World War Two - The Great Escape
The purpose-built camp was opened in April 1942 and the Germans considered it to be practically escape-proof. Prisoners were fairly well treated and the Geneva Convention of 1929 regarding treatment of Prisoners of War was followed.
Housing and recreational facilities were considered to be better than those at many other German prisoner of war camps. The picture (right) shows the inside of one of the barracks at Stalag Luft III.
The camp housed mainly British and American airmen whose planes had crashed on Axis territory. The Germans generally captured prisoners with the words 'For you the war is over.' However, it was the sworn duty of all captured military personnel to continue to fight the enemy by surviving, communicating information and escaping. Many of the prisoners at Sagan were re-captured escapees. The Germans believed that security at the new camp was so tight that it would be impossible for anyone to escape.
It was realised early on that for any escape attempt to succeed it had to be well planned and organised. The Prisoners at Sagan therefore established an escape committee. Chief escape officer was Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, a former escapee who had been recaptured several times. He was known as 'Big X'.
The committee decided to build three tunnels and the plan was to effect the escape of at least 200 prisoners. The tunnels were given the code names 'Tom', 'Dick' and 'Harry'. There were two main problems to be considered - How to get rid of the dirt that was dug away and how to prevent the tunnels from collapsing.
In order to prevent the tunnels from collapsing they had to be shored up with wood. The prisoners used bed boards for this task and as the tunnels grew longer and more wood was needed many prisoners found themselves sleeping uncomfortably on beds with little support. Some even converted their beds to hammocks. The picture (right) shows how the bed boards were used.
Getting rid of the dirt from the tunnels was problematic because the earth removed was a different colour to the earth around the camp. One method used was to construct long bags which could be filled with earth then hidden in the trouser legs. A cord around the neck would open the bags thus releasing the earth on a patch of ground that was being dug or cultivated by another prisoner. Those dispersing the dirt in this way were know as 'Penguins'. More than 100 tons of earth was disposed of in this way. Another method involved filling empty Red Cross boxes, placing the boxes in the middle of a group of men who would then gradually bury the earth.
Other important members of the Escape Committee were the forgers who made maps and forged papers and the tailors who made civilian clothes out of blankets and other materials that were scrounged and altered uniforms. The picture (left) shows a jacket that was used by an escapee.
The discovery of 'Tom' was a major blow to the escape committee and all tunneling had to be suspended for a time to avoid further detection. Eventually 'Harry' was completed and the night of the Great Escape was planned for 24th March 1944, a moonless night. Lots were drawn for the 200 places and maps, papers and disguises were completed.
On the night itself all allotted escapees took up positions in hut 104. It was planned that the escapees would leave the camp in stages. Everyone was very nervous and tense, a situation that was made worse by the discovery that the tunnel was around 10 feet short of the woods. This meant that the tunnel exit was on the path of a perimeter guard. By the time that a decision was made on how to signal when the coast was clear, it was around 10pm. Further delays were caused by some men panicking in the tunnel.
By 4am it was clear that it would be impossible for all 200 men to escape and the decision was made to close the tunnel at 5am. At around 4.45am a shot was heard at the tunnel exit. The tunnel had been discovered.
76 men had escaped through the tunnel. Of the remainder, those that were found waiting their turn in hut 104 were sent to the cooler - the camp name for the solitary confinement cells.
Of the 76 men who escaped, 3 made it home to the UK. 23 were recaptured and sent back to Sagan. Hitler personally ordered the execution of the other 50 men.
The commandant of Stalag Luft III, Lindeiner, was court-martialed by the Gestapo for not preventing the escape.
Morale among the prisoners was low when the executions became common knowledge and few were keen to attempt further escape attempts.
Although only 3 men managed to reach safety and 50 men were murdered, the escape caused havoc among the Germans. Thousands of police, Hitler Youth members and soldiers were diverted from wartime duties to search for the escapees.
Urns containing the ashes of the 50 who were executed were brought to the camp. British airmen constructed the memorial (below) to commemorate their deaths.
While medieval European medicine was still mired in superstitions and the rigid Catholic teachings of the Church, the advent of Islam in the 7th century A.D. gave rise to impressive growth and discoveries in many scientific fields, especially medicine. Islamic scholars and doctors translated medical texts from all over the known world, including the Greeks and Romans, Persians and Indians. They not only gathered... Read More
From the 1st century A.D. to the late 19th century, one medical compound reigned supreme over all other remedies: theriac. First concocted by a Greek king worried about poisons, theriac went from being a general antidote to snake bites to an all around panacea, used to treat everything from asthma to warts, including the Black Plague. Famous doctors throughout this long history experimented with the drug and... Read More
If you think, as some do today, that many drugs used as medicines are potentially deadly, consider what people living in medieval times were prescribed as curative agents—from ground up corpses to toxic mercury to crocodile dung. The annals of medieval medical history are full of substances that make us cringe. Yet people believed in these cure-alls and willingly took them when prescribed by a doctor of the... Read More
The Neo-Assyrian Empire used earthen ramps, siege towers and battering rams in sieges; the Greeks and Alexander the Great created destructive new engines known as artillery to further their sieges, and the Romans used every technique to perfection. That is to say, the Romans were not inventors, but they were superb engineers and disciplined, tough soldiers who fought against great odds and won, repeatedly.... Read More
Demetrius I, King of Macedon, invented many siege engines including battering rams and siege towers. For the Siege of Rhodes, he created the Helepolis, the Taker of Cities, a huge armored siege tower containing many heavy catapults.
The island city of Rhodes maintained its neutrality among the warring nations of the time, although it remained friendly to Ptolemy I of Egypt, the enemy of Demetrius of... Read More