Bill Ash, a Texas-born fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was shot down over France and made more than a dozen daring efforts to escape from German prisoner-of-war camps during World War II, died April 26 in London. He was 96.

Brendan Foley, the co-author of Ash’s 2005 autobiography, “Under the Wire,” confirmed the death. Ash had been in declining health for several years.

Never one to shy from adventure, Ash rode the rails as a hobo during the Great Depression, served in India as a BBC correspondent in the 1950s and later become an avowed Marxist, leading leftist groups in England, where he spent most of his adult life.

But he was best known for his remarkable exploits during World War II, particularly after he crash-landed his British-built Spitfire fighter in 1942 after a dogfight with German planes over France. Tortured by the German Gestapo and marked for execution, Ash was spared the firing squad.

He made 13 escape attempts during his three years in captivity and was able to get beyond the perimeter of his prison camps half a dozen times. But, until his final – and successful – escape attempt in the waning days of the war, he was always recaptured. Invariably, he would be transported back to camp, where he was locked in “the cooler,” or solitary isolation cell.

“He was the undisputed American ‘cooler king,’ ” Foley, Ash’s co-author, said Saturday in an interview. “To other prisoners, he was just such a legend. He was the last of the great World War II escape artists.”

Ash had three separate stints in Stalag Luft III, a POW camp in eastern Germany run by the Luftwaffe and reserved for captured aviators. In 1944, the camp was the site of the largest mass escape of Allied prisoners during World War II, the so-called “Great Escape,” which was depicted in a 1963 film of the same name.

Many people suggested that Ash was the inspiration for the leading character in the movie, played by Steve McQueen, but he always denied it – in part because he was in the cooler at the time and was not among the 76 POWs who escaped, if only temporarily.

Although Ash gave up his U.S. citizenship when he signed up for the Canadian air force, he never disguised his American origins. He was known as “Tex,” even among prisoners from the British Commonwealth, France and other countries.

“To the day he died,” Foley said, “he still had an amiable Texan drawl.”

He first tried to escape through a shower drain before being caught. At different times, he tried to climb over, tunnel under and cut through the barbed wire surrounding his POW camp. He once tried to pass himself as a Russian laborer.

One time, at a camp in present-day Szubin, Poland, Ash helped organize an escape of about 30 prisoners by digging a tunnel that began directly under the latrine. All were eventually recaptured, and Ash went back to the cooler at Stalag Luft III.

After exchanging identities with a fellow prisoner from New Zealand, Ash managed to join a group of prisoners being transferred to a Nazi prison camp in Lithuania. While there, he successfully tunneled out of the prison and made his way to the waterfront.

He appealed to local residents for help in pushing a boat into the sea, where he hoped to row to freedom.

“We would love to help you,” he said they told them, “but we are soldiers of the German army and you are standing on our cabbages.”

He was sent back to the cooler.

Finally, in 1945, suffering from jaundice and starvation, Ash was among a group of prisoners being transferred to a different camp in Germany. After a firefight broke out, he walked away and met a column of British soldiers.

“Don’t shoot – he’s British,” one of them said.

“Actually, I’m American,” Ash replied. “And Canadian and British. It’s a long story.”