The Great Escape

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A former POW leads a special task force to hunt down the culprits responsible for carrying out the orders to murder 50 of the 76 escapees from Stalag Luft III. When released on VHS, nearly an hour and a half of footage was cut out of the film.

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Welcome To The Great Escape

There was no hair-raising theft of a German fighter plane for an aborted flight to Switzerland, and the daredevil Steve McQueen character trying to leap to freedom on a motorcycle was a complete fiction. The escape routes were much more mundane and low-key, mainly involving cross-country hikes under cover of darkness.

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A nationwide manhunt rounded up all but the three who made it home, and a furious Hitler initially ordered they all be shot. Talked down by his Nazi lieutenants, he settled on the figure of Over the next few weeks — again, unlike in the movie — the marked men, including five Australians, were taken out in pairs and small groups and gunned down by Gestapo agents. It was, in the end, a huge price to pay, and decades down the track several escape survivors were still expressing doubts whether the effort was really worth it.

Now, 75 years later, we remember all of these brave men, particularly those who paid with their lives.

The anniversary is unfolding with a touch of sadness with the death over the last month of the last two known Great Escape survivors. Former Squadron Leader Dick Churchill, one of the handful to be recaptured and sent back to captivity, died at the age of The escape veterans may now be gone, like so many of those who fought in World War II, but their heroic exploits live on.

And, nearly 40 years since first picking up Paul Brickhill's book, I am still entranced by the greatest escape of them all. Topics: world-war-2 , history , unrest-conflict-and-war , books-literature , australia. If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC.

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The secrets of Tom, Dick and Harry

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Churchill helped dig the three main tunnels, which the prisoners called Tom, Dick and Harry. It was arduous, nerve-racking work, done with improvised tools and the constant risk of discovery or a cave-in. And you hacked away at your sand, pushed it behind you, where another fool took it further back.

The tunnels were cleverly concealed, but Tom was discovered by the Germans in and Dick proved unusable. On a frigid night in March , Mr. Churchill was one of 76 prisoners to make their way through the tunnel called Harry and out of Stalag III. The escape was delayed for more than an hour, and the tunnel mistakenly ended yards from the forest that the escapees had hoped would conceal them, forcing them to scramble for cover over open ground.

Once free of the camp, Mr.

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Churchill, in improvised clothing, had hoped to pass as a Romanian woodcutter; he had spent months studying Romanian. But after fleeing with Flight Lt. Bob Nelson and spending two days hiding in the woods as the Germans searched the area, they were discovered hiding in a hayloft. Paul Brickhill , an Australian P. The film added embellishments, most memorably when Mr.