A Hollywood portrayal of ‘Operation Olympian’ – a daring escape from a German camp

One of the most daring prison escapes of the Second World War is now going to be turned into a Hollywood movie. The stars of the movie will be two soldiers from North East England, who have mostly been forgotten by historians.

The escape, which was masterminded by two friends from the DLI (Durham Light Infantry), is considered the most daring of all prison breaks of the Second World War.

Tom Stallard and Johnnie Cousens were kept in Oflag VI-B, which was a POW camp located on the outskirts of Warburg, Germany. There were a large number of POWs from Britain, who had been captured and put into this camp since the beginning of the war.

The mission was dubbed ‘Operation Olympian’, since most of the prisoners came from across the Empire. A total of 40 prisoners took part in the daring attempt and 32 made it out of the prison successfully.

For a long time, Operation Olympian could not make headlines in history books, mainly because of the success of the ‘Hollywood rendition’ of the famous 1944 escape from Stalag Luft III. This particular escape got the title ‘The Great Escape’, and its Hollywood portrayal gave it a status that no one could dare change.

However, now viewers and history buffs will be able to see the most daring of all the escapes throughout World War II, on the ‘big screen’, for the first time.

Operation Olympian

This all started as a result of a military historian’s works and efforts. Mark Felton’s book ‘Zero Night’ is a chronicle of Operation Olympian, which took place on 30th August 1942, two years before the Stalag Luft III escape.

The production firm ‘Essential 11’ has shown a keen interest in taking the story to Hollywood. They plan to make a blockbuster depicting the events of that August night, in the next three years. The firm has officially signed an ‘option’ – granting them the right to the story for the next three years, The Northern Echo reports.

The author of ‘Zero Night’, Mark Felton, said that this story is, without any doubt, intriguing and is based on true events from the War. Furthermore, he said that many big names in the Hollywood film industry are interested in the project. Essential 11 has invited Dr Felton to go through the list of actors and decide who is a fitting match for the characters.

Major Stallard formulated a plan to help as many of his comrades as possible to escape from the prison. He built a number of large ladders to cross over the fence, stealing the timber from a nearby wrecked hut. Maj. Cousens’s job was to distract the guards during the preparation and escape. Both brave soldiers lived well into their 70s; however, they did not mention their ‘Great Escape’ to anyone after the war.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE