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An escape from Nazi death camp

Updated on November 6, 2012
Henkel 111
Henkel 111

I was inspired to write this hub by UnnamedHarald Thank you!

We all know about Nazi death camps. Thousands or even millions of people went through those camps and many of them died. Those who were there knew that it is a “one way ticket”. Some people fought and had the strength and enough luckiness to get out of there. Mikhail Devayatev managed not only to escape from such a camp but to save 9 more people. His escape also made a huge contribution to the victory over the Fascist army. It sounds incredible, but it was really so.

A soviet Pilot Mikhail Devyataev was a fighter pilot. Like many soldiers he fought against Nazi army and did all he could to win each fight in the air. But in July 1944 when the Soviet Army was chasing fascists in Europe his plane was hit and he was captured by Nazi. Devyataev was sent to a death camp. His first camp was located in Lodz (Poland). After a short period he was sent further to Konigsberg. There he made an attempt to escape. He dug a sap under the fence but was caught, severely punished and sent to a death camp in Sachsenhausen.

In 1944 Germany experienced a shortage of labor force. At the beginning of the war they had lots of civilian people from the USSR and Poland to work in Germany. People were forcibly moved to do the heaviest work there. At the end of the war this source of a free labor force vanished and German commanders started to check war prisoners in the camps. Those who still were able to work were taken away. In November 1944 Devyataev was selected among other prisoners and was moved into a camp on Usedom Island. Half of those people who were in a railway wagon died till it reached the camp and the others undressed corps to warm up at east a little bit.

Usedom Island, Baltic Sea

Usedom Island:
Узедом, Германия

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Devyataev Mikhail
Devyataev Mikhail
Fau rocket in Brussel military  museum
Fau rocket in Brussel military museum

The camp was close to the sea. Devyataev saw seagulls and humidity of the air was high. They came to know one more thing: the camp is close to the airplane field because they heard the roar of engines. They also saw rockets launches. It was a secret base of Germany which launched FAU rockets to hit targets in England.

Every morning 3500 prisoners of the camp were ordered different jobs. The most difficult was the work of the airfield team. This brigade filled up the bomb craters and always had plenty of work. Still Devyataev wanted to be exactly in this team. He saw the planes and was making plans to escape from this place.

All who worked there understood that there is no way out from this camp. They were all doomed to die. Someone from Yugoslavia tried to hide in a lake. He was caught. The guard placed him in the middle of the square and incited dogs. It was a horrible death. The neck of the prisoner was wrapped by thick tarpaulin so that the dogs could not kill him quickly.

After this horrible execution all thoughts of Devyataev were about the escape. Working on the airfield he noticed when the planes are filled, when the dinner time is and which aircraft is better for his plan. Finally he came to decision to hijack “Henkel 111” with 2 engines. This aircraft was always ready to take off. It was refilled at once after landing. Devyataev also thought about possible ways and directions to flight. He was worried if he can start the engine, switch on necessary equipment. It was crucially important to see the cockpit of the plane and to see the dashboard.

He found a place with broken planes and had a chance to see a dashboard of “Henkel 111”. But there was one more problem. He did not know the sequence of starting the engine. He had to do the job which is usually done by a crew of 6 people. Just a happy chance helped to see how the plane was started.

Devyataev was cleaning snow near the plane with a German pilot inside of a cockpit. The pilot noticed his interest and with a smirk slowly started to show how to start the engine. He has shown the finger and pressed a button on the dashboard. Then especially for a curious stupid Russian he lifts his feet on the shoulder lever and put it down to start the first engine, and the second one. He had fun showing it to Devyataev. He had no idea how happy Devyataev was. Now Devayatev knew all he wanted...

A group of prisoners started to discuss the detail of escape. It was decided who kills the watchman, who takes off the covers, who unlocks the flaps. All were aware of the danger level and understood that it is just 1 to 100 to be a successful attempt.

The 8th of February 1944 started as usual. 4 out of 10 people from airfield brigade knew about the plans. The guard they had was from SS squad. He usually demanded a fire in a lunchtime. Prisoners planned to work close to the necessary hangar.

At noon all German soldiers went to canteen. Prisoners made a fire for the guard in just 200 meters from the “Henkel”. When the watchman sat to enjoy the fire they killed him by an iron bar. Now there is no way back because the death of a watchman means death to all of them.

Each second was counted. The prisoners boarded the plane, the engines were uncovered and flips unlocked. With working engines the plane went taxiing to the runway. None seemed to care about it. Only the man on duty was embarrassed. He was not informed about any flight.

A first attempt to take off was not successful. The plane reached the end of the runway but could not take off. All aboard were in panic.

