German POWs Escape

When the U.S. government sought a home for German U-boat sailors taken as prisoners-of-war during World War II, it found the ultimate contradictory landscape for the young mariners from the verdant nation along the Rhine: Phoenix's Papago Park.

The exotic red sandstone buttes and prickly Sonoran Desert flora of the park may have seemed inhospitable at first, but the German submariners quickly adapted to life in the desert. In fact, the involuntarily land-based naval personnel enjoyed relative autonomy in their daily activities at the somewhat lackadaisically-run camp, permitting them to engage in productive activities such as farming--as well as more sinister endeavors, such as planning a water-based getaways despite their location in the arid Salt River Valley. Accustomed to the mighty rivers of Europe, the POWs logically assumed that the Salt and Gila rivers shown on maps of the Valley could lead them to the Colorado River and onto freedom in Mexico. However, this hope was discovered to be nothing more than a desert mirage, as described in the tale of "The Crazy Boatmen."

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Audio

German POW Escapees, or, The Crazy Boatmen
A recounting of the infamous and ill-fated December 1944 Papago Park POW camp escape. Written by John Larsen Southatd; narrated by Jim Garrison. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.
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