“Zero Night: The Untold Story of World War II’s Greatest Escape,” by Mark Felton, Thomas Dunne Books, 2015, 320 pages, $25.99 (Hardcover)
Late summer is a great time for reading escape literature.
“Zero Night: The Untold Story of World War II’s Greatest Escape,” by Mark Felton is the latest exemplar of the nonfiction end of that genre. It tells about the Oflag VI-B “Wire Job,” World War II’s first mass escape by British Prisoners of War.
Oflag VI-B was a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp set up after the Battle of France in 1940 to house captured British Army officers. (Oflag was a contraction of the German “Offiziere Lagen” — officer’s camp). As the war dragged into 1942 Royal Air Force officers, including famous ace Douglas Bader, were added to the mix.
The Warberg Wire Job was a daring attempt to escape the camp by going over the double fences surrounding it. Using prefabricated assemblies, the British POWs would emplace a walkway spanning the both barbed-wire fences (and the concertina wire between the fences) to go over the wire.
Plans originally called for building fifteen scaling devices, sending 150 prisoners over the wire. Ultimately four were built, and 36 men escaped using them.
Mark Felton takes readers into the life of the Oflag VI-B, showing how the escape was accomplished. Using interviews, diaries, memoirs, and previously published accounts written by participants, Felton is able to recreate the camp in words.
Felton shows how the plan evolved, revealing the activities of the X-Committee, which coordinated escape attempts. He goes through the various tunneling efforts, reveals the stooging system used to watch the guards and warn of their movements, and examines how the various escape impedimenta were concealed.
He also walks readers through the evolution of the Warburg Wire Job, disclosing how the originating officers developed the concept, created the tools necessary, and organized the escape. He also follows the 36 men who managed to go over the fence.
The prisoners escaped on August 30, 1942. Tracing their progress across Germany Felton shows how the escapers journeyed from a prison camp near Warburg, over 100 miles from the German frontier, to failure or freedom.
Zero Night is an exciting and intimate story, keeps you reading to the end.