How a Chevrolet engine helped five men escape from the Nazis

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In the winter of 1944, five Dutchmen dressed like college professors escaped from the Nazi-occupied Netherlands under the cover of darkness, in a small boat powered by a Chevrolet straight six and the fuel tank out of a Hispano-Suiza racecar. Here's how they did it.

By late 1943, the three-years-long Nazi occupation of Holland kept grinding on. The Dutch resistance was starting to cause real trouble for the Nazis, and so the German regime demanded students sign a loyalty oath. Five friends, resistance members who'd vowed not to sign, hatched a stealthy plan to escape. They would make the 100-mile North Sea crossing to the UK and deliver documents they'd procured to the Dutch government-in-exile.


Their plan was to strike out in the dead of night in a 23-foot skiff, relying on the bitter cold to keep Nazi sentries inside their cabins, where they would be listening to a popular German-language radio broadcast. For 700 Guilders, they'd bought a six-cylinder Chevrolet engine. The 1920s-era "cast-iron wonder" would provide the combination of torque and fuel economy ideal for the job. They modified the exhaust to expel underwater, keeping noise down. The crossing would require plenty of (stolen) fuel, and as luck would have it, an available 46-gallon fuel tank from a Hispano-Suiza racecar bolted right into place.

On the night of the escape, the men launched from a far-flung wharf at Zuidland in pitch darkness. As the New York Times reports, the crossing, while aided by the Chevrolet mill, wasn't without its physical demands.

To evade the German sentries near the estuary's mouth, the crew shut down the Chevy engine, stealthily rowing the launch with burlap bags placed over the oar blades to suppress reflections. Running into sandbars, they got out and pushed the flat-keeled craft.

Finally reaching open sea, the crew fired up the cast-iron wonder and powered away from their homeland.


Unbeknownst to them, the Allies' Operation Argument, with massive air attacks on the German aircraft industry, was underway. Simultaneously, the Marine branch of the Royal Air Force was paroling the North Sea, providing reconnaissance for downed fliers.

After an arduous night of navigating, the men spotted an RAF vessel speeding toward them. In their excitement, they fumbled for the kill switch. The Brits, wary at first, took them aboard. But the skiff, and the Chevrolet engine that pulled five courageous men from the Nazis' grasp, was sunk on the spot.