#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.


Kristen Alexander and Kate Ariotti, ‘Mourning the Dead of the Great Escape: POWs, Grief, and the Memorial Vault of Stalag Luft III,’ Journal of War & Culture Studies (2022), DOI: 10.1080/17526272.2022.2097774.

In March 1944 seventy-six Allied prisoners of war escaped from Stalag Luft III. Nearly all were recaptured; fifty were later shot. This article examines what happened in the period between recapture and the interment of the dead prisoners’ cremated remains at Stalag Luft III. It positions what came to be known as ‘the Great Escape’ as an event of deep emotional resonance for those who grieved and reveals the dual narrative they constructed to make sense of their comrades’ deaths. In discussing the iconography of the vault constructed by the camp community to house the dead POWs’ ashes, this article also suggests a dissonance in meaning between that arising from personal, familial grief and the Imperial War Graves Commission’s standardised memorial practice. Focusing on the Great Escape’s immediate aftermath from the perspective of the POWs themselves provides a more nuanced understanding of the emotional impact of this infamous event.

Susan Allen, Sam Bell and Carla Machain, ‘Air Power, International Organizations, and Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan,’ Armed Forces & Society (2022), doi:10.1177/0095327X221100780.

Can the presence of international organizations reduce civilian deaths caused by aerial bombing? This commentary examines this question in the specific context of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. We evaluate this based on interviews conducted with members of international organizations that were present in Afghanistan during the conflict, existing intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and government reports, and with quantitative data on civilian casualties between 2008 and 2013. We conclude that there is tentative evidence from Afghanistan that international organizations can in fact reduce the severity of civilian killings that result from the use of air power. However, there is much need for greater data sharing to more fully answer this important question.

Derek Lutterbeck, ‘Airpower and Migration Control,’ Geopolitics (2022), DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2022.2094776.

Migration scholarship has thus far largely neglected the role of aircraft in both (irregular) migration and state policies aimed at controlling migration. Drawing inspiration from the field of strategic studies, where ‘airpower’ has been a key theoretical concept, this article explores the role of aerial assets in states’ migration control efforts. The article discusses three main dimensions of the use of airpower in controlling migration: the increasing resort to aircraft for border enforcement purposes – or what can be referred to as ‘vertical border policing’ –, states’ tight monitoring of the aerial migration infrastructure, and the use of aircraft in migrant return operations. As a core element of state power, it is airpower’s key features of reach, speed and height which have made it a particularly useful migration control instrument.

Priya Mirza “Sovereignty of the air’: The Indian princely states, the British Empire and carving out of air-space (1911–1933),’ History and Technology (2022), DOI: 10.1080/07341512.2022.2079370.

Who owns the skies? Under British colonialism, the ownership of the skies of India was a contested matter. The onset of aviation presented a challenge to the territorial understanding between the British and semi-sovereign Indian princes, Paramountcy (1858–1947). Technology itself was a tricky area: roadways, railways, telegraphs, and the wireless were nibbling away at the sovereign spheres which Paramountcy had put in place. This paper looks at the history of aviation in princely India, from aviation enthusiasts such as the rulers of Kapurthala, Jodhpur and Bikaner to subversive princes like the Maharaja of Patiala who worked towards a military air force. The paper tracks the three stages of the journey of aviation in princely India, from individual consumption, to the historical context of World War One which aided its access and usage, and finally, the collective princely legal assertion over the vertical air above them in the position, ‘sovereignty of air’. The government’s civil aviation policy in India remained ambiguous about the princes’ rights over the air till 1931 when their sovereignty of the sky was finally recognised. The paper focuses on the Indian princes varied engagement with aviation, modernity and their space in the world.

Ayodeji Olukoju ‘Creating ‘an air sense:’ Governor Hugh Clifford and the beginnings of civil aviation in Nigeria, 1919-1920,’ African Identities (2022), DOI: 10.1080/14725843.2022.2096566.

This paper focuses on the neglected subject of the beginnings of civil aviation in Nigeria in the aftermath of World War I. Until now, the literature on civil aviation in British colonial Africa had focused largely on Kenya, Central and South Africa and on post-World War II West Africa. This paper, relying on previously unexploited archival material, examines policy debates and options considered by the Colonial Office, the Air Ministry and the Nigerian colonial government. The unique, pioneering aviation drive of Nigeria’s Governor Hugh Clifford took place in the context of immediate post-World War I dynamics: economic vicissitudes, Anglo-French rivalry in West Africa and the policy interface between London and the colonies. This paper demonstrates that aviation development in Nigeria had roots in the early 1920s, and that the initiative was not a metropolitan monopoly, thereby illustrating the extent of colonial gubernatorial autonomy vis-à-vis London.

