The Real Great Escape
The 24th of March 1944 AD
Frequent Christmas repeats of the 1963 film The Great Escape have failed to diminish the heroism of the incredible true-life POW escape represented in it; not the horror of the execution of many of the escapees captured afterwards.
The prison of war camp involved was Stalag Luft III, used to hold captured allied airmen. It had been specially sited to make tunnelling difficult if not impossible: the ground on which it was built was sandy, thus needing shoring up; microphones were placed to capture any sounds of digging; ground beyond the fences was cleared for a considerable distance. But none of this stopped the greatest mass prisoner of war breakout of WWII . Three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry, were dug: only one – Harry - was completed; as Dick was built over as the camp expanded; Tom discovered by guards.
It had been planned that 200 would escape through the tunnels, but events conspired against the prisoners and only 100 were due to make their move on March 24: but with snow on the ground, an air raid, and a small tunnel collapse, only 76 made it out. Three RAF officers – actually two Norwegian and one Dutchmen serving in the RAF – made it back to Britain. Of the 73 captured, the Gestapo on Hitler’s orders executed 50: 21 of them were British, six Canadians, the same number of Poles, five Aussies, the other 12 from a variety of nations.
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