UCL News


Escape tunnels at Stalag Luft III could number 100

24 September 2007


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A team of researchers led by Professor Peter Doyle (UCL Earth Sciences) has unearthed evidence which suggests the number of escape tunnels dug at Stalag Luft III may have been as many as 100. It was always thought there were only three tunnels, however, the new discovery shows the true extent of escape activity at the Luftwaffe-run prisoner-of-war camp.

Stalag Luft III came to prominence in 1963 with the release of 'The Great Escape'. The film - famous for the scene in which Steve McQueen tries to cross the Swiss border on a stolen German motorbike - tells the story of the mass breakout of Allied POWs in 1944. 76 Allied soldiers tunnelled out of the camp, but only three made it to safety, while the remainder were either executed or recaptured.

The POWs escaped through the tunnel codenamed 'Harry'. 'Tom' was discovered and destroyed by the guards and work on 'Dick' was discontinued. It was while trying to locate Dick that Professor Doyle and the team discovered the new evidence. Among their finds was an 'escape kit', incorporating a wire-bound attaché case which contained a civilian-style coat, buttons, thread, a marble, a toothbrush, a checker piece, a mess pan and a German language book.

Commenting on the discovery, Professor Doyle said: "Stalag Luft III unwittingly provided the ideal conditions for escape. Not only was the camp built on glacial sand, which is very easy to excavate, it was located next to a major transport hub, the main Berlin-Breslau rail route. Couple this with a camp population of highly-motivated, often repeat escapees and it's perhaps not surprising that there are around 100 tunnels."

Before the team's arrival, much of the site had been looted and what was left had been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. It is now hoped that further detailed excavations will be carried out and the remains preserved. To find out more about Professor Doyle's work, follow the link at the top of this article.

Professor Doyle (right) and team
'Escape kit'