S. Seyer, ‘An Industry Worth Protecting? The Manufacturers Aircraft Association’s Struggle against the British Surplus, 1919–1922,’ Journal of Policy History 34, no. 3 (2022), pp. 403-39.

The American aircraft industry’s important role in the economic, military, and cultural expansion of the United States over the past one hundred years has been well documented by historians. But America’s twentieth century aerial dominance was not preordained. After World War I, the nascent American aircraft industry faced a concerted British effort to dump thousands of war surplus machines on the U.S. market. With aircraft outside of the nation’s tariff regime, members of the Manufacturers Aircraft Association turned to Congress for emergency protections in the face of what they considered an existential threat. Despite efforts to equate a strong industrial base for aviation with the national defense, aircraft antidumping legislation became mired in partisan debates over tariff policy and accusations of wartime corruption. In the absence of relief from Congress, the Wright patent served as a barrier against the importation of foreign surplus machines.

Ameya Tripathi, ‘Bombing Cultural Heritage: Nancy Cunard, Art Humanitarianism, and Primitivist Wars in Morocco, Ethiopia, and Spain,’ Modernist Cultures 17, no. 2 (2022), pp. 191-220.

This article examines Nancy Cunard’s later writing on Spain as a direct legacy of her previous projects as a modernist poet, publisher and black rights activist. Cunard was a rare analyst of the links between total war, colonial counter-insurgency, and cultural destruction. Noting the desire of both the air power theorist and art collector to stereotype peoples, from Morocco to Ethiopia to Spain, as ‘primitive’, the article brings original archival materials from Cunard’s notes into dialogue with her journalism, and published and unpublished poetry, to examine how she reclaimed and repurposed primitivism. Her poems devise a metonymic and palimpsestic literary geopolitics, juxtaposing fragments from ancient cultures atop one another to argue, simultaneously, for Spain’s essential dignity as both a primitive and a civilised nation. Cunard reconciles Spain’s liminal status, between Africa and Europe, to argue for Spain’s art, and people, as part of a syncretic, universal human cultural heritage, anticipating the art humanitarianism of organisations such as UNESCO.


Stephen Bourque, D-Day 1944: The Deadly Failure of Allied Heavy Bombing on June 6 (Osprey: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

D-Day is one of the most written-about events in military history. One aspect of the invasion, however, continues to be ignored: the massive pre-assault bombardment by the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF), reinforced by RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force on June 6 which sought to neutralize the German defenses along the Atlantic Wall. Unfortunately, this failed series of attacks resulted in death or injury to hundreds of soldiers, and killed many French civilians.

Despite an initial successful attack performed by the Allied forces, the most crucial phase of the operation, which was the assault from the Eighth Air Force against the defenses along the Calvados coast, was disastrous. The bombers missed almost all of their targets, inflicting little damage to the German defenses, which resulted in a high number of casualties among the Allied infantry. The primary cause of this failure was that planners at Eighth Air Force Headquarters had changed aircraft drop times at the last moment, to prevent casualties amongst the landing forces, without notifying either Eisenhower or Doolittle.

This book examines this generally overlooked event in detail, answering several fundamental questions: What was the AEAF supposed to accomplish along the Atlantic Wall on D-Day and why did it not achieve its bombardment objectives? Offering a new perspective on a little-known air campaign, it is packed with illustrations, maps and diagrams exploring in detail the features and ramifications of this mission.

Laurence Burke II, At the Dawn of Airpower: The U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps’ Approach to the Airplane 1907–1917 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2022).

At the Dawn of Airpower: The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps’ Approach to the Airplane, 1907-1917 examines the development of aviation in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps from their first official steps into aviation up to the United States’ declaration of war against Germany in April, 1917. Burke explains why each of the services wanted airplanes and show how they developed their respective air arms and the doctrine that guided them.   His narrative follows aviation developments closely, delving deep into the official and personal papers of those involved and teasing out the ideas and intents of the early pioneers who drove military aviation   Burke also closely examines the consequences of both accidental and conscious decisions on the development of the nascent aviation arms.  

Certainly, the slow advancement of the technology of the airplane itself in the United States (compared to Europe) in this period affected the creation of doctrine in this period.  Likewise, notions that the war that broke out in 1914 was strictly a European concern, reinforced by President Woodrow Wilson’s intentions to keep the United States out of that war, meant that the U.S. military had no incentive to “keep up” with European military aviation.  Ultimately, however, he concludes that it was the respective services’ inability to create a strong, durable network connecting those flying the airplanes regularly (technology advocates) with the senior officers exercising control over their budget and organization (technology patrons) that hindered military aviation during this period.

Jim Leeke, Turtle and the Dreamboat: The Cold War Flights That Forever Changed the Course of Global Aviation (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2022).

