Stalag Luft III
In Germany, stalag was a term used for prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag is a contraction of "Stammlager", itself short for Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager.- Legal definitions :...

 Luft III
(Stammlager Luft, or POW Camp for Airmen #3) was a Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

-run prisoner-of-war camp
Prisoner-of-war camp
A prisoner-of-war camp is a site for the containment of combatants captured by their enemy in time of war, and is similar to an internment camp which is used for civilian populations. A prisoner of war is generally a soldier, sailor, or airman who is imprisoned by an enemy power during or...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 that housed captured air force
Air force
An air force, also known in some countries as an air army, is in the broadest sense, the national military organization that primarily conducts aerial warfare. More specifically, it is the branch of a nation's armed services that is responsible for aerial warfare as distinct from an army, navy or...

 servicemen. It was in the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Province of Lower Silesia
Province of Lower Silesia
The Province of Lower Silesia was a province of the Free State of Prussia from 1919 to 1945. Between 1938 and 1941 it was reunited with Upper Silesia as the Silesia Province. The capital of Lower Silesia was Breslau...

 near the town of Sagan
Zagan may refer to:*Zagan - a demon in the Ars Goetia*Żagań - a town in west Poland...

 (now Żagań
Zagan may refer to:*Zagan - a demon in the Ars Goetia*Żagań - a town in west Poland...

 in Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

), 100 miles (160.9 km) southeast of Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

. The site was selected because it would be difficult to escape by tunnelling.

The camp is best known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunnelling, which were depicted in the films The Great Escape
The Great Escape (film)
The Great Escape is a 1963 American film about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough...

1963 in film
The year 1963 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* June 12 - Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton premieres at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City....

) and The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse is a 1950 British Second World War war film starring Leo Genn, Anthony Steel and David Tomlinson and directed by Jack Lee. It is based on the book of the same name by Eric Williams, who also wrote the screenplay....

1950 in film
The year 1950 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* February 15 - Walt Disney Studios' animated film Cinderella debuts.-Top grossing films : After theatrical re-issue- Awards :Academy Awards:*Ambush...

), and the books by former prisoners Paul Brickhill
Paul Brickhill
Paul Chester Jerome Brickhill was an Australian writer, whose World War II books were turned into popular movies.-Biography:...

 and Eric Williams
Eric Williams (writer)
Eric Williams was an English writer and former Second World War RAF pilot and POW who wrote several books dealing with his escapes from prisoner-of-war camps, most famously in his 1949 novel The Wooden Horse, made into a 1950 movie of the same name.-Capture:RAF Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams was...

 from which these films were adapted.

The camp

Despite being an officers-only camp, it was referred to as a Stalag camp rather than Oflag (Offizier Lager) as the Luftwaffe had their own nomenclature. Later camp expansions added compounds for non-commissioned officer
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

s. Captured Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

 (Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

) crew were considered to be Air Force by the Luftwaffe and no differentiation was made. At times non-airmen were interned.

The first compound (East Compound) of the camp was completed and opened on 21 March 1942. The first prisoners, or "kriegies", as they called themselves (from "Kriegsgefangener"), to be housed at Stalag Luft III were British RAF
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 and Fleet Air Arm officers, arriving in April 1942. The Centre compound was opened on 11 April 1942, originally for British sergeants, but by the end of 1942 replaced by Americans. The North Compound for British airmen, where the Great Escape occurred, opened on 29 March 1943. A South Compound for Americans was opened in September 1943 and USAAF prisoners began arriving at the camp in significant numbers the following month and the West Compound was opened in July 1944 for U.S. officers. Each compound consisted of fifteen single story huts. Each 10 feet (3 m) × 12 feet (3.7 m) bunkroom slept fifteen men in five triple deck bunks. Eventually the camp grew to approximately 60 acres (24.3 ha) in size and eventually housed about 2,500 Royal Air Force officers, about 7,500 U.S. Army Air Forces, and about 900 officers from other Allied air forces, for a total of 10,949 inmates, including some support officers.

The prison camp had a number of design features that made escape extremely difficult. The digging of escape tunnel
Escape tunnel
An escape tunnel is a form of secret passage used as part of an escape from siege or captivity. In medieval times such tunnels are usually constructed by the builders of castles or palaces who wish to have an escape route if their domain is under attack...

s, in particular, was discouraged by several factors. First, the barracks
Barracks are specialised buildings for permanent military accommodation; the word may apply to separate housing blocks or to complete complexes. Their main object is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training and esprit de corps. They were sometimes called...

 housing the prisoners were raised several inches off the ground to make it easier for guards to detect any tunnelling activity. Second, the camp itself had been constructed on land that had a very sandy subsoil. The sand was bright yellow, so it could easily be detected if anyone dumped it on the surface (which consisted of grey dust), or even just had some of it on their clothing. In addition, the loose, collapsible sand meant the structural integrity of a tunnel would be very poor. A third defence against tunnelling was the placement of seismograph microphones around the perimeter of the camp, which were expected to detect any sounds of digging just below the surface.

The first successful escape occurred in October 1943 in the East Compound. Conjuring up a modern Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the stratagem that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside...

, the kriegies constructed a gymnastic vaulting horse largely from plywood from Red Cross parcels. The horse was designed to conceal men, tools, and containers of dirt. Each day the horse was carried out to the same spot near the perimeter fence, and while prisoners conducted gymnastic exercises above, from under the horse a tunnel was dug. At the end of each working day, a wooden board was placed back over the tunnel entrance and re-covered with surface dirt. The gymnastics not only disguised the real purpose of the vaulting horse, but the activity kept the sound of the digging from being detected by the microphones. For three months three prisoners, Lieutenant Michael Codner, Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams
Eric Williams (writer)
Eric Williams was an English writer and former Second World War RAF pilot and POW who wrote several books dealing with his escapes from prisoner-of-war camps, most famously in his 1949 novel The Wooden Horse, made into a 1950 movie of the same name.-Capture:RAF Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams was...

, and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot
Oliver Philpot
Oliver Lawrence Spurling Philpot, MC, DFC was a Canadian born World War II RAF pilot and subsequently a businessman, best known for being one of the three men to successfully escape from Stalag Luft III in the escape known as The Wooden Horse.After escaping Philpot wrote a book Stolen Journey in...

