RAF teams return to PoW camp for Great Escape II

Tunnels immortalised in film are explored for first time in nearly 70 years

Tunnels dug by British prisoners during the Second World War and made famous in the 1963 Hollywood film The Great Escape have been explored for the first time since they were used almost 70 years ago.

A team of archaeologists, engineers and former and current RAF servicemen spent several weeks replicating the audacious breakout by digging a tunnel similar to those used by Allied forces to break out of the supposedly escape-proof Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp. Their exploits will feature in a Channel 4 documentary.

The original escape, which inspired several films including The Wooden Horse, saw scores of Allied servicemen burrow beneath their prison in narrow and claustrophobic tunnels over the course a year.

On a cold night in March 1944, after a series of failed attempts, the prisoners finally made a bid for freedom. Dozens were captured immediately or caught later attempting to flee the country. Around 50 of those recaptured were executed, in contravention of international law.

The escapees' artefacts, which had lain buried in the tunnels for more than 70 years, were recovered by the archaeologists.

The four tunnels were given nicknames – Tom, Dick, Harry and George – by the PoW escape committees. One of the most important finds – a home-made radio –was unearthed in the partially completed George tunnel. An attempt last August to re-excavate Harry – the most famous of the four tunnels and the route for the main escape effort – was abandoned when it became apparent that it could collapse.

There is also a suggestion the Nazis – who immediately filled the tunnel when it was discovered – had packed it with explosives.

Other objects found included ventilation pipes made from empty tin cans and part of the "railway" track used by the prisoners to travel along the tunnels as they dug.

Channel 4's team – made up of engineers, historians archaeologists and current and former RAF airmen – also re-created many of the ingenious devices and processes used in the escape. These included making compasses from gramophone styluses and treading tonnes of sand from the tunnels into the earth around the camp – all done under the noses of German guards.

Several surviving Second World War airmen joined the project. Air Commodore Charles Clarke, 88, from 619 Squadron, said it was an "emotional" moment revisiting the site: "I've been back a number of times, but it's always emotional. We had doubts in our own mind as to whether it was right to open the tunnels up."

Despite The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, taking many liberties with the truth, Mr Clarke is full of admiration for it. "People often ask me about it. Of course, there weren't as many peaked caps and not as much saluting – and obviously the motorcyclist [McQueen's famous fence-jumping stunt] wasn't there. But, without the film, who would remember the 50 who were murdered?"



Digging the Great Escape will be broadcast on Channel 4 next month

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering