KLM was the first overseas DC-3 operator with this PH-ALI named IBIS, delivered in Sept.1936. The aircraft operated on the long flights Amsterdam-Batavia (Jakarta). During the German Invasion in 1940, the aircraft was in London and stayed there to be employed by BOAC with a Dutch crew for the wartime flights Bristol- Lisbon. IBIS escaped 2 aerial attacks in ’42/43, but the third time flying over the Gulf of Biscay, she encountered 8 Junkers Ju-88 fighters that shot her down. The crippled aircraft could make a perfect landing on the sea. But while floating, the 4 crew & 13 passengers’ ordeal was not yet over.
In a series of appalling strafing runs, the German fighters came back again for the deliberate kill of all occupants. Not one survived the carnage and as later surfaced, the camouflaged British/ Dutch DC-3 had onboard Leslie Howard, not only a world-famous actor from the legendary movie “Gone with the Wind” but also a talented British spy, who had just had before his flight a most secret and delicate meeting with ‘enemy’ Generalissimo Franco in Madrid. Allegedly, Franco had accepted a non-aggression pact with the Allies, in exchange for his post-war survival as Head of State. This small but shrewd man was a political master chess player and foresaw the fall of the Third Reich long before others did. He made the correct choices to live on for another 30 years after the war, whereas other German allies as Mussolini ended their lives in misery.
The Nazis must have picked up the rumors about the Madrid meeting and decided that this secret pact in Howard’s briefcase would never ever make it back to London. Whatever the truth, the flight ended in an epic tragedy with an intriguing background of spying and betrayal.
Read more of such stories in the ‘The Dakota Hunter’.
This magnificent drama and the photo of the IBIS, taken in Batavia, is published in my book
photo courtesy Plesman Collection