The Great Escape Movie and Real Story
The movie The Great Escape was based on the escape of many prisoners from a Nazi prison camp during World War II.Unfortunately, only a couple of the escapees made it to safety before being captured again.Once the prisoners were captured, they were sent to a Nazi prison camp called Stalag.
If they had done nothing except passing their time patiently they would have been able to make it through the war safely. However, the Germans were rather dependent upon their adversaries not putting up resistance.
They had to be defeated and this would take a collective effort. The men who are the real heroes are those that took the risks and made the sacrifices. The “Great Escape” was showing the prisoners of war (POWs) resistance towards the fascist state of Germany and this is what made this prison break so much different than that of any other Hollywood movie involving a prison break. Even though the plan that they had set forth failed, that isn’t the point the point was that they took it into their own hands and tried as hard as they could to escape.
The movie was based off of a true story about a group of Allied POW’s that attempted to escape from what was thought to be an impenetrable Nazi prison camp during World War II. At the beginning, the Nazi’s gather some of the most devious and troublesome POWs and placed them into a prison camp. Soon after arriving there, they are already plotting their escape. They plan on building three separate tunnels that they refer to as “Tom”, “Dick”, and “Harry”. One of the ways that the men removed dirt from the tunnels in progress was by hiding bags in their trousers to spread the dirt over the camp, under the guard’s noses.
On the first day there were many failed attempts at escaping, eventually they settled in. one of the men is told that if he tries to escape one more time he will be shot, and is placed back with the rest of the POWs. Being locked up with every escape artist in Germany, one of the men tries to plot a way to break 250 prisoners out of Stalag. The intent of this operation was to confuse the enemy to the point of them moving as many troops from the front lines to search for all of the escapees that it would be a waste of resources and troops. The prisoners ere at work on the three tunnels and two of them were discovered before completion. Eventually tunnel “Tom” was completed but was found to be 20 feet short of the woods, due to this, only 76 men were able to escape. Almost all of the POWs were either recaptured and/or killed. Only three of the men made it to safety. The real story of the “Great Escape” was “the mass escape of 76 Allied POWs from Stalag Luft III in March of 1944. ” It all started when and Allied aircrew was shot down during World War II. The war camp was being run by the Luftwaffe, called Stalag Luft which was short for Stammlager Luft.
The camp was opened May of 1942. The German Luftwaffe had respect for their fellow flyers and their treatment of the prisoners should not be confused with that of the SS or Gestopo. The Luftwaffe treated the POWs well even though there was a very inconsistent supply of food. The security was very strict but life was not intolerable for the prisoners. The camp grew to hold 10,000 POWs, was 59 acres and had 5 miles of perimeter fencing. Food in the camp would have been a major issue if it weren’t for the International Red Cross.
Most people would think that the guards got plenty of food, but realistically they weren’t too much better off. Also; the Red Cross provided the prisoners with replacement clothing, shower items, coffees and teas, jams, meats, sugars, and all of these were distributed equally amongst the people. There was prolonged starvation and if it weren’t for the Red Cross parcels things would have been much worse. Some of the captured officers were paid an equivalent of their pay and were able to purchase things, but it was strictly forbidden to be in possession of the real German currency, and this was a vital aid in escape.
Another thing that was strictly forbidden was civilian clothing. Most prisoners were commonly dressed in uniforms and any footwear they had, and any man that had civilian clothing was sure to keep it safe. One thing that was vital was to carry and aircrew badge, otherwise upon escaping they could be thought to be a spy. Some of the finest escape artists of the Allied forces were placed in Luft III, and one of those men being Squadron leader Roger J Bushell who was shot down May 1940 during the Battle of France.
He collected the most skilled forgers, tailors, tunnel engineers and surveillance experts and told them his plan of sending 250 men outside of the wire fences of Stalag. He knew that this would cause tremendous problems for his enemy because it would divert both men and resources to capture the escapees. His plan wasn’t really intending to return men to their homeland but to cause a major problem with the Germans. He decided to go through with this plan although he had already been told that if he escaped or tried to escape again it would result in him being shot.
Security at Stalag was intended to be the best, but there were some flaws with it, one of these flaws being that the Germans were known around the world as being “goons”. They recived this name because they were definitely not the ‘cream of the Luftwaffe’ and were well known for shooting first and asking questions later. They could also be considered ‘trigger happy’ since there were many incidents of unnecessary use of firearms. The German guards that were highly skilled at detecting escape were called “ferrets”. They had the ability to enter the compound when they please and search any hut without any given warning.