The Turtle and the Dreamboat is the first detailed account of the race for long-distance flight records between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy less than fourteen months after World War II. The flights were risky and unprecedented. Each service intended to demonstrate its offensive capabilities during the new nuclear age, a time when America was realigning its military structure and preparing to create a new armed service – the United States Air Force.

The first week of October 1946 saw the conclusion of both record-breaking, nonstop flights by the military fliers. The first aircraft, a two-engine U.S. Navy P2V Neptune patrol plane nicknamed the Truculent Turtle, flew more than eleven thousand miles from Perth, Western Australia, to Columbus, Ohio. The Turtle carried four war-honed pilots and a young kangaroo as a passenger. The second plane, a four-engine U.S. Army B-29 Superfortress bomber dubbed the Pacusan Dreamboat, flew nearly ten thousand miles from Honolulu to Cairo via the Arctic. Although presented as a friendly rivalry, the two flights were anything but collegial. These military missions were meant to capture public opinion and establish aviation leadership within the coming Department of Defense.

Both audacious flights above oceans, deserts, mountains, and icecaps helped to shape the future of worldwide commercial aviation, greatly reducing the length and costs of international routes. Jim Leeke provides an account of the remarkable and record-breaking flights that forever changed aviation.

Micheal Napier, Flashpoints: Air Warfare in the Cold War (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

The Cold War years were a period of unprecedented peace in Europe, yet they also saw a number of localised but nonetheless very intense wars throughout the wider world in which air power played a vital role. Flashpoints describes eight of these Cold War conflicts: the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Congo Crisis of 1960-65, the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973, the Falklands War of 1982 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. In all of them both sides had a credible air force equipped with modern types, and air power shaped the final outcome.

Acclaimed aviation historian Michael Napier details the wide range of aircraft types used and the development of tactics over the period. The postwar years saw a revolution in aviation technology and design, particularly in the fields of missile development and electronic warfare, and these conflicts saw some of the most modern technology that the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces deployed, alongside some relatively obscure aircraft types such as the Westland Wyvern and the Folland Gnat.

Highly illustrated, with over 240 images and maps, Flashpoints is an authoritative account of the most important air wars of the Cold War.

David Nicolle and Gabr Ali Gabr, Air Power and the Arab World – Volume 6: World in Crisis, 1936-March 1941 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2022).

Volume 6 of the Air Power and the Arab World mini-series continues the story of the men and machines of the first half century of military aviation in the Arab world. These years saw the Arab countries and their military forces caught up in the events of the Second World War.

For those Arab nations which had some degree of independence, the resulting political, cultural and economic strains had a profound impact upon their military forces. In Egypt the Army generally remained quiet, continuing with its often unglamorous and little appreciated duties. Within the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF), however, there were a significant number of men who wanted to take action in expectation of what they, and many around the world, expected to be the defeat of the British Empire.

The result was division, widespread mistrust, humiliation, and for a while the grounding of the entire REAF. In Iraq the strains of the early war years sowed the seeds of a yet to come direct armed confrontation with the British.

Volume 6 of Air Power and the Arab World then looks at the first efforts to revive both the REAF and the Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIrAF), along with events in the air and on the ground elsewhere in the Arab world from 1939 until March 1941.

This volume is illustrated throughout with photographs of the REAF, RIrAF and RAF and a selection of specially commissioned colour artworks.

Adrian Phillips, Rearming the RAF for the Second World War: Poor Strategy and Miscalculation (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2022).

When the RAF rearmed to meet the growing threat from Nazi Germany’s remorseless expansion in the late 1930s, it faced immense challenges. It had to manage a huge increase in size as well as mastering rapid advances in aviation technology. To protect Britain from attack, the RAF’s commanders had to choose the right strategy and the right balance in its forces. The choices had to be made in peacetime with no guidance from combat experience. These visions then had to be translated into practical reality. A shifting cast of government ministers, civil servants and industrialists with their own financial, political and military agendas brought further dynamics into play. The RAF’s readiness for war was crucial to Britain’s ability to respond to Nazi aggression before war broke out and when it did, the RAF’s rearmament was put to the acid test of battle. Adrian Phillips uses the penetrating grasp of how top level decisions are made that he honed in his inside accounts of the abdication crisis and appeasement, to dissect the process which shaped the RAF of 1940. He looks beyond the familiar legends of the Battle of Britain and explores in depth the successes and failures of a vital element in British preparations for war.

John Quaife, Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Australian Air Force in Coastal Command 1939-1945 (Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2022).

At the outbreak of World War II, somewhat by accident — and just as the first shots of the war were fired — young Australian airmen from the Royal Australian Air Force were engaged in operations that would become known collectively as the Battle of the Atlantic. Arguably lesser-known than air campaigns in other theatres, large numbers of Australians who volunteered for service with Royal Australian Air Force, found themselves fighting in this battle. Australians were there at the outbreak and many would go on to fly some of the final missions of the war in Europe.

