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The True Story of the Great Escape (Paperback)

Stalag Luft III, March 1944

Military > Greenhill Books > Greenhill: WWII Military > Prisoners of War WWII > Great Escape WWII > Hitler & the Third Reich

By Jonathan Vance
Greenhill Books
Pages: 368
Illustrations: 16
ISBN: 9781784384388
Published: 4th March 2019



National publicity!

As featured in the Daily Express, March 2019: 'The Great Escape – The truth behind the iconic World War 2 film.'

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'It shows the variety and depth of the men sent into harms way during World War II, something emphasised by the population of Stalag Luft III. Most of the Allied POWs were flyers, with all the technical, tactical and planning skills that profession requires. Such men are independent thinkers, craving open air and wide-open spaces, which meant than an obsession with escape was almost inevitable' - John D Gresham

Between dusk and dawn on the night of March 24th-25th 1944, a small army of Allied soldiers crawled through tunnels in Germany in a covert operation the likes of which the Third Reich had never seen before.

The prison break from Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany was the largest of its kind in World War II. Seventy nine Allied soldiers and airmen made it outside the wire - but only three made it outside Nazi Germany. Fifty were executed by the Gestapo.

Jonathan Vance tells the incredible story that was made famous by the 1963 film, The Great Escape. The escape is a classic tale of prisoner and their wardens in a battle of wits and wills. The brilliantly conceived escape plan is overshadowed only by the colourful, daring (and sometimes very funny) crew who executed it - literally under the noses of German guards.

From their first days in Stalag Luft III and the forming of bonds key to such exploits, to the tunnel building, amazing escape and eventual capture, Vance's history is a vivid, compelling look at one of the greatest 'exfiltration' missions of all time.

'10 things you (possibly) didn’t know about the Great Escape'


RAF Association Newsletter

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the true story about the great escape from the German Stalg camp from WWII that they made a movie about. Here the author takes you through the camp, the men and their history, background, and then how they came to gather maps, compasses, even clothes and fake documents for their escape once they got out. A lot of thought and work went into planning and then carrying out their plan. I could see why they did it just not to escape but also to make the time they had useful and do something to make their days go by quicker. A really good story and not like the movie, sad in some ways but in others, I understood, A really good book.

NetGalley, Pat Lorelli

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The book has fascinating detail. I always loved the movie Vance does a great job exploring the individuals involved. Well worth the read.

NetGalley, Anthony Philo

No matter how much I read or view about the escapes from German Prisoner of war camps, especially one of the most famous Stalag Luft III I never cease to marvel at the ingenuity, daring and bravery of those involved.

This is yet again an excellent telling of the time and will be enjoyed by any one interested in WWII not just history buffs.

NetGalley, Suzanne Griffin

Contrary to the popular movie “The Great Escape” almost all of those involved in the actual escape were British or Commonwealth air crew. This book gives the background of each of the major figures that were involved in the escape. It also details the efforts to dig the tunnels used in the escape. Those that escaped are followed and their journey documented... I found this book interesting.

NetGalley, John Purvis

I enjoyed reading this true story. It's no wonder there was a movie made about this incredible event... I felt like I was experiencing the escape with the boys. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys WWII or even if you liked the movie.

Read the full review here

GoodReads, Lillian

A terrific new book about this most famous escape, with some more Nordic detail... Read this book both for inspiration and the reading pleasure.

Read the full review here

Lars Gyllenhall, Blogger

This is a must read - whether a fan of the movies or of the history, or just someone who wants to know more. It is more than a history - it is a personal, tragic story. I was left with so many thoughts after reading this; I wanted to know more; and when I was done, I was left feeling drained but mostly humbled.

NetGalley, Melisende d'Outremer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Vance does a masterful job capturing the men's emotional struggles in the aftermath of the escape from Stalag Luft III and then their lives after the war. His accounts of the investigation into the murder and then the visits to family to return effects. Promises kept.

Jonathan Vance's account of the Great Escape is alive with the personalities of the people who lived it, giving them voice. I cared and therefore I laughed and cried and got mad and was on tenterhooks and was rooting for them. What a beautiful tribute both to the incredible fortitude and ingenuity of these POWs but also to who they were as people with all their foibles and desires, fears and strengths.

NetGalley, Monique Neaves

This new book has been carefully researched and has to be a front runner for all readers but, from those books we have reviewed this year, each has unique insight and an enthusiast will want to buy them all - Highly Recommended

Read the full review here


The story is remarkable and, while dealing with a short timeline, had much larger implications.

Read the full review here

Man of la Book

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

WOW! You will be totally unable to put this book down! These men were beyond amazing! Smart, and strong. This book is their incredible true story!

NetGalley, January Gray

I can still remember the first time I saw the movie, The Great Escape, with Steve McQueen. Shortly after that I managed to find and read a used copy of Paul Brickhill’s book, which was the basis for the movie. The story of the brave men who engineered the daring escape from Stalag Luft III has always been fascinating to me. So, I looked forward to reading Professor Vance’s book about this extraordinary group of men.

All I can say is that this book was well beyond what I expected. Thoroughly research and well-written, The True Story of the Great Escape is a story of an ambitious plan, meticulously conceived and simply incredible in its execution. Professor Vance brings the men behind the plot to life and gives the reader a real sense of the urgency and determination they felt. It’s a compelling story and the reader will be swept up in the drama. But, most importantly, the reader will appreciate the perseverance, ingenuity and passion these men of Stalag Luft III felt and their determination to succeed. Their bravery is humbling and their sacrifice should never be forgotten. It’s an incredible story and an incredible book.

