10 Most Popular World War II Survival Stories

WWII was a conflict that affected almost every part of the world. Brave men found themselves behind enemy lines, in harsh conditions, desperately trying to complete their missions, escape captivity, or simply survive. These stories are inspiring. They have been made into movies and have helped people through tough times of their own.

German POW at Stalingrad. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

We know of these harrowing tales of survival through carefully researched books. These books take official records, the tales of the survivors, and archeological findings to tell us the story of how these men survived their trials by fire. Many of the movies you’ve seen about these WWII survival tales were either directly taken from or inspired by these books. Here are eleven of the most amazing, interesting novels about survival during WWII.

1) We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth

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When a team of Norwegian commandoes attempts to escape to England from Nazi-occupied Norway, they are betrayed and ambushed. Only Jan Baalsrud survived, and this novel details the tale of his survival in the arctic wilds with the help of a brave local village. This is an amazing tale of courage—not just the courage of the military man Jan Baalsrud, but also the courage of the civilians who helped him when he is vulnerable. This is a fascinating tale of a fight not just against the Nazis but also against nature. It covers a part of the war that is not well known among many audiences, so pick it up for an amazing read. Get this book here.

2) Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke

In Japanese-occupied Burma, a British team works behind enemy lines to sabotage the Japanese war effort. A man known as Elephant Bill, a part of this team, uses trained elephants to smuggle supplies, build bridges, and transport the sick through treacherous mountains, all with a price on his head. Eventually, he finds himself leading a train of elephants and refuges over the mountains to India in a desperate bid to survive. This is another novel set in a theater of WWII that is rarely covered. This particular story is a fascinating look at the particular challenges of the British efforts in WWII Burma, as well as being an inspiring story unto itself. Want to read the whole story? Please visit this page.

3) Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

A US cargo plane crashed in the icy wilderness of Greenland, and shortly after, so does the plane sent to rescue them. The survivors of the second crash endure 148 days of brutal arctic winter before they are rescued. This novel chronicles their struggle to survive these intensely hostile conditions, as well as the expedition that brought them home. It also tells of how a modern expedition came together to retrieve the remains of those service members who did not survive the cargo plane crash. These two stories are told side by side, and both are stories of honor, faith, and courage. For anyone looking for a story of men versus nature, this is a must read.

4) Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini is an Olympic legend. When the US enters WWII, he became an airman. His plane was downed in the pacific in 1943, leaving him and the other survivors stranded on life raft in the middle of the ocean. Eventually they are captured and taken to a brutal Japanese POW camp. This novel, by the author of Seabiscuit, is a very well written account of Zamperini’s incredible life. A movie was produced based on this book, but there are even more inspiring details in the novel. Give it a read to learn about an amazing human being and how he overcame many terrible challenges.

5) Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael and Elizabeth Norman

When an American and Filipino garrison in the Philippines surrendered to the Imperial Japanese after a hard-fought battle, they found themselves in the hands of captors whose brutal inhumanity is nearly unimaginable, from the moment of capture until V-J Day for 41 months of captivity. These are the men who endured the Bataan Death March. Tears in the Darkness tells the tale of one of the survivors of the March, Been Steele, as well as tales of some of the many war crimes committed during the March. There are many books written about the Bataan Death March. This one is a great start to understanding this dark chapter of the war’s history.

6) The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Best known as a film, The Pianist is the tale of a Jewish man surviving in occupied Poland, having lost everything and saved by the impossible kindness of a German officer who heard him playing piano in the rubble of Warsaw. This is a deeply human novel, as it was written by the main character himself. The sheer horrors of Nazi occupation come to life on the pages, as do brilliant points of light in the bleak darkness of this time and place. This is an amazing book about the depths human beings can sink to as well as the heights to which they can rise.

7) The Sledge Patrol: A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival, and Victory by David Howarth

The Sledge Patrol” is the story of a handful of Danish and Norwegian soldiers patrolled the 500 mile Greenland coast in dogsleds to guard against a Nazi invasion. Their knowledge of the terrain is the only thing that saves them when the invasion finally comes. This is written as a novel, similar to many fictional one, but the difference is that all of these events are real. Pick it up to learn of an incredible tale.

8) In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton

The story of the USS Indianapolis is best known through a small, chilling scene in the movie Jaws. Out of ship carrying more than thousand men on a secret mission to deliver the atomic bomb to an airfield in the Pacific, only 317 are found alive by the time rescue finally arrives. This carefully researched novel tells the story of how these men survived. In many ways, this novel is an attempt to exonerate the captain of the ship, who was court-martialed for losing the ship and later committed suicide. Read this book to learn the details behind the famous story told in Jaws.

9) No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, A Perilous Climb by Felice Benuzzi

When three Italian prisoners escape a British POW camp near the base of Mount Kenya, they begin a harrowing trek through the wilds of Africa and up the slopes of Mount Kenya to break up the monotony of camp life. This is an amazing story of how these men, with few resources and little training, managed to do the impossible.

No doubt “No Picnic on Mount Kenya” is an amazing tale of mountaineering skills and self-reliance. You should read this awesome book!

10) Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War by John. D. Lukacs

Thousands of American and Filipino prisoners toiled at the brutal Japanese prison of Davao. Twelve men made a daring escape and told the tale of their captivity to Allied authorities. This is the story of their escape, often thought to be one of the greatest stories of the war in the Pacific. It is a gripping account of a harrowing tale, and worth a read to hear a tale that has never been fully told before this book’s publication. Buy it here.

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