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The Secret Story of the POWs Who Tunneled Through a Toilet to Freedom

The labor took months rather than years and a work force of barely men. As for materials, there were none, beyond what the captured Royal Air Force fliers who built them could scavenge, scrounge or improvise. In an effort to establish more clearly how the escape was accomplished — and, in a sense, to reclaim the narrative of the breakout — British-based engineers, battlefield archaeologists and historians traveled into the pine forest outside Zagan last summer to unearth the secrets buried there for a television documentary by Wildfire Television in London that was broadcast in late in Britain.

They were accompanied by modern-day Royal Air Force pilots, as well as veterans of wartime bombing raids, now in their 80s, who helped build the tunnels at the encampment known as Stalag Luft III. Ultimately, the team members were stunned that, even without the menace of the ever-watchful Nazi camp guards, they were unable to match their wartime counterparts fully, particularly in the most crucial skill, digging a tunnel 30 feet below the camp surface without repeated collapses of the sandy soil above.

A maverick Australian affectionately nicknamed Dr.

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Screwloose by his colleagues, Dr. Hunt went to Poland as a consultant to the current R.

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Fascinating photographs have emerged documenting the failed attempts of soldiers to escape from German prisoner of war camps. The black and white images from the First World War show tunnels exposed by German officers - and prisoners after they were re-captured. Digging tools confiscated from captives can also be seen along with documentation of the high security precautions guards took.


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The not-so great escapes: An exposed tunnel is pictured at a prisoner of war camp in Holzminden, central Germany, after its discovery during the First World War left. Historical images also show guarded electric fences between Belgium and Holland right.

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Uncovered: The pictures also show prisoners after being recaptured and some of the digging tools that were confiscated. Going underground: One image, taken at an unknown German prisoner of war camp shows a tunnel that came to the surface too early. Historical images show guarded electric fences between Belgium and Holland and a room full of soldiers who were recaptured after an unsuccessful escape bid.

Each of the 11 chapters of the book have been written by prisoners who were there. When possible, the book tells where each man featured was before and after the war. Prisoners throughout the war dug tunnels, faked mental illness and even learned enemy strategy in attempts to escape prison camps. Some were successful, but many were not.

The images are featured in a new book about First World War escape bids.

The POWs burrowed to freedom from a Welsh encampment in 1945

Some of them have been identified by their surnames from left to right - Churchill, Lyon, Clouston, Robertson, Sharp, Bennet and Matlock. While prisoners of war were attempting to dig their way out of camps, the accommodation provided for officers was far more comfortable.


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A communal living space at one unnamed camp is pictured above. Hunt went to Poland as a consultant to the current R.

Their task was to use insights gleaned from the digs at the sites of wartime tunnels known as Harry and George to build a new foot tunnel they called Roger, after Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, the principal organizer of the escape and one of those executed by the Nazis. And they had one precious resource, time. Like others who joined in the expedition to Zagan, Dr.

The Prisoner of War Collection from The First World War

The plan to dig down to the workshop at the starting point of the tunnel known as Harry, where the wartime fliers began their effort to tunnel beneath the barbed wire, was aborted when engineers failed repeatedly to prevent tons of sand from collapsing their own access tunnel. But Dr. Hunt and his team struck gold in the excavation of George, a tunnel built under the camp auditorium after the escape and designed to give inmates a place to hide as Nazi control east of Berlin collapsed before advancing Soviet troops.


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  5. The contemporary Royal Air Force fliers built Roger, the replica tunnel, but in a trench just beneath the surface; anything deeper was deemed too dangerous.