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The Great Escape
By Paul Brickhill

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The Great Escape

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The Great Escape
By Paul Brickhill
ISIS Large Print, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7531-5687-2
Genre: History, World War II

Reviewed by Herbert White - July 6, 2009

You have perhaps heard of, or more likely have seen the 1963 movie, The Great Escape that starred such notables as Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn. What you might not have been aware of is that the movie was based on actual events, events chronicled in Paul Brickhill's gripping book, The Great Escape. This book chronicles the unprecedented mass escape of British and American servicemen from the North Compound of Stalag Luft III, a German Prisoner-of-War camp located near Sagan, Germany, and the aftermath of that escape attempt.

Originally published in 1951, this book was written by Paul Brickhill, one of the men that took part in making the Great Escape happen. This book later served as the basis for the above-mentioned movie version of the event. While the movie was emotionally and visually stunning, this book provides the gritty details that brought the escape plan to fruition. Within the pages of this book you meet Roger Bushell, the head of the escape committee and the real 'Big X'. You also get to meet the men that helped to plan and execute the escape, and the men who were chosen to actually take part in the actual escape. While only seventy-six men broke out of Stalag Luft III, it took the combined efforts of more than six-hundred of their fellow prisoners to make the escape happen!

Brickhill details how the Nazis tried to play the British and American POWs against each other, and how the two 'teams' managed to circumvent the Nazis and worked together, both in planning the escape and in harassing the Germans. Brickhill also details the hours of painstaking work that went into planning and orchestrating the escape from the unending hours of back breaking labor digging the underground escape tunnels, to organizing outfits and papers for the escapees. The actual escape is outlined in detail, and what happened to the men who escaped. As portrayed in the movie, fifty of the escapees who were recaptured were mercilessly gunned downed by Gestapo agents, others who were recaptured spent months chained up in prison cells.

In all, of the seventy-six men who 'escaped', seventy-three were recaptured, and of these seventy-three, fifty were murdered. Only three men managed to make it to allied territory. A great failure you might think, but it was anything but. The Great Escape proved that it was possible to orchestrate a mass escape. More important, in hunting down the escapees, the Nazis were forced to take men off of other duties. So even by the mere act of escaping and being recaptured, the men who broke out of Stalag Luft III were taking an active role in the war, diverting resources and manpower from the Nazi war effort, while at the same time improving the moral and motivation to escape, of their fellow POWs.

From beginning to end, The Great Escape is a fascinating and unforgettable book. While the bulk of the book centers upon the actual Great Escape, Brickhill also provides insights into some other escapes attempts and their outcomes. The coverage of these other attempts helps to illustrate just what a major undertaking the Great Escape was, the risks involved, and the unbelievable amount of work that went into pulling it off. The Great Escape is an unimaginable story of perseverance, bravery, and honor that should be read by civilians and servicemen and women of every age and occupation. It is also, simply, a darn good read!

The Great Escape can be purchased online, directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of ISIS Large Print.

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