NetGalley, Jane Robinson

I have always been a huge fan of author Paul Brickhill, who seemed to write the book versions of all the great 1950s films I saw, such as The Dam Busters, Reach For The Sky and The Great Escape. I wasn’t bothered thathis books may not have been factually correct – for all I know, they may have been – but the fact was, they were thrilling adventure stories for a young teenager, many of whose Grammar School teachers would have been returning World War 2 veterans. The Second World War was recent enough to have a huge influence on the way young boys thought and acted – we played at war, we read about war in our books and comics, and the exploits of the men involved in the war inspired and moved us, just as Jonathan Vance’s “true story of the great escape” does. This is superlative nonfiction, coming as it does at the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape. It is inspirational, motivational, and above all, moving. A stunning book.

Books Monthly

I believe this particularly well-researched book will stand the test of time and scrutiny by scholars and normal readers alike and in the end this book will be the gold standard for the Great Escape's history.

Read the full review here

Argunners, Christopher 'Moon' Mullins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am speechless. I honestly think this book is an amazing tribute to the soldiers involved and what they had to endure in their bid for freedom.
It was an atmospheric, beautifully written in its harshness, tale of heroism during WW2.
A must read and highly recommended.

NetGalley, reviewed by Sue Blanchard

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I've read a lot about the Second World War this year namely the rise and fall of the third reich and the Nuremberg trials so it was fascinating to read about the great escape from the viewpoint of the officers.
This was a highly entertaining read and I would definitely recommend!

NetGalley, reviewed by Serena Casey

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is fascinating, sad and very accessible for anyone who thinks that military history is dry as dust!

This book is superb, Professor Vance!

NetGalley, reviewed by Sue Thomas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

...if you love WWII history, snatch up on it! I watched the movie The Great Escape and even though it was good, it didn't touch the book.

Kudos to the author for bringing the prison break of Stalag Luft III to print!

NetGalley, reviewed by Loretta Runyon

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in escape literature or the Second World War and feel it is an excellent book to introduce a new generation of school boys and school girls to what truly was a “Gallant Company of Men”.

NetGalley, reviewed by Bev Walkling

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a very human story, from the pilots to the prison guards, Vance refuses to let us imagine any of them as stereotypes from a movie.

Poignant and powerful, The True Story of the Great Escape is a must read for any history lover.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

As featured in

The Mirror 24/3/19

As featured in

Daily Express 21/3/19

As featured by

The Armourer, April 2019

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a very well written account and is told in a logical fashion. It is not overly technical, so anyone with an interest in WWII or just history in general will enjoy it. It is fascinating.

NetGalley, reviewed by Joyce Fox

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Would I recommend it? Yes it's a story that needs to be told and read.

NetGalley, reviewed by Elizabeth Means

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An informative, well written account of the infamous Great Escape. Also has lots of accounts of preceding and following escape attempts that were also made. Easy to read and told the stories vividly and well.

NetGalley, reviewed by Sarah Stirrup

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book does tell the full true story of the planning and taking place of the escape along with what happened to the escapees with fifty of them bring murdered. The author has also got to know those who took part in the escape and it is this which is the difference with other books that I have read on the subject.

The book is well written and contains many nuggets of information that will interest the reader.

Thoroughly recommended.

NetGalley, reviewed by Lee Carson

This is a very interesting book that highlights the tenacity of captured airmen during WWII to escape from POW camps run by the Germans. The detail of the story telling is very complete and shows a great amount of research that went into writing this book.

NetGalley, reviewed by Lisa Farr

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am an avid reader of WWII historical novels and was so excited for the opportunity to read this one by Professor Vance from NetGalley. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in reading a completely different angle of looking at WWII outside of the Jewish perspective. I can’t count the number of novels I’ve read about WWII, but never have I had the opportunity to see it from the officer’s side. Years ago I watched the Great Escape, but I will certainly be watching it again now that I understand how much truly went into the digging of the tunnels and the prep work for the Great Escape.

I loved this book, could not wait to get back to it when I had to do something else, like work, and had a hard time putting it down. This is one you need to read slow and get the full meaning of what is happening because there is a LOT going on and many people are introduced in this story due to the dynamics of what it is covering. I truly appreciated the background he gave on the flyers, and how they arrived in the camp. As always, I am utterly appalled at the German’s and how they ignored the rules of war. The ending was fantastic, it tidied up the trials and gave us a brief synopsis of the ones that survived. This is a great book, everyone should read this, these flyers were brave, courageous heroes and all they wanted to do was to go home. Showing the talents and expertise it took from such a diversity of men to accomplish this enormous task was remarkable. Great book!!!!

NetGalley, reviewed by Teresa Young

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The book has fascinating detail. I always loved the movie Vance does a great job exploring the individuals involved. Well worth the read.

NetGalley, reviewed by Anthony Philo

As featured in

The Bookseller Buyers Guide

About Jonathan Vance

Professor Jonathan Vance teaches military history and Canadian history at Western University, Canada. He is the author of more than 10 acclaimed works, including Maple Leaf Empire: Canada, Britain and Two World Wars (Oxford University Press) and The Great War: From Memory to History. (Wilfrid Laurier University Press)

Perfect Partner

The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III The Memoir of Jens Müller (Hardback)

'The Great Escape was far more than a Hollywood film; it was an aggressive campaign waged by Allied prisoners against the Nazi security forces in their own back yard - and Jens Müller was a key player. His memoir is a must read for anyone interested in this gripping episode of the Second World War.' Simon Pearson, author of The Great Escaper: The Life and Death of Roger Bushell Jens Müller was one of only three men who successfully escaped from Stalag Luft III in March 1944 - the break that later became the basis for the famous film The Great Escape. Müller was no. 43 of the 76 prisoners of…

By Jens Müller, Jon Muller, Asgeir Ueland

Click here to buy both titles for £29.98
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