, in shifts of one or two diggers at a time, dug over 100 feet (30.5 m) of tunnel using bowls as shovels and metal rods to poke through the surface of the ground to create air holes. No shoring was used except near the entrance. On the evening of October 29, 1943, Codner, Williams, and Philpot made their escape. Williams and Codner were able to reach the port of Stettin
Szczecin , is the capital city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland. It is the country's seventh-largest city and the largest seaport in Poland on the Baltic Sea. As of June 2009 the population was 406,427....

 where they stowed away on a Danish ship and eventually returned to Britain. Philpot, posing as a Norwegian margarine manufacturer, was able to board a train to Danzig (now Gdansk), and from there stowed away on a Swedish ship headed for Stockholm, and from there repatriated to Britain. Accounts of this escape, long overshadowed by The Great Escape, were recorded in the book Goon in the Block (later retitled The Wooden Horse) by Williams, the book Stolen Journey by Philpot, and the 1950 film The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse is a 1950 British Second World War war film starring Leo Genn, Anthony Steel and David Tomlinson and directed by Jack Lee. It is based on the book of the same name by Eric Williams, who also wrote the screenplay....


Camp life

The recommended dietary intake for a normal healthy inactive man is 2,150 Calories. Luft III issued "Non-working" German civilian rations which allowed 1,928 Calories per day, with the balance made up from American, Canadian, and British Red Cross
British Red Cross
The British Red Cross Society is the United Kingdom branch of the worldwide impartial humanitarian organisation the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The society was formed in 1870, and is a registered charity with over 31,000 volunteers and 2,600 staff. At the heart of their work...

 parcels and items sent to the POWs
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 by their families. As was customary at most camps, both Red Cross and individual parcels were pooled and distributed to the men equally. The camp also had an official internal bartering system called a Foodacco — POWs would market any surplus goods for "points" which could be "spent" on other items. The Germans paid captured officers the equivalent of their pay in internal camp currency (lagergeld) which was used to buy what goods were made available by the German administration. Every three months a weak beer was made available in the canteen for sale. As NCOs
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

 did not receive any "pay" it was the usual practice in camps for the officers to provide one third for their use but at Luft III all lagergeld was pooled for communal purchases. As British government policy was to deduct camp pay from the prisoners military pay, the communal pool avoided the practice in other camps whereby American officers contributed to British canteen purchases.

Luft III had the best organised recreational programme of any POW camp in Germany. Each compound had athletic fields and volleyball courts. The prisoners participated in basketball, softball, boxing, touch football, volleyball, table tennis, and fencing with leagues organised for most. A pool, 20 feet by 22 feet by 5 feet deep, used to store water for firefighting, was available "occasionally" for swimming.

A substantial library with schooling facilities was available where many POWs earned degrees
Academic degree
An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree...

 such as languages, engineering or law. The exams were supplied by the Red Cross and supervised by academics such as a Master
Master (college)
A Master is the title of the head of some colleges and other educational institutions. This applies especially at some colleges and institutions at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge .- See also :* Master A Master (or in female form Mistress) is the title of the head of some...

 of King's College who was a POW in Luft III. The prisoners also built a theatre and put on high quality bi-weekly performances featuring all the current West End shows. The prisoners used the camp amplifier to broadcast a news and music radio station they named Station KRGY, short for Kriegsgefangener, a term used for POWs and also published two newspapers, the Circuit and the Kriegie Times which were issued four times a week.

To prevent Germans from infiltrating the prisoner population, newcomers to the camp had to be personally vouched for by two existing POWs who knew the prisoner by sight. Anyone who failed this requirement was severely interrogated and assigned a rota of POWs who had to escort him at all times until he was deemed to be genuine. Several infiltrators were discovered by this method, and none are known to have escaped detection in Luft III. The German guards were referred to as "Goons" and, unaware of the western connotation, willingly accepted the nickname after being told it stood for "German Officer Or Non-Com". German guards were followed everywhere they went by prisoners who used an elaborate system of signals to warn others of their location. The guards' movements were then carefully recorded in a logbook kept by an assigned rota of officers. Unable to effectively stop what the prisoners called the "Duty Pilot" system the Germans allowed it to continue and on one occasion the book was used by Kommandant von Lindeiner to bring charges against two guards who had slunk away from duty several hours early.

The camp's 800 Luftwaffe guards were primarily either too old for combat duty or young men convalescing after long tours of duty or wounds. Because the guards were Luftwaffe personnel, the prisoners were accorded treatment far better than that granted other POWs in Germany. Deputy Commandant Major Gustav Simoleit, a professor of history
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

 and ethnology
Ethnology is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the origins, distribution, technology, religion, language, and social structure of the ethnic, racial, and/or national divisions of humanity.-Scientific discipline:Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct...

 before the war, spoke several languages including English, Russian, Polish, and Czech. Transferred to Sagan in early 1943, he proved sympathetic to allied airmen. Ignoring the ban against extending military courtesies to POWs, he provided full military honours for Luft III POW funerals, including one for a Jewish airman.


Just before midnight on 27 January 1945, with Russian troops only 20km away, the remaining 11,000 POWs were marched out of camp with the eventual destination of Spremberg
Spremberg is a village near to the city of Hoyerswerda in the Spree-Neiße district of Brandenburg, Germany. The village was first mentioned in 1956. The village alone has only 9,588 Inhabitants, the hole region has 21,361 Inhabitants-Geography:...

