WWII’s most daring escape

Zero Night: The Untold Story of World War Two’s Most Daring Great Escape is a new book written by author Mark Felton that tells the story of an escape from a concentration camp during WWII.

It chronicles the participation of 40 war prisoners from South Africa, Australia, Britain and New Zealand who devised a plan to scale the barbed wire fences surrounding the Oflag  VI-B camp near Warburg using folding ladders.  During their construction, the ladders were left in plain site and disguised as book shelves that were being built by the prisoners.  Items were placed on the ladder rungs to complete the look, and the head security officer of the camp, Hauptmann Rademacher, even commented on the high quality construction of these ‘shelves’.

Prior to this escape plan, Major Tom Stallard from Britain had attempted to escape a number of times by digging tunnels under the barbed wire fences, but was unsuccessful.  Fellow prisoner, Lieutenant Jock Hamilton-Baillie from Scotland, came up with the idea of going over the 12-foot fences, instead of under, using folding ladders positioned at 6-foot intervals.  Although Stallard had originally hoped to include 250 war prisoners in the escape plan, with the changes of method he was forced to narrow it down to 40 men.

The group forged documents and gathered supplies, including clothing, medical supplies, a washing kit, cigarettes, and enough food to last a week.  They also had compasses that had been smuggled in using Red Cross packages with the help of the M19 military intelligence team in London, and had maps that had been drawn on tissue paper.

The ladders were built using wood they had gathered from a hut that had been destroyed by the Nazi’s after a previous escape attempt, and the construction took place in the music room where the noises made by building the ladders could be drowned out.

The 40 potential escapees met at the edge of the camp on August 30, 1942 at 9:30 pm, knocked out the lights, and created a distraction in the music room.  The group then balanced the ladders against the barbed wire fence, and began their escape.

The first two men made it across, but then their ladder collapsed before the other 8 got over.  In total 32 out of the 40 who tried to escape made it over the fence in under a minute.  The guards began shooting, but they only hit one of the prisoners in the foot.  After the escape, 6 men were recaptured, leaving a total of 26 men free of their prison, The Blaze reports.

The book’s author describes this early mass escape as one of the most daring ones that took place during World War II.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE