List of prisoner-of-war escapes
This list of prisoner-of-war escapes includes successful and unsuccessful attempts in chronological order, where possible.
- This list is incomplete.
American Civil War
- November 1863 - Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and six of his officers escaped from the Ohio Penitentiary.
- February 9 and 10, 1864 - Libby Prison Escape. More than 100 Union prisoners broke out of Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Fifty-nine of them reached freedom, 48 were recaptured, and two drowned.
Second Boer War
- December 12, 1899 - Winston Churchill. A war correspondent at the time, the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was captured by the Boers while accompanying a British scouting expedition. His successful escape made him a minor national celebrity.
Spanish Civil War
- On May 22, 1938, 792 or 795 prisoners of war and political prisoners escaped from Fort San Cristóbal, near Pamplona, Spain. Only three managed to reach the French border. The Nationalists recaptured or killed the rest.
World War I
- October 1914 - French officer Henri Giraud was captured by the Germans in August and escaped in October. He also escaped in World War II, this time as a general (see next section).
- July 4, 1915 - Gunther Plüschow escaped from a POW camp at Donington Park, Leicestershire, England and made his way back to Germany. This was the only successful escape from Britain in either world war.
- September 1 and 9, 1916 - John Donaldson and another prisoner escaped, but were recaptured. The pair were joined by three others for a second try. They reached Holland, marking the first successful Allied escape of the war.
- February 1917-October 1918 - E. H. Jones, a Welsh lieutenant in the Indian Army, and C. W. Hill, an Australian officer in the Royal Flying Corps, escaped from a Turkish prisoner of war camp at Yozgad. Having first pretended to be psychic, the pair spent over a year conning the camp's commandant. Eventually they persuaded their Turkish captors they were insane and, after being moved to a hospital for the mentally ill in the summer of 1918, the two men played their roles as lunatics so successfully they also fooled the doctors and were returned home.
- February 14, 1918 - French fighter pilot Roland Garros escaped to rejoin the French army after several attempts.
- July 23/24, 1918 - Holzminden officers' prisoner-of-war camp. Ten of 29 British officers made their way to freedom, making this "the most successful escape from a German prison camp during the First World War".
- 1918 - US Navy Lieutenant Edouard Izac was taken prisoner aboard the U-boat which sank his ship in May 1918. On the trip to Germany, he learning important information about enemy submarine movements. As a result, he made several attempts to escape, finally succeeding on the night of October 6-7, 1918, with several others. He made his way to Switzerland and then London to pass along the information, though by then the war was nearly over. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
World War II
- Mass escapes from German POW camps
- January 5, 1942 - Airey Neave and Anthony Luteyn successfully escaped from Colditz Castle, Germany, Neave being the first British officer to accomplish this feat.
- April 17, 1942 - French General Henri Giraud, reprising his World War I escape, got out of the high-security Königstein Castle by climbing down a 150-foot (46 m) homemade rope. This escape took two years of preparation (versus two months in World War I). He reached Switzerland, then returned to Vichy France, where he would play a major role during the rest of the war.
- August 30, 1942 - Two Australian and two British soldiers were recaptured and executed after escaping from Changi Prison, Singapore. See also Selarang Barracks Incident.
- October 30, 1942 - Camp 57, Italy. 14 Australians and five New Zealanders escaped through a tunnel, but were all recaptured.
- March 29, 1943 - Six British and New Zealand officers escaped through a tunnel from Castello di Vincigliata (Campo 12) near Florence, Italy. Four were recaptured. New Zealand Brigadiers James Hargest and Reginald Miles escaped to Switzerland.
- April 4, 1943 - American Air Force pilot Samuel Grashio, American Air Force Lt. William Dyess, American Marines Austin Shofner and Jack Hawkins, six other Americans and two Filipinos escaped from a work camp in Davao Region, the Philippines. This was the only successful mass escape from a Japanese camp. The escape is detailed in the 2010 book Escape from Davao.
- October 29, 1943 - The Wooden Horse escape. Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams and Lieutenant Richard Michael Codner came up with the idea to construct a vaulting horse and dig a tunnel underneath it. Pilot Officer Oliver Philpot was the escape co-ordinator for the hut in which they lived, and joined their escape plot. Once outside of Stalag Luft III, Philpot split off from the other two, as previously agreed upon. All three managed to reach first Sweden, then Britain. Their exploit was the basis of the 1950 film The Wooden Horse, which was written by Williams.
- Captain Charles Upham, the third and last person to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice, attempted so many escapes that he was sent to Oflag IV-C, better known as Colditz Castle, in October 1944.