German soldiers has now been alarmed and started to run toward the plane. At this moment Devayataev saw that he did not switch trimmer from position “Landing” to position “Take off”. The plane made a turn at the end of the runway and made a second attempt. The plane is in the air!

FAU rocket

Devyataev understood – if they fly East, German pilots will intercept them. Instead it was decided to fly North over the sea. The altitude was around 3000 meters. The tanks were full up to the top. From the North they turned to the front line. All they had to afraid now were soviet interceptors and artillery. They were shot soon and their engine was damaged but they managed to land it in a field.

Numerous soviet soldiers rushed to the plane. They were shocked to see 10 prisoners in striped clothes instead of German pilots.

Another incredible thing apart from the fact of escape was the aircraft itself. It contained a special equipment to trace the flight of FAU rockets. Russian intelligence got an access to the biggest secret of Hitler. This fact became immediately a top secret and all information connected with Devyataev was classified. The escape of Devyataev and other soldiers worried Nazi so much. Hermann Gering who came to the island several days later ordered to shoot the head of the death camp and the commander of the airfield (but Hitler cancelled this order). Devyataev was declared a PERSONAL ENEMY OF HITLER. The hijack of the plane with special equipment made future testing of FAU rockets impossible.

In 1947 the Soviet Army did a test launch of a restored FAU -2 rocket. In 1948 a first Soviet rocket based on German rocket was launched.

After the war Devyataev had a hard time. He was often questioned by authorities about his escape. He even spent some time in a prison. Only in 1957 Devyataev was awarded the “Star of Hero of the Soviet Union”. Others were awarded as well.


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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      The story is amazing. You know what, in the Aphganistan Soviet pilots had the same situation. It was soon after Soviet troops were withdrown from there. They spent almost half a year in a prison but managed to escape on their own aircraft. Thank you for a comment!

    • hockey8mn profile image


      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      What a great story of someone over coming adversity. Just goes to show that you should never give up in any situation. Voted up and awesome.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Yes, you are right anout prisons. Not all went to Gulag, but all who managed to survive in Nazi camps were later sent to "filtration camps". Investigation was held for several months to check what this person was doing , how he was caught by germans, was he caught or just gave up etc. Later MOST of people were free to go and only some of them, were sent further to prisons.

    • aethelthryth profile image


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Forgot to say, I've heard that in the Soviet Union in WWII, or was it the whole time under Stalin, being captured was considered an act of treason; one was supposed to die rather than be captured. So there were many who went from being prisoners of the Germans to prisoners in the gulags. Am I right?

    • aethelthryth profile image


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Somehow I missed this article when you wrote it. There are lots of exciting stories from WWII, but I agree with Jools99, few thriller movies are as exciting as this real story! This has just given me an idea about some friends who would want to read this and some others of your articles.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      You are welcome and thank you for a comment!

    • wyanjen profile image

      Jen King 

      6 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

      Beautiful! Stories of heroes from WWII always catch my attention - they help to temper the heartbreak of those horrible times.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you for a comment! This story is really impressive. There was a film in the USSR devoted to these events, but it not known to a majority of people abroad.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Pavlo, what an amazing story. It deserves to be made into a movie :o), this man was so intelligent and he read all of the signs ans knew how he needed to escape. He was so patient too. No wonder Hitler made his a 'personal enemy' - he belittled the Fuhrer :o)

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      You are welcome! This war still has many secrets still unknown to people. Thank for a comment!

    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 

      6 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      I love stories from WWII. Russian soldiers and civilians suffered so much under the Nazis. Thank you for the story.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you for your interest! I am so glad you liked the article!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      There are heroes in every country. Thank you for sharing this one's story and for doing it so well.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      It seems you know this history.... Hm, have to find something else: ) You are right about Stalin. The award came to the hero only after Stalins death. I do not know if we had something like term "National security" but lots of things were hidden. By the way these 10 men were not the only one who hijacked the Nazi aircraft. I come across several stories like that and one of them is referred to modern time. Russian pilots escaped from Afganistan in August 1996 . More than 1 year they were prisoners of Taliban in Kandagar !

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      What a great story! Against impossible odds this guy does the impossible and gets treated like a traitor. I'm glad he was recognized in 1957, after Stalin was gone. Good old "National Security" or whatever the Soviets called it. It means "we can do anything to anybody and all we have to do is say 'national security'". Oh, and thanks for the nod, Pavlo.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile imageAUTHOR

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I am glad you liked it. Thank you!

    • profile image

      mours sshields 

      6 years ago from Elwood, Indiana

      Really interesting and incredible!


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