Latter-Day Dig of ‘Great Escape’ Tunnels Humbles Modern Engineers





CAMBRIDGE, England — For scale, they were no match for the Great Pyramids of Giza or the Panama Canal. The labor took months rather than years and a work force of barely 100 men. As for materials, there were none, beyond what the captured Royal Air Force fliers who built them could scavenge, scrounge or improvise.

But by the measures of ingenuity, courage and persistence, the tunnels built almost 70 years ago in sandy scrubland near the small town of Zagan, 130 miles southeast of Berlin in what was then Hitler’s Germany and is today western Poland, were a legendary feat of engineering, although on a miniature scale.

Chronicled by the 1963 movie “The Great Escape,” the tunnel building is one of World War II’s great stories. In the decades since, the legend of the allied fliers’ mass breakout on the night of March 24, 1944, together with the ingenious planning and the Nazi retribution that followed — 73 of the 76 escapers recaptured, and 50 of them summarily executed on Hitler’s orders — has, in a way, eclipsed reality....



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