The best POW escape books of World War 2

Who am I?

My father, Squadron Leader Peter Stevens MC, died in 1979, when I was 22 years old, before I'd had the chance to speak with him man-to-man about his war. I later began researching his wartime exploits, which would consume a good part of 18 years of my life. I initially had no intention of writing a book; I just wanted to find the original document that recommended him for the Military Cross. I finally located it in Britain's National Archives in 2006. Along the way, I discovered that my father had actually been born a German Jew (he had told his immediate family in Canada that he was British and Anglican), and that some 15-20 family members had been murdered in the Holocaust. Further research showed that Dad had been the ONLY German-Jewish bomber pilot in the RAF, and that he had been the object of a country-wide manhunt by the British Police as a possible enemy spy. 

I wrote...

Escape, Evasion and Revenge

By Marc H. Stevens,

Book cover of Escape, Evasion and Revenge

What is my book about?

The true-life story of the only German-Jewish bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War 2.  Georg Hein was sent to safety in London by his widowed mother in 1934; he committed identity theft in order to enlist at the outbreak of hostilities, stealing the name of a dead London high schoolmate, Peter Stevens.  He trained to become a bomber pilot, and flew 22 combat missions before his plane was damaged by flak over Berlin.

Captured by the Nazis 12 hours after he landed in a Dutch farmer's field, he spent the next 3 years and 8 months as a POW in his own country, without ANY protection whatsoever under the Geneva Convention.  Had the Nazis ever discovered his true identity, the consequences would have proven unpleasantly fatal.  Escape became his raison d'etre, and he made 9 escape attempts, getting outside the wire on three occasions. After the war, Stevens was one of only 69 members of RAF aircrew to be awarded Britain's Military Cross for gallantry in WW2. He went on to serve 5 years as an MI6 spy in East Germany at the height of the Cold War.

The books I picked & why

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Moonless Night

By B.A. 'Jimmy' James,

Book cover of Moonless Night: Wartime Diary of a Great Escaper

Why this book?

This is the autobiography of the man I consider the most determined escaper of WW2. Jimmy James was a serial escaper. One of the 76 men who broke out of Stalag Luft 3 in The Great Escape, he was recaptured and was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  Using a spoon, he dug a tunnel and escaped from there!  This is one of the bravest stories I've ever read of determination to succeed at any cost.

A Gallant Company

By Jonathan Franklin William Vance,

Book cover of A Gallant Company: The Men of the Great Escape

Why this book?

While Paul Brickhill's book was written by someone who was actually there during the escape, it is incomplete by necessity, since Brickhill was not himself privy to all of the secrets behind the scenes.  Professor Vance's book required a great deal of painstaking research to uncover the whole story of this most famous escape of World War 2. Brickhill's book gives the basics, Vance's gives every last minute detail.

Under the Wire

By William Ash, Brendan Foley,

Book cover of Under the Wire: The Wartime Memoir of a Spitfire Pilot, Legendary Escape Artist and "Cooler King"

Why this book?

One of the great "characters" of World War 2 escapes, "Tex" Ash was an American who travelled from his home state to Canada in order to enlist in the RCAF and fight the Nazis before the US entered the war.  A Spitfire pilot of great bravery, Ash was shot down and captured in France. His tale of wild and woolly escapes and escapades makes for a rollicking good read. Some might say that his story is too far-fetched to be true; I believe every word of it.

Free As a Running Fox

By T.D. Calnan,

Book cover of Free As a Running Fox

Why this book?

Tommy Calnan was as brave as they come.  Flying an unarmed Spitfire of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Calnan's plane was hit by flak and set afire.  He bailed out, but was badly burned in the process. Barely surviving his wounds, including third-degree burns to his face and hands, Calnan spent several months recovering in a German hospital. One might think that he had done enough for the Allied cause, but despite his face being badly scarred, Calnan became a serial escaper of great courage and determination.

The Camera Became My Passport Home

By Ben van Drogenbroek, Steve Martin, Charles Boyd Woehrle

Book cover of The Camera Became My Passport Home

Why this book?

Not strictly speaking just an escape book, this is a highly personal memoir of one American prisoner at Stalag Luft 3. But it also includes much previously unpublished material about The Great Escape and the various participants, including many who never got near the tunnel. A work that encompasses some 30-40 years of research, it includes many private photographs of people and memorabilia that cannot be found in any other source. A great deal of the material came from the POWs themselves, mostly through private correspondence with the authors.