Monday, August 10, 2015

Book R & R: The First "Great Escape"

This "Book Review and Recommendation" is on "Zero Night: The Untold Story of World War Two's Greatest Escape" by Mark Felton.

I must have watched the movie "The Great Escape" with Steve McQueen more than a dozen times. Of course, since the first time I watched it was back in the sixties when I was just a kid (it was one of my dad's favorites) I never got around to reading the book it was based on. This movie and book are about a mass escape of allied POWs from Stalag Luft III in 1944. In this escape the prisoners dug a tunnel under the camp's perimeter fence. Because of the movie, this "Great Escape" has long over shadowed an earlier escape, that while did not free as many prisoners, certainly scores just as high in audacity.

In "Zero Night" author and historian Mark Felton tells the story of an escape from Oflag VI-B in August 1942. Unlike the great escape of Stalag Luft III nearly two years later, the forty allied officers who attempted this breakout chose to storm the double fence perimeter with ladders. They called their escape plan Operation Olympia, but it became known as the "Warburg Wire Job," named for the local town in Germany where the camp was located. The twelve-foot ladders were constructed out of bed slats and other scrounged wood. During preparation they were hidden in plain sight as bookshelves. Because of a design error in the camp's construction, a prisoner was able to cut the lights that enabled 36 men to escape during a mad three minute, well rehearsed, scramble over three scaling ladders.

St. Martin's Press provided an advance copy for this review. The book will be available on Amazon on August 25th. I found the book to be a fast paced read that kept my interest through the entire book. I was reminded of the movie "The Great Escape" several times while reading the book, not only because of the same POW jargon, but also because of the pace and suspense that the author has woven into this reality tale. So much so that the book has already been optioned for a movie version. For more information and pictures of the ladders over the perimeter fence, check out these two articles on War History Online.

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