Their Duty Twice Over: Canadians in the Great Escape

Citation data:

Vol: 3, Issue: 1

Publication Year:
2012
Usage 398
Downloads 336
Abstract Views 62
Repository URL:
http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol3/iss1/13
Author(s):
Vance, Jonathan F.
article description
The Great Escape of March 1944 was the culmination of over a year’s planning and preparation by Allied airmen detained in Stalag Luft 3, a large prison camp in eastern Germany. The brainchild of a South African pilot, the plan called for the construction of three escape tunnels, code named Tom, Dick and Harry, which would be fully equipped with electricity, a vented air system, and trollies for travel to and from the face. Even if only one tunnel was used, the organizers believed that as many as 200 POWs, each outfitted with civilian clothes, travel documents, maps and foodstuffs, could get away from the camp. Most of these men would undoubtedly be recaptured in short order, but the disruption they would cause in occupied Europe was deemed sufficient to justify the attempt. When tunnel Harry finally broke through on the night of 24–25 March 1944, a series of misfortunes so delayed the operation that only 76 airmen were able to get away from the camp to temporary freedom. Three reached neutral territory and, as the escape planners had anticipated, the breakout sent shock waves through Nazi Germany. The ultimate outcome, though, was something none of the airmen could have foreseen: the summary execution of fifty of the recaptured escapers, including six Canadians.