This book captures some of the experiences of the Royal Australian Air Force members who served with Coastal Command and, through the weight of numbers alone, stories of the Sunderland squadrons and the Battle of the Atlantic dominate the narrative. Being critical to Britain’s survival, the battle also dominated Coastal Command throughout the war but Australians served in a surprising variety of other roles. The nature of many of those tasks demanded persistence that could only be achieved by large numbers of young men and women being prepared to ‘do what it took’ to get a tedious and unrewarding job done. Over 400 did not come home.

Steven Zaloga, The Oil Campaign 1944–45: Draining the Wehrmacht’s Lifeblood (Oxford: OIsprey Publishing, 2022).

With retreating German forces losing their oilfields on the Eastern Front, Germany was reliant on its own facilities, particularly for producing synthetic oil from coal. However, these were within range of the increasingly mighty Allied air forces. In 1944 the head of the US Strategic Air Forces, General Carl Spaatz was intent on a new campaign that aimed to cripple the German war machine by depriving it of fuel.

The USAAF’s Oil Campaign built up momentum during the summer of 1944 and targeted these refineries and plants with its daylight heavy bombers. Decrypted German communications made it clear that the Oil Campaign was having an effect against the Wehrmacht. Fuel shortages in the autumn of 1944 forced the Luftwaffe to ground most of its combat units except for fighters involved in the defense of the Reich. Fuel shortages also forced the Kriegsmarine to place most of its warships in harbor except for the U-boats and greatly hampered German army campaigns such as the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944-45.

This fascinating book packed with key photos and illustrations examines the controversies and debates over the focus of the US bombing campaign in the final year of the war, and the impact it had on the war effort overall.

“For you the war is (not) over”: Active Disruption in the Barbed Wire Battleground

“For you the war is (not) over”: Active Disruption in the Barbed Wire Battleground

By Kristen Alexander[1]

The popular perception of the prisoner of war is that, once captured, he was out of the battle. Rather than compliantly accepting a status of hors de combat, however, many captive allied airmen in Europe during the Second World War continued to be potent military operatives in a new theatre of conflict—the barbed wire battleground. Indeed, the airmen adopted a stance as prison camp combatants. To facilitate this, they actively managed their lives to demonstrate individual and collective agency. They strenuously mitigated the ill-effects of their circumstances by embarking on a program of active disruption. Importantly, they did not give in to, what at least one man termed, ‘the futility of existence’.[2]

Drawing on personal records in private and public collections, as well as official reports, this article provides a brief overview of some of the ways in which Australians and their fellow prisoners in Stalag Luft III, a Luftwaffe prisoner of war camp, established, maintained and promoted themselves as active airmen, on duty, in the barbed wire battleground.

‘Vacation at Stalag’, Cyril Borsht’s wartime log book, courtesy of the late Cyril Borsht (Source: Private Collection).

Many downed airmen spoke of the ‘shock’ of captivity and the shame they felt on capture.[3] These feelings were a common response to being taken from battle.[4] The airmen’s sense of disgrace was exacerbated when they heard the ‘usual taunt’, ‘für sie der Krieg is beendet’—‘for you the war is over’.[5] The realisation after their unwilling departure from the aerial arena that they had become prisoners of war was a serious blow to self-esteem and service pride.[6] However, rather than accept a situation defined by passivity and docility, they rejected it.[7] The war was not over for them. Moreover, so, they remained on active service as prison camp combatants.

‘I wanted wings’, Ronald Baines’ wartime log book, courtesy of the Baines family (Source: Private Collection)

However, before they re-attained operational readiness, they had to regain their fighting spirit. Humour was a significant means to that end as well as an almost universal morale booster.[8] Many, for instance, depicted their new accommodation as a holiday camp or sanatorium,[9] and tongues were firmly in cheek when they poked fun of the ignominious exits that landed them there.[10] Many illustrated themselves as Donald Duck behind bars.[11] ‘Winglessness’, like that of ‘Downed Donald’, was a shared state and the men gained strength through ridiculing their common plight.[12]

The armed forces have a long tradition of using language to distance themselves from the emotions associated with military action and death in service.[13] The men of Stalag Luft III were no different, and so, they too gained strength through language. While they were initially bemused at being called Terrorflieger, Luftgangster, and Terrorbomber, many filled their wartime logbooks with clippings from German newspapers that promoted Allied airmen as the Second World War version of terrorists.[14] In doing so, the downed airmen recognised that the propagandised terms highlighted their success. Consequently, they ignored the intended insults and willingly accepted—as tributes to their military prowess—their new designations.[15]

