War has always led to prisoners. In ancient times, many were turned into slaves by the victorious armies. By the Napoleonic era, as armies grew, many were kept in camps for the duration of the fighting, their captors not wanting to restore their enemies’ manpower while the fate of nations hung in the balance.
In the first half of the 20th century, war was fought on a global and industrial scale. Millions of men were flung into the grinder of World War I and World War II, leading to commensurately huge numbers of prisoners of war (POWs). Camps were built to hold thousands of captives, with their own barracks blocks, parade grounds, and even farms. Some of these captives were used for forced labor, especially by the Axis regimes in World War II, while others were left to entertain themselves as they waited for the war to end.
Throughout the war, many of these men did not sit idle. Many spent their time preparing elaborate escape plans in the hopes of returning to their home nations and back to the fight. Following World War I, several books were published giving romantic accounts of successful escapes. Inspired by them, World War II brought about a number of great POWs escapes, celebrated ever since in books and films. At the same time, the escapees of the Second World War did not act alone. Networks of brave volunteers worked to see captives or potential captives make their way to freedom, and secretive organizations were established in the hearts of governments with the aim of encouraging and assisting escape attempts.
Most successful escapes were made by Allied troops in Europe, including soldiers left behind after the fall of France and airmen shot down in bombing raids, but escapes happened across the world, from Canadian trains to German castles, and from the mountains of Italy to the wilds of Australia. Axis as well as Allied troops made their bids for freedom, keeping both sides on their toes. Everybody was looking to make the next great escape.
The Second World War was full of escape stories, some bold, some tragic, and most filled with courage and ingenuity. There were moments of foolishness, like the story of an Italian on the run in Australia who was caught ordering red wine with a heavy accent. But there were also incredible feats, such as the covert construction of a glider in a Colditz loft. On all sides, people sought to return to the war or to help others to do so. Their stories were not only part of the overall struggle, they added a very human dimension to a war with a scope so large that it still defies imagination.
The Great Escapes of World War II: The History of the Most Legendary Escape Attempts by Prisoners of War chronicles some of the most daring escapes carried out during the war. You will learn about the great escapes of World War II like never before.