Bram van der Stok

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Bram van der Stok
Bram van der Stok.jpg
Bram van der Stok
Born (1915-10-13)13 October 1915
Pladju, Sumatra, Dutch East Indies
Died 8 February 1993(1993-02-08) (aged 77)
Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States
Allegiance  Kingdom of the Netherlands
Service/branch Roundel of the Netherlands border.svg Royal Netherlands Air Force
Years of service 1936 - 1945
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Officer Order of Orange-Nassau
Bronze Lion
Bronze Cross

Bram van der Stok, MBE (13 October 1915 – 8 February 1993), also known as Bob van der Stok, was a World War II fighter-pilot, and is the most decorated aviator in Dutch history. He was one of the three men to successfully break out of imprisonment by the III Reich from the POW camp at Stalag Luft III, in what became known as "The Great Escape".[1][2]

Early years[edit]

Van der Stok spent his childhood between Sumatra, the Netherlands, and the Dutch West Indies. After finishing his primary education at the Lyceum Alpinum in Switzerland, he studied Medicine at Leiden University with the intention of pursuing the career of a physician. Whilst at Leiden he was an enthusiastic sportsman, focusing on rowing and ice hockey. In 1937 he joined the Reserve of the Netherlands' Luchtvaartafdeeling (Army Aviation Group) - a precursor of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, training on a Fokker D.XXI, whilst continuing his medical studies at Utrecht University.

World War II[edit]

When the Netherlands was attacked and invaded by the Third Reich in May 1940, Van der Stok - now flying with the Netherlands' Air Force's renamed Luchtvaartbrigade (Army Aviation Brigade), scored his first victory when he shot down a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109 whilst on patrol over De Kooy airfield. After the Netherlands' defeat and occupation by the Wehrmacht he decided not to accept the situation, and made three unsuccessful attempts to follow the Dutch Crown in its withdrawal across the North Sea to England. On the fourth attempt he managed to get across, landing in Scotland in June 1941 as a stowaway aboard the Swiss merchant ship Saint Cerque which had sailed out of Rotterdam, along with Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema and two others. He was awarded the Dutch Bronze Cross for his actions by Queen Wilhelmina. Following a refresher and conversion course with the Royal Air Force's No.57 Operational Training Unit, he was posted to its No.41 Squadron in December 1941, with which he went on to achieve six confirmed kills amongst Luftwaffe aircraft up to April 1942, therewith qualifying as a flying ace.[3]

Capture, imprisonment & escape[edit]

On 12 April 1942, during an operation code-named 'Circus 122' over occupied North France to attack the railway marshaling yard at Hazebrouck, Van der Stok was shot down whilst flying Spitfire Vb BL595. Bailing-out from his stricken aircraft he parachuted down safely at Saint-Omer in the Pas-de-Calais, but was immediately captured a taken prisoner of war by a Wehrmacht patrol.[Note 1]

He was subsequently incarcerated in the newly built Stalag Luft III, from which he was to make three escape attempts. The first was inadvertently spoiled by another POW who drew attention to the escaping Van der Stok while retrieving a stolen German cap from the roof of a hut. The second attempt was thwarted when the German guards noticed that a forged pass he was using to get past them was out of date. His third attempt, on the night of 24–25 March 1944, was as a part of what later became known as the "The Great Escape", where he was #18 of a total of 76 prisoners that staged a mass break out of the camp. Only three ultimately succeeded in getting clean away: Van der Stok, who crossed much of occupied Western Europe before reaching the safety of neutral Spain, and two Norwegians, Per Bergsland and Jens Müller, who managed to reach neutral Sweden.

After the break-out, Van der Stok traveled from Breslau train station to Dresden where he was stopped at several checkpoints, convincing the Germans that he was not one of the escapees. He then traveled to Utrecht through Oldenzaal and met up with a member of the Dutch underground who briefed and equipped him for a bicycle trek to another safe house run by the Belgian Resistance. After arriving safely there he was equipped with the paperwork of a Belgian, and then traveled by train via Brussels and Paris to Toulouse, where the French Resistance put him with two American lieutenants, two other RAF pilots, a French officer and a Russian, and took the group across the Pyrenees to Lleida in Spain. The British consulate in Spain accepted the Allied escapees and three months after the break out of Stalag Luft III Van der Stok reached British Empire territory once again by arriving in Gibraltar on 8 July 1944. He was transported by air passage to Whitchurch Airfield at Bristol on 11 July 1944.[Note 2]

Back in England Van der Stok rejoined the RAF and was posted to No.91 Squadron, going on to fight in Operation Overlord and the anti-V-1 fighter aircraft sweeps along the Low Countries coast. The following year he joined No.74 Squadron for a brief time before in March 1945 being appointed to the command of the Dutch RAF No.322 Squadron based in the Netherlands, where, coming into contact with his family for the first time since he had left the Netherlands in 1940, he learned to his horror that his two brothers had been killed in concentration camps and his father had been blinded by the Gestapo.

After the war[edit]

He was awarded the Order of Orange Nassau from the Netherlands, and was inducted as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He was offered a permanent commission and senior staff rank with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, but declined it and instead resumed and completed his pre-war study, qualifying with a degree in medicine from the University of Utrecht in 1951.

Later he moved to the U.S. with his wife Petie and their three children, and took practice as a OB-GYN in Syracuse, New York, and as a GP in Ruidoso, New Mexico. He subsequently joined NASA's space lab research team in Huntsville, Alabama. In 1970 Van der Stok moved to Honolulu, where he continued in medical practice. In 1980 he published his war time autobiography entitled: Oorlogsvlieger van Oranje (War Pilot of Orange). He also worked with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and took part in 162 rescues.

He died in 1993 in Virginia, USA.

Representations in film[edit]

In the 1963 film The Great Escape, elements of his part in the affair were written into the role of 'Sedgwick', played by the actor James Coburn.


  • van der Stok, Bram (1980). Oorlogsvlieger van Oranje. Haarlem: De Haan. ISBN 978-90-228-3550-0. 
  • van der Stok, Bram (1987). War Pilot of Orange: Dutch Fighter Pilot World War II. Missoula: Pictorial Histories Publishing. ISBN 978-0-933126-89-3. 


  1. ^ In his autobiography Van der Stok cites the date of his capture as 14 July 1942, but from his original RAF 'Escape & Evasion Report' (dated 11 July 1944) at England's National Archive, the date of capture is given as 12 April 1942.
  2. ^ In his autobiography Van der Stok gives the date of his arrival at Bristol as 20 May 1944, but his original RAF 'Escape & Evasion Report' (dated 11 July 1944) at England's National Archive gives the actual date as 11 July 1944.


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