Stalag luft 3 is where The Greatest Escape ever, took place. Based in the now Zagan in poland it was the Prisoner of War camp built in the spring of 1942, it was designated for the officers of the Allied air force and in 1945, stalag luft 3 held over 10,000 air officers and other captives including 100 poles. In 1943, the POW’s were preparing for one of the most daring and largest escapes to happen during WW11.

The plan was to dig out and under the camp, so 3 tunnels where dug in parallel, this was a contingency plan. They were given the names ‘Tom’ ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’ this was so that if anyone were to use these Names, the Germans were less likely to be alerted if anyone was talking about them. More than 600 hundred POW’s took part, Kilm Milk tins were used as part of the ventilation system in the tunnel to ensure they could breath, bed boards were used to ensure the tunnel held under the weight, the ingeniousness of the men cannot be denied they used everything and anything. ‘Harry’ was the longest of the tunnels. It was around 110 meters long and dug at a depth of 9 meters.

We visited the Museum The Obozow Jenieckich, which is very close to the location of the stalag luft 3, and it has an example tunnel dug out to show the workings of how they did it. The plan was that 200 men from the camp would make their escape to decide who would go, a simple method was used and that was pulling names out of a hat. On the night of the 24th of March 1944, 76 airmen broke out of the camp. The tragic thing is only 3 of the 76 made their way home and 73 were recaptured and 50 shot on the orders of Hitler. Below is a picture that identifies the old watch tower with the picture taken from the re-created tower it shows where the tunnel came short of the pine forest and how exposed they would have been.

stalag luft 3 ' Harry Tunnel'

stalag luft 3 ‘ Harry Tunnel’

I think what strikes you most is your initial feelings when you first come across the camp, they have managed to keep the look of how the escape took place as vivid as possible, with a small part of wire fence to act as the original camp enclosure as well as a memorial stone marking where the escape hole outside the camp was, a watchtower has also been built right next to the original tower that can be seen through its foundations next to it.The striking observation is the tunnel exit to freedom was a little shy of the dense pine tree cover, this in itself fills you with a sense of sadness. Also as you walk into the forest you are alerted to the fact that there is plenty of sticks and pine needles that have fallen to the ground and once walked on make such a noise that it would be hard to go silently into the night to freedom. Stalag luft 3 is definitely a place to visit if you are interested in POW camps and also the mighty Great Escape.

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