‘Escape’, Cyril Borsht’s wartime log book, courtesy of the late Cyril Borsht. (Source: Private Collection)

The airmen were not, however, so keen to be known as Kriegsgefangener—war prisonerbecause of the negative and shameful connotations surrounding the word ‘prisoner’ and its associated trappings, such as POW number, fingerprinting, and identification discs.[16] Accordingly, they spurned ‘prisoner of war’. In a canny example of linguistic reframing, they adopted the easier-to-pronounce and linguistically distancing abbreviation of ‘kriegie’—even those who were captured in the later months of the war.[17] Derived from the first syllable—the German word for ‘war’—it subconsciously indicated that they were still men of war with a fine fighting spirit and distanced them from the stigma of captivity. ‘Kriegie’ removed the sense of derogation surrounding captivity and turned an affront—and assault to their dignity—into a linguistic badge of inclusiveness and pride. ‘Kriegie’ declared that they were still men of war on operational service. It also became ‘a fun word’ to describe them.[18] Ultimately, their prison camp patois—terrorflieger, Luftgangster, kriegie and so on—became a language of agency and defiance.

‘Cutting from a Reich paper of a ‘typical’ ‘terrorflieger’ or ‘luftgangster”, Cyril Borsht’s wartime log book, courtesy of the late Cyril Borsht. (Source: Private Collection).

With self-esteem restored, confidence reasserted, and fighting spirit reinvigorated, the airmen turned to discipline and their strong sense of service duty to help negotiate captivity. Demonstrating collective agency, the kriegies institutionalised air force discipline in the camp.[19] They acknowledged that running Stalag Luft III along RAF station lines was best for the community—for the camp commonweal—and it was generally agreed that the senior officers ‘did an excellent job’.[20] As well as maintaining ‘a high degree of morale and discipline’,[21] there was much security in adhering to the familiar aspects of their former service lives.[22] Moreover, it afforded the airmen the support they needed to wage war as prison camp combatants.

One aspect of that war was the duty of active resistance. All new arrivals were interviewed by the Senior British Officer or, in the NCO compound, the Man of Confidence, who reminded the kriegie new boys of their continuing obligations as servicemen.[23] Importantly, they warned them not to comply with any German order ‘beyond what was necessary’.[24] The airmen welcomed their new responsibility of active resistance and defiance. Exemplifying personal and group agency they were deliberately disruptive.[25] They misbehaved during roll call.[26] They purloined German supplies.[27] They bribed guards.[28] Their favourite sport became goon-baiting.[29] Many embarked on covert operations. Some became code writers and sent secret messages to MI-9.[30] A major aspect of active resistance was escape, and the airmen embraced their moral right[31] and duty[32] to break out of the prison camp. If they were not on the exit list for a particular attempt, or not personally eager—or even physically or psychologically capable—they supported those who were by participating in the communal effort.


Active resistance, disruption, defiance, and escape work epitomised individual and collective agency. Significantly, they reinforced the airmen’s continuing identity as combatants. For many, such concerted agency ameliorated the mortification of becoming prisoners of war. Moreover, so, the escape or ‘X’ organisation became the overriding feature of life in Stalag Luft III.[33]

Each compound had its version of the ‘X’ organisation and Australians participated in almost every aspect of its work. ‘X’ rosters were drawn up disguised as participant lists for sports days, and sporty types created diversions.[34] The carpentry department commandeered bed boards to shore up the tunnels and other purposes and built cabinets and hidey holes to stow secret equipment.[35] Some men did metal work, made dummy rifles, and meticulously constructed compasses.[36] Scroungers obtained ink, radio parts and essential supplies.[37] Photographers took passport photographs.[38] Forgers replicated passes and identification papers.[39] Tunnellers dug, others carted dirt away, and gardeners disposed of it. Meanwhile, the majority joined the army of ‘watchers’ known as ‘stooges’, who kept a lookout for any sign of the Germans. So industrious were the tunnellers that, in East Compound alone, between 60 and 70 tunnels were started during the first six months.[40]

Despite such diligent ‘X’ work and prolific excavation, East Compound’s only successful getaway was that of October 1943—dubbed ‘the Wooden Horse’—where three men made a ‘home run’. The culmination of North Compound’s ‘X’ work was the mass breakout of March 1944. While seventy-six succeeded in fleeing the camp, only three made it home. Seventy-three were recaptured. Fifty were executed, five of whom were Australian.

