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The Real Great Escape Kindle Edition
|Length: 560 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
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In early 1942 the Germans opened a top security POW camp in Lower Silesia for captured Allied airmen - it was called Stalag Luft III and it soon contained some of the most inventive escapees, including Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, who masterminded the attempt to smuggle hundreds of POW's out through a tunnel. Guy Walters goes so far as to suggest that without Roger Bushell there would have been no 'Great Escape' as he had the dynamic leadership, organisational genius and vaulting ambition needed to think up such a plan. Bushell was a barrister, with an amazing capacity for languages, a dare devil skier and pilot, whose wartime career was cut very short indeed and who had a burning desire to escape and rejoin the war in an active role.
The author spends much time at the beginning of this fascinating account discussing and describing the personalities involved, from the prisoners themselves to the Germans who ran the camp. It seems obvious that Colonel von Lindeiner, who was in charge of the POW camp, was an honourable man who did his best to protect his charges and, like many of the Germans, had a careful eye on what would happen after the war. In fact, if the escape could not have happened without Bushell's ambitious desire to escape, neither could it have happened without many of the German guards. Some of the guards were openly sympathetic to the Allies, others were easily corrupted by chocolate or cigarettes; but although many guards were trying to stopped planned escape attempts, others provided information and documents utilised by the POW's.
There is much discussion in this book about earlier escape attempts, as well as life in the camp. Not all prisoners wished to escape of course - many who had been captured had suffered physically and mentally and were willing to sit out the war in comparative safety. Others resented the idea that they had an 'obligation' to escape, in order to cause the Germans problems and direct manpower to recapture them. It is interesting to read that many who attempted to escape had little belief they could actually make it home and, for many, it was almost a public schoolboy prank to try to evade the guards. Indeed, often the guards seem to have entered into this atmosphere along with the prisoners - one POW found the maps he had carefully sewn into his belt removed during a search and a 'jokey' note inserted by the Germans and carefully sewn up again. However, von Lindeiner was only one who was concerned that, as the war began slowly to turn against the Germans, what was seen by both sides as an acceptable wish to escape, viewed with gentlemanly tolerance, would be seen in a much harsher light. With Himmler now in charge of all POW camps, von Lindeiner warned the prisoners of the consequences of a mass escape and the liability of the SS taking over the camp in such an eventuality.
This, then, is the story of 'Tom', 'Dick' and 'Harry', the three tunnels dug by the prisoners, with the ambitious hope that hundreds of prisoners could escape to freedom. The book looks at the planning, how many prisoners left on that snowy March night - a staggering seventy years ago now - how many were recaptured, whether any made it to freedom and what happened to all the participants, both at the time and after the war. The book also looks at 'myths' thrown up by the film and gives the true version of events - no less amazing than anything thought up by Hollywood, as real life usually is. It also asks pertinant questions, such as how much impact a mass escape actually had on the Germans? Did a prisoner have more chance of escaping in smaller numbers, with less risk of reprisals, than in such an ambitious plan? Even some prisoners expressed doubt about the escape plans, although, whatever the outcome, it was certainly an amazing feat. For many of the men, imprisoned for years and with no idea of how much longer the war would go on, the chance to leave the camp - even if they expected to be recaptured - was worth the attempt and warnings were brushed aside. Whatever the outcome, everyone involved showed immense courage, ingenuity and nerve and it is a privilege to read their story.
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