Now this book for me, has come at an interesting time, growing up on a diet of wartime escape and evasion books and films, I avidly devour anything on the subject. I recently sat down and read the History of the Wartime underground escape movement and how it was formed and evolved, and all of the characters involved in shaping and nurturing it. I had not realised that so many accidental meetings, were in fact pre arranged, and that aircrew were so well trained and informed.
- Howard Tuck
Stalag Luft of course is now common knowledge because of the recent factual television programme about the mass breakout, and the three tunnels Tom, Dick and Harry brought the real history to light as opposed to the Film of the same name ( which is bloody good ).
This book relies heavily on documents captured post war, and the interviews of Service Personnel after release or escape. The book tells you how the camp was constructed, the structure and layout and segregation of the different ranks and services, and the management of the camp from the German point of view; also the various security devices and check routines employed throughout the period.
Some of the facts in this book are already well known to those of us who study the subject, and yet so many more here come to light, little vignettes and subtle details that must have taken hours of research and study in dusty archives.
All of the shootings involving captured service men are covered with full details, the escapes are also covered with period interviews, each person giving their number in the great escape, the approx time of escape, their routes and where they were caught and how.
Illuminating is the level of British Security in the camp, and it details the names, rank, and serial number of all personnel involved, how new captives were interviewed and useful information gleaned from them. Also all of the escapees who were recaptured, were, once released from Solitary, thoroughly quizzed over every single detail that could be of use. Even servicemen visiting the local hospital and rail station were quizzed, and useful information gleaned.
Of great interest to me are the captured and translated German documents. Here it is noted that the morale of our troops is high, due no doubt to good leadership within the camp and service training, this caused gloom and despondency amongst the German civilian population.
Interesting too was the system whereby British intelligence officers disseminated the German newspapers and propaganda, and then by using the information gained from a hidden radio set, and coded letters sent into the camp, they were able to create useful and effective counter-propaganda which was spread by the captives and was proved to have been spread widely amongst the civilian and military personnel of Germany.
Also of interest is the secret code writing methods used, and how some new captives had sent letters using these methods without the British Senior officer being aware. Soon they were dissuaded, and a small clique of people were trained to use this method, and it was very carefully controlled to prevent cross fertilisation of signatures and details coming to the attention of the Germans. The Germans of Course knew that SO19 would try to smuggle items into the camp. and for some time all gramophone records were diverted away to be X rayed, thus wasting much valuable time and energy for the small amount of items recovered, and letters routinely checked for secret ink. Of course liaisons were made and trading was soon arranged with German personnel, allowing letters to be sent without the Censor being involved. One interesting case concerns a German soldier who supplied radio parts, then told the high Command that a radio was in the camp and where, the German security personnel found it and carted it away in triumph, rewarding him with a holiday, he of course supplied replacement parts to the captured aircrew as arranged, so both sides were happy
Of interest is just how many escape attempts that were made and failed, and the methods used, the Wooden Horse being one of the best known.
This Volume runs to 276 pages , printed on high quality paper and with many pictures and maps, a book that will be enjoyed more if you read and then re read it to parcel up all the little nuggets of information and knowledge and slot them into the correct order.
It gives you a great respect for the men that were held in these camps, and how they coped, and just how well organised and well led they were. A good and worthwhile read, and a must for any one who is interested in the Second World War.
The book is carefully indexed into the separate chapters and the subjects that are covered
1. Description and conditions of the east Officers compound
2 The Escape organisation
4. Censorship by the Germans
5.Code letters by mail
9. Anti-German Propaganda
10. Successful Escapes
The book then carries on to Chapter 2 and details the NCOs compound and carries the same indexing as above
then Chapter 3
The North Officers compound
The Officers Compound
Chapter 5 Belaria Officers Compound