The men regretted the tragic outcome, but not their part in it. Nor their determined demonstration of collective agency as prison camp combatants. They believed their large-scale resistance work had been worthwhile, not just because of the sustaining effect on morale, but because of the cost to the Germans in tying up resources during the ensuing Großfahndung which they considered ‘biggest manhunt of the war’.[41]


After the war, Paul Brickhill, an Australian journalist and former Stalag Luft III kriegie, was invited to write a book about the March 1944 escape.[42] That book proved influential in how captivity in Stalag Luft III has been portrayed. The mass breakout, for example, was not known as the ‘Great Escape’ until the publication of Brickhill’s The Great Escape in 1951.[43] From that time, the book’s title entered the lexicon as participants, bystanders and the public all appropriated it to describe an event that still resonates. So powerful is the book’s theme of triumph over the enemy through a communal agency, so exciting is the narrative, that most commercially published accounts of life in Second World War German POW camps—and Stalag Luft III in particular—feature the exciting high adventure and derring-do of major escapes.


While many of the former airmen were impressed with Brickhill’s book, many were not overly pleased with John Sturges’ 1963 film. They begrudge it the Americans, the motorbike, a truly appalling Australian accent, and other factual inaccuracies inserted in the interests of ‘good cinema’.[44] Despite their distaste, the film, along with Brickhill’s book, has left a substantial legacy which they, their descendants and popular culture have embraced.

They frame captivity in Stalag Luft III as an action-packed success story. They reinforce the kriegies’ personal and collective agency as active airmen, on operational service, in the barbed wire battleground. They deny any perception of passive, docile, humiliated prisoners of war. Just as the airmen themselves had done when they refused to accept that the war, for them, was over.

Kristen Alexander is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, researching the responses to captivity of Australian airmen prisoners of Stalag Luft III and their families. Specialising in Australian aviation history, she is published in Australia, Great Britain and Japan. She won the non-fiction category of the 2015 ACT Writing and Publishing Award and was highly commended in the 2014 and 2017 awards. Her books were included on the RAAF Chief of Air Force’s 2010 and 2015 reading lists. Her military essays won the Military Historical Society of Australia’s 2012 and 2013 Sabretache Writers Prizes. Her website can be found here and she is on Twitter as @kristenauthor.

Header Image: Australians of North Compound, 25 April 1943, courtesy of Ian Fraser. (Source: Private Collection)

[1] This article is based on a paper presented at the Don’t Drown Post Graduate Conference, UNSW Canberra, 4 October 2017, which was a shorter version of that given at Aviation Cultures Mark III Conference, University of Sydney, 27–29 April 2017.

[2] Shrine of Remembrance, James Catanach Collection, 2013. CAT050: Catanach, letter to William Alan Catanach, 28 March 1943.

[3] Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour: Letters of Jaime Bradbeer and Bruce Lumsden, April 1985–October 1990’, unpublished manuscript; Calton Younger, No Flight From the Cage: The Compelling Memoir of a Bomber Command Prisoner of War during the Second World War ([No place]: Fighting High, 2013), p. 40; Rex Austin, Australians at War Film Archive (AAWFA) interview No. 0382, 5 June 2003; Alec Arnel, author’s interview, 29 October 2015.

[4] Aaron Pegram, ‘Bold Bids for Freedom: Escape and Australian Prisoners of Germany, 1916–18’ in Joan Beaumont, Lachlan Grant, and Aaron Pegram (eds.), Beyond Surrender: Australian Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2015), p. 25; Kate Ariotti, ‘Coping with Captivity: Australian POWs of the Turks and the Impact of Imprisonment during the First World War’ (PhD Thesis, The University of Queensland, 2014), pp. 55–57; Karl James, ‘“I hope you are not too ashamed of me”: Prisoners in the siege of Tobruk’, in Beaumont, Grant, and Pegram (eds.), Beyond Surrender, pp. 101–102; Adrian Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe 1939–1945 (London: John Murray, 2007), p. 41.

[5] ‘Usual taunt’, Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript. Midge Gillies noted that it was a phrase the Germans favoured. Midge Gillies, The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (London: Aurum Press, 2011), p. 13. Examples of those who heard the phrase: Private collection: Ronald Baines, wartime log book, p. 8; Younger, No Flight From the Cage, p. 37; Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA interview No. 1388, 2 July 2004; Kenneth Gaulton, AAWFA interview No. 1276, 3 February 2004; Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour’ unpublished manuscript; Cyril Borsht, ‘A Life Well Lived. A Memoir’, unpublished manuscript, p. 18; Irwin John Dack, So you Wanted Wings, Hey!: An Autobiography – Part One (Moorabbin: the author, 1993), p. 74; ‘Tom Wood Diary’, unpublished manuscript, p. 26; Les Harvey, ‘Over, Down and Out: Recollections of an Airman Captured by the Germans in 1942’, unpublished manuscript, p. 6; Charles R. Lark, A Lark on the Wing: Memoirs World War II and 460 Squadron [No publication details], p. 64. Non-Australians also recorded the phrase. For example, B.A. (Jimmy) James, Moonless Night: The World War Two Escape Epic (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military), 2008, p. 17; Jack Rae, Kiwi Spitfire Ace: A Gripping World War II Story of Action, Captivity and Freedom (London: Grub Street, 2001), p. 116; Ken Rees, (with Arrandale, Karen), Lie in the Dark and Listen: The Remarkable Exploits of a WWII Bomber Pilot and Great Escaper (London: Grub Street, 2006), p. 111. Rees entitled the chapter dealing with his earliest captivity experiences, ‘“For you the war is over”’.

