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Winged Boot: Escape and Evasion in World War II

DAYTON, Ohio - The "Winged Boot: Escape and Evasion in World War II" exhibit on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - The "Winged Boot: Escape and Evasion in World War II" exhibit on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)


Air operations during World War II were often conducted far behind enemy lines, and thousands of U.S. Army Air Forces airmen evaded capture after they were brought down. Some of those who were captured escaped from prison camps and made their way back to Allied territory. Escape and evasion during WWII demanded skill and courage to return with honor. 

The global nature of World War II created new escape and evasion (or "E & E") challenges for airmen. For the first time, U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) airmen received specialized equipment and formal instruction in escape and evasion techniques. 

In Europe, an airman stood a good chance of making it back to friendly lines if he could evade initial capture by enemy forces. Often with the help of local inhabitants, three thousand American airmen blended into the population and became members of the "Blister Club" by walking out of German-occupied western Europe. Several hundred more escaped through Yugoslavia. By donning civilian clothing, however, they lost their Geneva Convention rights and ran the risk of being shot as spies if captured. 

Several hundred USAAF prisoners in Europe chose the risky prospect of escaping prisoner of war (POW) camps. When they left the relatively safety of POW camps, they took their lives in their own hands, and several were killed during escape attempts. Others were executed or sent to concentration camps as punishment for escape attempts. 

Escape and evasion in the Pacific and China-Burma-India (CBI) Theaters presented much greater difficulties for USAAF airmen. The vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean and the unforgiving terrain in the CBI made surviving the environment a priority for a downed airman. Furthermore, an evader could not "blend in" to the local population as they usually could in Europe. Even so, Chinese citizens helped hundreds of USAAF airmen evade, and many Chinese were brutally executed because of the help they provided. 

The problem of escape was even more difficult for an airman captured by the Japanese. Many were transported to Japan, making it virtually impossible for them to escape captivity. Even if they remained in prison camps in China or Burma, the surrounding jungle and mountainous terrain made it extremely difficult for a POW to survive an escape. 

Click on the following links to learn more about Winged Boot: Escape and Evasion in World War II. 

The Kindness of Strangers: Escape Routes and the Resistance
Primary Evasion Lines in Western Europe
A Successful Evasion
MIS-X: The U.S. Escape and Evasion Experts
Tools of the Trade
Escape and Evasion Accounts
Two Escapes: Capt. Jack Ilfrey

Click here to return to the World War II Gallery.

 

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Col. (Ret.) Steve Pisanos: "The Flying Greek" (01:20:23)
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