. In below freezing temperatures and 6 inches (15.2 cm) of snow, 2,000 prisoners were assigned to clear the road ahead of the main group. After a 34 miles (54.7 km) march the POWs arrived in Bad Muskau
Bad Muskau
Bad Muskau is a spa town in the historic Upper Lusatia region in Germany at the border with Poland. It is part of the Görlitz district in the State of Saxony....

 where they rested for 30 hours before marching the remaining 16 miles (25.7 km) to Spremberg. On 31 January the South Compound prisoners plus 200 men from the West Compound were sent by train to Stalag VII-A
Stalag VII-A
During World War II, Stalag VII-A was Germany's largest prisoner-of-war camp, located just north of the town of Moosburg in southern Bavaria. The camp covered an area of 35 ha. . It served also as a transit camp through which prisoners, including officers, were processed on their way to other camps...

 at Moosburg
Moosburg an der Isar is a town in the Landkreis Freising of Bavaria, Germany.The oldest town between Regensburg and Italy, it lies on the river Isar at an altitude of 421 m . It has 17,275 inhabitants and covers an area of 44 km². It is easily reached by the A 92 autobahn and regional trains on...

 followed by the Centre compound prisoners on February 7. Some 32 prisoners escaped during the march to Moosburg but all had been recaptured. The North, East and remaining West Compound prisoners at Spremberg were sent to Stalag XIII-D
Stalag XIII-D
Stalag XIII-D Nürnberg Langwasser was a German Army World War II prisoner-of-war camp built on what had been the Nazi parade grounds in Nürnberg, northern Bavaria.-Timeline:...

 at Nürnberg on February 2. With the approach of U.S. forces on April 13, the American prisoners at XIII-D were marched to Stalag VII-A. While the majority reached VII-A on April 20, many had dropped out on the way with the German guards making no attempt to stop them. Built to hold 14,000 POWs, Stalag VII-A now held 130,000 from evacuated stalags with 500 living in barracks built for 200. Some chose to live in tents while others slept in air raid slit trenches. The U.S. 14th Armored Division
U.S. 14th Armored Division
The 14th Armored Division was an armored division of the United States Army in World War II. It remains on the permanent rolls of the Regular Army as an inactive division, and is eligible for reactivation should the need ever arise...

 liberated VII-A on April 29.

Notable prisoners

Notable military personnel held at Stalag Luft III included Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these...

 Phil Lamason
Phil Lamason
Phillip John Lamason DFC & Bar was a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the Second World War, who rose to prominence as the senior officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany, in August 1944...

Royal New Zealand Air Force
The Royal New Zealand Air Force is the air arm of the New Zealand Defence Force...

, who was also the senior officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen
KLB Club
The KLB Club was formed on 12 October 1944, and included the 168 allied airmen who were held prisoner at Buchenwald concentration camp between 20 August and 19 October 1944...

 initially held at Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp was a German Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937, one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil.Camp prisoners from all over Europe and Russia—Jews, non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes,...

. Charles W. Sandman, Jr.
Charles W. Sandman, Jr.
Charles William Sandman, Jr. was an American Republican Party politician who represented New Jersey's 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives and was the party's candidate for Governor of New Jersey in 1973.-Biography:Sandman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...

 spent over seven months in Stalag Luft III. Sandman entered the camp weighing approximately 190 lbs. and left weighing 125 lbs. In his diary, Sandman describes the harsh winters and struggles to secure rations sent by the American Red Cross. David M. Jones
David M. Jones
David M. Jones was a United States Air Force pilot who served with distinction during World War II. He was one of the Doolittle Raiders whose exploits in April 1942 were dramatized in the film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. He then flew combat missions over North Africa, where he was shot down...

, Commander of the 319th Bombardment Group in North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, was an inmate at Stalag Luft III for two and a half years. According to his biography he led the digging team on Harry. In early 1942 Jones took part in the Doolittle Raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 undertaken in retaliation for the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

. Robert M. Polich, Sr.
Robert M. Polich, Sr.
Robert M. Polich is a former United States Army Air Corp pilot and a recipient of the United States military's decoration—the Distinguished Flying Cross—for his actions in World War II.-Biography:...

, also of the United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross (United States)
The Distinguished Flying Cross is a medal awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918." The...

, later featured in the short film Red Leader on Fire which was submitted for the Minnesota's Greatest Generation short film festival in 2008.

Canadian Flight Lieutenant
Flight Lieutenant
Flight lieutenant is a junior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many Commonwealth countries. It ranks above flying officer and immediately below squadron leader. The name of the rank is the complete phrase; it is never shortened to "lieutenant"...

 Gordon Miller tagged "Moose Miller", helped carry the Wooden Horse in and out each day under the German guns without faltering with the weight of two concealed diggers and a day's worth of earth. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom)
The Distinguished Flying Cross is a military decoration awarded to personnel of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and other services, and formerly to officers of other Commonwealth countries, for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against...

 for repairing a damaged Wellington
Vickers Wellington
The Vickers Wellington was a British twin-engine, long range medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, by Vickers-Armstrongs' Chief Designer, R. K. Pierson. It was widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the Second World War, before being displaced as a...

 in flight and allowing the crew to parachute to safety.

Flight Lieutenant George Harsh RCAF
Royal Canadian Air Force
The history of the Royal Canadian Air Force begins in 1920, when the air force was created as the Canadian Air Force . In 1924 the CAF was renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force and granted royal sanction by King George V. The RCAF existed as an independent service until 1968...

 was a member of the Great Escape's executive committee and the camp's "security officer". He was one of the 19 "suspects" transferred to Stalag VIIIC shortly before the escape. Born in 1910 to a wealthy and prominent Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 family, Harsh, a medical student, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1929 for the self-confessed thrill killing
Thrill killing
A thrill killing is a term used to describe a premeditated murder committed by a person who is not necessarily suffering from mental instability, and does not derive sexual satisfaction from killing victims, or have anything against them, and sometimes do not know them, but is instead motivated by...

 of a grocer. He saved the life of a fellow prisoner by performing an emergency appendectomy for which Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge
Eugene Talmadge
Eugene Talmadge was a Democratic politician who served two terms as the 67th Governor of Georgia from 1933 to 1937, and a third term from 1941 to 1943. Elected to a fourth term in 1946, he died before taking office...

 released him on parole in November, 1940 and finally granted him a full pardon. He then joined the RCAF as a tail gunner and after being shot down in 1942 was sent to Stalag Luft III. In 1971 he published his autobiography which has since been translated into German and Russian.

Another notable prisoner was P. P. Kumaramangalam DSO
Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 of the then British Indian Army
British Indian Army
The British Indian Army, officially simply the Indian Army, was the principal army of the British Raj in India before the partition of India in 1947...

 and the future Chief of the Indian Army.

