In March 1944, an escape attempt took place at Stalag Luft III located in Nazi controlled Poland. Daring men of the British and Commonwealth military devised a plan to break out of the prison camp and journey their way back to Allied forces.
In 1943, Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Roger Bushell devised a plan to build three tunnels, Tom, Dick, and Harry, that would go from locations within the compound to the woodland that surrounded the cold home of the Allied prisoners. The main tunnel used to escape was known as Harry. Harry was built through the foundation of the barracks, with a moveable stove that stood on the trapdoor to disguise the entrance. The tunnel was 30 feet deep and 330 feet long, with the width of the tunnel only 2 feet wide which barely fit a man.
Over the year, the men began to turn old uniforms into civilian clothes, create maps from conversations with guards, build homemade compasses, and create forged documents. The hardest part was hiding the dirt from the tunnels. The men began to store it in many places, such as the roofs of their huts and under the camp theater floorboards and even walked around with sleeves of dirt down their pants to disperse discreetly as they walked around. Gardens were created by the prisoners to grow food, but in reality, they were used to hide dirt from the tunnels.
On the night of March 24th, the tunnel exit was dug out, but the calculations were incorrect. The exit was a few feet from the woods, and only fifteen yards from a German sentry tower. The men devised a method to help escapees out of the tunnel, but ultimately only seventy-six managed to escape.
Of the seventy-six that escaped, all but three were captured. Adolph Hitler ordered half of the escapees executed, which included the ringleader, Roger Bushell. The surviving captured prisoners were dispersed to other prison camps, and many tried to escape again. The three that were never captured later made it all the way to Britain and told the story of their deeds. Ultimately, some have estimated up to 100,000 German troops of different kinds were used to track down all the escapees, which took them away from important wartime responsibilities. This became one of the most legendary escapes of World War II and became known after World War II as The Great Escape.
Written by Zach Abbott