by Dwight R Messimer
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016. Pp. x, 200.
Illus., maps., table, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1682470652
An Epic Escape
Messimar, author of The Baltimore Sabotage Cell and a number of other works, gives us the story of an extraordinary year in the life of 22-year-old German naval aviation observer Erich Walter Killinger (1893-1977). On April 6, 1915, while returning to Memel after a bombing mission over Libau, Killinger and his pilot were forced to ditch in the Baltic when their Rumpler C-Typen lost its propellor, and they were promptly captured by the Russians.
Initially imprisoned under rather harsh conditions at St. Petersburg, and even threatened with hanging for allegedly bombing civilians, he was later shipped east on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The long rail ride ended in October 1915, when Killinger managed escaped from the train at an isolated station in northern Manchuria. From there, Killinger trekked endless miles across northern China until he connected with a German consulate. The consulate provided him with false papers, one of several sets he would use during his Odyssey
Killinger took a ship across the Pacific to the U.S., then, again aided by German consular officials, crossed to the East Coast by rail, where he signed on to a freighter as a deck hand, again using false papers. With the help of a sympathetic Norwegian sea captain, Killinger managed to avoid capture by an inspecting British cruiser. Upon landing in Norway, he quickly returned to Germany, nearly a year after his capture.
Killinger received a tumultuous welcome, was decorated, and wrote a memoir of his adventures. He rejoined the war, flying missions over the English Channel. Postwar he became a commercial agent, but was called up for active duty by the Luftwaffe in 1939. During World War II he commanded a Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp, for which he later served time for war crimes. He died in 1977.
Messimar’s account is lively, often gripping, as befits what is certainly one of the great escape stories in history, and is well worth reading.
Note: Eleven Months to Freedom is also available in several e-editions.