Studiegroep Luchtoorlog 1939-1945


Evader chart: E0435
SGLO Date crash Aircraft
T3576 09-04-44 P-38 Lightning
MilRank First Name(s) Name
1/Lt. Rexford Herbert Dettre
Milregnr. Nationality Born
O-025514 American Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA, 21 Mar 1920
Returned Y/N Evader Fate Date Captured/Liberated Place Captured/Liberated Escape Line
No EVD-POW 8 Jul 44 Brussels, Belgium -
Evader Story
						1/Lt. Rexford Herbert (Rex) Dettre was the pilot of P-38 Lightning 42-67192. While returning from a mission to Germany one the propellers of the aircraft 'ran away' east of the IJsselmeer. Shortly afterward 'the other prop ran away'. The P-38 began to vibrate fiercely and became impossible to hold on course. Then also fire broke out, after which Dettre decided to bail out. He managed to get out unhurt and landed near Hindeloopen. Immediately upon landing he gathered up his parachute when he saw a boy come running up. He pointed to the direction Dettre wanted to go. The boy and an older man, who had been fishing nearby when they saw the P-38 crash, took the American pilot to their house. Here he got civilian clothes. One of his helpers in this period was 'Mous'. From here he was taken via Vollenhove (Groep Kingma), Zwolle and Amsterdam to Sprang-Capelle (Groep André). Sometime during this period Dettre 'teamed up' with 2/Lt. James Edward Barlow (E0454). At least in Vollenhove, Zwolle and Amsterdam they were hiding together. In Amsterdam they possibly hid in the house of Family R. de Jong in the Marowijnestraat 8 in Amsterdam-West. In Sprang-Capelle the two airmen came in the hands of the Groep André. On 11 May Dettre and Barlow would be taken over the border into Belgium. They used the line that ran from 's-Gravenmoer, through the woods near Oosterhout, to Bavel and then to Ulvenhout. Around here they crossed the highway and then a smugglers path. Padre Bielars and Leen Kuijsten went ahead to see if all was safe. They were followed by Ad van Wijlen, Piet de Groot and the two airmen. Close to the border it went terribly wrong. What exactly happened is not very clear. According to one version the two pilots found 'an SS officer' on their way who arrested them. When he took them to Zundert Dettre kicked him into a ditch and managed to escape, but Barlow remained in German custody. According to another, more reliable version Dettre and Barlow ran into a German control posts. Dettre threw away his bicycle and managed to ran away. 

Be that as it may, Dettre managed to get away. After running through fields and crossing several ditches he hid himself in a ditch behind a hedge. A German patrol with dogs didn't locate him though. Afterwards he hid himself in the haystack (or a small wood opposite) of the farm of Family Jan Kools at the Minnelingsebrugstraat (then C114) at Achtmaal. In the morning of 15 May Dettre was picked up here by policeman Van der Meer. Together they cycled to Zundert, where Dettre got into a car. Members of the local resistance group, Mrs. Kouwenberg and Cor van Hooft, had arranged that he would be taken to Breda. Here he found a hiding place in the house of family Hekking at Baronielaan 143 in Breda. While in Breda Dettre heard that there was another American fighter pilot hiding in the city: Capt. Richard M. Scott (E0396). They knew each other from their flying training period in California. Dettre had already fruitlessly tried to travel solo through Belgium but had returned. Now they decided to leave together. Dettre: 'The underground helpers did not like it, but did take us part of the way and gave us names and addresses of contacts in Belgium.' On 15 June the two left. Partly walking, partly travelling by local trains they first reached Brussels. From there they moved on to Quiévrain, near the Belgian-French border. They stayed in this town from 20 until 23 June in Hotel Belge which was run by an elder man. He contacted an unknown woman of about forty years old in Villers St. Ghislain. Here they met a certain Aimee and Lucien. From these two they received a false French ID card and a bicycle. It was attempted, without result, to contact the French resistance, to take Scott and Dettre over the border into France. On 2 or 3 July they moved to a certain Gaston Bouillon, also in Villers-Saint-Ghislain. After spending the night here they returned to Brussels by car with a White-Russian behind the wheel. This was Jean Gristchenko, a servant of the traitor where they were taken to in the Belgian capital on 4 July. This traitor owned this house and claimed to be a British Intelligence Officer who 'had spent most of his life in India'. This man was most probably Prosper Dezitter, a V-Mann of the German ‘Abwehr’. 

After remaining with this man for four days Scott and Dettre were put in a car with two civilians and told that they would be taken to the Belgian-French border and then further to Switzerland. But instead they drove them to the Gestapo Headquarters in Brussels where they were arrested, probably because of the work of traitor Prosper Dezitter. In St. Giles prison in Brussels they met another 25 to 30 American and English prisoners, that all were handed over to the Germans by Dezitter. Scott and Dettre were eventually transferred to a Stalag Luft III. Dettre escaped from a train when the PoW camp was evacuated. Together with a New Zealand airman, Warren J. Sandman, he walked over four hundred miles trying to reach partisan forces, but they were recaptured in the Moravian Mountains in Eastern Czechoslovakia. After a short but intensive period in concentration camp Theresienstadt, they were brought to Stalag XIIIB. Here he was liberated in the spring of 1945. After the war Dettre remained in the USAF. During the Korean Conflict, while serving as Operations Officer of 35FG, he was shot down in enemy territory on his 110th mission. Fortunately Dettre could now be rescued. He retired in 1973 as a Major General.

Rexford Herbert Dettre Jr. passed away on 11 March 2004 at the age of 83 in Columbia, Marion County, Mississippi, USA.

* Paul de Rooij, Airmen in Zundert en Rijsbergen 1940-1945 (Zundert 2018), page 55-88