They’d normally search for bright yellow sand because that was an indication that a tunnel was in progress. When they found a tunnel, they would allow it to keep being built until it was close to completion then they would drive heavy vehicles around the camp grounds to collapse the tunnel. The prisoners had three tunnels going and they were named “Tom”, “Dick”, and “Harry”. “Tom” was started in Hut 105, “Harry” was in Hut 104, and “Dick” was concealed beneath a shower drain under Hut 122 and would be under several feet of water, and the Germans never found it.
The sudden ‘pounces’ by the ferrets caused consistent nightmares for the tunnel diggers, during one occasion the door to Harry was replaced and fully camouflaged in twenty seconds leaving no sign of a tunnel entrance. The formation of these tunnels wasn’t the easiest because they were under ground and there is limited space to displace the dirt removed to create the tunnel. On method of removing the dirt from the tunnel areas was by filing long thin bags that the men slipped inside their trousers and would walk around losing the sand through a hole in the bottom of it. These men were known as ‘penguins’.
Unfortunately, one of the men was careless and was spotted by a ferret when he was walking around the compound so they knew that a tunnel was under way, they just didn’t know where. The process of tunneling was very dangerous, because if a tunnel caved in there was only enough time to cover your head and wait for the ‘number two’ to dig you out. No one ever died, but a few many were forced to stay off work due to suffocation. In order to make these tunnels dependable, they used approximately 4,000 bed boards to form the shoring. These bed boards came from the beds of the prisoners.
Most of them became used to sleeping on the barest of supports. The size of the tunnel depended upon that of the boards, so the tunnel is approximately 2 feet square. A wooden railway was put into the tunnel to remove sand along the tunnel. One of the men had spotted an 800 foot coil of electrical wire and took it to use it for lighting through the tunnel. The Germans were aware that something was going on but they were never able to find anything. Eventually they moved 19 of the top suspects which had included 6 of the key men in this operation to another prison camp only weeks before the escape was planned to take place.
Luckily, Bushell’s role in the escape was well camouflaged and the Germans had left him behind. When the men were transferred without warning the work didn’t stop. Soon “Dick” was abandoned because the area that it was to exit at there was a new prison camp built there. Issues arose with the displacement of sand and “Dick” was eventually used for disposal of sand. When “Tom” was near completion, it was discovered by a ferret and the Germans destroyed it all, so all work was shifted to “Harry”. In March of 1944, “Harry” reached a length of 336 feet.
Upon completion, Flight Lieutenant Johnny Bull had discovered that the tunnel was well short of the tree line and was within 30 yards of the nearest watch tower. During this time snow was laying on the ground so it was near impossible to not leave a trail and this caused the escape to slow down greatly and the situation was worsened by the occurance of an air raid. The Germans were forced to shut off all power, so there was no light in the tunnel. Instead of one man a minute the escape was reduced down to only one dozen per hour, so any man with an escape number higher than 100 had no chance of getting out this night.
By dawn, only 76 men had escaped and made their way beyond the woods. One man tugged at the signal rope, meaning “stay put” but the man making his way through the tunnel though that it meant the opposite signal, so he emerged from the tunnel right under the feet of one of the guards. For some seconds he did not see the tracks in the snow and body-heat steam drifting upwards from the tunnel mouth, but he eventually noticed the signs, raised his rifle, and fired a wild shot at the man trying to escape and blew his whistle.
The man that preceded him was waiting in the woods and decided to run for it and so did so did the man that was coming out of the tunnel, but the next man in the tunnel was apprehended at rifle point, stood up and surrendered. All the men who had been waiting in the tunnel managed to return to Hut 104, burned their false papers, and ate their carefully saved food rations because the Germans were sure to confiscate them. The ferrets didn’t find the entrance to the tunnel, and by the time they reached the hut, the men were sound asleep.
In the darkness of the night few of the escapees had found the railway station and missed their train and were waiting on the platforms trying to avoid each other. Most of the men were captured before they were even able to leave the area. This movie was very accurate in comparison to the real story, which I find quite surprising for a Hollywood film. This was a great movie of an escape plan that didn’t quite work as well as it could have, but none the less it was for sure a great escape.