Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2011

The Great Escape

The Great Escape, as it is known, was an attempt by Allied prisoners of war to escape Stalag Luft III, a Nazi maximum-security work camp, in the latter half of World War II. From April 1943 to March 1944, over 600 prisoners worked on the project. They dug three tunnels, nicknamed Tom (which was hidden in a dark corner), Dick (underneath a bathroom drain) and Harry (behind a stove), which they hoped would deliver them to freedom. The tunnels were positioned 30 feet (9 m) underground to escape detection by the guards. TIME described them in 1963 as, "a marvel of Swiss Family Robinson ingenuity." The plan, concocted by a British officer named Roger Bushell, also provided the expected 200 escapees with forged papers that would help them evade recapture once they were free. Of the three tunnels, only Harry was completed. Two hundred men tried to escape out of it on March 24, 1944, only to discover that it was too short; when exiting the tunnel, the prisoners found themselves completely visible and near a guard tower. Because of this and several other setbacks (including an air raid), only 76 men made it out of the tunnel that night. All but three were recaptured. Of those, 50 were shot by the Gestapo. Despite the plan's failure, it was bold enough to merit a 1963 movie starring Steve McQueen.