Military historian Felton (China Station: The British Military in the Middle Kingdom, 2013, etc.) delivers a page-turner about one particularly daring escape from a Nazi POW camp during World War II.
The men who populated the “vast enclosure” of Oflag VI-B in Warburg had mostly been captured in actions at Dunkirk, Crete, and northern France. There were nearly 3,000 prisoners, all officers except for 400 “other ranks.” What makes this story particularly absorbing is the author’s use of diaries and interviews to re-create dialogue. These extraordinary men were the most determined escape artists in captivity, and Oflag VI-B was especially built in 1941 to contain them. Their ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness, and daring would make for great fiction—but it’s all true. At the beginning of the plot, an “X” committee controlled how many tunnels were being dug. The perimeter of the camp was guarded by two parallel fences 12 feet high, with a wire-filled void between to deter climbing. The group’s greatest escape attempt was the brainchild of Maj. Tom Stallard, who proposed to take hundreds of men out in one fell swoop. His “ladder,” based on medieval siege engines, would reach the top of the fence, and a bridge would span the gap. Those involved set to work, creating rope from the twine binding Red Cross boxes and stealing wood and nails from camp structures. They even concealed the ladder as shelving in the music hut. The greatest contribution came when Capt. Kenneth Searle noticed a major unfused spur line leading to the cobbler’s hut, an oversight that would enable him to short out perimeter lights to enable the escape. The author grippingly tracks the evaders’ trek to freedom, an event that would warrant a book in itself. Even the epilogue will bring a smile.
In this exciting book, Felton has captivatingly captured the bravery of the prisoners.