Of the hundreds of thousands of POWs shipped to the U.S., only 2222 tried to escape. There were about 600 escape attempts from Canada during the war, including at least two mass escapes through tunnels. Four German POWs were killed attempting to escape from Canadian prison camps during the Second World War. Three others were wounded. Most escapees tried to reach the United States when it was still neutral, though Karl Heinz-Grund and Horst Liebeck made it as far as Medicine Hat, Alberta before being apprehended by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The two men had planned to travel to Vancouver, British Columbia and leave Canada courtesy of the Japanese Merchant Marine.
The Angler breakout was the single largest escape attempt orchestrated by German POWs (28) in North America during the war. The December 23, 1944, breakout of 25 Kriegsmarine and merchant seamen from Papago Park, Arizona, was the second largest. In both instances, all escapees were recaptured or killed.
- October 7 and December 20, 1940, January 21, 1941 - On his first (solo) attempt from camp Grizedale Hall, Franz von Werra was recaptured on October 12. His second involved four others, who were quickly caught. He was recaptured while trying to steal an airplane. He was then shipped from Great Britain to Canada, where, on his third attempt, he jumped out the window of a moving train. Seven others were recaptured. Von Werra made his way first to the United States, still neutral at that time, then to Mexico (before he could be extradited back to Canada), and eventually to Nazi Germany. He is the only German World War II POW to escape and return to Germany.
- April 18, 1941 - 28 Germans escaped from Angler, Ontario through a 150-foot-long (46 m) tunnel. Originally over 80 had planned to escape, but Canadian guards discovered the breakout in progress. Two prisoners were killed and the rest recaptured.
- November 23, 1941, December 1941 and February 18, 1942 - Luftwaffe Oberleutnant and ace Ulrich Steinhilper escaped from Bowmanville, Ontario and managed to make it to Niagara Falls within two days. Steinhilper unknowingly spent 30 minutes in the neutral United States clinging beneath a train car as it sat idle in a Buffalo, New York railyard. In less than three weeks, he escaped again and made it as far as Montreal, Quebec. Within four months, Steinhilper would attempt a third escape. On February 18, 1942, Steinhilper and a friend, disguised as painters, used a ladder to escape over two barbed wire fences. The pair would make it as far as Watertown, New York before being arrested by police. Steinhilper was soon sent to Gravenhurst, Ontario, where he attempted two further escapes. (After the war, Steinhilper went to work for IBM Germany as a salesman, and was eventually considered by IBM as "having authored or promoted" word processing.)
- November 24, 1941 - RAF Carlisle, Great Britain. Luftwaffe pilots Heinz Schnabel and Harry Wappler stole a Miles Magister trainer aircraft and flew to several other RAF airfields before being recaptured.
- April 17, 1942 and October 1943 - Dornier Do 17 bomber pilot Oberleutnant Peter Krug made it as far as San Antonio, Texas from the Bowmanville, Ontario POW camp. The young Luftwaffe pilot was aided in his flight by Axis sympathizers in the United States whose addresses may have been procured from outside Abwehr sources. His second escape was from Gravenhurst, Ontario; he was reported caught after 24 hours in the October 5, 1943 North Bay Nugget.
- November 1, 1942 - Four German prisoners, Bruno Dathe, Willy Michel, Hermann Runne and Johannes Grantz, escaped from Fort Stanton, New Mexico, and were captured two days later after a brief skirmish with a posse of ranchers and cattlemen. One German prisoner was wounded.
- January 1943 - Camp 354, Kenya. Italian POW Felice Benuzzi convinced two of his fellow inmates, Dr. Giovanni Balletto and Enzo Barsotti, to try an unusual escape route: climbing nearby Mount Kenya. After 18 days, they gave up and sneaked back into camp. After the war, Benuzzi wrote of his experiences in No Picnic on Mount Kenya.
- January 6, March 13, April 18 and another attempt, all in 1943 - Karl Rabe of U-35 made four separate escape attempts from Lethbridge, Alberta in 1943, including an attempt using a 24-by-10-foot (7.3 m × 3.0 m) home-made hot air balloon. Previously he had escaped from a Toronto hospital, subsequently stealing a small row boat with the intention of crossing Lake Ontario to the American shore, but beached the craft too soon, mistakenly thinking he was already on the American side. He was immediately recaptured by Canadian soldiers.
- August 26, 1943 - Nineteen German POWs escaped through a large drainage pipe from Kingston, Ontario. All were soon recaptured.
- 1943 - Bowmanville POW camp, Canada. In Operation Kiebitz, Admiral Karl Dönitz sent the submarine U-536 to pick up four U-boat commanders, including noted ace Otto Kretschmer, who were to break out at the right time. The Canadians were aware of the attempt, but let it proceed, hoping to lure in the U-boat. However, the plan was aborted when the part of a tunnel collapsed, revealing its exit to the guards. Instead, another U-boat commander, Wolfgang Heyda, escaped over a barbed wire fence and made his way 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) to the rendezvous point. Here he was captured, while the authorities waited for the U-boat to surface. Despite being spotted by three destroyers, it got away.
