“Bascomb has unearthed a remarkable piece of hidden history, and told it perfectly. The story brims with adventure, suspense, daring, and heroism.”
—David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon
Neal Bascomb, New York Times best-selling author, delivers the spellbinding story of the downed Allied airmen who masterminded the remarkably courageous—and ingenious—breakout from Germany’s most devilish POW camp.
In the winter trenches and flak-filled skies of World War I, soldiers and pilots might avoid death, only to find themselves imprisoned in Germany’s archipelago of prison camps, often in abominable conditions. The most infamous was Holzminden, a land-locked Alcatraz that housed the most troublesome, escape-prone officers. Its commandant was a boorish, hate-filled tyrant named Karl Niemeyer who swore that none should ever leave.
Desperate to break out of “Hellminden” and return to the fight, a group of Allied prisoners led by ace pilot (and former Army sapper) David Gray hatch an elaborate escape plan. Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watchtowers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150-mile dash through enemy-occupied territory toward free Holland.
Drawing on never-before-seen memoirs and letters, Neal Bascomb brings this narrative to cinematic life, amid the twilight of the British Empire and the darkest, most savage hours of the fight against Germany. At turns tragic, funny, inspirational, and nail-biting suspenseful, this is the little-known story of the biggest POW breakout of the Great War.
Bascomb (Hunting Eichmann) unfurls a cracking good adventure in this upbeat retelling of the largest Allied prison break of WWI. By way of introduction, he recounts the backgrounds and the captures in no-man's-land between the trenches, at sea, and crashing behind enemy lines of some of the major characters in the drama, such as pilots David Gray, Cecil Blain, and Caspar Kennard and poetry-minded lieutenant Will Harvey. In 1918 they all ended up at Holzminden, a German POW camp so notorious for punitive brutality that inmates referred to it as Hellminden. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, 29 men tunneled out of the camp on July 23 and 24, 1918, and made their way covertly over 150 miles toward Holland; 10 succeeded, while the others were recaptured. But the relatively posh conditions in which officers were kept, the raffish lan of the breakouts, and Bascomb's focus on the escapees' cheer and determination soften the horrors of the Western Front's savage industrialized slaughter; it's not until a third of the way through the narrative that the mortal consequences of trying to escape become clear. Bascomb draws on unpublished memoirs, official histories, and family papers to spin this action-packed, briskly paced tale.