This “fast-paced account” of WWI airmen who escaped Germany’s most notorious POW camp is “expertly narrated” by the New York Times bestselling author (Kirkus, starred review).
During World War I, Allied soldiers might avoid death only to find themselves in the abominable conditions of Germany’s many prison camps. The most infamous was Holzminden, a land-locked Alcatraz that housed the most escape-prone officers. Its commandant was a boorish tyrant named Karl Niemeyer, who swore that none should ever leave.
Desperate to break out of “Hellminden”, a group of Allied prisoners hatch an audacious escape plan that requires a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, and fake walls—not to mention steely resolve and total secrecy. Once beyond the watchtowers and round-the-clock patrols, they are then faced with a 150-mile dash through enemy-occupied territory toward free Holland.
Drawing on never-before-seen memoirs and letters, historian Neal 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).
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 Bascomb draws on unpublished memoirs, official histories, and family papers to spin this action-packed, briskly paced tale.