The True Story of the Great Escape
Stalag Luft III, March 1944
by Professor Jonathan Vance
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Pub Date 31 Mar 2019 | Archive Date 31 Mar 2019
Pen & Sword, Greenhill Books
'It shows the variety and depth of the men sent into harms way during World War II, something emphasised by the population of Stalag Luft III. Most of the Allied POWs were flyers, with all the technical, tactical and planning skills that profession requires. Such men are independent thinkers, craving open air and wide-open spaces, which meant than an obsession with escape was almost inevitable' - John D Gresham Between dusk and dawn on the night of March 24th-25th 1944, a small army of Allied soldiers crawled through tunnels in Germany in a covert operation the likes of which the Third Reich had never seen before. The prison break from Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany was the largest of its kind in World War II. Seventy nine Allied soldiers and airmen made it outside the wire - but only three made it outside Nazi Germany. Fifty were executed by the Gestapo. Jonathan Vance tells the incredible story that was made famous by the 1963 film, The Great Escape. The escape is a classic tale of prisoner and their wardens in a battle of wits and wills.The brilliantly conceived escape plan is overshadowed only by the colourful, daring (and sometimes very funny) crew who executed it - literally under the noses of German guards. From their first days in Stalag Luft III and the forming of bonds key to such exploits, to the tunnel building, amazing escape and eventual capture, Vance's history is a vivid, compelling look at one of the greatest 'exfiltration' missions of all time.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 22 members
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the "Great Escape", Jonathan Vance's book, originally privately published as A Gallant Company, has been updated and reissued by Greenhill Books. My first reaction on finishing this book was "Wow. Just. Wow."
The True Story of the Great Escape is a detailed, carefully researched, and finely crafted account of the men of Stalag Luft III and their daring escape attempt on the night of March 24-25, 1944. Vance gives the reader brief accounts of all of the principal POWs- their pre-war lives, how they came to be pilots, as well as the mission when they were captured- in between describing life at the camp. What I found the most fascinating were his descriptions of how the prisoners made things. When the plan for the great escape went underway an entire committee of prisoners made perfectly crafted clothes, forged papers, handheld compasses, maps, and anything else that might be needed- made them from materials they scrounged from the camp or bribed from guards.
As much as this is a book about perseverance and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds, it is also a tribute to the men themselves. Vance honors them all for their bravery and achievements from Roger "Big X" Bushell who masterminded the scheme down to escapees like Canadian pilot George Wiley (my grandfather's cousin). Even though there is no surprise about how this escape will end for most of the men, I found myself hoping for the best and near tears reading what would be final goodbyes in the camp, let alone the orders for fifty of the recaptured escapers to be shot. This is a very human story, from the pilots to the prison guards, Vance refuses to let us imagine any of them as stereotypes from a movie.
Poignant and powerful, The True Story of the Great Escape is a must read for any history lover.