Fourth Tunnel Discovered at “Great Escape” POW Camp

My father-in-law recently sent along a link to this fascinating story from a few months back.

The famous Steve McQueen movie, The Great Escape, was based on the true story of the daring escape attempt made by prisoners of the Stalag Luft III POW camp during WWII. In real life, the men dug three tunnels–nicknamed Tom, Dick, and Harry, 30 feet under the camp in an attempt to break out. The tunnels were made with homemade tools and crafty ingeniousness. The men would put the excavated sand in bags they hung around their necks and under their trousers and then pull a string to open the bags and release the dirt nonchalantly when they played soccer.

It was the 100 ft long Harry tunnel that became the stuff of legend on the night of March 24, 1944, when 76 Allied prisoners escaped from the camp. But only 3 of the escapees made it to freedom. The rest were rounded up; 23 were brought back to camp, and 50 were executed by the Germans.

The Germans thought the mass execution would crush any further thoughts of escape, but instead, the men got right back to work on a fourth tunnel named George. The tunnel, which was just recently discovered nearly 70 years after it was built, was not an escape tunnel but instead led to a German stash of arms–the men planned to grab the guns and then fight their way out.

Frank Stone, camp survivor, 89

The team that uncovered the George tunnel was greatly impressed by its construction and what they found inside it:

Down a single step lay the tunnel itself, intricately shored with bed boards, wired for light and equipped with the trademark trolley system used to shift both sand and men quickly and silently through the tunnels. It looked like a miniature railway with trolleys running on tracks linked by rope and pulled along by men at either end.

‘George turned out to be an absolute gem,’ explained Dr Pollard. ‘We found the shaft and excavated the tunnel which ran the entire length of the theatre. It was incredibly well preserved, with timber-lined walls, electrical wiring and homemade junction boxes, and was tall enough to walk through at a stoop. The craftsmanship is phenomenal. You can even see the groove on the top of the manhole cover, where it would swivel and slot into the floorboard above.

…The massive collection of artefacts found inside the tunnel included trenching tools; a fat-burning lamp crafted from a Klim tin; solder made from the silver foil of cigarette packets for the wiring system; a belt buckle and briefcase handle from the escapers’ fake uniforms as well as a German gun near hut 104.  They also uncovered the axle and wheels from one of the tunnel trolleys, identical to the one used in Harry, and the remains of an air pump; a kind of hand-operated bellows which drew fresh air from the surface down a duct to the tunnel.

But the piece de resistance was a clandestine PoW radio crafted from a biscuit box and cannibalised from two radios smuggled into the camp.

Says camp survivor Frank Stone, 89 : “I hope that what has been revealed will remind everybody what we went through and how we met the challenges. It was a privilege to be involved.”

Read the whole article (lots more interesting facts!) (@MailOnline)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy February 22, 2012 at 10:12 am

The last line of Frank Stone’s quote says it all. “It was a privilege to be involved.” He felt it was a privilege to be involved with a building a tunnel to freedom from a POW camp. Makes you fell like hell for complaining about having to do the routine things we all do on a daily basis. Hell of a perspective.

Bill M. February 22, 2012 at 10:50 am

And the wall street protestors think they have it bad in a free country with all the freedoms they need and all the opportunities to make something of themselves yet complain it isn’t enough

john February 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Dear lord how we have degraded! We decisively won a “world” war in four years. Now, it takes at least ten years to be able to declare ourselves winners, against a backward enemy in some small region of the world.
What fabulous men and women we had back then. What dweebee little assholes we are now!

Greg February 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Jeremy, Bill M., and John,…..Amen. That is why I love this website. The majority of the articles on AOM are about the values, culture, work ethic, morality, and responsibilities of being a man…a man that is patterned after men like our fathers and grandfathers of yesteryear…..the men who actually had/has all of these traits. Not like alot of so called “men” today who want to look pretty and act all emotional, who actually criticize the traditional traits and opt for an anything goes, always complaining, touch-feely, more feminine way of being to actually become the status quo for “males” of today. To hell with that…call me old-fashioned, closed minded, or whatever, but to replace the traditional roles of men exibited by our fathers and grandfathers, and some men today, with this so-called progressive, emotional, and softer image, and softer more emtional way of thinking is one reason this country is in the shape it’s in. Men like Frank Stone, wiiling to lay it on the line in WW2 for freedom, and to try and escape at the threat of execution….took GUTS….something these girly-men of today don’t know anything about, and never will. Mind your manners, but be a Man.

Barbara February 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm

The article came from this website, which you may also like.

Dave M February 27, 2012 at 9:19 am

“It was a privilege to be involved.” Those are the words of a hero and a real man. It’s ashamed our culture holds up Hollyweird losers as examples and ignores these guys. It is little wonder that so many young males these don’t have a clue how to be a man.

Mike Rowse February 29, 2012 at 11:54 am

These men were different to ‘most’ men today, they were true heros. In one week our family will lay to rest one of the last from this era. Flt Sgt Roger Bowen was my father in law, he served with two RAF Bomber Command Squadrons during WW2. With only one of the two Squadrons he completed 47 missions over Germany in the 1940′s. We do not know how many he flew with the second squadron I am told that a ‘tour’ for the RAF at that time was 20 and the life expenctancy far less. He was never a prisoner of war, but he was ‘cut from the same cloth’ as these men.
Roger was a Gentleman, as straight as an arrow, honest and fair. I am proud to have known him and that he will always be a part of my life. I am proud that his blood flows in the veins of my children.
Shame on me that I do not yet know more about his service record, I know about the DFC, Silver Oak Leaves and Bar. Its not enough to be able to honour him sufficiently, I will correct that.
Thankfully we we still have men and women serving today that are ‘cut from the same cloth’ as these men serving in both the US and British military. We need to ensure that we continue to honour military heros. We didn’t lose the the ability to produce heros, we simple don’t seem to produce as many as we did in the past.

Tom March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Mike, the world has lost something special in your father in law. It is not easy for young men to find that kind of courage in this day and age, and sadly it is something that many will never appreciate. I will never forget the sacrifice many made for our freedom.

Tom (UK)

Mike Rowse March 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Thanks Tom,

Quick update. I received some ‘after action’ reports from his old Sqn. The reports are ‘factual’, but with almost no imagination needed they send a cold shiver through the spine. RIP Roger, may we NEVER forget what you and so many others like you did for us!

TJ Avatarici January 12, 2013 at 9:18 am

Now the west is becoming soft and too comfortable and too forgiving the small but continual losses of the freedoms preserved by these men. The liberation of women is a good thing, but alas is quickly morphing the west into a matriarchy-like society with “real” men disappearing as the females take control. Haven’t noticed? The US is the worst–so far. Cehck the stats. Read Lisistrada, “Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace — a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes”. Good luck to our sons and gransons.

Wehms June 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

God Bless those men that lived, went through this Hell, died in their quest to be Free, the ones that didn’t make it out but lived to relate the story……..we must never forget.

Peace

Rich Molinari August 4, 2013 at 10:34 pm

The United States of America and its allies still produce men and woman who would be heros if the gutless men and woman we elect to office had the will to function in the real world in a way that would keep the United States in the position we earned over many years and struggles. Virtually every war we’ve fought after our own war for independence was to free other countries from the grip oy tyrants or demigods

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