Some held at Stalag Luft III went on to notable careers in the entertainment industry. British actor Rupert Davies
Rupert Davies
Rupert Davies was a British actor. He remains best known for playing the title role in the BBC's 1960s television adaptation of Maigret, based on the Maigret novels written by Georges Simenon....

 had many roles in productions at the theatre in the camp; his most famous roles on film and TV may have been Inspector Maigret in the BBC series Maigret
Jules Maigret, Maigret to most people, including his wife, is a fictional police detective, actually a commissaire or commissioner of the Paris "Brigade Criminelle" , created by writer Georges Simenon.Seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories about Maigret were published between 1931 and...

that aired over 52 episodes from 1960 to 1963 and George Smiley in the movie The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold , by John le Carré, is a British Cold War spy novel that became famous for its portrayal of Western espionage methods as being morally inconsistent with Western democracy and values. The novel received critical acclaim at the time of its publication and became an...

. Singer Cy Grant
Cy Grant
Cy Grant was a Guyanese actor, singer, writer and poet, who in the 1950s became the first black person to appear regularly on British television...

, born in British Guiana
British Guiana
British Guiana was the name of the British colony on the northern coast of South America, now the independent nation of Guyana.The area was originally settled by the Dutch at the start of the 17th century as the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice...

, served as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF, and spent two years as a prisoner of war, including time at Stalag Luft III. After the war he qualified as a barrister
A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions...

, but went on to be a singer, actor and author. His was the first black face to be regularly seen on British television, singing tropical calypsos
Calypso music
Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago from African and European roots. The roots of the genre lay in the arrival of enslaved Africans, who, not being allowed to speak with each other, communicated through song...

 on television on the BBC Tonight
Tonight (1957 TV series)
Tonight was a BBC television current affairs programme presented by Cliff Michelmore and broadcast in Britain live on weekday evenings from February 1957 to 1965. The producers were the future Controller of BBC1 Donald Baverstock and the future Director-General of the BBC Alasdair Milne...

programme. Wally Kinnan
Wally Kinnan
Henry Wallace "Wally" Kinnan who was a decorated World War II hero, also was one of the first well known U.S. pioneer television broadcast meteorologists. Kinnan held American Meteorological Society Television Seal #3...

, one of the first well known U.S. television broadcast meteorologists, was also in the camp.

The actor Peter Butterworth
Peter Butterworth
Peter William Shorrocks Butterworth was an English comedy actor and comedian, best known for his appearances in the Carry On series of films. He was also a regular on children's television and radio and appeared in seven early episodes of Doctor Who in 1965 as the 'The Meddling Monk'...

 and the writer Talbot Rothwell
Talbot Rothwell
Talbot Nelson Conn Rothwell, OBE was an English screenwriter.Rothwell was born in Bromley, Kent, England. He had a variety of jobs during his early life: town clerk, police officer, and Royal Air Force pilot....

 were both inmates of Stalag Luft III; they became friends and later worked together on the Carry On films
Carry On films
The Carry On films are a series of low-budget British comedy films, directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers. They are an energetic mix of parody, farce, slapstick and double entendres....

. Butterworth was one of the vaulters covering for the escapers during the escape portrayed by the book and film The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse is a 1950 British Second World War war film starring Leo Genn, Anthony Steel and David Tomlinson and directed by Jack Lee. It is based on the book of the same name by Eric Williams, who also wrote the screenplay....

. After the war and an established actor, Butterworth auditioned for the film but "didn't look convincingly heroic or athletic enough" according to the makers of the film. To compensate for this the director Jack Lee, named the character played by Leo Genn "Peter", after Butterworth.

American novelist and screenwriter Len Giovannitti was held in Stalag Luft III's Center Compound. A navigator with the 742nd Bomb Squadron
742d Missile Squadron
The 742d Missile Squadron is part of the 91st Missile Wing based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. It operates Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.-World War II:...

, 455th Bomb Group
455th Air Expeditionary Wing
The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing is a provisional United States Air Force Air Combat Command unit. It is one of two AEWs in Afghanistan, presently assigned to Bagram Airfield. Most of the wing personnel are located at the Air Force Village known as Camp Cunningham.The wing's primary mission is to...

 of the Fifteenth Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
The Fifteenth Expeditionary Mobility Task Force is one of two EMTFs assigned to the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command . It is headquartered at Travis Air Force Base, California....

, he was on his 50th mission when his B-24 Liberator
B-24 Liberator
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and a small number of early models were sold under the name LB-30, for Land Bomber...

 was shot down over Austria on June 26, 1944. A POW for nearly a year, he incorporated his experiences, including the winter march to Germany and liberation in Bavaria, in a novel he wrote between April 1953 and May 1957, The Prisoners of Combine D, published by Henry Holt and Company (ASIN: B0007E6KMG).

Stalag Luft III inmates also developed an interest in politics. Justin O'Byrne
Justin O'Byrne
Justin Hilary O'Byrne, AO was a long-serving Australian Labor Party politician who represented Tasmania in the Federal Senate from 1947 to 1981, acting as President of the Senate from 1974 to 1975.-Biography:...

, who spent more than three years as a POW, represented Tasmania
Tasmania is an Australian island and state. It is south of the continent, separated by Bass Strait. The state includes the island of Tasmania—the 26th largest island in the world—and the surrounding islands. The state has a population of 507,626 , of whom almost half reside in the greater Hobart...

 in the Australian Senate
Australian Senate
The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. Senators are popularly elected under a system of proportional representation. Senators are elected for a term that is usually six years; after a double dissolution, however,...

 for 34 years, and served as President of the Senate
President of the Australian Senate
The President of the Australian Senate is the presiding officer of the Australian Senate, the upper house of the Parliament of Australia. The presiding officer of the lower house is the Speaker of the House of Representatives....

. Professor Basil Chubb
Basil Chubb
Frederick Basil Chubb was an English and Irish political scientist, author and broadcaster.Chubb was the first chair of the new Department of Political Science at Trinity College, Dublin, and was responsible for numerous publications which became standard works for those wishing to gain insight...

, author and political science lecturer, spent 15 months there after being shot down over Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. Peter Thomas, later Lord Thomas after a political career as a Welsh
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 politician, and cabinet minister under Edward Heath, spent four years as a prisoner of war including at Stalag Luft III.

Importantly for the historical record, Australian journalist Paul Brickhill was an inmate at Stalag Luft III from 1943 until release. In 1950 he wrote the first comprehensive account about The Great Escape
The Great Escape (book)
The Great Escape is an insider's account by Paul Brickhill of the 1944 mass escape from the German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III for British and Commonwealth airmen. As a prisoner in the camp, he participated in the escape plan but was debarred from the actual escape 'along with three or...

