History

A French resistance fighter escaped execution with the most impossible prison break

Throughout World War II, the Nazi occupiers of France housed Jews and captured Resistance fighters in the supposedly escape-proof Fort Montluc prison, a nineteenth century fortress in Lyon.


But there was one escape.

Only one.

Leading that escape was Andre Devigny, a former French army lieutenant whose escape made him a legend in the Resistance.

André Devigny, a real-world Houdini.

Devigny was one of the leaders of the Réseau Gilbert, an intelligence network that helped refugees escape occupied France, gathered intelligence for the Allies, and sabotaged German installations and material as the opportunity arose. He was betrayed by a German infiltrator and arrested Apr. 17, 1943, taken to Lyons, and turned over to Klaus Barbie, chief of the Gestapo there.

Known as the Butcher of Lyons, Barbie is believed to have personally tortured men, women, and children. Some estimates hold him directly responsible for the deaths of up to 14,000 people.

German SS officer and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie (1913 - 1991) in army NCO uniform, 1944.

Devigny was tortured for two weeks, including use of the baignoire, a World War II form of waterboarding, before being imprisoned in handcuffs in the 10-square-foot cell 107 at Fort Montluc. He was allowed into the courtyard for exercise one hour a day. On Aug. 20, he was again brought before Barbie, who told him he would be executed on Aug. 28.

"Baignoire" is French for "bath."

By this time, Devigny had learned to remove his handcuffs with a safety pin. He had also been able to remove three wooden slats at the bottom of his cell door using a soup spoon he ground down to a point on the cell's concrete floor. He got to the point where he could remove or replace the three slats in less than two minutes.

When his death sentence was announced, he knew the time to act had come.

Related: Two POWs made a daring escape from prison just to relieve the boredom

Returning to his cell from meeting with Barbie, however, Devigny discovered he had been given a roommate. Perhaps he was a spy sent to watch him or perhaps he was what he said he was, an 18-year-old deserter from the Vichy-created French militia. In either case, he would have to be included in the escape.

On Aug. 24, a moonless night, the two men removed the cell's wood slats, slipped out of the cell, and climbed up a heavy, metal rod that operated a roof transom, exiting on to the prison's flat roof.  Devigny threw a parcel containing a second grappling hook and rope over the parapet, hooked a grappling hook he was carrying — all items he had been able to make in cell 107 — and climbed down the rope to a courtyard. The 18-year-old followed.

Montluc Prison.

Once in the courtyard, the two men could hear a sentry approaching and stepped back into the shadows. As the sentry passed, Devigny grabbed the man around the throat from behind forcing the German to the ground where he used the sentry's own bayonet to kill him. Devigny and the 18-year-old then crossed to the prison's inner wall and, using the second grappling hook and rope, climbed up and over the wall on to a covered gallery atop the prison infirmary.  From there, they scaled the building's sloping roof and were able to see the outside wall and the brightly-lit fifteen-foot roadway between the walls.

The roadway was being patrolled by a sentry on a bicycle.  At 3 a.m., after timing the guard's rounds several times, Devigny tied an end of his rope to the infirmary chimney, threw the grappling hook out and over the outside wall, and launched himself hand over hand with the 18-year-old following.

The two men made it, jumped down from the outside wall, and were free.

An aerial view of the prison area.

Devigny and his former cellmate then separated, and Devigny eluded German search parties and dogs by spending five hours hiding in the Rhone River and along its muddy banks. He was finally able to work himself to the home of a doctor friend in the city where he was given clothes and papers and guided to Switzerland.

Devigny returned to the war and was eventually awarded the Cross of the Liberation by then-French President Charles de Gaulle.

The Resistance liberated Fort Montluc in August 1944, almost exactly one year after Devigny's escape.

 

Humor

These old Navy training videos on how to flirt are hilariously bad

The National Archives hosts countless educational films that have come from the military throughout the ages. If you want to learn about declassified nuclear testing, they've got it. If you want to learn how to properly resist communist propaganda, they've got that, too. If you want to learn the 1960's way of wooing women, you better believe the U.S. Military has wasted money on making those videos, too.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Podcast

Combat poetry reveals what life is like on the Afghan front lines

Justin Eggen had some things stuck in his head for a long time during — but especially after — his two deployments to Afghanistan. These thoughts became poems and short stories that reflected his feelings and personal experience as a Marine in Marjah and in Afghanistan's Sangin Valley. They are Eggen's way of handling the overwhelming series of emotions from and memories of his time there.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

7 things grunts think about on watch in fighting holes

If nothing else has made you question your choice to join the infantry before, digging a fighting hole definitely will. It's always miserable, it's extremely time consuming, and there's always a giant rock waiting for you once you're halfway down. But, once you get that hole dug, it's smooth sailing. Now, all you have to do is deal with the sleep deprivation and crummy weather.

Keep reading... Show less
History

That time US troops found 200 tons of stolen Nazi gold

In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

10 military spouses you should unfriend on Facebook immediately

Often, there comes a point when people decide to give their Facebook friends list an overhaul.

They completely change their social landscape online by avoiding accepting friend requests from certain types of people, and they give their current friends list a good, hard scrub.

Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they're doing it for security purposes, or because a handful of people's posts drive them crazy or they want to keep a more professional profile. Military spouses in particular might do so because they want to focus on positive, stress-free relationships – that is, the ones that bring wine, wear sweat pants, and check judgment at the door.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

This JASSM variant could replace the Harpoon

For a long time, the AGM-84/RGM-84 Harpoon missile has been the primary anti-ship weapon of the United States military. Over the years, with improvements, it's successfully held the line. But, as is perpetually the case, time and technological advances have forced the U.S. Military to look for a missile with even more reach and punch.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

7 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to watch before 'Infinity War'

Not planning a two-day Marvel Cinematic Universe marathon right before seeing "Avengers: Infinity War?"

Nobody has time for that.

To accommodate fans who want to freshen up their knowledge, we collected a list of the most essential MCU movies to watch right before you see "Infinity War," which is scheduled for release April 27, 2018.

Keep reading... Show less