When you think of wartime prison escapes, what comes to mind? Probably the breakouts attempted by prisoners of war during World War II and the movie The Great Escape. But the escapees of WWII learned many of the tricks of the trade from their pioneering predecessors, who honed their courageous craft during the first World War.
My guest today has written a book about their audacious exploits. His name is Neal Bascomb, and his book is: The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. Today on the show, Neal describes what conditions were like for British POWs during WWI, and why prisoners wanted to escape the German camps, even when they were relatively comfortable. We also discuss Germany’s most infamous POW camp, which was essentially a land-locked Alcatraz designed to hold the most escape-prone prisoners. While it was believed to be impossible to escape, Neal describes how the prisoners hatched an elaborate breakout plan anyway, and made a 175-yard tunnel towards freedom. We end our discussion with what Neal took away from the heroic exploits of these men.
You’re going to really enjoy this look at a fascinating slice of history.
- How Neil stumbled upon this incredible story
- The interesting role of aviation and airplanes in WWI
- The ragtag band of pilots that originally made up the RAF
- The insane danger of being a pilot in WWI
- What led to militaries taking prisoners rather than killing soldiers at the outset?
- Why POW camps in WWI weren’t the torturous environs we know from WWII and Vietnam
- How escape attempts actually contributed to the war effort
- Common escape tactics in WWI
- What made Holzminden a particularly bad place to be
- Some of the escape artists who were in Holzminden (and why Neal calls it “Escape University”)
- The extraordinary tunnel that was dug by the prisoners
- Why actually escaping was the easy part of a prison break
- What happened to the escapees afterwards
- Takeaways Neal took from writing this story
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Great Escape
- My first interview with Neal about the 4-minute mile
- The Escape from Alcatraz
- My interview with Winston Groom about WWII’s famous aviators
- How to Plan an Escape from a POW Camp
- My interview with Candace Millard about Churchill’s experience as a POW
- The Most Daring Escape of WWII
- Holzminden POW camp
Connect With Neal
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