, which was later adapted into the famous film, and went on to chronicle the life of Douglas Bader
Douglas Bader
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, FRAeS, DL was a Royal Air Force fighter ace during the Second World War. He was credited with 20 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.Bader joined the...

 in Reach for the Sky
Reach for the Sky
Reach for the Sky is a 1956 British biographical film of aviator Douglas Bader, based on the 1954 biography of the same name by Paul Brickhill. The film stars Kenneth More and was directed by Lewis Gilbert. It won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film of 1956.-Plot:In 1928, Douglas Bader, a...

and the efforts of 617 "Dam Busters" Squadron
No. 617 Squadron RAF
No. 617 Squadron is a Royal Air Force aircraft squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It currently operates the Tornado GR4 in the ground attack and reconnaissance role...

. One of the "Dam Busters", who had successfully bombed the Eder Dam, Flying Officer Ray Grayston of the RAF, was also an inmate at Stalag Luft III from 1943-45.

The "Great Escape"

In the spring of 1943, Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these...

 Roger Bushell
Roger Bushell
Squadron Leader Roger Joyce Bushell RAF was a South African-born British Auxiliary Air Force pilot who organised and led the famous escape from the Nazi prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft III. He was a victim of the Stalag Luft III murders. The escape was used as the basis for the film The Great...

Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 conceived a plan for a major escape from the camp, which occurred the night of March 24–25, 1944.

Bushell was held in the North Compound where British airmen were housed. He was in command of the Escape Committee and channeled the effort into probing for weaknesses and looking for opportunities. Falling back on his legal background to represent his scheme, Bushell called a meeting of the Escape Committee and not only shocked those present with its scope, but injected into every man a passionate determination to put their every energy into the escape. He declared,

"Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun... In North Compound we are concentrating our efforts on completing and escaping through one master tunnel. No private-enterprise tunnels allowed. Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug - Tom, Dick, and Harry. One will succeed!"

The simultaneous digging of these tunnels would become an advantage if any one of them was discovered by the Germans, because the guards would scarcely imagine that another two could be well underway. The most radical aspect of the plan was not merely the scale of the construction, but the sheer number of men that Bushell intended to pass through these tunnels. Previous attempts had involved the escape of anything up to a dozen or twenty men, but Bushell was proposing to get in excess of 200 out, all of whom would be wearing civilian clothes and possessing a complete range of forged papers and escape equipment. It was an unprecedented undertaking and would require unparalleled organisation. As the mastermind of the Great Escape, Roger Bushell inherited the codename of "Big X". The tunnel "Tom" began in a darkened corner of a hall in one of the buildings. "Dick"'s entrance was carefully hidden in a drain sump in one of the washrooms. The entrance to "Harry" was hidden under a stove. More than 600 prisoners were involved in their construction.

Tunnel construction

The tunnels were very deep — about 30 feet (9 m) below the surface. The tunnels were very small, only 2 foot (0.6096 m) square, though larger chambers were dug to house the air pump, a workshop, and staging posts along each tunnel. The sandy walls of the tunnels were shored up with pieces of wood scavenged from all over the camp. One main source of wood was the prisoners' beds. At the beginning, each had about twenty boards supporting the mattress. By the time of the escape, only about eight were left on each bed. A number of other pieces of wooden furniture were also scavenged.

A variety of other materials was also scavenged. One such item was Klim
Klim (Red Cross)
Klim was the name given to powdered milk rations issued by the International Red Cross to Allied prisoners in German captivity during World War II. The tins were reused for other purposes including piping fresh air into escape tunnels...

 cans; tin cans that had originally held powdered milk, supplied by the Red Cross for the prisoners. The metal in the cans could be fashioned into a variety of different tools and items such as scoops and candle holders. Candles were fashioned by skimming the fat off the top of soup served at the camp and putting it in tiny tin vessels. Wicks were made from old and worn clothing. The main use of the Klim tins, however, was in the construction of the extensive ventilation ducting in all three tunnels.

As the tunnels grew longer, a number of technical innovations made the job easier and safer. One important issue was ensuring that the person digging had enough oxygen to breathe and keep his lamps lit. A pump was built to push fresh air along the ducting into the tunnels - invented by Squadron Leader Bob Nelson of 37 Squadron. The pumps were built of odd items including major bed pieces, hockey stick
Hockey stick
A hockey stick is a piece of equipment used in field hockey, ice hockey or roller hockey to move the ball or puck.- Field hockey :Field hockey sticks have an end which varies in shape, often depending on the players position...

s, and knapsacks — as well as Klim tins.

Later, electric lighting was installed and hooked into the camp's electrical grid. The tunnellers also installed small rail car systems for moving sand more quickly. The rails were key to moving an estimated 140 cubic meters (200 tons) of sand in a twelve-month period; they also reduced the time taken for tunnellers to reach the digging faces.

With three tunnels, the prisoners needed places to dump sand. The usual method of disposing of sand was to discreetly scatter it on the surface. Small pouches made of old socks were attached inside the prisoners' trousers. As the prisoners walked around, the sand would scatter. Sometimes, the prisoners would dump sand into small gardens that they were allowed to tend. As one prisoner turned the soil, another would release sand while the two appeared to carry on a normal conversation. The prisoners wore greatcoat
A greatcoat, also known as a watchcoat, is a large overcoat typically made of wool designed for warmth and protection against the weather. Its collar and cuffs can be turned out to protect the face and hands from cold and rain, and the short cape around the shoulders provides extra warmth and...

s to conceal the bulges made by the socks and were referred to as "penguins" because of their supposed resemblance to the animal. More than 200 were recruited who were to make an estimated 25,000 trips.

The Germans were aware that something major was going on, but all attempts to discover tunnels failed. In an attempt to break up any escape attempts, nineteen of their top suspects were transferred without warning to Stalag VIIIC. Of those, only six were heavily involved with tunnel construction.

Eventually, the prisoners felt they could no longer dump sand on the surface as the Germans became too efficient at catching prisoners using this method. After "Dick's" planned exit surface became covered by a camp expansion, the decision was made to start filling the tunnel up. As the tunnel's entrance was very well-hidden, "Dick" was also used as a storage room for a variety of items such as maps, postage stamps, forged travel permits, compasses, and clothing such as German uniforms and civilian suits. Surprisingly, a number of friendly guards co-operated in supplying railway timetables, maps, and the large number of official papers required to allow them to be forged. Some genuine civilian clothes were also obtained by bribing German staff with cigarettes, coffee or chocolate. These were used by escaping prisoners to travel away from the prison camp more easily — by train, if possible.

