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Franz von Werra

Franz von Werra – (1914-1941) The one that almost got away

He was the only German Prisoner of War to escape from the Allies and return to Germany during the Second War. His exploits were turned into a film called ‘The One That Got Away’ in 1957. But he didn’t escape from Hucknall!

‘Playboy’ Fighter Pilot: Baron von Werra was born in Switzerland, the son of an impoverished nobleman. He joined the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, in 1936. He was known for living the glamorous fighter pilot lifestyle. He kept a pet lion called Simba at his fighter base as a mascot.

Capture!: He was a successful air ace. On 25th August 1940, during the Battle of Britain he shot down three RAF Hurricanes and one Spitfire, and destroyed nine planes on the ground. His campaign ended on 5th September 1940 when he was brought down and crash landed his Messerschmidt Bf109e in a field in Kent. He made his first escape attempt almost immediately.

Escape?: His third attempt almost succeeded. On 20th December 1940 he escaped from Swanwick POW Camp in Derbyshire under cover of the prisoners’ choir singing Christmas carols. Convincing people that he was a Dutch Air Force Pilot he arrived at RAF Hucknall Aerodrome. But suspicion was mounting. While his identity was checked he ran to the nearest hanger. He was already in a cockpit when he was arrested at gunpoint.

Return: Von Werra was finally successful when he was transferred to Canada with other POWs. He jumped off a train which left Montreal on 21st January 1941. He then crossed over the St. Lawrence River into the USA, still a neutral country. He made his way back home via South America, arriving in Germany on 18th April. He was celebrated as a hero, and Hitler awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. But on 25th October 1941 his plane crashed into the North Sea. His body was never found.