The Battle of Alcatraz


Escape attempt sparks conflict

Alcatraz inmate 415 was on a hunger strike.  He was not protesting his conviction or fighting for more inmate rights.  This inmate had a plan that every denizen of the notorious prison dreamed of.  He had a plan to escape.

Bernard Coy had been imprisoned for a bank robbery and sentenced to 25 years.  The scheming convict had noticed that the bars on some of the windows were not as strong as they appeared.  Particularly the bars on the gun gallery, where the prison’s firearms were held.  

On May 2, 1946, Coy implemented his plan.  Two accomplices had been recruited to help in get to the gun gallery.  Coy, along with Marvin Hubbard and Joe Cretzer attacked Corrections Officer William Miller so they could use his keys to get out of the cell block.  Coy then moved stealthily to the gun gallery.  He had seen that the guard would routinely leave the post at about the same time every day, locking the door behind him each time.  

Coy had worked diligently to overcome this problem.  He had fashioned a spreader out of parts from prison toilets.  He used his device to push apart window bars then covering himself with stolen axle grease, he was able to slip in through the space he created.  Hiding in the gun gallery, he attacked Corrections Officer Burt Burch when he returned.  Coy now had access to two sets of keys and the prison’s guns and ammunition.

Well armed, he returned to the cell block.  Hubbard and Cretzer began releasing inmates and capturing and incarcerating guards.  The escapees planned to get into the prison yard and through the gate that led to the dock.  Upon reaching the entrance to the yard, they found that none of the keys worked.  Officer Miller had secreted the one key that he knew the inmates would need to escape.  

Returning to the cell block in a rage, Coy and his accomplices demanded the key and opened fire into the cell where the guards were now being held.  Numerous guards were shot and Officer Miller was killed.  

Now a standoff ensued.  An alarm was sounded that alerted Coast Guard and Marine forces in San Francisco.  They responded with boats, machine guns and mortars to quell the violence. 

After a two-day standoff, with several gun battles, the inmates finally gave up.  Coy, Cretzer, and Hubbard and Correction Officer Harold Stites had been killed during the 48-hour fracas.

Order was restored, but the prison was seriously damaged and two federal corrections officers were killed.  Several surviving inmates involved in the escape were convicted and sentenced to death.    


Christopher Flanagan


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