MHM examines five of the most daring prisoner-of-war escapes throughout history.
5. Stalag Luft III
Escape Date: 29 October 1943
Less than a year later, the ‘Great Escape’ would take place at the same prison.
4. Colditz Castle
Escape Date: 5 January 1942
Along with Dutch officer Anthony Luteyn, Neave – more convincingly disguised – made off through a trap door during a theatre production. This led out of the prison, where the pair made their way by train and on foot to the border of Switzerland. Neave travelled through France, Spain, and Gibraltar, finally arriving in England in April 1942 where he was awarded the Military Cross.
3. Lake Superior
Escape Date: 21 January 1941
As the prison train he was on made its way from Montreal, von Werra jumped out of a window and ended up near Smith’s Falls, Ontario, 30 miles from the St Lawrence River. The seven others who attempted to escape were almost immediately recaptured. But not von Werra.
He endured a hazardous trip across the frozen St Lawrence River, over the border and into Ogdensburg, New York. He turned himself in to the police, who charged him with illegal entry into the country. With the help of the German vice-consul, he got across the border to Mexico and made his way back to Germany in stages through Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, and Rome. He was welcomed back in Germany as a hero on 18 April 1941.
Escape Date: 12 December 1899
He had only been in captivity for about four weeks when he made his escape. While the guards were getting the prisoners ready for transfer to a more secure prison, Churchill hopped over the neighbouring property and slid away.
By day he hid and ate the food he had been able to steal. By night he walked the city streets trying to locate the eastward-heading railway line, drinking from streams and getting rides on goods trains.
A combination of courage and good luck allowed young Winston to arrive safely at Mozambique.
1. Konigstein Castle
Escape Date: 17 April 1942
Having convinced his guards to teach him German – in preparation for his post-escape travels through Germany – Giraud managed to connect with his family by embedding coded messages in his letters home, informing them of his plan. Using twine, bed sheets, and smuggled copper wire, he created a 150 rope which he used to scale down the wall of the castle. Finally, he shaved off his moustache and donned a Tyrolean hat he had acquired through friends, and made good his escape across Germany to the Swiss border.
The article was featured in issue 48 of Military History Monthly.