Wartime PoW escape stories were irresistible to film and television





There were 200,000 British prisoners in Germany by the end of the Second World War and most spent their time in uncomfortable tedium.

Yet many hundreds did try to escape, even though success was highly unlikely. Most were soon recaptured and only a few dozen made it all the way home.

Two of the most famous escapes took place in Stalag Luft III. Designed to be the most secure prisoner-of-war camp, it was a bleak place hundreds of miles from the Swiss border and the Baltic ports that offered the best route out of Germany.

Yet in 1943, Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams hatched a plan to dig a tunnel from close to the perimeter wire, under cover of a wooden vaulting horse.

This was brought out every day to the same spot, where Williams and his fellow prisoners, Michael Codner and Oliver Philpot, dug down from a trapdoor underneath. After 114 days of work, the three officers escaped and made it back to Britain via Sweden.

The “Great Escape” was less successful. Although 76 RAF officers made it out, all but three were recaptured. Hitler personally demanded that they all be shot. Although Himmler told him that it would horrify neutral countries, 50 officers were killed by the Gestapo.


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