How prisoners of war used Monopoly to escape in World War II

How prisoners of war used Monopoly to escape in World War II

During World War II more than 100,000 British servicemen were held as Kriegsgefangener (or Prisoners of War) in Nazi camps dotted throughout Europe.

Surrounded by barbed wire and called inhospitable sounding names like ‘Stalag Luft I’, ‘Marlag Milag’ and ‘Stalag 344’ these were very obviously not summer camps.

Aside from the forced imprisonment, poor diet and bullying guards the greatest threat for the most part was boredom.

There was very little to do.

In an attempt to prevent mass tedium from escalating into mass revolt, the ever-kind Nazi hosts allowed charities to donate old board games to the prisoners.

The quick thinking British secret service jumped on this opportunity and established a fake charity to supply specially adapted versions of the property mogul in training’s favorite board game: Monopoly.    

Why Monopoly and not another board game?

Norman Watson was almost certainly having a cup of tea when a British agent came knocking on his door.

Mr. Watson, aside from being the owner of the actual Monopoly factory at the time, was also the only person in the country capable of printing on silk.

Why was this so significant?

Because maps.

Not only can they be folded up easily, silk maps also make no rustling sound when unfolded unlike a paper map. The German guards wouldn’t hear a thing.

Winning.

Other essential ‘escape’ items including compasses and German currency were also smuggled inside the set hidden in the pieces and even the board itself.

Even more winning.

How successful was this cunning ruse?

Approximately 35,000 British prisoners of war managed to escape and find their way home before the end of the war, many thousands of whom made use of the ingenious Monopoly escape kit.

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