Escape Aids

Examples of Escape Aids Used by an American Airman

The Appendix D of the Escape and Evasion Report of 2nd Lt. Tom Applewhite, USAF, consists of a questionnaire that he completed asking him about his use of the various escape aids provided.

The Aids Box contained the following:

  • Horlicks tablets.
  • Chocolate.
  • Milk (tube).
  • Benzadrine tablets (fatigue).
  • Halazone tablets (water purifier).
  • Matches.
  • Adhesive tape.
  • Chewing gum.
  • Water bottle.
  • Compass.

The Purse held the following:

  • Maps. (See next page of website for Cloth Maps.)
  • Compass.
  • File (hacksaw).
  • Foreign currency.

Issued separately from the above were the Aids to Escape (Gadgets):

  • Compass – The questionnaire lists seven types: Round, Stud, Swinger, Fly-Button, Pencil Clip, Tunic Button, and Pipe.
  • Pouch.
  • Special flying boots (and knife).

Lt. Tom Applewhite was determined that if he was shot down, he would escape.  Not only did he have the usual  pocket on one leg of his flight suit containing escape aids, he had had a second pocket with a second set of aids sewn on the other leg as backup.  But while he was being tended by the first Dutch farm family that helped him, their teenage son, trying to be helpful, threw Tom’s flight suit down a well to hide it from the Germans!

However, Tom did have some comments on escape-related matters:

  • Can you suggest any way in which the contents of the aids box might be changed to make it of greater use: “Couldn’t carry things with me for fear of being searched.  If compass could be disguised, it would be of help.  (Tell men to get an aspirin box — keep Bendzedrine for crossing the mountains.)”
  • Did you carry a purse? “Yes.  Lost in descent.”
  • Passport size photos [he had been provided six]: “Worthless!  Wrong size and ill-posed.  You should try to look neat in them, with hair combed and a ‘prim’ look.”
  • Round compass: “Had one but didn’t need to use it.”
  • Pencil clip compass: “Wished I had one.”
  • Can you suggest any improvements, additions, or substitutions? “I am very sorry I didn’t have ‘escape boots’ or pencil clip compass.  Ill-fitting shoes almost occasioned my capture.”
  • Suggestions: “Air crews should be briefed to ask the Dutch people whether they are ‘Netherlanders’ or ‘Nederlander,’ not whether they are ‘Dutch.’  If you ask them whether they are ‘Dutch,’ they think you are saying ‘Deutsch’–meaning Germans.”

Body Cavity Compass

On display at the Southwest Florida Military Museum in Cape Cod, FL is the following type of compass:

Silk Maps

Airmen evading capture needed a map of the region that would withstand being wet and would not make noise when being examined.  An example appears below.  The webmaster is grateful to Odile de Vasselot who, in 2004, allowed him to photograph the following “silk map” that she had in her possession.  She served in the Comet Line, the largest and most long-lasting WWII escape line.  Click once on the map to enlarge it.  For more information on this subject, click here.

Silk escape map
Silk escape map

“Cumberland Map and Compass Pencil” of World War II

One day in 1942 a ‘Man from the Ministry’ turned up at the Cumberland Pencil factory at Keswick, Cumberland (seen in Photograph No 1 above). He introduced himself to the factory’s management. He told them his name was Charles Fraser-Smith. Officially he was from the “Ministry of Supply Clothing & Textile Department”. In reality, Charles Fraser-Smith was “Q” (the inventor of gadgets for the wartime British secret service). He was the real person behind much of the special equipment used by M.I.6, M.I.9 and the S.O.E. during the war.  For a more complete account on this subject, click here.

Nazi Propaganda Magazines

While traveling on trains in Occupied Europe, waiting in railway stations, etc., an airman on the run would be warned by his guide against engaging in conversation with other people. They might be collaborators or the conversation might be overheard by a collaborator.   An airman’s guide might provide him with a Nazi propaganda magazines which he would pretend to read. One such magazine, Signal, was published in the language of the country and designed to look much like the American magazine, Life.  Below is a page from the 1943 issue no. 16 of Signal magazine.   Second Lt. Tom Applewhite, USAF, shot down 11 November 1943 over The Netherlands, remembers this page from a magazine he pretended to read while on a train in Belgium or France.

MIS-X: Secret Escape Aids for American POWs

PO Box 1142, Fort Hunt, VA”  For information on the secret escape aids sent to US POWs, click here.

Royal Air Force Escape Aids

For information on RAF escape aids, click here.

Cloth Map of Central East Asia

The following are five views of AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, produced by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Washington, D.C. in 1945.  Our thanks to Margaret Fricke for sharing it with us.  Click once or twice to enlarge an image.

Entire map:

AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, 1945
AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, 1945


Mongolia, AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia
Mongolia, AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia

Korea, Japan

AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, 1945, China, Korea, Japan
AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, 1945, China, Korea, Japan

Korea Straits, Ocean Currents

Korea Strait, Ocean Currents - AF 1945 map
Korea Strait, Ocean Currents – AF 1945 map


AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, 1945, Legend
AAF Cloth Map, No. C-36, Central East Asia, 1945, Legend

Silk Multi-Language Request for Help

The following silk chart was copied for the AFEES website by the McDermott Library of the U.S. Air Force Academy.  Our thanks to Dr. Mary Elizabeth Ruwell, Academy Archivist and Chief, Special Collections.  The languages used include English, Chinese, Chinese (Modern), Tagalog, Visayan, French, Dutch, Burmese, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Malayan, and Indonesian.  By clicking twice on the image, it should be enlarged considerably.

Multi-language silk chart

3 thoughts on “Escape Aids

  1. In the section marked escape aids you mention foreign currency. The RAF provided each of its aircrew with a purse containing approximately $60 in foreign currency depending on the target and route. This foreign currency was obtained by Special Operations Executive. Where did the USAAF obtain its foreign currency and second how much was each individual given?

    1. Dear Dr. O’Reilly,
      I do not know the answer to your question. There are three books that come to mind that might have some useful information: (1)Phil Froom’s “Evasion and Escape Devices Produced by MI9, MIS-X, and SOE in World War II”, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publications, 2015; (2) Clayton Hutton’s “Official Secret, the Remarkable Story of Escape Aids”, London: Max Parrish, 1960; and (3) Lloyd Shoemaker, “Escape Factory: The Story of MIS-X,” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. I used to have these books but last January I donated most of my escape and evasion books to the McDermott Library at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I believe the library may still be processing what I sent. But you can probably find copies through WorldCat. I have sent your question to members of an on-line escape and evasion group to which I belong. If any respond with information, I will forward it to you.

      Bruce Bolinger,

  2. I have a small “rattail” file with a pointed end and a chisel end, fire blued, I found inside a Ticonderoga pencil in 1972 in Vietnam. Well made, it is an issue item. Seen one of these? Ideas about name and correct military name/number? Found a picture of one on . Sure would like the correct name . Thanks for a response.

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