Franz von Werra

Franz von Werra with his pet lion cub, Simba

Franz von Werra was the only German prisoner-of-war to successfully escape British captivity and make it back to Germany during the Second World War. He was shot down over Kent on 5 September 1940. He told many different accounts of his capture, sometimes crediting the Home Guard with old-fashioned shotguns and at other times Tommies in full battle dress, bayonets fixed. In truth he was captured by an unarmed cook who dashed out of the kitchen of the searchlight battery near to where von Werra’s plane came down.

Von Werra was taken to the Kent County Constabulary.  Police Sergeant Harrington was on duty. He described von Werra as ‘quiet, polite and correct,’ although, ‘a bit conceited’. Von Werra claimed to be a Baron and to prove he was an aristocrat, he wore a signet ring bearing a crest and coronet. He also said his father owned several castles in Switzerland. Despite these extravagant claims, Harrington found him, ‘confident, alert and highly intelligent.’

Von Werra lost no time trying to escape. He made several audacious attempts, once managing to stay on the run for three days in the Lake District. On another occassion, he got as far as the cockpit of an aeroplane at RAF Hucknall near Nottingham, having convinced a number of people that he was a Dutch pilot trying to reach his unit. They arrested him as he  was desperately trying to work out the unfamiliar controls before taking off for France.

It wasn’t until he left Britain that he was successful. Along with many other Germans, he was shipped out to Canada in January 1941. He escaped through the window of the prison train in Ontario and made the perilous crossing to then neutral America by walking over the frozen St Lawrence river.

When he returned to Germany, Hitler awarded him the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. He returned to active duty but his plane went missing over the ocean north of Vissingen in the Netherlands on 25 October 1941.


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