Stalag Luft III...

...an Official History of the 'Great Escape' POW Camp

Title: Great War Fighter Aces 1916-1918

Author: Norman Franks

Publisher: Frontline Books

ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5

For some with an interest in the history of WW2 the name Stalag Luft III might be just another a name for a Prisoner of War camp, but if I were to say 'The Wooden Horse' and 'the Great Escape' that might mean something to even more.  Both of these escapes were made famous by big screen movies but perhaps some don't connect that both these escapes happened at the same camp, Stalag Luft III.  Built for air force prisoners the camp was the responsibility of the Luftwaffe to guard them all, and the prisoners came from a mix of nationalities.

This is not just an escape story however, but an official report that has so much more to it.  Compiled at the end of the war, with the use of witness testimonies, it was an official report not for public release.  Many years later it has been put in the public domain, and is among the mine of information held by the National Archives at Kew.

The 276 pages of this hardback book is packed with the most amazing level of detail I have yet seen on the organisation of a German Prisoner of War camp, the conditions for the prisoners it confined and the efforts that went into supporting the prisoners, as well as accounts of the many escape attempts.  It is split into 5 main sections, each of which covers one of the 5 Compounds which made up Stalag Luft III.  These parts are in turn divided into chapters  with their own sub-headings within them,  The 5 parts of the book cover the East (Officers) Compound, April 1942 - January 1945: Centre (NCO's) Compound, April 1942-June 1943: North (Officers) Compound, March 1943-January 1945: Centre (Officers) Compound, July 1943-January 1944: and finally Belaria (Officers) Compound, January 1944 - January 1945.

Within these sections, the separate chapters cover detail on topics such as radios, Code-Letter Mail, Escape Organisations, Forgery, maps, compasses, roll calls, Escape Attempts, German anti-escape measures, German discipline and punishments, food, clothing, sports and many more.  It is a detailed report covering all aspects of camp life.  It isn't something written to be read as a novel or individual story, but a collective look at what life was like in a POW camp, and what lessons might be learnt for the future, how support from outside could have best helped the inmates.

All in all an incredible level of detail covering life in the camp which saw two of the most famous escape stories that came out of WW2.  A fascinating addition to the history and one of those documents which is so good to now have publicly available.

Robin