[6] Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 24 June 1986, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript.

[7] Stephen Garton, The Cost of War: Australians Return (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 211.

[8] Eric Stephenson, ‘Experiences of a Prisoner of a War: World War 2 in Germany’, Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, 18:2 (2010), p. 34 (reprinted from Australian Military Medicine, 9:1 (2000), pp. 42–50); Karen Horn, ‘“Stalag Happy”: South African Prisoners of War during World War Two (1939–1945) and their Experiences and Use of Humour’, South African Historical Journal, 63:4 (2011), p. 537.

[9] Australian War Memorial (AWM) PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime log book, pp. 37, 54–55; Andrew R.B. Simpson research collection: Arthur Schrock, wartime log book, p. 1; private collection, Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, wartime log book, unpaginated section; private collection: Cyril Borsht, wartime log book, p. 5

[10] AWM PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime logbook, pp. 43 and 37; AWM PR88/160: James McCleery, wartime logbook, unpaginated particulars page (name/POW number/camp/compound) and p. 1.

[11] <https://australiansinsliii.blogspot.com.au/2017/12/i-wanted-wings-donald-duck-prisoner-of.html&gt; (accessed 14 December 2017); <http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/6728-stalag-luft-iii-i-wanted-wings/&gt;; Art and Lee Beltrone, A Wartime Log. (Charlottesville: Howell Press, 1994), pp. 60–61; <http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/6728-stalag-luft-iii-i-wanted-wings/>(accessed 14 December 2017); <http://blog.modernmechanix.com/wwii-pows-get-a-disney-designed-logo/&gt; (accessed 14 December 2017); AWM PR88/160: James McCleery, wartime log book, p. 58; AWM PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime log book, p. 25; AWM PR00506: John Morschel, wartime log book, unpaginated; private collection: Cyril Borsht, wartime log book, p. 3; private collection: Eric Johnston, wartime log book, p. 1; private collection: Ronald Baines, wartime log book, p. 93; Andrew R.B. Simpson research collection: Arthur Schrock, wartime log book, p. 11; Dack, So you Wanted Wings, Hey!, p. i; Rae, Kiwi Spitfire Ace, unpaginated photo block.

[12] Alexander Watson, Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914–1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 90.

[13] Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of RAF Slang (London: Michael Joseph, 1945), pp. 25, 10, 25, and 52; Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare (London: Granta Books, 1999), pp. 231–232.

[14] AWM PR90/035: Torres Ferres, wartime log book, p. 41; AWM PR03211: Peter Kingsford-Smith, wartime log book, pp. 46–47; private collection: Cyril Borsht, wartime log book, pp. 55 and 68; Cyril Borsht, author’s interview, 28 January 2016; private collection: Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, wartime log book, pp. 100–101; private collection: William Kenneth Todd, wartime log book, unpaginated section; Richard Winn, AAWFA interview No. 1508, 4 March 2004.

[15] Cyril Borsht, author’s interview, 28 January 2016.

[16] Kate Ariotti, ‘Coping with Captivity’, p. 56; Annette Becker, ‘Art, Material Life, and Disaster: Civilian and Military Prisoners of War,’ in Nicholas J. Saunders (ed.), Matters of Conflict: Material Culture, Memory, and the First World War (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004), p. 28, 88; Joan Beaumont, Gull Force: Survival and Leadership in Captivity, 1941–1945 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988), p. 2.

[17] AWM PR05675: Guy Grey-Smith, diary, 26 January 1942; H.R. Train, ‘A Barbed-Wire World. The Diary of a Prisoner of War in Germany 1942–1945’, unpublished manuscript, 17 June 1942, pp. 9, 12; Colin Burgess research collection: Robert Mills, wartime log book, p. 31; H. Homer Ashmann, ‘Kriegie Talk’, American Speech, 23:3/4 (1948), pp. 218–219; Paul Brickhill and Conrad Norton, Escape to Danger (London: Faber and Faber, 1954).

[18] Alec Arnel, author’s interview, 29 January 2015.

[19] Ronald Baines, AWM 54, 779/3/129 Parts 1–30: [Prisoners of War and Internees—Examinations and Interrogations:] Statements by repatriated or released Prisoners of War (RAAF) taken at No 11 PDRC, Brighton, England, 1945; Robert Nightingale, AWM 54, 779/3/129; Alan Righetti, AAWFA interview No. 0984, 16 September 2003.

