24 July, 1943

“Kommen Sie in.”

The voice of Der Führer barked upon hearing the knock upon the stout wooden door at the Berghof.

Heinrich Himmler entered to find Hitler standing with his back to him, in front of a large map of the European theatre of war. The SS Reichsführer stood uncomfortably as Hitler continued to study the map, seemingly ignoring the visitor to his office. Eventually, however, he turned to face his visitor. Himmler noticed that Der Führer seemed to have aged considerably, even though it was but a few weeks since last he had seen his leader. The reason why was no great mystery.

The tide of war was turning against the Third Reich.

The North African campaign was just a distant unhappy memory now. The U-boat campaign that looked to be just about to bring Britain to its knees was failing; losses of the wolfpacks now so great that the U-boats were forced to hide in their bases. Quite why there had been such a reversal of fortune in the Battle of the Atlantic remained an ‘Enigma’.

Worse still was the situation on the Eastern Front. Stalingrad was a humiliation, but the recent disaster at Kursk was worse – proving to all that Stalin’s Barbaren were more than a match for Germany’s finest. To add insult to injury, Il Duce’s cowardly Italians had just surrendered to Sicily to the Allies and it is surely just a matter of time before they hop over the Strait of Messina into Italy itself, leaving Germany to fight on two fronts.

Although he dare not show it, Himmler was not unhappy with the situation. Perhaps now, Der Führer would finally approve the use of the dark forces that his Ahnenerbe had been diligently perfecting for nearly a decade.

Abruptly, Hitler spoke:

“Reichsführer, lassen Sie die Kräfte der Sonderkommando H.”

Himmler tried not to smile as he replied:

“Jawohl, Mein Führer.”

With that, he clicked his heels loudly, offered his glorious leader a stiff-armed salute, and curtly left the office.

Himmler had work to do.

Meanwhile, in Stalag VIIIB, located in the heart of German Silesia, Sargeant Major Rimington Davies was holding a meeting of the Escape Committee.

“Right-o, boyyos, we’ve discussed this enough, but let’s go over it one more time,” he said. “So we’ve decided that six is the maximum number that we can risk in this next attempt. More than that and the group will be too easy for Jerry to spot you and the risk of him getting nasty on the rest of us in revenge is too great.”

He held out his fist to the assembled mass of POWs before him in the barracks, an inch of a couple of dozen or more lengths of straw visible.

“Long straws get to go now. Short straws will have to wait until the next time.”

“All clear?”

Silently the heads of the POWs standing before him nodded.

“Right-o lads. So who’s going first?”

Escape From Stalag VIIIB

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