- On April 29, 1944, Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter, along with four others, escaped from a British camp in Dehradun. Harrer and Aufschnaiter reached Lhasa and stayed with the Dalai Lama for seven years, finally escaping from Tibet ahead of the People's Liberation Army in 1950.
- August 5, 1944 - Cowra breakout, Australia. 359 Japanese POWs escaped in one of the largest breakouts of the war. All who were not killed or did not commit suicide were caught.
- c. August 30, 1944 - Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) soldier Max Weidauer escaped from Medicine Hat, Alberta after he came under suspicion by Nazi elements controlling the camp and the subsequent murder of fellow DAK prisoner August Plaszek. After explaining the circumstances of his escape and the fact that he feared for his life, Weidauer was hidden by a local farmer but was soon once again behind barbed wire, though in a different camp.
- December 24, 1944 - Papago Park, United States. 25 prisoners got out through a tunnel, but all were recaptured, U-boat commander Jürgen Wattenberg being the last on January 28, 1945.
- March 10, 1945 - Island Farm, Great Britain. 70, possibly more, escaped, but all were recaptured.
- ? - Von Werra's Swanwick digging partner, Luftwaffe Leutnant Walter Manhard, successfully escaped from a Gravenhurst, Ontario POW camp while on a swimming excursion. Presumed drowned, he had actually escaped to New York, where he decided to remain. He gave himself up in 1952. By then, he was married to a United States Navy officer.
- June 14, 2008 - Kim Jin-soo. Captured in 1953 by North Korea, this South Korean soldier eventually settled down, married and raised a family. 55 years after his capture, the 74-year-old Kim escaped to China.
- June 29, 1966 - Dieter Dengler, Pisidhi Indradat, Duane W. Martin, Eugene DeBruin, Prasit Promsuwan (a Thai), Prasit Thanee (a Thai), and Y. C. To (a Nationalist Chinese) escaped from a Pathet Lao camp in Laos. U.S. Navy pilot Dengler was rescued on July 20. Martin was killed (according to Dengler) outside of a Laotian village. The others were recaptured. Indradat, a civilian, was freed by Laotian soldiers later; the remaining prisoners were never seen again.
- September 1967 - U.S. Air Force Major Bud Day was shot down and captured by the local North Vietnamese militia. After days of torture, he escaped, making his way back to South Vietnam. He was however recaptured within sight of an American base camp, and endured five years and seven months more of captivity.
- December 31, 1968 - James N. Rowe, a Special Forces second lieutenant, was captured on October 29, 1963. He overpowered a guard after five years of captivity and was picked up by a U.S. helicopter.
- Kugel-erlass, a secret Nazi decree regarding the punishment of recaptured Allied POWs
- "Winston Churchill's Escape". The New York Times. December 28, 1899.
- "Captain John Owen Donaldson, 1897 - 1930". South Carolina Technology & Aviation Center. Retrieved January 22, 2011.
- "Wartime 44 / Tunnelling to freedom". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
- "WWII veteran escaped prison camp using helmet". Stateline Tasmania. 2010. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- J. Malcolm Garcia (September 16, 2009). "German POWs on the American Homefront". Smithsonian.com (a supplement to the Smithsonian magazine). Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- "Homeland Stories: Enemies Within". Reading and Remembrance Project 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2011.
- Doug Mackey (February 15, 2002). "Prisoners of War: Lest we forget". Retrieved February 5, 2012.
- "Posse Recaptures Fugitive Germans: Ranchers and Cattlemen Round Up Quartet from New Mexico Camp". Montreal Gazette. November 4, 1942.
- "Mount Kenya: Simon Calder tackles Africa's other summit". The Independent. October 27, 2007.
- Kilford, Christopher R. (2004). On the Way!. Trafford Publishing. pp. 124–125. ISBN 9781412031394. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
- "Operation Kiebitz". Naval Museum of Quebec. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
- "Push Search For Prisoner". Lethbridge Herald. September 2, 1944. "Police and soldiers are continuing their search today for a German prisoner of war who escaped from the Medalta Potteries at Medicine Hat, where he was working on Thursday afternoon. The man is believed to be Max Weidauer."
- "PoWs: Murder in Medicine Hat on The National TV news show". CBC Digital Archives. November 10, 2003. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
- Kim Sue-young (June 24, 2008). "POW Escapes From N. Korea After 55 Years". The Korea Times.