How to Escape from a POW Camp

A POW camp is a dangerous place. No one knows what will happen next, and you never know when the guards are going to get suspicious of your actions. To escape from this hostile environment, there’s only one thing left: you have to escape by yourself from the prison cells below ground level.

This is a blog post that discusses successful escapes from german POW camps. It includes an excerpt of the escape plan and how it was executed. Read more in detail here: successful escapes from german pow camps.

Steve mcqueen in the great escape.

Note from the editor: The following is an extract from FM 21-76 about planning to escape a prisoner of war camp: In 1957, the Army produced Survival, a field guidebook for soldiers. The book doesn’t provide instructions for building a tunnel or leaping your motorbike over fences, I’m sorry, since “because the circumstances in many POW camps varies, it is hard to present a particular survival strategy for each case.” Instead, the report sets out a strategy for “keeping oneself physically capable and well prepared for the escape.” While it’s doubtful that you’ll ever be held as a prisoner of war, the piece is fascinating to read from a historical standpoint and provides some real-life inspiration for “making the most of what you have.”

Assume You’ve Been Captured.

What happens if you are kidnapped and held as a prisoner of war? It is, after all, doable. Isolation, fear, and wounded all work in the enemy’s favor to enhance the odds of capture, despite your best efforts to avoid. The surrender of your arms, on the other hand, does not imply that you relinquish your duties as an American soldier. You must begin plotting your escape as soon as you are taken prisoner, according to the Armed Forces Code of Conduct.

Making an escape is difficult; making it stay is much more difficult. It needs bravery, ingenuity, and a lot of preparation – looking for ways out, routes to take, and the whereabouts of allies. Above all, it needs physical stamina, which must be developed under the most adverse circumstances possible. “Model” camps, where meals are consistent and treatment is thoughtful, have proven to be the exception. However, no matter what extremes your life as a POW takes, your goal should remain the same: to be physically fit and well-equipped for the escape.

A Survival Strategy

It is hard to develop a detailed survival strategy for each case since the conditions in individual POW camps vary. What you need is a roadmap to assist you in making the most of what you have. Here’s an example of a strategy you can remember using the letters S-A-T: Save, Add to, and Take Care of.

a. Save

In a POW camp, what can you save? Anything – clothes, metal, fabric, paper, thread — you name it. When it comes to breaking out, a strand of twine might spell the difference between success and failure. Put these goods in a hole in the ground or beneath the floor. If they are found, they may seem to be innocuous, and you may face little or no punishment.

(1) Dress in as few layers as feasible. When you start your journey back, save your shoes, underwear, shirts, jacket, and any other articles of clothes that will protect you from the elements.

(2) Keep whatever nonperishable food that the Red Cross or your captors give you. When traveling, candy, for example, comes in helpful as a rapid source of energy. Save each supply of sugar supplied to you by the adversary if no other sweets source is available. Boil the mixture until it becomes firm candy. Save it till you have a sufficient quantity. Foods in cans, which you may obtain, are perfect for storage. If the adversary punctures the cans and prevents you from preserving it, you can still save it by resealing the cans with wax or another field expedient. You may be able to rescue this meal by reheating it and modifying its shape. Suet and cooked meat, almonds, and bread are some more items to stockpile for the day of your departure.


(3) Save any metal scraps, no matter how little they seem. Nails and pins may be used as fasteners or buttons. For makeshift knives, mugs, or food containers, old tin cans are ideal. If you’re lucky enough to have a razor blade, keep it safe. Only use it when shaving. Create new methods to sharpen it, such as rubbing it against glass, stone, or another hard surface. A decent shave may lift your spirits.

(4) Conserve your strength while being active. Tone your muscles with a stroll around the complex or a few gentle exercises. Get as much rest as you can. On the drive back, you won’t get any sleep.

b. Add To

(1) Make use of your creativity. Choose those goods that you can’t live without and replenish them, such as your rations. There’s more food than you think in and around your property. When you’re given permission to tour the camp grounds, search for natural foods that are endemic to the region. Include these roots, grasses, leaves, barks, and insects in your escape stash if at all feasible. When things go bad, they’ll keep you alive.

(2) Supplement your attire so that when you flee, the more durable items are in excellent condition. Moccasins may be made with a block of wood and a piece of fabric, saving your footwear. Straw may be weaved into hats, and rags can be used as gloves. Remember to take clothes from the deceased.

d. Look After Yourself

The “take-care-of” phase is perhaps the most critical aspect of any survival strategy. Keep what you’ve got. When your shoes wear out or your jacket is lost, there will be no reprint. It’s also simpler to keep excellent health than it is to restore it after it’s been lost.

(1) Stash some of your belongings in your hideaway. Keep an eye on the rest for early symptoms of deterioration and, if required, make repairs using improvised materials. A damaged pair of pants may be repaired using a needle created from a thorn, nail, or splinter and threaded with unraveled material. Your shoes will be protected from wear by using wood canvas or cardboard bonded to the soles. If your shoes do wear through, even paper will do as a strengthening insole.

(2) Good physical health is necessary for survival in every situation. It’s particularly critical in a POW camp, when living quarters are cramped and food and shelter are few. This implies that you must utilize every gadget available to stay healthy.

(a) Keeping clean with soap and water is a fundamental preventive medication. Collect rainwater, utilize dew, or just massage yourself with a cloth or your bare hands every day if water is rare. Pay special attention to the parts of your body that are prone to rash and fungal infection, such as your toes, crotch, and scalp.

(b) Your apparel is likewise subject to the cleaning requirement. When you have the opportunity, use soap and water. If soap and water are not available, hang your garments to dry in the sun. Check your garment seams and hairy parts of your body for lice and their eggs on a regular basis. Lice that have been infected with a disease may be fatal. Telling your guard that you have lice is a feasible technique to acquire laundry service or even a bath, whether or not your complaint is legitimate. This service might be provided by prison officials, who are concerned that lice on inmates could spread louse-borne illness to the general public.


(c) If you fall unwell, notify the camp authorities immediately. It’s worth a shot if you have a possibility of getting help.



If you are captured by the enemy, and you have no way to escape, then it is time for a plan. You should always try to be prepared in case of an emergency situation. The famous pows that were able to escape from POW camps had some great ideas on how they escaped.

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