[20] Robert Nightingale, AWM 54, 779/3/129.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Walter A. Lunden, ‘Captivity Psychoses Among Prisoners of War’, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 39:6 (1949), p. 722.

[23] Private collection: William Kenneth Todd, wartime log book, p.11; AWM PR90/035, Ferres, ‘A POW in Germany’: Beecroft Probus talk, 3 February 1989; Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 8 April 1988, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript; Andrew R.B. Simpson, ‘OPS’ Victory at all Costs: On Operations over Hitler’s Reich with the Crews of Bomber Command. Their War – Their Words (Pulborough: Tattered Flag Press, 2012), p. 342.

[24] Private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 8 April 1988, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript.

[25] Alec Arnel, author’s interview, 9 October 2014.

[26] Calton ‘Cal’ Younger, Imperial War Museum Sound Archive (IWMSA) interview, No. 23329, [no day] November 2002.

[27] Richard Winn, AAWFA interview No. 1508, 4 March 2004; Younger, IWMSA interview, No. 23329, [no day] November 2002; National Library of Australia (NLA) Justin O’Byrne, John Meredith folklore collection, 31 October 1986.

[28] Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’ segment, Radio 7LA, Launceston, undated, [c. July 1947]; Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, AAWFA interview No. 0523, 19 June 2003; Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA No. 1388, 2 July 2004; Royle, IWMSA interview, No. 26605, 2 December 2012.

[29] NLA Justin O’Byrne, John Meredith folklore collection, 31 October 1986.

[30] The National Archives (TNA) (UK), WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, April 1942–January 1945, Part I East (Officers) Compound, pp. 67, 69.

[31] John Herington, Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series Three. Air. Volume IV: Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945 (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963), p. 485.

[32] Air Publication 1548, Instructions and Guide to All Officers and Airmen of the Royal Air Force regarding Precautions to be Taken in the Event of Falling into the Hands of an Enemy, ([no publication details], 2nd Edition, June 1941). The duty was rescinded after the Great Escape but was still implied. Air Publication 1548, The Responsibilities of a Prisoner of War, (3rd Edition, April 1944), <http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/RAF/POW-RAF/&gt; (accessed 14 December 2017). British and Australian soldiers had a similar, formal, obligation to escape. James, ‘“I hope you are not too ashamed of me” in Beaumont, Grant, and Pegram (eds.), Beyond Surrender, p. 110.

[33] NLA Justin O’Byrne, John Meredith folklore collection, 31 October 1986.

[34] Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947]; Robert J. Laplander, The True Story of the Wooden Horse (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014).

[35] Private collection: Horace ‘Bill’ Fordyce, wartime log book, p. 140; TNA, WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, March 1943–January 1945, Part III North (Officers) Compound, pp. 9, 25, 31; AWM ART34781.019: Albert Comber, drawing, ‘Flight Lieutenants (Mac) Jones and (Rusty) Kierath, RAAF at work, Stalag Luft III, Germany’; Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947]; H.P. Clark, Wirebound World: Stalag Luft III (London: Alfred H. Cooper & Sons Ltd, 1946), p. 8; private collection: Bruce Lumsden, letter, 10 June 1988, ‘The Complete Tour’, unpublished manuscript.

[36] Stalag Luft III: An Official History of the ‘Great Escape’ POW Camp (Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2016), pp. 30–32; <https://australiansinsliii.blogspot.com.au/2016/08/australian-compass-makers.html&gt; (accessed 14 December 2017).

[37] TNA, WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, March 1943–January 1945, Part III North (Officers) Compound, pp. 23–24, 36; Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA interview No. 1388, 2 July 2004.

[38] Geoffrey Cornish, AAWFA interview No. 1388, 2 July 2004.

[39] Ibid; Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947].

[40] TNA, WO 208/3283: Camp History of Stalag Luft III (Sagan) Air Force Personnel, April 1942–January 1945, Part 1 East (Officers) Compound, p. 36; private collection: George Archer, 1942 Diary, 5, 21 and 24 August 1942.

[41] Justin O’Byrne, ‘Mercury Radio Roundsman’, [c. July 1947].

[42] Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape (London: Faber and Faber, 1951). A section on the mass escape was included in the earlier publication, Brickhill and Norton, Escape to Danger.

[43] Stephen Dando-Collins, The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill (North Sydney: Penguin Random House Australia, 2016), p. 198.

[44] Cath McNamara, author’s interview, 18 July 2016; NLA ‘Reminiscential conversations between the Hon. Justin O’Byrne and the Hon. Clyde Cameron’, 29 August 1983–28 July 1984; Alan Righetti, AAWFA No. 0984, 16 September 2003.