Escapers and Evaders
Escapers and Evaders – what is the difference?
An Escaper is one who has managed to escape from ‘secure enemy custody’, whether it be a prison, POW camp, prison train, or from guards on the ground. Once free, he then has to turn to the tactics of evasion. WW2 escapers tended to be mainly Army personnel.
An Evader has not been captured and has, with luck, managed to retain some of his kit and equipment – his task is to remain undetected, outwit the enemy and stay free from capture in order to return to his unit. WW2 evaders tended to be mainly Aircrew or Special Forces.
There is a very close link between survival and evasion; knowledge of both is needed to complement each other. The escaper has a different set of rules from the evader, starting from the time when he is captured.
The best time to escape is immediately upon capture. At that point you are probably aware of your location, probably still have most of your kit and are guarded by relatively few enemy. Once captured in the field, then blind-folded and taken through the front-line units to the rear echelons, the more difficult it becomes. Initial capture may be by relatively few enemy and possibly out in open ground; but in a very short time this could result in transportation to a heavily guarded prison miles behind the enemy front line, with no kit and no boots to ease the path of escape.
There are many things that make a good evader. Appropriate kit and the ability to use it effectively are important. Fitness also plays a part, but knowledge of survival skills is essential. However, the main ingredient of survival is the mental ability of the individual to survive against the odds when everything is against him. The ‘will to survive’ and get home, overrides everything. This is often assisted by one other factor – luck. Luck can include knocking on the right door, trusting the right person, the right weather conditions and remaining healthy and uninjured. The evader must remain calm; with every day of freedom he cannot afford to become complacent. However confident, he must obey the rules of evasion. On most occasions evaders have followed the golden rule of walking by night and sleeping by day (with the exception of a breakout). Ignoring the rules or feeling overconfident, has led some evaders into arrest and capture: walking by day; stealing a bike for speed and then cycling on the wrong side of the road; tiredness from not resting; mistaking quiet streets for safe streets when in fact there is a curfew! Mental and sensory alertness are paramount.
The evader has many problems to deal with, the main one being loneliness. If he succeeds it is to his credit, if he is caught it is his fault. If he is ill he must deal with the situation. If he is in a safe-house he must allow his host’s life to appear as ‘normal’ as possible: ie. stay away from windows; don’t use the toilet, run the tap or cook food while the safe-house keeper is out or at work. Physical movement should be restricted for fear of noise. An evader cannot expect large meals, as a helper’s longer shopping list will attract attention; similarly additional milk on a doorstep or extra washing on the washing line [especially if it is not suited to the occupant!]. If the safe-house keeper lives alone additional light or sounds can alert suspicion from people near by. Above all consideration for the helper should be paramount; if compromise appears imminent the evader must leave immediately.
In future wars some service personnel will still need to escape and evade, although probably not on such a large scale as in WW2. Physically their trials may be harder as time will not be on their side. The battle line will move quickly. The RAF continue to train aircrew in E&E, and the army Special Forces train their ‘prone to capture’ military personnel. Escape kits are now more comprehensive and backed up by the soldiers’ own choice of additional items. Since WW2 escapes and evasions have taken place in all theatres of war including Korea, Vietnam, Falklands, Bosnia, the Gulf Wars, and Sierra Leone.
A number of Agencies also now assist evaders with search and rescue team ground hugging helicopters and emergency communication electronic equipment. It is however the knowledge of survival that is important, with the old rules and skills still applying, such as: astral navigation, the ability to find food and water and survival medicine. The sun, stars, and moon have always been and will continue to be, the evaders best natural form of navigation The WW2 generation of escapers and evaders set the basic rules for today’s generation, and today’s forces have built on that solid ground. Above all, the biggest factor will still remain, the mental ability of the evader and escaper and his ‘Will to Survive’.
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