.In the darkest days of World War II a captured German U-boat officer escapes from a POW camp in Canada with a secret that could alter the course of the war. Fearing disaster, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, assisted by a visiting FBI agent conduct a secret manhunt to recapture the prisoner before it is too late. But the prisoner, Gregor Meinhoff, is clever and resourceful, and moves ever closer to the still-neutral United States where he can contact the German Embassy with his devastating information. Based on a true incident, Evasive Action is the story of suspense and courage in World War II.
Behind the Scenes:The story behind Evasive Action
In 1941, when German U-boats were threatening to starve England into surrender, British destroyers forced the U-110 to the surface and captured its crew. Although the submarine was badly damaged and starting to sink, the British had time to send men on board to salvage the German signal books, codes, and the Enigma encoding machine. Knowing this would be a huge advantage in the war, the British decided to let the sub sink and keep the salvage a secret. Accordingly, they sent the U-boat crew to a POW camp in Canada. The full story is here.
The premise of Evasive Action is that the Germans figured it out and sprung one of their numbers loose to get the word back to Germany so the codes could be changed. The ensuing manhunt by the RCMP, assisted by a visiting FBI agent is thwarted at every turn by the wily Meinhoff.
In researching the book, I asked the Department of Archives in Canada for information and they sent a whole reel of microfilm about POW escapes. From sites on the Internet I found the location of the camp where the crew was held. The local historical societies were very helpful and cooperative, as was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I even found a retired RCMP man who had been a camp administrator during the war. For the German point of view, I read about the escapes and found an ex Luftwaffe fighter pilot named Ulrich Steinhilper who had escaped six times from camps in Canada. Years after the war, he went to work for IBM and helped develop the first word processing programs. Steinhilper,in fact, is credited with first coining the term word processing.
In 1980, the British unearthed Steinhilper’s Messerschmidt where it had crashed in a peat bog and decided to make it the centerpiece of the Kent Battle of Britain Museum. Through serial numbers they traced the plane back to him and invited him to officiate at the museum’s grand opening. The plane was restored and is on display at the museum.
Through his website I contacted Mr. Steinhilper, who was living in Stuttgart, and asked him if he would answer some questions on his POW experience. He was gracious and very informative, giving me inside information (so to speak) and filling me in on details I could have found nowhere else. I was even able to put him n touch with the RCMP man so they could reminisce. Steinhilper died in 2009, but his plane is still in the museum and his information is still in Evasive Action.