true in all respects, namely, that he has made a descent from 18,000 feet without a parachute and made a safe landing without injuries, the parachute having been on fire in the aircraft. He landed in deep snow among fir trees.

Corroboration witnessed by:

[Signed] Flight Lieut. H.J. Moore (Senior British Officer)

Flight Sergeant R.R. Lamb

Flight Sergeant T.A. Jones


Alkemade was photographed for the German press before being sent to Stalag Luft III in Poland. In the POW camp, Alkemade got extra cigarettes for signing prisoners’ Wartime Logs. Fellow prisoner Flt Lt. Bennett Ley Kenyon also produced a portrait of Nicholas Alkemade.

Nicholas Alkemade

Portrait of Nicholas Alkemade drawn while in prison camp by Flt Lt. Bennett Ley Kenyon.

As Alkemade spent his time in camp, his 21-year-old girlfriend named Pearl Belton, wrote to him to assure him she had not forgotten him.

“Please don’t worry about me sweetheart,” she wrote in a letter in March, 1945. “You know I shall always love you with all my heart and be faithful to you – the only one in the world for me.

“Wherever you are dear I am with you in thoughts and prayers.”

Nicholas Alkemade’s near death experiences did not end after the war.

After being discharged from the RAF in 1946, Alkemade returned to Loughborough, married his girlfriend and found work at a chemical plant. Not long after starting, he received a severe electric shock while removing chlorine gas-generating liquid from a sump. Alkemade’s gas mask fell away and he began breathing the poisonous gas. It was 15 minutes before he was found and given medical treatment. Shortly afterwards, a siphoning pipe burst, dowsing Alkemade’s face and arms with industrial sulfuric acid. He then fell head-first into a 40 gallon drum of limewash, giving him first degree burns. On another occasion, Alkemade was pinned beneath a nine foot long steel door runner that fell from its mountings as he passed by. Fortunately, he only suffered minor bruises.

After this incident, Nicholas Alkemade decided he had cheated death enough times and became a furniture salesman with Clemersons Limited in Loughborough. He worked their until he passed away from natural causes.

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  • Bill Getz says:

    An incredible story of survival I had not read before. That is the value of this site, bringing stories from WWII that would escape attention without bringing it to the forefront. Story fits in well with the current story of the deliberate jump without a chute from 22,000 feet into a net. No thanks.

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