THE LONGEST TUNNEL: The True Story of World War II's Great Escape by Alan Burgess

THE LONGEST TUNNEL: The True Story of World War II's Great Escape

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An absorbing, start-to-finish account of the WW II prison-camp breakout by Allied airmen, which was first made famous in Paul Brickhill's The Great Escape (1950). Drawing on a wealth of primary and archival sources unavailable to his predecessor, Burgess (Daylight Must Come, 1974) provides a vivid re-creation of the mass getaway and its tragic aftermath. Not all or even most of the downed fliers incarcerated in Stalag Luft III (located about 60 miles southeast of Frankfurt in what is now the Polish town of Zagan) wanted to cut and run. As the author (who flew with the RAF from 1941 to 1946) makes clear, however, those bent on escape proved a resourceful and well-organized lot. In addition to digging a 340-foot tunnel, they forged travel documents, obtained currency as well as civilian apparel, made serviceable compasses (from discarded razor blades), and otherwise undermined the best efforts of Luftwaffe warders to keep them behind the wire. On a moonless March night in 1944, 76 POWs slithered out of their stockade. Only three--two Norwegians and a Dutchman--made it out of occupied Europe, but many of the rest led German authorities a merry chase before recapture. At the express order of an enraged Hitler, the Gestapo coldbloodedly executed 50 of the fugitive officers within days of their apprehension. Burgess closes his affecting narrative with a detailed briefing on the largely successful postwar campaign to bring the killers and their Nazi masters to justice. A splendid appreciation of the gallantry displayed by earthbound aviators who waged a different sort of war with cunning and courage. The text has 16 pages of photographs (not seen), plus an honor roll of those who were murdered.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson