The Escape Artists – the greatest prisoner of war breakout of WWI


The Escape Artists
A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Breakout of WWI

By Neil Bascomb
Published by John Murray; Dist. By Hachette Aust.
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781473686786

Neil Bascomb helpfully includes detailed illustrations of the Holzminden camp and maps at the beginning of this book to help the reader understand the enormity of the task facing the twenty-nine men who escaped their German captors in the summer of 1918 by crawling through a 16 inch high, 55 metre tunnel dug only with spoons.

Of the twenty-nine escapees, just ten would make their way back to Britain via neutral Holland.

When captured, Royal Flying Corps pilots Captain David Gray, Captain Caspar Kennard and 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Blain had arrived at Holzminden – or ‘Hellminden’ as its occupants called it – the Germans’ highest-security prison complex had seemed impregnable.

‘The Black Hole’ was ruled by the iron fist of Camp Commandant Carl Niemayer, under whose brutal temper prisoners were known to be shot and beaten to death.

After five unsuccessful attempts from different camps in one year, the obsessive Captain Gray was personally determined to orchestrate the building of a tunnel directly under the feet of their one hundred armed guards.

Bascomb tells the story of this most unlikely of escapes with flair and imagination. The reader will certainly feel as if they are there, amongst the men trying desperately to regain their freedom.

About the author

Bascomb’s earlier works include ‘The Perfect Mile’, the story of three runners – Englishman Roger Bannister, American Wes Santee, and Australian John Landy – and their attempts to become the first man to run a mile under four minutes. With this book, he proves his versatility as a writer, moving effortlessly into war history which is normally the preserve of the specialist historian.

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