The Escape Artists
A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Breakout of WWI
By Neal Bascomb
The tale of the three daredevil World War I pilots held in Germany's most infamous POW prison, their organisation of the greatest mass prison escape of the conflict, and their extraordinary flight to freedom.
Summer, 1918: twenty-nine officers crawled into a 16 inch high, 55 metre tunnel dug only with spoons. This was the culmination of 9 months gruelling toil in oxygen-starved darkness. Of the twenty-nine escapees, just ten would make their way back to Britain.
When captured Royal Flying Corps pilots Captain David Gray, Captain Caspar Kennard and 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Blain had arrived at Holzminden - or 'Hellminden' as its occupants called it - the Germans' highest-security prison complex had seemed impregnable. 'The Black Hole' was ruled by the iron fist of Camp Commandant Carl Niemayer, under whose brutal temper prisoners were known to be shot and beaten to death. Not least the breakout artists.
After five unsuccessful attempts from different camps in one year, the obsessive Captain Gray was personally determined to orchestrate the building of a tunnel directly under the feet of their one hundred armed guards. With an improvised oxygen piping system, stolen disguises and astonishing courage, this handful of the Kaiser's 2.3 million prisoners would succeed in making their way to neutral Holland and eventually back to Britain - for a private audience at Windsor Palace. The most unlikely escape of the Great War, their derring-do became military legend and the inspiration for the subsequent great escapes of the Second World War.
Neal Bascomb is the author of nine award-winning, national, and international bestselling adult books, including most recently the New York Times bestseller on the sabotage of the German atomic bomb program The Winter Fortress. He also chronicled the search for a Nazi war criminal in Hunting Eichmann and the story of Roger Bannister's four-minute-mile in The Perfect Mile. His work has been translated in over eighteen countries.
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- Publication date:
23 Aug 2018
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Entertaining . . . very little is known about the escape artists of World War I, but Bascomb's suspenseful and well-researched book could change that — Daily Mail
Fascinating — Daily Express
Terrific . . . [a] stirring story — Mail on Sunday
A remarkable piece of hidden history, told perfectly . . . brims with adventure, suspense, daring, and heroism — David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon
It's riveting reading, but more than that, it's inspiring — Candice Millard, author of Hero of the Empire
Terrific ... [a] stirring story — Mail on Sunday
'Brims with adventure, suspense, daring, and heroism' — David Grann, author of 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
Through careful research and unusual insight, Bascomb takes his readers inside not just the terrors of an infamous World War I POW camp but the minds of the men who were determined to think their way out of it. It's riveting reading, but more than that, it's inspiring. — Candice Millard, author of 'Hero of the Empire: The Making of Winston Churchill'