By AuslanderThe most interesting piece of news I have heard this month, I think, is the fact that a certain German racing driver, known to most of you almost exclusively by his performances at the wheel of a B.M.W., is now a prisoner of war in England. It appears that he was serving on a U-boat at the time of his capture. My informant could not, however, state at which camp the driver in question is spending the rest of the war.
Donington Hall was the prison of a well-known ‘German motor-cyclist twenty years ago. His name was Gunther Pluschow, and he set up some long distance records on the Avus during the winter before 1914, having to cope with an ice-bound surface throughout. Pluschow was the sole German airman at Tsingtao at the outbreak of the Great War, but he managed to escape when that place fell before the combined onslaught of Britain and Japan. He was eventually discovered on a cargo boat at Gibraltar, and brought to England. One Monday evening he and another prisoner, an officer named Lieutenant Treppitz, took advantage of a violent thunderstorm to hide in the outer circle of barbed wire entanglements round the Hall when the roll-call was taken. Their names were answered by other prisoners, and with the aid of a long plank they succeeded in climbing across the barbed wire. Treppitz was caught within twenty-four hours at Millwall Docks, and there followed a nation-wide search for Pluschow. Here is a newspaper cutting I have come across which shows the interest taken in his escape:
MUCH ESCAPED FUGITIVE
Pluschow’s Aeroplane Flight from Tsing-Tao
“By the Chinese Dragon clue the authorities still hope to trace Lieutenant Gunther Pluschow, of the German Navy, who escaped from Donington Hall on Monday. The dragon is tattooed on the fugitive’s left arm in Oriental colours. It was probably worked by a native artist, for although but twenty-nine years of age, Pluschow has had an adventurous career in the Kaiser’s Navy.
“He was in Tsing-Tao when the British and Japanese besieged that German fortress. Shortly before it fell Pluschow escaped in an aeroplane, and some weeks later he was found on board a Japanese trading ship at Gibraltar.
“He will probably endeavour to sign on as a seaman in a neutral ship sailing from a British port, and, with this in view, a very careful watch is being kept at all ports throughout the country. Pluschow is a typical sailor, about 5 ft. 6 in. in height, with fair hair and fresh complexion. He would pass for a Dutchman with his broken English. Nothing he can do can remove the Chinese Dragon from his left arm, and his recapture should be but a matter of time.”
Well, it wasn’t quite as easy as all that, and Chinese Dragon or no Chinese Dragon, the fact remains that Pluschow actually did escape from England and returned to Germany via Holland. He survived the war, and later achieved considerable fame as an airman.
The New Year being as good a time as any to look back at the past twelve months, I have been going over the results of the big races of 1939—and very nostalgic reading they make. It started, you may remember, with the Pau Grand Prix, in which Lang wiped out the previous year’s defeat by Delahaye in winning for Mercedes-Benz at 54.99 m.p.h. Then came Tripoli, that never-to-be-forgotten race in which two brand new, untried 1,500 c.c. Vee-Eight Mercedes-Benz defied the cream of Italy’s 1½-litre racers and drivers by finishing first and second at over 120 m.p.h. That race was a classic, if ever there was one, and in better times would have been a portent. As it is, we can only hope to see those miraculous cars in action again, without any degree of certainty. The Targa Florio was purely an Italian national race—a mere shadow of its former glory—and was won by Luigi Villoresi on a Maserati. The Antwerp race, for sports-cars, attracted two very hot-stuff twelve-cylinder Alfa-Romeos, which in the hands of Farina and Sommer walked off with all the honours. Third place, however, was taken by Monneret’s Delage, a new 3-litre unblown model which was to show its true worth in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race the following month.
Meanwhile, Lang had scored his third successive victory of the year by winning the Eifel Race, at Nurburg Ring, with Nuvolari second for Auto-Union and Caracciola third. The Grand Prix des Frontieres was a race for independents rather than teams, going to Trintignant with a fairly old Bugatti. Then J. P. Wakefield went out to Italy to look at the latest sixteen-valve 1,500 c.c. Maserati, had a trial run in the Naples Grand Prix, and walked off with the race before the nose of Italy’s best.
The 24-hour Bol D’Or in Paris was an Anglo-French victory, Contet winning with an Aston-Martin, and then Wimille won his only race of the year in the Luxembourg Grand Prix, staying off the challenge of Biondetti’s Alfa-Corse Alfa-Romeo. Wakefield followed up his Italian success by winning the Picardie Grand exactly as he pleased, the opposition being admittedly weak, and the next week-end came the Le Mans affair, in which Wimille played a waiting game for twenty hours, at the end of which the dashing Louis Gerard encountered trouble with the leading Delage—an astonishing car, incidentally—and ran home a good winner in partnership with Veyron. The Delage was second, and the twelve-cylinder Lagonda driven by Dobson and Brackenbury third. The big green British cars showed splendid promise, and it is one of the more regrettable features of the war that we shall not see this promise fulfilled for some time.
So far the races of the year had been fortunately free from accidents, but now came a catastrophe which will for ever stain the history of the year 1939. Richard Seaman met his death in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in circumstances which are too vividly remembered to bear recalling. He was leading the race at the time, and he would have undoubtedly won it and the European Driving Championship as well–had he not crashed. In saying this I am expressing not my own opinion, but that of the leading Grand Prix drivers and team officials of the day. The result—not that it mattered or matters to this day—was a victory for Lang, his fourth of the season.
In the French Grand Prix the Auto-Union people were determined to make a big effort to turn the tables on their national rivals, and in this they succeeded when the Mercedes-Benz all went out with engine trouble—with the exception of Caracciola’s, which skidded into a wall on the first lap—and Hermann Muller ran home a deserving winner at the tremendous speed of 105 m.p.h. The 1,500 c.c. race on the same day and circuit went to the Swiss driver, Armand Hug, who beat Wakefield without difficulty. The latter, however, returned to his winning form the next week-end at Albi, where the new E.R.A. appeared for the first time and retired with engine trouble after leading for some distance. In this race Hug had a serious crash in practice, but I am glad to say that he is now almost completely recovered. Tongue was second on a new Maserati like Wakefield’s, and “Bira,” who had crashed heavily at Reims, was a plucky third.
The German Grand Prix gave Caracciola a wonderful victory over Muller’s Auto-Union, and was remarkable for a number of accidents, all without serious consequences. Down in Italy, Farina won the Coppa Ciano on a 1,500 c.c. Alfa-Romeo, and in France Lebegue won an exciting Comminges Grand Prix on his Talbot-Darracq from Wimille’s Bugatti. The 1,500 c.c. Alfa Romeos made a clean sweep of the Coppa Acerbo, Biondetti being the actual winner, and so we come to the last race of a curtailed season, the Swiss Grand Prix, which gave Lang a magnificent win and finish to his 1939 year. Auto-Unions were quite eclipsed, for Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch were second and third for Mercedes-Benz. Two Alfa-Romeos, driven by Farina and Biondetti, ran away with the 1,500 c.c. race on the same circuit.
And then it was September—and War.