The prisoners later ran out of places to hide the sand and snow cover now made it impractical to scatter it over the ground. Underneath the seats in the theatre was a huge enclosed area, but the theatre had been built using tools and materials supplied on parole and the parole system was regarded as inviolate - such equipment was never used for other purposes. Internal "legal advice" was taken, and the SBOs decided that the theatre itself did not fall under the parole system. Seat 13 was hinged and the sand problem solved.

As the war progressed, the German prison camps began to be overwhelmed with American prisoners. The Germans decided that new camps would be built specifically for the U.S. airmen. In an effort to allow as many people to escape as possible, including the Americans, efforts on the remaining two tunnels increased. However, the higher level of activity drew the attention of guards, and in September 1943 the entrance to "Tom" became the 98th tunnel to be discovered in the camp. Guards hiding in the woods watching the "penguins" noticed sand was being removed from the hut where Tom was located. Work on "Harry" ceased and did not resume until January 1944.

Tunnel "Harry" completed

"Harry" was finally ready in March 1944, but the American prisoners, some of whom had worked on the tunnel "Tom", had been moved to another compound seven months earlier. No American prisoners of war actually participated in the "great escape", with one possible exception, Flight Lieutenant E. G. Brettell RAF(VR) of 133 (Eagle) Squadron. Previously, this escape attempt had been planned for the summer as good weather was a large factor of success. However, in early 1944 the Gestapo had visited the camp and ordered increased efforts in detecting possible escape attempts. Bushell ordered the attempt be made as soon as the tunnel was ready.

Of the 600 prisoners who had worked on the tunnels only 200 would be able to escape in their plan. The prisoners were separated into two groups. The first group of 100, called "serial offenders", were guaranteed a place and included those who spoke German well or had a history of escapes, plus an additional 70 men considered to have put in the most work on the tunnels. The second group of 100, considered to have very little chance of success, had to draw lots to determine inclusion. Called "hard-arsers", these would be required to travel by night as they spoke little or no German and were only equipped with the most basic fake papers and equipment.

The prisoners had to wait about a week for a moonless night so that they could leave under the cover of complete darkness. Finally, on Friday, March 24, the escape attempt began and as night fell, those allocated a place in the tunnel moved to Hut 104. Unfortunately for the prisoners, the exit trap door of Harry was found to be frozen solid, and freeing the door delayed the escape for an hour and a half. An even larger setback was when it was discovered that the tunnel had come up short. It had been planned that the tunnel would reach into a nearby forest but at 10.30 p.m., the first man out emerged just short of the tree line and close to a guard tower. (According to Alan Burgess, in his book The Longest Tunnel, the tunnel reached the forest, as planned, but the trees were too sparse to provide adequate cover.) As the temperature was below freezing and snow still lay on the ground, any escapee would leave a dark trail while crawling to cover. Because of the need to now avoid sentries, instead of the planned one man every minute, the escape was reduced to little more than ten per hour. Word was eventually sent back that no prisoner issued with a number higher than 100 would be able to escape before daylight. As they would be shot if caught trying to return to their own barracks these men changed into their own uniforms and got some sleep. An air raid then caused the camp's (and the tunnel's) electric lighting to be shut down slowing the escape even more. At around 1 a.m., the tunnel collapsed and had to be repaired.

Despite these problems, 76 men crawled through the tunnel to initial freedom. Finally, at 4:55 a.m. on March 25, the 77th man was seen emerging from the tunnel by one of the guards. Those already in the trees began running while a New Zealand Squadron Leader Leonard Henry Trent
Leonard Henry Trent
Group Captain Leonard Henry Trent VC DFC was a New Zealander recipient of the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces....

Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

, who had just reached the tree line stood up and surrendered. The guards had no idea where the tunnel entrance was, so they began searching the huts, giving the men time to burn their fake papers. Hut 104 was one of the last huts searched and despite using dogs the guards were unable to find the entrance. Finally, German guard Charlie Pilz crawled the length of the tunnel but found himself trapped at the other end. Pilz began calling for help and the prisoners opened the entrance to let him out, finally revealing the location.

An early problem for the escapees was that most of them were unable to find the entrance to the railway station until daylight revealed it was in a recess in the side wall of an underground pedestrian tunnel. Consequently, many of them missed their nighttime trains and either decided to walk across country or wait on the platform in daylight. Another unanticipated problem was that this March was the coldest recorded in 30 years and snow lay up to five feet deep, the escapees had no option but to leave the cover of woods and fields and use roads.

After the escape

Nationalities of the 50 executed prisoners
21 British
 Canada 6 Canadian
  6 Polish
  5 Australian
  3 South African
  2 New Zealanders
  2 Norwegian
  1 Belgian
  1 Czechoslovak
  1 Frenchman
  1 Greek
  1 Lithuanian
Romualdas Marcinkus
Romualdas Marcinkus was a Lithuanian pilot. Marcinkus participated in an early trans-European flight on 25 June 1934, and was the only Lithuanian pilot to serve in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War...

Following the escape, the Germans took an inventory of the camp and found out just how extensive the operation had been. 4,000 bed boards had gone missing, as well as the complete disappearance of 90 double bunk beds, 635 mattresses, 192 bed covers, 161 pillow cases, 52 20-man tables, 10 single tables, 34 chairs, 76 benches, 1,212 bed bolsters, 1,370 beading battens, 1219 knives, 478 spoons, 582 forks, 69 lamps, 246 water cans, 30 shovels, 1000 feet (304.8 m) of electric wire, 600 feet (182.9 m) of rope, and 3424 towels. 1,700 blankets had been used, along with more than 1,400 Klim can
Klim can
The klim can , was a round tin can that formerly contained powdered milk. Klim cans were approximately four inches in diameter and about three inches deep. Used in WWII, klim cans were supplied by the Red Cross for the prisoners. Klim cans were instrumental in the escape attempt from Stalag Luft III...

s. The electric cable had been stolen after being left unattended by German workers; as they had not reported the theft, they were executed by the Gestapo. From then on each bed was supplied with only nine bed boards which were counted regularly by the guards.

