Axis Home Front
Axis Home Front
Europe and the Pacific During WWII

POW Escape Maps

Hidden in Everything

Escape maps, printed on silk, were issued to guide British and US Airmen back to safety if they were shot down over unfamiliar territory. Maps were concealed in jacket linings, boots, or even cigarette packages. Special decks of playing cards had escape maps too - when the cards were moistened, the face was able to be peeled away, revealing the map behind it. Special edition Monopoly sets had escape maps printed on silk inside the boards.

Updated July 2024
Posted December 2023

WWII Hidden Escape Maps
Get out of Jail Free
How a Deck of Cards and Monopoly helped Save POWs
British and US Airmen flying missions in enemy airspace were always in danger of being shot out of the sky, finding themselves trapped behind enemy lines with no idea where they were. Escape maps, printed on lightweight fabric, were issued to them to guide them back to safety over unfamiliar territory. They were able to be concealed in jacket linings, boots, or even cigarette packages, but wouldn't tear or run in water. They also wouldn't make a crinkle sound or rustle when folded. Some pilots did not make it out safely and were captured by enemy forces. Other servicemen were also captured and held as POWs.

In Germany, they were held in prison camps called Stalags. Enlisted and officers were kept in separate camps. A welcome sight in these camps were the care packages sent by humanitarian groups like the Red Cross. Governments also set up fake charities with innocuous names like the "Licensed Victuallers Prisoners Relief Fund." There would be food, cigarettes, and toiletry items inside the boxes. But they also held secrets.

The US government and the United States Playing Card Company collaborated on a special series of Bicycle-brand cards. Cards were not confiscated from downed pilots and sent in the care packages. These special decks of cards had escape maps printed on the sheet before the faces were laid over it and the sheets were cut into the individual cards. The required federal revenue stamp on the box was slightly crooked, a clue that the deck was "special." When the cards were moistened, the face was able to be peeled away, revealing the map behind it. The cards were laid to reconstitute the full picture.

RAF airmen were told to look for "special edition" Monopoly sets in their packages if they were captured. The only difference between these and the regular versions was a red dot on the Free Parking space. The UK government, specifically MI9, the British secret-service unit responsible for escape and evasion, worked with John Waddington, Ltd. to make a clandestine version of Monopoly. Inside the boards were escape maps printed on silk. Metal files and magnetic compasses were disguised as playing pleces. Mixed in with Monopoly Money was genuine French, German and Italian currency. Once the tools of escape were pocketed or hidden, POWs were instructed to destroy the games.

Escape Map Silk
Silk Escape and Evasion Map
Maps printed on silk and other types of cloth were issued to pilots and anyone on missions behind enemy lines, or smuggled in POW care packages. Lightweight but durable and easy to conceal, they provided Allied troops and POWs escape routes through unfamiliar terrain.

Escape Map Stalag Lufts
The Escape Deck of Cards
During WWII Air Crews were supplied with a deck of cards. In the event that our men were captured and put in prisoner of war camps, the guards would let them keep the cards. They figured it would keep therm occupied. They didn't know that if a prisoner managed to escape, that the face of the cards could be peeled off to uncover their escape route back to our lines. See the back of these cards.

This is a Replica Deck of Cards Escape Map
During World War II thousands of U.S. airmen were shot down over Europe and became prisoners of war (POW's). Many tried to escape the POW camps, and some succeeded. For a successful escape, a prisoner had to know where he was, and how to get to safe or neutral territory. He needed a map. This is a replica of a little-known means of providing such a map.

Decks of cards were printed with a map on the front side and the face of the cards was glued on top of of this map. The deck was then cut, boxed and mailed to the POW camp, along with regular cards and letters. The required federal revenue stamp on the box was slightly crooked, a clue that the deck was "special". The deck was set aside from others received and then soaked in water. The face of the cards was peeled off and the map was assembled.

Different Luftwaffe POW camps (Stalag Lufts) had different maps. The map on display here is for the territory around Stalag Luft 3, site of "The Great Escape" which was dramatized in the motion picture of the same name.

Escape Map Stalag Lufts

Escape Map Stalag Lufts

Escape Map Stalag Lufts

Escape Map Stalag Lufts

Escape and Evasion Map

WIKIPEDIAEvasion Charts or Escape Maps
Maps made for servicemembers, and intended to be used when caught behind enemy lines to assist in performing escape and evasion. Such documents were secreted to prisoners of war by various means to aid in escape attempts.

During World War II, these clandestine maps were used by many American, British, and allied servicemen to escape from behind enemy lines. Special material was used for this purpose, due to the need for a material that would be hardier than paper, and would not tear or dissolve in water.

During WWII hundreds of thousands of maps were produced by the British on thin cloth and tissue paper. The idea was that a serviceman captured or shot down behind enemy lines should have a map to help him find his way to safety if he escaped or, better still, evade capture in the first place. Many of these maps were also used in clandestine wartime activities.

The cloth maps were sometimes hidden in special editions of the Monopoly board game sets sent to the prisoners of war camps. The marked game sets also included foreign currency (French and German, for example), compasses and other items needed for escaping Allied prisoners of war. Escape maps were also printed on playing cards distributed to Prisoners of War which could be soaked and peeled apart revealing the escape map. Other maps were hidden inside spools of cotton thread in sewing kits. Due to the inherent strength and extremely compact nature of the MI9 mulberry leaf tissue maps, they could be wound into twine and then rolled into the core of cotton reels.

Other Wikipedia Citings