day in 1944, a group of Allied prisoners of war staged a daring escape
attempt from the German prisoner of war camp at Stalag Luft III. This
camp, located in what is now Poland, held captured Allied pilots mostly
from Britain and the United States. In 1943, an Escape Committee under
the leadership of Squadron Leader Roger Bushell of the RAF, supervised
prisoners surreptitiously digging three 30 foot tunnels out of the camp,
which they nicknamed ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’. The tunnels led to
woods beyond the camp and were remarkably sophisticated - lined with
wood, and equipped with rudimentary ventilation and electric lighting.
The successful construction of the tunnels was particularly impressive
as the Stalag Luft III camp was designed to make it extremely difficult
to tunnel out as the barracks were raised and the area had a sandy
subsoil. ‘Tom’ was discovered by the Germans in September 1943, and
‘Dick’ was abandoned to be used as a dirt depository, leaving ‘Harry’ as
the prisoners’ only hope. By the time of the escape, American prisoners
who had assisted in tunneling had been relocated to a different
compound, making the escapeees mostly British and Commonwealth citizens.
200 airmen had planned to make their escape through the ‘Harry’ tunnel,
but on the night of March 24th 1944, only 76 managed to escape the camp
before they were discovered by the guards. However, only three of the
escapees - Norwegians Per Bergsland and Jens Müller and Dutchman Bram
van der Stok -
found their freedom. The remaining 73 were recaptured, and 50 of them,
including Bushell, were executed by the Gestapo on Adolf Hitler’s
orders, while the rest were sent to other camps. While the escape was
generally a failure, it helped boost morale among prisoners of war, and
has become enshrined in popular memory due to its fictionalised depiction
in the 1963 film The Great Escape.
“Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick, and Harry. One will succeed!” - Roger Bushell
Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?…If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!