"Harry," the only tunnel actually used in the "Great Escape," was dug more than 9 meters (30 feet) beneath the Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp near what is today Zagan, Poland. Although equipped with electricity and sophisticated ventilation systems, Harry only led three men on their journey to safety. The other 73 were captured by Nazis, and 50 were executed.

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  • On March 24, 1944, more than 75 Allied troops from 9 different countries broke out of Stalag Luft III, a Nazi prisoner of war camp near what is today Zagan, Poland. The audacious breakout, the result of the work of hundreds of prisoners over the course of a year, became known as the “Great Escape.”
     
    The Great Escape was a massive undertaking, involving three tunnels—nicknamed Tom, Dick, and Harry—dug deep beneath the camp. The tunnels were fortified with wood from prisoners’ beds, and featured electric lights and pumps to guarantee ventilation. Prisoners, with the help of some bribed guards, created civilian clothing and false identity papers for escapees. In all, the escape included 4,000 bed boards; 90 entire double bunk beds; 635 mattresses; 192 bed covers; 161 pillow cases; 52 20-man tables; 10 single tables; 34 chairs; 76 benches; 1,219 knives; 478 spoons; 582 forks; 69 lamps; 246 water cans; 30 shovels; 300 meters (1,000 feet) of electric wire; 180 meters (600 feet) of rope; 3424 towels; 1,700 blankets; and 1,400 tin cans. More than 600 prisoners worked on digging, fortifying, and concealing Tom, Dick, and Harry.
     
    Despite the enormous effort, only three men successfully completed a “Great Escape.” Two Norwegian pilots escaped to Sweden, which remained neutral during World War II. A Dutch pilot escaped to the British embassy in Spain. Nazi forces apprehended the other 73 men. Fifty were executed, including Allies from the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Norway, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, and Lithuania. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    apprehend Verb

    to take into legal custody.

    audacious Adjective

    extremely bold and daring.

    civilian Noun

    person who is not in the military.

    conceal Verb

    to hide.

    embassy Noun

    residence of an ambassador or place where representatives of a nation conduct business in another country.

    execute Verb

    to put to death by order of the law or in a well-planned manner.

    fortify Verb

    to strengthen.

    guarantee Verb

    to promise or confirm.

    identity Noun

    how a person defines themselves, or how others define them.

    massive Adjective

    very large or heavy.

    Nazi noun, adjective

    (1919-1945) (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) having to do with the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

    neutral Adjective

    not taking a position in a dispute or conflict.

    prisoner of war Noun

    person captured and held by an enemy during a conflict.

    ventilation Noun

    movement or circulation of fresh air in a closed environment. Also called air circulation.

    World War II Noun

    (1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)