Of 76 escapees, 73 were captured. Hitler initially wanted the escapees to be shot as an example to other prisoners, as well as Commandant von Lindeiner, the architect who designed the camp, the camp's security officer and the guards on duty at the time. Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

, Field Marshal Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

, Major-General Westhoff and Major-General von Graevenitz, who was head of the department in charge of prisoners of war, all argued against any executions as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Hitler eventually relented and instead ordered Himmler to execute more than half of the escapees. Himmler passed the selection on to General Artur Nebe. Fifty were executed singly or in pairs. Roger Bushell, the leader of the escape, was shot by Gestapo official Emil Schulz just outside Saarbrücken, Germany.

Prior to being sent off to other camps with the remaining escapees— Prisoner Bob Nelson is said to have been spared by the Gestapo as they possibly believed that he had been related to his namesake Admiral Nelson. His friend Dick Churchill was similarly spared, probably due to his namesake as well. Seventeen were returned to Stalag Luft III, four were sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May, 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD...

, where they managed to tunnel out and escape three months later but were recaptured after several weeks and returned to Sachsenhausen. Two were sent to Oflag IV-C
Oflag IV-C
Oflag IV-C, often referred to as Colditz Castle because of its location, was one of the most famous German Army prisoner-of-war camps for officers in World War II; Oflag is a shortening of Offizierslager, meaning "officers camp"...

Colditz is a town in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, near Leipzig, located on the banks of the river Mulde. The town has a population of 5,188 ....


List of Allied airmen from the Great Escape

Successful escapees

  • Per Bergsland
    Per Bergsland
    Sgt Per Bergsland was a Norwegian POW in the German POW camp Stalag Luft III and one of only three men to escape to freedom in the "Great Escape".-Sports career:...

    , Norwegian pilot of No. 332 Squadron RAF
    No. 332 Squadron RAF
    -Notable pilots:*Sgt Per Bergsland *Sgt Carl Sejersted Bødtker *Sgt Jan Staubo*Cpt Finn Thorsager*Lt Soren Kjell Liby*Lt Marius Eriksen*Gunnar Piltingsrud*Fnr Ola Gert Aanjesen*Maj Reidar Emil From-Bibliography:...

  • Jens Müller, Norwegian pilot of No. 331 Squadron RAF
    No. 331 Squadron RAF
    In honour of the achievements of the World War II squadrons, the RNoAF has maintained RAF squadron names, including a 331st Fighter Squadron, now flying F-16s and based at Bodø Main Air Station.-Aircraft operated during RAF service:*1941 Hawker Hurricane I & IIB...

  • Bram van der Stok
    Bram van der Stok
    Bram van der Stok, MBE , also referred to as Bob van der Stok, was the most decorated aviator in Dutch history, as well as one of the three men to escape to freedom in "the Great Escape" from German POW camp Stalag Luft III....

    , Dutch pilot of No. 41 Squadron RAF
    No. 41 Squadron RAF
    No. 41 Squadron of the Royal Air Force is currently the RAF's Test and Evaluation Squadron , based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. Its official title is "41 TES". The Squadron celebrates its 95th anniversary in 2011, and is one of the oldest RAF squadrons in existence.-First World War, 1916–1919:No...

Bergsland and Müller made it to neutral Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 first, by boat, while Van der Stok travelled through France before finding safety at a British consulate in Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...


Investigations and repercussions

The Gestapo carried out an investigation into the escape and, whilst the investigation uncovered no significant new information, the camp Kommandant, von Lindeiner-Wildau
Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau
Oberst Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav von Lindeiner-Wildau was a German Staff Officer during World War I best known today as the Kommandant of Stalag Luft III during World War II, the setting for the movie The Great Escape....

, was removed and threatened with court martial. Having feigned mental illness to avoid imprisonment, Von Lindeiner was wounded by Russian troops advancing toward Berlin while acting as second in command of an infantry unit. He later surrendered to advancing British forces as the war ended and was imprisoned for two years at the British prison known as the "London Cage
London Cage
The "London Cage" was a MI19 prisoner of war facility during and immediately after World War II that was subject to frequent allegations of torture...

". He testified during the British SIB
Special Investigation Branch
The Special Investigation Branch is the name given to the detective branches of all three British military police arms: the Royal Navy Police, Royal Military Police and Royal Air Force Police. It is most closely associated with the Royal Military Police, which has the largest SIB. SIB members...

 investigation concerning the Stalag Luft III murders
Stalag Luft III murders
The Stalag Luft III murders was a war crime perpetrated by members of the Gestapo following the "Great Escape" of Allied prisoners of war from the German Air Force prison camp known as Stalag Luft III on March 25, 1944. Of a total of 76 successful escapees, 73 were recaptured, mostly within days of...

. Originally one of Hermann Göring's personal staff, after being refused retirement Von Lindeiner had been posted as Sagan Kommandant. He had followed the Geneva Accords concerning the treatment of POWs and had won the respect of the senior prisoners. Von Lindeiner was released from prison in 1947 and died in 1963 at the age of 82.

On 6 April 1944, the new camp Kommandant, Oberstleutnant Erich Cordes, informed the Senior British Officer that he had received an official communication from the German High Command stating that 41 of the escapees had been shot while resisting arrest. Cordes was later replaced by Oberst Franz Braune. Braune was appalled that so many escapees had been killed, and allowed the prisoners who remained at the camp to build a memorial, to which he also contributed. It still stands today.

General Arthur Nebe
Arthur Nebe
SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe was a member of the NSDAP party with card number 574,307. In July 1931, he joined the SS and his membership number was 280,152. His early career included the Berlin position of Police Commissioner in the 1920s...

, who is believed to have selected the airmen to be shot, was later executed for his involvement in the July 20 plot
July 20 Plot
On 20 July 1944, an attempt was made to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Third Reich, inside his Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi-led German government...

 to kill Hitler.

The British government learned of the deaths from a routine visit to the camp by the Swiss authorities as the Protecting power
Protecting power
A protecting power is a state which somehow protects another state, and/or represents the interests of the protected state's citizens in a third state....

 in May; the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957...

 announced the news to the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 on 19 May 1944. Shortly after the announcement the Senior British Officer of the camp, Group Captain Herbert Massey
Herbert Massey
Air Commodore Herbert Martin Massey CBE DSO MC was a senior officer in the Royal Air Force during World War II. After being captured by the Germans, Massey became the Senior British Officer at Stalag Luft III....

