What’s Past is Prologue
Curious readers may be interested in the sources for some of the flying scenes in Rose Under Fire.
Rose’s background is similar to that of Betty Lussier, who grew up on a farm in Maryland then managed get to England to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1942. Rose’s relationship with her influential Uncle Roger is based on Lussier’s relationship with her godfather Sir William Stephenson, who supervised the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, while Lussier was in England.
Rose’s not-quite-above-board flight to France is loosely based on an incident in the life of Diana Barnato-Walker, the first ATA woman to fly to Continental Europe after the D-Day invasion. On 2 October 1944 Barnato-Walker and her ferry pilot husband flew two Spitfires to Brussels for a honeymoon in Belgium, with a tenuously interpreted authorization given on 25 September (two weeks after Rose’s flight). Barnato-Walker got lost in fog flying back to the UK and only survived because she happened to get a lucky gap in the murk at a pinpoint she recognized.
Another ATA pilot, Jackie Sorour, met a V-1 flying bomb in the air over Surrey while flying a Tempest. She chased it fully intending to attempt to topple it with her wingtip, but failed to catch up to it.
The fictional pilot Felicyta’s escape from Poland by stealing an aircraft and flying it to France is based on the experience of Anna Leska, a Polish Air Force pilot who joined the ATA for the duration of the war.
The interception incident is based on the capture of a Junkers Ju-88 (a German bomber) by a pair of Royal Air Force Spitfire pilots in May of 1943. Flying in formation, the Spitfires escorted the Luftwaffe plane to Dyce airfield in Scotland. The protocol for interception, of rocking wings to communicate and of flashing lights and firing flares to indicate compliance, is taught in modern flight programs but appears to have been understood in the 1940s as well. The captured German plane is now part of the RAF Museum collection.
There is an unlikely but presumably true account given by Wanda Półtawska, one of the real Ravensbrück ‘Rabbits,’ of taking shelter in a Luftwaffe aircraft after her escape from the camp. She tells of sitting in the cockpit wishing she knew how to fly. A more successful parallel to Rose’s escape is that of young American pilot, Bob Hoover, who in the waning days of the war, escaped from a German prison camp and stole a Luftwaffe plane. His own fellow escapee and travelling companion refused to go along, taking his chances on foot. Hoover navigated with even less information than Rose: he headed west and flew along the coast until he started to see windmills below him.