by Mark Felton
New York: St. Martin’s Thomas Dunne Books, 2015. Pp. xx, 300.
Illus., maps, notes , biblio., index. $25.99. ISBN: 125007374X
The Dramatic Mass Escape from Camp Oflag VI-B
One would think that by now we’d have heard all the greatest tales to come out of World War II. But British historian Felton, who has written extensively on the war, and particularly the prisoner-of-war experience (Guarding Hitler, Japan’s Gestapo, etc.), gives us one that is not only hitherto untold, but remarkable both for its daring and its ingenuity, the mass breakout of Commonwealth officers from Camp Oflag VI-B, near Warburg in central Germany on August 30, 1942.
Drawing heavily on the memoirs of the men involved, Felton has produced a tightly written, dramatic account. He covers the early experiences of the men, often in some detail, how they came to be in the camp, which included the famous RAF ace Douglas Bader, and the previous efforts by the inmates to escape by means of ruses or tunnels, all of which failed. Then he discusses the origins of what was a remarkably ingenious idea, one which mention here would only spoil the book. This required meticulous planning and preparations, including a working demonstration of its practicality to some skeptical escape committee officers, and some careful training of the personnel involved, all done under the seemingly watchful eyes of the German guards, by men displaying considerable courage and presence of mind. The escape itself unfolded in almost literally a few minutes, during which 32 of the 40 men taking part managed to break out and get away.
Felton follows these men as they trudged across Germany, some being captured quite quickly, while others remained free for weeks, getting into Holland and beyond, and a handful managing to reach freedom with the help of the famous “Comet Line.” A short afterwards discusses the later life of these men and some of the Belgian and French Underground workers who helped them get away.
Although it lacks a plan of the prisoner-of-camp, which would have made following some of the activities of the officers easier, and should certainly have included sketches of the escape equipment, Zero Night is a great read, and possibly useful as a means of introducing a young adult to the history of World War II.
is also available as an e-book, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-4668-8525-7