, was repatriated to England due to ill health. Upon his return, he informed the Government about the circumstances of the escape and the reality of the murder of the recaptured escapees. Eden updated Parliament on 23 June, promising that, at the end of the war, those responsible would be brought to exemplary justice. When the war ended, a large manhunt was carried out by the Royal Air Force's investigative branch.

American Colonel Telford Taylor
Telford Taylor
Telford Taylor was an American lawyer best known for his role in the Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of U.S...

 was the U.S. prosecutor in the High Command case at the Nuremberg Trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

. The indictment in this case called for the General Staff of the Army and the High Command of the German Armed Forces to be considered criminal organizations; the witnesses were several of the surviving German Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

s and their staff officers. One of the crimes charged was of the murder of the 50. Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 of the Luftwaffe Bernd von Brauchitsch, who served on the staff of Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, was interrogated by Captain Horace Hahn
Horace Hahn
Horace L. Hahn was an American best known for working with Cecil B. DeMille on several films as a young man, including a supporting role in This Day and Age . He also served in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, and assisted Justice Robert H...

 about the murders. Several Gestapo officers responsible for the executions of the escapees were executed or imprisoned.


Jack Harrison
Jack Harrison (pilot)
Jack Harrison was a Scottish educator, military pilot, and prisoner of war during World War II. Harrison was one of the last known survivors Jack Harrison (18 December 1912 – 4 June 2010) was a Scottish educator, military pilot, and prisoner of war during World War II. Harrison was one of the...

, who was one of the 200 men of the Great Escape, died June 4, 2010, at the age of 97.
There are believed to be only three prisoners alive as of November 2010 who worked directly on the Great Escape project, as opposed to those selected for making the escape. One of the three is Ken Rees, a tunneller/digger who was in the tunnel when the escape was discovered and who now lives in North Wales. His book is called Lie in the Dark and Listen.

In popular culture

Eric Williams (writer)
Eric Williams (writer)
Eric Williams was an English writer and former Second World War RAF pilot and POW who wrote several books dealing with his escapes from prisoner-of-war camps, most famously in his 1949 novel The Wooden Horse, made into a 1950 movie of the same name.-Capture:RAF Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams was...

 was a navigator on a shot down bomber who was incarcerated at Stalag Luft III. At the end of the war, on the long sea voyage home, Williams wrote Goon In The Block, a short book based on his experiences. Four years later, in 1949, he rewrote it as a much longer third-person narrative under the title The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse is a 1950 British Second World War war film starring Leo Genn, Anthony Steel and David Tomlinson and directed by Jack Lee. It is based on the book of the same name by Eric Williams, who also wrote the screenplay....

. He included many details omitted in his previous book, but changed his name to 'Peter Howard', Michael Codner to 'John Clinton' and Oliver Philpot to 'Philip Rowe'.

Paul Brickhill
Paul Brickhill
Paul Chester Jerome Brickhill was an Australian writer, whose World War II books were turned into popular movies.-Biography:...

 was an Australian born Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

 pilot who in 1943, he was shot down over Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

 and became a prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

. While imprisoned at Stalag Luft III Brickhill was involved in the mass escape attempt. He did not take part in tunnelling or the escape itself, due to claustrophobia
Claustrophobia is the fear of having no escape and being closed in small spaces or rooms...

. After the war, Brickhill wrote the first major account of the escape in The Great Escape
The Great Escape (book)
The Great Escape is an insider's account by Paul Brickhill of the 1944 mass escape from the German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III for British and Commonwealth airmen. As a prisoner in the camp, he participated in the escape plan but was debarred from the actual escape 'along with three or...

(1950), bringing the incident to a wide public attention. This book became the basis of film
The Great Escape (film)
The Great Escape is a 1963 American film about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough...

 made in 1963
1963 in film
The year 1963 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* June 12 - Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton premieres at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City....


It should, however, be stressed that the Great Escape film was, to a large extent, a work of fiction, only loosely-based on the real event, serving as a vehicle for its box-office stars. Many of its characters were fictitious, or amalgams of several real characters. There were no escapes by motorcycle, or aircraft. Nor were the prisoners executed in one place at the same time.

See also

  • Stalag Luft I
    Stalag Luft I
    Stalag Luft I was a German World War II prisoner-of-war camp near Barth, Western Pomerania, Germany, for captured Allied airmen. The presence of the prison camp is said to have shielded the town of Barth from Allied bombing...

  • Stalag VIII-B
    Stalag VIII-B
    Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf was a notorious German Army prisoner of war camp, later renumbered Stalag-344, located near the small town of Lamsdorf in Silesia. The camp initially occupied barracks built to house British and French prisoners in World War I...

    , a notorious camp
  • Cowra breakout
    Cowra breakout
    During World War II, a prisoner of war camp near the town of Cowra in New South Wales, Australia was the site of one of the largest prison escapes of the war, on 5 August 1944. At least 545 Japanese POWs were involved in the breakout.-The camp:...

    , 359 Japanese POWs escaped
  • Stalag 17
    Stalag 17
    Stalag 17 is a 1953 war film which tells the story of a group of American airmen held in a German World War II prisoner of war camp, who come to suspect that one of their number is a traitor...

    , 1953 film
  • Hogan's Heroes
    Hogan's Heroes
    Hogan's Heroes is an American television sitcom that ran for 168 episodes from September 17, 1965, to March 28, 1971, on the CBS network. The show was set in a German prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. Bob Crane had the starring role as Colonel Robert E...

    , television sitcom
  • Island Farm
    Island Farm
    Island Farm was a Prisoner of War Camp on the outskirts of the town of Bridgend, South Wales. It hosted a number of Axis prisoners, mainly German, and was the scene of the largest escape attempt by German POWs in Britain during World War II. Near the end of the war it became known as Special Camp XI...

     and "The German Great Escape"
  • MI9
    MI9, the British Military Intelligence Section 9, was a department of the British Directorate of Military Intelligence, part of the War Office...

  • Christopher Hutton
    Christopher Hutton
    Christopher William Clayton Hutton , called 'Clutty' and also known as Christopher Clayton-Hutton, was an intelligence officer who worked for MI9, a subsection of British Military Intelligence...

External links

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