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The Greatest Escape (Hardback)

A Bomber Command Navigator’s Story of Survival in Nazi Germany

Aviation > Royal Air Force Aviation > WWII P&S History > By Century > 20th Century WWII

By Martin Barratt
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 32 images in central plate section
ISBN: 9781399075275
Published: 24th April 2023


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This is the story of a wartime bomber, its crew and of a tantalising detective story unfolding over nearly a quarter of a century of intensive research. It is also a story of courage, fortitude and endurance and of one man’s will to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Bomber Command’s horrific loss rate during the Second World War cannot be underestimated. Of the 120,000 young aircrew who served, 55,373 were to perish, most of them losing their lives over the night skies of Europe.

The Battle of the Ruhr, the campaign to destroy the industrial heartland of Germany which raged between March and July 1943, was both savage in intensity and costly in terms of aircrew. Prospects for survival for anyone involved in operational flying with Bomber Command at that time were particularly bleak. Young aircrew could expect a lifespan measured in terms of weeks where seemingly only a fiery death in an exploding aircraft or captivity as a Prisoner of War awaited. It is with this period that the book is primarily concerned and, more specifically, with the crew of Halifax JB869 of 102 Squadron, of which the author’s father was the navigator, and its loss on the night of 4 May 1943.

He survived baling out and, later, an attempted lynching on the ground to become a Prisoner of War. But his escape from his shattered aircraft was only the first of many episodes in his two years of captivity that would see him pushed to the limits of endurance and face death more than once.

Like so many veterans the author’s father chose not to speak about his wartime experiences until quite late in his life and it was only after his death and the chance discovery of an archive of letters, logbooks, accounts and other material that the full story of his incredible series of escapes came to light.

Through extensive research, including face-to-face interviews and correspondence with a significant number of ex-aircrew, the author has painstakingly pieced together the complete story of the crew of this aircraft, identifying and contacting relatives of each crew member and, for some, bringing closure after decades of not knowing how (or in some cases where) their loved one had met their deaths.

"Serving as a poignant testament to those who served in Bomber Command, this is a fascinating tale of survival and brotherhood."

Britain at War Magazine - September 2023

"This is an excellent, well written and moving book."

Read the full review here.

British Modern Military History Society

Article: "On top of the world, then face to face with a lynch mob."

RAF News - September 8th 2023

"A testament to those who served, The Greatest Escape is a fascinating tale of survival. A must-by."

Classic Military Vehicle Magazine - Issue 267, August 2023

Review as featured in

The Armourer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Martin Barratt has produced a cracking book about his father, a bomber navigator in WW2. He has undertaken a vast amount of research into his father's missions and the fate & lives of the six other crew members.
I can honestly say that I was shocked to learn about the treatment by the Germans of the British POW's. I was brought up as a child watching a number of boys-own WW2 POW films, including The Colditz story, The Wooden Horse etc. The prison camps seemed quite innocuous with the German guards being reasonably civilised and generally guided by the Geneva convention. However, the real stories of the brutality of the camp guards, both within the camps and on the marches, were horrific. I am amazed that so many British prisoners were able to have survived.

I can especially relate to the book, due to my father being a Wireless Operator on a Lancaster. bomber. He survived his tour physically but had forms of PTSD until the day he died. Similar to the author's father, my dad rarely spoke about his missions, only his adventures when off-duty. Sadly I now have so many questions to ask my father, but it is now too late.

I would like to thank the author for writing such an incredible book about these extremely brave men.

NetGalley, Peter Coxall

"...actual story is interesting..."

The Armourer – August 2023

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The extensively researched true story of a WWII navigator in Bomber Command from his time of training through several missions to him somehow surviving the hell of capture and life as a P.O.W. Written by his son who has done a magnificent job in telling us a story that should never be forgotten of a brave man and others like him.

NetGalley, Stephen Dale

As this book shows us so brilliantly, men like Harold weren’t heroes at all, and to bestow that status upon them is insulting and ill-founded. Because they weren’t the “Greatest Generation” they weren’t superhumans, but they were something both much more laudable and yet totally unremarkable. Men and women like Harold Barratt were ordinary people thrust by events into extraordinary situations. They were people just like us, often scared, confused, traumatized and yet always muddling through, doing their best, doing their duty, no matter what horror they faced nor how long the odds were against them. Churchill said “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” and Harold Barratt was one of those men, and so was Flt Sgt John Keys, the uncle who bequeathed me my forename, and whose Halifax was shot down over the Somme in 1944.

Read the review here


Article: 'Amazing moment young Nazi soldier saved downed RAF airman from a lynching at the hands of German mob thirsty for revenge after Dambusters raid is revealed in new book'

Read the full article here:

Mail Online

About Martin Barratt

MARTIN BARRATT has written and contributed features and articles across a range of subjects including music, shooting, classic cars and literature. A branding and marketing specialist by profession he has co-founded and run several companies and has a key interest in military history and in particular, the history of Bomber Command.

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