Paul Brickhill

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Paul Chester Jerome Brickhill (20 December 1916 – 23 April 1991) was an Australian fighter pilot, prisoner of war and author who wrote The Great Escape, The Dam Busters, and Reach for the Sky.


Brickhill was born in Melbourne, Australia and educated at North Sydney Boys High School. A classmate, and friend, was actor Peter Finch.[1] Afterwards, he worked as a journalist for The Sun.

During World War II he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Under the Empire Air Training Scheme, Brickhill undertook advanced training as a fighter pilot in Canada and the United Kingdom, before being assigned to No. 92 Squadron RAF, a Spitfire unit with the Desert Air Force. In 1943, he was shot down over Tunisia and became a prisoner of war.

While imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, in Germany, Brickhill was involved in an elaborate mass escape attempt. He did not take part in tunnelling or the escape itself, due to claustrophobia.

On D-Day, while still in captivity, Brickhill heard on German radio of two huge Allied armadas heading towards Cap d'Antifer and Calais. In fact these were diversions created by No. 617 Squadron RAF to fool the Germans, a fact he learned months later.

After the war, Brickhill wrote the first major account of the escape in The Great Escape (1950), bringing the incident to a wide public attention. He went on to write two other best-selling war books: The Dam Busters, the story of Operation Chastise and the destruction of dams in the Ruhr valley by No. 617 Squadron, and Reach for the Sky, the story of Battle of Britain ace Douglas Bader.

On April 22, 1950, the 33 year old Brickhill married 21 year old Margot Slater, herself an Australian, in St Michael's Church of England, Chester Square, Pimlico. They had two children, but divorced in 1964 after a tempestuous marriage.[2][3]

Brickhill died in Sydney, Australia, on April 23, 1991,[4] aged 74.


His life was the subject of a 2016 biography, "The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill: The Australian behind the legendary stories The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky", by Stephen Dando-Collins[2] and Flying into Danger:Thh Paul Brickhill Story by John Ramsland[5].


  • Escape to Danger (with Conrad Norton). London: Faber and Faber, 1946.
  • The Great Escape. New York: Norton, 1950.
  • The Dam Busters. London: Evans, 1951.
  • Escape – Or Die: Authentic Stories of the R.A.F. Escaping Society. London: Evans, 1952.
  • Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader DSO, DFC. London: Collins, 1954.
  • The Deadline. London: Collins, 1962. (US title War of Nerves) [6]
  • Three Great Air Stories. London: Collins, 1970.

Film adaptations[edit]

Three books by Brickhill were made into feature films: The Dam Busters (1955), Reach for the Sky (1956), and The Great Escape (1963).

Deadline became an episode of the Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre anthology series entitled War of Nerves that was first broadcast on January 5, 1964[7].


  1. ^ "Great Escape author’s mystery life". 
  2. ^ a b "Paul Brickhill, Australia's glamorous hero-maker of "The Great Escape" and "The Dam Busters"". 2 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Wilcox, Craig. Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University – via Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  4. ^ Wilcox, Craig. Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University – via Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^


  • "Brickhill, Paul Chester Jerome 1916–1991." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, 69: 68–69.

External links[edit]