The attempted breakout of more than 1,000 Japanese prisoners of war was the largest prison break of World War II—and one of the bloodiest: all escapees were recaptured, and more than 200 were killed.
Image by The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia)

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  • On August 5, 1944, more than a thousand Japanese prisoners of war broke out of a POW camp in Cowra, New South Wales, Australia. The escape was one of the largest and most violent prison breakouts in history.
    Most POWs in Cowra were Italian. The camp also housed German prisoners. However, only a coordinated group of Japanese POWs attempted the audacious breakout. 
    The prisoners were armed with kitchen knives and baseball bats. They used clothing to cover the barbed wire fence surrounding the camp, and simply rushed the guard towers, where guards were armed with machine guns. Three Australians were killed in the breakout.
    In the manhunt that followed, 231 prisoners and one Australian were killed. All survivors were recaptured and returned to Cowra.
    Today, Cowra is a “Center of World Friendship” that boasts strong ties to Japan. There is a Japanese garden, and both Japanese and Australian soldiers are buried in the city’s World War II cemetery.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    audacious Adjective

    extremely bold and daring.

    barbed wire Noun

    twisted metal with sharpened points, often used for fences.

    cemetery Noun

    place for burying the dead.

    coordinate Verb

    to work together or organize for a specific goal.

    manhunt Noun

    intense search for a criminal or suspect.

    prisoner of war Noun

    person captured and held by an enemy during a conflict.

    violent Noun

    strong, destructive force.

    World War II Noun

    (1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)